In 2008, director Doug Liman took Stephen Gould’s YA science fiction novel Jumper to the big screen – while completely abandoning everything that made the book so popular – now ten years later we find Liman back with another run out in the universe of Jumper, only this time as a web series for YouTube Premium. Now, the series may be called Impulse, but other than the main protagonist being a teenage girl dealing with the travails of high school, there is literally nothing in this series that bares any resemblance to the book of the same name – or even with what we saw in the movie Jumper, for that matter – and aside from the power of teleportation, I’d be hard-pressed to find any ties between this series and the book. But funny enough, this didn’t bother me at all – unlike how pissed off I was with the Jumper movie – as the show is a much darker and more serious young adult drama than I had expected.
Sixteen year-old Henrietta “Henry” Coles (Maddie Hasson) is an outsider, she dresses in army surplus attire and enjoys sneaking a pot break when no one is looking, and part of this is due to the vagabond nature of her life with her mother Cleo Coles (Missi Pyle), as Cleo has left four relationships and four towns in her wake. The fifth and current relationship is with Thomas Hope (Matt Gordon), a widower with a teenage daughter of his own named Jenna (Sarah Desjardins), a girl who does everything she can to fit in with those at school and to be the perfect daughter. There is not a lot of harmony with this group, which isn’t helped by Henry’s “I don’t give a fuck” attitude, or her being caught by the police for tagging — her car being sold to pay the fine — and this all adds up to a high-stress household, but it is when Henry goes out with the town’s “Golden Boy” Clay Boone (Tanner Stine) that things go completely off the rails for her. Early on, we learn that Henry is afflicted with severe seizures that she takes medications to control, but we soon discover that medication isn’t going to help at all with what’s really going on with Henry, and when Clay Boone fails to understand the “No means no” aspect of their making out, the little shit soon finds himself paralyzed and in a coma. Turns out her seizures are stress related and sexual assault is about as stressful as it gets, so during this particular seizure, Clay’s truck seems to slowly implode, and then Henry teleports to the safety of her bedroom.
It is this horrific assault that colours the nine remaining episodes of season one; it would be easy for a “superhero show” to use such a sexual assault in an exploitative manner, but showrunner Lauren LeFranc works hard to prevent this from being the case, and the show admirably deals with the emotional fallout of such an event, from the victim questioning her own actions to the effect it has on those around her. Maddie Hasson gives us a full-fledged character with her depiction of Henry, a person who is both strong and flawed at the same time, a young woman truly in search of who she is. Backing her up is actress Sarah Desjardins as the “step-sister,” a young woman questioning her own sexuality and place in the world, and these two strong young women get unusual direction from classmate Townes Linderman (Daniel Maslany), an autistic teen who is the first to clue into the fact that Henry is gifted in ways more commonly found in the pages of The X-Men.
Unfortunately for Henry, this small town has more than teen rapists to worry about, as Clay’s father Bill Boone (David James Elliott) not only owns one of the town’s most successful businesses, a big car dealership, but it’s also the front for a drug trafficking syndicate that receives its supply of illegal opioids from an evil Canadian Mennonite family — and that’s not something one sees in your typical drama superpower television show. So poor Henry gets sucked into the world of the Boone family, which she most decidedly wants no part of, and all the while she’s trying to keep the secret of what actually happened to Clay on that fateful day – seizure-inducing implosions and teleportation being a hard thing to sell to your average parent or police officer. The balance of Henry’s tough-girl exterior and inner fragility is exceptional, and seeing her attempting to reconcile the events of the attack is heartwrenching at times. The only negative comment I can really make about this show is that it tends to put the “girl can teleport” on the backburner a little too often.
The show hints at a secret organization that is hunting teleporters – we see a fight between a teleporter and some poor dude as the show’s cold open – but we don’t learn much about them or what their deal is, aside from the occasional appearance of Callum Keith Rennie as some shadowy agent tracking down Jumpers. As mentioned earlier, this series has little to nothing to do with the book it is apparently based upon – there is certainly no such sexual assault on our heroine in the book – nor does this series have the sense of fun and freedom that one would associate with the ability to be anywhere in the blink of an eye. In this first season, Henry barely has any control over this power — no cool teleporting combat scenes that are found in the book — as it’s treated as more of a curse than a gift, and we can only hope that season two will lighten things up a tad.
• The Mennonite drug cartel reminded me of the villainous Amish in Cinemax’s Banshee.
• Clay’s older brother Lucas’s (Craig Arnold) response to Henry’s refusal to discuss Clay’s accident is to toss her into the trunk of his car. This guy makes Breaking Bad’s Jesse Pinkman look like a genius.
• Henry calls upon an old boyfriend for help, and then he kind of vanishes from the show.
• The visual look of the “Jumping” is quite different from what the movie depicted, and I like how the destructive nature of it lessens over time as if she is getting better at it.
• The shadowy organization hunting teleporters does not look to be the same as the religious zealots found in the movie, and that is a definite plus.
Impulse gives us a strong first season, and the young cast all give fantastic performances with fully-formed characters, but with much of this season focusing on dark subject matter, we don’t get a lot of the “fun moments” I’d expected from a show about a teleporting teenager, so I hope come next year we find the series balancing the darker mysterious elements with a lighter tone as well. Regardless of any tonal qualms, I heartily recommend checking this show out, just don’t expect it to be anything like the source material.
Impulse: Season One (2018)
Doug Liman has stated that of all his film Jumper was “The one I was least happy with” and that he always wanted another shot at it, and with this series he proves that you can actually deviate from the source material and still make a good show.