Written by David Quinn
Everyone in TV is desperately hoping to find the next series which will capture the imagination of the world like Game Of Thrones has; they’re all trying to find the magical mix of intrigue, great characters, sexiness, and stunning visuals that makes GoT such a hit.
HBO has given us Westworld as a stop-gap between GoT seasons, but it too has incredible production timelines meaning that it is now looking like being a season every two years, if we’re lucky! The Shanarra Chronicles also attempted to bring large-scale fantasy to the small screen, but its recent cancellation announcement seems to indicate that it just couldn’t find an audience. We tapped back into the Oz stories with Emerald City with limited success, and while Outlander‘s time travelling steaminess has drawn a large audience it still hasn’t captured the public’s imagination as much as the A Song Of Ice And Fire.
So, do we continue to seek out high-fantasy stories in our quest for adult genre entertainment, or is it perhaps time to look to a different sub-genre? Is it Cyberpunk’s time to shine? Netflix is laying its creds on the table and saying “Yes” in a big way.
Altered Carbon is based on a successful hard-boiled Cyberpunk novel released in 2002 by Richard K Morgan, though its TV translation feels like its chewed through the pages of William Gibson and Philip K. Dick, then washed them down with a long, tall glass of Blade Runner and Johnny Mnemonic… It’s VERY Cyberpunk! And this is really exciting to see on the small screen, especially as it’s being done with the kind of detailed design and budget that it really needs to make it work.
This show oozes style and creativity while weaving a wonderfully complex plot in and around a lot of truly fascinating world-building. As the episodes fly by, you’ll find out more and more about the history of the characters and the world they inhabit. You’re presented with a dizzying amount of information which is carefully set up and paid off over time, so you’re constantly feeling like you’re getting smarter just as the characters are learning things as well.
The plot centres on Takeshi Kovacs, a highly trained infiltration soldier (or Envoy) who has been “dead” for about 250 years. He is resurrected in a new body (called a Sleeve) and given the task of finding the murderer of a man who isn’t dead; a man who is hundreds of years old and is richer than anyone on earth. Takeshi must negotiate cybernetically enhanced twins, murderous artificial intelligence and a society where anyone can wear any body they like (if they have the right amount of money), to find out who the murderer is and why he has been brought back to catch them.
The Cyberpunk/film noir tropes are out in force here, with dangerous femme fatales and powerful rich men with mysterious agendas lurking around every corner. It isn’t so much pulp as to be cheesy, though, and the most enjoyable thing about the show is that it expects you to be smart: In fact, it demands it. It asks huge metaphysical questions about the nature of life and humanity, but weaves them around a murder plot that could be lifted from the pages of any hard-boiled detective story.
Joel Kinnaman (Suicide Squad and House Of Cards) heads up the large ensemble cast which features two Supanova Supa- Star alumni, Dichen Lachman and Tahmoh Penikett, in important roles. Martha Higareda is the feisty detective Kristin Ortega whose relationship with Kovacs is extremely complicated and James Purefoy is having a lot of fun as the mercurial Laurens Bancroft, a man who is so rich he has survived his own murder. Chris Connor’s A.I. character Poe, however, is a complete show stealer and is one of the great joys in the series from episode one on!
Netflix is onto a winner with this series; it’s intelligent, exciting and full of promising stories which will keep us coming back (hopefully) for many years to come. There are at three books featuring the character of Takeshi Kovacs, which means we have at least a few more years of stories, and interestingly, should the need arise they can recast any of their characters at any time. It feels like the beautiful love child of Blade Runner and The Expanse, with a super-tight script and a wealth of creative ideas to explore. You’ll be tempted to binge this one in a single sitting, and we wouldn’t blame you if you did! But maybe taking the time to mull over the concepts a bit might give this even more longevity. Plus, if it’s like all the other great shows on TV nowadays, it’s gonna be a long time between seasons.
Altered Carbon premieres on Netflix Feb 2.