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Review: “Mr. Robot” Hacks TV’s Doldrums

    By Marc Peraino. October 24, 2016 - 3:32 pm

MR. ROBOT -- "eps2.0_unm4sk%u2010pt1.tc" Episode 201 -- Pictured: Rami Malek as Eliot Alderson -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/USA Network)

I’ve waited a long time for a new show to capture my attention and make television exciting once again.

Over the summer, I started watching “Mr. Robot,” a USA Network summer series that is available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video and usanetwork.com.

Created by Sam Esmail, “Mr. Robot” follows Elliott Alderson (Rami Malek), who lives in New York City and works for cybersecurity company Allsafe as a security engineer. Alderson is also an expert hacker and code writer. Moonlighting as a quiet vigilante, Alderson hacks into the lives of everyone around him and alerts the police about those he finds committing crimes online.

He struggles with social anxiety disorder, major depression, and dissociative identity disorder. Although he has a couple friends, Alderson lives an excruciatingly lonely life. Hacking provides him a tenuous connection with others, a way to bypass his inability to communicate and socialize face-to-face.

Alderson’s coding genius is what attracts the attention of a mysterious man who calls himself Mr. Robot (Christian Slater).

Mr. Robot leads an insurrectionary underground hacktivist group known as fsociety. He wants to recruit Alderson to help them carry out a massive hack that will bring down the world’s largest corporation, E Corp, also known as Evil Corp.

E Corp is a giant conglomerate that controls an overwhelming share of the consumer market, as well as the banking industry. They are also Allsafe’s main client, which means Alderson has a backdoor into E Corp. Fsociety aims to destroy E Corp’s data, thereby canceling all consumer debt owed to them. It would be a cyber-revolution that could change the world.

MR. ROBOT -- "eps2.0_unm4sk%u2010pt1.tc" Episode 201 -- Pictured: Carly Chaikin as Darlene -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/USA Network)

From the very beginning, the world of “Mr. Robot” becomes personal as viewers are absorbed into the mind of Alderson, listening to his thoughts as he narrates the story and as he shares his feelings and beliefs about the world.

Alderson often breaks the fourth wall by directing his thoughts at the viewer, addressing them as if they are a new friend. Malek plays Alderson to such idiosyncratic depth, portraying psychological illness and loneliness so beautifully, I found myself completely engaged within minutes. He wears a perpetual wide-eyed haunted expression that makes him an oddly unique TV character.

Alderson doesn’t just tell viewers about his life and his struggles, he shows them. To see him weep on the floor of his dingy apartment as he describes his loneliness with such grimy authenticity takes the show to a whole other level, and that’s just the beginning of the pilot episode. Within those first few minutes, this show had me hook, line, and sinker. I suddenly cared about this weird guy because I could identify with him.

But Alderson and the members of fsociety are not the only characters that make this show so stunning. The antagonists at E Corp get just as much screen time as the protagonists, and they are equally enthralling.

Two such characters are a Scandinavian couple: Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallström) and Joanna Wellick (Stephanie Corneliussen). The two play a wealthy, sociopathic husband-and-wife team seeking to climb the corporate ladder at E Corp. Tyrell hopes to become Chief Technology Officer and Joanna provides him with unwavering support.

The two behave in ways that will make your skin crawl. As a means of achieving the title of CTO, Joanna encourages Tyrell to seduce Sharon Knowles (Michele Hicks), the wife of another potential candidate for the job, Scott Knowles (Brian Stokes Mitchell). Tyrell’s blatant and awkward flirtations with Sharon, which include walking into her bathroom as she’s using the toilet, are cringeworthy. Nothing is off-limits as the Wellicks reach for their goal. What results is behavior that ranges from creepy and freaky, to chilling and grotesque.

“Mr. Robot” impresses on so many levels, it’s no wonder it won both a Golden Globe and a Peabody Award, not to mention six Emmy nominations this year.

The creativity involved in this show is astounding. Each character, from the way they dress to their mannerisms and the way they talk, is fully fleshed out. Mr. Robot and his relationship with Alderson is reminiscent of Jungian archetypal theory, and what unfolds between them is simply fascinating.

The soundtrack of “Mr. Robot” is the most dynamic and compelling I’ve ever encountered on TV. Ranging from baroque classical to ‘80s rock, ‘90s pop, jazz, and everything in between. The music isn’t just good, it’s as engaging as the show itself. The camera work is never monotonous, making use of every angle and shot to the utmost effect.

And if that wasn’t enough, each episode begins with a unique opening sequence, setting the tone for what ensues. The storyline is gripping, bizarre, unexpected, and at times, shocking. It’s so satisfying to watch a group of hackers take on a greedy corporation, but satisfaction wanes in the face of unforeseen consequences. The writing is superb. By balancing wild plot twists and pulling together multiple threads to create a coherent and extraordinary plot, “Mr. Robot” is a work of art.

There are few TV shows that have blown my mind, and the ones that have have long since ended. For a number of years I flipped through the channels finding nothing remarkable, nothing that could hold my attention or make me excited to turn on the TV again. “Mr. Robot” doesn’t just make me excited, it leaves me speechless.

Marc Peraino reviews TV shows and movies for Kalamalama.

Photos courtesy of USA Network.

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