It’s fitting Amazon’s latest original series, Hanna, announced its special 24-hour premiere window during Super Bowl LIII – they are remarkably similar, despite the former being a high profile debut of a streaming drama, and the latter one of the world’s most watched live television events. It’s really uncanny, though: both events were designed to build maximum hype with short marketing campaigns (two weeks for the Super Bowl, a few days in the case of Hanna), but the impact of their arrivals were immediately mitigated by the actual content. Unfortunately, the 48 minutes of “Forest” feel a lot like the first 48 minutes of the Super Bowl: there was certainly Herculean efforts put into the performances of both, but the lack of momentum turned watching both into a chore pretty damn quickly.
Almost every single beat of Hanna’s original story in “Forest” feels like a checklist for this particular brand of action/sci-fi.
Adapted from the Joe Wright-directed 2011 film, Hanna is a combination of the film Logan and the TV show Dark Angel: governments hunting down a special child (Hanna, played by Esme Creed-Miles) who doesn’t yet understand her powers, who have a single, attractive male protecting them at every move. In this facet, almost every single beat of Hanna’s original story in “Forest” feels like a checklist for this particular brand of action/sci-fi (let’s call it the Firestarter genre): clumsy puberty metaphors clearly written by men, female protagonists with strong fists and surprisingly malleable minds – and of course, a scene where someone marvels over the moment they taste their first candy bar. To say the beats of “Forest” are undeniably familiar is an understatement: from the opening “break out” sequences to the closing moments where the protagonist strikes out on their own, every single frame of Hanna‘s first hour feels like a pastiche of things we’ve seen dozens of times before.
In Hanna‘s case, the biggest problem with the pilot is the setting: for the majority of the first hour, Hanna and Erik (the man who saved her, played by blossoming character actor Joel Kinnaman) are isolated in a location that overtly obscures the story of the show, the fog surrounding the titular forest acting as an unfortunate visualization of how the show treats its story. It wants the audience to commit to the setting and confusion around who Hanna is, and why Erik thought driving through an open field with a helicopter on his tail was a good idea; except that since it establishes in the first 15 minutes exact what kind of story it is going to be, it’s pretty clear where the story of “Forest” is going, and how it is going to get there.
Naming the episode “Forest” is telling in its own regard: it is an example of a show trying to have it both ways. “Forest”, as a title, both tells the audience where much of the episode is set – but since it is the first episode, it makes it very clear this is a special event, and not the actual central setting of the show (the teasers aired during the Super Bowl really didn’t help this episode keep up the facade, either). It’s not a great table setter: like much of the hour of TV it gives name to, the title of Hanna‘s pilot is not as clever, or unique, as it thinks it is.
That feeling permeates just about every minute of “Forest”; the biggest surprise of the hour comes when Mireille Enos (playing the enforcer for the secret FBI program Hanna was stolen from) appears on screen, immediately transforming Hanna into The Killing reunion I never knew I wanted (side note: The Killing is one of the best terribly bad shows of all time, and one I enjoyed writing quite a bit about way back in the day). The rest is by-the-numbers as you’d expect, right down to the ending, opening up the world of Hanna just in time to end the pilot, leaving everything that preceded it an origin story with absolutely no twists or unique traits from anything in the sub-genre of action/sci-fi it inhabits.
It’s a huge bummer: beautifully shot by director Sarah Adina Smith, “Forest” certainly could’ve been an avenue for Hanna to immediately establish itself as a fresh take on the genre, if the script wasn’t so abundantly rote. Enos, Kinnaman, and Creed-Miles are all terrific in their roles, even without a whole lot of material to really dig into: like The Killing (or again, this year’s Super Bowl) the pieces are in place for a great show, at least in a theoretical sense. An intriguing premise can only carry one so far, though – and without anything of substance to let those promising elements blossom, “Forest” is the dramatic equivalent of a 48-minute long shrug, the absolute definition of “just fine”; however, with such lofty ambitions to be Amazon’s next big series, nothing suggests Hanna is exciting (or terrible) enough to garner excitement for the full series debut in March.