A series built around a US civil war is bound to get attention, especially in these polarized times. But “DMZ” merely uses that backdrop as a device to introduce another dystopian drama based on a DC graphic novel, basically “The Walking Dead” meets the ’70s artifact “The Warriors.” The result is an uninvolving miniseries that, at four parts, feels either too long or not nearly long enough.
That’s because the war has already happened when the story begins, finding the US divided, with Manhattan turned into a lawless “demilitarized zone” between the two riven sides. Years after being separated from her teenage son as they fled the chaos, Alma (Rosario Dawson) braves returning to that zone, determined to be reunited with him no matter what the cost.
What Alma finds, though, is a population essentially divided into wary factions, working toward a vote seeking to provide greater order and unity to their society. On one end sits Alma’s ex, Parco (Benjamin Bratt), and on the other Wilson (Hoon Lee), each ruthless and brutal in their own way.
Adapted by Roberto Patino (“Westworld”), with a premiere directed by Ava DuVernay and the remaining episodes helmed by Ernest Dickerson, there’s ample talent both behind and in front of the camera.
The net effect, however, is dramatically inert, perhaps in part because there have been so many variations on this theme, and because Alma’s quest – and the idea of a mother desperate to reconnect with her now-grown child – overshadows the more interesting or distinctive aspects, turning it into a rather generic action thriller.
Nor does it help that the narrative basically joins the story in progress, without pausing or flashing back – as, say, “The Handmaid’s Tale” did – to flesh out how America reached this sorry point.
Despite her resourcefulness and history with the key players, Alma too often feels like a bystander as conflicts rage around her, through no fault of Dawson’s, who is pulling double streaming duty as Ahsoka Tano. With her energies steadfastly fixed on her son, broader questions about the DMZ’s fate and assorted subplots are at best underdeveloped, and at worst relegated to colorful detours.
In that respect “DMZ” has a bit in common with FX’s recent “Y: The Last Man,” another disappointment adapted from a graphic novel that sought to balance personal family drama (including a mother-child bond) with societal collapse.
While that’s fertile territory in theory, like “Y,” “DMZ’s” alphabet soup winds up in a kind of bleak and familiar no-man’s land, one that makes it a little too tempting to zone out before crossing the finish line.
“DMZ” premieres March 17 on HBO Max, which, like CNN, is a unit of WarnerMedia.