Warning: This review contains mild spoilers for “Impulse” and references to sexual assault
YouTube joins the ever-growing number of video streaming providers that produce original content and exceed expectations with their new original series, “Impulse.” In May 2018, YouTube split their YouTube Red subscription in two. There are now two separate subscriptions, Youtube Music and YouTube Premium. Among the features of YouTube Premium is access to all of YouTube’s original content. What is maybe most surprising is the rapid popularity of YouTube originals, which in some cases outperform content from Hulu and Netflix. “Impulse” is no exception. YouTube announced that the series, which only premiered on June 6, 2018, was renewed for a second season on July 19, 2018, and is expected to be released in 2019. With an average Rotten Tomatoes audience score of 88 percent, “Impulse” is on par with shows such as “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” (Netflix, 80 percent), “The Path” (Hulu, 85 percent) and “Transparent” (Amazon, 89 percent).
“Impulse” is the story of 16-year-old Henrietta “Henry” Coles, a defiant teen whose mother has once again uprooted their lives in pursuit of stability. Henry suffers from a newly manifested seizure disorder, but her seizures aren’t what they seem. When a fellow student at Henry’s new school attempts to rape her, her panic seems to trigger another seizure. Her body contorts, her eyes roll back — but something else starts happening too. The metal of the car they’re in also contorts as if a giant hand is crushing the frame. Then, suddenly, Henry wakes up in her bedroom. The impossibility of what has just happened makes Henry question whether she perhaps blacked out. The trauma of the attempted rape follows Henry in a number of ways as she starts to understand her newfound power of teleportation. Henry lets her new stepsister, Jenna, and fellow classmate Townes, in on her secret as she attempts to control the power.
If you’re getting the slight sensation that “Impulse” sounds like the 2008 film “Jumper,” well, you’re not wrong. “Impulse” is loosely, and I do mean loosely, based on the third book in Steven Gould’s “Jumper” novel series. In fact, executive producer for “Impulse,” Doug Liman, served as director for the film “Jumper.” However, “Impulse” takes the basic premise from the book and turns it into something almost entirely new. Rather than serving a continuation of a story, the show is the beginning of something original.
To Binge or Not to Binge?
“Impulse” has a little something for everyone, from science fiction and action, to organized crime, drama and government conspiracy. Admittedly, season one leans heavier on the drama, but this allows for the characters to fully explore their identity. The more in-depth character and story development help set up for the more intense episodes towards the end of the series. If you’re expecting something fast-paced with nonstop excitement, you’ll be a little disappointed with “Impulse.” But I promise that it’s worth it and I genuinely think that season one sets up the story to be more action-based in the future. In addition to a good storyline and development, the acting, effects and overall production are also top-notch.
What strikes me most about “Impulse” is how Henry’s sexual assault is handled through the series. Over the course of the series, the lingering trauma from the assault is a driving force in Henry’s life. Henry struggles with self-doubt, intimacy, trust and the constant presence of her attacker. Using sexual assault in the development of a female character is tricky. Shows like “Veronica Mars” did it well, whereas shows like “Game of Thrones” have been criticized for the misuse of sexual assault to drive the storylines of female characters. “Impulse” seems to get it right and Maddie Hasson, who plays Henry, does an exceptional job portraying the complex effect that trauma like this has on someone’s life.
The series actually reminds me a little of the Netflix original “sense8.” Henry discovers a rare ability, she has to balance her life while she explores this ability and there seems to be a scary and nefarious group of people who wish harm upon those with the rare power. While Henry may not be as lovable a main character compared to those of sense8, there are striking similarities between the two shows.
Overall, I found the characters and the story compelling. While the season may ebb away from the science fiction elements laid out in the first episode, season one does provide a strong foundation for seasons to come. At only 10 episodes, you could easily start and finish the series over winter break. With some good snacks and a cozy blanket, you could even finish the entire series in a single day.
Best Episode: Episode 10, “New Beginnings,” with an honorable mention of episode 3, “Treading Water.”
Similar Shows: “sense8,” “Cloak and Dagger” and “Jessica Jones.”
Trigger Warnings: The entire series deals with the aftermath of Henry’s attempted rape, so there is definitely some triggering content related to sexual assault. There is an included trigger warning at the start of each episode and information about RAINN, the sexual assault hotline and resource organization. There is some minor drug use in the show and, while not particularly graphic, there are scenes involving violence, guns and death.
Episodes 1-3 are available to stream for free on YouTube, with the full series available on YouTube Premium.
10 episodes, approximately 8 hours.