Time travel has been in fashion lately. With Avengers Endgame, the most successful movie in history at the box office, being in part a time travel movie. It seems that every studio both on the big screen and on streaming services is looking to have time travel or any other high-concept element in their stories. The result is that the time loop, that began way back with Groundhog Day, has become a bit overplayed and the result is that the gimmick might have lost its luster.
Happy Death Day, Edge of Tomorrow, Russian Doll. These projects have all been proof that the time travel gimmick, and especially the time loop one, can be a very exciting plot device. As it pushes the audience to become engaged with the story in order to understand what is happening. You cannot simply watch it, you have to be a participant in the story, and everything becomes better for it. However, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing, so how does Lazarus Project distinguish itself from the rest?
The fresh new take is that the time loop doesn’t happen at random. It also isn’t the result of some magic or some outside unknowable force, the time loop is actually triggered by humans on a conscious basis in order to save the world. This new take changes everything, and it makes The Lazarus Project feel somewhat fresh. The fact that along with the time travel aspect, the show also focuses most of its running time on developing its characters, makes the show infinitely more interesting than its peers.
The show is developed by screenwriter, Joe Barton, whose previous work includes shows like Giri/Haji, and Humans. The series stars Paapa Essiedu, Cherly Clive, Anjili Mohindra, Caroline Quentin, Rudi Dharmalingam, Vinette Robinson, and Tom Burke. The show tells the story of George, a man who apparently has achieved everything in life until a new disease takes everything away and ends up ending the world as we know it. It is at that moment that George wakes up, reliving a day from months ago. His search will take him to some frightful revelations.
From its first episode, The Lazarus Project manages to mix a good number of elements and balance them with each other in a way that feels natural. Each episode is a massive charge of information and implications that can make your head hurt if you start thinking too much about it. However, Barton knows how to juggle all these elements, and thanks to some clever and quality production values, the show feels like a step-up for Sky in terms of producing original shows.
The visuals are fantastic, there is a seriousness to it all, and the cinematic language is properly used, foreshadowing, and creating meaning with images. Very few shows do that right now on television, it is too much work, but The Lazarus Project puts that extra effort, and it makes the difference. The direction of each episode is quite outstanding, and both the drama scenes and the action set pieces are very well executed.
The show manages to be compelling because it plays its premise in a very personal way. Yes, the future of the world is at stake at every turn, there are no higher stakes than those. However, the show puts its characters first, the result is that we care for them, and we understand that what their value as people is their world. This personal way to approach the characters makes them relatable and because of it, we understand their decision a lot better.
The series goes for eight episodes of about 45 minutes each, and it is really the perfect running time to develop characters, create impressive world-building, and execute a plot that becomes more and more intriguing with each new episode. If there is something bad to say about the show is that the pacing in the second half of the season becomes way slower, and this might turn off part of the audience. The first half is just perfectly balanced, so when the pacing drops the ball in the second half, it is quite noticeable.
The characters are the main dish, and Essiedu plays the perfect newbie. His development throughout the show feels meaningful, and every hard decision he has to take feels weighty. Even the main villain of the show receives proper character development, which helps us to understand why he is doing what he is doing. More shows should take notes from this type of execution. It really makes the series something worth watching.
Sadly, as the season ends, the sensation that the concept cannot really sustain itself for much longer is always present. If a second season comes and dissipates this sensation, then we couldn’t be happier to be wrong. But in this current form, it feels like this show should better fast-track a proper ending and leave with a bang instead of a whimper.
The Lazarus Project really shows that Sky can be quite competitive when it comes to delivering high-concept TV in today’s market. The characters are fantastic, and the actors deliver really nice performances. The behind-the-camera talent also kills it with great production values and incredible direction. The pacing could be a lot better in the second half, but either way, this time travel show is worth the watch.