Back in August 2005, America was hit by a large and destructive Category 5 hurricane that ripped through New Orleans and the surrounding areas. Causing over 1800 fatalities and billions of dollars in damage, it remains one of the most devastating natural disasters to hit the US in recent memory.
We’ve had a lot of big screen disaster movies in recent years, mostly spearheaded by Roland Emmerich who’s increasingly showing himself to be a one-trick pony. Thankfully Five Days At Memorial is not a popcorn munching, dumb disaster movie. Nor is it a one-trick pony.
Split across 8 episodes, AppleTV’s latest drama is an unflinching and gut-wrenching reality check into the horrors that took place during the days during and the weeks following the Hurricane smashing through New Orleans.
The central focus here though is not on New Orelans as a whole but instead on Memorial Hospital. Based on a true story, including an investigative effort into finding out what happened to 45 deceased patients inside, Five Days starts off as a pulsating disaster series before easing up on both the tension and thrills, becoming more of a more formulaic investigative drama.
In doing so, the show loses its momentum and stutters over the finish line, with some questionable tonal and pacing choices late on – not to mention a focus that wanes between different protagonists, muddying the message this show was trying to put out in the first place.
The story begins simply enough, and the first 5 episodes essentially look at the first 5 days of the drama inside Memorial Hospital. With rain lashing down outside, flooding becoming an ever-more present problem. That’s before even mentioning winds whipping up and destroying everything in sight. These opening chapters are tense and absolutely unnerving. It’s hard to take your eyes off what’s happening.
The final three episodes however, then skip forward across multiple time jumps, changing the focus from the doctors and nurses inside Memorial Hospital to the investigators outside. Virginia and Butcher try to piece together what happened in Memorial, but in doing so the show loses its momentum and it almost feels like two different shows crammed into one. This tonal clash does not mesh well together at all and as a result, the series feels a little uneven.
That’s a shame too because as I said above, the first half of this series is great. This is as intense as any disaster movie, with scenes that wouldn’t be amiss in something like Dante’s Peak or Twister. Unlike those movies though, there’s no cheesy one-liners or flying cows. Instead, this is very much a grounded, gritty and absolutely gut-wrenching account of the horrors these men and women in New Orleans had to endure.
Helping things along is a constant flurry of archival footage at the start of each episode. These shots have clearly been meticulously chosen to really showcase how alone those in New Orleans were, with multiple shots of a clueless George Bush doing very little to actually help those in dire need. This echoes back to the constant push/pull struggle that we all face even now, with the rich and poor divide growing ever-more prevalent and causing communities to be ripped apart as a result.
When it comes to New Orleans, there’s a moral question here too, stemming from the events that take place inside Memorial that lead up to those 45 fateful souls losing their lives. I won’t reveal exactly what happened here, especially for those who don’t know the true story, but it’s a shocking revelation when it’s revealed.
Unfortunately, when it comes to character arcs the show loses sight of this during the final chapters and changes focus, as mentioned above, to the investigators outside of New Orleans. Anna Pou is one of the only constants that stitches these two time periods together, but players like Bryant King, Diane and Susan (who are all focal points of the first 4 episodes) are simply footnotes and barely feature late on.
AppleTV have been on a roll in 2022 and Five Days At Memorial is another decent addition to the roster, despite its late series wobbles. This could have been one of the best had it managed to remain tonally consistent from start to finish, but despite that there’s enough here to like all the same. This is a harrowing and emotionally charged biographical drama that’s well worth a watch.
Verdict - 7.5/10