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Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams review: Was Amazon foolish to challenge Netflix’s Black Mirror?

Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams review: Amazon’s challenger to Netflix’s Black Mirror stars great performers such as Bryan Cranston, Steve Buscemi and Richard Madden but the storytelling is lifeless.

tv Updated: Jan 12, 2018 08:30 IST
Rohan Naahar
Rohan Naahar
Hindustan Times
Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams,Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams Review,Bryan Cranston
Even a stellar cast couldn’t save Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams.

Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams
Cast - Bryan Cranston, Steve Buscemi, Richard Madden, Timothy Spall, Jack Reynore, Liam Cunningham, Anna Paquin
Rating - 1/5

It’ll be fun to speculate just how many Amazon executives it took to okay the decision to premiere Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams less than two weeks after Netflix debuted the new Black Mirror season. Perhaps it was the same people who thought Goliath would become a viral sensation. Your complete cluelessness at that reference proves my point.

Following Black Mirror with a show that absolutely would not exist had Black Mirror not turned out to be a monumental masterpiece is like asking a Kardashian sister to deliver a speech after Barack Obama - any speech, even reciting the alphabet. You’d tune in, sure, but deep down, you know it’ll just convince the impressible Kardashians that they were meant for politics all along, and then we’ll have another reality show on our hands. But on the plus side, the Americans will finally get that female president they’ve always wanted.

But more to the point: Despite a truckload of that Jeff Bezos money, a remarkable cast, and what sounds like a no-brainer of an idea, Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams is a disappointment that I was not prepared for this early in the year. It sounds impossible to mess up, given the source material they had to work with, but as it turns out, when there’s no one to lead the way, even the stairway to heaven can seem mighty precipitous.

To adapt some of Philip K Dick’s stories for the small screen – mind you, these aren’t stories we’ve seen adapted in films such as Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report or The Adjustment Bureau – the producers tapped ten writers and directors. And perhaps by design, bought themselves ten wildly different tones and styles.

What makes Black Mirror so enjoyable is the unavoidable understanding that it is all the product of one, deeply deranged mind. The essence of Charlie Brooker’s misanthropy sticks to the show like a three-day old gum under a shoe. You can’t shake it off, or scrub it off, or scratch it off. This is not true for Electric Dreams. Of the six episodes available currently – the complete 10 episode season will premiere on the 12th – only one is worth writing about.

Episode 3, based on and titled The Commuter, is by far the show’s greatest achievement. It’s about a hassled middle-aged railway employee (played by the great Timothy Spall), who is approached by a young woman who wants to purchase a ticket to Macon Heights – the trouble is, no such station exists. Day after day, the young woman returns, only to be scoffed at by Spall’s character, who asks her for more information, but is met only with silence. So one day he decides to investigate for himself.

He follows her into a train and to his shock, precisely at the time the woman said that they’d arrive at Macon Heights, the passengers begin to jump off. They walk towards an idyllic English village, where Spall’s character learns that everyone’s worries have magically disappeared. After a blissful evening spent in Macon Heights, he returns home to his psychologically troubled son and his exhausted wife. The next day he boards the train again.

The Commuter is the closest Electric Dreams comes at emulating shows such as Black Mirror, and more impressively, the original Twilight Zone.

Unsurprisingly, upon conducting my own investigation, I learned that the episode was written by Jack Thorne, the hugely talented wunderkind behind shows such as Skins, This is England, The Fades, Glue and Damien Chazelle’s upcoming Netflix programme; plays such as Harry Potter and the Cursed Child; and films such as the upcoming Star Wars: Episode IX.

The rest of the episodes simply aren’t up to the mark. Not one. They star legitimately great performers such as Bryan Cranston, Steve Buscemi, Richard Madden, Jack Reynore, Liam Cunningham and Anna Paquin but the storytelling is lifeless – despite being based on some of Philip K Dick’s most humanistic stories.

There has been a new wave of anthology shows recently and there are more on the way – Jordan Peele is prepping a new Twilight Zone revival and JJ Abrams’ Castle Rock, an anthology based on the writings of Stephen King, is scheduled to arrive later this year.

Electric Dreams stands out as a massive bungle. Even without the Black Mirror comparison, it’s an absolute waste of something that could have potentially been great.

Watch the Electric Dreams trailer here

Follow @htshowbiz for more
The author tweets @RohanNaahar

First Published: Jan 12, 2018 08:29 IST