Tag Archives: Mr. Robot

Ranking the ShowsThat I Watch – 2015 Edition: 46-43

4 Apr

A very real dramedy followed by three shows which depart from the realms of the real. Three of these four debuted last year.

Intro here and 58-55 here and 54-51 here and 50-47 here.

46. Togetherness – 2014: Not Eligible

Togetherness

One of the plague of sad-white people with pre-midlife crises shows running amok on TV, Togetherness actually pulled together to be a little bit better by the end than I thought it would be at the beginning. It’s hardly mandatory viewing, but the characters are drawn relatively well and feel somewhat realistic, and the feuds and conflicts feel plausible and unforced, which sounds like a low floor but really isn’t. Mark Duplass’s character is the worst part of the show, but he’s balanced by his best friend on the show, Alex, who is the best character. 

45. Mr. Robot – 2014: Not Eligible

Mr. RobotMr. Robot is a show I’ve expended many words about, written, and in person, and although I’m still not sure if I’ll watch it again this year, I’m glad I did. Few shows actually capture the internet television watching community every year, but Mr. Robot was one of them, and while I’m not a fan of many of the show’s creative choices, I do understand some of the appeal, and some of why the appeal now. If the two shows coming up next after Mr. Robot were classic high-floor low-ceiling affairs, Mr. Robot is the opposite. There was a lot going on, generally more of which I didn’t like than did, but it’s the type of show for which I at least have a level of appreciation for the craft of even if I disagree fundamentally which several of the decisions made. I probably liked the next two shows on this list better, but if someone I didn’t know asked me which season of television they should watch it should probably be this one.

44. Doctor Who – 2014: Not Eligible

Doctor Who

Doctor Who is by no means for everyone, and sometimes I’m not even sure it’s for me, but although I doubted myself while watching several seasons over the course of a year, in the end it was a worthwhile project. There’s a low ceiling; there are never any real stakes in Doctor Who, and whatever suspense there is is trying to figure out what the deus ex machina is going to be, not if there will be one. The character development is limited at best, but the show makes up for it by being relentless silly, casting strong choices as the Doctor, like current Doctor Peter Capaldi, and having at least once every few episodes smart, sci-fi homages and mashups that play well with common tropes even if the end results aren’t surprising. What I just wrote is really true about any season of Doctor Who more than merely the last, but that’s about what this show is.

43. Marvel’s Agent Carter – 2014: Not Eligible

Marvel's Agent Carter

Agent Carter isn’t great or relevatory (it sounds like I’m repeating similar words a lot, but that’s where we are on the list) and it fits in well most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe superhero oeuvre – it’s light on its feet, with a low ceiling and a high floor, featuring heroic tales of patriotic derring-do conducted by heroes who care about the greater good more than themselves, all balanced by some sense of humor to attempt to prevent it from being too mired in its own self-seriousness. What puts Carter slightly above the mean is the chemistry between the two leads, heroic Agent Carter (Hayley Atwell) who has been buried deep in mundane paperwork as a woman in an all-male workplace in the post-war 1940s, and Jarvis, Howard Stark’s butler, full of British charm and snobbery who, increasingly as the season goes on, wants to show he can do more than cook, clean, and aptly manage Stark’s many lady friends. The ‘40s make for a great setting, and the show doesn’t go light on the constant sexism towards Carter, which actually makes the setting feel more authentic and the eventual triumph greater.

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End of Season Report: Mr. Robot – Season 1

4 Sep

Mr. Robot

There’s a lot to say about the first season of Mr. Robot. It has become a blogosphere sensation that became required viewing by the end of the summer, and though it’s an interesting show with plenty of redeeming qualities, I’m not fully on board; Mr. Robot is not quite as good as most of the internet would have you believe. First, though, I want to spend the majority of the piece grappling with a particular question as it relates to the show.

How much does plot matter in a television show? It depends, and sometimes more than other times, is the obvious but unhelpful answer. Sometimes plot is essential, sometimes it’s a distraction. Lost diehards would say focusing too much on the plot and its lack of resolution missed the point, but I would argue against that, saying that the plot was clearly important to the show initially, and that the show had set certain expectations for resolution. Furthermore, there are different instances of plot: within a moment, a scene, an episode, over the course of a season, or over the course of a series.

I have some general issues with Mr. Robot’s plot, but to not ignore the forest for the trees, everything starts with two major plot twists in the second half of the season. First, it turns out that Mr. Robot (Christian Slater, and he may have another name, but I’m still going to choose to call him Mr. Robot) is actually not merely a hallucination of protagonist Elliot’s dad, but also a manifestation of Elliot’s alternate personality. Second, fellow hacker Darlene is Elliot’s sister, but Elliot continues to forget and or not realize this, and occasionally comes on to her.

The hallucination twist I didn’t care for at all. At first, I was angry at myself (in my defense, I watched most of the show in two days and didn’t reflect much between episodes) for not picking up on the fact that Mr. Robot was a figment of Elliot’s imagination, but as I thought more about it there were several scenes where he was present and Elliot wasn’t, meaning that sometimes he was a hallucination while sometimes he was a manifestation. The former, which I still don’t particularly care for, I’d be kinder towards; the second is a lot too much for me. It reeks of Fight Club, and speaking to my points about plot earlier, while I enjoy Fight Club in many ways, the plot is unfathomably stupid and prevents me from quite liking it as much as many do. The twist was nearly a pure plot move, and it obscured and overwhelmed some of the more interesting aspects I’ll drive into shortly.

The Darlene twist works better but the implications are questionable if thought about for a couple of minutes more, which is often a sign of a potentially poorly thought out twist. It’s a little less obvious and Darlene is a much more interesting character than Eliot’s dad. It’s unquestionable a twist, but it doesn’t feel as M. Night Shyamalan-esque. The trouble though is, and if you think I’m looking too deeply into this, maybe you’re right, but– why is a sister who seems to care intensely about her brother’s well being letting him participate in activities that first, he’s obviously not up to mentally, and second, that obviously have the likelihood of aggravating his already very serious fragile mental state. This is all aside from the insane idea of following and trusting someone with a very serious mental illness to lead a group of hackers in a series of crimes that will inevitably have the participants sent to jail for a long, long time, if they’re ever caught. Are there motivations set up by the show to defend this behavior? Sure. Darlene cares a lot more about the project than Eliot does; it’s her baby, and maybe she really, deluded-ly believes that this is good for him, or maybe she needs him, and secretly knows that this is bad for him but doesn’t care, though she convinces herself otherwise. Either way, it’s a bit of a stretch.

I don’t quite understand the Tyrell Wellick plot. He kind of cuts a Patrick Bateman visage, and he’s a very strange character and I don’t really get how he fits in with the rest of the show, plot-wise, tone-wise, or thematically. I kept waiting for the big moment when Elliott and his world would dovetail, and it never quite happened.

I do really like Darlene’s character, and although I’m not sure how it would work in practice, abstractly I might prefer a version of Mr. Robot that focuses on Darlene, rather than Elliot. Elliot would be stronger a peripheral character, and Darlene’s struggle to ferment revolution while keeping her troubled brother healthy and productive and maintain this ragtag team of hackers seemed loaded with potential.

The focus on what revolution means; true freedom and the notion of good and evil, selling your soul vs. fighting the good fight, and what that really means, or what change any of this makes. These are all complex ideas with plenty to work through. The show vacillates between exploring these in a provocative way and laying the evil 1% on too thick. The good: A dive into what changed and what’s the same after f society erases all debt, and the hollowness of the victory Darlene wants so desperately. The bad: the soiree of rich people at the end of the show, the rampant, obvious evilness of some of the Evil Corp executives, who appear to be cackling in a room about how to screw the peons a little too often. I’m as inherently skeptical of giant corporations as any good liberal, but even I winced at some of the less nuanced depictions of corporate America. Better was in the last episode when Angela understandably was enraged by the treatment she received at the shoe store after she witnessed a suicide personally, and the portrayal of Gideon, a man who is at the whims of corporate forces outside of his control, who isn’t always fighting the good fight, but just wanted to be a small business entrepreneur looking out for his employees.

I don’t think Mr. Robot is without merit. But the over-the-top twists and ridiculousness of the plot overwhelm some of the more interesting aspects of the show. I was initially furious with the twists, and felt like the show had been overwhelmed with gimmickry, and I still feel that to be true to some extent. With more time though, while I’m still frustrated with what was an uneven first season that was never as brilliant as many of its internet backers believe, there’s a real opportunity for the second season. Mr. Robot made a mark this first season and the second season will be a chance to start fresh and decide what kind of show it wants to be. Twists are out of the way; it’s time to dive in to pure substance and explore beyond the initial parameters of the catch-all plot.

Summer 2015 Review: Mr. Robot

26 Jun

Mr. Robot

Mr. Robot is on USA and is a USA show in just about every way. USA over the past couple of years has attempted to get a little more serious and dark than their early Blue Sky days of White Collar and Royal Pains, perfect due to their decline in ratings and prestige. Mr. Robot fits perfectly into this evolution of USA. As for most USA shows, the floor for Mr. Robot is high while the ceiling is low. Mr. Robot is commendably competent and entertaining and snappy enough to make me consider watching another episode, but not quite interesting or different or superior enough to make me actually do it.

Protagonist Elliott is a master hacker. He works for a cyber-security firm by day, which he’s great at, but hates, helping protect evil one-percenter corporations and conglomerates, the biggest of which is his firm’s chief client, the eponymous E. Corp, known informally by the employees as Evil Corp. At night, he hacks to uphold his own personal sense of justice. In the first scene he confronts a coffee shop owner who is unbeknownst to anyone else running a kiddie porn ring, which Elliott discovered while hacking and then informed the police about.

Elliott is a Character, like all USA protagonists. He’s got paranoid delusions and serious social anxiety issues, and has trouble making friends or interacting in normal human fashion. He has one friend, Angela, who he seems interested in romantically, a shrink, who he likes, but who can’t seem to reach him, and a drug dealer who he occasionally sleeps with. Angela has a stereotypical white fratty boyfriend; the boyfriend’s love of Josh Groban is used as a point against him by Elliott.

Elliott sees signs of big evil wherever he goes; men in suits, watching him, waiting for him, but he’s also self-aware that he is delusional. This makes it all the stranger when he’s approached by Christian Slater, who he’s seen twice before ambling around the city, in a subway station, telling Elliott to follow him. Elliott finds that Slater has assembled a crack team of hackers, whose goal is to take down Evil Corp, which in one way or another, holds the digital information on loans and debt for millions and millions of ordinary folks. Taking down Evil Corp, thus, will result in cyber justice, a great wealth redistribution, taking money out of the hands of the rich and powerful and putting it in the hands of the people. Think of them as a hacker Occupy movement willing to break the law to achieve their means.

It’s not the entirely of the show by any means, but the politics of these hackers are vastly problematic; vague and poorly thought through at best. There’s a cheapness and a laziness to dealing with such an over generic political philosophy that sound great as a sound bite, but doesn’t bother to deal with any real life complexities. Have regular people been screwed by big companies on the whole, causing a frustrating feeling of general powerless? Sure.  There are real issues and even occasional crimes propagated by big companies; in the great 2008 financial collapse, corporate behavior along with other factors helped lead to the collapse. But these issues need to be reckoned with in a manner befitted the complexities of the problem; to simply say, destroy this company, free the world is lazy and naïve.

Murky politics aside, the show has its positive qualities. USA is skilled at putting on air shows that know how to pull viewers into their storylines, and Mr. Robot does this nicely. Production values are solid; the show looks good and is legitimately filmed in New York, which is always a plus to me. But there’s just something missing. Mr. Robot feels like it follows one too many tropes. The main character is a little too much of a Character. Maybe these will work themselves out, the show will get more complex and interesting as it goes along. But based on the show and USA’s reputation I’m not sure there’s enough to go on for me to keep going on faith alone.

Will I watch it again? No. I considered watching it again. It was in no way bad. But, USA-style, it wasn’t quite good enough either.