Round and round and round they go, where they stop nobody… cares

What’s The Show? Snowpiercer

What’s It All About, JG? Based on the movie, based on the graphic novel, Snowpiercer tells the story of the last human survivors of an environmentally-devastated Earth who circle the globe in the titular Snowpiercer, a train of a thousand carriages. The train contains everything people need to survive but is riven with tensions, alliances, bigotry and shifting loyalties. It’s all a huge analogy for the class system, capitalism, systemic oppression and the way that human beings react when forced to come to terms with who they are. Sounds great, right? What a shame, then, that instead of that we get a bog-standard detective show where someone gets killed, someone has to investigate, turns out its some rich bitch who had a crush on her bodyguard or something and…. oh who cares.

Why Did You Give It A Go? Well the movie version is excellent, with a fantastic cast and some really excellent points to make. And some of the very finest costumes and make-up Tilda Swinton has ever worn. There’s plenty of commentary to be had in terms of politics, the way capitalism literally consumes people, class war and race relations that seem like a perfect fit for this moment in time.

Is It Any Good? No. No it is not. Which is frustrating, because a) the movie was great and b) there’s a really good cast at work here. Daveed Diggs is giving a career-best performance as Andre Leyton, a detective “tailie” (i.e. poor people who broke into the tail of the train as it departed and are kept there by the class system) sent to investigate one of the least interesting murders since Angela Lansbury decided that maybe Cabot Cove would be a nice spot to settle down in. Jennifer Connelly is doing sterling work as the nominal antagonist, running Hospitality and just generally trying to keep the whole show – literal and metaphorical – on the road. The rest of the cast are standard prestige-television fare, all doing good solid supporting work – well, with the exception of Annalise Basso as the alleged teenage sadist/murderer, who is outright awful.

The production, too, is competent – again, it’s fairly standard prestige TV fare, and the external CGI shots never look like anything other than CGI, but the interiors, the distinctions between the four classes and even the fish tanks all look great. But it’s in service of a plot that would require absolutely minimal retooling to be an episode of any generic cop show. CSI: Train Crimes, maybe. The show makes efforts to maintain the class distinctions – the easiest part of the movie to replicate – by contrasting the luxury of first class and their spacious accommodation with the squalid condition the tailies are left to suffer in, but the show does nothing with that. There’s rebellion brewing in the tail! Ohhhhh, how very unpredictable! There’s no sense that the show really understand what to do with its class conflict beyond the most surface presentation of it as a fact. The tailies feel oppressed because… they’re oppressed! Yes, and…? Why are we pissing about in a minor murder mystery where right over there there’s a genuinely interesting concept to explore?

How Many Episodes Did You Watch? Five, which was four more than I should have. The first episode does a solid job of setting everything up, then from episode two we just plod about in a completely unremarkable fashion.

Would You Recommend It? Frustratingly, no. Even, post-murder, if the show starts to engage with the elements it should have been going for right out of the gate this is a show which has absolutely no sense of pace at all. Tension, even in big chase scenes or shoot-outs, is entirely absent and we’re never given a reason to care about any of this. We’re expected to care about the tailies because they’re an exploited lower class but the characters are flat, dull stereotypes. We’re expected to despise the rich elite because of who they are, but the characters are equally uninteresting and impossible to care about. Snowpiercer does none of the legwork to make these people come alive, they’re just generic “repressed rebels” or “evil overlords”. Who. Cares. Another part of the problem is that the show doesn’t manage to extend its world-building beyond anything in the movie. The film creates its world then launches its characters into it, but it’s clear the train is a backdrop for discussions around class and capitalism so the world doesn’t really need to sustain for more than a couple of hours. When you have ten-hour plus long multi-season that’s not given you anything else to hold the attention it’s simply too easy to focus on the environment and go “wait, that makes no sense”.

Sometimes it’s simple things – why, for example, does anyone use paper, which must be a fantastically limited resource, when apparently everyone has tablets? – and sometimes its more complex (how was there time to build a railway track that circles the globe? Would one avalanche doom all of humanity? Do those railway bridges never need maintenance?), but there seems to be little willingness to add credibility to how things work. In the movie these questions don’t linger because we have a fast-paced, intelligent script to keep us engaged. On a plodding TV show those questions feel ponderously inescapable. We get teased little additional detail of the train like the “under train” maintenance tunnels, but it’s just more stuff, rather than anything that’s expanding our world-view. Even if the show starts to rectify these problems in the second season it will be too late for me to care about it. Fail.

Scores On The Doors? 4/10, mostly for the cast and solid production design.

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