Since Game of Thrones, every network seems to want something similar: an expensive genre epic they can refer to as our big thing. This is especially true in the world of streaming. Netflix has The Witcher, Amazon spends an inappropriate amount Lord of the Rings, and Apple has foundation, a sci-fi series based on the classic Isaac Asimov novels launching on September 24 with two episodes. (After that, new episodes will appear weekly on Apple TV Plus.)
in many ways, foundation fits that tentpole epic formula pretty well. It is a tale of the demise of a galactic empire, with a lot of political intrigue to follow. It’s also a lavish production, with incredible special effects and beautiful production design. You can see it’s expensive in every frame. Apple clearly has big plans for it; showrunner David S. Goyer said recently that he has already mapped out eight seasons. But it’s also a pretty weird story, one where you’ll spend more time watching people do calculations than anything that resembles action.
Before the premiere, roadside editors Chaim Gartenberg and Andrew Webster were able to watch the first two episodes to determine just how interesting a space epic about math can really be.
Andrew: It’s not easy to summarize what foundation will pass, but I’ll try. For starters, the main “character” isn’t really a person, but rather a kind of math. In the centre of foundation‘s story is something called psychohistory, which is a way of using mathematics to analyze the behavior of large populations. In this world, that means you can use a calculator to roughly predict the future, and that’s exactly what a man named Hari Seldon (Jared Harris) does. As the universe’s foremost expert on psychohistory, he reveals that the Galactic Empire, run by a constant succession of clones (each played by a menacing Lee Pace), is approaching its doom, which will be followed by thousands of years. of barbarity.
The Emperor doesn’t like that, so Hari and his minions — including fellow numbers Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobell), who won a galaxy-wide math competition to meet Hari — are banished to a cold, mostly barren planet in the distance of reaching the known universe. There they plan to establish the titular Foundation, with the aim of creating a repository of knowledge that would otherwise be lost during the long, dark period of galactic decay. The first two episodes mainly follow Hari’s initial prophecy and exile, along with a terrorist attack on the capital planet Trantor, which seems to point to this period of decline he predicted.
It’s a lot to squeeze into two hours, and to me it felt like I was getting a long history lesson. The show never really stopped giving me time to care about any of the characters. Fittingly, for a show about math, it was often cold and sterile. Seldon, in particular, feels very detached from the people he’s trying to save. It doesn’t help that there is just that much math talk on the show. People say things like “math doesn’t take sides” and “people lie, numbers don’t” with a straight face, and Gaal is constantly reciting prime numbers to relax. At one point, when the Foundation discusses which parts of different cultures to keep, Gaal carries out a lengthy diatribe about base 10. It’s like being back in high school.
What did you think, Chaim?
chaim: I have similar mixed feelings about the beginning of foundation. Choosing a more traditional TV series feels like an odd one for the series, given the anthological nature of the source material. (Each “book” is a series of short stories that break the millennial scope of the story.)
Instead, foundation seems – at least for now – to take a much more relaxed approach to its adaptation, expanding into the fall of the empire rather than jumping forward along the timeline. It’s possible that events speed up over the course of the show. There’s a flash forward early on indicating that we’ll see more of the story at some point.
foundation, the book, tells readers that the Galactic Empire will fall and that the encyclopedia will eventually be written. foundation, the show, is meant to showcase every step of that process — and as Andrew said, arguing over an encyclopedia isn’t too interesting fodder for a TV show.
However, I love the sheer size and scope of the show: the visual effects are stunning, with massive space elevators and uniquely designed ships helping the series stand out from contemporaries such as Star Wars, Star Trek, or the vastness.
Andrew: I definitely agree that the show looks incredible. But more than just being aesthetic, the images contribute to building the world. This really looks and feels like a society composed of many, many different alien cultures, and one that has been around for a very long time. You can tell by the elaborate costumes – half of the characters look like they just stepped out of the Met Gala – and some weird technology. One of my favorite elements is a kind of living painting that needs constant updating by an experienced craftsman; the emperor even uses it to show how sophisticated his culture is when people from outside the world come to visit. It is a universe that feels real and inhabited.
The problem is, after two episodes, I just don’t care much for anyone in that world. The Emperor of Pace is extremely fun to watch, a methodically murderous dictator who seems to tower over everyone around him while decked out in blue superhero armor. But no one else really grabbed me, especially Seldon and his somewhat distant nature.
chaim: 100 percent agreed with Pace, who as Brother Day dances absolutely perfectly between insensitivity and charisma. The other parts of the Imperial Triumvirate don’t quite match up, but I like the concept in theory, if not 100 percent in practice.
But I think part of my bigger problem with the show is Seldon and psycho history as a whole. It’s a bit like the kid on the playground deciding that his power is “always winning”; the nature of the books (and thus the show) is that Seldon is always right. He always has a plan; if he loses, that was the plan. And even if things completely derailed, there was also a backup plan that he envisioned.
The Foundation likes to insist on math, which the show sticks to as the ultimate form of logic and order. It’s a big part of Gaal’s backstory, how she gave up what seemed to be the empire’s main dogmatic religion to teach math instead. But foundationMathematics is so esoteric that it is really just sorcery in itself. It’s so complex that no one else on the show can understand the swirls of dots that make up Seldon’s “Prime Radian” calculator; it’s so advanced that only Seldon and Gaal are the only ones smart enough to understand the intricacies.
It’s no wonder so many people want to kill him, honestly.
I’m curious what you want to get out of the rest of the show – more of Gaal, Hari and Raych (Alfred Enoch) building the Foundation on Trantor? A deeper dive into imperial politics with the emperors and the crumbling of the empire? A leap forward in time? It feels like there are many ways the rest of the season (or seasons) can go.
Andrew: Give me some interesting characters! I’d love to see some of the more normal Foundation members starting new lives on a harsh alien world (we’ll get a little hint of that in Episode 2), as well as how the demise affects people at every turn. of the countless planets that make up the empire, especially those far removed from the decadence of the capital. There is a lot of space here, both figuratively and literally, to explore. The show just needs some heat to balance out the evil dictators and intergalactic mathematicians.