Boy Swallows Universe (2024) Season 1 Review – A show worth watching for its finely written characters

Season 1

 

 

Episode Guide

Episode 1 – | Review Score – 4.5/5
Episode 2 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 3 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 4 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 5 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 6 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 7 – | Review Score – 4/5

 

The much-celebrated novel Boy Swallows Universe, by Australian journalist and writer Trent Dalton, has made its way onto Netflix with an onscreen adaptation of the same name. Bringing to life the semi-biographical coming-of-age novel, Boy Swallows Universe is set against the backdrop of Brisbane in the year 1985. 

Boy Swallows Universe takes us on a trip to the Aussie underworld in Darra, unpacking not just the obvious issues like bullying and domestic abuse but going deeper. Thirteen-year-old Eli Bell resides in Darra with his quiet brother Gus Bell, erstwhile drug addict mother Frances, and smack dealer stepfather Lylie Orlik. Throughout the series, we see Eli trying to protect and rebuild his family at any cost. We see Eli having multiple showdowns with dangerous drug dealers in Darra, breaking inside the prison by hiding in a fruit truck and selling drugs to save money to buy a house for Frances once she completes her prison sentence.

Eli’s coming-of-age journey begins when a shocking incident which turns his joyful family dysfunctional. His stepfather, Lyle Orlik, is kidnapped by Ivan Kroll and his men, and his mother is wrongfully arrested for possession of drugs. To make things even worse for him, his best friend and mentor, Slim Halliday, dies from a heart attack.

The series shows some really strong connections between the characters. Gus, who’s Eli’s guardian angel, and Robert, Eli’s biological dad, go all out with an “I’ll sacrifice myself for my kid and my brother” attitude. Then there’s Eli and his prison pen pal Alex Bermuda, who saves his family after he gets out of prison from Frances’s abusive boyfriend. Not to mention the tight bond we see between Gus and his friend Shelly. To simplify, the Boy Swallows Universe is all about these solid interpersonal relationships.

When it pertains to screenwriting, Boy Swallows Universe serves up some well-crafted scenes. Take the one where Eli finally meets his mother in prison – it’s a real tear-jerker, tugging at our heartstrings. And then there’s that other scene where Eli and Gus discover the problems with Frances and Teddy’s relationship. Things like these aren’t just a casual revelation; it hits you right in the feels. 

In addition, the series is packed with a plethora of scenes that will make you really feel for characters. The show brings us right there in the thick of it with Eli. The showmakers take extra care in painting his character, giving us a front-row seat to his world. We see Eli risking it all to save money to buy a dream house for his mother, and yet, life throws constant curveballs at him. 

Eli’s brother, Gus, has a special power, where he claims to see the future, but in bits and pieces, which makes his character more interesting. Lyle Orlik is another interesting character you’ll develop feelings for, who’s only seen in the first couple of episodes. There’s this one particular scene where Eli grumbles to his mother about what her life could’ve been if she was not with Lyle. This is one of the few scenes where we find ourselves connected with Lyle and the other characters.

Eli is a role that’s passed through a trio of talented young actors – Auden Ryan at six years old, Felix Cameron at 13, and Zac Burgess at 17. The first five episodes cast Felix and Auden, bringing out Eli’s mischievous and talkative side. With his playful antics, like jumping over walls when there’s a perfectly fine gate, Felix manages to get under everyone’s skin like every other teenage kid. In the final two episodes, we see Zac Burgess, who carries out the same antics we’ve grown to associate with Eli. Tiger Halley, playing Gus, forms an incredible on-screen bond with both Felix and Zac. 

The real showstopper, though, is Phoebe Tonkin in the role of Frances. She delivers a stellar performance, playing both a loving wife and mother dealing with drug addiction and being separated from her kids while behind bars. Behind the scenes, the Director of Photography and the composers provide solid technical support that help everything pop and stand out. The chase sequences, especially where Eli is tearing through the prison, trying to escape just like Slim Halliday, are particularly noteworthy. It all comes together to make Boy Swallows Universe a visual and auditory treat for the audience.

While Boy Swallows Universe sports some great writing and a stellar cast, there’s a sentiment that the show’s runtime can occasionally feel a tad lengthy. Despite the quality of the writing and performances, there’s a sense that the series falls short of reaching its full potential.

It wraps up as a decent show, leaving audiences with the feeling that it had the ingredients to be something truly great. Perhaps a bit of trimming or pacing adjustments could have upgraded it from decent to outstanding. Nonetheless, it still manages to capture attention and deliver an excellent weekend binge. 


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  • Verdict - 8/10
    8/10
8/10

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