Whether it be the mega-hit American Horror Story, the lesser known Easy, or the forthcoming Twilight Zone reboot, anthology series are a hot commodity in television. And now, it’s Amazon’s turn to cash-in on that craze, with a new series that is best comparable to Netflix’s massively popular Black Mirror. And they’re bringing out a big gun to do it: Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams is, of course, inspired by the titular sci-fi legend. But will Amazon be able to enter the public consciousness the way Netflix did when they swooped up Black Mirror from Channel 4?
Not so fast. For one thing, Black Mirror is more of an (often heavy-handed) cautionary tale about the ethical quandaries presented by technological advancements. Electric Dreams is more straightforward sci-fi, driven more by the desire to tell a captivating story than to make the viewer think.
Of course, like most great sci-fi, there are intense philosophical themes explored. For example, the first episode, “Real Life,” explores the nature of identity and the way that guilt can destroy our strongest relationships. But other episodes are more straightforward sci-fi tales, complete with robots, futuristic weaponry, and complicated lore explained to varying degrees of success.
One common issue found throughout the season is that there twists are far too obvious, practically being spelt-out to the audience so that they have minimal impact once all is revealed to the audience. This is particularly upsetting, however, since the stories set up in the episodes are frequently quite interesting. The aforementioned “Real Life” is a bizarre, twisty exploration of dreams as a cop seeking to forget a recent tragedy (Anna Paquin) uses a new virtual reality simulation to escape into the life of a successful businessman (Terrence Howard)?
Or… is it about a businessman who recently lost his wife using that virtual reality simulation to live a fantasy life as a badass police officer? Even if the final twist feels somewhat expected, the ride is interesting enough to pull viewers in. Similarly, the season’s second episode, “Autofac,” is a fun tale of rebellion fighters trying to take down an all-powerful company controlling the working class in the future, even if it falls off the rails thanks to an obvious final twist.
The best episode reviewed, however, is “Kill All Others,” a very strong, Twilight Zone-esque short film directed by Dee Rees (Mudbound). An undeniably political episode that taps into post-Trump political paranoia, this episode follows a middle-aged man (Mel Rodriguez) who who becomes convinced that a politician (Vera Farmiga) is telling her constituents to, as the title suggests, “kill all others.” A smart political satire, and also a genuinely terrifying psychological thriller that feels more relevant by the day, this is the clear highlight for the season.
Electric Dreams is nothing to write home about and, while it’s less on the nose than the awfully similar Black Mirror, it likely won’t start as many interesting conversations. This is a collection of solid sci-fi short stories that will certainly impress fans of the genre, and a fun addition to the growing genre of anthology series on television. Just don’t go in expecting any true mind-blowing plot lines.
Overall rating: 6 out of 10.