Season 1 Episode 1: Real Life
Based on the short story: Exhibit Piece
I’ve been waiting for this show for over a year. I first heard it announced in some cyberpunk and Philip K. Dick fan groups on social media. And though there are several movies adapted from Philip K. Dick books and stories, a series dedicated to his work is something to be excited about.
Let it be known I’m a huge PKD fan. He was as fascinating a person as he was a storyteller. PKD was one of the first speculative fiction writers to really delve into the questions “what is reality?” and “what does it mean to be human?” He tackles these questions time and time again as if, for him, writing was an existential quest for the meaning of life. His characters are unique and original in that they are not “the best looking people in the room” so to speak. They are not characteristically heroes, but ordinary people thrust into extraordinary situations. And within these extremes they are forced to become heroes despite the odds or chances for a successful outcome. PKD dares to suggest that the true legends of mankind aren’t the flashy, charismatic personas adored by the dull masses, but that the heart of a hero beats in the common person above all.
Episode Summation (from Wikipedia episode list): Sarah (Anna Paquin) is a policewoman living in the future who shares headspace with George (Terrance Howard), a brilliant game designer living in the present. While both of them try to understand which one of them is “real” and which one is living in a dream, both are pursuing violent killers whose plans could have shattering consequences. In a race against time, sharing a bond that no one else can see, they learn the very thing that connects them can also destroy them.
This episode plunges right into PKD’s theme of “what is reality?” Sarah is guilt ridden by her past and George’s life becomes that escape for her. George is tormented with grief over the death of his wife and Sarah’s world is the only place he can go where she is still alive. They swap head spaces via a VR headset that become a character in itself. Something PKD liked to comment on was how peoples’ means of escaping their reality became an addiction. At the heart of every addiction is someone running from their real life problems. People can get so caught up in their escapist fantasies that they ultimately lose touch with reality. This disconnect will ultimately become intentional as a person, unable to cope with their own stress, will give themselves over completely to the fantasy. The original story’s ending was ambiguous, “Real Life” takes that ambiguity away which I think cheapens the effect.
I’ve seen a lot of online reviews comparing Electric Dreams to Black Mirror on Netflix. I think this is a gross comparison. It’s like comparing a father to his offspring. Black Mirror borrows heavily from PKD’s themes, as does much of modern science fiction. The weird worlds of PKD are where the ideas behind so many popular culture icons have their genesis. Black Mirror reinterprets these themes whereas Electric Dreams showcases the stories they came from. But let’s be real, all scifi anthology shows are really just imitating The Twilight Zone. If you are a fan of scifi or speculative fiction, definitely give it a watch.