SCAVENGERS REIGN SERIES PREMIERE REVIEW SCORE
The animated sci-fi series Scavengers Reign released its first three episodes on Max this week, and I watched the first two episodes–“The Signal” and “The Storm”– for this review. Unless the series somehow inexplicably takes a dip in quality by episode 3 or 4, I can confidently say Scavengers Reign is the best original series to appear on Max since it changed its name to a stereo volume setting.
Scavengers Reign is absolutely gorgeous though what it makes you see could keep you up at night.
The premise of Scavengers Reign is as simple as one can be: a shipwreck in space. Something happens to the Demeter 227 on its journey, causing the ship to crash on an alien planet with animal and plant life as singularly bizarre and nightmarishly dangerous as you could imagine. The first two episodes follow three sets of survivors and the different horrors they face.
Sam (Bob Stephenson) and Ursula (Sunita Mani) initially seem so familiar with the planet to almost make you forget they’re in trouble. More than any of the other survivors we meet, they appear educated regarding the technological applications of the world’s beasts. In their first scene, Sam dives into the innards of a large, hippo-like animal–who hardly seems to notice–which feels like a humorless, reversed version of the infamous scene in 1995’s Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, when the titular detective pushes himself out of the rear end of an animatronic rhino.
The pair have mollusk-like creatures they use as gas masks, blowfish they can push their hands into for emergency airlifts, and they’ve figured out ways to use animal parts like electronic wiring.
But all their good ideas seem to quickly turn on them, like when scavenging part of the Demeter nearly kills Ursula, or when their clever trick to find shelter from a storm in an aquatic beast turns into a gladiator fight with a massive man-crab.
If Warner Bros. Discovery can manage to not let David Zaslav know there’s actually something worth watching on Max, we might even get more seasons of this visual feast.
Facing a different kind of challenge is Azi (Wunmi Mosaku), who is partnered with the robot Levi (Alia Shawkat). Corrupted by some kind of fungus growing in her circuits, which the robot insists is fixing her, Levi is often as much of a hindrance–or even moreso–as a help. She goes on scouting missions in the middle of the night without telling Azi, and fires off projectiles for no discernible reason.
Finally there is Kamen (Ted Travelstead), who presents the most interesting mystery of all the survivors we’ve met so far in Scavengers Reign.
We don’t know for sure how long ago the Demeter crashed but Sam, Ursula, and Azi give the sense of having landed on the planet not all that long ago–maybe weeks at the most. On the other hand, Kamen–with a long red beard that would make him a much more viable ZZ Top candidate than Sam–has a more Tom-Hanks-circa-Castaway look to him.
Because of this, it wouldn’t surprise me if Scavengers Reign is playing with time kind of like Westworld does in its inaugural season. I won’t spoil how, but it’s made fairly clear that, while they don’t meet by the end of the second episode, the events we see experienced by the separate teams of Sam/Ursula and Azi/Levi are happening concurrently. But it’s possible Kamen’s tale is years in the future.
Kamen’s story is so far the most psychedelic of the three. The survivor is found by a monkey-like alien who has him ingesting a black substance that induces hallucinations. By the end of episode 2 it isn’t even clear if Kamen knows the alien is there, even though it seems to follow him everywhere.
Scavengers Reign is absolutely gorgeous though what it makes you see could keep you up at night. The images of a strange plant that somehow mimics Ursula’s face and the dead Demeter crew covered in the kinds of growths you would expect to find on the bottom of the ocean will stay with you whether you want them to or not.
Scavengers Reign is the best original series to appear on Max since it changed its name to a stereo volume setting.
The series pulls from every corner of sci-fi in the best ways. The opening dialogue of “The Signal,” with two men talking about the lost Demeter and how expenses will likely not be spent to find the ship will remind you of the hellish corporate futures of Alien and Blade Runner. When you see the corpses of Demeter crew, the fungus zombies of The Last of Us won’t be far from your mind.
The intro that tells the story of the crash with its relatively quiet, haunting score will no doubt seem familiar with an early HBO max sci-fi project, Raised by Wolves.
Scavengers Reign is something worth watching and getting excited about. If Warner Bros. Discovery can manage to not let David Zaslav know there’s actually something worth watching on Max, we might even get more seasons of this visual feast.