TV Review: ‘Mr. Robot’

Mr Robot TV Review USA
Sarah Shatz/USA Network

If casting and character are half the battle, “Mr. Robot” is more than halfway home. Showcasing Rami Malek in a breakout performance as a highly unorthodox protagonist — a socially clumsy, almost feral hacker — the series rivals “Rectify” as Program With the Most Tortured Lead Character. As written by Sam Esmail, this has the jittery feel of a British thriller, and an absurdist sense of entrenched interests vs. a weird insurgency: a conceit that vaguely recalls Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil.” While commercial prospects appear hazy, it’s hard to remember the last time USA put on anything more intriguing.

Malek’s Elliot is a cyber-security specialist by day, laboring away for a cubicle-filled corporation. By night, though, he’s an unrepentant hacker — delving into the personal lives of those who enter his orbit — as well as a drug user and someone so painfully awkward that he freely admits, “I don’t know how to talk to people.”

Diving into the plot, Elliot is introduced on the subway, his frantic narration imparting that he has stumbled onto “a conspiracy bigger than all of us,” involving masters of the universe who will essentially stop at nothing to achieve their objectives. If that sounds more than a little paranoid — and much of “Mr. Robot” does — Elliot is assured this is all too real by a renegade hacker (Christian Slater, marking TV’s best use of him in some time), who goes by the name Mr. Robot, and wants to recruit him to infiltrate and undermine the shadowy corporation Elliot has been hired to protect.

Narration is an overused device, but as rattled off by Malek (whose credits include “The Pacific”), it has a haunting, unsettling quality (think “Taxi Driver”), serving up a running monologue of his suspicions and distrust of just about everything except his childhood friend Angela (Portia Doubleday), who happens to work with him. He’s also somewhat fond of his therapist (Gloria Reuben), though as with most of his interactions, his true thoughts are confined to the debate raging inside his head.

It’s in his dealings with Slater’s character, who is determined to strike a blow against the ruling elite, that Elliot is forced to grapple with his own belief system, given his general lack of a filter and his vigilante-by-hack streak. Basically, Elliot is told the revolution is happening; it’s just a question now of choosing sides.

To his credit, Esmail leaves the audience off-balance regarding who’s worse: the hackers or the corporate overseers. Nor does it require a huge leap to find additional resonance in the notion of the cyber-attackers targeting a corporation — however Bond-villain-like it might appear — after Sony’s recent experience.

Walking around with wild, darting eyes, and wearing a hoodie, Malek doesn’t look like the kind of guy you’d necessarily want to sit next to in a subway car. That said, it’s almost impossible to take your eyes off him, and through a second hour, the course of the series remains as jagged and unrefined as his narration, offering little sense of where this might lead.

That’s often a bracing experience for critics, but not necessarily a ticket to Nielsen nirvana. Then again, with a guy like Elliot around, how hard would it be to just hack into a few servers and turn those hash marks into “The Walking Dead” numbers?

Considering that USA dramas had begun to exhibit a certain assembly-line quality, whatever its fate, “Mr. Robot” feels like a daring risk — one that’s more calibrated to the confines of pay cable, and animated by a welcome spark of inspiration.

TV Review: 'Mr. Robot'

(Series; USA, Wed. June 24, 10 p.m.)

Production

Filmed in New York by Anonymous Content in association with Universal Cable Prods.

Crew

Executive producers, Sam Esmail, Chad Hamilton, Steve Golin, Niels Arden Oplev; producer, Igor Srubshchik; director, Oplev; writer, Esmail; camera, Tim Ives; production designer, Karin Wiesel Holmes; editor, Joe Bini; music, Ben Zales; casting, Susie Farris, Beth Bowling, Kim Miscia. 68 MIN.

Cast

Rami Malek, Christian Slater, Portia Doubleday, Carly Chaikin, Martin Wallstrom, Gloria Reuben

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  1. ec says:

    “Then again, with a guy like Elliot around, how hard would it be to just hack into a few servers and turn those hash marks into “The Walking Dead” numbers?”

    hehehe *likes*

  2. peacfulseas says:

    I’d enjoy the series more if I wasn’t looking at a black screen 95% of time. Not sure if it is a budget issue or they think it adds suspense, mystery. In any case I find it extremely annoying and probably won’t continue watch.

  3. StevieB says:

    Me too! Seemed clever at first. Secret societies, hacker trying to do good. Graphic sex scene was in poor taste. Not a comment on same sex relationships. That would have been inappropriate as a hetero couple as well. If you can’t appeal to me intellectually as an adult viewer and need shock value for ratings I’ll look elsewhere for TV entertainment. Sorry USA Network. Usually love the dramas but…

  4. joff says:

    i really liked this show,the idea of what fsociety is trying to do is great and i for one wish it could and would be done.i know many people in “show business” are gay and it probably doesn’t bother them but the scene of two men having sex made me sick and i don’t care to even watch the show anymore.It went on for a long time and was too graphic for any straight man to watch(don’t judge that comment if you are gay)or women either i suspect,it was very DISGUSTING and unnecessary to show so much,you could have got the message across with a lot less yuck.keep your personal activities to yourself !!!

    • ec says:

      um… it only went for a couple of seconds. I’ve seen a few people complain of the sex in this show…but there is ONE scene!! That’s pretty much illegal to have so little sex in a tv show these days!!!

    • ishkibable says:

      I disagree, I won’t get into the fact that calling it disgusting probably has more to do with your comfort with your own sexuality, because I believe that that incident and the beating of the homeless guy were done quite intently to show his true villainess nature rather than for shock value. He’s straight, yet he will go to any lengths to get what he wants.

  5. Jeanne says:

    I was intrigued by the premise of this show and wanted very much to like it. The first show dealt briefly with his drug addiction which I feel is not necessary for the plot but I can ignore brevity. The stars are great and as I said I really like hacker techy stuff. But the second show seemed to focus more on his drug use than the plot which I found annoying. Just get back to the point I found myself saying. I hope someone else comes up with a true hacker show in the future, this one has lost it’s focus.

  6. Seven Costanza says:

    If Bourne Identity was a show pure awesomeness,amazing performance by Malek, awesome cast, great content, and very cool music, line TRON or Giorgio Mordor

  7. sam says:

    Eagerly waiting for 2nd Ep.

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