TV Review: Altered Carbon

SYNOPSIS: Set in a future where consciousness is digitized and stored, a prisoner returns to life in a new body and must solve a mind-bending murder to win his freedom.

Altered Carbon, Netflix, TV Review, Science Fiction, Joel Kinnaman, James Purefoy

REVIEW: Back when Stranger Things debuted, I declared that Netflix had found their successor to Game of Thrones. With HBO's sprawling epic coming to a close next season, every network is looking for the series that will pick up the pop culture mantle and turn into a phenomenon. While Stranger Things has the nostalgia factor, Altered Carbon is the show that will truly replace Game of Thrones. While this is a science fiction series and not a fantasy, Altered Carbon is a blend of adult drama, action, violence, sex, and ambitious storytelling that can only be done on a premium scale. This show is a cross between AKIRA, TOTAL RECALL, BLADE RUNNER and HBO's Westworld. It is exciting, complex, and really fun to watch. This is going to not only be the most buzzed about show of the next few months but I am confident it will be at the top of every Best Of list for 2018.

Altered Carbon follows Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman), a wanted terrorist who is killed and awakens 250 years in the future. In this world, science has developed the ability to contain all human consciousness into a small disc set in the base of the neck. When a person dies, this disc, or stack, can be removed and implanted in another body, or sleeve as they are called, rendering people virtually immortal. Like a zombie, trauma to the spine, neck, or head will permanently kill you but otherwise if you can afford it, you are able to come back over and over again. Kovacs' prior sleeve, played by actor Byron Mann, was involved with a group of revolutionaries going against the government. Now, he is under the employ of Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy), the richest man in the world. His mission: to solve the murder of Laurens Bancroft. If that seems like a head scratcher, don't worry, it all makes sense in the context of the show.

What adds to the many layers that makes Altered Carbon so compelling is Kovacs himself. In the series, Kovacs is what is known as an Envoy which are people who have the ability to drop into the stack of anyone on any planet in the galaxy. They then have the ability to quickly adapt to the culture, language, and body they now inhabit. Kovacs is the last Envoy and as he investigates the murder of Bancroft, we get the chance to see multiple actors take a stab at variations of the character. Actors playing versions of Kovacs include Leonardo Nam (Westworld) and Will Yun Lee (THE WOLVERINE). It is also worth noting that the outcries of white-washing here do not fly even though all prior iterations of Kovacs are played by Asian actors with the current version a tall Swedish dude. All the actors play the smartass attitude Kinnaman brings to the part well and the writers do an excellent job of keeping the tone and style consistent throughout each change. Kinnaman usually plays slight variations on the same character (see SUICIDE SQUAD, ROBOCOP, The Killing, House of Cards, etc) but that approach suits this character who is a cross between Snake Plissken and Rick Deckard.

The supporting cast is populated by many faces that should be familiar to genre fans including Dichen Lachman (Joss Whedon's Dollhouse, Being Human), Ato Essandoh (HBO's Vinyl), and Tahmoh Penikett (Battlestar Galactica). James Purefoy is especially good in a duplicitious role that could turn villainous but for now he seems to be a character very similar to BLADE RUNNER characters Tyrell and Niander Wallace. Mexican actress Martha Higareda (STREET KINGS) makes the best of her role which serves both as a foil to Kovacs as well as a potential romantic interest. There is a lot of sexuality in this series but the female characters are far more than objects here as they clearly hold their own with the male actors, especially Renée Elise Goldsberry (Hamilton, The Good Wife) who is a critical character to both Kovacs past and the murder investigation at the core of this first season.

Altered Carbon, Netflix, TV Review, Science Fiction, Joel Kinnaman, James Purefoy

Netflix manages to get everything right with Altered Carbon. From the pitch perfect casting to the direction of the first episode by Miguel Sapochnik (responsible for the iconic Game of Thrones episodes "Hardhome" and "The Battle of the Bastards"), the series looks and feels like a major studio blockbuster. The script from Laeta Kaleogridis (ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL, SHUTTER ISLAND) takes the very complex source material and converts it into a complex drama. Set over 10 episodes, Altered Carbon barely scratches the surface of the dense mythology that could sustain this story for countless seasons. Like many shows on television, this is not meant for general audiences. Altered Carbon is the equivalent of an R-rated film and has copious violence and nudity. So those looking for something PG-13 should look elsewhere.

Altered Carbon is definitely a winner and showcases a level of production values never before reached by Netflix. While it may not be the cyberpunk adaptation that fans of Neuromancer have been waiting years to see, it certainly will reinvigorate mainstream audiences to seek out more stories in the genre. Kalogridis does some triumphant world building in this season which I hope gets explored in future story cycles over the years. This series is certainly going to win some technical awards but the real acclaim is going to come from fans. Some may dismiss this as being just a detective story with a genre twist, but I am loving it as much more than that. This is a show that you should binge immediately and actually warrants additional viewings to dissect and pull apart the myriad layers of the story. Netflix made the brilliant choice to release this during the time of year that not much is hitting movie theaters and it serves as great counter-programming to the Super Bowl. Altered Carbon is one of the best shows of the year and it is only February. 

The entire first season of ALTERED CARBON is now streaming on Netflix.

Source: JoBlo.com



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