Netflix advised me to watch this because I like sci-fi and animation, but while algorithms may fail when it comes to finding the nuances between Star Trek and Rick and Morty, suffice to say that this time they got lucky. The Hollow suckered me in with an interesting trailer, depicting a small group of amnesiac teens adventuring through a series of worlds that threaten them with mild peril, but it all looked so dramatic and mysterious, I had to know.
And I’m doing research, trying to write adventures for younger players. That’s my excuse for watching a kid’s show.
So, you get the idea, these kids wake up in a room with no memory, names written on pieces of paper in their pockets that they have to assume are their own. This begins a series of puzzles and challenges that put their skills to the test, force them to bond and become friends despite their mistrust of one another, and to discover powers they didn’t know they had. All the while they are positing theories about how they might have arrived in their current condition, the prevailing theory being that they are dead. Their mysterious blue “assistant” offers them maddening riddles at every turn but always offers some form of help when asked, but only serves to pile mystery on top of mystery.
The show has something of a frenetic pace, and a mismatched collection of genres. The world that they occupy shifts terrains dramatically, a desert city full of minotaurs borders on a lush forest with a hovering monastery above it. An abandoned frontier town lies not far from a city of spider-folk. The four horsemen of the apocalypse dwell in a desert filled with ruined spaceships, and a far larger spaceship hovers in orbit.
So that’s all perfectly normal.
And yet it all feels oddly normal, somehow the insane swings of visual content being unified by a coherent style and keeping a uniform pace gives it all a somewhat theme-park like feel. It also makes the “big twist” painfully easy to guess, but it’s a show for kids, so let’s not mince words. Spoilers from here on out, so maybe go watch first, or don’t.
It’s all a video game that they’re trapped inside, the game being to find a way out. If you don’t pick it up from the obvious puzzle style, then the quest-giving tree with it’s classic exposition style narrative should tip you off long before you see the game glitching. Knowing this makes the whole thing so much more rational, especially as the group come to learn that they have a battery of super powers.
It’s not a particularly clever show, it has some lovely moments of nuance when the leading cast interact with one another and their rival group, some subtleties of animation that show an incredible attention to detail, and a great deal of care when it came to writing and animating the characters than there was in the world building. The random interlocking puzzle pieces of the world do not particularly invite a second season, but I’d still like to see more work from the studio.
Although, with that said I would like to point an accusatory finger at one particularly weak link.
There’s a scene at the very end, where everything switches to live action, and it’s revealed that not only is this a video game, but also a game show. Awesome! Also the freaky blue guy is the host of the show, marvellous. Oh, and they really were two competing teams racing for a trophy, and that all of the actors were very well rendered in the cartoon side, great. And we get to see the main characters win.
Was there any need, any whatsoever to flash back to the start of the game and explain that they got to pick their own powers, and would have no memory of the real world while the were in the game? The host explains that they’ll be given finite “lifelines” by asking him to appear and intervene to help them, which they naturally forget! I understand explaining it for the sake of the studio audience, but couple of things:
1) Why not let them know after the first time they ask for help that they have only a few chances? Or, why tell them at all, why not just show up after their last chance and tell them “No”?
2) And really this is the big one. Why did we – the screen watching audience – need to see any of that flashback? All of the information therein can be inferred from context without needing to be told. I don’t care if the intended audience is less than half my age* but can we please have a bit more faith in our audiences?
Ok, some of this nitpicking might seem unfair for a kids show, and to be honest, for a grand total of three hours and twenty-plus minutes, it’s not a bad little binge watch while writing. None of the characters are particularly annoying, even the annoying one. They’re rather complex, their relationships are dynamic, and their approach to the world at large is quite respectable. It’s rare that they make classic protagonist blunders, they use knowledge sensibly, and broadly take sensible precautions and unexpected approaches to problems.
With only the last episode offering any kind of “blip” in quality, even cutting the last minute makes for a more pleasant experience, I’d say that The Hollow is well worth a watch, and at a push a second season.
*Oh dear, I am starting to get old.