WWhy this and why now? These are questions viewers of Showtime’s new series The Man Who Fell to Earth may ask themselves in the expansive existential sense, wondering what combination of choices has led them down the path that leads to the umpteenth and perhaps most inessential entry into the recent Boom of the miniseries motivated by streaming. But it’s also worth asking this in literal terms: even in our current showbiz paradigm of gobbling up ravenous, unchecked IP, what could have compelled TV execs to license a semi-dark ’70s sci-fi gem? with dense philosophical foundations and renew it? so thoroughly that it might as well be its own thing? Does Nicolas Roeg’s 1976 film have such a strong cultural market share that the brand recognition of its title cannot be overlooked? And more to the point, why take one of the greatest movies ever made and stretch it out to ten hours, trade its borderline experimental cinematography for smooth, functional digital filmmaking, and force a perfectly serviceable star like Chiwetel Ejiofor Stand the comparison to the inspired inscrutability of David Bowie playing the alien he had always been?
The show gives us the real answer to all of this quickly enough, introducing Faraday (Ejiofor) in the midst of one of the buzz-making product launches that give today’s CEOs a platform for Steve Jobs cosplay. In his hand, he holds a small box containing something he claims will change the world, though he has more to back up his claim than most Silicon Valley gadget gurus. Like Bowie’s Thomas Newton before him, Faraday hails from the planet Althea (an Avatar-like earth rendered in cheap CGI), and he too brought the key to quantum fusion with him when he fled drought killing his people on a mission to for life. holding the water. Alex Kurtzman and Jenny Lumet’s miniseries positions itself as a sequel to Roeg’s film, alluding to Bowie’s memory and revisiting aged and recast versions of existing characters. But they’ve still recycled the original premise, with the more current look now brought to the fore. This alien’s relevance is renewed by turning him into a start-up sucker, his dreamy parable of corrupted purity turned into a more earthy direction of big tech.
Writing partners Kurtzman and Lumet specialize in draining nuance from the genre’s beloved properties, whether it’s their blockbuster version of The Mummy from the Dark Universe that died in the womb, or their Hannibal Lecter streamer Clarice, canceled afterward. of a season. However, they have failed in the intellectual heavyweight class, Roeg’s techniques and Walter Tevis’s source novel are too heady for their digestion. The miniseries instead opts to shift its commentary to a comfortable lackluster register, devoting much of the first four episodes provided to critics on entry-level astronaut thinking exercises. After the opening of Ted Talk-ish, the timeline flashes back to Faraday’s crash landing like a tabula rasa, albeit with a frustrating lack of consistency in what he does and doesn’t understand. He talks like someone who gives a bad impression of mental disability when he’s not talking like an automaton (one gets the feeling that an actor of Ejiofor’s caliber wasn’t taking notes from official TV directors); His insight into STEM fields seems limitless, however he is baffled by X-rays and doesn’t know how to deep throat with a garden hose.
While this unfamiliar perspective allows the homo sapiens who cross his path to see our emotional human quirks in a sober light, Faraday’s amassed allies, grieving physicist Justin (Naomie Harris), alcoholic venture capitalist Hatch (Rob Delaney ), often distract from the point. . The miniseries form’s reliance on time-filling subplots leaves the urgent pursuit of this gang particularly unfocused, sibling bickering over decades-old patent disputes being little potatoes next to the heat death of the universe. That’s the stakes, Faraday came just in time to save our home from the climate crisis along with his own, and the writing feints in an interesting direction only when it extrapolates the global implications of the premise from him. Hatch recites the calamities that Faraday’s infinite-energy contraption would unleash, concluding that our environment’s last hope for survival could very well kill us by overthrowing capitalism. There’s your TV show.
At least in the first half, there is little interest in going ahead with this exciting hypothesis, the ‘disruption’ taking place in a more conventional way. As much as Kurtzman and Lumet want us to see the business side of science as evil, with its clandestine dealings and freebase cocaine procurement, there is an apparent belief in the groundbreaking innovation they are selling. What the framing of Faraday as the next great genius fails to take into account is that these cults of personality are hollow, built around oddballs like Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk, predominantly adept at peddling the myth of their own brilliance. Bringing Faraday in line with that credulously accepted image tarnishes Bowie’s interpretation of the character as a fallen angel in existential decline, his inventions more of a symbol than a commodity. This ill-conceived appendix misses the big picture to focus on the details of trading; it is a gross perversion of something beautiful, not a tragedy about one.