Time Travel Follies: Our Review of ‘Kindred’

Posted in Disney +, What's Streaming? by - February 10, 2023
Time Travel Follies: Our Review of ‘Kindred’

This week, debuting in Canada on Disney+ is Hulu’s modern-day updated take on Octavia E. Butler’s infamous historical fantasy epic Kindred. The novel, first published in 1979, saw a Black American writer named Dana displaced from 1976 California to a pre-Civil War plantation in Maryland.  While the Hulu series keeps the plantation setting the same it switches the 1976 setting to modern Los Angeles with much less success.

Dana (Mallori Johnson) moves to California after selling the New York brownstone left to her by her grandmother after her passing. After failing to to call a ride share becauseher phone battery is dead, Dana accepts a ride home from Kevin (Micah Stock) after a meal at the restaurant he works at. Dana soon meets her new neighbors, uber ‘Karen’ Hermione (Brooke Bloom) and her equally entitled and insufferable husband Carlo (Louis Cancelmi), who immediately follow up their greeting with a complaint.

Soon after growing intimate with Kevin, Dana feels faint and everything goes blurry. She regains composure after being shunted through time to the Weylin Plantation where she saves a baby named Rufus from crib death. After being shunted back to the present day she discovers she has been gone a mere second even if it feels like she stayed for a few minutes in the past. Trying to explain to Kevin what happened is met with the disbelief you would expect, until the second time she is called back and it happens right in front of him.

This time, Dana meets the plantation owners, Thomas and Margaret Weylin (Ryan Kwanten and Gayle Rankin) and a now older Rufus (David Alexander Kaplan). She also meets some of their slaves, Luke (Austin Smith), Sarah (Sophina Brown),  Carrie (Lindsay Blackwell) and a free Black woman named Olivia, establishes the difference in time passing between the two settings. Dana and Kevin now prepare for what they both now believe will be her inevitable return to the past, but this time, Dana holds on to Kevin as events start to change, and they both awake in the past, Kevin now stuck beside her, though Kevin is white and is, during the Antebellum timeline, seen to be her master.

That’s a lot of setup for this series. This setup just covers events that occur over the first 2 of 8 episodes and doesn’t even dig into the main plot of this highly convoluted tale that requires a lot of viewer patience. And while the overall premise of the series remains within the framework of the original book, so much of what happens within that construct has altered that the results are completely unrecognizable. The biggest issues arise in the modern setting, as the change of Kevin from Dana’s husband in the source material to a glorified one night stand deeply diminishes his character’s personal investment in the proceedings. This adaptation also writes him as a buffoon who can barely adjust to what’s happening, not that he should embrace it mind you. In any case, his lack of imagination and cunning ends up endangering both himself and Dana and grows tiresome really quickly. Dana’s neighbors are ridiculous stereotypes dialed up to the max, and so infuriatingly annoying for no perceivable reason other than just being annoying that I suspect most viewers will have their fast-forward ready whenever they see them appear.

Micah Stock (left) and Mallori Johnson in a still from “Kindred.”

The plantation setting works much better, minus Kevin, due to the commitment of most involved. Kwanten and Rankin are pure revelations as despicable slave owners, both delivering unwavering performances of evil acts while simultaneously allowing the audience enough introspection to see the abuses those characters have gone through themselves, helping to form their own vindictive natures. Kaplan also excels as the spoiled Rufus, so much so that viewers will likely ask themselves why Dana bothers herself with trying to save him. I also very much enjoyed the stellar work of Sophina Brown as the displaced head of the household for the slaves, Sarah. Her tumultuous relationship with Margaret results in her staying in the slave cookhouse and never stepping foot in the main house. It’s a powerful and layered performance as Sarah seems to be one of the few that grasps just how dangerous Dana and Kevin’s presence could be.

A lot of the plantation set plotting and acting works for the series. But the modern-day setting, and the choice to move it to a modern-day instead of the 70s where it was originally set, doesn’t really work. I could see where the creators were trying to make a point about how much has changed and how much hasn’t for the Black community between the 70s and now, but even if that was part of the juxtaposition behind the change, it is never fully explored in any fashion. And the fact that almost everyone in the current setting is just a stereotype as opposed to the fully fleshed out characters of the plantation setting makes the current setting so much more ineffectual. Plus there’s Kevin, bumbling around for 50% of his screen time asking “Where’s Dana?”. It’s a shame that such a classic piece of fantasy/sci-fi literature has been reduced to this.

  • Release Date: 2/8/2023
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"Kirk Haviland is an entertainment industry veteran of over 20 years- starting very young in the exhibition/retail sector before moving into criticism, writing with many websites through the years and ultimately into festival work dealing in programming/presenting and acquisitions. He works tirelessly in the world of Canadian Independent Genre Film - but is also a keen viewer of cinema from all corners of the globe (with a big soft spot for Asian cinema!)
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