TNT’s “Snowpiercer” is An Ambitious, But Problematic Adaptation

TNT undergoes a massive task with “Snowpiercer.” After coming to the big screen as a massively underrated and underseen 2013 science fiction masterpiece from Bong Joon Ho, their next phase is taking the graphic novels by Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette, and transforming it in to a weekly series that puts us on board the Snowpiercer once again. This series’ newest aim is to take us so much deeper in to the lore and world of Snowpiercer, as while the central setting is a train, it’s a massive train that houses its own ecosystems, as well as its own turmoil that threatens the entirety of the haul including the bubble that many passengers have built for themselves.

A reboot of the continuity from the movie, the series is set seven years after the globe is turned in to a giant ice ball after a failed experiment to combat global warming. A mythical inventor who built the massive 120 cart locomotive has taken in a slew of passengers. Along the way the behemoth has been split in to various classes and social structures, as well as their own ecosystems. The rich and wealthy are in the front cars, submitting to their own indulgences, while the poor and sick are in the tail carts (they’re known derisively as “tailers”). They’re subjected to crowded living conditions and eating black bars of protein that they’re fighting over now that the rations are being slimmed down by the upper echelon.

Anxious to take control of the Snowpiercer, Layton Well begins devising a coup with his comrades, but things take a turn when he’s seized by the authorities and called in to investigate a murder. As things progress, “Snowpiercer” has the right idea of extending that simple premise of a take over with the train, but I don’t know how long the writers can keep up the momentum exactly. I love the idea that within the excess, the rich are experiencing some murder mystery that continues to get more and more grisly by the episode. Layton Wells, played by Daveed Diggs, is a great leading man; he’s someone who longs for the old life he once had, but he also is committed to his original plan of seizing the train.

As he’s drawn in to the murder mystery, his loyalties are inevitably split, and we’re given a wider glimpse in to the weird and fantastic world within the locomotive. The producers compile a wonderful cast of brilliant actors including Mike O’Malley, Rowan Blanchard, Katie McGuinness, Steven Ogg, and of course, Jennifer Connelly. Connelly has been front and center in the publicity for “Snowpiercer” and she’s a great draw, in spite of being only a part of what makes the series so interesting. Connelly is a lot more complex than the simple rich snob, as she seems to have her own motives for her role beyond acting as the voice of the train. The highlight of the series yet has been Diggs who has managed to really add an authenticity to a character who is thrown back in to his former life, but has to also keep focused on the impending mutiny of the “tailers.”

The immediate problem going in to “Snowpiercer” is the concept of the original comic book. The premise fit well in to a brilliant, violent feature film by Bong Joon Ho, because the entirety of “Snowpiercer” was mainly a commentary about class warfare and global warming that used one set piece. “Snowpiercer” seems to be aiming for a multiple seasons (TNT has already ordered a second season) and I’m curious as to how they’re going to continue the slow momentum the show is building.

The first season is built around the murder mystery and the ensuing rebellion, so will they build a new conflict for season two? And how long can they put off the big rebellion that kept the movie blasting at rapid fire pacing before the audience grows impatient? There’s just so much here that could easily go wrong, and I’m just not invested in the build up enough to see if it sticks the landing. Even with the great casting and ace production qualities. All said and done, TNT has a pretty good series on hand. I doubt if it’ll ever be a great series.

“Snowpiercer” premieres Sunday, May 17 at 9 p.m. ET on TNT.