Television: Mr. Robot

Thanks to the success of shows like House and Sherlock, the latest trend in television is to have an awkward, unlikeable character with bad and/or strange habits and worse social skills at the center. This is fine so long as it's done well, but (as with so many things) it's much harder to do something like this well and very easy to do it badly. A balance must be struck. The character either has to have some redeeming qualities and generally needs at least one, sometimes a crew of supporting characters through which the audience can experience him and see that he's at least human.

I say all this because Mr. Robot falls into this category of show. Central character Elliot (Rami Malek) is indeed strange and awkward and very conscious of it. He's brilliant with computers it seems, but he's terrible with people. He takes morphine to dampen his bouts of depression. He doesn't like to be touched. And he has one somewhat good friend, Angela, whom he works with at a cyber security company. But in his spare time, Elliot targets bad people by hacking them and turns them over to the police. So there: his redemption.

Usually I wouldn't much care for a show that relies so heavily on voice over (we get Elliot's thoughts as he goes along), but it works here. Elliot's supporting crew includes a therapist and what appears to be an illusion of Christian Slater as the titular Mr. Robot. But in reality, it's not 100% clear which of Elliot's experiences are based in reality and which are hallucinations. This is done extremely well in the show, all quite seamless so as to illustrate Elliot's experiences. He is an unreliable narrator, to be sure, but he's also well aware of that. His final words in the pilot: "Tell me you're seeing this too."

For the curious, a quick summary of said pilot: Elliot's company handles cyber security for the massive Evil Corp (yes, really), and when EC's servers go down, Elliot is called in to fix it. He does and finds a message waiting for him in the server, then Mr. Robot (Slater) hits him up on the subway and takes him to "F Society," a hidden group of hackers. Elliot is given an assignment designed to bring down one of Evil Corp's top men, thus starting a global revolution that will allow debts to be wiped out and wealth to be distributed evenly. Elliot does this only to discover there is no F Society—that or they've cleared out quick. And then Elliot is taken by men in a black SUV to the top of a high rise where he is greeted by men in suits, including one Evil Corp lackey who shares Elliot's love of coding.

Based on early buzz, USA Network gave Mr. Robot a second season even before the pilot aired yesterday. Good call. The pilot plays like a movie, if only it had been longer and had a closed ending. One can only hope the show can sustain its intensity, always a trick. But this one has plenty of twists and turns, and I'll certainly keep watching to see where things go.

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