Keep Breathing streams on Netflix on July 28, 2022.
The survival drama is a paint-by-numbers formula. Take a terrified individual or group, drop them into the harsh wilderness, and follow them as they fall apart. Sprinkle in some interpersonal issues, and boom! You’ve got an easy show for just about any audience to follow…But that doesn’t always mean you’ve got something good, and unfortunately, Keep Breathing, Netflix’s latest take on the genre, is serviceable at best.
The limited series is an uninspired take on what shows like Lost did first – forcing “normal” people to survive in the wilderness – without any of the supernatural elements that made that series interesting. It’s a weird mishmash of action and melodrama that somehow manages to make surviving in the wild even less exciting than our heroine’s personal flashbacks. The result? An extremely rote series that’s mercifully over in just six episodes.
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Attorney Liv (Melissa Barrera) has made it her mission to meet someone near the Canadian wilderness before she returns to her normal life, but her flight has been cancelled. Desperate, she turns to two men she finds in the airport headed to the same destination. They agreeably reluctant to take her with them, but disaster strikes when the plane goes down. With both men succumbing to their eventual injuries and the plane submerged underwater, Liv must survive on her own as long as she possibly can… with little hope of being rescued.
It’s all extremely standard survival fare: the work-first attorney struggles to adapt to the situation, all while reflecting on the failures that led up to this moment. Interspersed with colorful vignettes that give us a peek into Liv’s life before the crash, Keep Breathing showcases the young lawyer’s determination to survive the wilderness – even if that means burning piles of money she finds in luggage and burying the oxycodone she found with it.
Because as it turns out, living alone in the wilderness is hard. This show really wants to remind you of this fact every time you tune in, and about how hard its protagonist is working to make sure she stays alive. Liv dives underwater again and again to recover equipment from the plane, only to find herself face to face with a hungry bear tearing through her food stores. She doesn’t quite know where to take shelter at first. There’s nothing to distract her from her absent mother and doting her father’s death… or the skeletons in her closet. But she finds a way, of course, because Keep Breathing wants us to root for Liv, even when she’s as milquetoast of a survivor as humanly possible.
As resourceful as Liv appears to be, figuring out which berries are okay to eat and craft her own compass, she also shows little common sense. Why burn piles of money when there’s plenty of wood around to set ablaze? And why dump out perfectly good medication (despite the potential for complications) when there are dangers lurking around every corner? It would come in handy if she happened to break her arm or get in a tussle with a bear. There’s no real explanation for these decisions, other than the fact that it’s just more dramatic that way, apparently. An attorney burning money? Seems a bit on the nose.
And of course, there also comes a particularly predictable reveal that often surrounds women in movies and TV who are facing already-difficult predicaments. For spoiler reasons, we won’t say exactly what that reveal entails, but it sets up exactly the kind of staid writing I’d expect from anything where a strong woman is meant to pull herself out of a seemingly insurmountable situation.
This twist adds little to the plot and only serves as a reminder that, if there’s a chance for a woman to star in a series where she must use everything at her disposal to survive, she’s still somehow got to be taking care of someone else. Because the last thing a woman should be taking care of is herself, apparently, and writing like this only serves to drive that harmful narrative home.
Otherwise, it seems the rest of Liv’s time willing herself to survive is dominated by men as well. If she’s not lost in thought about the death of her father dela, she’s daydreaming about her on- and off-again relationship with dela coworker Danny (Jeff Wilbusch), or tormented by Sam (Austin Stowell), one of the men she hitched a ride with her.
Frustratingly, there’s no real explanation for why Sam was so intent on no one coming out to save them after the plane crash. Assuming the men’s Cessna departed from the same airport Liv had visited, it had to have communicated with air traffic controllers. There’s some sort of record, to be sure, of the flight and even its potential destination, despite what Sam says, requiring a bit too much suspension of disbelief from us.
There’s also no reason for a device the series goes on to use: the deceased Sam acting as a negative voice that continues to tell Liv she’s going to die. She has no personal connection to Sam prior to the accident, and he serves no real purpose other than to be a detractor so we can feel good about her victories. And from what we knew about him during his brief time alive, there’s little reason to assume he’d be this unfriendly to someone struggling to keep herself alive long enough to seek rescue.
On the bright side, Keep Breathing is visually pleasing, with fantastic camera work, an inspired score, and great acting from its core cast. It’s so unfortunate, then, that it fails to deliver any real staying power, thanks to a boring setup and an even more boring cast of characters that fail to make any real impression. The best there is to say? Keep Breathing is an average show, at least if you just need something to watch.
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