Honestly, I expected The Last Of Us (based on the critically acclaimed video game) would, at best, receive a lukewarm welcome from viewers mainly due to its popularity as a game.
I wonder about the conversations and decisions made when deciding to take on a project to adapt a game into a film or TV series like The Last Of Us, Halo, and Resident Evil, because, often, fans are displeased with the end product.
Many probably blame gamers for being too critical, but even people who have not played these games will tend to have similar criticisms to those who know the source material.
On the Rotten Tomatoes website, Halo currently sits at a 52% audience score, and Resident Evil scored 26% with its viewers. But it has also been a "long, long time" since the days of Mortal Kombat: Conquest, a series lasting only one season because of mixed reviews and reports of it being too expensive. Making shows like Arcane and The Last Of Us feel like the fruits of labor for some fans, especially gamers.
The Last Of Us is based on the critically acclaimed video game of the same name, developed by Naughty Dog for the Sony PlayStation console.
Written by executive producers Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann, the series stars Pedro Pascal as Joel and Bella Ramsey as Ellie, along with a long list of incredibly talented actors supporting these two leads.
Twenty years have passed since the destruction of civilization in this story. Joel, a hardened survivor, is hired to escort Ellie, a 14-year-old girl, out of an oppressive quarantine zone.
What starts as a small job soon becomes a brutal and heartbreaking mission. As Joel and Ellie continue traveling through a post-apocalyptic world filled with deadly mushroom-headed creatures that were once human, we see in episode 3 that a relationship is slowly beginning to form.
Ellie relies on Joel for answers as she visually takes in the magnitude of what happened to humanity. Explaining to Joel that what she was taught does not compare to what she is now seeing.
Still angry about losing Tess, Joel has resentment toward Ellie and the mission. But as Ellie tries talking to him, we see Joel start to open up a little because of Ellie's curiosity.
These two characters' bonding gave me a break from some of the annoyance I felt toward them in the earlier episodes. But that's what good acting is, it is meant to invoke feelings.
Pascal, Ramsey, and the talented supporting cast in the first two episodes won over critics and audiences with Rotten Tomatoes reporting an approval rating of 96% critics and a 93% audience score.
Unfortunately, some viewers did not enjoy TLOU's third episode (titled: Long Long Time) and began review-bombing it on IMDB. While having those water-cooler discussions on social media I received a few comments that were homophobic.
During one of my many discussions about the episode, one person said, "Nah I don't wanna see dudes kissing." These negative bias reviews felt more like homophobia and sexual orientation discrimination but very little is said about the actor's performance or the storyline.
Some viewers called the episode a "Filler" not knowing that in the game there are hints towards Bill being a gay man due to his relationship with Frank. In the game Bill and Frank do have a story.
The episode raises awareness and offers insight into this world that I feel helped me connect more with Joel and Ellie. Nick Offerman recently responded to criticism of the episode on social media "Buddy, your brand of ignorance and hate is exactly why we make stories like this."
A report published in 2019 by the Anti-Defamation League showed that globally, video games are a $152 billion industry, with nearly a third of online multiplayer gamers (29%) stating that they have been doxed.
Players avoid certain games due to a game’s reputation because of harassment. Thirty-eight percent of women and 35 percent of LGBTQ+ players reported harassment based on gender and sexual orientation.
For someone like me, who has not played video games since the first Nintendo, the report and this episode of TLOU brought to light a very serious issue that raised my awareness. (https://www.adl.org/resources/report/free-play-hate-harassment-and-positive-social-experiences-online-games)
Focused on a character who has only "a small part in the game," episode 3 of The Last Of Us aired to an already rapidly growing viewership, with HBO reporting that TLOU had the second largest debut, behind House Of The Dragon.
Giving the actors, writers, and director's work on this episode a better chance to shine because of the amount eyes already watching the series. The first episode surpassed 22 million viewers domestically, up nearly 5x from its premiere night audience.
While many disapproved of "dudes kissing," these opinions have been drowned out by praise from a much larger base of viewers who enjoyed the love story.
The show now seems unstoppable and has already been renewed for a second season after Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett's Emmy-winning performances.
That's right, I said it, Emmy-Winning, and they should both win! Rolling Stone called it “a fabulous, fabulous episode of television,” and the “early frontrunner for the best TV installment of 2023.” Esquire described it as “a TV moment we’ll never forget.”
“I’m humbled, honored, and frankly overwhelmed that so many people have tuned in and connected with our retelling of Joel and Ellie’s journey. The collaboration with Craig Mazin, our incredible cast & crew, and HBO exceeded my already high expectations,” said executive producer Neil Druckmann. “Now we have the absolute pleasure of being able to do it again with season two! On behalf of everyone at Naughty Dog & PlayStation, thank you!”
I was not shocked by Bartlett after his performance as Armond, the hotel manager in White Lotus, but Offerman? He is a great actor, talented, and fun to watch; I have always known these facts about Offerman but did not see this depth coming.
It was moving to see Bill (Offerman) guard his feelings, slowly letting Frank in, making each scene a more difficult choker as you get closer to the end of the episode. At one point, I paused and walked away because it hurt to see them age with Frank in the wheelchair.
The arguments, Frank's expression as Bill plays the piano, the kiss, happiness with strawberries, the last-day announcement, and the last look through the window were all poetry in motion set to Linda Ronstadt's song Long Long Time.
Incidentally, Billboard reported that the Hall of Fame singer, will not receive any additional royalties after Spotify announced on social media that streams of the song jumped 4,900%. Increasing from 8,000 plays the day before the episode aired to 149,000 the day after.
“I still love the song and I’m very glad that Gary will get a windfall.” She’s referring to Gary White, the songwriter who first played it for Ronstadt in 1969. (Billboard Article: Linda Ronstadt Won’t Make a Dime From ‘Last of Us’ Synch But Is ‘Very Glad’ for It Anyway)
"Paying attention to things that's how we show love" - Frank
Bartlett described his character as having good instincts but a bit sensitive, someone who would not fit easily in a post-apocalyptic world. "My first reaction to the episode, really, was surprise. It was this unexpected, beautiful love story. It was very emotional reading it. It's like a candle in a dark room. And it was extra beautiful because of the context of the world we are in."
Bartlett won a Critics' Choice award and a Primetime Emmy for his work in White Lotus both for best-supporting actor. With this momentum, I think we can expect to see him in a leading role soon.
Offerman stated during his TVLine interview that the timing was perfect because he had just finished watching The White Lotus. "I think Bill has really calcified himself into a life before Frank shows up. These two characters can nearly impossibly find one another. And humanity still has the potential for Frank and Bill. And that is the love story. Even if shit goes this sideways, and people start turning into mushrooms, we can still find cause to feel warmly towards one another," said Nick Offerman.
(See Interview below)
Based on Nielsen and first-party data, the TLOU episode 3 raked in 6.4 million viewers when it aired (Jan 29, 2023), up an additional 12% from the previous week’s viewership and up 37% from the series' debut night.
This is the first time HBO has had multiple current series drawing more than 15 million viewers at a time across all genres. For comparison, in 2002, The Sopranos averaged an estimated 18.2 million viewers in its fourth season, Sex and the City season 5 (13.8 million), and Six Feet Under season 2 (12.1 million).
Who knows what to expect with the rest of the series as we continue Joel and Ellie's journey? Episode 3 was a brilliant way to strengthen the viewer's connection to the characters.
This stand-alone love story between Frank and Bill and its message now sits in the back of my brain and will undoubtedly serve as a repeated feeling of dread as I continue watching this post-apocalyptic drama series.
I will now be even more interested in each character they meet along the way and look forward to more backstories.
Hats off to director Peter Hoar, the writers, actors, and everyone else in front of and behind the scenes of this episode for taking a chance and choosing to expand the world of a character who "only had a small part to play" in the video game.
(See Interviews below)
The more stories we get to see like this, the smaller the world becomes for those who choose to hate.
As always, you made it this far, thanks for reading, and if you watch this series, let me know what you think.
Keep it interesting, Stay Channel Surfing!