Welp, given the horrible reputation video game remakes have on the big screen, I think you would have forgiven my cynicism when it came to The Last of Us tv show, staring Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey as Joel and Ellie respectively. However, I was determined to watch it anyway (being a big fan of the first video game) and examine the series for myself.
This review does contain spoilers for both the video game and the show, so I recommend you play the game in its entirety before watching the show or reading any of my reviews; the game is an unmitigated masterpiece, as time has already told us. But does its TV show remake live up to the hype? Or do we throw it out with the garbage?
Well, the answer is someone complicated and mostly incomplete (that’s why time will tell the verdict). However, one of the first things we got our hands on in this episode was a taste of the acting and cast in action: so that’s the first thing on the examination table.
Let’s talk main characters first. Pedro Pascal as Joel was an odd pick, but his performance is overall decent. I could pick holes in his ability to replicate Joel’s accent with accuracy, but all in all his character is 75% there. You could easily see him for the same Joel in the game, but without Troy Baker’s voice it’s strictly a B-tier performance.
Bella Ramsey has Ellie’s character down far better than Pascal has Joel’s, the difference between the two actors is that Ramsey looks nothing like the character she acts. Her performance is going to have to be really good to justify her casting, and so far it’s been okay. We haven’t gotten to any of those defining character moments when Ramsey really has time to shine, so we’ll have to see if this gambit pays off.
Anna Torv’s performance of Tess is pretty much on point for most intents and purposes. She’s a sharp, commandeering, stubborn, brutal woman who’s a good match to put alongside Joel. She’s also a bit pushy when it comes to work with him, even in the video game, but all I can hope is that the scriptwriters don’t take this too far and make her a complete girlboss over her male counterpart, Joel.
Merle Dandridge as Marlene was, in my opinion, the one genuinely good cast that I could see from the getgo. Marlene is a pretty simple character when it comes down to it, and Dandridge did a good job of establishing her goals with a few lines of dialogue. She’s a leader without having to be a whiney, snippy female, and only barks at subordinates when they deserve it. Her character turns out to be one of the minor ones, but it was the only performance that really impressed me.
I think Nico Parker was put in an unfair place when it came to playing Joel’s doomed daughter, Sarah, because she got one too many chances to be annoying. In the video game, she was supposed to be our perspective for the first seven minutes before we reverted to Joel’s, and then her death would be a compelling backstory for our main her. All that counts for her performance, at least for me, is how well she acted out the death scene, and we got to see her skills really shine at that moment. So I guess she was okay, but I think it would have been wiser to get someone a little bit younger.
Before we get into plot, I want to take a look at the mood first: looks like they took a few liberties when it came to mood-setting (an extended opening sequence, the infected child at the gate, Joel’s escape plan), but they were pretty hit-or-miss when it came down to it. The game took very few of these liberties, instead relying on gameplay to build up the world, but a TV show does not have that option. The overall mood of the Last of Us is depressing, brutal, and unloving. Between the alcohol, the drugs, and the dead kid, I think the mood of the world was set up as well as a film adaptation could be.
As far as plot was concerned, I was relieved to see that little deviation was made from the video game. While I don’t think that deviation is bad and is in fact sometimes necessary, I still want to see the main plot intact. The main plot points were there with some variation, and for the most part they followed the source material pretty closely.
I liked how sequences of would-be gameplay were reduced to a few moments of on-screen action. The Last of Us game was full of long walks and periods of survival, but that’s no fun to watch in a TV show. In that respect, cutting down on the amount of walking/fighting scenes was a good idea.
The plot doesn’t heavily rely on coincidence, but one instance makes me scratch my head just a little: on Joel and Tess’ quest to reclaim the battery that Robert stole from them, they follow a tunnel that just so happens to lead them right to the Fireflies’ base, where they meet a wounded Marlene and Robert’s corpse, along with the faulty battery that Robert had cheated Joel and Tess out of. This is a mishmash of a bunch of different scenes at once tied together by a bit of bad fortune, and the alternative where Joel and Tess kill Robert only for Marlene to arrive at the scene would have been a bit better.
What struck me most the wrong way about the plot of the first episode was the padding. The scene where she’s forced to count to ten should have been cut as it divulges too much in too little time, and the 21-minute opening could have been cut down to a neat and trim 7 minutes with far more emotional punch. The opening is where they should have stuck closest with the source material, and in the end they deviated for no real reason.
Also, why the incredibly out-of-character Christian condemnation from the Millers’ neighbor? It seems like the line is put there to establish her as a crotchety old Christian lady, but five seconds later she’s being a merry old grandmother who loans Sarah movies and gives her cookies. An odd move…I sure hope it’s not foreshadowing anything…
Another head-scratcher is the scene where Tess walks into Joel’s house at night and crawls into bed with him for all of eight seconds. I just had to do a double take on that one, and then ask myself, “Why?” It’s a really short scene that leaves me genuinely confused about what it’s trying to say.
First of all, Tess doesn’t just have full access to Joel’s house. In the game, Joel has to get up and let her in. Plus, Joel would probably try to shoot her if she surprised him with a midnight visit. Also, the two do NOT have a love interest for each other, and that sentiment is nowhere near enforced throughout the rest of the episode.
The scene was so short and vague that I genuinely can’t wrap my mind around it. It couldn’t have been longer than twelve seconds, and there was no kissing, sex, or nudity. Yet she obviously climbed in bed with Joel and presumably spent the night sleeping next to him. So why does this scene even exist? What is it trying to say?
I guess it doesn’t matter that much, as the rest of the show literally acts like this scene never happened. But other than a mildly questionable coincidence and some padding, this episode was overall pretty great. Just a bit of culling would have made all the difference here, but I think that was because they wanted a longer season premiere which we could all honestly live without.
And I feel like I should mention that the fanservice is, well, fanservice. What do you expect? Favorite lines are back, shots and events are recreated with somewhat accuracy, and little details will give the hardcore audience a few of those nostalgia thrills. It’s certainly paying better tribute than the likes of Paramount’s Halo and whoever made the Resident Evil adaptations.
But as I said, only time will tell the final verdict. Episode 1 of the Last of Us is off to a decent enough start (though it could be better), but I am ultimately betting that it will be inferior to the video game in many ways. This episode had its ups and mids, but surprisingly no real downs (other than the padding). I like to reserve judgement till the end, so that’s where we leave it until next monday.
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