Fans of the video game series Resident Evil will most likely not enjoy Netflix’s series of the same name. If you wish CW shows like Roswell involved more chainsaws, however, you might dig it.
Resident Evil as a series has had a complicated relationship to the medium of film. While the video games have always been beloved and acclaimed, the Paul W. S. Anderson movie series starring his wife Mila Jovovich based on them are more accurately described as “silly” or “nonsensical” or “one director’s mission to make a series of films mostly about how hot his wife is.” Despite fans generally rejecting these movies, they were popular and lucrative enough to produce six sequels. Fans of Resident Evil have also rejected the movie series reboot, subtitled Welcome to Racoon City, despite it being way more faithful to the original series.
The issue with adapting Resident Evil is that many of the things that make the games good are impossible to translate to film, and the story was never one of the things that made these games so beloved. When you watch a movie, you don’t use the parts of your brain that strategize or aim and shoot a gun—the aspect of the games that fans still say are basically perfect. Zombie outbreak stories are a dime a dozen, and Resident Evil doesn’t do much to change the formula. One thing the games are in terms of their storytelling is campy. Just check out this scene where police officer Leon Kennedy gets saved by a dog.
Netflix’s Resident Evil is similarly campy, and that tone is enthusiastically embraced by Lance Riddick, who plays the longtime series villain Albert Wesker. In this show, he has two adopted daughters who come with him to New Raccoon City in South Africa, where he is working on a drug called Joy, that makes people happier. When his animal loving daughter Billie convinces her sister Jade to sneak into the Umbrella Corporation to leak pictures of them testing on animals, they accidentally release a dog that’s had a little bit too much Joy, which bites Billie. Given that this show takes place across two times, and the second half of the narrative is all about Jade in the future trying to survive a zombie infected post-apocalypse, you can basically see where this is going.
Making the leads of the show two teenage girls also makes the plot of the show pretty ridiculous, but not in a way that feels out of character for Resident Evil. If you’re a fan of the games, you probably know what happened to the original Raccoon City (zombie outbreak), and in the fiction of this version of the story, the discovery of this corporate coverup falls into the hands of two 14 year olds. Just like Gossip Girl main characters Blair Waldorfand Serena VanDerWoodsen fell into unlikely and particularly adult social entanglements as teenagers, Billie and Jade quip and bicker their way through a nascent zombie apocalypse. Just like the two sisters in cult 80s movie Night of the Comet, their familial relationship is given room to grow and expand, and their pubescent squabbles are treated mostly seriously. When Jade starts flirting with Jake Marcus, son of Umbrella CEO Evelyn Marcus, her sister Billie laments that she might be dying and all Jade is concerned with is getting dicked down.
Albert Wesker and Evelyn Marcus also put Jade and Jake into a Serena and Dan-esque scenario. In Gossip Girl, Serena and Dan’s parents dated when they were younger, and when the two teens meet in high school and hit it off, the two parents also get entangled in their own melodrama. While Reddick’s Albert Wesker doesn’t seem interested in sex at all, he does clearly have an acrimonious history with Evelyn Marcus, played with an evil glee by Paola Núñez.
Most like Gossip Girl, these two adults also seem to have the composure and emotional maturity of teenagers. When Wesker overhears Evelyn talking to her spouse, he comments that things seem to be going well at home, and she replies, grinning ear to ear, “I’m a great lay.” In the first episode, when another student threatens his daughter, Wesker tells the student’s parent, who also works at Umbrella, that he not only wants him fired, but blacklisted throughout all of tech, saying, “I want Pornhub to shred your resume.”
While the apocalypse portions of the show are entertaining, and often feature fun zombie gun fights, I often find myself waiting for them to be over so I can get back to the delicious teen drama. When Resident Evil operates in a CW-esque mode, it feels like it really finds its footing. It’s in the way that Jake Marcus is, for some reason, a super hacker, or that the Wesker kids in one episode spend all day partying in a construction site with a sound system and a halfpipe, or that there’s a pop music needle drop in every episode with painfully on the nose lyrics. When Jade makes a deal with an Umbrella Corporation lackey in one episode, a song starts playing with the lyrics “I made a deal with the devil.” It’s silly, and it’s nonsensical, and it’s nothing like Resident Evil at all. It’s also a campy and stupid way to spend a few hours, which is all I really want out of any media that features zombies.