Undone shares many traits with Netflix’s Bojack Horseman (2014 – Present): juggling joy and heartbreak, characters grappling with their own ennui in a world that expects everyone to be happy 24/7, and diving into experimental territory with its style of animation. All of which makes sense as Undone is from the same duo that made a cartoon about an angsty horse-man such a hit, and once again co-creators Kate Purdy and Raphael Bob-Waksberg prove their talent for stretching the limits of animated television and mining emotional depth.
Alma (Rosa Salazar) is a twenty-something Latinx daycare worker eeking out a mundane existence in San Antonio in which she feels trapped. Still traumatized by the death of her scientist father Jacob (Bob Odenkirk) and convinced of her own inherent brokenness, Alma is struggling to deal with her romantically-lukewarm relationship with her boyfriend Sam (Siddharth Dhananjay), her chirpy younger sister Becca (Angelique Cabral) about to marry a rich fratboy type, and her meddling mother Camila (Constance Marie).
After Alma has a breakdown and is nearly killed in a car accident, she starts seeing hallucinations of her father who urges her to uncover a conspiracy behind his death and master traveling through time at will, an ability that has supposedly been lying dormant inside of her all her life. After the first episode, the trippiness is turned to eleven and Undone never looks back. Imagine the drug-induced escapades of Bojack Horseman‘s season one finale extended to every episode instead of just one and you get an idea.
Undone uses rotoscope animation over the actors’ performances to great effect, creating the feeling of being in a colorful, surreal painting before any of the time-travel craziness has even started to kick in. There’s the sense that the mundane real world is just as vibrant and interesting as Alma’s trips through the past. The series manages to keep this sense of wonderment throughout the entire season and each episode feels fresh and different from the last.
Despite the psychedelic tone, Undone is anchored by the vulnerable humanness of its characters. There’s a hidden depth to everyone, all of whom struggle in their own ways with their foibles, and none struggle more than Alma. Stuck between the past and the present, the mundanity of life and the bizarreness of newfound powers, and her traditionalist Mexican mother and Jewish father’s penchant for unconventionality, Alma is someone processing a lot of internal conflicts at once. Salazar juggles all these feelings within Alma with equal parts snark and heart, and is thoroughly enduring, especially when paired with Odenkirk’s dialed-back performance as Jacob, a father who is still loving to his daughter though can’t help but hold back.
If there was one thing Undone has trouble with, it’s holding the cards close to its vest about whether or not Alma’s surreal journey is real or some sort of mental break so she can work through her own grief, and by the end of the season it’s easy to tell that the story can’t hold up the act forever. It’ll be interesting to see which path Undone chooses next, at the very least, though the draw of the series remains the characters rather than any of the particular plot beats anyway.
Undone is hard to compare to anything else out there. It’s experimental to a degree you rarely get to see with a show, earnest and open with all of its characters’ flaws and focuses on their inner journey just as much as painting vivid imagery. It’s a weird, shifting story about one’s past and grief, and it’s hard imagining anything else this year coming close to its spellbinding uniqueness.