Altered Carbon, the new cyberpunk series from Netflix, has enough gonzo violence to satisfy even the most hardcore action fan. But according to writer Anthony Ha, the series may actually provide viewers with too much of a good thing.
“A lot of situations boiled down to somebody being tortured or somebody having to fight their way out of some situation, in a way that felt a little bit repetitive,” Ha says in Episode 295 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “It felt like they fell back on that trope of, ‘Now I’m going to beat the shit out of somebody to get the information I need,’ a little bit too often.”
Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy host David Barr Kirtley enjoyed Altered Carbon, particularly its top-notch visuals and worldbuilding, but agrees that a lack of subtlety, especially when it comes to Joel Kinnaman’s de facto detective character Takeshi Kovacs, is a constant problem for the show.
“A lot of this just feels to me like a teenage boy fantasy,” he says. “It’s like, ‘I’m this badass guy, and I’m sulky and I just tell people what’s what, and then I kick their ass. And then there are all these beautiful women, and they’re all—in one way or another—in love with me or obsessed with me.’ And that was one of my least favorite aspects of the show.”
The everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink approach also extends to the show’s dizzyingly convoluted mystery plot, though critic Beth Elderkin points out that the show is actually easier to follow than its source material, the novel Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan. “If you can believe it, some character stories were combined into single characters,” she says. “So it’s even more convoluted when you’re reading it in the book.”
But the show certainly has its defenders. As a science fiction author himself, Daniel H. Wilson found the show’s excesses oddly encouraging.
“It gives me hope,” he says, “because all the science fiction I write has too much stuff going on, too much exposition. So I hope this does well, because it gives me hope that you can create a really complex world and tell a cool story and get away with it.”
Listen to the complete interview with Anthony Ha, Beth Elderkin, and Daniel H. Wilson in Episode 295 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Beth Elderkin on visiting the set:
“I think the really cool stuff was in the set design. The guy who did it has worked on a lot of different projects—he’s very well known—and I asked him for some little hints and details, things that you maybe wouldn’t even notice. The use of books in [Laurens Bancroft’s] study, for example, is a show of his wealth, because books and print are basically obsolete and they’re collector’s items. And then one little tidbit—apparently they actually filmed a scene for this, but it didn’t make it into the final product—to show their power the Bancrofts actually put the minds of enslaved people into koi fish, and they just swim around in their koi pond in his study. So now you can envision that, just enslaved people in the Bancroft mansion all the time.”
Daniel H. Wilson on violence:
“Game of Thrones has spent years dialing up the level of violence and sexual violence and depravity that they can expose us to, in order to continue to get through to audiences that are increasingly numb to that kind of stuff. And then they had to go farther than Game of Thrones, and they had to do it in their first season, so by the end of this, whenever they’re trying to make it very clear that ‘this person is a bad person,’ it involves child rape and killing children and every damn terrible thing you can think of. The people aren’t just naked, there’s vaginas and penises hanging around like crazy all throughout this series. I feel like they have to go farther with the sex and the violence than Game of Thrones has gone, and it’s kind of jarring to me.”
David Barr Kirtley on film noir:
“A private investigator makes a great protagonist for exploring a world—even a science fiction world—because a private investigator is really the only kind of character who interacts with everybody in every stratum of society, from the drug dealer on the street corner to the richest billionaire in his mansion. And so if you’ve constructed a great science fiction world—as this show does—it’s really good to be able to have a private investigator move through it and show how this technology is playing out in the mansions, on the street, in the military, etc. So I think that still works really well. But I just think there are certain conventions of the film noir genre that are stale at this point, and one of them is just the sort of ‘macho-ness,’ which I think is played out.”
Beth Elderkin on acting:
“I’ve never been a huge fan of Joel Kinnaman. I think he’s OK, and I feel like here he was better than I’ve seen in previous stuff. He’s better than in, for example, Suicide Squad, though that’s not a super-high bar to jump over. I just don’t feel he has a lot of range, and here he’s playing a character inside another character. He’s not playing himself, he’s supposed to be playing Takeshi Kovacs, but he was playing ‘Joel Kinnaman as Takeshi Kovacs,’ and it really tested the limits of how much I could envision the character versus envisioning the actor. It kind of reminded me of Eliza Dushku on Dollhouse, where she’s supposed to be playing all these different characters but they all just end up being slightly varied versions of Faith from Buffy.”