Looks like I’m back with a TV review after all! Here’s my two cents on USA’s Golden Globe-winning hit drama, Mr. Robot.
Type of Show: Though it aired on a (cable) network, Mr. Robot is another in the new genre of “binge-watch” shows, in which every episode must be watched in sequence to make any sense, the most exciting story beats happen at the end (rather than the beginning and middle) in order to keep you watching for another hour, and everything from storylines to individual shots are padded to make the show fill an entire season. (see also: The Man in the High Castle)
What It’s About: A Fight Club for the Information Age, full of fury at capitalist society (which it portrays in drab caricature), Mr. Robot has its dysfunctional protagonists channel their energy into hacking and virtual terrorism rather than punching and physical terrorism… but otherwise it pretty much follows the Fight Club aesthetic, from the vague idea that it is the oppression of society that make us miserable (rather than our own defects) to its deep-seated misanthropy (which is odd, given its anarchism), to its many long, self-indulgent, but very entertaining speeches about the State of Society today. Mr. Robot also has its protagonist break the fourth wall in regular narrations, which seems to be a hat-tip to House of Cards, a show with a similarly grim outlook on life.
Where People Watch: USA Network, Amazon Prime (subscription only), The Pirate Bay (illegally)
What James Watched: The first three episodes of the first season, portions of the fourth, and the entire season finale (episode ten).
Best Part: Hacking is virtual breaking-and-entering, so all great hacking movies are, at heart, dolled-up heist movies. Mr. Robot is the story of the greatest “heist” of all time, and, when the show is focused on that, it shines. Lead actor Rami Malek, playing protagonist Elliot Alderman, carries the rest of the show on his back, and does a marvelous job with it.
Worst Part: Mr. Robot does not spend a lot of time focusing on the heists. And, because of its deliberate choice to present a caricature of the modern world, most of the characters that inhabit that world are shallow and uninteresting (though their one-dimensionality is covered up by making them flashy and stylized). Unfortunately, this includes protagonist Elliot, whose name I had to repeatedly look up in the course of writing this review — though Mr. Malek’s good offices at least keep Elliot watchable.
KRISTA: And what is it about society that disappoints you so much?
ELLIOT: Oh, I don’t know. Is it that we collectively thought Steve Jobs was a great man even when we knew he made billions off the backs of children? Or maybe it’s that it feels like all our heroes are counterfeit. The world itself’s just one big hoax. Spamming each other with our burning commentary bullshit masquerading as insight. Our social media faking as intimacy. Or is it that we voted for this? Not with our rigged elections. But with our things, our property, our money. I’m not saying anything new, we all know we do this, not because Hunger Games books make us happy, but because we want to be sedated. Because it’s painful not to pretend because we’re cowards… f**k society.
(You learn a lot about any show from its theme music.)
Should I Watch?:
Mr. Robot is a good movie stretched out over the course of too many episodes. Everything important and interesting it has to say, it says in its pilot. Watch that, then stop.