The most recent “Purge” movie may have flashed back to show the origins of the frightening ritual, but the USA television series of the same name won’t be as political.
The New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) are still a part of the show, most notably through the character of Albert Stanton (Reed Diamond), who is an architect of this new world order. But “for everybody else, it’s background noise,” says showrunner Thomas Kelly. “This is the world they live in.”
The show is set a decade after that first purge (which will be depicted in flashback scenes in the third episode, Kelly reveals), and so the core characters have just gotten used to it as a part of their lives. The majority of them try to ignore it and go about their lives without giving into any “purge” urges.
“We all love to write villains, it’s fun, but for us the purge is the villain, so we really wanted to come up with characters who, despite living in the new normal of the purge, have chosen not to,” Kelly says.
Rick (Colin Woodell) and Jenna (Hannah Emily Anderson), for example, vow to never participate in the purge and instead spend the evening at a party, while Jane (Amanda Warren) opts to work through the evening, promised safety in a highly secure building.
“We wanted them to be sort of stand-ins for the audience,” Kelly says. “Most people are not going to go out and purge. They’d go to Canada, they’d hide. It’s that notion of what happens to basically decent people when they’re put in extreme circumstances — to varying degrees of their own doing.”
That’s not to say, though, that the violence the purge not only justifies but actually encourages has not seeped into some of the characters. Miguel (Gabriel Chavarria) is a Marine who returns home from a tour of duty and goes to extreme lengths to find his younger sister Penelope (Jessica Garza), while the mysterious Joe (Lee Tergensen) drives a truck around during the purge embracing certain aspects of the night.
Kelly says his idea is to “drill down on the drama of the characters.” While the premiere introduces everyone in the hours leading up to the purge, subsequent episodes begin the flashback structure to dive deeper into specific characters. That structure will, says Kelly, “hopefully inform the audience about their characters in ways that will explain decisions they make or don’t make on the night of the purge.”
Not all of the flashbacks are connected to the previous purges, either, Kelly says. “It’s really a case by case basis, using it at times we felt it would have made stronger motivation for the character, and in other ways just showing the world outside of the purge,” he says. “The Rick and Jenna one, in particular, has nothing to do with the purge. And then the Jane stuff is a little more about the reasons why she became, for lack of a better word, vulnerable to the idea of the purge — as someone who wouldn’t ordinarily be that person.”
Similar to the films, the show isn’t out to be gory with its depiction of violence, says Kelly, who thinks of it instead as a cautionary tale.
“We don’t want to revel in the violence,” he says. “For us it’s the notion of, once the genie is out of the bottle with violence, how do you put it back in? You have to be careful about what you do — to use the purge terminology — when you unleash the beast.”
Instead, he wants to use the violence to examine its impact on the characters. “There’s a scene at the end of episode 3 that’s a pretty horrific scene, but it’s about Rick and Jenna standing there and witnessing this thing and then how does that affect them for the rest of the story? How does violence echo out; how does it reverberate; how does it change in color these characters’ lives and the story itself?” he says.
And although the story is set 10 years after the first purge, he didn’t want to anchor it in a specific timeframe, so he was careful not to include any futuristic elements. Says Kelly, “Our mantra is that this should feel like it could happen 30 minutes from now.”
“The Purge” premieres Sept. 4 on USA.