Thursday, September 20, 2018
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Review: The future isn’t so bleak in Philip K. Dick’s ‘Electric Dreams’

Electric Dreams is more science fantasy than science future. And it might make you reconsider humanity's bleak future.

Don't worry, the new Amazon series still has enough dystopian paranoia to keep you worrying about where technology will take us next.

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In partnership with Britain's Channel 4 and Sony Pictures Television, Amazon for the first time brings to the small screen a collection of Philip K. Dick's short stories. Dick, a pioneer in the science fiction and fantasy world, is the mind behind Blade Runner (based on the 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) and The Man in the High Castle (the 1962 novel also made into an Amazon series).

Though much of Dick's work is decades old (he died in 1982), the themes in his stories are endlessly adaptable to our own time: the humane limits of technology, free will and what it means to be human.

Electric Dreams will inevitably be compared to series that came before it, whether for its themes (Black Mirror, The Twilight Zone) or its anthology style (American Horror Story, Fargo). But Electric Dreams brings a little something fresh to the popular style of television storytelling: a different story, characters and creative team for each episode.

The first episode will certainly have viewers drawing comparisons to Black Mirror with stars Anna Paquin and Terrence Howard probing the limits of virtual reality. Another, "Autofac," sees a desolate future where society has collapsed, yet an automatic product producing factory is still cranking out products for consumers who are no longer around — and covering the unstable world with more pollutants. Janelle Monae (Hidden Figures, Moonlight) plays a scary good android in this one.

Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston and Essie Davis (The Babadook) star in "Human Is," where Davis's character is forced to choose between living with an emotionally abusive husband or one who was made kind and loving by a parasitic alien life form.

And you'll definitely want to tune in for "The Hood Maker," starring Game of Thrones' Richard Madden. It's one devoid of futuristic technology, save for a race of mutant telepaths who become the world's only means of long-distance communication.

What anthology series need to succeed (and what American Horror Story often struggles with) is a balance between quick world-building without losing focus and character development without feeling like there's too much room to grow.

Electric Dreams strikes the balance deftly, creating short, self-contained films out of each episode without making you feel like you need 45 more minutes to grasp the story.

What will keep you tuned in for more is the compassion you'll feel toward some of the characters in Electric Dreams. With the exception of the Emmy Award-winning episode "San Junipero," Black Mirror is all about torturing its characters for our voyeuristic glee. Happy endings are rare.

But in Electric Dreams there's a sense of a "light at the end of the tunnel" for most of the episodes. There's a bit of unpredictability not seen in other dystopian series that won't make you question every piece of tech in your home. And sometimes, in the war of us vs. technology, humanity actually wins.

Contact Chelsea Tatham at [email protected] Follow @chelseatatham.

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