Saturday, August 13, 2016

Review: Mr. Robot

Unlike dead astronauts, fiction doesn't exist in a vacuum. SF especially.

Good SF writers comment on and push off against the clumps of SF convention that have built up before them. William Gibson's "Neuromancer" was such a slap in the face. Neal Stephenson's "The Diamond Age" was a similar slap to cyberpunk. 

On and on it goes. Tropes accumulate like crap in the garage. Good SF writers have garage sales. Good SF writers turn the tropes inside out ...

If cyberpunk assassin babes invariably dress in leather, make your hit girl dress like Donna Reed.

Good SF writers don't chop up body parts from the good stuff that's come before them. They don't sew Frankenstein's Monsters together out of the severed bits and pray for lightening.

Like, say Sam Esmail -- the creator of "Mr. Robot."

Jesus H. Tap-Dancing Christ.

What an astonishing exercise in rip-offery. Hell, you could get yourself a great drinking game. Just watch the show, and throw back a shot every time you spot some stolen schtick.

"Fight Club."
Gulp!
"Blade Runner."
Gulp!
"Pi."
Gulp!
"The Matrix."
Gulp!

Yeah, speaking of which ...

If you're going to steal from something, at least take the trouble to lampshade it.

There's a scene in the pilot. Hacker outlaw extraordinaire Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) takes misfit junkie hacker Elliot Alderson up on the Wonder Wheel at Coney Island. I'm half expecting the "Cuckoo Clock" riff from "The Third Man." But no.

The dialog goes ...

Mr Robot: Let me tell you why you're really here. You're here because you sense something wrong with the world. Something you can't explain. But you know it controls you and everyone you care about.
Elliot: What are you talking about? 
Mr. Robot: Money.

Which is a red pill away from that scene in "The Matrix" where Trinity drops a truth bomb on Neo in the throbbing blue light of the S&M club ...

Trinity: I know why you're here, Neo. I know what you've been doing... why you hardly sleep, why you live alone, and why night after night, you sit by your computer. You're looking for him. I know because I was once looking for the same thing. And when he found me, he told me I wasn't really looking for him. I was looking for an answer. It's the question that drives us, Neo. It's the question that brought you here. You know the question, just as I did.
Neo: What is the Matrix?

Yeah, yeah. Seen it a thousand times. Like 75% of the bloody target audience.

A decent writer would know that. Their script would read ...

Mr. Robot: Let me tell you why you're really here. You're here because you sense something wrong with the world. Something you can't explain. But you know it controls you and everyone you care about.
Elliot: You mean the Matrix?
Mr. Robot: No, asshole. Money.

See. A little elbow to the ribs makes everything all right. Avoids that whole awkward, insulting-the-viewer's-intelligence thing.

Nah. No elbows here.

We're serving up dead, stolen tropes piping hot!

Speaking of which, guess what they name the evil corporation?

The Evil Corporation.

Seriously. How'd that come up in the writers' room?

Hack #1: What do we name the evil corporation?
Hack #2: How about the Evil Corporation?
Hack #1: You mean a joke? Like Dr. Evil?
Hack #2: No! It's totally serious!

And, yeah, yeah, they're really the "E" Corporation (with a tell-tale slanted Enron "E.") Brain-fried, Asperger's Elliot simply translates that to "Evil Corporation" in his mind.

Well of course he does. Sure.

Because anything else would be an insult to the intelligence of a garden slug.

Which "Mr. Robot" is, kids.

A stitched up corpse of non-reanimated cliche fragments that never felt the Galvanic shock of life.

"Mr. Robot" is the cyberpunk equivalent of a Western with an evil cattle baron, a whore with a heart of gold, a righteous sheriff, and a town in peril because the railroad's coming through. "Blazing Saddles," more or less. But "Blazing Saddles" made a joke out of the cliches! "Mr. Robot" is dead serious. It takes itself dead seriously.

It's calculated fan service to the Occupy Wall Street wannabes.

It's "Destry Rides Again."

And it's dead on the slab.




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