Fallout Is Everything a Video Game Show Should Be

Prestige TV finally mutates into something greater.

Prime Video
Inverse Reviews

More than a year later, we’re still seeing the effects from The Last of Us proving that video game adaptations could actually make for award-winning, Sunday-night appointment television on the same level as Succession and House of the Dragon. But The Last of Us was a unique case in that it had a strict narrative story and set characters — it was a playable TV series as much as it was a video game. It seemed impossible that a game that didn’t have such an immersive and straightforward story could be translated into TV.

That is, until Fallout.

Fallout, an adaptation of Bethesda’s hit post-apocalyptic game series, shouldn’t be able to work for TV. The game is an open-world RPG, so the protagonist can be built completely differently and the story varies based on which towns they wander across and which missions they choose to complete. No two players have the same experience, so replicating the experience should prove impossible.

But Fallout, brought to Amazon Prime Video by Westworld showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, sidesteps any such problems by crafting a story that exists after the events of all the games with entirely new characters and devices. The result is something that does more than just give a video game the prestige treatment. This show furthers the evolution of prestige TV entirely to create something that blurs genre and convention as much as it defies expectation.

Lucy’s first glimpse of the wasteland is heightened by fun, ramshackle production design.

Prime Video

Fallout begins, as most post-apocalyptic stories do, with the apocalypse, told in a frightening flashback that’s set in 2077, despite looking indistinguishable from the 1950s. Smash cut to 219 years later, and we meet Lucy (Ella Purnell), a bright-eyed child of the apocalypse. Shielded from the outside world, she’s raised inside a Vault-Tec vault, where the 1950s retrofuturism of the pre-blast world has remained frozen in amber. She’s the golden child of her community — the daughter of the overseer, Hank (Kyle MacLachlan), and proficient in every extracurricular she can find, from plumbing to book club.

This makes her a prime candidate for intervault reproduction — after 200 years, you’re pretty much related to everyone in the shelter. But when her wedding to a complete stranger goes awry, she’s forced to the surface on an epic quest.

In between pieces of Lucy’s story, we are introduced to our two other protagonists: Cooper Howard, aka The Ghoul (Walton Goggins), a movie star turned mutant bounty hunter, and Maximus (Aaron Moten), an aspirant member of the Wasteland Luddite community, the Brotherhood of Steel. All three of these characters are seeking the same grotesque MacGuffin that promises the ability to change the world.

As Lucy, Cooper, and Maximus cross paths, clash swords or hesitantly collaborate, Fallout’s writing truly begins to shine. The story is more than just a dystopian hero’s journey — it’s about how different ideologies interact with one another. Lucy’s optimism, The Ghoul’s cynicism, and Maximus’ trust in justice each have their own strengths and weaknesses. “Everyone wants to save the world,” Maximus says. “They just disagree as to how.”

Walton Goggins gives a career-best performance as The Ghoul/Cooper Howard.

Prime Video

This focus on faith and ideology translates to worldbuilding, which can be summed up as “Oops, All Cults.” Lucy’s worldview has been literally sheltered, Maximus is taught that the Night’s Watch-esque Brotherhood of Steel is the only way forward, and even Cooper Howard’s multiple flashback scenes show him torn between two groups he finds equally brainwashed. As the characters traverse the wasteland, they manage to find groups with their own messed-up practices that seem as normal as breathing.

All of this could play off as goofy or preachy, but the moving target of Fallout’s tone is perfectly suited to the cast. Purnell retains her queen bee attitude from Yellowjackets but amps up the naiveté. Moten delivers pragmatic, world-weary survivor but allows flashes of insecurity that reflect off him like the sun off his power armor. But the runaway standout is Goggins, who has played versions of The Ghoul his entire career but finally gets to lean into the cowboy role. He essentially gets to play two versions of the same character — Cooper Howard, the Hollywood actor trying to navigate a Red Scare, and the Ghoul, the badass cowboy his earlier iteration dreamt of being.

While the adventure lies on the surface, some of the best storytelling actually happens in the vaults.


Despite how the series starts by bringing a character to the surface, Fallout’s secret weapon is really the story inside the vault. While Lucy is adventuring, her little brother, Norman (Moisés Arias), investigates the tragedy that sent her away in the first place, and what he discovers is a dark, twisted conspiracy that goes deeper than he ever imagined. Paradoxically, his story is paired with the narrative of the vault-dwellers trying to rebuild. They’re all so amicable and compassionate that nothing can really get done — they’re just wandering around like characters in a version of Severance where nothing went wrong.

It’s the perfect microcosm of what Fallout adds to the “prestige TV” subgenre. It’s somehow both the best “mystery box” show of 2024 — with multiple twists, clues, and reveals — but it’s also one of the funniest sci-fi shows in a long time, using its completely foreign setting to create situational scenes strong enough to carry a sitcom on their own merits. Such complex source material is explored deftly by a diverse writing team that boasts credits ranging from Captain Marvel to Netflix’s Wormwood to Community.

It’s a shame Prime Video is releasing this series all at once because if it were released weekly, it could single-handedly fuel watercooler conversations and fan theories for months. But as a binge, it’s the perfect weekend show that’s as utterly addicting as it is innovative, and could very well become the new benchmark for the video game prestige series as we know it.

Fallout premieres at 6 p.m. PT/9 p.m. ET April 10 on Amazon Prime Video.

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