There's a lot to unpack in Devs, Alex Garland's new limited series for FX on Hulu. Garland created, wrote and directed all eight episodes of the show about a tech company's lack of moral boundaries and the consequences of its growing authority. It's no guilty pleasure.
Garland -- who also wrote and directed Ex Machina, the fable about the ethical implications of AI, and the trippy adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer's novel Annihilation -- resumes his role as technology observer with Devs. In it, young software engineer Lily Chan lives in present-day San Francisco and becomes suspicious of the tech company she works for, Amaya, after her boyfriend disappears. He'd just been offered a position in the section of the company known as Amaya's Devs.
Longtime Garland collaborator Sonoya Mizuno (you might remember her dance routine with Oscar Isaac in Ex Machina) plays the laconic Lily. Devs also stars Parks and Recreation's Nick Offerman as the scruffy, bearded and flannel-wearing Amaya CEO, Forest. He's a tech billionaire who doesn't seem to own any high-tech gadgets himself, drives a Subaru Outback from the late '90s and eats salad with his hands.
The mystery in Devs is not so much what happens to Lily's boyfriend Sergei (Karl Glusman) but what the section of Amaya called Devs is. "Not even the Devs team knows what the Devs team does. Not all of them anyway," Forest explains.
Devs is the kind of high-brow TV show that deals with Fibonacci sequences, recitations of poems by W. B. Yeats and Philip Larkin and the musical impact of Johann Sebastian Bach and John Coltrane. There are references to quantum computation and determinism. You'll even learn the multiverse is just one of the many interpretations of quantum mechanics.
"The universe is deterministic. Godless and neutral and defined only by physical laws. The life we lead, with all its apparent chaos, is actually on train lines. Prescribed, deterministic. We fall into an illusion of free will," Forest muses in a quote that in many ways encapsulates this show.
Devs will make you think about the ethical implications of technology in the same way shows like Westworld and Black Mirror do. This limited series also shares a lot of DNA with Ex Machina.
By the show's ending, the mystery gets solved and Garland answers as many questions as he can, without risking being dogmatic. And you'll have refreshed your knowledge on a lot of philosophical and physics concepts as well as some literature and music.
It's difficult not to see the fast-paced, tech-dependent, uber-connected world we live in reflected in Devs, even if the show is completely unhurried and frustratingly slow sometimes. And even though its characters use technology in a much more contained way than most of us. They have cellphones, laptops and AirPods but aren't constantly hooked to their devices the way so many humans are.
Silicon Valley is portrayed with a meticulous eye for detail. Amaya's headquarters sit on the outskirts of San Francisco, and It's almost instinctive to draw parallels between Amaya and the Googles, Facebooks and Amazons of the world. The University of California at Santa Cruz and its surrounding redwood forest double as Amaya's eerie and hip campus.
San Francisco is filmed with love. There are numerous takes from the air that show the bay at twilight and the fog covering the many hills of a city confined by nature. Landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge, winding Lombard Street, the imposing Salesforce Tower or Market Street have all been photographed at night to show them at their most alluring.
Devs lets viewers appreciate every single idiosyncratic detail about the city. Even the interiors of the characters' apartments feel completely San Franciscan.
Other than its languidness, one of my only complaints about Devs is that it's practically devoid of banter, jokes or good old sarcasm. A show that deals with such heavy subjects could have used a bit more laughs to make it easier to digest.
Devs has the ingredients to shepherd a faithful following, yet watching it can feel like work. It's not necessarily the kind of program you want to tune to after a long tiresome day. But I already told you this is no guilty pleasure.
Even figuring out how to watch it can be tricky. You might be wondering what exactly "FX on Hulu" means. Hulu is the new streaming home for FX. You'll be able to find current and past FX shows, as well as some exclusive titles on Hulu. Devs is one of these exclusive properties, a show produced by FX but only available to people with a Hulu subscription.
The first two episodes of Devs are available on Hulu now, with one new episode being released weekly. The show will also air in Australia on Fox Showcase March 8. Devs will be available in the UK, but there are still no details about where and when.