Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams: “The Hood Maker”

New to Channel 4 on Sunday nights, “Electric Dreams” is a brand new 10-part anthology series based on the short stories of Philip K. Dick, produced by Bryan Cranston (who stars in a later episode) & “Deep Space Nine”‘s Ronald D. Moore, and featuring an insanely impressive cast roster that includes Steve Buscemi, Anna Paquin and Timothy Spall, just to name a few.

I’m hoping that, just like with last year’s War and Peace , this will be a fine opportunity to do an episode-by-episode review, with Final Thoughts afterwards, and I’ll try to keep it going after every episode. And since these are individual TV episodes, I’m sure hoping that I can relax a little more, not pushing myself too much to do a “proper” review and just giving a few plain, simple thoughts on each episode. 

Just like the good ol’ days when I was just starting out . . . !

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Adapted by Life on Mars‘ Matthew Graham, this first episode takes place in a society in which telepaths (known as “teeps”) live alongside the “normals”, but are made to live like second class citizens in run down ghetto areas, with a growing resentment brewing between the two sides. In the middle of all this, the telepath Honor (Holliday Grainger) works with the local police force, partnered with Agent Ross (Richard Madden) as they both attempt to find the elusive “Hood Maker”, whose custom-made hoods make the wearer immune to telepathic invasion. Honor finds her loyalties tested as she grows closer to Agent Ross but there’s also a call to rebel alongside her fellow “teeps”.

Holliday Grainger holds everything together very well, looking effortlessly cool and confident as she joins in with the investigation but she also manages to show a very credible sense of vulnerability and uncertainty as she deals with the unsettling events that are happening around her. Her character design is appealing and Grainger’s overall performance is multilayered, compelling and accomplished – a far better showcase of her skills than My Cousin Rachel from earlier this year. Richard Madden is also a strong co-lead as the confident, rough-around-the-edges detective, also getting to display some admirable heart and soul – he’s tough but also trustworthy and likeable. Grainger and Madden share some charming chemistry and watching their partnership develop, as they build up a rapport, elevates the episode rather brilliantly. There aren’t really many other cast members to speak of besides Friday Night Dinner‘s Paul Ritter, who is wonderfully repulsive and slimy in his brief role as a Teep brothel attendee.

Despite a bit of a slow start, the episode eventually gains momentum as it “loosens up” a bit and delves into its main themes and issues of the treatment of telepaths and whatnot. It does all build to an interesting conclusion and a thoughtful, meditative revelation but overall, story-wise, I don’t think that the stakes were ever high enough and the episode lacked a bit of urgency and tension. It’s a thoughtful, deliberate, carefully crafted production but I often started wondering just what the main “case” actually was and, despite a couple of surprising, bold scenes, it all felt a little too safe and could have used a little more oomph.

The production design is pretty decent, impressive enough for a UK-based production (well, it does have Bryan Cranston money behind it!), and it’s interesting that although this may very well have been set in the future, there’s also a distinct 70s vibe, especially given Agent Ross’ Gene Hunt-style Ford and the cop shop full of detectives; Mathew Graham is once again proving that he can merge sci-fi with cop dramas quite successfully. There’s also a distinct Blade Runner influence throughout, especially given Agent Ross’ Rick Deckard-style trench coat and handgun, a scene that takes place in murky, torrential rain and also the final sequence which sees Richard Madden slowly making his way through a dilapidated building, gun outstretched. I was honestly expecting Rutger Hauer to come crashing through the wall.

So all in all, this is a solid enough start to what I hope will be a fascinating series; it seems to stay true to the themes and messages of Dick’s work but I hope that future episodes are a tad more risky and ambitious. But “The Hood Maker” is a promising enough start though – two admirable, confident performances, a slow burn mystery to be solved and a fine production design.

B +

No, I haven’t changed my rating system – individual episodes get a grade, the whole series gets a star rating.

Next week: Jack Reynor and Benedict Wong as con-artists!

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