I saw a commercial for Mr. Robot last week. Okay, I saw it over and over again on a loop in the background of Xfinity on demand. In it a young man darts his eyes around nervously in a subway car, expressing his feeling of paranoia in demeanor as well as voiceover. Then the tension breaks as a voice inside the car interrupts his inner monologue. The voice of a decade’s worth of Panasonic commercials and before that the voice of 90s teen misanthropy: the voice of Christian Slater.
I like Christian Slater. I love Pump Up the Volume. I even like Kuffs–which was kinda terrible. I’ve rooted for his previous attempts to jump back onto the A-list with a primetime TV vehicle but here, in this commercial, his presence dashed my hopes for something fresh from USA’s new series Mr. Robot. Here, decked out in something like a modified 90s grunge look, Slater seemed mostly like an intertextual reference to his former self, a self who would have been cast as the young, paranoid rather than the knowing stranger on the subway car.
Feeling semi-harangued by this Xfinity commercial, however, I finally gave in and streamed the series pilot.
And it was Really Good. For real. Like superiorly framed shots, excellent writing, noticeable but not overdone cultural critique, and good acting. At least so far.
As for Slater, he is, at least in the pilot, judiciously deployed–using all the charisma and the 90s antiestablishment cred at his disposal without falling into caricature or displacing the cast of basically unknown actors who are more central to the action.
So I’m in. And I’m going so far as to recommend that you might want to be, too.
Mr. Robot could well be the “it” series of this summer season–fresher and less campy than FX’s The Strain (about to start its second season this week), serious yet less existentially despairing than any journey True Detective offers.
The pilot begins with a really fun tee-up of its socially-anxiety-ridden, vigilante hacker main character that, for me anyway, was involving enough to keep me from second-guessing their choice to use voiceover narration. Check it out here to, perhaps, catch the bug.
Before the pilot officially aired (but after 2.7 mil had streamed it online) Mr. Robot was renewed for season 2. Let’s hope that’ll double as a creative commitment to keep the writing interesting and the main character fresh rather than an outside pressure that forces the series into byzantine plot maneuvers a la Alias.
You still have time to watch the pilot before tonight’s premiere of episode 2. Do it.