Fallout Creator And Star Reveal Why The Show Is Secretly A Comedy

The Fallout video game series throws the player into one of the most vivid post-apocalypses ever created, so it might be a surprise to hear that the creative team approached the material as a comedy first and foremost.

As co-creator Jonathan Nolan explained, it was the dark humour of the games that first pulled him into this world, which he realised was the key thing that needed to be replicated within the TV series in order for it to truly capture the spirit of the source material.

He told Zavvi: “When you’re adapting an open world game, you have to be aware that the audience’s experience of the game will be very different to your own. So what you have to adapt is the tone, and when I first played Fallout 3 the better part of 20 years ago, it was that tone that made the experience stick with me; this delicious cocktail of darkness, emotion, violence, political satire and humour which might not be to everyone’s taste, but I found absolutely addictive.

“I’d never experienced anything like it, and so from the beginning, we partnered with two brilliant showrunners from two different worlds. Geneva (Robertson-Dworet) has a background like mine, from the comic book movie world, but Graham (Wagner) has a background in sitcoms, like the US Office and Silicon Valley.

“Bringing those two brilliant writers together, and getting all these different sensibilities, felt like the best path to try and capture that tone.”

Prime Video

Set 219 years after the nukes first fell, the first episode of the Prime Video series is largely set within the fallout bunker Vault 33, as the young vault dweller Lucy MacLean (Ella Purnell) is coming-of-age and is planned to be married off to a young man from a neighbouring vault. Naturally, this all goes horribly wrong, her father (Kyle McLachlan) is kidnapped, and she prepares to leave the sanctuary of the vault to journey across the wasteland of Los Angeles to find him.

It doesn’t exactly sound like a recipe for a comforting sitcom, but through the naivety of the characters, and the sheer surreality of the underground world-building – no TV show has ever made as many casual gags about incest within the first episode – it’s a far breezier watch than you’d expect, despite the harrowing subject matter.

When working with his brother Christopher on various projects, from the Dark Knight trilogy to Interstellar, the younger Nolan had always focused on bringing more humour into the mix. However, he’s never fully embraced the genre as he has here.

Prime Video

He continued: “It was the first time I’ve ever shot a comedy. I think I’m responsible for some of the lighter moments in my brother’s movies over the years, especially in our earlier collaborations, because I believe that you need to give the audience medicine to take them to that darker place – loosen them up with a little bit of humour so they can take what comes next.

“I think that’s one of the things Fallout does well, and it was the first time sitting with a comedy writer and gifted comedic actors and being able to set the script aside at times, and play around with it. One of my favourite moments in production was when we were in Namibia, the sun was setting on this incredible abandoned diamond refinery on the Skeleton Coast, the image looked like something out of Lawrence of Arabia… and we’re there telling d*ck jokes.”

Lead actress Purnell isn’t a gamer by any means; when she first got the role, she tried to play some Fallout, and gave up quickly because she was, well, dreadful at it. She watched a lot of YouTube playthroughs after that, and started deep-diving into the lore surrounding the mysterious Vault-Tec corporation, which led to her discovering an unlikely influence on her performance.

Prime Video

She told us: “The most unfamiliar thing to me was the mind of someone who lived underground in a vault their entire life, someone who truly at their core believes that their life’s only purpose is to procreate and make the next generation of vault dwellers, who could one day go up to the surface and rebuild America. There’s something very culty and religious about that belief, which I wanted to tap into.

“There is one very recent take on that theme, in the sitcom Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, where she’s lived for years in the bunker and it also opens with her leaving the underground to go to the big city. What I loved is that she’s like a Disney princess seeing the real world for the first time, it was the closest thing I had to a direct reference for my take on Lucy: a Ned Flanders type in the apocalypse!”

Much like the character of Kimmy Schmidt, Lucy’s naivety about the possibilities of the future is challenged almost immediately when the darkness of the real world begins to seep into her life. Despite this, Nolan has stressed that he views the show as a “hopeful” one, something Purnell shares, even if it doesn’t necessarily translate to her character.

Prime Video

“At the beginning of her journey, she represents the goodness within The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”, she continued. “She starts so innocent and so obviously privileged because of how literally sheltered she’s been from the outside world, and when she goes up to the wasteland, she has a grander moral awakening, discovering the trauma and suffering people have experienced on the surface.

“As she goes through that journey, you see her wrestle with her beliefs, whether it’s really her purpose to rebuild America, and whether people are fundamentally good. She’s the beacon of hope in the beginning, and I want people to question whether she can still represent that by the end, due to the ways in which she transforms and changes.”

Fallout premieres on Amazon Prime Video on Thursday, 11th April.

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Alistair Ryder

Alistair Ryder


Alistair is a culture journalist and lover of bad puns from Leeds. Subject yourself to his bad tweets by following him on Twitter @YesItsAlistair.