Electric Dreams, on Channel 4 (UK) / Amazon (USA)
A.V. Club; IMDb; PKD-pedia; TV Tango; TV Tropes; Wikia; Wikipedia
streaming sites: Amazon Prime
Caution: potential spoilers.
I was expecting to put this review in my webseries section, because I was under the impression that is was an Amazon original. And... it kind of is, at least as far as U.S. distribution is concerned. But before it premiered on Amazon, it was shown on Channel 4 in the UK, so technically it's a TV series, not a webseries. Anyway, each episode is based on a different story by Philip K. Dick, none of which I've read. (And while I'm sure they all diverge to some degree from the original stories, some surely diverge more than others.) I should also say that the episode order on Amazon is different from the order in which they aired on Channel 4, but since I'm watching the show on Amazon, I'll list episodes in the order they're listed on that site. (Not that it really matters, since the episodes were all released on Amazon on the same day. And since it's an anthology series, the order is inherently irrelevant.) Well... I guess I liked most of the episodes well enough, though I didn't love any of them. Some were definitely better than others.
(Based on the 1954 short story "Exhibit Piece," though the premise reminds me of Total Recall.) Anna Paquin plays a cop named Sarah, who lives sometime in the future. She's married to a woman named Katie (Rachelle Lefevre), who encourages her to take a "vacation" from her stressful life, in which she and her partner, Mario, are trying to catch someone who had killed a bunch of their fellow police. The vacation is a sort of virtual reality, which bases itself on the user's own subconscious, like dreams. In that reality (which is set more or less in our own present), Sarah becomes a man named George (Terrence Howard), a billionaire whose wife had been murdered. There, George works with a guy named Chris, trying to catch his wife's murderer. There's also a doctor named Paula, who helps George with his PTSD or whatever. Part of that includes using VR to take a vacation from his stressful life. So, of course, it's unclear which world is real, the one with Sarah or the one with George. I expected it to remain ambiguous, but the question seems to be answered at the end, though of course I won't spoil it. But it's definitely an interesting story.
(Based on the 1955 short story of the same name.) Juno Temple plays a tinkerer named Emily, a member of what may be the last pocket of human civilization, after a nuclear war. There's an automated factory that is still producing and delivering stuff even though there are no longer any consumers. It's polluting the environment and depleting resources, which means the remaining humans have no chance to rebuild civilization. So a group of them, including Emily and a guy named Conrad (David Lyons, whom I knew from Revolution), have a desperate plan to stop the Autofac. First, they shoot down a delivery drone, so Emily can use it to hack into Autofac's system to deliver a complaint. This prompts the factory to send an android named Alice (Janelle Monáe) to talk with them. Their attempt to convince Alice that Autofac needs to shut itself down fail, so they move on to plan B. I don't want to say more than that, except that I had my theories about things... and they were wrong. (I mean, I figured out more or less what was going on before it was specifically revealed, but not so far in advance that I could really claim to have found it predictable.) So, I was surprised. And I liked that.
(Based on the 1955 short story of the same name.) Bryan Cranston plays Colonel Silas Herrick. Earth (or rather Terra) is doing whatever it can to survive, even if that means stealing a substance it needs from other worlds, even at the cost of war. Silas leads a mission to a world called Rexor IV, whose inhabitants are not seen as civilized by Terrans. Most of his team is killed, but he and one other human return. And, well... Silas was basically a jerk, with no love or respect for his wife, Vera. But when he returns from the mission, he is a loving husband to her. Later, it turns out that the man who had returned with Silas had been possessed by a Rexorian. (Or took his form, or something.) So Silas is put on trial as a possible Rexorian impostor, himself. And Vera's testimony will prove important in determining whether or not he is the real Silas Herrick. Well... I'm pretty sure this story is new to me, but at the same time it feels sort of familiarish. I'm not sure if I've read or seen something similar before. But in any event, I found it rather predictable. But I don't think that's a bad thing, necessarily. I still liked it well enough.
(Based on the 1954 short story "Sales Pitch.") Steve Buscemi is in this. What to say about the plot, I can't even imagine.
The Hood Maker
(Based on the 1955 short story of the same name.) Holliday Grainger plays Honor, a telepath (or "teep") who is recruited to work with a government agent named Ross. The setting seems very dystopian, though I never could get a solid handle on who the bad guys were supposed to be. At first, Honor and Ross (and a SWAT team) were hunting agitators against the state, who were very anti-telepath. However, it never really seemed like anyone who worked for the state, other than Ross, trusted telepaths, either. And Ross's superiors are as concerned about a possible telepath rebellion as the anti-teep anarchists are. Meanwhile, it is discovered that someone has been making hoods that people can wear to block telepaths from reading their minds. So Ross and Honor have to find whoever's making the hoods, and put a stop to it. And all the while, the two of them develop a closer personal relationship. Anyway... despite never being entirely certain who to trust or who to root for, I did like both lead characters.
Safe and Sound
(Based on the 1955 short story, "Foster, You're Dead!") Maura Tierney plays Irene Lee, a woman who has just moved with her daughter, Foster, from a "bubble" community to a big city. It seems that there's a rift between two parts of the country, and on the side the Lees have moved to, the news is constantly talking about terrorist attacks by people from the bubble communities. However, Irene says that's all propaganda, and the attacks aren't real. Meanwhile, people on this side of the rift have electronic devices called dexes, and Foster gets one, against her mother's wishes. Foster then receives some help from a voice... someone who works for tech support. Before long, the voice, Ethan, starts trying to help her deal with a problematic fellow student. But his "help" becomes increasingly suspicious... a fact which is exacerbated by the fact that Foster's father had heard hallucinatory voices before killing himself. So it becomes unclear whether Ethan is really trying to help Foster, or if she's going insane and h just hallucinating his voice... or perhaps something more sinister is going on. I don't want to say how it ends, but it's definitely a disturbing story, which I daresay is all the more disturbing in the current political and corporate climate of our country....
The Father Thing
(Based on the 1954 short story of the same name.) Greg Kinnear plays a man who has a close relationship with his young son, Charlie. They share a love of baseball trivia, and Charlie himself is a good player. But one night, Charlie sees something strange going on in the shed by their house. And later, his father doesn't seem quite like himself. And... it doesn't take long for Charlie to realize his father has been replaced by some kind of alien. In fact, it seems that a lot of people are noticing people they know having changed. Really, it's a pretty familiar concept in science fiction. And I'm not sure how much this particular story really stands out, for me. It was okay, I guess.
(Based on the 1953 short story of the same name.) There are a couple of guys who work for a space tourism company. One day a very old woman asks them to take her to Earth... which apparently doesn't exist anymore. She's offering a lot of money, so they agree, but actually take her to a different, dead planet. She has a robot companion, who doesn't trust the guides. And... I dunno what else to tell you. The end didn't surprise me, but I also don't think it makes any sense. It's all just really weird.
(Based on the 1953 short story of the same name.) Timothy Spall plays a man named Ed, who works at a railway station. One day, a woman (who we later learn is named Linda) asks to buy a ticket to a town called Macon Heights, which Ed insists doesn't exist. And soon, Linda vanishes. Meanwhile, we learn that Ed's son, Sam, has psychotic episodes, which are getting worse. Later, Ed rides the train and jumps off, along with other people, at the time the woman had mentioned. He finds Macon Heights, which seems to be an idyllic community. However, when he returns home, he finds that his son never existed. I'm not entirely sure whether he forgot about Sam, or just immediately went along with it when he realized his wife didn't remember Sam. But eventually, he finds a room with videotapes of Sam, which either restores his memory or just makes him realize he doesn't want to lose his son. So he returns to Macon Heights, to find Linda and plead to get his life back the way it was. It's definitely a very compelling story, but I have mixed feelings about it. I think we're meant to agree with Ed that despite Sam's problems, it's better for him to exist and for the family to deal with it. But on the other hand, Sam has already hurt other people, and in the future he would hurt more people. And we don't know how badly; for all we know, he could end up killing people. On the third hand, it's possible that Ed will try harder to ensure Sam gets the help he needs to prevent that from happening. But we don't actually find out about that. All we really know is that Ed is supposedly sacrificing his own potential happiness in order to do "the right thing," which we're probably not meant to think means he's putting others at risk. Of course, it's all just a story. Maybe I'm overthinking it. I do still think it's a good story.
Kill All Others
(Based on the 1953 short story "The Hanging Stranger.") In the mid-21st century, a woman simply called "the Candidate" (Vera Farmiga) is campaigning to be the leader of a "mega-nation" called MexUsCan. She's the only candidate in the election, because it's a one party system. Nevertheless, most citizens seem to believe this is totally reasonable, with very few people seeing how undemocratic it actually is. One such person is a man named Philbert Noyce, who one night is watching the Candidate being interviewed on TV, and hears her say "Kill all others" (and sees those words flash almost subliminally on the screen). The interviewer doesn't seem to notice, and goes on talking about other, mundane political issues. Philbert is shocked that no one seems to be talking about it, which at first makes me wonder if he only hallucinated it. But it's not like he demonstrates the slightest inclination to act on the message. Quite the opposite, he wants to make people aware of how horrible it is. Eventually, the message gets rolled out more openly, and people dismiss it as some kind of metaphor. But before long, it becomes clear that it's meant literally... and some people are perfectly willing to act on the message. The question becomes, "who are the others?" and the answer, apparently, is anyone who doesn't conform. Really, it's a witch hunt, the kind of thing that has been seen at various points in our history, whether referring to literal witches, or communists, or terrorists, or anyone seen as a potential threat to the status quo. So it's obvious that Philbert, in his increasing desperation to expose the truth, will come to be seen as an "other," himself. I found the story particularly chilling, in our current political climate. (Which is something I've said before about another episode in this series, and I've probably thought about more than a couple of episodes.)
So... I think this series is definitely apropos for our time, in the Trump era. And it's interesting that it's recycling stories from the 1950s, some of which I imagine could have been a response to McCarthyism. Of course, that's just a few of the episodes. But really, all the episodes here explore some facet of what it means to be human, albeit with some serious sci-fi trappings. (But hey, that's one of the things sci-fi does best.) I didn't find every episode quite as entertaining as I might have liked, but... entertainment isn't everything. Anyway, I definitely think the series is worth watching.