New Post-Apocalyptic Sci-Fi Series Is Too Focused On Finding Ways To Horrify Its Audience

Does Amazon's new streaming series measure up? Or does it get lost in the Wasteland?

By Joshua Tyler | Updated

Fallout review

Fallout isn’t supposed to be Amazon’s new zombie series, but much of it plays out like a watered-down version of The Walking Dead. But that’s only in its weakest moments. When it’s working, it’s a kitschy version of the Apple series Silo.

The series is based on the Fallout games. The games are beloved for many things, but chief among them is their sense of humor. That’s largely gone in the streaming series version, aside from a mildly humorous encounter with a murderous robot voiced by the always-hilarious Matt Berry.

Fallout's Matt Berry-voiced robot
Fallout’s Matt Berry-voiced robot

The show functions in three different worlds. The first is the surface world, which is pretty much like The Walking Dead. In this place ravaged by nuclear war, everyone’s either a radioactive zombie or a psychotic murderer with a hidden agenda, and much of what happens here seems to exist as a way for the show to revel in different kinds of body horror. 

Whether it’s severing and re-attaching limbs in the most gruesome manner possible, exploding heads, or watching a pregnant woman give birth to piranhas, Fallout is most engaged when it’s trying to gross out and horrify its audience using on-screen mutilation. They put a lot of effort into it, effort that isn’t always warranted.

Walton Goggins as Cooper Howard
Walton Goggins as Cooper Howard

The second world is the world of the vaults. This is where Fallout works best, as it explores what has happened and is happening to those who escaped the nuclear holocaust by hiding underground. It’s when we’re in the vaults that Fallout becomes the most interesting.

The third world of Fallout exists only in flashbacks, as over the course of the show, we follow a Hollywood actor in the past on his journey to uncover the secrets of Vault-Tec. As the name suggests, Vault-Tec is the company that built the underground vaults now filled with dwellers. It also may have been responsible for the end of the world.

Fallout review

Both the flashbacks and the post-apocalyptic wasteland are anchored by brilliant performances from actor Walton Goggins. In the past, he’s a plain-spoken hero trying to do what’s best for his family in a world that’s slowly going mad. In the future wasteland, he’s the ultimate villain, a brutally mutilated, radioactive ghoul willing to do whatever’s necessary to survive with little regard for the value of human life. 

Without Walton Goggins, sitting through those wasteland sequences would be unbearable. He’s the only thing that’ll keep you from looking at your phone and doom-scrolling Instagram until the next flashback or vault sequence. 

Ella Purnell in Fallout
Ella Purnell in Fallout

The rest of the cast is varying shades of capable. Ella Purnell is the series lead as Lucy MacLean, a vault dweller who ends up on the surface. She’s wide-eyed and naive. That turns into a great character arc, and no amount of excessive body horror seems to derail it. She’s innocent and foolish to start and something different by the end of Fallout’s first season, and I’m not talking about how many body parts she’s forced to chop off.

I wanted a Fallout series that was clever and surprising. What I got was a Fallout series that’s good at finding new ways to display severed limbs. Fallout is not a failure; the production design is impressive, the best hits of the 1940’s score is a delight, and the narrative construction of the show (despite a somewhat silly premise) is sound. But it does feel like an opportunity for something even better was missed.


Fallout is available to stream now on Amazon for Amazon Prime Video subscribers.