Undone’s animation is rotoscoped, and it that gives you pause, it shouldn’t. The technique—drawing on top of live action, sort of like tracing, but with color and motion—really works beautifully, rendering a world that’s both photorealistic and surreal, often at the same time. It’s easy to get fully absorbed in the uncluttered precision of the show, so when the story eventually requires the breaking of logical, physical, and temporal rules, you go right along with it.
In spite of the wonderful animation, Undone’s strongest element is the extraordinary central performance from Rosa Salazar (Alita: Battle Angel), who remains raw and affecting, even beneath all the rotoscoping. Salazar plays Alma, an aimless young woman with hearing loss who becomes—to steal a Kurt Vonnegut term—“unstuck” in time after a car crash. Soon she’s seeing visions of her dead father (Bob Odenkirk), who teaches her how to leap back and forth through events in her life and to change the reality of her surroundings. We sense both the comfort of his presence and the unease with the possibility that he might be a figment of her imagination.
What Undone does so artfully and gracefully is explore Alma’s troubled psyche as she herself would be experiencing it, while allowing us a thoughtful, nonjudgmental window into her mental state. It also depicts the character's hearing loss beautifully, making what would be the central theme of a less interesting show into simply part of the fabric of a fully-realized world; she's not defined by her hearing loss, and thankfully the show isn't, either.
It's all very funny, too, and it moves along briskly. The supporting performances are all strong, especially Daveed Diggs as Alma’s ever-patient boss and Siddharth Dhananjay as her live-in boyfriend, whose tenderness toward Alma is both genuine and not quite the full story. The whole thing is weird, gentle, beautiful, and moving, kind of like Russian Doll by way of Waking Life. And if it sounds pretentious, or confusing, or simply too out-there, Undone might really surprise you; you can probably decide after a commitment of two episodes whether you’re along for the ride or not. (The first episode is strong, but doesn’t quite show you all of the show’s possibilities.)
Furthermore, it presents a new high in rotoscoped animation, although I hope it doesn’t kick off a trend—it’s tough to imagine another show or film handling the technique as tastefully as Undone does (see Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings, or better yet, don’t). Most importantly, Alma is one of the most well-realized characters I’ve seen on TV in a long time, and the whole package achieves an exquisite and delicate balance—resulting in one of those perfect alchemical interactions between style, story, and character. It's really something.
Undone is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.