Dip into ‘Elec­tric Dreams’ for a jolt of sci-fi magic

The Signal - - USA TODAY - Kelly Lawler Colum­nist

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.”

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