Mr. Ro­bot

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUMMER TV PREVIEW -

Even though cy­ber­se­cu­rity melt­downs are in the news ev­ery day, it’s still dif­fi­cult to trans­late the ex­cite­ment of Hack­erville into a good TV drama. (Look no fur­ther than CBS’s stul­ti­fy­ing “CSI: Cy­ber” for proof that watch­ing peo­ple type fu­ri­ous lines of code or comb through the dark­est corners of the In­ter­net leaves a lit­tle some­thing to be de­sired.) USA’s im­pres­sive pi­lot episode for “Mr. Ro­bot,” how­ever, de­liv­ers some­thing more hu­man and com­plex than the usual search terms of a tech-fla­vored pro­ce­dural.

Rami Malek (HBO’s “The Pa­cific”) stars as El­liot, a tal­ented pro­gram­mer who works for a se­cu­rity firm that pro­tects big cor­po­ra­tions from hack­ers; at night, how­ever, El­liot is a se­cret hacker, met­ing out vig­i­lante jus­tice to child pornog­ra­phers and other online bad­dies. El­liot strug­gles with so­cial anx­i­ety dis­or­der, keep­ing his psy­cho­log­i­cal is­sues at bay by snort­ing mor­phine (a fact he fails to tell his ther­a­pist, played by “ER’s” Glo­ria Reuben). Sus­cep­ti­ble to Il­lu­mi­nati-like con­spir­acy the­o­ries, El­liot is re­cruited into a group of anony­mous hack­tivists led by the mys­te­ri­ous Mr. Ro­bot, which brings me to the only bad news I have to re­port about the show: Mr. Ro­bot is played by Chris­tian Slater, who, af­ter all these years, still has just the one act­ing style.

In an ob­vi­ous way, “Mr. Ro­bot” seems to be set­ting it­self up to be another semi-stylish thriller in the net­work’s usual man­ner; but in its bet­ter mo­ments, the show art­fully de­picts some of the para­noia of the Ed­ward Snow­den era and is vaguely rem­i­nis­cent of AMC’s lamentably short-lived “Ru­bi­con,” keep­ing a murky dis­tinc­tion be­tween what is real and what is just a fig­ment of the pro­tag­o­nist’s ad­dled sense of per­cep­tion. El­liot may just be another of TV’s mil­len­nial hack­ers-in-hood­ies, but Malek’s sub­tle yet strong per­for­mance in­di­cates that there is some­thing wounded and be­liev­able about this kid, draw­ing out the viewer’s sym­pa­thies — and sus­pi­cions. Grade: B+

DAVID GIES­BRECHT/USA NET­WORK

RamiMalek, left, who stars with Chris­tian Slater, plays a para­noid hacker in a post-Snow­den world.

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