Fallout review: An amazing TV show worthy of the games

Cameron Frew
Ella Purnell on the Fallout TV show poster

It may be a wet dream for the fans, but Fallout is a brilliant TV show on its own terms; gruesome, gripping, and as refreshing as a Nuka Cola.

Many will cite HBO’s The Last of Us in their praise of Fallout; it’s a gaming title of similar globally-echoed renown, it was a big-budget adaptation for the small screen, and Jonathan Nolan (one half of the showrunning duo alongside Westworld’s Lisa Joy) credited it with making their series seem feasible.

But they’re apples and oranges. The former game’s emotional trajectory is pre-ordained and narratively cinematic at its core; it lends itself to television without much need to tinker. Fallout isn’t a simple translation; even if it tried to adapt one game, the appeal of its enormous, frightening world is the moral freedom it affords — providing clean, purified water to Megaton one day, before dropping a fat nuke on it the next.

Occasionally to its detriment, Fallout does capture the overwhelming feeling of navigating the wasteland and the horrifying truths within. But here’s the important thing: it may stem from “the love of the game”, but this is television that warrants the “stick-to-itiveness” of fans and newcomers alike. May the shape of the future be cut by its sword.

Fallout follows three survivors

Fallout begins at the only point that makes sense: the end — October 23, 2077, to be exact — with atomic bombs annihilating a retro-futuristic Los Angeles as men, women, and children flee to futile safety.

We forward-wind to 219 years later with Lucy MacLean (Ella Purnell), the can-do, Pixar-eyed daughter of Hank (Kyle MacLachlan), the Overseer of Vault 33, just one “veritable Camelot of the nuclear age” under Vault-Tec. Life is simple, even pleasant, if entirely manufactured; imagine Starship Troopers’ “I’m doing my part!” soldiers, but that’s just how every “Vaultie” behaves.

When her father is abducted, Lucy ventures into the wasteland, coming face to face with a scorched California for the first time and its dangerous, conniving raiders, merchants, and everyone (and everything) in between. This includes Maximus (Aaron Moten), an aspirant in the Brotherhood of Steel, a military faction that “uses prewar technology to find prewar technology to prevent others from using prewar technology,” as one character points out. There’s also the Ghoul (Walton Goggins), a charred gunslinger who spends his days picking up bounties, guzzling drug vials, and eating ass jerky.

Their paths collide in search of Moldaver (Sarita Choudhury), a mysterious leader and “Flame Mother” — and that’s as much as we can tell you without getting into spoilers.

Fallout captures the essence of the game

Walton Goggins in Fallout

“Thou shall get sidetracked by random bullsh*t every god damn time,” the Ghoul quips early on — and what a superb way to sum up the experience of playing Fallout (or any Bethesda RPG, really). The TV series has a compelling throughline, and while its juggling of each character isn’t particularly elegant (it’s chopped up in a way that’s mindful of ad breaks), the series indulges in the wacky, passing-by potential of the franchise’s world. There’s Gulpers, doctors with magical elixirs and a habit of “f**king chickens”, and other gleefully weird, sometimes disturbing beats along the way. And there are a few moments that will really make fans’ hearts soar — you’ll just have to wait and see.

All of the performances are great; Purnell is a strong, loveably naive lead, while Moten delivers a fascinatingly, sort-of loathsome turn. Excusing the wonderful pooch that plays CX404, aka Four, Goggins is the runaway MVP, an agent of chilly, smooth-talking chaos somewhere between John Marston and Clarence Boddicker. If the Brotherhood of Steel plot is the weakest — the hooah cultism isn’t explored enough — his centuries-spanning story could be a TV show on its own.

The writing is absurd and often a bit juvenile — with good reason. Think about it: if you met someone from 200 years in the future who basically lived inside a ’50s commercial their entire life, or a soldier who wasn’t even aware of the concept of sex, never mind having had it, you’d probably think they’re a bit weird. However, there’s sharpness in its silliness, and there’s the pearls of chilling wisdom you’d expect; yes, “War never changes” is woven into the script, and it hits perfectly.

Fallout’s morbid sense of humor is key to the series just as it is the games, but the TV particularly shines in its impeccable, immersive production design. Each room, hallway, prop, and set is incredibly considered; the atompunk, Nuketown aesthetic in the vaults, the rust-scarred shanty towns in the wasteland, the Brotherhood’s power armor, and even green fuzziness of the Pip-Boys. It all shines with Nolan, Joy, and co’s sturdy, dynamic direction; each episode bolsters the sense of this being a complete vision from the start.

Finally, Fallout wouldn’t be Fallout without a cozy, analog-softened soundtrack of mid-century bangers — and the TV show doesn’t disappoint, from Jane Morgan’s ‘From the First Hello to the Last Goodbye’ to The Ink Spots’ iconic ‘I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire.’

Fallout TV show review score: 4/5

Fallout is one of the most confident, impressive video game adaptations ever made; it’s not without its flaws, but it’s hard to imagine a better opening season.

Fallout starts streaming on Prime Video on April 10. Find out exactly what time you can watch it.

About The Author

Cameron is Deputy TV and Movies Editor at Dexerto. He's an action movie aficionado, '80s obsessive, and Oscars enthusiast. He loves Invincible, but he's also a fan of The Boys, the MCU, The Chosen, and much more. You can contact him at cameron.frew@dexerto.com.