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ATX Television Festival 2019: “Undone” Review

“Undone” is an upcoming animated series from Amazon. It was created by Kate Purdy and Raphael Bob-Waksberg, who have previously worked together on Netflix’s “Bojack Horseman.” The ATX Television Festival screened the first two episodes of this new show.

This new show is based in Purdy’s hometown of San Antonio. It focuses on Alma (Rosa Salazar), a 28-year-old Mexican-American woman with hearing loss. It’s clear almost from the beginning that Alma is stuck in a rut. She has a loving live-in boyfriend, a job at a daycare and family nearby. But none of that means she’s happy.

Alma’s younger sister Becca (Angelique Cabral) gets engaged, which just makes things worse. She also has to deal with an overbearing mother (Constance Marie) who doesn’t seem to want to talk about anything real or dark. Alma’s father (Bob Odenkirk) died when she was a young girl, but it’s evident that she’s the only one in her family willing to talk about it.

The animation for this show is like none other — literally. It’s the first time rotoscope animation (the kind where they film live-action and draw over it, like “A Scanner Darkly”) has been used for a series. The backgrounds for the show are also unique: They’re original oil paintings.

The combination of the oil painting and rotoscope animation is not just beautiful, but adds to the narrative, in which what is real and what is fantasy is unclear. The oil paintings provide this picture-perfect backdrop to the story, with a hazy colorfulness. But the rotoscope animation adds a layer of reality to a storytelling medium that normally avoids realism.

The show’s themes are complicated and touching. There are aspects to it that are technical and may be hard to grasp (e.g., time loops) but you get so absorbed in Alma’s story that you just play along because you want to know what’s next — or, sometimes, what’s already happened.

It also covers mental illness, grief and relationships (both familial and romantic). “Undone” doesn’t believe life is easy, but it doesn’t quite submit that it’s hard. Life is just…life. Until it becomes something more.

This series is perfectly cast, even for the smaller roles. The actors know just how to use their facial expressions as well as their tones. After all, this is both a live-action role and a voice-acting one.

They have to pull out all the stops. And the animation team is clearly working hard to make sure that all of that effort on the actors’ parts doesn’t go to waste. According to director Hisko Hulsing, during the Q&A that followed the screening, there are parts of the show that didn’t exist during the live-action filmings; those elements were completely animated for the final product.

The show is quite an international project. While the show is set in San Antonio, it is filmed in Los Angeles. The animation is drawn in Austin, and the paintings are done in Amsterdam, where Hulsing is from. As you can imagine, it takes a lot of work from a large team to make this happen. When someone asked about the show’s budget, Bob-Waksberg joked “We’re working very hard and we want more money.”

Purdy says that she wanted to set the show in the place she grew up, and the city of San Antonio is more than 60% Latinx, so it would have felt disingenuous not to have the characters be from that culture. She felt the representation was necessary.

Related to that point is the shamanism referenced in the show. One audience member asked about the cultures that those beliefs were pulled from, and Purdy responded that she’s studied different ones, but most of the beliefs cited in “Undone” come from a shaman friend of hers. That friend happens to be of the Toltec/Aztec/Mayan culture, so that’s the most specific tradition they researched. It has a lot to do with “elasticity of mind and the unseen.”

While the panel was unsure when the show will be available to watch, they promised it would be soon — except for Bob-Waksberg, who quipped “Maybe it’s already premiered.” They also revealed that it is planned as a TV show, not a miniseries, so here’s to a successful first season.

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Featured image credit: Waytao Shing/ATX Television Festival

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