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‘Electric Dreams’ is a New Zone for Morality
January 12, 2018  | By Eric Gould

While the late Philip K. Dick stood above all 20th-century science fiction writers, you probably won’t recognize him by name, but you’ll be well aware of film adaptations of his work including Total Recall, Blade Runner, and The Minority Report.

Now, a new TV anthology of ten episodes based on Dick’s short stories is being released and available for streaming today (Friday, January 12) on Amazon.

Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams will join the recent Amazon production of Dick’s The Man in the High Castle which premiered in 2015 and will have a third season this year.

Dick’s body of work differs wildly from the basic good vs. evil tales of Star Wars and other similar fare that will mean more appeal for those who generally pass on space fantasy. 

A Berkeley dropout and oft-rejected conventional novelist, Dick had enormous output and success in the lower paying science fiction genre, publishing over 40 novels and 100 short stories. His wide interests in religion, classical philosophy, hippie metaphysics, and government authority run amok repeat throughout his works ­– along with equal doses of alternate realities and mental illness, (mirroring some of Dick’s own struggles during his lifetime.)

The Electric Dreams anthologies reprise short stories with those themes in mind. Producer Ronald D. Moore (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Outlander) has joined here with producer Isa Dick Hackett, (daughter of Philip K. Dick and one of the family trustees of his catalog) and has successfully made a series that is high on nuance and the literary quietude of Dick’s fictional worlds, and more or less shorter on hardware and laser blasts.

That doesn’t mean Electric Dreams is short on production values (it’s not) and the future is often rendered startlingly (Episode 2: “Autofac,” Janelle Monae, top) and also peculiar and quirky (Episode 4: “Crazy Diamond”).

Those looking for unexpected and surprising visions of the future will be more than satisfied.

However, given the philosophical nature of Dick’s work and his taste for reversals, not all is obviously unraveled or neatly resolved, and, as it is reminiscent of UK productions with British actors with longer cuts and less twitchy editors, some may find it lacking the punch (and shock) of fellow futurist Netflix anthology Black Mirror.

That comparison just happens to occur right off the bat in Episode 1: “Real Life” (starring Anna Paquin, above) about a future policewoman struggling with survivors guilt from a raid gone bad and her escape into mind-altering virtual reality experiences.

That just happens to track a similar plot line in Black Mirror’s “Playtest,” a tale of a happy-go-lucky virtual game tester gone so horribly wrong it will require you to sleep with the lights on for a week.

Electric Dreams has plenty of star power with co-producer Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad, right) starring and perhaps delivering the most convincing and satisfying performance in Episode 3: “Human Is," as a cold and distant military officer who returns to Earth a surprisingly loving and kind husband after surviving a battle on a far-off planet with remorseless, killer aliens.

Likewise, Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire) delivers the goods as a restless, and unwitting schlub who hatches an illegal plan once smitten with a synthetic woman in the aforementioned “Crazy Diamond."

Maura Tierney, Greg Kinnear, Mireille Enos, Terrance Howard, and Geraldine Chaplin also contribute series credits, making the Electric Dreams roster deep, and providing some of Dick’s unnerving dystopian visions extra gravitas.

With The Twilight Zone, the touchstone of American TV anthologies, Rod Serling well showed that the future and fantasy could set rarefied stages for morality plays that provoked audiences to ponder the larger issues of their current time. 

Electric Dreams builds a similar playhouse and smartly extends that similar territory ­– that lays ahead.

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