'Parallels' Review: Lost in Time
Quoc Dang Tran created the absorbing sci-fi series, now on Disney Plus.
Four friends head off on a time-traveling adventure that rips their lives apart. Does that scream out 'family friendly' to you? Have you ever expected to see anything like it on the Disney Plus streaming service?
Quoc Dang Tran, a French writer/producer known for the Netflix horror series Marianne, as well as the crime thriller Nox and other shows, became "the first French writer to sign [a first-look] deal with a major studio," as reported by Deadline on Tuesday. The next day, I opened up Disney Plus and noted that his French-language series Parallels was showcased in the first position, so I sampled the first episode.
[The show defaults to an English-dubbed version, at least in the U.S. From my television's menu, I could choose the French audio version with English captions. Disney Plus does not make it easy to watch a show in its original language, which I have also noticed with other non-English shows.]
I immediately got hooked by the tight friendship revealed between four teenagers living in a mountainous region near the border between France and Switzerland. The teens are happy young people who have been close for some years. Two are brothers, Sam (Thomas Chomel) and Victor (Maxime Bergeron), who live with their parents (Gil Alma, Elise Diamant). Bilal (Timoté Rigault) is a geeky Arab, living with his scientist mother, Sofia (Naidra Ayadi). Romane (Victoria Eber) dotes on her beloved, younger half-sister Cecile; they live with their mother Vanessa (Agnès Miguras), who has recently reconciled with Herve (Dimitri Storoge), Cecile's father.
As the episodes develop, we get to know more about each of them, their strengths, weaknesses, and romantic interests. We also get to know more about Sofia, as well as local police Lieutenant Ritz (Guillaume Labbé), who gets involved in all their lives after the inciting incident occurs.
Much of the first episode is devoted to setting up the four leading adolescent characters, who are all quite appealing and display a lovely chemistry that feels authentic. Sam is shy and hesitant to express his true feelings to Romane, who is just waiting for him to make the first move. Bilal is inclined toward math and science, which doesn't preclude him from nursing a crush on Romane. Victor may be younger than the others, but he is more outgoing than his older brother, more adventurous, and more reckless.
The show's mysterious premise is cleverly foreshadowed in a puzzling prologue before flashing forward 10 years as the four teenagers are introduced. The conclusion of the first episode then showcases the inciting incident, revolving around Sofia's workplace: a particle accelerator, where an experiment is conducted that shatters everyone's lives.
Without going into too much detail, Parallels explores what happens after two young people disappear, and a third youngster appears to age ten years. Avoiding any treacly sentiment, the six-episode series, directed by Benjamin Rocher and Jean-Baptiste Saurel (three episodes each) and written by Quoc Dang Tran and Anastasia Heinzl, considers the dramatic fallout of such traumatic events with a light yet steady hand. Things never plunge into an eternal night, but neither are serious consequences and repercussions ignored.
The ripple effect, which is a constant in time-travel stories, plays out gently and intelligently, guided by character-based narrative decisions, to the effect: 'Of course that's what [he/she] would do! Wouldn't you, if you had the chance? Or choice?'
The characters all want to do what's right, or what seems right to them in that particular moment in time. They are well-intentioned people who are sometimes betrayed by their own imperfections. The performances are all very good; the actors are in tune with their characters, and they are surrounded by gorgeous landscapes, beautiful production design, and lovely photography, enhanced by visual effects that never swamp the humanity of the characters.
Parallels is a marvelous series that touches deep emotions dealing with families and friendship. And science and time travel and all kinds of fun twists and turns. [Disney Plus]