Making America Great By Killing Thy Neighbor: ‘The Purge’ Migrates to TV

Most people agree that the way to enhance the quality of life on Earth doesn’t involve thinning the herd.

Those who disagree include the Marvel Comics character Thanos and many of the most influential characters in The Purge, a hit film franchise that becomes a TV series on USA starting Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET.

Gabriel Chavarria in USA’s “The Purge.”

The heavily promoted TV version, whose first season will run 10 episodes, continues the practice of the four movies, which is to introduce a lot of new characters.

The premise remains intact. We’re living in a future America that every year hosts a 12-hour period during which virtually all crime, including murder, is legal.

The rulers of this reimagined order, the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA), argue that this is a necessary release for natural human aggression. By letting people follow their hearts for this one night, free from all that pesky government regulation, the NFFA says all other crime has gone way down. With fewer people, so has unemployment.

Mainly, The Purge is promoted as a cleansing of the American soul, a bracing shower after which everyone feels all sparkly and refreshed.

Just glad to be alive, you might say.

In response to your first question, it is said more than once that The Purge makes America great.

In response to your second question, the TV rendition of The Purge is less graphic than it could be. Murder tends to be a quick process here, without a lot of blood spatter.

That said, the skies over The Purge are dark with brutality. Rays of light poke through here and there, but in general, this is an America in which most people have accepted, however reluctantly, that this is the new normal.

Lili Simmons has her own unique Purge Night style.

In fact, it may be a tossup as to which group is the most disturbing here: the psychopaths who live for this annual night of ultraviolence, the protected elite who promote it, or the people in the middle, most of whom have concluded that if they can just protect themselves and their families for 12 hours, they’ll shrug off the consequences for everyone else.

After all, the NFFA did make the streets safer and the economy stronger.

In terms of sheer villainy, the mad dog killers in the streets cannot match the power elite of the NFFA, who treat sadistic slaughter as a form of entertainment, watching it on television from the comfort of their barricaded ballroom and congratulating themselves on having made it all possible through their lavish spending on NFFA candidates and policies.

The Purge dramatizes all this through several individuals.

Miguel (Gabriel Chavarria), a Marine, is racing the clock to find his sister Penelope (Jessica Garza), who has serious issues of her own. Their parents were killed in an earlier Purge.

Jane Barber (Amanda Warren) has reached a breaking point in her professional life, and while she has lived her life by the book, The Purge tempts her with extreme measures.

Rick and Jenna. Not everyone is worried on Purge Night.

Rick (Colin Woodell) and his wife Jenna (Hannah Emily Anderson) would love to help end The Purge, but fear the only way to do so might be to help subvert it from inside. Their plans are complicated by the mysterious and privileged Lila (Lili Simmons), who adds sex to the Purge Night picture.

Not everything about The Purge feels totally explained. Cops, firemen and EMS workers are supposed to be out of the picture on Purge Night, yet volunteers have immunity to tend to the wounded. Also, the scope of permissible crime is unclear. Explosive weapons are nominally banned, for instance, but who’s out there to know or enforce that? Sex crimes are also largely sidestepped, at least in the early hours of the show. Is rape legal? Child molestation? Would that get a round of applause on the jumbotron in the NFFA ballroom?

The first TV episode of The Purge devotes considerable airtime to what seems at first to be a creepy side drama. A cult-like group of young people has been convinced that it is the greatest act of love to sacrifice themselves to bands of psychopathic killers on Purge Night. So they do.

The first thing many viewers will notice about this group is that they dress in monk-like robes with headwear that’s pretty much the same, except for the color, as the costumes required of subjugated women in The Handmaid’s Tale.

Alongside The Purge’s obvious kinship to The Hunger Games, it seems multiple versions of the dystopian future intersect .

The self-sacrificing cultists here seem a little off-key, though. The motives and responses of most other characters, while disturbing, don’t seem quite so counterintuitive to human nature.

Purely as television, The Purge might complete USA’s 180-degree turn from the days of breezy dramedies like White Collar and Royal Pains. While The Purge works hard to avoid being just a slashfest, it’s dark and disturbing, not least because it raises this inevitable question: Once someone has been given a license to kill, who’s going to take it away?

David Hinckley wrote for the New York Daily News for 35 years. Now he drives his wife crazy by randomly quoting Bob Dylan and “Casablanca.”

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