“Mr. Robot”: USA takes on the digital conspiracy thriller, a genre with a very high failure rate, and thanks to the dark playfulness of creator Sam Esmail and an inspired performance by lead Rami Malek, “Mr. Robot” may succeed where others have failed.
Though overly loaded with tech-mad plot points—code strings and routers are the new McGuffins -- the first hour admirably balances the personal with the political, while creating a universe both recognizable and tinged with equal parts surrender and menace.
Words that could describe the main character: Blank-faced and socially challenged, Elliott (Malek) is a nondescript techie for a cyber-security firm by day, vigilante hacker by night. Borderline something (schizophrenic? Autistic?), he has suffered hallucinations in the past, and they may be ongoing. Are the men in suits who appear to be following him the result of his hacking adventures? And who is that homeless guy who looks suspiciously like Christian Slater?
Well, it’s Christian Slater, obviously, playing the title role: Mr Robot is a fellow computer genius who says he wants to take down the 1% who control the world, and he needs Elliott’s help. But is the end game revolution or merely a coup? And which would Elliott prefer? USA, Wednesdays at 10 p.m.
“The Brink”: “Dr. Strangelove” meets “School of Rock” in a new HBO comedy that seems built to solidify its “Silicon Valley”/HBOnow fan base.
Tim Robbins and Jack Black star as the offbeat secretary of State and an even further offbeat low-ranking diplomat whose paths cross during a fictional coup in Pakistan.
Through decidedly non-diplomatic machinations, Alex (Black) finds himself in the midst of a revolution, protected only by his essential cowardice, and his exasperated cabdriver (a break-out role for “The Daily Show’s” Aasif Mandvi). Back in the control room, Secretary of State Walter Larson (Robbins) tries to keep the hawks from going nuclear when he’s not engaged in some bit of frat boy humor or another.
High on raunch—most every bodily fluid makes itself known in early episodes—and personal absurdity, “The Brink” does not take itself nearly as seriously as other pieces of political satire, and it shows. For better and worse. But if it isn’t “Wag the Dog,” it’s still great fun and probably not nearly as far from the truth as we’d like to believe. HBO, Sundays at 10:30 p.m.
"Deutschland 83": The FX series “The Americans” meets the Oscar-winning film “The Lives of Others” in the miniseries “Deutschland 83.” The first German-language series to appear on an American network, “Deutschland 83” follows the adventures of a young East German soldier (Jonas Nay) compelled to work as a spy in West Germany, where American forces are becoming increasingly, and proactively, anti-Communist.
Opening with President Reagan’s famous “evil empire" speech, the series, written by Anna and Jorg Winger, explores a time of heightened anxiety on each side of the Berlin wall, and though our sympathies are clearly with our young soldier, who has taken the identity of Moritz Stamm, East and West are each depicted as a mélange of malice, stupidity and humanity.
“Deutschland 83” is not a series contemplation of world politics or the impact of espionage on those who practice it. Nay’s Stamm is barely fit for the job, and it's only through many plot contrivances that he isn’t caught at once.
Still, we know the outcome—no nuclear holocaust, the fall of the wall seven years later—which means we can enjoy the good, clean spy vs. spy action as well the brilliant period details. It’s good to be reminded how close we all came to international disaster, but it’s better when that reminder is backed by the Eurythmics, David Bowie and, of course, “99 Red Balloons.”