If you've kept up with the world of indie film over the past few decades, you've probably been impacted by the work of Alex Garland. Between his screenplays for films like Never Let Me Go and Dredd, and his work writing and directing films like Ex Machina and Annihilation, Garland has built a filmography that is truly thought-provoking, and probably won't make you look at humanity and technology in the same way. Garland makes an unexpected, but incredibly welcome jump to modern television with Devs, an eight-part miniseries that will be the first original entry into the "FX on Hulu" label. The entire eight-episode miniseries is a bizarre, profound, and incredible slow burn, which creates a viewing experience that will stay with you long after each episode comes to a close.
The series follows Lily Chan (Sonoya Mizuno), a young woman who serves as a computer engineer at a San Francisco technology company called Amaya. Lily's boyfriend, Sergei (Karl Glusman), gets recruited into Devs, a top-secret division inside Amaya, only for his safety to quickly be thrown into jeopardy. Lily begins to investigate the possibility that Devs might be behind what happened to Sergei — only to uncover a much larger conspiracy in the process.
To say any more about Devs' plot would almost be unfair to the narrative, which unfolds like a slowly peeling onion as the episodes go along. The presence of technology does factor into much of Devs — as it has with a lot of Garland's other work — but it's used to say a lot about the human condition in the process. The show ruminates heavily on the notions of free will, agency, and identity, but in a way that never feels self-congratulatory or preachy. It feels like a disservice to compare Devs to other recent television, as it is much more similar to Garland's films than anything else. But, at times, Devs comes across as if Mr. Robot did hallucinogens and went to Joshua Tree in the best way possible.
There's been a lot of discourse in recent years about television essentially becoming long-form movies, but Devs might be one of the few examples of that formula working effectively. At times, the series really does come across as an eight-hour movie, as each episode is more concerned with moving the overall story along than creating its own formulaic, structured narrative. Will some people probably criticize Devs for being "too slow"? Probably, but that feels like an oversimplification of what the series has to offer. It will also be interesting to see how the episodes are received in a week-to-week release format, as that arguably gives audiences more time to fully process what they just saw.
While Mizuno has worked with Garland before in Ex Machina and Annihilation, she is able to step into her own in an incredibly intriguing way in Devs. Lily is equally stoic and overwhelmed by the events that surround her, but is whip-smart and passionate enough to make her way out of it, in a way that comes across as a sort of reluctant take on the "final girl" trope. Providing two different kinds of foils to Lily are Amaya's CEO, Forest (Nick Offerman), and his right-hand woman, Katie (Alison Pill), both of whom have completely different but necessary outlooks on the work that Devs is doing. Offerman, in particular, slips into the role of Forest so effortlessly and will quickly make you see him as so much more than just Ron Swanson. The other supporting cast around them, including Lily's friend Jamie (Jin Ha), Devs employees Lyndon (Cailee Spaeny) and Stewart (Stephen McKinley Henderson), and Senator Laine (Janet Mock), bring their own necessary kind of heart to the show's storyline. If anything, the only complaint about the show's cast is that there isn't enough of Janet Mock's Senator Laine, but she is used incredibly effectively whenever she appears.
As with much of Garland's filmography, the attention to visual detail on Devs is just the right mix of breathtaking and unsettling. The major set pieces within the series are incredibly ornate without ever distracting from the moments at hand. The Devs facility, in particular, might be one of the most aesthetically interesting set-pieces that has been on mainstream TV in recent years. As an extension of that, Rob Hardy's cinematography is exquisite in even the most mundane of scenes, and honestly begs for this show to be seen on the biggest screen you have access to. Rewatching some scenes projected onto a big screen at Garland's recent C2E2 panel proved this point in spades. It's also worth praising the show's music, which is an eerie and effortlessly constructed blend of an original score and a playlist of existing songs.
Devs is an understated and complex journey, but it manifests into one of the most intriguing television experiences in recent years. From the acting to the aesthetics to the overall themes, the miniseries creates a hypnotic, self-contained story that is absolutely worth the time and brainpower it will require from viewers. Garland has teased that he wants to do an entirely new eight-episode miniseries with the same cast, and Devs is definite proof that he can and should be able to do whatever the heck he wants in the realm of television.
Rating: 5 out of 5
The first two episodes of Devs will be available on FX on Hulu beginning on March 5th. After that, episodes will debut every Thursday.