Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams delivers a unique narrative into futuristic worlds exploring the depth of humanity, emotions, and the desire to be wanted–plus Bryan Cranston
The Show: Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams
The Network: Amazon Studios
The Genre: Sci-fi
The Challenge: Give a show four episodes with which to draw you in, impress you, challenge you, make you feel something deeply. Four episodes for the chance to find out if you care what happens to the characters you’re watching enough to become invested in the story. If after all that, it does none of those things for you? Then no biggie. You gave it a good shot and you can move on. But if you love it, you’ll be glad you stuck around.
The Premise: Philip K. DIck’s Electric Dreams is a sci-fi anthology series based on stories written by Philip K. Dick. The creative team of British and American writers have adapted ten of Philip K. Dick’s short stories with their own twist and interpretation. Electric Dreams is executive produced by Outlander EP, Ron Moore, Michael Dinner (The Wonder Years), and Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston. The series originally premiered on U.K.’s Channel 4 and Amazon Video bought the rights to air it in the U.S.
While some episodes explore stories in familiar places, others take place in far corners of the universe–diverse in time and place. The underlying premise of each episode explores a variety of themes that highlight what it means to be human, setting it apart from shows similar to it, such as Black Mirror. Electric Dreams digs deeper into society’s dependence on technology and our idea of futuristic worlds and exposes the emotion behind it. Four episodes in, the series entices the audience with an apocalyptic world of drones, virtual mind-numbing “vacations”, a world riddled with impending environmental collapse–and aliens taking over one’s body. It investigates the very core of the human experience with each story–and boy, is it beautiful.
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The first four episodes, “Real Life”, “Autofac”, “Human Is” and “Crazy Diamond” possess a stellar cast including Anna Paquin, Terrence Howard, Bryan Cranston, Janelle Monae, and Steve Buscemi. “Real Life”, starring Paquin and Howard, explores the idea of happiness and self-punishment, and taking a vacation from one’s mind–through a VR-esque device. “Autofac”, starring Monae as a customer service robot, tells the story of the end of a world that is reliant on the workings of a factory and drones for their sustenance. “Human Is”, starring Cranston, tells a tale of an emotionless, cruel husband who transforms into a sweetheart after his body is taken over by an alien of sorts–and explores the human desire to be loved. “Crazy Diamond”, starring Buscemi, is a twisty story that takes place in a world where death is a constant dark cloud looming over its inhabitants.
At the center of each episode lies a deeper meaning and a multitude of questions that has viewers contemplating the meaning of life. The first four episodes each stand out on their own, and provide an intriguing interpretation of Dick’s decades old stories. The relevance and parallels that are made to the present world and society make the first four episodes gripping and extremely interesting. The all-star cast, creative team, and mind-boggling storylines of the first four episodes provide reason enough to follow Electric Dreams till the season’s end.
The heart of Electric Dreams lies in the cast who brought it to life–Bryan Cranston and Janelle Monae embracing sci-fi? Yes, please.
Similar to Black Mirror, the world of Electric Dreams brings with it a diverse cast in each and every episode. This is the beauty of most anthology series’–the ability to explore stories with different characters. The first four episodes deliver a cast of A-listers that set the tone for each story, along with phenomenal supporting actors. The cast is the allure and intrigue behind the four episodes–and what pulls viewers into this world. The stories of Philip K. Dick are very unique and were written in a time of political turmoil. Channeling these conditions and the tiny nuances of the stories could not have been an easy task, but this cast killed it.
“Real Life” highlights the talents of Anna Paquin (True Blood) and Terrence Howard (Empire). In a story about sharing headspace and questioning the happiness you are given, Paquin (a futuristic cop) and Howard (wealthy game designer) surpass expectations as they grapple two realities–questioning which one “they” deserve. “Real Life” is an emotionally intense episode and the Howard/Paquin duo pull us right into the center of it all. This episode stands out as the winner amongst the first four and showcases their talent–like we have never seen it before.
Janelle Monae’s portrayal of Alice, the robotic customer service representative is out of this world–literally. Her ability to channel robotic motions, a monotonous voice, and stiff, rigid movements is ridiculously impressive. At first glance, Alice is off-putting and strange, and one wonders if it’s over-acting on Monae’s end. However, as the episode progresses, Monae is addicting to watch, and her every movement plays out in robotic perfection.
“If you think about the themes that we’re telling through those stories, what is it to be human, it’s not in the big, grand gestures. It’s found in simple kindness, in thinking and compassion. That’s where love is. That’s where love resides, in the everyday little things that we do.” –Bryan Cranston (Executive producer)
Thanks to Electric Dreams, Bryan Cranston made his way back onto our television screens once again. His character, Silas, in the episode, “Human Is” starts off as an extremely complicated, ruthless, not-so-loving husband. After a mission gone wrong, Silas returns home a different man–completely different, due to an alien taking over his body. Cranston essentially plays two different characters within the length of the episode, and it is impressive to say the least. Watching Cranston go from one end of the spectrum to the other in regards to character, personality, and attitude is such a visual treat.
Such a mind-boggling, emotional/socially aware show is incomplete without an episode highlighting a topic related to climate change. Enter Steve Buscemi. In “Crazy Diamond” Buscemi plays a bored factory AI worker dreaming of adventure. His character yearns to hit the seas and escape from his current life and boring wife. Buscemi’s character is the most boring of the previously mentioned, but somehow wrangles the viewer into his topsy-turvy dreams–and the troubles he gets into as a result. Watching Buscemi post-Boardwalk Empire is exciting enough to stay engaged during his somewhat boring stint in Electric Dreams.
The hypnotic sets, tech-savvy costume design and mind-boggling visual effects set the futuristic tone for Electric Dreams
It is established that Electric Dreams has set the bar extremely high with its amazing cast. Perhaps, even more mind-boggling is the production that went into creating the series. The first four episodes demonstrate futuristic worlds, apocalyptic worlds, robots, drones–and that is just the beginning. Companies like Milk VFX and Outpost VFX are responsible for the magic that is seen in the world of Electric Dreams.
“Real Life” illustrates a Blade Runner-esque world with gigantic holograms and super-futuristic cars. A frightening glimpse into the future is seen through the use of VR technology, that does not quite exist in today’s world. This episode is a visual treat for the senses which is further exemplified in each character’s costume design.
“Autofac” is next-level tech-savvy–and the set design mimics a future where a company like Amazon rules the world–ironic right? The premise involves drones that provide sustenance to the remaining survivors at the end of the world. Let us tell you, these drones are next-level frightening and use their technology to convey fear and oppression. This episode plays out in a sepia soaked filter with dim, dark lighting, which sets the mood for the gloom and doom of the all-too-possible premise.
“Yeah, the whole production is much more challenging than the series because you are making a movie every single week. So you don’t have sets to reuse or costumes and there’s a whole new cast, new director, different lighting schemes and locations. It’s very complicated to do an anthology. None of us who were producing it had ever done one before, so we learned a lot. We just learned mostly how hard it is to do something like that. It was fun to learn along the way”. –Ron D. Moore (Executive producer)
“Human Is” relies heavily on its Star Trek-esque costume and set design. This episode primarily takes place within a futuristic spaceship that includes an immersive VR gym, a technological brothel of sorts, and aliens. The lighting in the episode fluctuates between dark and light which follows the premise of the story as the mood changes. The overall production of this episode exudes a solemn, bittersweet feeling that intertwines with the story.
“Crazy Diamond” focuses on a plot that shines a light on the impending doom that is aging and death. The set design of this episode takes place on the edge of coastal waters and consists of earthly blue hues as an overlaying filter. What sets “Crazy Diamond” apart from the other episodes is the use of unique characters–aka hybrid pig and human characters. It oddly sets the tone for the most bizarre episode of the bunch. The set design, costumes, and visual effects of this episode convey an oscillating feeling causing us to feel calm and frightened at the same time.
Seeing such a wide variety of sets ranging in location, environment, and story really encapsulates the core of the first four episodes. These episodes alone make the idea of continuing the series extremely enticing.
Electric Dreams entices its audience with a spectacular culmination of science fiction and humanity
The stand-out elements of Electric Dreams are in its ability to create a fantastical cocktail of life, love, humanity, and sci-fi. While the sci-fi element contains ties with shows like Black Mirror, the human touch mimics the stories of The Twilight Zone. Electric Dreams pushes the boundaries of a typical sci-fi show, and attempts to dig much deeper into the emotion and core of it. The first four episodes consist of underlying of guilt, happiness, death, aging, and desire.
“Real Life” is a story about two individuals that carry guilt and sadness over traumatic events in their life. In order to escape her reality, Sarah (Anna Paquin) uses a VR device to take a “vacation” from her real life–and ends up in George’s (Terrence Howard) life. As the realities go back-and-forth between Sarah and George, the story begins to highlight Sarah’s guilt due to past events and the desire to punish herself. It is a haunting story about man’s resistance to accepting happiness and the idea that we are undeserving of joy.. This episode is the strongest of the bunch because the underlying premise is extremely relatable–do we deserve to have perfect lives?
“Autofac” illustrates a world that has ended and relies solely on drones and automation through a factory. Given that the modern world relies on companies like Amazon for a variety of consumer products, this premise is quite horrific. The implications are loud and clear here–technology may very well be the end of us, or at least what’s left anyway. This episode is an abrupt glimpse into what the future could look like–and begs the question: will we become slaves to the technology in our life? It focuses in on modern day dependence on companies like Amazon and elicits fear over what the future will hold. Although slow, this episode is unique in its premise and delivery–and steps away momentarily from the humanity aspect that is an integral part of each episode.
When you look at the body of his work, and what has since been built into feature-length films – whether it’s The Adjustment Bureau or Total Recall or Blade Runner – you see, at the core of that, are human beings. You can deal with artificial intelligence and futuristic notions, but at the core of it is human beings and how we interpret our environment and our culture and our relationship to other humans. –Bryan Cranston (Executive producer)
“Human Is” is a jarring emotional episode that highlights the human desire to be needed and wanted. Silas (Bryan Cranston) is a rude and loveless husband that lives his life devoid of any emotions towards his wife, Vera (Essie Davis). He becomes more loving and passionate towards his wife, who is completely aware this person is no longer the husband she knew. The episode is dramatically beautiful with its premise–reminding us that all we need is love. The story of “Human Is” depicts love as a fickle feeling, an emotion in a constant state of flux. Vera craves for love and attention, and this desire trumps all. Perhaps this is the crux of humanity–to be wanted, needed, and desired, at any cost. However, in reality, “Human Is” exudes an unrealistic vibe as significant others don’t just change–and if they do, it’s not always for the better.
“Crazy Diamond” is a story that puts a spotlight on human beings’ fear of aging and dying–and the longing to be free. Through the use of rapid expiration dates, coastal erosion, and life insurance policies, the episode tackles this fear/desire head-on. This episode was indeed crazy and perhaps, the wackiest of the first four episodes. The story feels chaotic, spastic, and calm all at the same time–and explores a caste system, consumerism, and the desire to be free. The disarray in this episode felt intentional, as a reflection of the society we live in today. In a world where climate change, “fake news”, and controversies are the leading headlines, this episode looks to highlight the chaos. What lies at the heart of all the chaos? According to “Crazy Diamond”, the end of your life, so to speak. The episode describes every human’s dream of living a stress-free, exciting life that is tainted with the presence of death and responsibilities. It is not the strongest of the first four episodes–but leaves viewers with a sense of impending doom. Within the first four episodes, “Crazy Diamond” falls short of expectations because the underlying message is muddled and lost in the madness of the episode. It is hard to focus in on the central character’s emotions while the narrative simultaneously explores other aspects of the story. The episode would have been more relatable if certain aspects of the story were tweaked to cater to the underlying message–after all, how do pig/human hybrids play into the story?
Electric Dreams wrangles a talented team of British and American writers to breathe life into the works of Philip K. Dick
What makes Electric Dreams stand out from anything we’ve seen before? The diverse group of writers–that’s what. Writing an anthology series is no easy task–add in the works of Philip K. Dick and you have yourself one hell of a task. Philip K. Dick wrote over 120 short stories, leaving a multitude of options for the writers and creative team to pick from. While there are many stories yet to explore, the first four episodes consist of gripping storylines and themes. The writers for Electric Dreams took a variety of approaches when translating Dick’s stories onto script. Episodes such as “Autofac” keep largely true to the original story while Ron Howard’s “Real Life” and “Crazy Diamond” deviate greatly from the original. On the other hand,“Human Is” changes the name of its characters, leaving the original story intact.
“Use the original material as a springboard – change whatever you like. Keep the core idea and the core theme, and enhance that to see how that affects a modern-day audience “We didn’t want to tell them, ‘This is the story you’re doing,’ so we laid the stories out like a buffet. It was by their choice that we came up with the ten for this season.” –Bryan Cranston (Executive producer)
The first four episodes are extremely strong in their writing–with some exceptions. “Crazy Diamond” is a bit too all over the place and its execution makes the story hard to follow. While episodes like “Real Life” and “Human Is” are very transparent in their themes and underlying message, “Crazy Diamond” didn’t highlight what it’s purpose was. It is hard to acknowledge where the story is heading as the main character grapples with the monotonous nature of his life. “Real Life” is written by Ron Moore (Outlander) and stands out as the strongest episode in the first four. The message is blunt and loud, and the story does not hold back from exploring raw human emotion. “Autofac”, written by Jeffrey Reiner (Friday Night Lights) is unique in its thematic presence but falls in the middle between the strongest and weakest of the four episodes. It stands out as a reminder of what may come but doesn’t dive deep into emotions as “Real Life” and “Human Is” do.
The diverse writers behind Electric Dreams provide inviting, intriguing stories in the first four episodes. And while some are not as strong as the others, they all find a way to tug at our philosophical heartstrings.
Final Verdict: Despite one weak episode, Electric Dreams provides a solid start to its anthology series and casts a hypnotic, intellectual spell on its viewers
The first four episodes of Electric Dreams are a visual and mind-boggling ride through the deepest human emotions. Each episode represents a complicated aspect of humanity. “Human Is” and “Real Life” are the strongest in the four, while “Crazy Diamond” proves to be the weakest and most confusing. However, despite the varying strengths of each episode, Electric Dreams is a show that pulls you in with each and every storyline, even if you find yourself resisting. It is the beauty of a show like this that attempts to differentiate itself from similar shows that came before it–namely Black Mirror and The Twilight Zone. Since its release, there has been a lot of debate over it being the new version of Black Mirror. However, this is not the question that needs to be asked. Watching the first four episodes makes viewers realize that the question is not how it is like other shows, but what makes it so different.
As has been mentioned many times already, Electric Dreams sets itself apart because it unapologetically explores the human side of technology, the future, etc. It takes these concepts and intertwines them into the plots in a unique way. “Human Is” is set in the future and takes place in a spaceship. While we cannot relate to that notion directly, what we can relate to is the loveless marriage between two individuals–and the desire to be loved and cherished by our significant others. Herein lies the raw beauty of Electric Dreams and what makes the beginning of this series so gripping.
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The series falls short of expectations when we reach “Crazy Diamond” due to its perplexing plot. However, it still manages to connect us with its underlying themes of aging, death, and climate change. “Real Life” is the winner of the first four episodes because it is a notion we can all relate to and deal with on a daily basis. Have you ever felt guilty for having a better life than someone else? Did you ever feel that you didn’t deserve the happiness you are being handed? These are the strongest, loudest questions from “Real Life” and truly resonate with the audience. “Autofac” deals with a future that is not so unrealistic, and while it did possess emotional elements–it’s message plays out as a warning for the possible future.
Despite the weak link in the first four episodes of Electric Dreams, this sci-fi anthology series is worth the watch. From its over-the-top futuristic technology to a drone-ruled world, Electric Dreams contains plot lines that pique your interest and pull you in from the get-go. Perhaps, the most beautiful thing about the first four episodes is the push it gives to explore oneself as we are now. Whether the stories take place millenia away or in an apocalyptic world, human and human emotions remain the same–and this makes Electric Dreams a show worth continuing.