The boom of Sci-Fi television has been a blessing for those who love the genre. With new shows like “Stranger Things,” “Star Trek Discovery,” and “Dark” there have been some incredibly unnerving, yet satisfying new entries into the world of science fiction. Perhaps the biggest show in that regard has been the explosion of “Black Mirror,” a show we already touched on earlier this year. The idea of an anthology show in the same vein as “The Twilight Zone” is perfect for new viewing habits and audiences. This certainly contributed to the creation of Amazon’s new series “Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams,” which debuted on January 12th. Ultimately, the new series shoots for the lofty goal of being one of the best anthologies shows on television. Unfortunately, that may have put too much pressure on the good, but not great new series.
The first season of “Electric Dreams” does have a lot going for it, even if it ends up being imperfect. The source material is strong, as Dick remains one of the greatest authors of the 20th century. The production quality is very high, and the series benefits from strong cinematography and production design. Many great directors and filmmakers decided to bring their talents to the small screen as well. The most shocking is still Dee Rees, who directs one of the stronger episodes “Kill All Others.” Rees also wrote the episode, which features a heavy parody of modern election politics, the future of advertising, and features great performances from Mel Rodriguez and Vera Farmiga. It’s probably the funniest of the episodes and benefits from being a well-rounded episode.
Some A-list stars come to play and appear to give it they’re all. Bryan Cranston, Steve Buscemi, Anna Paquin and Terrence Howard all give it their best effort, but unfortunately, this comes with varying levels of success. Janelle Monáe shows up in an episode but is criminally underutilized despite cool character design. Richard Madden, Holiday Grainger, and Juno Temple all give above average performances in their episodes. However, it’s easy to say that none of these actors gave the best performances of the season. Instead, that honor goes to some of the up and coming actors in this cast.
The actor who may receive the biggest boost from the series is like Jack Reynor, who has steadily been building credit as a leading man. He anchors the best episode of the season, “Impossible Planet,” which also features standout performances from Geraldine Chaplin and Benedict Wong. Chaplin and Reynor light up the screen, and the two deliver an episode that feels like it belongs on “Black Mirror” because it actually has something insightful to say about the world moving forward.
Perhaps this is where the disconnect between this show, and modern sci-fi filmmaking. These episodes are very strong adaptations of Dick’s work, which should continue receive adaptations as long as Hollywood is still willing to make them. However, much of his best work has either already been adapted, or is in the pantheon of great Sci-Fi on the screen. Electric Dreams only has one or two episodes that refocus the issues of the modern world through Philip K. Dick’s storytelling. In doing so, it feels like this is a nice collection of interesting sci-fi, but it becomes less essential because it has less to say. It’s a shame, but if you’re in the mood for straightforward science fiction, this should still scratch that itch.
Overall, it’s a pretty solid debut season. The 10 episodes have a more positive outlook on the future of humanity than other shows. However, the writing does not live up to the same level as other shows of its ilk. “Electric Dreams” is above average in some places, but it is not great at any one thing. To stand out in the modern TV landscape, we do need shows that can show greatness. Ultimately, this leaves the series to fall short of its grandiose premise.