'The Lazarus Project' review: Time loop thriller is a propulsive piece of drama

George (Paapa Essiedu) in The Lazarus Project. (Sky UK)
George (Paapa Essiedu) in The Lazarus Project. (Sky UK)

Launching on Sky and NOW this week, The Lazarus Project imagines endless espionage missions on a Groundhog Day-style time loop, where subtle alterations in execution only cause more problems.

Throw in personal relationships, an ethically unstable undercover team and a rookie recruit born with Godlike abilities, then sit back and watch as this small covert group play with the future of millions. Each week they get to experience resurrection in the name of entertainment

Mass extinction events have been the stuff of cinema for the longest time, whether that means James Cameron’s Terminator franchise, or something closer to home like World War Z.

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Each can boast their own dramatic spin on global annihilation, either through virulent disease, or an Arnold Schwarzenegger sized AI who always comes back. Both also embraced an 'end of days' storyline through grounded relationships, which turned each one into a seminal classic over time.

Going on the opening episodes of The Lazarus Project, audiences will soon find themselves entrenched in a small screen equivalent, as creator Joe Barton (Giri/Haji) weaves his tangled web.

Placing George (Paapa Essiedu), Sarah (Charly Clive), Archie (Anjli Mohindra), and Ross (Brian Gleeson) at the epicentre of a social commentary piece with espionage overtones, Barton has effortlessly crafted characters with genuine contemporary concerns into a powerful piece of pertinent drama.

Sarah (Charly Clive) and George (Paapa Essiedu) in The Lazarus Project (Sky UK)
Sarah (Charly Clive) and George (Paapa Essiedu) in The Lazarus Project (Sky UK)

Within the first ten minutes, through a carefully conceived montage sequence, audiences will have everything they need to establish George and Sarah in a reality of substance. This picture-perfect London couple fall in love, get offered a life changing opportunity and seem set for wedded bliss. Burgeoning pandemics, spiralling economies, and political atrocities may colour the world around them, but these two remain intentionally unaffected before things head south.

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At this point curveballs come thick and fast, as one simple event turns their idyllic union into a tension filled timebomb of mistrust and insecurity. Much of this coming down to Essiedu, who some will recognise from Gangs of London and I May Destroy You, as he brings an everyman quality to the emotional upheaval which serves to establish The Lazarus Project going forward.

Archie (Anjli Mohindra) in The Lazarus Project (Sky UK)
Archie (Anjli Mohindra) in The Lazarus Project (Sky UK)

With elements of Source Code (Duncan Jones), The Bourne Identity and Edge Of Tomorrow (Doug Liman) to name a few, this Sky original repurposes some high-octane plot points into a truly propulsive piece of drama. One that realises the only way to hook any audience is through human connections and grounded characters, rather than needless spectacle and pointless body counts.

However, where some espionage thrillers might be satisfied with a well-crafted script, some cool characters and an endgame scenario with real human repercussions, The Lazarus Project gets better. Not only employing flashbacks to flesh out back story, but making that story telling device an intrinsic part of the fabric from the off.

Rebrov (Tom Burke) in The Lazarus Project (Sky UK)
Rebrov (Tom Burke) in The Lazarus Project (Sky UK)

What begins as a simple relationship drama quickly morphs into something fascinating, as other fantastical plot threads take audiences down the rabbit hole. Introducing Wes (Caroline Quentin) who comes off as an M replica from the Daniel Craig-Pierce Brosnan era of James Bond, but with softer edges. As well as intriguing character oddities like Shiv (Rudi Dharmalingam) and Rebrov (Tom Burke), who all have their part to play in this cunningly constructed morality play.

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Beyond the covert characters, world ending flashbacks and overarching sense of momentum which defines The Lazarus Project, this show centres on one human emotion. A feeling strong enough to convince audiences that given the same choices they would side with George without hesitation.

By constructing an emotional argument within the drama, that puts human connection and companionship at the centre of everything else. Making The Lazarus Project a compelling piece of television, irrespective of the window dressing.

1st July 2019. A date that George (Pappa Essiedu) can never forget... No matter how hard he tries. Trapped in a loop that keeps returning him to 1 July, he discovers the existence of a secret group known The Lazarus project – a crack team of agents who prevent global catastrophe by resetting time. George signs on with the colourful group as their latest recruit, but when his wife is killed and his colleagues refuse to reset time to save her, George goes rogue and puts a plan in motion that has the potential to destroy the planet. Propulsive action thriller from Joe Barton (Giri/Haji).
Caroline Quentin in The Lazarus Project. (Sky)

Stand out performances beyond the central pairing include Brian Gleeson and Tom Burke, who bring so much more to the table than audiences might think. Some may remember Burke from his portrayal of Orson Welles in David Fincher’s Mank for Netflix, while Gleeson heralds from the powerhouse acting clan which includes his father Brendan and brother Domhnall.

That being said, aside from the A-list company and character acting royalty these two performers share, they each prove pivotal in making The Lazarus Project something special.

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Intricate, inclusive and populated by a supremely talented ensemble cast, this show does more than pay homage. It confirms that the landscape of drama is changing, as a new generation of actor forges ahead into uncharted territory creating small screen dramas worthy of a silver screen release.

The Lazarus Project is available on Sky Max and streaming on NOW from 17 June.

Watch: Paapa Essiedu discusses representation on UK TV and film