And that is the thrust Electric Dreams’ first episode the Hood Maker: a retro-future with the urgency of the present.
Starring Richard Madden (Game of Thrones) and Holliday Grainger (Strike), the Hood Maker, is set in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic society riven by divisions of class as well as between ‘normals’ and telepaths – derogatively known as ‘teeps’. In the absence of any telecommunication, telepaths serve as the Internet personified.
Fear not; this isn't another premise-heavy science fiction show, wherein you have to sit through half an hour of dense-sciencey explanations for a meagre reward (we're looking at you Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets). What is masterful about this story is that, despite its fantastical elements, it's simply about humans.
We follow two detectives – Agent Ross (Madden) and his ‘teep’ partner, Honor (Grainger) – as they try to find the manufacturer of hoods that shield the wearer’s mind from scrutiny. The grimey slums that form the episode's backdrop – proving once again that, where possible, real scenes are better than CGI – make for a low-tech version of Blade Runner (which was based on Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep).
This series is built as much through subtle interactions as explosive violence. Prejudice against the ‘teeps’ percolates down to the minutiae of Honor’s relations with her colleagues. But their discomfort is not entirely illegitimate. Like some sort of human GCHQ, Honor picks through the motivations of protesters to identify those ‘to watch’ and those that are less committed to fighting the government use of telepathy. In a particularly harrowing scene, Honor reduces someone to the Freudian core of his psyche.
The question of motive is the central driving force of detective stories, but the Hood Maker subverts that question, forcing us to ask whether understanding people’s motivations is always useful, or even necessary. But The Hood Maker also demands we examine what makes our identity: our actions, our thoughts, our ideologies, our jobs, or our communities.
The next nine episodes of Electric Dreams feature an all-star cast and stories that that promise to be just as compelling.
Timothy Spall searches for a non-existent town in The Commuter – an episode which also stars Tuppence Middleton (War and Peace, Dickensian). Janelle Monae (Moonlight, Hidden Figures) plays Alexis in Autofac, a post-apocalyptic commentary on consumerism.
So, if you want to watch some beautifully shot, well acted, and challenging TV, then sit down this Sunday at 9pm, tune into Channel 4, and watch Electric Dreams. If the first episode is anything to go by, it will be better than Black Mirror.
|Electric Dreams: the Hood Maker, Channel 4 review
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17 Sep 17 – 19 Nov 17, 9:00 PM – 10:00 PM