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Saturday, February 24, 2024

REELS WITH REIS: The Last of Us – A Series Premiere Review from Someone Who Never Played the Game

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You don’t need to be familiar with the video game to recognize the new sheriff in event television town.

Hollywood has long struggled with converting video game to the scripted medium. Super Mario Bros. (1992) is a cult classic, but not an actual classic, no disrespect to Bob Hoskins

and John Leguizamo. Assassin’s Creed (2016) and Uncharted (2022) are plane movies. Groundhog Day-esque timeloopers operating on video game logic like Edge of Tomorrow (2014), Happy Death Day (2017), Boss Level (2019) and Palm Springs (2020) are solid movies— but just that, movies. And Sonic the Hedgehog’s titular blue speedster hero sees his crossover iconography potential utterly enfeebled by Jim Carrey’s Robotkin heel turn every time

he (Carrey) is on screen and every time he’s not and we wish he was.

Video game storytelling needed a watershed moment in their conversion mission map. Direly.

One-episode in, many, including the entertainment-engulfed base here in the back section of The Messenger, are in agreement: The Last of Us is the first of its kind.

HBO’s newest Sunday night primetime powerhouse is an adaptation of the 2013 Naughty Dog game, co-developed by the game’s director, Neil Druckerman, alongside Craig Mazin, who directed the pilot. This is Mazin’s third go in the chair after a pair of underrated superhero spoofs (The Specials, 2000; Superhero Movie, 2008).

The series – eerily resonant, just three years after our worst daydreams turned to quarantining nightmares – kicked off with a bang. It introduces a world that ignored the warnings of scholars invested in brain fungi mutation, henceforth contributing to modern day ruins— providing breathtakingly-shot, but hope-is-seemingly-for-naught apocalyptica.

At the helm of Episode 1: “When You’re Lost in Darkness,” Mazin was able to deploy even more of his advanced storytelling savvy than on his masterwork, HBO’s acclaimed 2019 miniseries, Chernobyl, thereby landing himself another homerun at the cable network. Perhaps undervalued: his experience penning Scary Movie 4 (2006) also provided him ample experience in the scriptural universe of bringing ravaged universes from page to picture.

Talent-wise, Pedro Pascal removes his Mandalorian armor as protagonist Joel Miller. Instead of escorting an ultra-important “Baby Yoda” this go-around, it’s Game of Thrones’ somewhat grown-up Lyanna Mormont. Ellie (Bella Ramsey) has clearly perfected playing an infected brat who also happens to be the key to everything, as she’s proven immune to the virus that’s sunk the free world into a free-for-all.

Crucial to the emotional weight of the pilot landing all its punches is the fury behind Joel’s as he calls to mind the last time he couldn’t save not a presumed-to-become daughter figure, but his actual daughter. Nico Parker – while uncannily resemblant of mother, Thandiwe Newton – steals every inch of frame as the ill-fated Sarah. The gifted young actress is clearly to become further star-bound through whatever project she lands next.

Per the circumstances of his plight, Joel is hardened, but not corrupted — just as we were when we made it out of our own, microscopically small potatoes by comparison pandemic. For The Last of Us cast, though, times are much bleaker. Those who don’t have a relationship with the game: think Hopper’s embrace of Eleven / “El” in Stranger Things with regard to what lengths Joel has already gone to, and will continue to go to in order to protect the strong bull, anti-damsel teen Ellie. Die-hard fans of the game seem to generally be either unimpressed, or feel the premiere was just OK— but that does not mean it’s without new things to say.

With nine episodes total planned for Season 1, and eight to go after Sunday Night’s ratings board rocket, The Last of Us contends that prestige shows need not haveth dragons no longer to become must-watch appointment TV in the age of stream preference. As far as shows with zombies that we can’t call zombies go, it’s bound to carry itself more cinematically akin to the promise of The Walking Dead’s first couple of seasons before its serial train flew off the who-can-keep-up-with-this rails.

Speaking of which, if you have a problem with an hour and a half premiere, well, hindsight is 20/20. Were you complaining about Yellowstone’s?

Just liken Pedro Pascal to Kevin Costner, in that he’s about to realize his field of long-foregone dreams— helping a young woman grow in a world that’s still worth living in, even if its inhabitants aren’t believers anymore.

When you are lost in the darkness, look for the light. Despite the bleakness of its times, there is no weakness in its design. Such is especially evident if early IMDb ratings are any indication, as The Last of Us already sits atop the website’s rankings board as the number-one TV show of all time, just ahead of popular fare like Breaking Bad and another pair of HBO hits, Game of Thrones and The Sopranos

Those who don’t hop aboard the bandwagon will remain in darkness.

Those who do? They will have found the light.

Michael J. Reistetter
Michael J. Reistetter
Mike Reistetter, former Editor in Chief, is now a guest contributor to The Messenger Papers. Mike's current career in film production allows for his unique outlook on entertainment writing. Mike has won second place in "Best Editorials" at the New York Press Association 2022 Better Newspaper Contest.