Netflixs Resident Evil series is carving its own path without leaving the games behind

“This is the Netflix version of Resident Evil. Netflix’s Resident Evil. It’s different from the movie version of Resident Evil, it’s different from the game version of Resident Evil,” says Andrew Dabb, showrunner and executive producer when asked to explain the choice of title for the series. “My hope is you go explore the other Resident Evils, but this is the one we’re doing on Netflix.”

I got a chance to speak with Dabb after a screening of the first two episodes of the new Netflix Resident Evil series starring Lance Reddick (John Wick, Destiny 2) as Albert Wesker and Ella Balinska (Charlie’s Angels) as Jade Wesker. Dabb is no stranger to writing genre-specific television – he spent years writing and executive producing for the hit CW series Supernatural – but he’s well aware of the pressure and expectation that comes with the Resi name. Brilliantly, the series is both divorced from and intrinsically tied to the Resident Evil franchise, which gives him a chance to tell new stories while weaving in iconic characters and locations. 

This may not be the Resident Evil TV series you’re expecting – and that’s a good thing.

The story 

Resident Evil

(Image credit: Netflix)

Netflix’s Resident Evil jumps back and forth between two timelines: one that takes place before the outbreak in our present day (there are some jokes in the first two episodes that are pointedly contemporary) and one 14 years after the outbreak. Dabb’s decision to split the timelines was rooted in a desire to tell the story of a zombie outbreak and its consequences in a new way for both the franchise and the zombie genre as a whole. “We’ve seen the outbreak a million times, right? 28 Days Later, The Walking Dead – we’ve seen that happen. What happens before the outbreak, and what happens after the world’s ended?”

The dual timelines give Lance Reddick ample opportunity to inject pathos into Albert Wesker – yes, you will find yourself feeling strangely fond of a man who is, undeniably, a eugenicist. Reddick shines as Wesker: his impossibly smooth voice is a salve for the soul, but the knowledge of his character’s future is etched into his face. This is a conflicted man, and the audience will know it from the start. 

“When Lance was interested in doing the part, well you’re not gonna find anybody better,” Dabb says when asked about casting a Black actor for a character depicted in the games as white. “Once that clicked into place, you’re not going to do better. So at that point, you’re making the show weaker if you go with someone who may be more aesthetically a match to the game. Why would you weaken the show like that? It makes no sense to m

The video game tie-in

Resident Evil Village

(Image credit: Capcom)

Netflix’s Resident Evil feels decidedly fresh, especially with half of it firmly planted in the modern-day, but Dabb and team are using the Resident Evil games as a lot more than inspiration. “The games are our backstory. Everything that happened in the games exists in this world,” says Dabb. “So the village is there. We might not get there until season 5, but it’s in our world… The movies are a different story, but everything in the games is a backstory for the show. But we’re doling it out in pieces. It’s not: episode three, ‘Meet the Redfields’, episode 4 ‘Here’s Leon.’ And you could do that version! There’s a part of the fan base that I’m sure would be like, ‘please do that version.’ But for us it was more important to take you on this journey.”

This journey will include just as much zombie nonsense and freaky creatures as you’d expect from a piece of Resident Evil media (“you can’t be afraid of the weird stuff,” says Dabb), but with the freedom to forge its own path, Netflix’s Resident Evil series has more time to endear you to its characters. Balinska’s Jade Wesker is whip-smart and funny as hell, and your knowledge of her past – thanks to the dual timelines – only helps propel her arc forward in a way a movie or a video game could not. After just two episodes, I’m hooked and desperate to learn what happens to all the characters I’ve met so far. 

The character work is a testament to Dabb’s talent as a writer, and is unsurprising if you consider how beloved his Supernatural characters are. But it was the freedom given to him by production studio Constanin Films (who produces the Resi movies, as well) that gave him the necessary space to write such good characters. “This is the most alive IP out there because there are games and movies and TV shows and anime all coming out at the same time, plus novels and comic books. So there’s a lot of stuff going on,” Dabb acknowledges. “And so for us, it was like, ‘Okay, let’s go and carve our own path while acknowledging everything else’.”

From what I’ve seen, Netflix’s Resident Evil series deftly handles the heavy burden of video game adaptation. It can both stand on its own and complement existing Resident Evil media, but it’s in no way dependent upon its predecessors. I’m excited to see more of what it has to offer. The Netflix Resident Evil series debuts July 14. 

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