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Amazon Prime's New Show, 'Undone,' Is Mind-Bending


Amazon Prime Video's new series "Undone" asks a question. Are the visions of a young woman really a communication from her dead father, or are they evidence of mental illness? NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says the series, which debuts Friday, creates revolutionary television.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Alma Winograd-Diaz is stuck in a slump.


ROSA SALAZAR: (As Alma Winograd-Diaz) I'm so bored of living. I'm 28 years old and I'm terrified this is all there is. Sometimes, I'll be in the store, and I'll be looking at two different cans of beans, and I'll think, these beans are better. No, these beans are better. And then I'll think, that's the most boring thought anyone's ever had. I mean, God. Everything is pointless.

DEGGANS: Played by a fiery, funny Rosa Salazar, Alma is at once a stereotypically unmoored millennial and a completely distinct presence. Raised in San Antonio with a Jewish father and Mexican mother, she's a child of two worlds, familiar with both, comfortable in neither. And because her grandmother was diagnosed as schizophrenic, Alma's afraid she and her sister will eventually inherit the illness. She's so convinced, in fact, that Alma wants her sister to call off her wedding.


SALAZAR: (As Alma Winograd-Diaz) Believe it or not, I'm trying to help you. You don't want to marry Reed.

ANGELIQUE CABRAL: (As Becca Winograd-Diaz) All right. I get it. He's white and he's rich...

SALAZAR: (As Alma Winograd-Diaz) That's not the point.

CABRAL: (As Becca Winograd-Diaz) ...So you don't like him. Well, what is the point?

SALAZAR: (As Alma Winograd-Diaz) Because we're broken people, OK? And broken people break people.

CABRAL: (As Becca Winograd-Diaz) No, I'm not broken. I wish that you would stop telling me what you think is best for me because I'm not you.

SALAZAR: (As Alma Winograd-Diaz) OK.

CABRAL: (As Becca Winograd-Diaz) You are so insanely self-involved, you don't even know all the things that are wrong with you.

SALAZAR: (As Alma Winograd-Diaz) Now I do.

DEGGANS: After another argument, Alma gets in a car crash, emerges from a coma and sees something shocking - her dead father Jacob, played by "Better Call Saul's" Bob Odenkirk.


BOB ODENKIRK: (As Jacob Winograd) You can communicate with me because the car accident - it kind of lifted a curtain. And I need you to be able to communicate with me, but now we have to develop your potential. You know, this is kind of a new way of hearing.

DEGGANS: All of this unfolds before the viewer in a spellbinding way, rendered in rotoscope animation. If you've seen the film "A Scanner Darkly" or the documentary "Tower," you know what it looks like - flowing animation traced over film footage which can look realistic as a cityscape or fantastic as a pulsating galaxy. So when Alma has a fight with her sister, it can seamlessly explode into a moment when she's floating among the stars.


CABRAL: (As Becca Winograd-Diaz) I just wanted one year that was about me, and you ruined that.

SALAZAR: (As Alma Winograd-Diaz) I was in a coma.

DEGGANS: Amazon says this is the first episodic TV series created with rotoscope animation, and it's an ingenious storytelling device. One moment, it conveys Alma's feelings that she's living in a world that doesn't quite feel real. Then time and space will bend into a more abstract environment, and she winds up having a conversation with herself. Co-creator Kate Purdy, who also worked on Netflix's "BoJack Horseman," says she based some of Alma's experiences on her own struggles with depression and anxiety, so it's no surprise that Alma's mother - and Alma herself - begin to question her sanity.


CONSTANCE MARIE: (As Camila Diaz) I think you need to see someone - a psychiatrist.

SALAZAR: (As Alma Winograd-Diaz) I have a follow-up doctor's appointment in a few days. I'll get it all checked out when I go to that. Just don't worry.

MARIE: (As Camila Diaz) That is with an orthopedist.

SALAZAR: (As Alma Winograd-Diaz) Yeah.

MARIE: (As Camila Diaz) You're acting even stranger than usual. You usually act even stranger than usual, but since the accident, you have been acting more even stranger than usual than usual.

SALAZAR: (As Alma Winograd-Diaz) OK.

DEGGANS: It's a compelling journey of self-examination wrapped in a detective story. As Jacob asks Alma to look into how he died, "Undone" stretches, bends and breaks most every convention of television to tell a unique tale, offering the kind of game-changing experience I've always hoped streaming TV might deliver.

I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.