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I love the anthology format, the idea that an audience can sit down each week to watch a series they enjoy yet not know exactly what they are about to see. There is a beauty to it, particularly in this modern world where there’s an over-abundance of information. With the vast array of sites, blogs and tweets available at the touch of our fingertips – I’ll occasionally watch a movie, already knowing the twists and ending from having it spoiled – it brings some mystery back into entertainment.
Channel 4, no doubt kicking themselves after having lost runaway anthology hit Black Mirror to Netflix, attempt to fill the gap with Electric Dreams – a new series in which each episode will adapt a story from legendary sci-fi author Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?). I’m sure many pieces will be written comparing the new show to Charlie Brooker’s. Yet, Electric Dreams’ pilot, the sci-fi noir “The Hood Maker”, played more like a blending of the Dick’s previous and best film adaptations: Blade Runner and Minority Report.
Bastille Day’s Richard Madden, channelling Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard although more fun (a running gag about his hat could be in fact an Indiana Jones homage), stars as Agent Ross – a detective in a dystopian future. Teeps (slang for telepaths) exist in this world and are feared by humans, who’ve pushed the “mutants” into the slums. However, Ross’ superiors feel that they can use the power to see thoughts and stamp out crime. The agent is paired with the mind-reading Honor (a bewitching Holiday Grainger – The Borgias). The duo’s first task is to find who has been manufacturing hoods with the ability to protect thoughts from being invaded. Meanwhile on the fringes, the marginalised Teeps plan an uprising.
Although some of the nocturnal scenes were lit slightly too dark, the set-design was impressive. One apartment set moment in particular – in which the dystopian metropolis is seen by night with neon shining in distance – really taps into Blade Runner nostalgia. The world felt lived in as portions of the drama set in the slums evoked the crumbling, shanty-like atmosphere of District 9. The teleplay by Matthew Graham (creator of Life on Arms) did a solid job in putting Dick’s rather deep themes regarding the power of thought and privacy and the dangers of an all-seeing state (all while adding some modern NSA allegory into the mix) and bottling them into a more digestible hour of television.
The Hood Maker takes a little time to fully connect with its viewer, starting slowly but then gradually weaving together disparate characters and stories. What helps the slow burn is Grainger’s fascinatingly quiet and melancholic turn, as well as Paul Ritter (also in the underrated Neil Gaiman anthology Likely Stories) seen briefly as a sleazy government official seen paying a Teep prostitute to read his depraved thoughts. Eventually, however, everything comes together as the pilot closes out with a series of surprising and well-executed reveals, ending with one of those rare, brilliant final moments which wrap everything up but leave room for audience interpretation. All in all, a gripping hour of sci-fi, one that will have me tuning in for the next instalments every Sunday at 9.00 p.m.