Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Rank 'Em: Electric Dreams

"Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams," an ambitious Channel 4 anthology series that was supposed to help fill the hole left by "Black Mirror" defecting to Netflix, is one of the most severely hit-or-miss series I've ever seen. Most of the installments are very mediocre for sci-fi television, largely because of dreary writing. There are a handful of standout episodes, however, and some good performances scattered throughout, as nearly every episode has a famous face or three. So I'm writing up my thoughts on each individual episode as a "Rank 'Em" post. The ten installments are ordered below from best to worst.

"Autofac" - Juno Temple stars as a member of a small resistance group in a world dominated by an automated factory. The twists in this one are very well deployed, the science-fiction concepts are nicely realized, and the performances are great. This is the only episode that feels like it could be a "Black Mirror" episode too, though to be fair most of them aren't trying to be.

"The Hood Maker" - I like this one mostly for the worldbuilding, the way it sets up an interesting new universe populated by telepaths. The actual story feels very truncated, but the way it ends on such an ambiguous note also helps it to linger a little longer in the mind. This could be the pilot episode for a series the way it's laid out, and I'm honestly a little sad that it's not.

"Kill All Others" - The most heavily political episode, and least subtle. However, there are a lot of strong ideas here. I like all the ways that we see horrible things being rationalized and downplayed by society before becoming accepted. I like the brief looks at the sinister side of automation, advertising, and media. This could be better, but I admire it for being as ambitious as it is.

"Human Is" - This one is elevated a great deal by the performances of Essie Davis and Bryan Cranston. I found the dystopia they inhabit a little half-baked, and the plotting is very predictable. However, all the relationship and interpersonal stuff worked for me. I can't help wishing that so much time hadn't been wasted on a bizarre sex club sequence that ultimately adds very little.

"Safe and Sound" - I found the execution of some parts of this one very poor, especially as it makes the main character seem like an idiot. However, the underlying themes are solid, and I like the way that the episode shows how minor privacy invasions can ultimately lead to much bigger violations. This is another one that feels more like a pilot for a series than a properly finished story.

"The Commuter" - I really like Timothy Spall in this, as a man who discovers a secret paradise and has to decide if he can live with the cost of enjoying it. Unfortunately, the sequence of events just isn't relayed well enough to have the kind of impact that it should have. It doesn't help that we've seen this kind of story before, done much better - most famously by "The Twilight Zone" over fifty years ago.

"Crazy Diamond" - I'm not really sure what this one was getting at, honestly. The production design is very eye-catching, there's an appealing weirdness to the worldbuilding, and I always enjoy Steve Buscemi and Sidse Babett Knudson in anything. However, the writing completely fails to do anything compelling with any of the wacky concepts that the episode features.

"Real Life" - It doesn't matter that the actors are good - and they are pretty good - when the scripting is so thoroughly dull. Even one of the characters calling out how flimsy her own construction is doesn't help matters. It doesn't help that I watched this episode right after the recent "Blade Runner" movie, which just made its own cyberpunk future look that much more tired and uninspired.

"Father Thing" - Another very familiar old plot, this time told from a kid's perspective. This one had some promise, and Greg Kinnear's pretty good as the dad. Unfortunately, it just doesn't bring much new to the table, and the characters are disappointingly generic. Like a lot of the weaker episodes, this feels old and out of date, rehashing familiar tropes like "body snatcher" aliens.

"Impossible Planet" - Well, the idea for this one was pretty sound, and I liked the characters and the way everything was set up. The payoff, however, did not work at all. You can get away with more fantastical endings if they're properly executed, but "Impossible Planet" didn't even come close. I have to wonder if the episode ran long and they just cut out a chunk of the last act.


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