"Paul Levinson's It's Real Life is a page-turning exploration into that multiverse known as rock and roll. But it is much more than a marvelous adventure narrated by a master storyteller...it is also an exquisite meditation on the very nature of alternate history." -- Jack Dann, The Fiction Writer's Guide to Alternate History

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Foundation 2.1: Once Again, a Tale of Two Stories

Foundation is back on Apple TV+ with the first episode of its second season.  Here's a review, with no big spoilers.

Here's what this first episode of the second season is most like: the first season of Foundation on Apple TV+.  Here's what it's significantly not much like: Isaac Asimov's novels, upon which this series is supposed to be based.  But you knew that, and I said that, already.  In fact, I just did, when I said the first episode of the second season is most like the first season.

And, to be clear. as I said in my reviews of the first season back in 2021, the dissimilarity of this TV series to Asimov's novels doesn't mean that it's all bad.  But nor can I help not being disappointed, not missing the trilogy that I read and loved three times, and the sequels which I read once and loved not as much but well enough.

Once again, my favorite part of the TV series are the Cleon clones and Demerzel -- Cleon wasn't cloned in the novels and Demerzel was very different, but their rendition in the TV series is often superb.  This continues in episode 2.1.  Lee Pace as Brother Day is once again a powerhouse.  Same for Laura Birn as Demerzel.  And Terrence Mann as Brother Dusk is simmering and outstanding, and Cassian Bilton as Brother Dawn is memorable.  All told, they tell an exciting, high intellect, high octane story vividly.  And, yeah, they're the bad guys (I guess).

The good guys, who are supposed to be Hari Seldon and the Foundation, are not nearly as impressive. Jared Harris is a great actor, but he's been put in a box in this TV series, and even when he screams and yells he barely breaks through.  And as for the rest ... Gaal and Salvor, well, I don't think I'd mind at all if they were almost unrecognizable from the characters with their name in the novels, if they'd been given a riveting story.  Instead, we get mental gymnastics and proclamations of profundity with not much substance or appeal.

But I'll keep watching, because I enjoy the clone story, and I still have some hope somewhere that the TV series will deliver some of what I most enjoyed in the novels.

See also Foundation 1.1-2: Mathematician, Man of the People, and Cleon's Clones ... Foundation 1.3: Clonal Science Fiction, Hari Seldon as V. I. Lenin ... Foundation 1.4: Slow Hand, Long Half-Life, Flipped Coin ... Foundation 1.5: What We Learned in that Final Scene ... Foundation 1.6: Folded Variations ... Foundation 1.7: Alternate History/Future ... Foundation 1.8: Divergences and Convergences ... Foundation 1.9: Vindication and Questions ... Foundation Season 1 Finale: Right Up There



Joel said...

There are a couple of things that really stood out to me in this episode as a step up from the first season. The pacing and direction of the various segments looked more elegant and unified, as it it's all one big story with many facets. The thing that acted as the core of the tapestry was the Hari arc, which I thought was performed elegantly by all three 'residents' of the Prime Radiant, but especially by Jared Harris's Hari. I loved in particular the part of the conversation in which he deduces that the PR has become sentient. I found that beautiful and profound, and overlooked in most reviews I've read and heard, including this one.

One thing that's really helped me is to let go of a fixation on the source material, and to view this story as inspired by it. Obviously with some intention to profit off the association with a great classic, but that's capitalism and how you get epic space stories to production these days. As long as something thought provoking is produced and it's genuinely entertaining, I'm happy.

Joel said...

Make no mistake I love the Cleons, and the acting is superb throughout those segments (outshining the acting in some others, unfortunately, but I can forgive that). But the Hari thing really interests me now because it is introducing new ideas about who Hari Seldon is, and they're truly interesting ideas, not just to be different from the books for unnecessary reasons. In some ways it seems safer for the show to invest in new ideas for a brand new storyline left out of the books (the Cleons) but more challenging to do so with a central character that didn't get a hell of a lot of development in the books. I like that they're embracing that challenge this season (so far).

Paul Levinson said...

I guess for me there are certain things that I expect in the story of Hari Seldon, his ideas, and the universe. The dialogue and events in the TV series don't have to be identical to those in the novels. But, so far,there are just not enough essential elements from the novels in the TV series to make it satisfying as an adaptation. The Cleon clone story is something totally new, and that's why I really am enjoying it

Paul Levinson said...

I wouldn't mind, and indeed might be very happy with, new dimensions and facets added to Hari's character -- as long as they built upon, rather than replaced, so much of what we already know of Hari from the novels. The way it's been, so far, in the TV series, Hari seems like a different person. In particular, he's instantly cosmic, rather than painstakingly methodically, finding destiny in mathematics and logic, as he did in the novels.

Joel said...

This got me thinking a lot more and I knew I had far too much for a single comment, so I wrote it up on my Patreon and posted it publicly. Thanks for giving me some grist to mill.