The Underground Railroad Is Being Uniformly Hailed

Berry Jenkins adapts Colson Whitehead's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel for Amazon Prime
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 14, 2021 8:28 AM CDT

An enslaved girl flees a Georgia cotton plantation and its brutal owner, only to be pursued by a bounty hunter spurred by his failure to catch her mother years earlier in The Underground Railroad, a 10-hour limited series debuting Friday on Amazon Prime Video. Just how good is Moonlight director Berry Jenkins' adaptation of Colson Whitehead's Pulitzer Prize-winning 2016 novel of the same name? The 97% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes should be some indication. Four takes:

  • "Yes, you will see atrocities. But you will also see humanity and resistance and love. You will see a stirring, full-feeling, technically and artistically and morally potent work, a visual tour de force worthy of Whitehead's imaginative one," writes James Poniewozik at the New York Times, where the series nabs "critic's pick." That's due in part to its "magnetic" star, Thuso Mbedu. As for Jenkins, "it's as if he has figured out how to funnel more feeling through a camera lens than anyone else."
  • The 10-episode series—"hallucinatory, magical, allegorical, and yet permanently in the pursuit of historical and eternal truths, the resurrection of lost perspectives and the uplifting of unheard voices"—gets five stars from Lucy Mangan at the Guardian, who urges you not to binge-watch it. "The visual unpacking of every multi-layered scene is a week's work alone," she writes, noting the viewer is whisked to a "slightly alt-reality America" in which the railroad is a literal thing.

  • "The railroad facilitates a grim tour of the American South, with each stop reinforcing—in its own terrifying way—the supremacist delusion at the heart of the nation's darkest legacy," writes Bethonie Butler at the Washington Post. "Pain is abundant, and the series beckons us to grieve," she adds, noting "I used the pause button a lot—both to collect and to brace myself." But it also "depicts the strength and perseverance of Black people, who have endured generations of abuse in a country built on paradoxical notions of freedom."
  • "Once Cora leaves the plantation, the new worlds she moves through often have eerie resonances with the present, in ways that discombobulate viewers who might be tempted to resign these stories to the distant past," writes Emily VanDerWerff at Vox. "I have no idea what white Americans who aren’t me will make of The Underground Railroad," but it "made me feel things about my own life and personal pain very deeply, while never letting me forget that while I could relate to aspects of this story, it is not my own."
(Read more television review stories.)

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