There was a time in my life when I would be happy watching a lot of rubbish on television. I made my way through seven seasons of Criminal Minds, all the Charlie Sheen episodes of Two And A Half Men and I would watch Neighbours on a regular basis (if you think any of these shows are good, I apologise but maybe one day, you too will appreciate the error of your ways). That was until I watched Breaking Bad and I realised that my whole life had been a lie. What I had thought to be good television was anything but and my standards instantly raised to an almost impossible level. This was both a good thing and a bad thing, on the one hand I had watched one of the greatest television shows ever made, while on the other, a lot of the shows I had enjoyed now seemed sub-par when compared to Breaking Bad. That is why it is extremely exciting when a new show meets those standards and although I’ve probably already spoiled my thoughts on this show, I now bring you my spoiler-free review of Mr. Robot.
A few thoughts ran through my mind when I first saw the title, Mr. Robot. Firstly I thought, “what a stupid name for a drama, surely this is a comedy”; secondly, damn that is a cool font, and finally I was confident that the theme song would be “Mr Roboto” by Styx. Ten episodes later and the only thought left in my mind is, “damn this such a great show”. Mr. Robot tells the twisted tale of Elliot (Remi Malek), an elite hacker who is recruited by the mysterious Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) and his group of internet vigilantes known as “fsociety”. Elliot is something of a double agent as he works for a cyber security company that protects corporations during the day and hacks those very corporations during the night.
After a synopsis of the story it’s very hard to find many other words to describe this show. It really is like no other show I’ve ever watched. The direction is always slightly off giving the audience just enough to follow the story but not quite enough for every detail and there is a dark tint that gives the show a grimy feel of suspicion of underground activities. A baffling aspect is the absolute mistrust of democracy, in fact one of the promotions for the show literally says, “f**k society”. It’s a very brave stance to take, one that is rarely seen in other American shows and never to this extent. For all these interesting aspects I would say the best way to describe Mr. Robot would be unique. Either that or Fight Club, Mr. Robot is a TV adaptation of Fight Club with a better story.
Ironically, like a giant corporation, it’s the little aspects of this show that work together to build something much more impressive. These little things are very subtle and if you blink you may miss them (which I’m sure I have done as well), but it’s this confidence in the audience that makes the future of the show very hopeful. At no point does Mr. Robot assume its audience is dumb and it proves this by blurring the lines between reality and Elliot’s illusions. The giant corporation of E Corp is always referred to as “Evil Corp” by the characters but in reality it is more likely how Elliot chooses to hear the actual name. There is also the fact that the narration for the show is explained as Elliot talking to his imaginary friend that he has invented to escape his anxieties. The music is as they say, on point and even the episode titles are conforming to a theme that would make it a lot more annoying for people to pirate the show. Finally, probably the most important element of the show is computers and Mr. Robot has got the most realistic representation of computers ever. While I’m not a computer genius, I at least understand as much as Mr. Robot understands that keyboards do not beep when you type something.
It’s not just the writing and the direction that make Mr. Robot so good; the cast do an excellent job of bringing this story to life. Elliot is the role that Remi Malek was born to play, his anxious mannerisms, hunched gait and distracted looks give you half the story of his character before he even opens his mouth. When that comes around, Malek succeeds in the impressive task of narrating the show without it making it annoying. The other members of fsociety all do a beautiful job as well but none more so than Carly Chaikin, who plays Darlene. What amazes me about Chaikin’s performance is that she continuously steps up to the plate when she is needed. To begin with, Darlene is a mysterious, shady character that purposely gets on your nerves but as the story demands it she becomes much more likable and clear-cut. Since I’m handing out the praise, it wouldn’t be fair if I left Martin Wallström out of the mix. His character, Tyrell Wellick is the Senior Vice President for E Corp and genuinely one of the most despicable characters ever to disgrace the screen. It’s rare for an actor to do such a good job of portraying their character that your feelings for their character spill over to reality, but I can feel the hate swell up inside me when I see Wellick’s face and considering he is a Swedish actor, he does an impeccable American accent. Christian Slater is also in this show and I probably should mention him since he is the titular character but as always he plays the role of the Christian Slater character, even down to the baseball cap in his back pocket. Fortunately this isn’t a distraction as it normally is since Mr. Robot is more Christian Slater than Christian Slater.
After all my sycophantic gushing for the show, I must admit that Mr. Robot does have its flaws. With the exception of maybe Angela (Portia Doubleday), all the female characters seem very much like women written by men. Which is strange considering Kate Erickson is on the writing staff but as the series continues I have faith that this will change. Another problem with the female characters is that it’s easy to confuse Darlene and Shyla (Frankie Shaw) at the beginning. Both are alternative, grungy chicks with attitude and brunette hair, so it took me until the third episode to be able to distinguish between the two. The show’s twist may be called by some people as very predictable but I would disagree. On paper it may seem obvious but with all the tricks Mr. Robot has up its sleeve, they manage to keep the audience guessing along with the characters.
Mr. Robot has one of the best pilots I’ve ever seen on television, one that is interesting right from the start. I’m not the only one of that opinion and the USA Network decided to renew the show for a second series right off the back of the praise for the show’s online release of the pilot alone. Sam Esmail and his writing team managed to do what Nic Pizzolatto tried and failed to do with True Detective season two, tell a complicated story in an uncomplicated manner. I’m incredibly excited to see where the show will go next and there is an unlimited amount of routes open to the writers for the next season. As I’ve said before, this show is my tip for the next big show to get people talking and I can only echo the words of Styx, “Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto”.