Magazine article Variety

Altered Carbon

Magazine article Variety

Altered Carbon

Article excerpt

TV REVIEW

Altered Carbon

Drama: 10 episodes (8 reviewed); Netflix; Fri., Feb. 2

Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Martha Higareda, Renée Elise Goldsberry

"Altered Carbon" is packed with facsimiles: The main conceit of this slow-building but satisfying series is that people can download their consciousness into a series of bodies, or "sleeves," indefinitely. These extensions are only possible for individuals with sufficient funds, of course: Living forever, which involves growing or acquiring an array of sleeves, is for the very rich.

The metaphor of many iterations - copies that evolve or degrade depending on the resources available - is an apt one for "Altered Carbon," which blends a host of familiar sci-fiideas and storytelling conventions. In the early going, the highly serialized tale, based on a novel by Richard Morgan, can come offas a bit too imitative of "Blade Runner"-esque projects and the film noir genre. Some of the cityscapes look like they came directly from the Ridley Scott classic, and on a narrative level, watching the first few installments of "Altered Carbon" feels like seeing several scenarios from the Amazon anthology series "Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams" play out at once.

But as it progresses through its 10-episode season, "Altered Carbon" finds its groove. Of its many delicious grace notes, my favorite may be Poe (Chris Conner), the tart yet enthusiastic artificial intelligence that runs a hotel named after Edgar Allan Poe. The black-clad hotelier is too caught up in the daring and even romantic quest of the story's hero - and the hotel's only guest - to be properly Goth and glum. Those moments of laconic humor are most welcome, and may allow some viewers to forgive the series its overuse of certain sci-ficlichés. (Centuries from now, is it really always going to be raining?)

The gray weather often suits the mood of Takashi Kovacs, who has awakened from a 250-year sleep and been unwillingly stuck with the job of solving a rich man's murder. For much of "Altered Carbon," Kovacs, a former soldier with a murky past, is played by Joel Kinnaman, an actor capable of great subtlety and emotional transparency. For long stretches, however, the show asks Kinnaman to stay in the slightly cynical, tough-guy mode recognizable from countless films about private detectives down on their luck. But when his Kovacs shows vulnerability or confused melancholy - and opportunities for that are too rare in the early going - the character and his plight become more engaging. …

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