Television

Electric Dreams Is a Sci Fi Anthology Series That Warns Against Safe Spaces

The show, based on the work of Philip K. Dick, is like Black Mirror but if people were sometimes good.

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Foster
Screenshot via Amazon Video

Black Mirror got you down? Sci-fi enthusiasts should try out a similar yet less depressing new anthology series, Electric Dreams, which became available for streaming on Amazon Video last week.

The series, based on the work of science fiction author Philip K. Dick and named after his famous novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, is absolutely terrific. I've now watched all 10 episodes, each of which take on a separate and distinct sci-fi premise: a post-apocalyptic society, the breeding of artificial humans, an alien invasion, virtual reality, etc.

The usual technology-is-going-to-kill-us-all themes pervade Electric Dreams, inviting comparisons with Black Mirror, an extremely popular British anthology series known for its deeply cynical treatment of mankind's reliance upon machines. But Electric Dreams restrains itself somewhat. Two of the episodes, "Autofac" and "Impossible Planet," introduce robots with seemingly sinister intentions, then complicate or outright betray those expectations by the stories' ends. And as far as humanity is concerned, the show's creators "have a lot more faith in the people" than Black Mirror does, observes The Verge's Noel Murray.

Stories about corporations and governments harnessing powerful new technologies often invite libertarian questions, and Electric Dreams is no different. Most notably, the final episode, "Kill All Others," levels an obvious and timely criticism at the creeping totalitarianism of a government that loudly eliminates dissent while an apathetic populace shrugs and changes the channel. Another episode, "Safe and Sound," has a bunch of specifically libertarian axes to grind. (Minor spoilers to follow.) It stars Maura Tierney (The Affair) as Irene Lee, a political activist who leaves her home in a self-governed "bubble" within a futuristic United States to spend a year as an ambassador of sorts to a purportedly terrorism-prone major city. That no actual terrorist attacks have occurred is something widely known to bubble denizens, but people within the city receive a constant barrage of government-filtered news about barely thwarted attacks and threats of violence. Irene's daughter Foster accompanies her to the city, but finds it difficult to adjust to a new school, where outsiders are bullied for being potential terrorists.

In a stroke of genius, the episode's writers make the school a metaphor for the absurdity of safe spaces. The students are surrounded by invasive and unnecessary security measures designed to make them feel both comfortable and protected from threats that aren't actually real. One student even complains that Foster's presence makes her feel unsafe. Later, when Foster begs Irene to buy her a "dex," a kind of iPad that doubles as a government tracking device—it would help her fit-in at school—mom objects on grounds that "I really don't want you to surrender what little freedom they allow you to have." Foster counters, "It's not a surrender, it's security. People need to know I'm safe." The villain of the episode is even a "so-called consumer rights advocate"; instead of warning customers that the dex is a threat to their privacy, the advocate is not-so-secretly working to making its use mandatory.

The safe-space criticisms may have been too on the nose for some reviewers—Vulture's critic calls it "one of the most sneakily offensive episodes of television I've ever seen" for committing essentially two crimes: casting the mistreated outsiders (Irene and Foster) as white people, thus erasing the minority experience, and stoking a "kind of false-flag paranoia nonsense that's best left to Infowars." But that's a bad take. There isn't anything wrong with occasionally consuming a little fiction in which the people pushing safety are gullible, misguided, or outright evil.

Episodes ranked, from best to worst: "The Commuter," "Safe and Sound," "Autofac," "Kill All Others," "Human Is," "The Father Thing," "Real Life," "Impossible Planet," "The Hood Maker," "Crazy Diamond."

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20 responses to “Electric Dreams Is a Sci Fi Anthology Series That Warns Against Safe Spaces

  1. It might help to say where this program is available. The pic caption and hyperlink are the only clues this is from Amazon.

    1. All I need to know is “streaming” which means more money on top of my already expensive cable bill. Pass.

      1. Get rid of the cable.

        1. Get off my lawn.

          1. Where else am I supposed to poop?

      2. It’s Amazon prime. Which while it seems pricy due to a yearly rather than a monthly charge, is actually cheaper than Netflix. Plus it come with the Amazon Prime package. It pays for itself with free shipping if you shop at Amazon with any sort of regularity.

        Of course, content is just as limited as any other streaming service.

    2. “Black Mirror got you down? Sci fi enthusiasts should try out a similar, yet less depressing new anthology series, Electric Dreams, which became available for streaming on Amazon Video last week.”

      Was this not in the article you read?

      1. He must have changed it, because it wasn’t in the article when I read it.

  2. Black Mirror got you down?

    Just finished watching yesterday. Mostly excellent with a few meh episodes. White Bear is the best episode, in my opinion.

    1. I enjoyed Black Mirror more than Electric Dreams overall.

      National Anthem was pretty cool, and I actually enjoyed the “positive” episodes San Junipiero and Hang the DJ from the latest 2 seasons.

      I still think Phillip K. Dick is one of the most overrated sci-fi writers out there.

      And I still don’t understand how his book The Man in the High Castle won a Hugo award.

      1. Hated in the Nation and Shut Up and Dance probably tie for second favorite for me.

        I actually enjoyed the “positive” episodes San Junipiero and Hang the DJ

        I also appreciated that those didn’t go dark. The only problem with this type of show is that eventually it becomes predictable and so the surprise twist is less and less of a surprise as time goes on. Men Against Fire was obvious to me about three minutes in.

  3. Now this I would watch.

    I enjoy good sci fi anthology shows, but I sometimes get bored of constant dystopian stories. Given that our own reality is pretty dystopic, it would be nice to see some more optimistic takes on the future once in a while.

    1. I hate that it seems like most hopeful sci-fi inevitably paints a good freedom less Utopia. Rather than a freedom filled future.

      I guess we can read Heinland.

      1. I love Robert A. Heinlein too!

    2. The problem with optimism is that you have to ignore human nature and the current trajectory to get there.

  4. Episodes ranked, from best to worst…

    Reason commenters ranked them exactly the opposite.

  5. There isn’t anything wrong with occasionally consuming a little fiction in which the people pushing safety are gullible, misguided, or outright evil.
    We know, Robby. We know.

    (There’s a little elderly uncle in me, and he’s grinning and elbowing you so’s you know we’re talking about you. Fondly talking about you, but in a manner designed to denigrate and piss you off while simultaneously making sure you can’t do anything about it ‘coz actually we like you.

    Family fucking sucks. Give us a hug, L’Oreal!)

  6. mom objects on grounds that “I really don’t want you to surrender what little freedom they allow you to have.” Foster counters, “It’s not a surrender, it’s security. People need to know I’m safe.”

    Usually, it’s parents telling their children that they (parents) need to know that they (children) are safe. Interesting reversal there.

  7. I’ve watched a couple of episodes. The one with Anna Paquin and Terrence Howard and the one with Steve Buscemi. They were both surprisingly good. I plan to watch a few more when I get the chance.

  8. Just FYI, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” is a novel, not a short story. (It’s the one that “Blade Runner” was based on.)

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