Join or Sign In

Sign in to customize your TV listings

Continue with Facebook Continue with email

By joining TV Guide, you agree to our Terms of Use and acknowledge the data practices in our Privacy Policy.

The Purge Is Great B-Movie Nonsense, If You're Into That Sort of Thing

There's bloody fun to be had if you go with the flow

Malcolm Venable

The Purge bills itself as a "10-episode event," which at least pretends it's not nakedly gunning for a second season of limitless violence, and that's a good thing. That does not mean USA's adaptation of the film franchise -- which introduced us to the titular 12-hour holiday when all crime (but almost entirely murder; more on that later) is legal -- makes the viewer wish it was over sooner; on the contrary, it's pretty enjoyable if the franchise is your thing. And let's face it, it'll probably return.

One key reason The Purge feels enticing and interesting and a little bit dangerous, as its creators likely intended, in part because this concept works best in a quick burst. Unlike some series set in the f--d-up future that erect big explorations of morality around periods of thrilling violence (cough Rick Grimes cough), The Purge seems to have, uh, purged tedious, drawn-out drama to get right to the good stuff. Granted, USA shared only the first three episodes of The Purge with critics, but I thought they stood firmly on their own as a solid interpretation of the original, with a little more expanse given the 10 hours the series has. Provided The Purge's totally bonkers premise--more on this later--floats your proverbial boat, USA's adaptation is a Swish.

Hannah Anderson as Jenna, Colin Woodell as Rick, The Purge

Hannah Anderson as Jenna, Colin Woodell as Rick, The Purge

USA Network

Though the real star is obviously the insane idea of the Purge, USA's The Purge splits up the story among of a group of seemingly unconnected people. There's Miguel (Gabriel Chavarria), a US Marine of Mexican heritage determined to track down his kid sister Penelope (Jessica Garza), who's run off to God-knows-where with some cult of insane Purge worshippers. Then there's Jane (Amanda Warren), a businesswoman whose fancy firm has her safe and secure on a locked-down floor of a high-rise with armed guards until she does something dumb and is no longer safe. Oh! And she hires a Purge assassin -- presumably to take down her chauvinist boss Don Ryker, played by still-getting-work William Baldwin. Rick (Colin Woodell) and wife Jenna (Hannah Anderson) are liberal-ish entrepreneurs who head off to a ritzy, black-tie Purge event and learn after they're locked down that -- ruh-roh! -- the sick bastards hosting the gala aren't exactly humanitarians. Moral conundrums ensue and lots of fake blood spills. None of this is new terrain for The Purge exactly, but it's a faithful reproduction true to the franchise's micro-budget, B-movie roots.

Yes, The Purge TV Series Looks Like Pure Gore Gratification, But That's Okay"

Though clearly on a smaller scale of production, The Purge's violence is convincing enough, and Anthony Hemingway, who directed the pilot, gives The Purge a sharp gaze that's well-suited to action scenes that begin in the second episode. As an action star, Chavarria kicks ass, imploring viewers to root for him as he slashes and shoots his way through the battlefield he's been placed in. Warren does a fine job of making internal anxiety (Is he dead yet? Is he dead yet?) tangible. It's paced well too; The Purge's first episode begins as the hours count down before the main event, giving us just enough background on these poor souls before they're thrown to the metaphorical sharks. There's a sense of serenity to the anticipation of the mania, a looming dread that keeps viewers in its grip.

Amanda Warren as Jane,The Purge

Amanda Warren as Jane,The Purge

Patti Perret/USA Network

Ultra-violent shows like this can fall into a trap that eventually renders once-thrilling violence monotonous, silly and then downright embarrassing as producers look to out-shock audiences that've grown bored with the story and the gore, but that's not too present here. The Purge, at least in the first episodes, balances its cartoonish insanity with emotional consequences and difficult choices for its players.

USA Launches The Purge Shopping Channel Ahead of Show's Premiere

The Purge works, but it works only if you take its warped commentary at face value. I find the franchise's reliance on violence as a fix very provocative, albeit restrictive and ultimately sad the deeper you think about it. Descriptions of The Purge say it's about a period when "all crime is legal, including murder" but that's misleading since murder is the principal crime depicted. No one, it seems, wants to do a sh--load of drugs at an awesome party, have group sex in the streets, or break into museums to return stolen artifacts, Indiana Jones-style. (Some of this apparently happens in later films, I'm told.)

Still, The Purge posits that murder, and only murder, is the natural and sole sensible solution for righting any wrong, a premise so close to reality it's less scary than exhausting. But I get it; being close to reality is the point. As pop-philosophy, The Purge lays bare ugly insights about America packaged in over-the-top camp; The Purge confronts the greed, selfishness and violence that are so endemic to our belief systems they show up in our holidays, as we witness every time there's a Wal-Mart stampede on Black Friday. A lot of that discourse comes out as circular gobbledegook, but nobody really cares... it's fun to watch.

The Purge's most alluring idea is how 1 percenters like the honchos Rick and Jenna meet at the New Founding Fathers of America party delude themselves into believing violence and discrimination have noble objectives. That's so close to reality it seems on the nose, but in 2018 what's considered reality, entertainment and dystopian fantasy are braided together so tightly that calling a thing "unbelievable" diminishes credibility not one iota.


Gabriel Chavarria, The Purge

USA Network, Patti Perret/USA Network

Still, some of The Purge's storylines rupture its overall smoothness. The Purge-loving cult Penelope joined is a goofy aside compared to the throbbing tales told elsewhere. And how could Rick and Jenna be naive enough to go to a black-tie Purge party and not expect some bodies, possibly their own, to drop? Haven't they seen any of these movies? Their cluelessness lands them in the clutches of the NFFA and the macabre -- something that's hard to believe they hadn't at least considered since the Purge's clear goal is to rid the States of the poor. But total plausibility isn't the point. As an allegorical horror, The Purge's credibility is in showing how reptilian thinking threatens to wipe out everyone, even as we cheer our own demise while blasting off our own thumbs with fireworks. Like every other American holiday, it's best not to think too much about it and gorge on it like you'll never gorge again. And do it again next year.

The Purge premieres Tuesday, Sept. 4 at 10/9c on USA.