Raphael Bob-Waksberg and Kate Purdy poignantly swim through the recesses of time, animation and the mind in an ingenious new series.
It’s easy to think you know what Undone is going to be when you watch the first episode. Rotoscoped animation gives it that A Scanner Darkly vibes, and we’re treated to a montage of the mundanity of daily life that honestly feels as tired as the subject matter itself. It’s a scene we’ve seen before: bored millennial feels frustrated with the daily grind and wonders if there’s more to life than this.
But this is a Raphael Bob-Waksberg and Kate Purdy show, two of the minds behind BoJack Horseman, so of course that’s not all there is to it. Their work on Bojack proved both have a knack for handling complicated and nuanced discussions about mental health and addiction as well as a superior sense of storytelling. In Undone, they once again tackle mental health, but this time they add in a layer of fantasy by using time travel to talk about the very nature of reality and time itself.
The show stars Rosa Salazar (Alita: Battle Angel) as Alma, a 28-year-old daycare worker that’s thoroughly bored with her life, including her live-in boyfriend, Sam (Siddharth Dhananjay). Her relationship with her family is strained and it only grows more so as they all start gearing up for her little sister Becca’s (Angelique Cabral) wedding. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), a near-fatal car crash flips Alma’s life upside down, the effects of which have a fantastical twist. Post-accident, Alma has a completely different relationship with time, leaving the linear model we all live behind, to experience something unimaginable, guided by the ghost of her dead father (Bob Odenkirk).
By the end of the first episode, it’s immediately obvious that Bob-Waksberg’s choice to use rotoscoped animation was the perfect one. By layering the animation over the actors and giving the backgrounds a hand-painted quality, there’s an unsettling dreaminess to it all. Moments grounded in reality feel more real because of the way the actors’ performances can come through, but these moments also blend seamlessly with scenes of fantasy. The animators can pivot from Alma sitting at a kitchen table, to Alma splitting apart from herself or floating through the vastness of space without pulling viewers out of the narrative. There are no constraints from special effects. It all feels a part of the same world in a way that might not have been achievable with live-action.
As impressive as the look and feel of the show is, it’s the dialogue that’s the true star. Alma is sarcastic and passionate and her quick quips make her feel completely alive. That might be why she’s able to make the philosophical discussions with her father feel just as lively, despite how jam-packed they are with complex ideas generally believed to be better suited for a university classroom than a half-hour cartoon.
It should be obvious that this is not the show to turn to if you want to shut down and mindlessly let it wash over you. Undone demands your undivided attention, but it’s attention it’s a joy to give. It manages to be both entertaining and compelling, and with Alma (who’s as baffled by what’s happening to her as we are) as our guide, it’s never once alienating.
Undone demands your undivided attention, but it’s attention it’s a joy to give.
So much of how Undone is written and designed seems meant to invite more and more people to the table. It provides representation not just for a Mexican-American family, but makes direct reference to their indigenous Mexican heritage. And Alma might be the first hearing-impaired character I’ve ever seen star in a show, let alone one with all the hallmarks of prestige TV. Bob-Waksberg manages to perfectly stride the line between explicitly addressing these facts without making them the central point of the narrative. He expertly does what too many filmmakers and showrunners seem to believe is impossible.
Undone is the most innovative and exciting piece of television I’ve seen in years. It’s more than a good story. It wants to push the medium in a new direction, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.
Undone sends you into the swirling fantasia of a fractured mind on Amazon Prime Video September 13.