Saturday, June 03, 2023

The Lazarus Project, on TNT

It is sort of like Groundhog Day all over again, but George Addo’s new colleagues are doing it deliberately, at least until they get things right. That is their job at the super-secret agency known as Lazarus. Whenever the civilized world faces an extinction level event, they rewind time back to the last July 1st, so they can fix things. That causes a lot of confusion for Addo when he starts to remember what was rewound in creator-writer Joe Barton’s The Lazarus Project, which premieres tomorrow night on TNT.

At first, Addo was just a modestly hip British app developer on the brink of big-time financial success. He married his girlfriend Sarah Leigh, but as they settled down to live happily ever after, a virulent plague started killing everyone on the planet. Then Addo woke up and it was July 1
st, as if the last six months never happened.

Of course, Addo tries to warn the world of what is coming, but everyone assumes he is crazy—except the mysterious Archie. She tells him where to meet her if he remembers the next time it happens, which indeed it does. It turns out most Lazarus agents need to be dosed with their memory drug before they can recall past time resets. However, Addo is one of the few “mutants” that have developed the talent on their own. His new moody colleague Shiv Reddy is another.

Fortunately, Lazarus developed a sufficient vaccine for Covid-20, or whatever it was. (Anyone who was suspicious about how quickly the last Covid vaccine was developed—here’s your answer.) The bad news is a particularly massive nuclear bomb nicknamed “Big Boy” has been stolen. The worse news is the apparent involvement of Dennis Rebrov, a former Lazarus agent who turned against the agency. He is now determined to see the world burn, which sounds inexplicably nihilistic, but he has his reasons.

In fact, many of the character-establishing flashbacks are among the best scenes in
Lazarus Project. Barton (whose screenwriting credits include Ritual and Encounter) has a knack for character-driven sf. He largely punts when it comes to credible scientific explanations, but so be it. He more than compensates for a lack of Doctor Who-worthy doublespeak with his one-darned-thing-after-another plot twists. Plus, he and the producers deserve credit for an additional, complicating villain they reveal in episode seven. Here’s a hint: they are committing genocide in Xinjiang.

Barton and series directors Marco Kreuzpaintner (episodes one to four), Laura Scrivano (five and six), and Akaash Meeda (seven and eight) keep viewers hooked, while radically shifting our responses to Addo. He is clearly the protagonist, but the demarcation between heroes and villains in
Lazarus Project is a subtle and shifting line.

As Addo, Paapa Essiedu is an essential part of the show’s successful chemistry. Frankly, his character fouls up spectacularly, yet we keep hoping for his redemption. Anjli Mohindra gets most of the series’ funniest lines as Archie, but some of her best scenes are flashbacks with Ross (nicely played by Brian Gleeson), her former Tracy-and-Hepburn-esque partner, with whom she had no end of difficulties saving the world back in 2018. Yet, Rudi Dharmalingam is so good as the conflicted Reddy, he truly emerges as the series’ tragic hero.

There is also a lot of solid shoot-‘em-up action in
Lazarus Project, but it has little need of big cosmic-level special effects, at least at this point. The distinctive score composed by Ben Lukas Boysen and Paul Emmerich also gives the series an evocatively ominous vibe. Just when you thought you had seen enough time-loops and Groundhog Daying, Barton offers a completely fresh take on the sf concepts. Highly recommended, Lazarus Project premieres tomorrow (6/4) on TNT.