I usually review a TV show when I’ve finished it or when I’ve given up. But, given the Pandemic and the state of the film industry, I’m not sure when or if a 3rd season of this show is coming. And by the time it does come, I may have forgotten about the show. So I’m reviewing after watching only two seasons.
The first season of the show uses the slightly familiar idea of a film noir plot to bring us into the world. It’s not the first time it’s been done but it’s still an effective way of introducing a world, because the mystery does not have to be so tied to the world-building. Think of this show as a cross between Out of the Past, Blade Runner and The Fifth Element with some plot elements lifted from (more recent) Star Wars and just a thousand times more nudity than any of those movies.
It’s actually often better than that may sound. The novels clearly have some big ideas in them, ideas that have been treated by science fiction before but which feel reasonably fresh in this reasonably fresh vision of our future. Individual elements may mostly be unoriginal but the combination is original and the feel of the thing is distinct enough from the influences that it is not something you worry about. When the show is at its best, it’s very entertaining and at least a little thought-provoking.
It’s pretty flawed, though, both in terms of some of the plot contrivances and the technobabble. I’m much more willing to forgive these things in a science fiction or fantasy show (within reason) than I am in a drama set in my time or the past. And this show has enough good moments – it is entertaining enough – that I mostly don’t care, at least in the first season. What I’m saying is that it was usually fun enough that I didn’t spend to much time nitpicking.
Things go downhill in the second season. There is so much less world-building and it seems that world-building is the safest space for science fiction/fantasy properties. The film noir plot also disappears and is replaced by a fairly rote rebels vs. authority plot that feels like it’s been in so many films and TV shows. There’s enough of a positive aura from the first season – and a good enough cast – that I didn’t hate it, but I can imagine watching it standalone and really disliking it. (It’s the typical problem: the early story is so complicated due to world-building that simpler later stories don’t have the same pull.)
But it was nice to lose myself in a show for a bit, a show that wasn’t driving me crazy with its red herrings or terrible character development. (If there’s bad character development in Altered Carbon the show has a built-in excuse, which is kind of clever.) I may not remember it in a few years but I enjoyed it while I was watching it. (Well, the first season much more than the second.)