REEL Review – Undone Season 1 (2019)

Creators: Raphael Bob-Waksberg, Kate Purdy | Runtime: 23 mins – 8 episodes | Drama, Animation

In contemporary San Antonio, Texas and 28-year-old Alma (Rosa Salazar) falls into a coma after a near fatal car crash. When she wakes, her perception of time is severely altered when her deceased father appears, saying she can find out the truth about his death.

In recent years streaming platforms have transformed from merely a place to watch Film and TV to creating some of the bravest and most affecting shows to date (although, if we’re honest, Netflix films aren’t always the best). In September this year, Amazon Prime released a new series from the creators of Bojack Horseman (2014 – 2020), the soon to be wrapped up animated series using an anthropomorphic Hollywood to explore existentialist themes from a washed up sitcom star, dealing with addiction, depression and trauma in a tragically comedic way. Undone explores many of the same themes, but through a more realistic setting and taking a far deeper look into mental health through a layered, almost experimentally structured story.

The animation style is noticeably different from their previous work, as Undone was created using rotoscoping – that is, animating on top of sequences already recorded in live action. It allows the actors to fully show their talents and give the characters a far more human and relatable feel, whilst also utilising the surreal impact that animation can have. Occasionally it’s a little distracting, brief moments in which someone’s hair looks a bit off, but for most of the show it’s used beautifully and regularly you’ll find yourself forgetting you’re watching an animation, certainly down to many of the performances – especially Rosa Salazar.

She maybe most recently known for Alita: Battle Angel (our review you can read here) in which she is a highlight in an otherwise damper of a film, but luckily has far more to chew on for her role here. Much of the success of the show comes from the twist and turns in the story, however there is a certain amount that can be mentioned without ruining it all; Salazar’s Alma is getting by in her late 20’s, only just. Content to never have more than the current relationship with her boyfriend, marriage and kids completely off the table, and her younger sister, Becca (Angelique Cabral), engaged to the adult equivalent of a rich highschool jock – he’s not inherently bad, but she could do better. It causes issues between Alma and her mother (Constance Marie), who is clearly more proud of Becca than she is of her sister.

After a falling out, a extremely upset Alma rushes away, tears streaming and driving incredibly aggressively. She ignores a stop sign, and is taken out by a truck, and falls into a coma for a brief time. She wakes, her mother is angry Alma didn’t consider the rest of their feelings when she crashed, and Becca is glad she can still come to the wedding. For Alma, it seems nothing has changed – until she see’s her father, Jacob, sat in the corner of the room, despite dying in a accident during her childhood (in the process, abandoning her in a unfamiliar neighbourhood late at night). What’s soon explained is that it wasn’t an accident, but murdered instead, and she can help him figure out who did it – maybe bringing him back in the process.

Jacob’s played wonderfully by Bob Odenkirk, an actor who predominantly works in comedy, but when he fancies it decides to flex his acting chops in meatier projects such as Better Call Saul (2015-2018) and Nebraska (2013). The second episode really introduces us to the character of Jacob superbly, and he explains the situation to Alma, why the crash happened and what they can do now. Much like Bojack, Bob-Waksberg and Purdy handle a explosion of exposition excellently, and make the information feel genuinely needed, that it has to be explained like this and not just for us as an audience, but our protagonist in Alma too. Although the show has many highlights, it’s potentially this episode that stands out the most, as it elegantly lays out the exact rules and parameters of the world, so every episode that follows doesn’t have to remind you of the elements that lead us here.

Salazar and Odenkirk play well together, with a easy father-daughter relationships. We learn that Alma was secretly Jacobs favourite, and although he loves them equally it does come across like they’re genuinely excited to be reunited. There’s always a hint of whether Jacob has ulterior motives – it adds an extra layer of intrigue to a interesting developing story. Potentially the best aspect of this narrative is the attention to mental health, and it’s delicate treatment of the subject matter. It’s clear Alma is dealing with issues that aren’t always clearly defined – probably best so as well, as it tells the story that the everyone issues are different, and putting a label onto it doesn’t always help (told through her mother’s misunderstanding of the situation).

The end is vague, very, very vague. Maybe negatively, feeling more like the end of a penultimate episode rather than a series closer. It’s pretty heartbreaking, and leaves it open to a second season, although a lot could probably be satisfied with the ending we currently have, as the more real and likely continuation would be quiet upsetting. Although, this is actually a good case to make that next season, as much like Bojack Horseman presents us with a ever deepening whole around the central character, it tells a profoundly effecting story about self destruction, mental health and the effect these have on those around us.

It might not reaching the heights of their previous work, but Undone tells a more personal and oddly grounded but surreal story, weaving a narrative fantastically around an excellent central performance from Rosa Salazar.

Verdict:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Author: Phil Wilson

I watch and make films.

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