Netflix has a new No.1 show to start off the new month, but given that neither the critics nor the audience seem to like it all that much, you might be wondering how it got there — and whether it's worth trying.
The show in question is Keep Breathing, a Netflix Original limited series that arrived on the streaming service at the end of last week (July 28) and which has quickly replaced Virgin River S5 at the top of the charts.
On the face of it, it sounds like a winner: a hotshot young lawyer is stranded in the Canadian wilderness and has to survive using only her wits. But the reality is… well, let's just say that reviews haven't been that kind.
What is Keep Breathing about?
Keep Breathing stars Melissa Barrera (who you might know from In the Heights) as Liv, an attorney whose small plane crashes in the middle of the Canadian wilderness as she's on her way from New York to the remote town of Inuvik.
So far, so good — the survivalist genre has given us plenty of great shows in the past, from the original viral TV favorite Lost, to the brilliant HBO Max original Yellowjackets, to the recently canceled Prime Video series The Wilds. There's something incredibly relaxing about sitting watching someone else struggle to make a fire from twigs and wet bark, or escape a hungry bear, while you're slumped on the couch with your phone in one hand and a bag of chips in the other.
Once marooned in the remote Canadian forest — which, we have to say, looks gorgeous — Liv has to battle not just the unforgiving conditions but also her own past, experienced in the form of visions and flashbacks from her life. These touch on a romance with a colleague (Jeff Wilbusch), a near-death experience, and her relationship with her father (Juan Pablo Espinosa) and mother (Florencia Lozano).
What do critics think of Keep Breathing?
While the setup for Keep Breathing sounds promising, critics really don't seem to like it. It currently has a lowly 38% score on Rotten Tomatoes (opens in new tab), while its audience score of 45% is only marginally more positive. Over on IMDb (opens in new tab), it's a similar story: it has a distinctly average rating of 5.2/10 from more than 2,000 reviews.
So what's the issue? Well, Lucy Mangan in The Guardian (opens in new tab) is particularly scathing, calling it "a survival drama so dull it’ll send you off to sleep" and awarding it just 2 stars out of 5.
"Any tension there is in Liv’s remarkably non-urgent fight for survival… is further dissipated by flashbacks. These appear whenever Liv is ticking off another survivalist drama trope — making a tourniquet, making a raft, waving a signalless phone in the air, screaming into an abyss — or when she is panting against a log, recovering from one of these endeavours going wrong."
The flashbacks are also a problem for Brian Lowry on CNN (opens in new tab), who says "The switching back and forth between adventure/survival stakes and the rather tedious personal drama leaves 'Keep Breathing' gasping for air." Meanwhile Inga Parkel of The Independent (opens in new tab) bemoans that fact that the central character "manages to feel ridiculously one-dimensional" and concludes that "You might even find yourself rooting for Liv’s demise in an effort to stir up some excitement."
Not all of the reviews are wholly critical, though. Cristina Escobar on RogerEbert.com (opens in new tab) says that "The show’s central conceit, that for some it is hard to ‘keep breathing,’ carries some weight," while Daniel D'Addario on Variety (opens in new tab) hails its "great achievement" as being "its willingness not to keep viewers on the hook for hours longer than necessary."
On the other hand, the fact that one of the few positive reviews revolves around it not lasting too long doesn't exactly scream 'Watch this!'
Outlook: Should you watch Keep Breathing tonight?
We imagine you already know the answer to this question, but no, you probably shouldn't bother with Keep Watching.
Yes, it's currently the No.1 show on Netflix, and there has to be some reason why people are tuning in. And yes, its six episodes of around 30-40 minutes each don't exactly represent a major time investment. But equally, there are plenty of better choices among the best Netflix shows, and if there's nothing you fancy there you can always shift to one of the other best streaming services instead. Or you could watch Netflix's new No.1 movie Purple Hearts — although critics and viewers are divided on that one.
If the survivalist genre really appeals, then we'd suggest watching Yellowjackets or The Wilds first if you haven't already, but if you've exhausted those options then by all means give Keep Breathing a go. But don't expect it to give you more than a temporary diversion.