Netflix released the first trailer for its new sci-fi series Altered Carbon today. It’s an adaptation of the book by Richard K Morgan. I haven’t read the book yet, though I’ve read some of Morgan’s fantasy work. He’s a talented writer with a penchant for grimdark stories. Now I have to decide if I should read the book first or just watch the show.
What little I do know of the story is this: It takes place centuries in the future in a world where the very wealthy can commission “sleeves” and transfer their consciousness from their own (dying) body into a new one. The story’s protagonist, Takeshi Kovacs, is a Japanese American (Will Yun Lee) who’s been dead for centuries before being brought back and placed into a white body (Joel Kinnaman) to solve a murder. Sort of a twist on the cryogenic freezing of say, Austin Powers.
In any case, browsing headlines this morning I learned some interesting things. First, that the trailer is problematic because of whitewashing—the protagonist is white due to being sleeved in a white body, but in his original life he was Asian, so even though this is the actual plot of the story, and one that will almost certainly tackle these issues, it’s still a Very Bad Thing. (I’d say it’s far too early to make this kind of assumption even if the trailer focuses more on Kinnaman, but this is how the internet works.)
Second, I learned that Altered Carbon is the answer to fans waiting for the Blu-Ray release of Bladerunner: 2049. I also find this puzzling as well. Sure, it’s a futuristic sci-fi with film noir elements, but it’s also a TV show. Netflix isn’t competing with Bladerunner 2049, so it doesn’t need an “answer” to that film. (It may indeed be the answer to impatient Bladerunner 2049 fans, though I’m not certain whether it will release prior to that movie’s Blu-Ray release or not.)
On the other hand, Netflix is competing with HBO. HBO still has some of the best original programming available, and Netflix has been, for the past few years, doing its level best to change the equation. With shows like Stranger Things one can see just how effective this strategy has been. Of course, Netflix still has no “answer” to Game of Thrones, but then again neither does HBO—when Thrones ends after its next abridged season, HBO will have lost its crown jewel. Whether any of its planned spinoffs is as successful remains to be seen.
In any case, I see Altered Carbon as more of a direct competitor to a show like HBO’s sci-fi western, Westworld. Both portray dark dystopian future societies. In Westworld, artificial intelligence and the “hosts” who serve as playthings of the super-rich serve as the narrative backbone. That show poses questions about what it means to be alive, to be sentient, to have agency. Altered Carbon looks like it will ask many of the same questions, and judging at least by Morgan’s dark fantasy novels, it will be every bit as M-rated.
Altered Carbon releases on Netflix on February 2nd, 2018. No word yet on when Westworld’s second season lands. Here’s the trailer:
Also check out everything coming to Netflix this month, including a very cool looking sci-fi Netflix Original movie starring Will Smith.
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