YouTube Red’s new young adult series, Impulse, may be loosely based on Steven Gould’s Jumper books, even sharing the same title as the third novel, but that’s largely where the similarities end. The show stars Maddie Hasson as 16-year-old Henrietta Cole, better known as Henry, an outsider–once again–in the town of Reston, New York. Resentful of her mom Cleo’s (Missi Pyle) constant moves and rotation of men Henry’s unwilling to make the best of her new situation, keeping people away with her abrasive nature and searing commentary. Then she suffers an inexplicable seizure in class that shakes her world and a few other things. Somehow, someway, Henry has gained a destructive power, one she’s yet to understand but which becomes crushingly obvious amidst a sexual assault. Now, with the help of two unlikely allies, she’s trying to cope with what happened to her while trying to understand this strange new ability.
The show shot in Toronto during the winter months with the cast being far removed from their home support systems in L.A. Speaking to Maddie, Missi and the show’s Executive Producers, David Bartis and Lauren LeFranc, at this year’s ATX Television Festival, I learned the actresses were so fully enmeshed in the story that they genuinely felt as if they were their characters, even slipping into depression at times.
It was difficult. It felt very real, to be honest. – Maddie
For Missi, the dramatic series was an exciting departure from her norm. Known for her well-honed comedic chops she never expected to play such a textured character despite wanting a role that didn’t feel as two-dimensional as funny often does. The role of a beleaguered mom at constant battle with her tempestuous daughter pushed and challenged Missi in thrilling ways. Cleo desperately loves her daughter but suffers great guilt and shame for the hurt she has unwittingly inflicted on Henry with her wayward life. Missi greatly feared she wasn’t good enough for the role, but she needn’t worry because she plays the various shades of parenthood—love, anger, resentment, sympathy, fear—with effortless authenticity. In fact, despite the gritty darkness of the show, she’s positively luminous as Cleo. As her character says, “I’m here, whether you like it or not.” Far more need to see Missi in this vein because they will like it and want more.
And if any two words can summarize Maddie’s portrayal of Henry it’s “raw honesty.” From the moment go, you understand her pain and disconnect. She’ll never admit it, but she’s crushed that she’s not enough for her mom and that this time will not be different. But different it is. After her assault by a football player, she goes through denial, imagined revisionism, self-blame, and crippling fear and anxiety before stepping into her power—both literally and figuratively. Maddie went deep to give a credible performance that delves into the complicated layers of being a survivor. How you cope is not one thing.
The beauty of this fledgling network is the freedom they afforded this production. Henry isn’t your typical teen protagonist. She’s dark and twisty, unapologetic, and complex. Real. Holding no punches, she curses, says hurtful things, and strikes out. You won’t find her having perfectly coiffed hair and wearing haute couture outfits either. In other words, she’s not sanitized and perfected for TV. Despite her edge, Maddie imbues Henry’s crudeness with a vulnerability and humor that makes her instantly relatable and likable, a tenuous balancing act few young actresses could do as well. On top of creating a character and home life that closely resembles reality for many, the show also dared to show an unfiltered portrayal of a survivor – messy, painful, turbulent, searching for light. And YouTube Red, being as youthful and uninhibited as Henry, never said no to anything creatively which is why the show feels so fresh. To that I say, “Fuck FCC regulations.”
Asked about the importance of showing a truthful representation of a survivor Maddie said,
We wanted to get it right. We wanted it to be real. And we wanted it to really speak to people and for that to happen you have to really, really feel it. And I really, really felt it and it was very painful.
Her nuanced performance garners praise for its bravery, both emotional and physical. There’s a gravitas and maturity to her performance that belies her 23-years. Having watched her before on Freeform’s short-lived Twisted, it’s a wonder she hasn’t gotten the notice or breakout she so richly deserves.
The supporting cast is equally impressive, especially that of Henry’s allies – Sarah Desjardins and Daniel Maslany (younger brother of Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany) – and Enuka Okuma as Deputy Anna Hulce. My only complaint about the series is that the secondary storyline with a secret sect of jumpers seems unnecessary and, as far as I’m concerned, unwanted. Plainly, it robs from Maddie’s compelling story which stood strong enough on its own. By season’s end, you’re left with far more questions than answers regarding the villain. Should the series get a second season, and it absolutely should, the show would do well not to take Maddie out of Reston and away from her newfound family because the growing intimacy between them is what resonates most. Yes, Maddie’s jumper ability can take her anywhere in the world but widening the scope of her life too much could ruin the show’s greatest strength—the interpersonal relationships they beautifully built, both good and bad.
At first glimpse, Impulse may easily be dismissed as just another young adult series but that would be a mistake. Not only is it groundbreaking in its realism, it’s impactful in its social commentary and the way it juxtaposes Henry’s jumper ability with her sexual assault, both violations against her body, is insightful and brilliantly played.
Impulse is one of the best debut series I’ve seen in quite some time. Maddie and Missi told me the show left them changed. It did the same for me. It’ll do the same to you.
All 10 episodes of Season 1 can be streamed on YouTube Red. P.S. – If you don’t have a subscription you can sample the first 3 episodes for free or get a month-long free trial. It’s worth it and you’ll want more! The first episode is posted below.