‘Hello, friend. Hello, friend. That’s lame. Maybe I should give you a name. But that’s a slippery slope. You’re only in my head, we have to remember that. Shit. It’s actually happened, I’m talking to an imaginary person. What I’m about to tell you is top secret. A conspiracy bigger than all of us. Theres a powerful group of people out there that are secretly running the world. I’m talking about the guys no one knows about, the guys that are invisible. The top 1% of the top 1%. The guys that play god without permission.’
Ugh, is it September yet? No, it’s not. Which is good because for whatever reason, USA decided to drop the best show on television in the middle of a long, hot summer and see if anybody noticed. Plenty of people have noticed this dark, nihilistic drama (which starts off it’s pilot with the paranoid v/o above), so the joke’s on them.
Mr. Robot stars Rami Malek, who’s had bit parts in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, and Spike Lee’s Oldboy, as Elliot Alderson, a lonely, disturbed cybersecurity computer engineer by day, vigilante hacker by night. Elliot becomes obsessed with taking down the company that caused his father’s death. The first season’s 10 episodes follows that arc from Elliot’s recruitment into hacker group f-society, to executing a plan that will wipe out the data of E Corp. Or Evil Corp, as Elliot calls it.
Shot on location in NYC, the show ditches USA’s typical ‘Blue Sky’ look (ie Burn Notice, Royal Pains, Suits) for something much darker and more isolated. Directed by Niels Arden Oplev, who directed the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Mr. Robot has a grey, grim pall reminiscent of the opening of The Matrix and Fight Club. The FIght Club comparisons aren’t coincidental, as series creator Sam Esmail has cited the David Fincher movie in various interviews as a definite influence. Besides it’s look, Mr. Robot shares a lot of similarities with Fight Club, including a plot to free people from the debts brought on by multinational corporations.
There are all kinds of references and homages littered throughout Mr. Robot. Sharp eyed viewers will notice a scene similar to the business card scene in American Psycho, scenes from Three Days of the Condor and Parallax View are also represented, plus many that I probably missed. But it’s done in such a way that feels fresh and especially relevant right now. There’s even a scene where the hackers, holed up in a hotel room, watch a scene from Hackers, the widely derided movie which makes computer hacking seem like some sort of video game, animated computer virus included. With Ashley Madison hacked in the news, and personal information under constant attack from a variety of sources, the underlying themes of the show couldn’t be more timely. Even the authenticity of the hacker world is on point. Where other shows often treat the actual mechanics of hacker culture as an afterthought, with laughable results (see Hackers, above) Mr. Robot gets it right, with plausible scenarios and dialog that sounds infinitely more accurate than any other show has ever bothered to portray.
There’s a lot to love in Mr. Robot. It’s New York is not the gleaming metropolis of Sex and the City and Real Housewives of New York, but a dystopian nightmare of evil corporations, late night meetings with child pornographers in coffee shops, drug deals gone bad, jailbreaks, and desolate apartments in Chinatown. And also, Christian Slater. The 80s heartthrob and TV bad-luck charm brings his signature sneer to Mr. Robot as Mr. Robot, the leader of f-society (of course) who recruits Elliot and leads this band of misfits in their quest to take down Evil Corp. Dressed like a destitute everyman and seeming to appear out of nowhere, Mr. Robot is Elliot’s malevolent enabler, the ‘Fuck Everything’ devil on Elliot’s shoulder encouraging him and the rest of f-society that completely destroying civilization is the only way to save it. Its a role custom-made for Slater, who played similar types in Heathers and Pump Up the Volume, but this time with the world-weariness that only 20+ years can add.
The rest of the cast does exceptional work bringing the world of Mr. Robot to life. Especially Swedish actor Martin Wallstöm as Tyrell Wellick, the interim CTO of Evil Corp who’s driven to become the permanent CTO by his own ex-hacker ego and his pregnant, BDSM-loving wife, Joanna. Every scene between Tyrell and Elliot is played for ultimate discomfort, and both actors are so good at making their innate understanding of each other translate on screen you forget that you’re watching a television show. Also be on the lookout for Michael Christofer playing the same haltingly strange boss he played in AMC’s late, lamented Rubicon, QAF‘s Randy Harrison as Elliot’s boss’s boyfriend, and B.D. Wong as the mysterious White Rose.
Mr. Robot is one of those great shows that gets picked up when a network wants to change direction and takes a chance on a show (see also, Mad Men). It’s already been picked up for a second season, so watching it doesn’t feel like a waste of time. Though the first season ends tonight with what looks to be a mind-blowingly good finale, there’s still plenty of time to catch up on VOD.
Images via USA Network. Mr. Robot is currently streaming on VOD and iTunes.