(Warning: This post contains major spoilers for THE HOLLOW.)
The Hollow is a newly released Netflix original series by the Canadian animation studio SlapHappy Cartoons Inc, that follows three teens who wake up in an underground bunker with no memories of they are or how they got there. Using their newly found superpowers, Adam, Kai and Mira must journey through a strange land filled with all sorts of creatures to find their way home. It’s an interesting, though overdone and cliche premise.
The art style is a throwback to that blocky, pseudo-anime style that was really popular back in the early 2000s, which made me super excited. The show’s premise made it seem as though it could fill the void left behind by such great mystery based cartoons like Gravity Falls and Over the Garden Wall. Unfortunately, this show couldn’t hold a candle to either of them.
The big “twist” of the series is extremely disappointing. Unfortunately, I can’t talk about it without spoiling it, so don’t read any further if you want to make your own opinion by watching the show.
The three are in a video game.
Unlike most versions of this tropes, they aren’t trapped. They weren’t forced into it by some cruel, twisted game master.
In fact, they entered the game willing, as they are contestants on television show. This alone has a lot of potential, and it could have been explored more in the series. But the reveal that they were on a game show wasn’t revealed until the last two minutes of the series.
At this point, the show suddenly switches to live action: the characters are played presumably by their voice actors, and none of them can pass as a young teen. The idea that they were in a video game is revealed earlier, but the twist was delivered in such an underwhelming way that it didn’t make an impact for me.
The idea of them being in a video game is vastly underutilized. While it explains their abilities and the weird world they find themselves in, it’s nothing more than a setting. There’s no world building. There’s no rhyme or reason to how the virtual world works.
Once it’s revealed, the series’ stakes don’t feel as dangerous as they once were; the show never hints that dying in the game means they die in real life, and we never get clued in as to how the game tracks health, or lives or anything integral to a video game. Because it’s not mentioned, I just assume they’ll wake up in the real world, all fine and dandy.
At one point, the game starts to glitch and it becomes clear that the game will crash, but it’s not really used beyond setting an arbitrary time limit. There’s no explanation of the risks involved. Could they have gotten trapped? Died? Had their minds erased in the real world? I don’t have a reason to be worried.
How did it happen? And why couldn’t the game be stopped?
It’s hard to be worried when the consequences are unclear, and none of the issues prior have truly harmed the protagonists.
The twist also makes the ‘antagonists’ of the show seem a lot less evil. About halfway through the series, we get introduced to another trio of super-powered teens. They’re rude, don’t offer the protagonists any assistance, try to trick Kai into joining them and somehow have figured out that they’re in a video game much earlier than our heroes.
Somehow they probably also figured out the game doesn’t have any real consequences in real life. So, besides having terrible personalities and not being very sportsmanlike there’s not much antagonistic about them.
There’s no law against being an ass.
Unfortunately, our main trio isn’t much better in terms of personality; Adam and Mira have very little personality or distinguishing character traits. Beyond a failed romance between the two that Mira tried to initiate and Adam rejected, they don’t have much of a character arc.
Kai, despite being the most annoying of the trio, actually does get a bit of an arc: he becomes more confident as a person and in his abilities. But that’s undercut by how long it takes the show to establish this arc, and how quickly it happens.
The only interesting character is known only as That Weird Guy: a purple-skinned trickster like being with questionable fashion taste. He is willing to help out the characters, for an unnamed price and only a few times. In the ‘real world’ he’s the game show host, who is there to give the teams hints and keep the audience entertained.
There’s so much they could have done with his character. Maybe he caused the glitch due to a drop in ratings. Maybe the system he uses is unstable. Maybe they weren’t actually supposed to lose their memories. (The last episode makes it clear that losing their memory is part of the game…for whatever reason.) Maybe there’s a risk to using the game for a long period of time that the contestants aren’t aware of…But, absolutely nothing about him or his motivations are explored.
While watching the series is a fun experience, once you leave it you realize how confusing the show actually is. I really wanted to like it. I wanted it to be good. And because I had glanced at a review comparing it to OtGW, I was hoping for something with a larger mythos behind it.
Much of The Hollow’s world seems to be based off Greek mythology: there’s Minotaurs, witches, a Cyclops, hellhounds which makes everything else like the abandoned amusement park and the Foursemen of the Apocalypse feel weirdly out of place.
I would have preferred a more coherent world that would have made the characters question it more. There are a lot of places in this world, and the show feels obligated to show them all which means we spend about half an episode or so in each location; the pacing is just terrible and we never really get to explore the different places. They’re just set pieces.
The animation itself also isn’t very good. I’m pretty sure it was animated in Flash, which doesn’t exactly work for an action oriented/fantasy show since it’s not particularly immersive and the characters don’t move well. But it’s not terribly egregious. It just could have been better.
I think a large part of the show’s weakness comes from the show’s target demographic: kids ages seven and up. It’s not necessarily bad but it means the show can’t be very violent or “overly complex.”
But kids are smart; eight year olds can comprehend concepts more complicated concepts than are in this show. Eight-year-olds watched Gravity Falls, a show that still occasionally shocks me with how much it managed to get away with during its production and plot.
I guess I expected too much out of this show; due to the art style and characters’ ages, I was expecting something more targeted towards my demographic. Or slightly younger. I came in with too high hopes. Going in blind made it an interesting ride but I probably won’t watch it again.
The final episode ended on a slight cliffhanger, I guess that’s the best thing to call it, so if a second season does come about I’ll probably check it out. I don’t know what they’d do with it, but I’d be willing to give it a shot.
And that’s scoop!