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Scavengers Reign, a sci-fi show like no other, now gets a second shot at life on Netflix

I can’t look away from Scavengers Reign

An astronaut stands on a moon with a planet looming in front of him in the animated series Scavengers Reign Image: Max
Joshua Rivera (he/him) is an entertainment and culture journalist specializing in film, TV, and video game criticism, the latest stop in a decade-plus career as a critic.

The streaming era operates via a cold and opaque calculus. Many shows unceremoniously premiere with limited promotion, only to face swift cancellation with an equal lack of fanfare. With no real numbers and a few dodgy reports available to the public and creators (now a little less dodgy, thanks to the Writers Guild of America strike), a show’s fate can feel like a cosmic joke, with no rhyme or reason to why some soldier on and some never get the chance to find an audience. Scavengers Reign, the stunning animated series that debuted on Max last year, found its number was up when the streamer canceled it earlier this May. However, in a rare moment of clarity, there is a way forward for the show: It just has to be a hit starting Friday, when it premieres on Netflix.

Its new summer home (Scavengers Reign is still available to stream on Max) is reportedly considering a season 2 renewal pending the show’s Netflix debut, though what a favorable run looks like isn’t terribly clear. Mostly, this is just an excuse to exercise a rare bit of streaming-era agency: Go check out Scavengers Reign, one of the very best shows of last year, and the rare series that earns the superlative of “like nothing else on television” simply by virtue of its stunning visual design.

A woman regards a strange blooming flower with illuminated pollen emerging from it in the animated series Scavengers Reign. Image: Max

Taking visual cues from European sci-fi artists like Moebius and Simon Roy, Scavengers Reign chronicles the aftermath of a disaster aboard the spacecraft Demeter, following a handful of survivors that escaped to the alien world of Vesta Minor, a hauntingly beautiful and hostile planet. Yet survival is only a secondary concern for show creators Joe Bennett and Charles Huettner. Instead, the pair use Scavengers Reign as an exercise in crafting a truly alien world, with all of the awe and horror that entails. As our reviewer wrote when the show premiered last fall:

Creature design and worldbuilding are one and the same in Scavengers Reign. Every animal, from the tiniest insect or docile herbivore to the most colossal and terrifying carnivore, exhibits a behavior that serves a function both within the moment-to-moment beats of an episode and in the larger ecosystem of Vesta Minor as a whole.

Luminescent pods grow from the ground while a man seems to grow inside of one in the animated series Scavengers Reign. Image: Max

Furthermore, Scavengers Reign isn’t merely concerned with creepy-gorgeous tourism. Instead, like Jurassic Park, its xenobiology doubles as potent metaphor, with each strange encounter a heartbreaking echo of some barely voiced pain each character carries. Why, for example, is the survivor Kamen haunted by his wife when a strange psychic quadruped holds him in its thrall? When local flora begins to infect the circuitry of Levi, the robotic companion of the stranded Azi, Levi begins to show signs of real, bona fide life in her synthetic shell — why does Azi seem so reluctant to see it? And Sam and Ursula, the only two humans stranded together, struggle to survive while maintaining harmony with the strange new land, but can that be done? Or is their effort inherently destructive?

Scavengers Reign probes at heavy questions, lingers in moments of beauty and horror, and does it all with wonderfully rendered, languidly paced animation from studio Titmouse. Like all good art, it leaves plenty of room for the viewer to participate in it, to mull it over and think about what meaning might be found within. It’s the sort of story that’s done something wonderful, and stands a pretty good chance of dazzling us all once more, if given the opportunity.

Give it a shot on Netflix this weekend. Maybe the show will get another season because of it, and maybe not. But what’s here ought to be celebrated.

Scavengers Reign is streaming on Netflix and Max.

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