4 out of 5
Created by: William Bridges and Brett Goldstein
I massively underestimated this. Firstly – it’s on AMC. AMC has had some undeniable hits and classics, but its premiers of the past couple of years have included some of the worst written shows of the recentish TV seasons. Secondly – from a Black Mirror writer, and the show has a near-future premise, so… whoopee, more tired Twilight Zone ripoffs. Third: this near-future premise concerns an app that matches people with their “true” soulmates, and combined with Black Mirror cynicism, I was sure that would equal continual ‘follow your heart’ platitudes that my love-less self wasn’t very interested in.
But there’s some kind of middle-ground there, between the cynicism and platitudes, that resulted in something very surprising. Also, using the soulmate meet-up as the required grounding of each episode, instead of being limiting, seemed to give the writers a perfect sense of focus – characters were allowed to feel real and crisp, and not just in service of a twist, and because of the limit, we can’t just offer up the same message over and over, so various view points of love and relationships are taken. Some of this can be read as “woke” messaging – openness to non-monogamous relationships, for example – but that’s not every episode, and when we do go there, the writing comes by it honestly, and legitimately.
Of course, a short, six-episode season may also help, as does casting this thing with an insane amount of talent – Bill Skarsgård, Shamier Anderson, Sarah Snook, Malin Åkerman, and tons more. I also dug that unlike Black Mirror, our directors aren’t permanently stuck in tweaked, cold / over-saturated, future-vision visuals, instead giving us darker or lighter tones that match the vibe of each episode, which can range from horrfic to comedic. (Although the dumbass clear cellphone thing of every sci-fi show is still here, which I will never understand.)
With each episode, I kept expecting the concept to break, and with each episode, I found myself torn away from whatever multi-tasking I was doing, wanting to see where we were going with this. Sometimes, Black Mirror’s build-up-to-a-flat-ending does rear its head – the second episode, starring David Costabile feels this way – but even in that case, the performances and journey along the way are richer, and more involving. And ultimately, “where we were going with this” was somewhere that appreciably surprised cynical, platitude-offerin’ ol’ me.