This summer, with True Detective tanking and other shows like Wet Hot American Summer sequel popping up on Netflix, Mr. Robot almost snuck by you. Almost. Every since it’s premiere, the show has generated nothing but extremely positive set of reviews, both critical and fan, as well as a small but ultimately dedicated following of fans. And tonight it added another point to its already evolved lure, social consciousness.
What started as a small show on the USA Network has become a surprise hit of the summer, but how exactly did it manage to do that? Don’t worry, here is a quick round-up of why you should be watching this show.
It deals with serious issues and societal norms. A lot of movies and/or shows try to approach issues of wealth distribution, capitalism and other hot-topic “Occupy”-like themes with an overwhelming amount of grandeur. They pack the morals in by the pound and then crumble under the weight of the expectations they’ve built up and the responsibility they took upon themselves. Mr. Robot does this through subtle build up and internal dialogue. It doesn’t necessarily try to make you a better person either, because the main protagonist is far from a hero. It operates in the areas of moral grey, kind of like the world we live in, to deliver it’s point and it’s not afraid to take on varying issues such as wealth inequality and drug addiction in a serious manner without feeling the need to dilute them.
It treats the audience with respect. This is an important one in the day of modern television. Too much of what we consume does not treat us as equal, intellectual human beings. Much like the previous point, other shows tend to over-explain complex ideas, or break up moments of serious reflection with a gag or a cutaway to a lighter topic. Not Mr. Robot.
Instead, the show doles out just enough information for you to process and move on and pauses long enough for you to do so. It doesn’t over-explain or simplify complex motives either. One of my favorite aspects is how they treat the process of programming and hacking. Simply put, this seems like one of the more realistic portrayals on TV. As someone who is a novice at code, I can at least relate to the processes going on.
It’s exceptionally paced and tremendously well acted. This show knows itself. It starts out slow and infuses a rising tension from the first minute, but then it builds it up, allowing for a slow release in the end. It also knows the limits of the subject matter. In a show where the main hero’s skill is typing code at a stationary desk, it is important to find moments of physical action to keep the viewer going. The timing of this is very précises as they come exactly at moments when you start to feel your attention slip away.
This is held up by some very understated acting. Rami Malek absolutely nails the lead and everyone around him is able to hold their own. The character transitions are subtle and slow, but they are able to squeeze the emotion and motivation out of each scene to keep us going, even when we ask ourselves “why are we so invested.”
It is an intelligent show. A badly produced smart piece of television will have you believe you have to be smarter than average to enjoy it. A well-produced one will make you appreciate it and learn something in the process. Mr. Robot is the latter. As it layers in complex themes it never goes too far into the deep end to say it is better, or smarter than you. Instead, it pulls back just at the right time, giving you just enough to process everything you’ve just watched. It forces you to think critically while also enjoying great writing.
And finally, it is socially aware. It is ironic how many shows trying to make social statements are not aware of the circumstances around them. They’re so focused n the point they’re trying to make that they miss it all together. Mr. Robot exists very much within the confines of it’s subject matter. As it sets up these complex ideas, it also ties itself to our social narrative in the real world, as a good show is supposed to do.
Following the Virginia shooting today, the producers decided to hold back the show for a week as the subject matter mirrored too closely with what was happening in the real world. That kind of sensitivity shows how in tune Mr. Robot actually is with the world it is trying to critique. Furthermore, it shows that smart entertainment is the one that exists specifically to critique, call out and also respect the social circumstances that created it.