Starring Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones) and Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton), Survive is targeted squarely, almost cynically, at the Generation Z and Millennial audiences the new mobile streaming platform Quibi is hoping to attract. However, the survival drama comes across as a show created by older people who think they know what these young viewers want.
Based on a YA novel of the same name by Alex Morel, the series is maudlin and capital-S serious, which makes it a slog. Despite long, melancholy voiceovers, protagonist Jane (Turner) never comes across as anything more than a walking, talking mental illness. She is suicidally depressed, and, despite having made a previous attempt that landed her in an institution, the treatment hasn’t helped. However, she’s managed to fool the staff into discharging her, so once she’s away from their watchful eyes on the plane home, she plans to overdose on the cocktail of pills she’s stolen from the facility.
Mental health issues are ripe for examination, yet, although the history of suicide in Jane’s family is mentioned multiple times, Survive never explains Jane’s individual reasons for wanting to end her life. Nonetheless, she clings to this desire so tightly it’s her only real character trait. As a result, it comes across as more than a little ironic when she is one of only two survivors after her plane goes down in snowy mountains, a crash that happens right as she’s about to make her attempt in the plane’s bathroom.
If that weren’t enough, the other survivor is Paul, the cute boy who’s been eying her since the airport security line. They also happened to be seatmates. Given their circumstances, it’s no surprise Paul immediately clings to Jane. Meanwhile, Jane volleys back and forth between working with him to survive and using the situation to die as she’d planned.
By the end of the five episodes that were made available for review, Jane decides to accompany Paul on a quest to get off the freezing mountains. And perhaps in subsequent episodes, Jane will become a more fully realized character. Yet it seems like a long time to wait.
This is where it’s difficult to separate Survive from the platform it’s made for. Quibi’s conceit is it only serves up “quick bites” of content of 10 minutes or less that are meant to be viewed on a mobile device. (Survive’s episodes run from just under 10 minutes to around 7 minutes.) In a series full of heavy themes and reliant on compelling character development, this short length seriously limits the amount of information that can be offered in any single chapter, while at the same time provides too little time to allow viewers to emotionally connect with the characters.
So even though Survive’s trailer makes it clear that Jane and Paul’s journey off the mountain will be harrowing, the pair don’t start that journey until the very end of Episode 5. The total running time of the series’ first five episodes is about 45 minutes — the equivalent of a single episode of a non-Quibi drama. And if the story told in Survive‘s first five installments played out in one traditional-length episode, it would seem like an adequate setup for subsequent outings. Yet in the Quibi format, clicking into each episode and watching the brief clip makes the story seem far more drawn out.
Admittedly, my response to the platform could be a product of being outside the intended demographic for both the show and the service. Yet it’s hard for me to imagine anyone investing in a drama when its presented in such a choppy fashion. I could see Quibi’s format working for news or kids’ shows, possibly even comedy or horror stories. But the service’s brief installments will prevent viewers from truly immersing themselves in character-driven dramas. Meanwhile, while Survive looks beautiful, especially the snow-covered mountains Jane and Paul find themselves stranded on, it’s hard to see how viewers will be able to appreciate this on a mobile phone or tablet.
Survive might have worked in another format but on Quibi it comes across as gloomy and tedious. The best thing about the show is Hawkins, who injects life into the story when he finally appears a couple episodes in. Meanwhile, although the series centers on Jane, Turner is given little to do other than sit around looking tragic. Perhaps the remainder of the episodes will give her something more weighty to dig into.
If Survive is any indication, Quibi isn’t the place for thoughtful, complex dramas. Given Quibi’s parameters, sticking with the show feels much more onerous than it would under typical viewing circumstances. It’s possible Survive, and main character Jane will evolve into something more interesting and fulfilling as the series continues. However, because of the truncated nature of each installment, it’s hard to see viewers sticking around long enough to find out.
Based on a novel by Alex Morel and directed by Mark Pellington, Survive stars Sophie Turner and Corey Hawkins. The movie in chapters is now streaming on Quibi.
Starring Sophie Turner and Corey Hawkins, Quibi's Survive is a gloomy slog that's made more tedious by the platform's short episodes.