This evaluate and dialogue of The Final of Us season 1, the TV adaptation on HBO, accommodates very mild spoilers.

The Final of Us arrives with the appreciable weight of expectation.

It’s maybe redundant to supply a plot abstract of The Final of Us on a gaming web site, however it’s price outlining the present’s premise. The collection depicts what stays of human civilization following the unfold of a fungus that has the ability to contaminate and remodel human hosts, turning them into carriers and spreaders. Survivors reside in cities managed by the oppressive FEDRA, whereas the freedom-fighting Fireflies function a resistance.

The story follows a cynical and jaded survivor named Joel (Pedro Pascal) — a person who misplaced every little thing within the chaos of the collapse. Towards his will, Joel finds himself tasked with defending a younger lady named Ellie (Bella Ramsey), who would possibly maintain the remedy to the spreading an infection. Joel is initially motivated by revenue, however naturally the connection between the 2 touring companions broadens and deepens over the course of the nine-episode season.

The Final of Us is adapting one of many defining video video games of the previous decade, and it has had an extended and storied journey to the display. In some methods, it may well really feel like HBO has arrived fairly late to the social gathering. The Strolling Lifeless was a cultural phenomenon a decade in the past, however it shuffled silently off screens final 12 months with much less of a bang and extra of a groan. Has this status adaptation of a beloved post-apocalyptic survival online game missed its window of most affect?

Even apart from the chaos at mum or dad studio Warner Bros., the corporate is probably in a weak state. Permitting for the smash success of Home of the Dragon, the channel continues to be in search of an authentic alternative for Sport of Thrones, the sort of new-to-viewers zeitgeist-driving present that may spark watercooler conversations. A lot of HBO’s makes an attempt to recapture that magic, like Westworld or Lovecraft Nation, are already misplaced to historical past.

The Last of Us HBO review season 1 TV show - excellent intimate character-driven television Craig Mazin Neil Druckmann Pedro Pascal Bella Ramsey

Had The Final of Us arrived even 5 years in the past, it will maybe have been a stronger candidate to take the crown. Nevertheless, it’s instantly clear that HBO hasn’t wasted the time that it has taken guiding The Final of Us to display. The present is constructed with appreciable care and craft. That is most blatant within the finances. The Final of Us appears and looks like a substantive funding for the corporate, one thing that’s clearly meant to carry out like a blockbuster.

It’s additionally apparent within the expertise on show. Pascal can also be the lead of The Mandalorian, which makes him one of many greatest tv stars on the planet. Even past the truth that he’s a compelling dramatic presence, his involvement establishes that HBO means enterprise. The community maintains a way of continuity with Sport of Thrones by casting Ramsey as Ellie, with the younger actor having damaged out on Sport of Thrones because the no-nonsense (and memetic) Girl Lyanna Mormont.

Within the first season, The Final of Us rounds out its solid with a bunch of dependable faces. There’s no stunt casting right here, as an alternative a dedication to constructing an ensemble of gamers recognizable to tv audiences as professionals who do the work. The present’s first 9 episodes embody supporting turns from veterans like Nick Offerman, Anna Torv, Gabriel Luna, Melanie Lynskey, Graham Greene, Scott Shepherd, and Storm Reid. That may be a stacked supporting solid for what is essentially a two-hander.

There’s additionally a transparent need to keep up continuity with the supply materials. Naughty Canine has been closely concerned within the manufacturing of the collection and never simply in a tokenistic approach. Sport author Neil Druckmann is certainly one of solely two credited writers on all the season, sustaining clear inventive management on the variation. Druckmann additionally directs the second episode, serving to to ascertain the tone of the collection. The solid contains actors from the sport, like Jeffrey Pierce, Ashley Johnson, and Troy Baker.

The Last of Us HBO review season 1 TV show - excellent intimate character-driven television Craig Mazin Neil Druckmann Pedro Pascal Bella Ramsey

Nevertheless, probably the most spectacular illustration of how a lot HBO is banking on The Final of Us comes with the present’s different co-creator, Craig Mazin. Mazin has an extended and diversified profession however in the intervening time is probably greatest often known as the author of the HBO miniseries Chernobyl. That collection was a crucial and awards smash, and it was even voted the best tv present ever made on the Web Film Database. Crucially although, it was an austere, mature, and regarded drama.

Clearly, a post-apocalyptic survival journey is a really totally different challenge from a historic drama. Nonetheless, hiring Mazin to work on The Final of Us is a transparent assertion of intent. It’s much more obvious in how hands-on Mazin will get. Together with Druckmann, he’s the one credited author on the season and takes the lion’s share of the work. He additionally directs the premiere. One will get a way of simply how a lot HBO has driving on this season, and the burden presses down on the present.

Within the present’s first two episodes, that expectation threatens to overwhelm the drama. The present’s premiere and the episode that follows typically really feel like checklists, as if Mazin and Druckmann are working by means of two competing lists, attempting to ship what basic audiences anticipate from a zombie apocalypse present and what sport followers need from an adaptation of The Final of Us. To be truthful, Mazin and Druckmann are too gifted to let themselves be overwhelmed, however there’s a sense of table-setting.

The primary two episodes of The Final of Us need to run by means of checklists. They need to depict the top of the world, set up key characters and the dynamics between them, introduce the logic of this post-apocalyptic panorama, clearly articulate the stakes, and ship the requisite zombie horror set items. Mazin and Druckmann take shortcuts, lifting cues from earlier options within the style. The opening scene evokes I Am Legend; the pre-apocalypse section riffs on Shaun of the Lifeless.

The Last of Us HBO review season 1 TV show - excellent intimate character-driven television Craig Mazin Neil Druckmann Pedro Pascal Bella Ramsey

None of this setup is dangerous. Pascal is a charismatic main performer, Torv does a whole lot of heavy-lifting on this stretch, and most of those zombie film tropes are conventions exactly as a result of they’re enjoyable. Nonetheless, there’s a way of effectivity and performance to the 2 first episodes, to the purpose that the feature-length premiere looks like it’s breathlessly attempting to cram two episodes’ price of story into 80 minutes, in order that the present can get to the meat just a little faster.

Nevertheless, as soon as that preliminary stretch is full, The Final of Us shortly finds surer footing. Particularly, the present’s third episode feels just like the actual starting of the narrative, at the very least in thematic and emotional phrases. Having accomplished the mandatory setup, The Final of Us is lastly free to chart its personal course. As a substitute of emulating the acquainted rhythms and stakes of different zombie tales, The Final of Us turns into free to outline itself in distinction.

From the third episode on, The Final of Us feels extra snug in foregrounding its distinctive and distinct storytelling sensibility. It additionally begins to place a ways between itself and apparent factors of comparability like The Strolling Lifeless by taking the time and the care to put money into its characters as a lot as on this planet that they inhabit. Whereas the present stays firmly anchored in Joel and Ellie, the collection understands that the pair’s dynamic is the central hook.

The Final of Us runs by means of the usual clichés of the zombie apocalypse thriller. There’s a recurring sense that the surviving people are a larger risk than any infectious horde. There’s the promise of a analysis facility simply over the horizon that’s engaged on a remedy. There are gated settlements and ragtag communities, a few of which maintain darkish secrets and techniques. There are paranoid survivalists who’ve spent their lives getting ready for this second.

The Final of Us understands that none of those components are radical or novel. As a substitute, it finds fascinating methods to strategy them. Particularly, the present fixates on the concept of familial bonds and human connections. In a world that’s being torn aside by a monstrous fungus, it’s the ties that bind individuals collectively which might be most vital. Mazin and Druckmann have a exceptional present for characterization, fleshing out supporting gamers who may simply change into one-note caricatures.

Regardless of the clearly spectacular finances invested in The Final of Us, the present typically avoids the temptation to go larger and bolder. Lots of the season’s greatest scenes are intimate two-handers, with charismatic performers navigating sophisticated (and infrequently even conflicted) relationships with each other. There are prolonged stretches of the season during which the “contaminated” barely seem in any respect, which is a daring alternative for a present about that risk. Nevertheless, it’s additionally a alternative that pays off.

In some methods, The Final of Us makes a becoming companion to Pascal’s different massive ongoing tv present. Maybe there’s simply one thing about Pascal’s display persona that gravitates in direction of seemingly mercenary figures who discover themselves solid as unlikely father figures. At factors in direction of the top of the season, The Final of Us feels extra like a basic western than a zombie horror, with the present’s cinematography making nice use of the Alberta environment.

The Final of Us is a compelling and considerate tackle the basic survival horror template, one which works greatest when it prioritizes character work and emotional storytelling forward of world-building. The present was a considerably generic begin however settles shortly into a definite sensibility. There’s a sense that The Final of Us is likely to be just a little too measured and intimate to be the breakout hit that HBO desires it to be, however it’s all the higher for that.