Get set to hit repeat, UK sci-fi show The Lazarus Project is back
Sci-fi fans will be thrilled at the return of British time travel drama The Lazarus Project – streaming on Neon from November 15. Adam Fresco suffers severe déjà vu when he jumps back into the show to preview its new season.
The first series of British sci-fi drama The Lazarus Project was a nifty mix of time-traveling action, adventure, and mystery, with a superb cast and a finale with more than enough intrigue, and enigmatic twists to have viewers keen for a second season.
The titular Lazarus Project turned out to be a secretive agency tasked with resetting time so as to avoid the apocalypse. With its Möbius strip take on time as an endless loop, the show set up an intriguing premise, and a mighty mystery for its lead character, George, played with emotional depth, everyman bewilderment, and a sly sense of humour by actor Paapa Essiedu as a very believable ordinary person caught up in extraordinary circumstances.
Think Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, only rather than a single day, George was forced in the first series to repeat his last six months over and over again, as a pandemic swept the planet, and his happy life with his partner Sarah (played by Charly Clive), is rudely snatched from him by a runaway garbage truck. But unlike most people, George is able to recall his past lives, and it’s his ability to remember each reincarnation in repeating time that singles him out as an ideal candidate to join Lazarus and help them in their mission—to get time back on track, and stop the world-ending cataclysm waiting at the end of time’s endless loop.
Straddling the action-adventure tropes and time-travelling shenanigans of UK sci-fi series from Doctor Who to Bodies, what makes the show tick is its great cast, and twisting narrative. Just like poor George, we as viewers often don’t quite know what’s going on, who to trust, or how best to interfere in past events to prevent disastrous future consequences. Where at first it seemed George was being recruited by The Lazarus Project as a force for good, set to rescue humanity from inevitable disaster, things seem far less straightforward as we hurtle through its new episodes.
No spoilers—but just as in the first season certain characters turned out to be not quite what they seemed, so the new episodes are quick to pile up the questions. When time operates as a constant loop, who can be trusted? Who has the best interests of humanity at heart? And who’s just in it for themselves?
The good news for fans is that all the key cast are back for seconds, with Tom Burke as Rebrov, the Lazarus agent who may or may not have gone rogue, or may in fact actually be the hero. As to Rebrov’s real motives, they’re about as shaggy as his beard, as are those of Rudi Dharmalingam’s agent Shiv, who despite being killed over and over by George, resurrects again. Also back are Vinette Robinson as Lazarus agent Janet, and Charly Clive, as George’s long-suffering partner, Sarah.
In season one Sarah, a primary school teacher and George’s partner, met a sudden end when her life was impolitely interrupted by a garbage truck. However, this is a show that never lets something as simple as death get in the way of a good story, so Sarah is back for season two. Not only that, she’s quickly recruited as a full-blown Lazarus agent by Wes, the show’s version of James Bond’s M. As per the first season, Wes is portrayed by actor and former comedian, Caroline Quentin, who in her scenes with George continues to channel Judi Dench talking to Bond in a particularly sarcastic mood.
To say the new season is fast-paced is both a compliment and critique, because it literally jump-cuts through time and space at such a pace, resetting each time George screws up to allow for a sudden do-over, that unless you remember the details of the first season you may well find proceedings hard to follow. I had to rewatch the end of the first season just to remind myself what the heck happened, because whilst the show is undeniably entertaining, it’s not easy to remember all those altering timelines, and knotty narrative twists.
But the show remains consistent in both quality and quirkiness. At the start of season two, time is still resetting at exactly one minute past midnight every first of July, but as well as avoiding the apocalypse, the Lazarus Project is now up against a bunch of rogue scientists calling themselves The Time Break Initiative. It seems they are working on a proper time machine. As in not an endless loop, resetting each reincarnated Earth to a set date and time, but a means to actually travel back to any time they wish.
Cue a desperate search by George to find the missing scientists, in a frantic bid to prove to Wes that he should be reinstated as a Lazarus agent, as she sacked him following for going rogue at the end of season one. Then rubbed salt in the wound by appointing his newly resurrected partner, Sarah, as an agent in his place. So now, for George, it’s not just a matter of saving the world, but of rescuing his relationship with Sarah, who quite rightly is a little annoyed that he was so busy righting time-traveling wrongdoers in the last season, he forgot to save her from being squished by a rubbish truck. To give him his due, it’s a lapse George feels bad about and wants to set right, no doubt inspired by that famous philosopher of pop, Cher, who so wisely pondered the relationship benefits of time travel, way back in 1989.
Whilst the convoluted set-up might have been confusing in less capable hands, here it’s used to create a serial drama that always keeps its audience engaged, ensuring we know just enough not to entirely lose grip of the plot. Narrative complexities aside, the characters and the dramatic questions that time travel raises are what matters here. If everything constantly resets, but you remember it all, what happens if you fall in love, or end up being betrayed, or even murdered (sometimes multiple times) by someone you thought you could trust?
These are just some of the moral conundrums The Lazarus Project continues to explore in its second outing, whilst never stinting on the action set pieces, high-stakes drama, and relatable characters. Once more the motivations and machinations of certain characters remain a mystery, wrapped in an enigma, sealed in a puzzle box. Questions of who can be trusted, and who’s good, bad, indifferent, or dangerous, ensure the tension remains taut throughout.
Fans of the first will be pleased to learn the new season picks up where the last left off, losing none of its exuberance, pace, or often offbeat humour. In season two’s first episode, there’s a moment typical of the show’s deadpan absurdity, when George calls in Lazarus agents to help remove the body of a bad guy he’s just shot. Shiv, nursing his own bullet wound, suggests George should have shot his victim in the head rather than the heart, so as to leave less blood on his floor. Watching the black-clad Lazarus agents burst in, and efficiently execute their clean-up and removal of the corpse, George offers the silent professionals a cup of tea, and is met only by stony silence from the agents, and a giggle from me.
Where season one seemed to ask if the world could be saved, this new season grapples with the very notion of whether humanity deserves salvation. Joe Barton, the show’s creator and principal writer, continues to balance the mind-bending paradoxes inherent in time-travel plots, with sympathetic, identifiable, and often slyly humorous characters, in a serial drama designed for viewers to binge at their leisure, then reset time, go back and do it all again.
The end result is an entertaining blend of thoughtful sci-fi, deft action, and relatable characterisation that lends The Lazarus Project its addictive appeal.