Review: Impulse (season one) (YouTube Red)

A surprisingly good return to the Jumper universe

Impulse

In the UK: Available on YouTubeRed

Few people can have come out of cinemas having watched Jumper thinking “Gosh, I’d really love to see another movie set in this universe.” Indeed, so unmemorable a movie is it beyond its awfulness, you probably barely remember it and are probably already mixing it up mentally with the far superior Looper.

To refresh your memories, Jumper was the movie in which Hayden Christiansen turns out to have the ability to teleport. Unfortunately, there’s a secret society, whose number includes the stupidly haired Samuel L Jackson, dedicated to killing ‘jumpers’. Oh noes.

The film was something of a disaster and more or less killed off the career of director Doug Liman, which given he revolutionised spy cinema with The Bourne Identity shows you just what a rubbish movie it was.

Since then, Liman’s directing career has been a bit more low-profile and tethered to Tom Cruise’s whims, so Liman has done well as a producer on the likes of Suits instead.

So it’s something of a surprise that he’s attempting to resurrect his career with a return to the Jumper universe. It’s even more surprising that it’s actually really good.

Missi Pyle and Maddie Hasson in Impulse
Missi Pyle and Maddie Hasson in Impulse

Impulse

Impulse is based on the third of the Jumper novels by Steven Gould, but is as much of a departure from its raw material as Jumper was. It sees Maddie Hasson playing mardie teenage girl Henrietta (aka Henry) who’s moved to the small town of Weston in New York state with her single mum (Missi Pyle). Dad left years ago and now commitment-phobe Pyle moves from guy to guy looking for ‘the one’ who might be good to both her and Hasson. She’s found a possible keeper – widower Matt Gordon – who has his own teenage daughter (Sarah Desjardins) and all would be fine, were it not for Hasson’s extreme mardiness and the fact she’s starting to have fits that doctors are finding hard to diagnose.

Hasson hooks up with local sporting hero Tanner Stine, but when things start moving too quickly for her, she asks him to stop… but he won’t, causing her to fit again. However, this time her fit somehow crushes the truck they’re in, paralysing Stine and instantly transporting Hasson back to her bedroom, along with bits of the truck. What’s going on? What will happen to Hasson? What will happen to Stine? And how will Hasson’s new ability evolve?

Sarah Desjardins in Impulse
Sarah Desjardins in Impulse

Friday Night Jumping

Despite its origins, the previous movie and the fact Liman is both producer and first-episode director of the series, Impulse is more like a season of Friday Night Lights – it even looks like it, too. Indeed, it’s very rarely a series about teleportation, instead being an intimate, sometimes moving examination of small town life and how a sexual assault can affect it, the importance of sports, the difficulties of family relationships, the difficulties of integrating two families with teenage children and the difficulties (and simplicities) of being an outsider.

It’s also a crime story. Stine’s dad is JAG‘s David James Elliott, a car dealer who’s a big man in town and he has strong ambitions for his son. He also has a sideline in drug-dealing with the nearby Mennonites led by Shawn Doyle (Frequency, Endgame, Bellevue) and when Stine ends up in hospital, Elliott’s assumption that it was Doyle behind it leads to an escalating series of tragedies that local cop Enuka Okuma (Rookie Blue) ends up investigating.

Although you might not realise it until the very end of the season, it’s also a superhero origin story. True, as Henry’s Aspie best friend (Daniel Maslany) points out, “You’re a superhero but not in the conventional way because you take drugs and dislike other people,” but it’s very much also a superhero origin story in the same vein as M Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable. There’s a slow build over the course of the season as Hasson’s abilities begin to kick in and evolve. There are attempts to create quasi-scientific explanations, with Hasson’s ability generating singularities and wormholes whose gravitational pull causes things nearby to be crushed or sucked in with her. Hasson herself has to move from misanthropic outsider to someone who starts to feel able to allow people to be close to her, before she’s willing to try to use her abilities to help others.

Callum Keith Rennie in Impulse
Callum Keith Rennie in Impulse

The baddies

But it’s also about teleportation. Here, we have what seems like an evil company doing evil experiments, with BSG‘s Callum Keith Rennie (yes, Impulse is filmed in Canada – how did you guess?) the apparent chief evil-doer. I say apparent, because not everything’s as clear-cut as it first appears. And it does appear quite clear cut, with a French ‘jumper’ (Keon Alexander) dedicating the first few episodes to killing off those who would apparently want to experiment on his son (Raphael Bergeron-Lapointe).

As perhaps befits the xth novel in a sequence of novels, everything here feels well established, with existing tech and science. People aren’t coming after Henrietta because she’s the first of her kind – and maybe they’re not coming after her at all – because they’ve known about teleporters for years and have already started creating real-world tech based on their discoveries.

But here, it’s as slow-build as the rest of the show, being content merely to set the foundations for what seems like an inevitable second season rather than rush the storyline. There are revelations, some predictable, some not, but if you’re expecting plenty of teleporting superheroics and fights between good and evil, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.

Maddie Hasson and Daniel Maslany in Impulse
Maddie Hasson and Daniel Maslany in Impulse

People not power

The show’s real strengths is in its characters. Hasson is largely unlikable but you still like her and the show’s portrayal of her sexual assault and subsequent reaction to it is as nuanced and powerful as you can hope for, particularly in science fiction – every episode ends with RAINN’s contact information. Indeed, if you ever wanted to show your children an educational series of videos about the importance of consent, what to expect from sex, what kind of porn to watch if you’re a girl and whether boundaries can blur or not, you honestly couldn’t do much better than show them Impulse.

Similarly, Maslany, while not quite getting the Aspie mannerisms, does end up giving one of TV’s strongest and most realistic portrayals of childhood Asperger’s, certainly when compared against the likes of The Good Doctor. While he’s the source of most of the show’s humour and is the character who pushes it towards being superheroic, the directness of and dedication of his friendship with Henry is moving and his support for her that tilts towards Aspie rage at times is almost tear-jerking, particularly when he seems to grasp consent better than some of the neurotypical boys in town (“My mother told me that other people have boundaries and you can’t cross them. That’s a rule and you can never break it.”).

Similarly moving are Gordon’s evolving relationship with his daughter and Hasson’s growing sense of sisterhood with her. Even David James Elliot’s character has far more depth and complexity than you’d have expected.

Plus if you like a game, see if you can spot cameos by the likes of Keegan-Michael Key and Danny Pudi.

Impulse

Conclusion

I really enjoyed Impulse, which is the latest in YouTube Red’s increasingly good output following Cobra Kai, and would thoroughly recommend it for anyone who likes their sci-fi to be thoughtful and based around people as well as ideas. It’s also the first of YouTube Red’s fully 45-minute shows that I’ve seen, most having been 25-minutes or less until now, placing it fully in a place to rival Netflix’s output.

Were it not for the fact you still can’t subscribe to YouTube Red in the UK. Stupid YouTube. You can at least watch the first three episodes for free below, but after that it’s £1.89 an episode. I can’t quite recommend it that much, which is a shame. But I hope you get to see it somehow.