Monday, January 4, 2016

My So-Called Apocalypse

Mr. Robot is a TV show on USA Network that has the dismal glamor and techno-tragic soundtrack of a David Fincher Daydream Nation, a country full of sleek moves and mind-fuck plot spirals, elegant camera slitherings, actors acting in sync with the paranoid, hyped-up surroundings, and an all around genuine sense of beautiful doom.  It's so stylish you forget there's substance being performed;  the story is about what would happen if the Occupy-Wall-Streeters and Anonymous-ers got their shit together and actually did something that meant something, as opposed to posing and hoping something might happen while trying to figure how not to organize while organizing.  It's all about a hacker-generated fiscal apocalypse that happens while nobody and yet everybody is watching.
Director/writer Sam Esmail is the brains behind the operations.  He's dreamed up a universe so skillfully realized and executed you feel right at home in each corporate boardroom and hacker bedroom and back-alley arcade.  Every shot is worth staring at, and the music, by Mac Quayle, is worth pining over,  a hyper-stylized exercise in synth-noir that gives Trent Reznor the what-for.  The music is actually kind of like a character in of itself, all voluptuously, cheesily technological and yet also lyrically nuanced enough to feel as though you're wearing the headphones of the hackers about to steal your identity.
But truly this is Rami Malik's show.  As Elliot, the buzzed-out half-crazy protagonist, Malik brings a gnawed-off energy and ferocity to Mr. Robot that feels authentic, uncooked, and gives the whole enterprise a vibration that doesn't stop start to finish.  Not a star but a sort of stratosphere is born.  He moves through scenes with an ache you can't specify, only feel, and his large, Marty-Feldman eyes feel both lizard-like and beautifully sentimental, both postcard-sad and hell-fire off-kilter.  You don't know whether to look away when he speaks or be drawn in or both.  It's Malik's charisma that transforms all the foreboding plot machinations into character-study material, the same way Jon Hamm's portrait of Don Draper allows you to feel/read the pretentious, arch, often leaden scenes in Mad Men as the poetic objective-correlatives of a whole era. 
It's another zeitgeisty show I kept thinking about, though, as we binged through Mr. RobotMy So-Called Life, the Clare-Danes vehicle that captured the ennui and excitement of 1994 adolescence, with gorgeously written voiceovers and a grim palate of blues, purples and grays.  Malik's performance has that same sense to it of capturing a moment in time, and his voiceovers, although decidedly not about boys and dates and hair color, still have an intimacy and specificity that allow you to enter someone else's consciousness in a way you almost never get to do in TV Land.  Mr. Robot is the My So-Called Life of 2015 actually -- memorializing this fucked-up era with a knife-edged whimsy and chromium focus that make you realize how TV can sometimes be the only platform you need.