Fallout TV Show Review: A Painstakingly Authentic Take on a Beloved Universe

Fallout is a superb adaptation made by people who truly understand the universe.

The Fallout TV show from Prime Video tells a wholly original story, but you'll often forget that while watching if you're a fan of the games. That's not because its story lacks impact or creativity but because the show's creators have done such an impeccable job fleshing out the world of Fallout that it feels like the characters are treading stories and quests you've experienced yourself in one way or another. By staying faithful enough to the source material to earn any liberties it takes with the world of Fallout, the show has once again raised the bar for what a video game adaptation can look like.

Fallout's creators had the unenviable task of adapting a series that's far from straightforward. It's very much a choose-your-own-adventure RPG where one player's character is far different from another's. The solution then was to have three main characters: Lucy MacLean, a Vault Dweller from Vault 33; The Ghoul, an irradiated bounty hunter who predates The Great War; and Maximus, a member of the Brotherhood of Steel. Across eight episodes, these Fallout characters fulfill different sorts of character archetypes with intertwining stories that end up largely being successful in the pursuit of an RPG adaptation.

Other supporting characters like Thaddeus, Norm, Chet, and several more bolster the show's cast as well and do wonders to again make it seem like the show's creators truly understood the ins and outs of a Fallout world worth visiting. From the very start of the show when we see life in a Vault, telltale Fallout references like the S.P.E.C.I.A.L traits and the iconic Vault Boy mascot for Vault-Tec are just as common as talks of tempered linings in Power Armor suits and Sugar Bombs. Never do these references feel cheap either with each one as organic as the next, and try as you might to poke holes in explanations or justifications for why thing are the way that they are, the Fallout show remains as accurate as it can given that it's in uncharted franchise territory.

Across all three main characters, the very general theme of their individual stories is "family" which, again, should not be something Fallout fans are unfamiliar with. Vault 33 inhabitant Lucy is the catalyst for the story, a Vault Dweller searching for her father while also eager to see the surface for the first time. Through Lucy's eyes, viewers are able to experience the thrill of stepping out into the Wasteland. Flinching at anything that moves and approaching everything with caution, while largely being ignorant to how things work up there outside of the Vault, Lucy more than the other characters is a reflection of the newcomer experience Fallout players have when embarking on their first adventure.

Perhaps I'm biased towards Walton Goggins' performance as The Ghoul and would welcome a spin-off encompassing his 200 years spent in the Wasteland after the bombs dropped, but it does seem at times like screentime distribution between our protagonists feels a bit uneven. Some pre-war flashbacks technically show more of The Ghoul back when he was a human movie star named Cooper Howard, but when you factor in how many other side characters there are at times and their branching "quests" they're all invested in, the absence of whoever your favorite of the big three might be doesn't go unnoticed since time is needed elsewhere so often. Part of that can be attributed to natural character pairings, though there's also a very awkward romance which was insisted on for some reason.

Humor is another strong point of the Fallout show, though not in a conventional way. I can't recall ever laughing much during Fallout, but the same can be said for the games, too, where humor is a coping tool, a way of rationalizing the harshness of the post-war Wasteland. The Fallout show very much understands that with incredulous and borderline ridiculous moments as if you've taken on the Wild Wasteland trait from Fallout: New Vegas, but never does it go too far. The closest we come to true laugh-out-loud moments, ironically, is when the stoic Brotherhood of Steel is featured, particularly when Thaddeus is on-screen.

In fact, Fallout takes measures not only to capture humorous moments where possible but also to emphasize the harshness of everyday occurrences in the Wasteland. Take the Stimpak, for example. In the games, a Stimpak is a nearly infinite resource, a quick fix for any wound that's so second nature that you've got it hotkeyed to a button to press without another thought. In the Fallout show, a Stimpak is something someone begs for, a last hope when you're attacked by raiders or creatures or whatever else wants what you've got. The thing itself is a horror too – it's a giant needle you have to stab yourself with time and time again to remedy whatever pain you're feeling. Like the smallest of threats such as the Radroaches, a Stimpack is nothing to be taken lightly, and that emphasis is something only possible through this live-action adaptation.

Those Radroaches and other wild Fallout threats look quite authentic in terms of special effects and CGI, and the same goes for the Power Armor. These T-60 Power Armor suits look as weighty and destructive as Fallout fans would hope, though they can look at bit funky when helmets and faceplates are removed. Other inconsistencies in the world's less human characters are seen through things like the ghouls which look fantastic throughout compared to the Yao Guai encounter which looked quite animatronic by comparison.

But even where the Fallout show slips on occasion with an unneeded kiss or a questionable encounter, time and time again, I kept marveling at how authentic the world felt. The original story told in Fallout is paramount to this trait since it lets us focus on the characters, world, and narrative rather than getting hung up on shot-for-shot remakes of key moments. Fallout is technically canon, according to Bethesda's Todd Howard, so it'll be under the microscope for nitpicking and "well actually" moments, but even when the show takes leaps to expand on the world, it always feels deserved.

Rating: 4.5/5

Fallout streams on Amazon's Prime Video starting on April 10th at 6 p.m. PST.