“Kindred” is a time-traveling slave series that fails to do justice to Octavia Butler

in the new Forex drama kindred, A young black woman named Dana finds herself time-traveling back and forth between Los Angeles in 2016 to a slave plantation in early 19th century Maryland. On some of these trips, Dana (Mallory Johnson) accompanies Kevin (Micah Stock), a white man she has just started dating, understandably afraid of being in that time and place alone. For the most part, they are both terrified to be there. But there is a peaceful moment during one of their longer visits when they are surprised to realize that the farm is beginning to feel more real than their lives 200 years in the future.

Viewers watching the series, which playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins adapted from the acclaimed 1979 novel Octavia Butler, may find the opposite reaction. Although the show spends most of its time on the farm, it seems more alive, complex, and interesting during our periodic glimpses of the modern world.

The first episode was written by Jacobs Jenkins and directed by Janicza Bravo (Zola), largely in 2016. Dana has struggled to find direction and peace since her parents died in a car accident, and recently decided to sell the family’s New York brownstone, buy a house in Los Angeles, and try to break into the television business as a writer. She chafes at the judgmental outlook of her Aunt Denise (Ezza Davis) and Uncle Alan (Charles Parnell), as well as the racism of next door Karen (technically called Hermione, played by Brooke Bloom, who was actually Karen earlier this fall). Atlanta). But she gets along with Kevin surprisingly well when he gives her a ride home from a bar after her phone dies, and she feels confident she can master screenwriting by sketching out old episodes of Dynasty. All in all, things are going well for her before they get stuck in time.

The character work, the chemistry between Johnson and Stock, and the creeping sense of dread that comes from her brief excursions to the farm are all very effective early on — almost too effective. Once the season has evolved from switching back and forth between the two eras and dedicates itself to some extended stays in 1815, Type He quickly starts withdrawing, as if he didn’t want to be in this time and place any more than Dana or Kevin did at first.

At one point Kevin insists, “There have to be rules to this thing,” and the season gradually elaborates on them. More importantly, Dana is somehow connected to Rufus (David Alexander Kaplan), the son of abusive plantation owner Thomas (Ryan Kwanten of real blood) and the emotionally fragile Margaret (Gael Rankin of radiates). Dana’s job appears to be to protect Rufus, and possibly one or more of the black enslaved people under Tom’s control. She gets some help from Kevin and a free-spirited, intelligent woman named Olivia (Sheria Irving), but the burden mostly falls on herself.

The problem is that, other than Olivia, none of the 1815 characters are drawn nearly as well as those we see in the 21st century. Tom is a one-note beast

. Margaret is only a little less caricatured. And so many enslaved characters—particularly young women—exist almost entirely as plot devices, that it’s difficult to keep track of which one is at risk during which of Dana’s travels, and why. And the extra time spent there as the season progresses does little to deepen our understanding of it. The balance with any stories set in the days of slavery is to find a way to make the white pro-slavery character wildly interesting without actually empathizing with her. Some modern therapies have done away with him, like Barry Jenkins’ ruthless slave-owner Joel Edgerton.

Underground railway

Adaptation. Tom, though, is a cartoon villain who is unable to keep up the amount of time allotted to him.

Ryan Kwanten as Thomas Whalen in Kindred Tina Rudin/FXThere is palpable tension and suspense in the way Dana and Kevin will talk themselves about various problems, and Mallory Johnson (a TV newbie seen earlier this year in a supporting role at Apple. I crashed ) is more than just the burden of what she is required to say without words, and how much the show needs her as a charismatic center. And despite its high concept,

He does not shy away from the physical and psychological horror of a life of slavery.

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But aside from a few scenes of intentionally disturbing violence — which include on-camera whipping and barely-there rape off-camera — the 1815 sequence sorely lacks emotional focus compared to what happens in 2016, though the farm story is the whole point of it all. Dana discovers an unexpected engagement with Olivia that complicates the whole situation, but I spent many of their scenes wondering what Denise would think about all of this if Dana could convince her of what was going on. common Dana and Kevin desperately want to get away from the ranch for good, so it’s probably no surprise

Type She may have unconsciously given her audience the same wish. But it makes for a less engaging viewing experience than you’d expect, given the enduring legacy of its source material. The entire first season of

Kind begins airing December 13th on Hulu. I’ve watched all eight episodes.
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