The preview episode of Tron: Uprising that aired three weeks ago was originally supposed to be a 10-installment microseries, but Disney decided to present the entire preview as a marketing tool for the series, plastering it all over the internet as a teaser for this 18-episode first season. In addition to shuffling that teaser, the proper premiere of Uprising opens with a two-part episode, so it’s still difficult to say what this show will look like on a weekly basis, as we won’t have a run-of-the-mill installment until the third episode, or fourth after the prelude.
Episode order confusion aside—Tron: Uprising is still a highly entertaining animated show, and its position on Thursday nights instead of early afternoon or Saturday mornings suggests that it isn’t solely intended for children. The thematic content bears that out. The Grid is populated by humanoid manifestations of computer programs in a city-like environment, but the characters are still entirely digital, which may account for the high body count. Programs don’t get killed, they’re derezzed, and frequently. That and the perpetually dark color palette helps to heighten the tension and excitement. It’s not just a bunch of kiddy fluff, digital lives are always at stake.
The preview episode had to set up the world of The Grid between the Tron films, introduce new characters, and begin sketching out the arc of the series. But it also felt much more self-contained. It had a set beginning and endpoint, as Beck goes from just a mechanic program to Tron’s protégé, picking up his mantle in order to build the resistance against Clu.
“The Renegade” is still in that introductory mode to an extent. It begins by briefly demonstrating what Tron’s lessons with Beck will look like, ending an always spectacular light cycle sequence with a daring jump. Tron clears the canyon with creative ease while Beck loses his baton and barely catches the edge of the cliff, which Tron attributes to his hesitation, as Beck is still not completely committed.
On his way back to Argon City, he runs across an army checkpoint, and he sneaks into the wrong shipping container—full of prisoners heading to the Colosseum for The Games. On the way to the arena, he meets Rilo, a young program terrified of perishing in the dangerous games, and Cutler, a wise veteran fighter, who believes in Tron’s continued existence and quickly becomes Beck’s first ally in Argon City, despite not knowing Beck’s secret identity. It also becomes clear that each program has its own little niche. Beck is a mechanic and can exploit pretty much any machine on The Grid to suit his needs, while Cutler knows aerodynamics.
Beck’s characterization still has some hurdles to get over. He’s alternately crippled by self-doubt and super-serious about standing up against Clu’s regime. And if he’s so determined to say he was programmed to be a mechanic and therefore can't learn enough to lead the resistance, where exactly did he get the fighting skills to become Tron’s mentor and match the abilities of an ISO War veteran like Cutler? This episode mercifully tones down the soapbox preaching about standing up to dictators and ensuring freedom for all, but lead character inconsistency is something that will become a big problem if the action sequences ever stop being so enthralling. Thankfully for this episode, they are, and the disc battle in the Colosseum is yet another example of just how much the creators can get away with in the world of Tron simply because of the compelling visuals.
On the negative side, the main villains of the series don’t really have much of a part to play in the first half of the premiere. Emmauelle Chriqui’s Paige is relegated to standing around General Tessler in favor of introducing Pavel, the other leading subordinate voiced by Paul Reubens. This is also the second episode in a row that kills off an underdeveloped friend/charge of Beck’s in an attempt to heighten the emotional connection. That’s a crutch that will wear thin quickly. And while Beck’s incremental training is off to a good start, finding an ally through some compelling action sequences, his co-workers at Able’s garage look like the weak point.
They aren’t comic relief, and it’s unclear how valuable they can be to this if they are only used as Beck’s friends. Their plot arc expands the world of The Grid, adding in some criminal activity and seduction, but they can’t be the little human-interest story every time. Hopefully they’ll end up folding into the resistance, because otherwise their day-to-day challenges— here, recovering a stolen light cycle after Zed takes a suspicious girl from a nightclub back to the garage—will pale in comparison to the societal upheaval Beck aims to cause with his resistance.
But for now, this is another wonderfully entertaining and incredibly fun show to watch. It ends on a really nice cliffhanger, and after the prelude episode found a way to tell a standalone story, it’s not too much of a jump to presume that “The Renegade” will land firmly on its feet. The question is whether it can manage the task of moving through the next sixteen episodes simultaneously advancing Beck’s training and the resistance movement while also developing the other characters at Able’s garage so they aren’t distractingly superfluous side stories.
- For now, this is just a premiere drop-in. If you’d like Tron: Uprising to get the weekly review treatment, say so in the comments. This is just the first half of a two-part premiere, and the second—available to watch now on Disney XD’s website—is another solid half-hour of animated entertainment, which allayed some, but not all, of my worries about the show going forward.
- It’s not clear if the first generation light cycle in Able’s office is the same one Kevin Flynn eventually shows off in Tron: Legacy.
- The music in the two-part premiere is solid, just like in the preview episode. It’s by Joseph Trapanese, who collaborated with Daft Punk on the Tron: Legacy soundtrack, arranged several tracks on M83’s latest album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, and has composed the score for Dexter since season three.