Inverse Recommends

No More Excuses: It’s Time to Watch the Most Imaginative Sci-Fi Show of the Decade

Thanks to Netflix, this overlooked space epic is getting a second chance.

Scavengers Reign
Inverse Recommends

“Immersive” is an unavoidable buzzword in contemporary sci-fi/fantasy media. We routinely see this term in the conversation around blockbuster movies like Avatar and Dune, referring to their synthesis of clever design and expensive visual effects. Their key achievement is creating a world so real we briefly forget it’s a work of fiction. Yet when I think back over the past few years of science fiction, the most impressive example of visual worldbuilding has nothing to do with realism or big-budget VFX.

Telling its story through stylized, hand-drawn animation, the HBO/Max series Scavengers Reign thrives on atmosphere and imagination, introducing a captivatingly bizarre alien world. And, as of this week, you can watch it all on Netflix.

No spoilers, but this is one of the coolest things you’ll ever see.


The show’s premise is deceptively simple, beginning in the aftermath of an interstellar shipwreck. Partway through its voyage to a distant colony world, the cargo vessel Demeter 227 crash-lands on the planet Vesta. Plunged into a vibrantly alien ecosystem, the surviving crew must figure out how to stay alive.

Spread over 12 episodes, Scavengers Reign Season 1 follows the exploits of three disparate groups. There’s the practical-minded coworkers Ursula (Sunita Mani) and Sam (Bob Stephenson), cargo technician Azi (Wunmi Mosaku) and her robot friend Levi (Alia Shawkat), and the unpleasant loner Kamen (Ted Travelstead), who forms a toxic symbiotic bond with one of the planet’s native animals.

These psychic creatures are basically Pokémon — just really, really evil Pokémon.


Kamen’s telepathic koala pal (named Hollow, according to the show’s creators) is possibly the scariest creature in Scavengers Reign, yet in many ways, he’s one of the show’s more “normal” inventions. To be honest, Hollow could easily be a Pokemon. Elsewhere however, we’re treated to an enthrallingly weird array of unclassifiable flora and fauna, all rooted in an ecosystem that bears little resemblance to our own. The human characters figure out how to harness this environment through trial and error, echoing one of the show’s more unexpected inspirations: the YouTube channel Primitive Technology, a wilderness DIY series whose host builds tools from entirely natural sources. (On a more straightforward visual level, Scavengers Reign draws obvious inspiration from the iconic sci-fi/fantasy cartoonist Moebius, whose work also influenced movies like Alien and The Fifth Element.)

Created by Joseph Bennett and Charles Huettner, Scavengers Reign started out as a low-budget short film on Adult Swim. This wordless eight-minute narrative depicts early versions of Sam and Ursula interacting with alien wildlife — an evocative vignette that acted as proof of concept for this full-length series, which couples the short film’s sense of wonder with character-based drama and occasional forays into bio-horror.

Sam (Bob Stephenson) in yet another harrowing situtation he barely survives.


As our human protagonists make their way across the plains and jungles of Vesta, they encounter some creatures that echo lifeforms from Earth, like carnivorous insects or herds of herbivores. Other natural phenomena are harder to classify, like the fungus that begins to grow in Levi’s circuitry and alter her personality, or a forest that gestates doppelganger clones inside womb-like pods.

The magic of this world lies in its multisensory nature. In addition to being an arresting work of animation, Scavengers Reign emphasizes tangibility. It’s gloopy. It’s slimy. You can hear and almost feel the wildlife of Vesta as characters plunge their hands into oozing fungi or make use of symbiotic creatures. (One particular favorite is an Alien-style facehugger that doubles as an oxygen mask.) Meanwhile in the background, the planet’s soundscape overlaps with gorgeous original music by Nicolas Snyder. To borrow that overused buzzword, it’s extraordinarily immersive.

Levi the robot becomes infested with a mysterious fungus that transforms him from faithful servant into something more.


The show’s philosophy combines the curiosity of a nature documentary with a relentless sense of practicality — a mode of storytelling that showrunner Joe Bennett compares to a Rube Goldberg machine. Vesta’s ecosystem follows its own established rhythms of cause and effect, which the human characters then disrupt with unpredictable (and often far-reaching) consequences. Crucially, this all unfolds in a narrative with almost no direct exposition. If Scavengers Reign explained everything we saw onscreen it wouldn’t be as interesting.

Despite attracting a cult following after it aired on Max last year, Scavengers Reign wasn’t renewed for a second season. To be honest, that’s not a huge surprise. Right now, the American adult animation market is mostly geared toward sitcoms rather than dramas, and this show doesn’t benefit from a popular franchise brand connection. It’s a strange, original story, and considering the current climate at Max’s parent company Warner Bros. Discovery, it’s a miracle it even exists.

Thankfully, Season 1 doesn’t end on a cliffhanger. It offers a satisfying conclusion while teasing an intriguing idea for a second chapter — which could theoretically happen at Netflix, if we’re very lucky indeed.

Scavengers Reign is streaming now on Netflix.

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