The Last of Us (Season One) - HBO
Damn those entertainment moguls and their overly fertile imaginations. How very dare they take a beloved franchise and do something they think would be good for it, and in turn, for us, the lowly armchair faux experts that throw Cheetos in fury at their meagre, thoughtless offerings. How DARE they? It took me five episodes before I could truly get that oddly unpleasant smell from under my nose. You know the one, it fills your atmosphere and makes you curl your lip silently in revulsion at something unpleasant, like a pungent, unexpected fart from the pretty girl at the table opposite you on your first date or discovering a decomposing mouse in your Frosties, just when you were really in the mood for a bowl.
To be fair, my expectations were not high to begin with. Adaptations from video games rarely do well, but this franchise has more than the average amount of soul to waste without due care. Not many games bring me to tears when finishing them, and this wasn't one of them, but it was so very close to making me that it became a very special, memorable experience. Ellie and Joel quietly became my friends, whose lives I had the occasional opportunity of managing, and I wanted the best for them. My natural parenting, whilst not having girls, kicked in and I wanted to protect Ellie and was silently distraught when the game direction was wrenched from my control.
How on earth do you re-create that, I wondered, prior to sitting down with episode one. Loved by millions for, no doubt, many of the same reasons as Mr Average here, it was going to be a tall order to make me feel the same way for these characters over which I could only watch and have at best, enthusiastic goodwill, instead of actual sway in their survival. Was this my Joel? Well, it was close, but not quite. My Ellie? Not a bit of it. There's that smell again.
Ashley Johnson played Ellie (motion capture and voice) in the games and here, Bella Ramsey (Game of Thrones) takes on the part that Johnson would have been too old by now to legitimately get away with. If only time-travel were a thing. The majority of my peers have been largely appreciative of the adaptation, something of a coup in these here parts, but the one repeated sticking point is Ellie's casting. I thought I'd give Ramsey at least half the episodes before stamping repeatedly and with gusto on her frankly ridiculous notion of playing Ellie. My Ellie!? It's like getting the opportunity to loot a supermarket, only to find that all is left is hoover bags and lube. It's something, I guess, just not what I was expecting or hoping for. I mean, where's the peanut butter and Southern Comfort I was promised?
This has been lauded already by some notable critics as one of, if not the, best drama of the year. No let's just back up a minute here fellas. We're halfway through February and I'm guessing you don't get out much. Or for that matter, play many games. To a degree they have a point, this is so much better than we probably deserve or should reasonably expect and if the casting of one character is all I can bitch about, then this is doing much better than most. The performances are strong for the most part, especially from Pedro Pascal as Joel. Anna Torv is a welcome surprise as always and the risk of diverting attention from our main protagonists is admirable but not without suitable peril. There are still four episodes in its nine episode season and I am curious what they will make of the frankly polarising second game, should they choose to approach it. So far, so pretty good. Any chance we can have Johnson for Season Two?