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Philip K. Dick’s ‘Electric Dreams’ Is Not As Stressful as ‘Black Mirror,’ But Just as Good

Philip K. Dick’s ‘Electric Dreams’ Is Not As Stressful as ‘Black Mirror,’ But Just as Good

Electric Dreams, Janelle Monae
Electric Dreams boasts a phenomenal cast, including Steve Buscemi, Richard Madden, Timothy Spall, Janelle Monae, Benedict Wong, Terrance Howard, Anna Paquin, and Bryan Cranston just to name a few. The series is executive produced by Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica), Michael Dinner (Justified), David Katner (The Revenant), and Maril Davis (Outlander). 

Electric Dreams is gorgeous. From the intro — which is somewhat reminiscent of the opening credits for The Outer Limits — to the set design of the episode, “Human Is,” the re-imagining of Philip K Dick’s short stories immerses you in future-scapes defined by technology, environment, and the human spirit.

Electric Dreams is a ten episode science fiction anthology series based on standalone stories from the brilliant mind of Philip K Dick. Dick is renowned in the science fiction literary community and many of his works have been adapted into films (think Bladerunner, Minority Report, and A Scanner Darkly). Dick’s interest in theology, metaphysics, alternate universes, authoritarian governments, and what is “real” is often reflected in his work. This makes for great television, and while the writers of Electric Dreams deviate somewhat from the source material, the series manages to maintain the feeling of Dick’s work.

The science fiction series is a British-American production and partially aired in the UK on Channel 4 late last year. Its first season was subsequently picked up by Amazon’s streaming services and is set to air in its entirety in the US on January 12, 2018. Developed by Ronald D. Moore and Michael Dinner, Electric Dreams will join Black Mirror as the only other science fiction anthology series out there that is reminiscent of The Twilight Zone. While Black Mirror excels at scaring the hell out of its viewers with twisted dystopian futures, Electric Dreams provides a more diplomatic approach to exploring future-scapes. Dreams utilizes calmer and less stressful tactics, which is perfect for viewers who don’t have a taste and/or stomach for the distressing and the macabre.

Richard Madden and Holliday Grainger star in Dreams’ episode “The Hood Maker,” a story about telepaths and non-telepaths and the socio-political issues between the two groups.

The beautiful thing about Electric Dreams is its ability to maintain its Philip K. Dick feel while changing elements of his stories to make them relevant to today’s world. This is the case for the episode titled “Kill All Others,” which is written and directed by Dee Rees (Bessie, Pariah, and Mudbound) and is based on Dick’s short story, “The Hanging Stranger.” Rees re-imagines “The Hanging Stranger” and provides a narrative that could easily be award-winning for its commentary on the toxicity of the present political climate and its analysis of societal complacency. “Kill All Others” specifically parallels the state of the US during the 2016 elections with some of its dialogue mirroring the fear and trepidation experienced by marginalized groups when Trump won the bid to become president. The episode tackles topics of ally-ship, erasure, othering, complacency, misdirection, violence encouraged by The State, and the power of gas lighting when it originates from supposed allies.

“Kill All Others” stars Mel Rodriguez as factory worker Philburt Noyce who notices hate speech being casually slipped into debates by a politician (Vera Farmiga) slated to rule North America (Canada, US, and Mexico). Between her speeches of “Yes Us Can,” the politician injects the short statement of “Kill All Others,” during her speeches/debates; a mantra that is the episode’s namesake. Rodriguez excels at his portrayal of a concerned citizen and expertly displays shock, disgust, and bewilderment at the support Farmiga receives from his fellow citizens.

Farmiga’s politician is charismatic and cool in her demeanor, arguably more eloquent than her real-life counterpart (Trump) though she displays similar divisive ideologies. Interesting enough, her motto of “Yes Us Can” appears to be a play off of President Obama’s “Yes We Can” chants of 2008, which is meant to play on her likability by the general population. The result is an antagonist that is as charismatic as Obama, as xenophobic and malicious as Trump, and as stoic as Clinton — a terrifying authoritarian chimera of sorts. Overall, “Kill All Others” is the series’ strongest episode and eerily echoes Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller’s poem “First They Came…”

Clockwise: A genetically modified being with pig DNA from “Crazy Diamond” starring Steve Buscemi as a character navigating a future where genetic engineering is paramount, the earth is dying, and a man’s dreams get in the way of what is right and what is wrong; Janelle Monae excels as Alexis in “Autofac” and tackles consumerism and what makes humans human; and Anna Paquin in “Real Life” which explores alternate realities as she splits time living as George (Terrence Howard).

Other decidedly strong episodes include “Real Life,” starring Anna Paquin as a cop from the future who lives two lives (her other self is played by Terrence Howard); Steve Buscemi in “Crazy Diamond” as a man whose dreams get the best of him; “Autofac” starring Janelle Monae in a story that questions what makes us human; and “Safe and Sound” starring Annalise Basso which hits eerily close to home with its commentary on “othering,” terrorism, and the power social media has on young people.

Truth be told, all ten episodes of Electric Dreams are fantastic and are sure to impress both Philip K. Dick fans and non-fans alike. However, the one critique of the series that I have is in regards to world building. Take the lovely and haunting episode “Impossible Planet,” which has a truly moving story but fails to provide viewers with a strong sense of its universe. While Geraldine Chaplin is amazing in her portrayal of a woman wanting to visit Earth before she dies, I wish I understood the world she lives in and why she has such a fascination with “old” Earth. I wanted more dammit!

“Impossible Planet” explores the power of the human mind and concepts of fate and true love.

With that being said, Electric Dreams is a real treat to watch and I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be renewed for a second season; the series showcases interesting narratives, has a diverse and talented cast (though it could have more PoC leads) of actors and writers; boasts gorgeous set designs; and has the budget for some pretty sweet special effects. And best of all, you won’t experience a stress-induced heart attack while binging episodes (Sorry, Black Mirror, but you do the most sometimes).

Electric Dreams will be available to stream on Amazon, January 12, 2018. Enjoy the trailer below. Read more about the cast here.

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