Residue: Season 1 Review

Whilst I’m working on another lengthy gender-related post for you all, I thought I’d throw in a quick review of the new Netflix Original Series Residue. Whenever a new Netflix series comes out, I feel like I have a duty to watch it; most of them tend to rate as above average so it’s usually a good move. Of course Netflix also gave us House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, so there is always a chance their next show might follow in their footsteps (aka be incredible).

As a staunch sci-fi fan, I was very excited for the release of Residue. A futuristic metropolis is torn apart in the wake of a catastrophic explosion, with added government conspiracies and possibly the undead? Cool. Count me in. If you weren’t as convinced as me, or haven’t heard of it, check out the trailer here.

So we have the phenomenal Natalia Tena, the talented (and my future husband) Iwan Rheon and in the directors seat – Alex Garcia Lopez of Misfits and Utopia fame. It looked pretty hopeful, so obviously I ordered a pizza and watched the entire thing in one go. The first season is only 3 episodes, so it wasn’t really that hard. However, it wasn’t particularly enjoyable either. I had been excited by the trailer, and the prospect of another pacy conspiracy show to rival Utopia. The strength of Utopia was its ability to leave clues and tidbits for the audience to swallow up, without ever revealing anything too important, or giving away too much. It was thrilling because we knew enough to feel involved, but never felt like we were given access to everything.

Unfortunately, Residue did neither. It primarily suffered from the ‘narrative-too-small-for-3-episodes’ disease (that I definitely did not just invent). Seriously though, what transpires over three episodes would definitely have fitted better into one. The main problem for Residue is simply this – not enough happens. The first episode efficiently set up the plot, introduced us to to Jennifer (Natalia Tena) and Jonas (Iwan Rheon) and conveniently established the pace for the second and third episode. S-L-O-W. Don’t get me wrong, I love a show which knows when to utilize stillness and when to linger on specific moments rather than rushing ahead and forgetting details. Residue doesn’t linger, so much as stop altogether. It seems too concerned with jump scares that ultimately mean nothing and trying to make us believe that Jen and Jonas actually do like each other and aren’t just two people being paid to enjoy each others company, that it seems to have forgotten to add in an actual plot. The set-up is interesting; an explosion on new years eve renders the center of a futuristic city dead due to contamination. Big government officials keeping things under wraps; a curious photographer sees more through her lens than she wanted to. Sadly, set-up is all that Residue seems to be able to do.

What should be a harrowing, dark and essentially good old fashioned scary series turns out to be just a bit… crap.

To start with, the setting of ‘futuristic city’ is vague, and could have been really good chance to experiment with different cultures/landscapes and yet the cutaway shots of the city show what is most likely London with a few palm trees and clubs that look like they were taken straight out of Only God Forgives i.e. slightly oriental but mostly just offensive. The strangest thing about this ‘future city’ was that, due to the attempt at mixing Eastern and Western culture, I expected there to be a diverse range of characters within Residue, in terms of ethnicity. However, the cast almost entirely made up of white British actors, with the only exceptions being Willy G (stereotypical black gangsta type) and Angela Rossi (government gal). Even the Tokyo style Karoke bars were filled with white men with cockney accents. It’s a bit disappointing, especially for a series touting itself as futuristic sci-fi, but I’d be lying if I said this even scratched the surface of Residue’s issues.

The main issue that Residue has is it’s plot, or lack thereof. The 3 episode arc fails to pay off because literally nothing happens in the end. Everything that occurs within the first two episodes is leading up to a revelation, a realisation. This is fine, a lot of narratives work this way, but usually there is some sort of compensation, a reward for seeing the clues and trying to work out what is going on. The last episode of Residue allows us to see inside the quarantine zone, but ultimately we don’t learn anything new. We already knew that there was some sort of ghostly apparition, due to Jen’s photography skills and we were already aware that the Government were trying to cover it up, due to Jonas’ earlier venture into the zone. Residue never gives the audience the chance to work anything out for themselves and insists on obtuse dialogue to explain to the audience what is happening. Which, coincidentally, is not a lot. In addition to Jen scouring dirty night clubs in a futuristic take of Eyes Wide Shut, there is a sub-plot involving an ex (or current?) police man who spends a lot of time in his car and/or in those oriental bars I discussed earlier. Is it a sub plot? Either way the police man has an emotional backstory (his daughter died in the blast) but this isn’t exploited to give him any character depth or arc. At some point he gets into a fight with a drug dealer. I’m not sure why. He, like Jen is trying to uncover the mystery of the quarantine zone, except all of his leads culminate to nothing. Retrospectively, it makes no sense to even follow him as a character; we don’t identify with him and we don’t learn anything from his story.

Among the incredibly dicey script and one dimensional characterizations, there are some good parts. The cinematography and CGI are cleverly tackled for such a low budget production, Lopez makes good use of low lighting to increase tension whilst also making the set look more realistic. The residue itself is suitably creepy, but the narrative just doesn’t hold enough weight to make it seem like a legitimate threat. I’m particularly disappointed by both Rheon and Tena in terms of performance – both of them have given phenomenal performances previously and it’s a real shame they couldn’t bring anything nearly as impressive to the table in Residue. I’m not sure whether it is mainly a script issue or whether they just have very little onscreen chemistry; either way it didn’t work for me.

If you’re still thinking about watching it, watch Utopia instead. If you have already seen Utopia, just watch that again. It’s far better and you’ll never get those 2 ½ hours of Residue back.

2 thoughts on “Residue: Season 1 Review

  1. Completely agree with you, Becky. The show keeps on building up suspense, which at some point is so stretched out that one stops caring, and in the end delivers … nothing at all. The visuals are indeed the only god thing about this series – even the music is trying too hard. Big disappointment.

  2. Although you’re right about some things (unnecessarily slow-paced, little to no depth in the characters, absolutely no chemistry between the two leads, a compressed narrative to fit into 3 episodes, a wannabe futuristic city that ends up being just plain weird…) But you’re wrong about one thing: There IS a reward in the end, the big revelation one’s expecting. It’s just that it’s not presented to the audience straightforwardly —you do have to make an effort to put two and two together with the bits and pieces of information you’ve collected throughout the 3 episodes. The big revelation? The moment the guy who’s with Jen at the end reveals he’s from the ministry of DEFENCE, and asks Jen how she survived the encounters with the shadowy things. Plain and simple. The new years’s explosion was deliberately caused by the government, through underground associations with gangsters (and the police guy who you think is an expendable character tells this to Jen right before he’s framed for murder by his superiors), to explain what they needed to be a “quarantine zone”. Why they needed this quarantine zone? To conduct experiments, with chemicals that produced the shadowy thing (this is actually said very clearly in a call the guy from the ministry of defence makes to someone on the inside, who’s conducting an autopsy on someone who was most likely experimented on). Then you deduce, this shadowy thing was created as a military weapon, to make people —enemies, to be precise— kill themselves. The people we actually see killing themselves were casualties from being exposed to the shadowy thing, as they lived near the quarantine zone. So, there. This was what I actually LIKED about the show, it doesn’t give you straight answers, it’s ambiguous, you need to read into it. They don’t tell you “it’s green”. They give you a bit of yellow, and a bit of blue, and you realise is green when you mix the two. It was challenging, and not a lot of shows challenge your ability to figure things out on your own these days.

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