‘The Purge’ TV Show: Secrets from the Horror Series’ Set

After five years and four films, James DeMonaco’s iconic horror film franchise, The Purge is coming to television. Set one decade after The First Purge, the USA series will introduce a whole new set of characters, with their own motivations and backstories which implode and collide around the 12-hour period when all crime is legal. Ahead of the series Sept. 4 premiere, The Cheat Sheet sat down with showrunner and executive producer Tom Kelly. On the show’s haunting set, Kelly revealed some searing secrets about USA Network’s The Purge.

The show takes place between The Purge: Anarchy (2014) and The Purge: Election Year (2016), and is set in a small city somewhere in the United States. For Kelly, the series, like the films, was always going to be much more than a straightforward tale with elements of fear and terror. “In the first movie, you’re ten minutes in, and a Black guy is being chased down the street by a white mob,” he recalled. “It’s not just doing a horror show, there are other themes being addressed that are relevant to the world we live in. So that intrigued me deeply.”

The Purge

The Purge | USA Network

Though we’ve gotten to know various characters like Senator Charlie Roan over the course of The Purge movies, the films have focused mostly on the story itself. With ten-episodes told over the course of a 10-hour first season, Kelly was thrilled about the possibility of having a more character focused show. “I think [James] was excited about ten hours of story time,” he explained. “In the movies, it’s ten minutes of character, then 80 minutes of how they survive the night. By converting it to a different platform, we are able to use flashbacks. We really get to know the characters in a much deeper way than the movie space allowed. So right away [James] had a pretty contained vision for what the first season would be, which is pretty much what we executed.”

For Kelly, the eclectic cast of characters is what’s going to keep fans of The Purge film franchise invested while reeling in an entirely new audience who might not have seen the films before. “I think what’s great about the flashbacks is we want to give the audience a deeper understanding of how these people act and react under duress on the night of The Purge,” he emphasized. “Each episode has flashbacks, and we stay specific to one character story in those flashbacks to keep it a little more concise. What is it about their background that leads them to where we are the night of The Purge?  We’ve got the thrills and chills of the franchise, but we also did a deep dive in characters. We had a great writer’s room with a good mix of people, gender, ethnicity, and class diversity; which no one ever talks about in our country. For all these stories, we want the audience always asking, “What would you do?” Our characters stand in through different audience viewpoints.”

The Purge

The Purge | Patti Perret/ USA Network

The timeline of The Purge TV series is extremely important. If you’ve seen the latest movie in The Purge franchise, The First Purge, then you’ll soon discover that what happened in that film had a significant effect on two of the main characters in the series. “It’s important to know, we’re ten years into The Purge in our story, so it’s not “normal,” but it’s the norm,” Kelly reflected. “For younger people especially, it’s what they grew up with. So, the series is a story about race, class, the workplace and gender identity. Moreover, it’s also about how we function in a capitalistic society. What’s just and what’s unjust? If you couldn’t get caught, if there were no ramifications for your actions, what keeps you from going out and going batshi*t? Is it the moral center? Is it just these restrictions that society puts on us? What is the human condition? Our history shows it’s pretty rotten and pretty awful at times. There’s real darkness in the heart of humankind. It’s centuries of trying to overcome that darkness and those more base instincts. Again, that’s also the heart of the show and the heart of the franchise. That whole notion of what would you do and what are we capable of?”

Since motivations are examined closely in the series, Kelly also wanted to be sure that The Purge put a spotlight on the American Dream and what it means to people for various walks of life. “It’s examining the American Dream really deeply,” he expressed. “Is it real? Is it an illusion? What’s the cost of it? Do you have to sell part of your soul to achieve it? If you get it, is it everything you thought it would be, or is it something that ruins? What is the price of success? It’s a fun story for us that’s complicated on a lot of different levels.”

Though this is a television series will air on a standard cable network, none of the violence that The Purge movies are known for will be sacrificed. Though the franchise has always been more violent than gory, Kelly was still surprised by the amount of violence the network was willing to let the show get away with. “Obviously it’s a violent world, and bad things happen, so we really try to portray the violence and how it lands on the characters,” Kelly revealed.  “There are some pretty bad acts of violence, but mostly you don’t see it; we’ve been kind of shrewd about that. We definitely don’t dwell on it. We want it to inform character. We have two types of violence; we call it Purge texture. It’s like you’re driving down the street and this crazy bit of weirdness is going on, and we blast right by it, we don’t dwell on it. It’s not really in the world of our characters. Then there’s stuff that’s more direct with the characters.  Even in the movies, I think there was one scene where they chopped off a guy’s head, and James always regretted it. He said that was the one bit of actual gore that kind of got through. Again. it’s violent but not gory. However, you can do amazing things on basic cable now. There’s nothing we’ve done with it, where they’ve said, “Wait a minute you can’t do that.”

The Purge TV

The Purge TV | Patti Perret/ USA Network

The series’ cinematography will also stand out in the midst of the violence and psychology of the show. “We were lucky to get Anthony Hemingway to come in and do the first two episodes and really establish the visual style of the show, which I think is stunning,” Kelly expressed. “I think he’s done an amazing job. I use this word very sparingly—visionary. Usually, when someone is called a visionary, they’re just some nincompoop who calls themselves a visionary. However, with Anthony, who would never call himself a visionary, every time we were going to attempt to do a version of something, he just pushed us to do the bigger, better, cooler, bolder version of it. I think it really shows, and when you see the show it’s stunningly cinematic.”

The Purge will debut September 4, 2018, at 10/9c on USA Network