Dip into ‘Electric Dreams’ for a jolt of sci-fi magic
In a recent episode of a sci-fi anthology series, a teen girl is tormented by technology designed to keep her safe, leading to a violent climax.
Netflix’s Black Mirror? Yes, but it also describes “Safe & Sound,” one of 10 episodes in Amazon’s Philip K.
Dick’s Electric Dreams, a new anthology series based on the short stories of the author most famous for penning the inspiration for Blade Runner. The series, streaming Friday
(eeeE), is vaguely reminiscent of Mirror. But it would be unfair to describe the smart and adventurous Dreams as a Mirror knockoff. The dazzling anthology leans much further into sci-fi and delivers some staggeringly clever and enthralling episodes, if a few don’t shine quite as brightly.
Dreams episodes share common themes of humanity and consciousness. Fans of Dick and Blade Runner won’t be surprised by its provocative questions: What makes us human? What do we perceive as reality? Do we have control over our own minds? And does any of it really matter?
The series calls on a diverse slate of writers and directors to bring Dick’s work to life, including Battlestar Galactica creator Ronald D. Moore and
Mudbound director Dee Rees. That leads to wildly different visual languages in each story, from bright neon cityscapes to cheery oceanside pastels to grimy and dark wastelands. The episodes look and feel incredibly expensive, as special effects bring to life robots, aliens and flying cars. The series also doesn’t limit itself to telling one kind of story. Some occur in moral gray areas and have ambiguous or twist endings; others are straightforward stories of brave heroes triumphing over evil.
The series has an outstanding cast, including Terrence Howard, Anna Paquin, Bryan Cranston, Steve Buscemi, Greg Kinnear and Vera Farmiga. Janelle Monáe and Juno Temple anchor an affecting episode, “Autofac,” about a factory that can think for itself.
But Dreams struggles in a few episodes that never quite fully build their sci-fi world or explain their message. And because Dick was such a model for so many sci-fi storytellers, his imaginings may feel old-fashioned or predictable. Buscemi’s “Crazy Diamond,” about artificial humans, is a weak spot.
Electric Dreams works because there’s a fascinating nugget of insight about humanity in every episode, even if they don’t always succeed. There’s a reason we keep returning to Dick’s works, and it’s worth visiting his Electric Dreams if only to remind us why.
Steve Buscemi and Sidse Babett Knudsen star in an episode of “Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams.”