HomeTelevisionClass of ’09 Review: Terrific Cast, Timely Premise, Underwhelming Conclusion

Class of ’09 Review: Terrific Cast, Timely Premise, Underwhelming Conclusion

Brian Tyree Henry and Kate Mara in Class of '09
Photo Credit: Richard DuCree/FX

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The emergence and use of artificial intelligence in law enforcement and the judicial system as a creative narrative has been around for a long time, but as the decades go by and it drifts further from science-fiction and closer to reality, it starts to hit a little differently. The Hulu limited series Class of ’09, written and created by Tom Rob Smith, follows one group of FBI trainees over 25 years as their careers coincide with the development and implementation of an algorithm that allows for predictive arrests. While early comparisons to Minority Report can be easily drawn, the show is more interested in exploring the choices and motivations that could allow AI to take over.

Across its eight-episode run, all of which are available to stream now, a risky narrative choice is made to tell a non-linear story across three different time periods: the past (2009), present (2023), and future (2034). It’s an interesting, and trendy, way to tell a story, but even with cool transition graphics to tell you when the story jumps, it runs the risk of weakening some of its more impactful moments in the future, since some occur relatively early in the show.

The series remains primarily focused on Poet (Kate Mara, Black Mirror), a former nurse who is never afraid to be first at anything, leading her to undercover work, Tayo (Brian Tyree Henry, Atlanta), who leaves his successful career in insurance to ultimately become director of the FBI and fight the injustice he’s witnessed his whole life, Hour (Sepideh Moafi, Black Bird), the daughter of Iranian refugees who develops the algorithm that grows into the AI at the center of the story, and Lennix (Brian Smith, Sense8), who wants to subvert family pressure, but can’t seem to do so.

Despite the futuristic technology – and ethical crisis that we get to see unfold in the present and future timelines – it’s in the past, when we are introduced to the essential cast, that you feel the heart of the show, and it remains the most interesting to watch. The relationship building, including gradually learning each of these characters’ motivations for joining the bureau (and how that is going to shape their actions over the next 2 decades) is where everyone is at their best. While the whole cast is terrific, and everyone gets their moments, Tyree Henry has the strongest storyline throughout and is at the center of its best action sequences, while the always mesmerizing Kate Mara oddly seems underutilized despite being the co-lead.

Likely for budgetary reasons, the future doesn’t feel too far-fetched, but that’s also smart considering it’s little more than a decade away. A cybernetic arm and eye feature, as do self-driving cars and drones. While most of the series looks good cinematically, some of the heavier CGI moments with explosions and drones are distractingly noticeable. It’s another reason why the past is a superior timeline, mostly contained to one location, and focused on training exercises and a good bit of exposition.

In the present, Hour recognizes the benefit of being able to access case notes and records gathered by prior agents, and develops a system to extrapolate information to help agents make better decisions. After a series of attacks against the bureau, some very personal to the group, her work is gradually taken from her, and, in the future, it’s morphed into something very different, causing Tayo to become more of an antagonist in the story, despite his good intentions and understood motivations.

It began as a novel idea, viewing everyone as a suspect and judging them all on information gathered, without bias. It’s capable of taking down corrupt banks, politicians, and people abusing power. In the future though, rather than using technology to make agents better, the AI is allowed to make quick decisions for itself, authorizing predictive arrests, and putting defendants on trial as a formality, as its decisions are never deemed to be wrong. It proves to be problematic for all of the classmates, as they begin to uncover the depths of its moral dilemma and their individual hand in it, especially when opposition to it becomes a crime.

It all builds to what should be a thrilling finale, as their futures converge, but things are wrapped up swiftly, and the resolution seems a bit simplistic considering everything that came before and the scale this technology was operating at. The overall idea works, but it seems a bit too convenient and easy. There are some beautiful and appreciated full-circle moments that come with seeing the conclusion of the future coincide with the class graduation, but overall, it misses the mark.

There is a lot to explore and digest with Class of 09, probably too much for a relatively short limited series, but it takes risks and brings a great cast together to help tell its story. It’s ultimately frustrating to see the narrative momentum constantly paused to move to another timeline. It makes sense to want to show the stakes that this class of individuals will play a part in, but it would have been more effective to focus on one time period per episode and keep things from being so fragmented, as Hulu was releasing one episode per week. It’s a series that would benefit from a second viewing to better understand the weight of each pivotal moment, but doesn’t necessarily warrant one, outside of an appreciation for its cast.

Class of ’09 is currently streaming on Hulu.

Ben Murchison
Ben Murchison
Ben Murchison is a regular contributor for TV and Movies. He’s that guy that spends an hour in an IMDb black hole of research about every film and show he watches. Strongly believes Buffy the Vampire Slayer to be the best show to ever exist, and that Peaky Blinders needs more than 6 episodes per series. East Carolina grad, follow on Twitter and IG @bdmurchison.

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