The Nihilistic World of The Purge Brings Its Mayhem to the Small Screen

Don't expect 10 hours of serial television to add more nuance.


'The Purge'
'The Purge,' USA

The Purge. USA. Tuesday, September 4, 10 p.m.

The Purge movies—there have been, God help us, four of them in five years—are all based on the premise that America has fallen under control of a bizarrely authoritarian government that, once a year, allows (encourages might be a better word) everybody in the country to go out and kill, rape, rob, and loot anything or anybody they want. I have given this idea some thought, and if it should ever be adapted in real life, I have identified the first person I would disembowel. That would be Variety film critic Owen Gleiberman, who earlier this summer in his review of Purge No. 4 (The First Purge), labeled the whole series of films "Clockwork Orange-meets-Roger Corman grade-Z nihilism," a phrase that I swear to God I would have thought of first if I hadn't had to wait for the TV show to start.

The TV version (written and produced by James DeMonaco, the auteur all four Purge films) finally arrives next week, and I'm afraid I don't have much to add to Gleiberman's pungent wisdom. There's a little less Clockwork Orange than some of the movies—even liberated cable TV still can't match up with the body count of a dedicated grindhouse director—and a little more nihilism ("On Purge Night, America lives up to its promise!" exhorts one nut-job talk radio host).

There's even a slight nod to character development, which The Purge is going to need in a format that stretches 10 hours over nearly three months instead of 90 frenzied minutes of shopping-mall mayhem.

So, into your standard Purge template—the 1-percenter plutocrats sip craft cocktails and watch on big-screen televisions as, outside their walled compounds, the proles and the ethnics hack one another's brains out because, well, that's what they do—there have been injected a cluster of subplots.

Miguel (Gabriel Chavarria, East Los High) is a Marine who's returned from the generic Over There, only to discover that his sister Penelope (Jessica Garza, Six) has joined a cult whose members are sort of like food stamps for Purge Night—they give themselves up to the poor and disadvantaged who otherwise might not get to do their fair share of slaughter. (And people wonder why altruism had a bad name with Nietzsche.)

Jane (Amanda Warren, NCIS: New Orleans) is a corporate executive working to seal a big stock deal on Purge Night and also to make sure a hired killer knocks off her annoying boss, which happily will just be chalked up to the night's general messiness. Only problem: Working around the all the chaos created by other people in the unit who plan to kill their bosses and rivals, the greedy bastards.

And, most poignantly, Jenna (Hannah Emily Anderson, Shoot The Messenger) and Rick (Colin Woodell, The Originals) are an ambitious young couple at a corporate party seeking seed money for a business proposal, but horrified to discover the boss's daughter is somebody they accidentally boinked in a three-way, which is, you know, just yucky.

So: lots of agonizing self-examination and moral contemplation going on against the usual backdrop of horse-whippings, pyromania, axe-play, senicide, and other activities generally detrimental to civil society. And yet, surprisingly, The Purge remains essentially a snuff film. Call me crazy, but it just may turn out that 10 hours of gory slaughter unconstrained by even the vaguest intellectual or moral framework is going to be irredeemable crap no matter how many pretty sociopolitical ribbons you put on it. Call it, I dunno, grade-Z nihilism.

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48 responses to “The Nihilistic World of The Purge Brings Its Mayhem to the Small Screen

  1. That first purge movie was bad. Very bad, like I became increasingly angry with each passing moment until I finally turned off my tv.

  2. Wow, that you can get 18 hours of story from expanding on a minor element of a standalone Star Trek episode.

    1. Don’t anger Landru.

      1. Festival! FESTIVAL!

        1. Peace to you, friend. We are all one in the body. It is the will of Landru.

          1. Are you not of the body?

        2. I had an airing of grievances last night. Oh that’s something else.

  3. I’ve never found the central premise of these films (and now tv show) believable.

    1. Based on what I saw in the first movie, even if you accepted the premise (I was willing to when I hit ‘play’ on my streaming service) the way people acted in a world where murder for one night a year was kosher was completely unbelievable… ridiculously so.

      1. Super ridiculous premise. Would murder really be the first law you’d break? How about an organization that destroys all the IRS files? Perfectly legal, right?

        1. Look, I’m not going to get into a spat over the premise. For 90 minutes of cheap entertainment, I can accept that to help let society blow off some steam, you can kill folks for 8 hours one night a year. I can get past that.

          But the way those retards inside the home acted once the shit started to come down was infuriating.

          1. I do have issues with people who are stupid enough to think the premise is “interesting,” when, if you think about it for more than a minute, you realize there’s no way this world could function.

            If it’s just a cheap slasher movie, then fine, but some people have argued it’s making satirical statements about politics or something.

            1. Yeah. In a world where this happens, I think I’m likely to organize my neighbors into a militia to defend said neighborhood.

              1. I’m just going to guess that none of the writers are conservatives, libertarians or even gun owners. They’re the type of Lefty who thinks if the Authority figures with guns disappear for one night, then anarchy is the only logical result.

                1. They absolutely not gun owners. You don’t “lock your doors and windows”, pop in a Mary Poppins DVD and arm yourself with a snub nose 38 (I shit you not) on Purge Night.

              2. Never mind the neighborhood. Where’s the nearest 1% compound?

                “Message to VFW, AMVETS, American Legion:
                Knock over a bunch of 1% “fortresses,” get rid of a whole bunch of deadweight dynasties, redistribute a bunch of wealth, and after rich folks find out they can die, there’ll never be another Purge.

          2. But who would want to run for Congress the next year?

        2. The unspoken part of the premise of this world is that everyone is secretly a fucking sociopath who just wants to murder everyone they can.

          It’s not very well thought out, and is generally just a weak setup for a story about how rich people are always evil assholes.

          1. In the original, the rich people were semi-retarded douchebags who were completely unprepared for this scheduled event that happens at the same time every year.

            1. It was sort of implied that they got rich because they’d killed other people and robbed them previously, which is what their rich neighbors try to do toward the end of the film. Which only highlights how insanely stupid they were.

              Also, why are rich people even staying in the country? Set up some automated drone defenses for your house, let the machine guns mow people down, and go spend the weekend in Canada, right?

              1. Screw “rich”. I’m not exactly a 1%er, but even I can afford a couple days in Juarez.

                Though, going to Juarez might not actually be much safer. Perhaps Vancouver would be a better bet.

            2. Like the rich people wouldn’t just go to the Caymans that week.

            3. How would Canada be safer? Who’s more likely to repulse a hoard of crazy well armed Yankees? Mexico or Canada. Frankly, I’m pretty sure Detroit burns around 9 pm and Toronto goes down in flames at about midnight. Given drive time and the length of time the Canadian border guard could hold out.

      2. My favorite element in the first movie was watching John Malkovich’s unacknowledged love child trying to wheedle entry into the rich folks’ home.

    2. Nor I.

      If you don’t participate or just don’t focus on the same people and your neighbor kills your husband, wife, etc., I can’t imagine a year of peaceful coexistence until the next purge.

  4. horrified to discover the boss’s daughter is somebody they accidentally boinked in a three-way, which is, you know, just yucky.

    Unrealistic. Fucking the bosses daughter is like, total power-reversal revenge fare.

    1. How do you accidentally boink someone in a 3-way? Did the boss daughter fall between them from the sky while they were having sex?

      The word we are looking for here is “unwittingly”.

      1. This is why I come to Reason. The high class grammar discussions involving a fictional three way in a slasher flick.

        1. I am what I am.

          I just had to comment on the inherent silliness of an accidental 3-way.

      2. It was dark. He thought she was a condom.

    2. Hmm, this tidbit might actually make it semi-watchable.

  5. Well who’s going to play the wacky neighbor?

  6. I saw the first film and that was plenty. The premise is a blatant ripoff of the Star Trek original series episode “The Return of the Archons,” but it failed to steal some of the better sci-fi concepts from that episode, such as the stagnancy of an artificially-controlled, sterile and highly homogenous society run by a computer ? or the notion that an underground rebellion is the proper response to such a saccharine collective. Maybe the Purge creator was afraid to go there, why with SJWs today essentially playing the role of Landru (or so they hope to).

    Anyway, it’s sad that a TV show from 50 years ago would explore more daring themes than a modern R-rated movie. But maybe that says something about today’s culture.

    1. Yeah, I don’t think they’d want to glorify the right-wing gun-clinging prepper militiamen.

  7. The first one was good and it had Cersei.

    1. The first one was good


      had Cersei


    2. Tony, my opinion of you is higher than this. Seriously.

      1. It was good. Shut up.

  8. Some of the worst movies of the past several years spawn a TV series. I shudder to think about it.

    It will probably be a huge hit.

  9. No spin-off for “The Continuum” or “The Q”? But a bad episode on S.T. franchise, no problem. I shoulda been a TV writer. No, wait, is it, producers or the executives who pick the shows? Whoever, they stink. And they have all the power. Now I got it. That’s why I don’t write. I have always been too critical, too thoughtful, too logical. I am, therefore I think. I think I’ll re-read “Anthem” instead of watching “The Purge”, or re-watch “We The Living”.

    1. Read an article recently that said the current Mission Impossible people dream up the action stunts, plan out how to actually make them not IRL kill anyone, then add filler script to transition between them. There is no “story” to write.

  10. That’s not fair to Roger Corman, who gave us Death Race 2000, which is great on so many levels.

    1. Yes, indeed. A nihilistic nightmare well ahead of its time

  11. “Call me crazy, but it just may turn out that 10 hours of gory slaughter unconstrained by even the vaguest intellectual or moral framework is going to be irredeemable crap no matter how many pretty sociopolitical ribbons you put on it”

    You say that as if it’s a bad thing, or as if it differentiates The Purge from most everything else produced for our “entertainment” these days

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