Humanity has an undying obsession with the future. So often, great minds ponder how life as we know it will evolve, stagnate, or cease all together. Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams on Amazon adapts many of the whimsical and woeful worlds from the titular author’s expansive science-fiction writings. Many of Dick’s works have already gotten the big and small screen treatment, including The Man in the High Castle, Minority Report, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (the basis for Blade Runner). Electric Dreams is another worthy imagining of Dick’s works, taking many of his philosophical underpinnings and deepening them through the visual medium.
Each episode in the anthology series follows a different story separated by time, space, and a prospective future. Due to its similarity to the widely popular Black Mirror series, many may draw parallels between the two. While Black Mirror focuses more heavily on technology and darker moral conundrums, Electric Dreams uses the futuristic aesthetic as a secondary feature to its intellectual forays. Many of the episodes are rooted in one or two serious philosophical questions faced by a future society, but remain applicable to contemporaneous situations. As a result, Electric Dreams is just as cerebrally enticing as Black Mirror, but is less emotionally taxing.
Additionally, the star power is quite appealing. Electric Dreams features the likes of Bryan Cranston, Juno Temple, Game of Thrones stars Richard Madden and Liam Cunningham, and Steve Buscemi to name a few. Though not unique to the more well-known actors, the performances throughout the series are very much the driving force of the show, hammering home the central ideas of each episode through excellent emotional affect and conviction. Cranston absolutely dominates his episode “Human Is” as a forceful and commandeering colonel, as does Timothy Spall in “The Commuter” as an idyllic railway worker. The caliber of these performances propels them to a spot among the best installments in the inaugural season.
The disparate settings allow the show to feel fresh going into each episode. The respective futures are self-contained and unique. There is very little conceivable overlap to each imagined future, attesting to Dick’s dynamism as a sci-fi writer. “Autofac” sees survivors of a nuclear holocaust struggling to take down an automated factory as it continues to haplessly pollute and produce in spite of humanity’s dilapidated state. “Real Life” finds its protagonist questioning which world is real due to repeated transitions in and out of virtual reality. “Human Is” explores the emotional turmoil on Earth as the military state mines other inhabited planets for resources. And these summations only touch on the sci-fi aspect, as each contains a more compelling human element just below the surface, like ideas of replacement, deserved happiness, and the nature of humanity.
A prime example of all these things comes in “The Hood Maker,” which finds a city in turmoil as civil unrest erupts between normal and telepathic peoples. Agent Ross (Madden) is thrust into the middle of the conflict as he is paired with Honor (Holliday Grainger), a telepathic who is used to uncover any conspiracy among the warring parties. The dynamic between the two leads is nuanced and subtle. The shy Honor is starkly contrasted by the fast and loud Ross. Slight cues, like a reluctant smile from the corner of the mouth or an endearing brush of eye contact, hint at deeper conflict and interest. Upon the conclusion of the episode, ideas about trust and the sanctity of the mind are no better resolved, but viewers are more acutely aware of the importance of such questions.
Electric Dreams feels like episodic parables pertaining to questions of humanity and how that might change due to a myriad of unforeseeable factors. Whether humanity is destined to traverse the destitute wastes of our crumbling planet, or reach far beyond the faintest of stars remains unknown. Electric Dreams reminds us that in our quest to peer over the horizon, to catch a glimpse of tomorrow, we will likely be confronted with problems—like love, personhood, and consciousness—that transcend time itself.
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