A series about a paranoid hacker who makes friends with Christian Slater might not sound instantly appealing, but then a few years ago you would have had trouble telling anyone that a fantasy show about dragons, zombies and a dwarf would be arguably the best thing that ever happened to TV.
Mr. Robot is about to debut to UK viewers courtesy of Amazon Prime, and it has one of the strongest starts you’re likely to see. Yes, as is always the case in so-called ‘techno-thrillers’, there are plenty of quick cuts to a computer monitor, as frantic narration attempts to guide the viewer through whatever is going on, but there is a lot more to this show, and it’s actually extremely good.
Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek) has a number of issues that would make him a complicated dinner guest; he is knowingly delusional, often depressed and a morphine addict. He’s also a vigilante hacker, which is something used in delightful fashion to open the series.
Elliot’s a good guy who despises society, and he’s particularly revolted by the inescapable, dominant construct of capitalism. So much so that he agrees to help a hacking group, led by Slater’s Mr. Robot, hit the reset button, a la Fight Club. The idea would be to wipe out debt and, along with it, the omnipotence of the huge corporations.
Our protagonist works for a security firm which counts E Corp as a client, and this client is exactly who Mr. Robot wants to target directly. Elliot’s close connection is seen as key to the biggest hack of all time, and the only real concern is his mental stability.
The distinct qualities of Mr. Robot are clear from the very start; the title sequences smack of a 70s paranoia flick, with the perfect typeface used to stamp the show’s name right in front of your face. Each introduction is different, but beautifully crafted and instantly captivating.
It’s filmed in a way that keeps you on edge, with lots of shots where a character’s face is off-centre, along with some unnatural angles during dialogue scenes. The paranoid, unsettling vibe weaves through every aspect of the show, and it’s all the better for it.
Some of Elliot’s early monotone gripes about, well, everything are delightfully dry. He’s generally critical of everyone and the way they go about things, and if a complaint can be lobbied against what is clearly a strong first season, it would be that perhaps, by the final episode, his morose nature becomes a little exhausting. Nonetheless, there are a number of great supporting characters perking up proceedings.
Christian Slater’s Mr. Robot is a great watch, like the aged, semi-retired version of Tyler Durden who has moved on from inner-city guerrilla warfare and settled into the quieter life of hacking. The actor has had his name in the cast list of some putrid direct-to-DVD movies over the last few years, but he’ll no doubt be relieved that his efforts here have gone into something with genuine quality.
Another highlight is Martin Wallström as Tyler Wellick, the Senior VP of Technology at E Corp. He’s somewhat reminiscent of Mad Men’s Pete Campbell; a hugely ambitious, slippery man who has a broad ruthless streak and very little concern for morality. Early on it seems as though he might be the villain of the piece, but the storyline doesn’t quite follow any routes in such traditional fashion.
It’s a thought-provoking thriller, dark and downbeat, soaked in suspicion and brilliantly crisp and cutting when it comes to social commentary. It won’t please everybody, simply because it is inherently gloomy and sullen. If you have a show about cynical techies who want to bring down the foundations of modern society while wearing ripped jeans and operating from a dark room on a computer, you’re not going to get The Big Bang Theory.
If you’re looking for a new series to try then this has to be top of the list; Mr. Robot is smart, compelling work, with impressive performances and sharp writing seeing it through to the end of its excellent debut season.
Mr. Robot is available now on Amazon Prime.