Futuristic stories tend to upend the usual ways we judge an effective story. Every detail of some fictional, far-off future is a storytelling choice in itself. The elements of the recognizable world that get left behind are just as much a part of building out a future world as what’s included or how people interact.
In the new Amazon series “The Feed,” there’s less of an initial attempt to come up with bizarre fashion choices or crazy-tech vehicles. The biggest change is the overall shift to fewer things and greater empty space. Office areas are sparse. Living rooms are bare. Even the streets seem less crowded. That’s due in major part to The Feed, a near-universal technology that works much in the way Google Glass was supposed to. Via a device implanted in each “enabled” user, people can send messages, watch video, even project augmented reality-like changes on their surroundings using simple neural commands.
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In a particularly inspired detail that writer Channing Powell carries over from Nick Clark Windo’s novel, the Feed’s ongoing digital archive is made up of memory bundles, referred to as “mundles.” That blend of the banal and the absurd is a combination that few attempts at futuristic storytelling manage to crack. The way those mundles manifest themselves onscreen is a decently sleek-looking user interface. There’s an effort made to represent using The Feed as something that can be both minimally invasive for casual tasks and all-encompassing for changing the exteriors of entire rooms and other people.
So that vacant stare that comes when you’re scrolling on your phone just becomes a look into the middle distance while you’re “on,” using The Feed. Control, development and implementation of this technology comes via the extremely influential Hatfield family. “The Feed” largely becomes a family drama as they all encounter their respective hangups. Distant patriarch Lawrence (David Thewlis) tries different ways to connect to estranged son Tom (Guy Burnet), while Meredith (Michelle Fairley) exists as the public face of the company.
As the show flows from an unexpected security breach in The Feed’s defenses, Tom’s wife Kate (Nina Toussaint-White) then becomes an unwitting epicenter of a global power struggle, one that ropes in her brother and his girlfriend, various geopolitical figures, and a bevy of patients struggling with the physical effects of being human petri dishes for technological meddling.
Powell effectively sets up “The Feed” as a more insidious singularity-adjacent future. The users of The Feed seem to function normally. Social order remains largely unchanged, even as a majority of the people who comprise it walk around with an LTE device fused to their brainstem. The show’s devilishly crafted opening credits sequence is as effective a setup for the series as you can find: a seemingly focus-group tested ad for The Feed itself. Even as “The Feed” shows the ramifications of letting one multinational company control such an advancement, it’s easy to see how people might convince themselves to accept a benignly packaged interpersonal network to live literally under their skin.
Compared with that alternate reality groundwork, the story itself is less inspiring. In a problem that often plagues the less effective chapters of “Black Mirror,” the Hatfields’ respective issues quickly go from personal to cataclysmic. By design, it shows how linked this family’s prospects are to the world at large. (Think a version of “Succession” where the Roys could snap their fingers and inflict harm on a massive biological scale instead of just through political dark money and media influencing.) But when the slightest parental disagreement could theoretically lead to the world’s psychological destruction, it’s almost like the stakes short-circuiting at various turns.
Aside from the odd murky invocation of the “real” world (the anti-Feed activists in the series are known as “Resistors”), there’s a certain level of care that “The Feed” gives to the implications of this kind of tech becoming so widespread. Delving into developmental issues, the possibility of Feed withdrawal symptoms, and the allure that control over personal sovereignty might have for those with more dictatorial aspirations all get broached here, however tangentially.
And even when burdened with unfamiliar vernacular, advanced theoretical tech with minimal gestures, and some bizarre mid-season reveals, the cast effectively gets across the horror of each new development. As much as a son of a oligarchical tech giant family can be an Everyman, Burnet brings some level-headed empathy to an incredibly fraught situation. Thewlis and Fairley show the Hatfields’ internal struggle as something more than just marital infighting.
So the more wide-reaching parts of “The Feed” have some global ambitions, but with the pieces in place for a more focused, small-scale stories. Occasionally, those two line up; most of “The Feed” is stuck between the show it wants to be and one it’s best suited for. Still, for an audience more interested in the logistics inherent to “The Feed,” the sights along the journey are more effectively thought-out than most.
“The Feed” is now available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
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