Review: Foundation (Season 1, 2021)

Foundation (2021) Foundation (2021)

Striking visuals, messy storytelling, and Lee Pace.

Of all the visuals – bold coloured lighting, mostly great VFX (especially for a series), and stunningly designed and rendered environments – the single most beautiful element of Foundation is Lee Pace. As one of three clones ruling the galaxy as Empire, Pace exudes lithe, cruel, statuesque majesty in every scene.

Sadly, however, even Brother Day isn’t enough to save Foundation from its messy storytelling. In this adaptation of (part of) Isaac Asimov‘s ‘Foundation’ series, the concepts unique to this material, such as psychohistory (the idea that math can predict the behaviour of masses of people, but not the actions of individuals) and themes more universal to the science fiction genre (such as what it is to be human in a world where clones and AI have been around for centuries), are devoured by exhausting “chosen one” narratives, clunky action sequences, disappointing mystery boxes, gratuitous soap opera twists and turns (which make diminishingly less sense as certain plots go along), and exposition.

So. Much. Exposition – not of high sci-fi concepts, mind you, but of events which would have worked just fine if actually portrayed in this, y’know, show-don’t-tell medium.

It’s kind of baffling to be honest: the early episodes offer what feels like gradual setup for payoffs which will surely come in the later episodes, but all of that ultimately serves as little more than table-setting for characters to just tell eachother about more interesting stuff that happened off screen. The show seemingly has a quota of twists, evidently for their own sake, which are more frustrating than shocking, and are certainly not supportive or illustrative of the concepts and themes introduced. Basically, it’s a lack of confidence in the material.

Foundation season 1 unfortunately confirmed my apprehensions about committing to ten hours of viewing that might not pay off thematically. It’ll take a lot of good word-of-mouth for me to tune in for season 2.

Further Viewing

As a well-read Asimov fan, Sage Hyden aka Just Write offers a detailed comparison of the series with the source material – in which he decides that, interestingly, the most and least effective parts of the former aren’t necessarily proportionately due to their fealty to the latter:

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