Sunday, June 26, 2022

Can we face another pandemic story in The Lazarus Project?

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Hands up if you never want to see another pandemic-related story again. If your hand is raised, fair warning: you’re in for a scare for the first few minutes The Lazarus Project. On the plus side, the crisis unleashing this plot isn’t Covid – but if the sight of masks, fever and widespread despair puts you off, then you might be tempted to do the same with this dystopian drama. Stick with it, however, and you might be drawn into a world of entertaining, time-shifting intrigue.

Our protagonist George (Paapa Essiedu) is largely living a thousand-year dream. On July 1, 2022, he wakes up next to his partner Sarah (Charly Clive) in their stylish apartment, which is filled with plants from floor to ceiling. There’s always cause for celebration: first a business loan approval, then the announcement of a pregnancy, and then a wintry wedding with all her friends and family in tow. All smiles at the moment, but trouble is coming – the spread of the Mers-22 virus that threatens to decimate humanity. (Shudder.)

Although the world recovered from Covid not long before, people are coughing again and the news is playing constant updates on the many lives lost. A pregnant Sarah begins to suffer badly from the virus, and the distraught couple wonders if they will die. It’s all so grim and unforgiving – until George wakes up on July 1, 2022, to gasping and the sound of the garbage truck banging outside, as if the past few agonizing months never happened. But he knows what he’s been through can’t be explained away as a bad dream or deja vu. What he saw was real and he needs answers.

The mysterious Archie (Anjli Mohindra) soon provides them, after approaching him in a hackneyed but fantasy-genre-appropriate way, grinning from the shadows. The universe, she tells him, works in time loops, and George is one of the few who can remember her in the wake of the pandemic. But these loops are not accidents or random events; The Lazarus Project is a secret, high-stakes organization purposely controlling time to reverse mass extinctions. Exactly how they do this remains a mystery to both George and us at home, but essentially this group of special agents work together to save us all from nuclear and chemical disasters. In fact, the reason a Covid vaccine came about in nine months, Archie claims, is that the Lazarus Project had tried a number of times. They try to resolve crises naturally, but each time they’ve exhausted their options on a particular quest, they reset life to the date of their checkpoint: the last time, July 1st.

Now they take on Mers and invite George to help him. He accepts and plunges into a new world full of missions and brilliant colleagues, including the wise group leader Wes (Caroline Quentin). Although a little underexplained and occasionally simplistic, The Lazarus Project has a brilliant concept with satisfying bursts of action (think gunfights and international chases). Essiedu is cute enough as an upbeat everyman hero, but time will tell if the show allows him to reach the same heights he did in superlatives i can destroy you. With people like Russian doll, The Umbrella Academy and even Doctor Who While time travel pieces are already prominent in cultural conversation, skeptics might say we’ve seen everything we need on the subject. But hey, it’s about time. And there are some gruesome surprises along the way. We are now well accustomed to those in the real world. The question is, can we see them on TV too?

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