The Netflix Original, Altered Carbon – Review in Progress

The Netflix Original, Altered Carbon

The much-hyped Netflix-original series Altered Carbon finally released on February 2.

It’s a somewhat odd release date, since this is the beginning of the Super Bowl weekend when a majority of United States viewers are traditionally glued to the big game and its much-lauded-yet-usually-lackluster half time show and commercial offerings. However, for me, the timing was perfect. Since I live just blocks away from where all this Super Bowl action is happening, it’s nice to get away from all of the hullabaloo outside and enjoy a new series from the comfort of my own home.

Starring Joel Kinnaman of The Killing and Robocop fame, Altered Carbon is a dystopian cyberpunk whodunnit much in the vein of Blade Runner.

To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I assumed it was just going to be another original movie, so imagine my surprise and confusion when I discovered this was actually a ten-episode serial.

After two episodes, I’m still not sure what to think. Altered Carbon is one part dud, one part firecracker, yet all of it is a gorgeous, interesting mess.

The Netflix Original, Altered Carbon

I didn’t want to binge out on every episode of Altered Carbon in rapid succession, as I’ve done with other Netflix series. Instead, I wanted to take my time with it, hopefully enjoying it in a more spaced-out, piecemeal fashion. So far, I’ve hit the pilot and the second episode.

Right out of the gate, Altered Carbon attempts to entrench the viewer in its slice of a greater dystopian world, a ramshackle version of San Francisco. This is an overpopulated shantytown brimming with filth, neon sweat, and debauchery.

It’s actually pretty mundane. Although the show kicks things off with some shower sex and minimal exposition, it’s hard to shake the feeling of been there, done that.

Basically two mercs fuck, then they proceed to get fucked by an invading tactical force in their shithole hideout. Words are exchanged between the protagonist and the first in what seems to be a long line of disposable half-naked female characters (others later fully naked).

With the brutal apprehension of the character first played by Will Yun Lee and later played mostly full-time by Joel Kinnaman, we jump 250 years into the future. Kinnaman is awaken from cryofreeze and the exposition starts a-flyin’.

The Netflix Original, Altered Carbon

Basically, humans store their brains on discs that resemble bedazzled UMDs and upload them into body sleeves. One can only die if their brain card is damaged, but as long as it is intact it can be uploaded into a new sleeve.

“Murder” victims are entitled to a free sleeve, a process that doesn’t guarantee the quality — or even gender or race — of the sleeve received. Either you make do, buy a better sleeve, or go back on ice. It’s pretty grim stuff, but aside from one initial awkward encounter it isn’t really explored much.

It’s at this point Kinnaman is escorted to meet James Purefoy and get some answers while also getting his — and by proxy as viewers, our — marching orders. He is tasked with solving the recent murder of the still-living rich muckety muck who hand-picked him for the role.

The Netflix Original, Altered Carbon

We’re treated to a grand tour of the city so we can get a glimpse of all the ways in which sex seems to be the motivating factor in most people’s lives. We also kind of see how their drugs work.

And this brings me to my initial summation of Altered Carbon. For as simultaneously enjoyable and cringe-inducing it can be, it’s mostly just reminiscent of so many films, TV shows, and comic books before it. Mind you, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

It’s greatest crime is that it can be boring — really boring at times, while only slightly boring at others. There are decent spurts of action, some passable dialogue and acting, and even some interesting futuristic ideas. I won’t delve too deeply into the designs or machinations of this future San Francisco. I’ll let you experience that for yourself, since the visuals are one of the more enjoyable aspects of Altered Carbon.

The Netflix Original, Altered Carbon

But by and large most of the characters are bland, the writing is lackluster, and the visuals vary from scene to scene. There seems to be an overabundance  of  — or reliance upon — nudity to keep you hooked. (If that’s really Purefoy’s penis, bravo James.)

I definitely plan on finishing the series out, but dear God do I hope they don’t cliffhanger this into the prospect of a second season. There’s definitely enough here to pass the time, and it might actually get good later on.

But as it stands right now, considering the banal character development and introduction of ancillary players, I’m not expecting greatness. Mostly, I’m just reminded of other things I’ve enjoyed watching and video games I’ve enjoyed playing. I’m not on the edge of my seat, but I’m far from the edge of my credulity. Fringe it is not, but then again what is?

Other than Fringe of course. Ah, Fringe.

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