These days when I think of being cramped in cold isolation at the end of humanity’s rope I’m usually thinking of Reddit’s front page, not the post-apocalyptic world of TNT’s Snowpiercer. A bleak future serves as the backdrop for the icy sci-fi series that is set to premiere on May 17th. While the show is a new and original story, it takes it’s foundation firmly from the 2013 film with the same name. Bong Joon-ho serves as an executive producer on the show along with Tae-Sung Jeong and others who worked on the original film. You might recognize Bong Joon-ho as an important name as he directed the original film. With amazing talent lining the cast such as Jennifer Connelly and Daveed Diggs, Snowpiercer holds many recognizable faces such as Susan Park, Iddo Goldberg, and Mike O’Malley. The potential that this show promised to bring to the table had me eagerly awaiting what was to come down the tracks. It is an unavoidable reality that the following review may contain spoilers for the 2013 film Snowpiercer. Despite the upcoming show being heralded as a prequel, it is my highest recommendation that if you have not seen it yet, to stop reading, watch the film, and finish this review after the credits roll. The film brings much to the table that serves as an inception to the show and while you can watch and enjoy the show without it, having the set foundation that Bong Joon-ho provided us is, in my opinion, a necessity.
The world has been frozen due in no small part to, surprise, global warming. Humanity noticed that the world was heating and in a desperate attempt to save mankind, we launched the gaseous form of Icy-Hot into the sky, and just like that the world froze. As a last-ditch effort to preserve life, the Allfather, I mean the Emperor, I mean Wilford opened up his train to passengers. But this was no ordinary train, this was Snowpiercer! This was a self-sufficient titan of industry that promised to run eternally and preserve the last remnants of humanity. For seventeen years Snowpiercer had run on its transorbital track when the events of the film took place. The show, however, takes place a cool seven years into the apocalypse. The train is broken and separated into a few different sections, namely the Engine, First Class, Second Class, Third Class, and the squalid ghetto of The Tail. As in the film, our show’s protagonists are passengers consigned to the base living found at the back of the train. Being given little in the way of food, general decency, or basic human respect, those from the Tail (known as Tailies) are understandably hungry for revolt. This wonderful powder keg of tension serves as the backdrop for both stories centered around one concept: Class. While a monument to engineering, human perseverance, and survival, above all Snowpiercer is a monument to Class.
While watching through the show I wanted to touch on three major concepts that I was eager to see. The first being what homage is paid to the movie and previous works, the second being how it expanded on the world of Snowpiercer both inside and outside of the train, and third was what the show brought forward itself. An important note as well is the different expectations put on television and cinema, through camera work, direction, screen time, and character development. The requirements of television are markedly different than those in film.
Snowpiercer paid its dues to the spirit of the movie is admittedly underwhelming ways. Having poor reiterations of iconic moments from the film does serve as a nod to the past (or future) of Snowpiercer, but seeing them twisted and caged through the lens of network television was disheartening. The attempts to emulate much of the shock felt flat and unimaginative. While enjoyable enough to point a finger and say, “Remember in the movie?” it seemed just a shadow of what came before. At its core the show’s main concepts lay on track with the film, a depiction of the struggle of class; an eager attempt for the Haves to hold on and the Have-nots to take. Where the film succeeded in humanizing that commentary the show holds to a watered-down and shallow perspective. While enjoyable and easy to swallow, it fails to say much of anything, rather playing predictably into the cause of the Have-nots. Although understandably necessary, it fails to present the same gripping metaphor. In the end, what Snowpiercer brings with it into 2020 is a bite-sized portion of a bigger meal.
Having less focus on the past is not necessarily a bad thing, however. The talents of Jennifer Connelly and her first class compatriots bring a whole new vision into the train. The decadence and highlife serve well to contrast the familiar underdog world of the Tail. While most of the passengers at the front of the train hold little in the way of genuinely interesting personalities, it is Connelly and her team that shines as enjoyable. Distinctly different from the first-class passengers, whose understanding of decadency is seemingly limited to casino card games, Connelly’s team comprises the Hospitality and Engineering departments. Through them we get a rare glimpse at the everyday procedures of those “in power” and with every conversation, we learn a bit more about the world that was and the realities that are. This is especially evident with Alison Wright’s zealous performance, playing into our desperate tendency to look for someone with answers. An enjoyable perspective I found with this prequel is the slow reinforcement of class boundaries that occurs. Not yet reaching the full 17 years of depravity that the movie showed us, we could see shreds of humanity and decency slowly fade from first-class passengers. While not entirely revolutionary, Snowpiercer brings welcome details and facts about the setting, some which have the potential to redefine our understanding of the world inside the train.
The sad reality of Snowpiercer is how different and base humans become when faced with inevitable extinction. The world is set on the edge of a knife, ready to be cast into oblivion with one wrong move. This is a world where many stories can thrive. Sadly, a cop show is not one of them and Snowpiercer is, in its execution, a cop show. Similar to other shows like Lucifer and Gotham, the true meat of the show boils down to dry and meaningless interrogations leading to particularly pointless C-plots that only serve to pad each episode until the slightly more interesting (and considerably worse acted) B-plot comes onto the screen. Finally, in the handful of minutes dedicated to the A-plot during each episode, there is actually a spark of interest. The true STORY of Snowpiercer is set in its overarching plot, which is broken up by its uninteresting side plots and characters, bland set designs (that could very well be sets on loan from other shows just hastily thrown together in a Uhaul truck), and extremely confusing world establishment. In the end, the realities of an ordered train, car after car all lined up in a row, falls to conveniently undefined disorder. The unnecessary fat that hangs on the shaky and brittle bones of Snowpiercer only serves to muddy its vision and weigh it down.
The potential of TNT’s Snowpiercer is solid. A strong and established world serves as a drawing board for the producers. The show has taken creative liberties, some of which paid off in enjoyable ways, but others failed to hit their mark. The main issue facing Snowpiercer is the impossible task of breathing human reality into an extremely well-executed metaphor. In the areas where it stays true to those roots, Snowpiercer is a warm and unflinching experience. However, in far too many other places the cold freeze of boring television drags it down into mundanity.
Synopsis: The last humans on earth circle the globe in a train, struggling to live in a precariously balanced social ecosystem when a brutal murder may unbalance everything.
Series Creators: Marty Adelstein, Becky Clements
Based on: Snowpiercer (2013) directed by Bong Joon-ho
Starring: Jennifer Connelly, Daveed Diggs, Alison Wright, Mickey Sumner, Susan Park, Iddo Goldberg, Katie McGuinness, Lena Hall, Annalise Basso, Sam Otto, Roberto Urbina, Sheila Vand and Jaylin Fletcher.
Details: 1 season (10 Episodes), Premieres on TNT on May 17th @ 9pm ET/PT