After starting out well, “Kindred” gets lost in a maze of its own making, adapting Octavia E. Butler’s time-traveling novel into an eight-part Hulu series that spends far too much time spinning its wheels. In that regard, it joins “The Time Traveler’s Wife” and “Paper Girls” as recent examples of just how difficult this genre can be, offering scant compensation for the time spent watching them.
The series does begin promisingly enough, as Dana (Mallori Johnson) moves into a new house in Los Angeles and begins to experience a series of eerie visions. After meeting a guy at a local restaurant, Kevin (Micah Stock), she discovers it’s not inside her head, but rather an inexplicable ability to zap back to a nineteenth-century plantation before the Civil War, inadvertently bringing Kevin back with her.
There, they experience first-hand views of the horrors associated with slavery, while perplexing the plantation owner (“True Blood’s” Ryan Kwanten) and others with their dress and interactions, which seem inordinately familiar for what’s supposed to be a White Southerner and his property. But the real mystery surrounds the “why” of it all, in a way that brushes up against Dana’s family history and the death of her mother when she was much younger.
There are awkwardly funny as well as awful aspects associated with thrusting these modern characters into the backwardness of the antebellum South, but the elements that turned Butler’s book into a bestseller don’t readily translate into a series – one that appears content to take its sweet time, ending its season without much finality. Brace yourself, in other words, for a lengthier commitment to glean greater insight into how all of this works.
That’s a bit of a shame, since the initial interactions between Dana and Kevin are playful and natural, before taking a sharp turn into a science-fiction formula. The complications, moreover, don’t end in the past, with a pair of nosy neighbors (think Mrs. Kravitz from the old sitcom “Bewitched,” only meaner) expressing plenty of suspicion about the strange comings and goings suddenly happening on their quiet street.
Adapted under playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins (whose TV credits include HBO’s “Watchmen”), “Kindred” winds up oscillating between two periods and genres – historical and science fiction – without bringing enough momentum to either. While the formula is clearly seen as a fertile one for based on the aforementioned examples, there’s never really a good time for a show that exhibits potential and underdelivers.
“Kindred” premieres December 13 on Hulu.