It’s the new golden age of television, in that we have a host of basic cable, pay cable and even network dramas and comedy shows which rival the quality of anything you might find in the best cinemas. Where once actors of note graduated from the small screen to the big and those who had passed their prime found themselves in the safe harbour of episodic TV, now the opposite is true – the finer actors around make themselves known through the better standard of TV series which you’ll find everywhere from premium cable to internet subscriptions.
Take something like House of Cards, which gets better with each passing season. For escapist entertainment, you can’t look much further past Game of Thrones. And – as if from nowhere – we have this absolutely stunning piece of work in Mr Robot, a show which starts its initial 10-episode first season being one distinct beast, and without revealing too much in the way of spoilers, by the time it wraps up, an entirely different beast is created.
This is one of the great new shows I’ve seen in a long time.
And, yes, I said as much about Vinyl, based on its epic, baffling and visually stunning pilot. But then then second episode rolled around, and in between moments of greatness and some of the finest casting ever, the show crashed into a pile of its own ambitions and excess, a fitting (in a way) car crash of a show which tried ever so desperately to cram as much as was humanly possible into its first season to the point where by S01.E10, there was literally nowhere left for it to go. That which would have inherited the Boardwalk Empire mantle, simply faded into the ether.
Mr Robot is a different kind of situation. Created by Sam Esmail, the show takes a stilted, almost dream-like approach to telling its story (socially awkward cyber security engineer is a world-class hacker in his free time; he functions best when he has access to your most intimate information, obtained in secret), and frames its scenarios with a unique perspective, adopting a visual style most reminiscent of mid-period Kubrick films – A Clockwork Orange has an overall look and specific feel that immediately jumps to mind. The lead, Elliot Anderson (Rami Malek, who is just so great in this), fully immersed in his hacking culture and life, is the modern day Travis Bickle; observing and silently judging the world around him, the world of which he has no part to play.
The title (as well as the Stanley Kubrick influence) has a multi-layered meaning when applied to the show, both in terms of its less-than-human characters, and where the narrative unfolds in the last two episodes of the season. I have been told that the show’s depiction of hacking is accurate, in that it’s not neat and obvious; what’s shown on screen are often just lines of code; dialogue is often focused on the IT minutiae commensurate with this line of ‘work’. But the subject matter – if it puts you off – is not the point of his show. It’s a stunning, thought-provoking analysis of where we are in the world, the role the individual can play, the inevitability of collapse faced by a society who’s modus operandi is based on consumerism and material possession.
There probably is no more timely a show on TV now. It’s quietly brilliant, this one.