Director Alex Garland has brought sci-fi hits like "Ex Machina" and "Annihilation" to the big screen. Now, he's moving to the realm of TV, teaming up with Nick Offerman for "Devs," which will air on Hulu. Is "Devs" a hallucinatory mind-bender or a misfire? Here's what the reviews say.
'Devs' Begins With The Death Of A Programmer In A Mysterious Silicon Valley Company
Garland's regular collaborator Sonoya Mizuno […] stars as Lily Chan. Lily is a computer programmer working at a cutting edge Silicon Valley tech startup called Amaya with her boyfriend Sergei (Karl Glusman), until he gets promoted to the company's mysterious "Devs" team and turns up dead in an apparent suicide the very next day. But Lily isn't buying it, and after teaming with her ex-boyfriend (Jin Ha), her investigations lead her to suspect Amaya's owner, Forest (Nick Offerman), and uncover the potentially world-altering research he's doing in Devs.
It'd be impossible to reveal too much of what the Devs team is actually trying to accomplish without dipping into spoiler territory, but the broader idea has to do with a real-world philosophical theory called determinism. Garland, during a panel at last year's New York Comic-Con, described it as the theory of cause and effect–that everything that happens in the world happens because something caused it, reaching back in an endless chain to the beginning of time. In the deterministic worldview, there is no such thing as free will.
Visually, 'Devs' Is A Stunning Work Of Television
It all feels a bit like a dream, or a hallucinogenic trip, and Garland is a true master at creating a sense of wonder and awe with his jaw-dropping visual style.
The set design is unworldly, especially at the Devs department itself — a golden cube within a cube surrounded by a redwood forest. The way San Francisco shimmers with the wealth of big tech is unmistakable. Whether it's a city street or a highway, there's something just slightly off about this world.
And Nick Offerman Offers A Remarkable Performance In His Role As Tech CEO
Grounded by deep-rooted pain and guided by an identifiable human urge, Offerman still makes Forest into a believable messiah; maybe it's just the long hair, mysterious intentions, and casual assertion of power, but Forest feels like the rare, well-rounded tech millionaire who isn't a one-dimensional monster hiding behind forward-facing good intentions.
Offerman does get a chance here to show us he's more than just Ron Swanson: He's quite good as Forest, the wild-haired and quietly menacing genius behind Amaya. His naturally stoic demeanor fits the tech guru well, and he adds a flash of malice to Forest's steady stare.
The Series Is Dense In Philosophical Ideas Garland Wants To Explore
Devs takes nebulous concepts like determinism and the multiverse and grounds them in reality by connecting them with life and death stakes. It's enough to make you want to enroll in a philosophy class, or at least read a few Wikipedia pages.
When approaching Devs, there's one rule worth keeping in mind: Pay attention. That may seem like a no-brainer, but more often than not these days, TV viewers tend to only half-watch shows - one eye on the TV, the other on the phone for some live-tweeting. You can certainly try to watch Devs this way, but if you, do be warned: You'll get lost in the woods, wandering around aimlessly in a futile search for familiar landmarks that never present themselves. Devs is dense - a layered, near-hypnotic saga that pulls you further and further down a virtual rabbit hole into dark wonderlands.
… But Perhaps Too Dense At Times
One of the problems with Devs is its inability to explain…well, a lot. Sure, you can mostly roll with the story without having a doctorate in any of the above fields, but much of it will fly over your head. I suspect that those who do have more than a passing understanding of the concepts presented will find it more enjoyable. The show suffers from fact that the characters are meant to already understand the technical aspects of the research, so the dialogue doesn't delve into much explanation, which results in the show failing to provide enough exposition to really get the audience up to speed.
Such a high concept premise isn't exactly unexpected for someone like Garland, but those coming to Devs without having seen Ex Machina, in particular, might find themselves scratching their heads more than once per episode, especially as things really get rolling. Even Grenier's Kenton, who frequently serves as the audience surrogate in many of the more inside-baseball tech conversations, can still feel like he's speaking another language from time to time.
And Pacing Wise, 'Devs' Is Quite A Slow Burn
Devs' deliberate pacing, melancholy tone (I don't think there's a single moment of levity in any of the eight total episodes), and unapologetically cryptic storytelling is bound to throw casual viewers off, and heaven help anyone trying to live-tweet through this beast. You need to study Devs - every frame might be giving you an answer. Or it might not.
While, overall, Devs tells a compelling story, it will leave you wanting a lot more, from the story itself and the character development. Garland probably could have used help in navigating TV structure. Instead, he treated the miniseries like one long movie, which leads to awkward pacing for just about everything. A chunk of the series feels like wasted space that could have been better used to fill in some other holes left disappointingly blank.
But If You Liked Garland's Previous Work, You're Likely To Appreciate The Show
The 8-hour limited series (Garland has been clear that it's a contained story with an ending) gives the writer/director a larger cinematic landscape than ever to meditate on his sci-fi and filmmaking fascinations, and in keeping, Devs feels like a creative cousin to both films. In terms of craftsmanship, Devs expands on a lot of the techniques in Annihilation, embracing experimental imagery and sound design to unnerve, disorient, and immerse the viewer, while conceptually it shares Ex Machina's fascination with our rapidly-advancing real-world technology.
Without going into spoilers, the latest sci-fi mind bender from Alex Garland (Annihilation and Ex Machina)takes everything you loved about those movies and stretches it into an eight-episode miniseries that's equal parts social commentary and stoner college philosophy. It's also one of the most beautifully realized pieces of art released in 2020 so far.
At one point, a character here describes something as "transcendentally weird", and that's perhaps the perfect summation of Devs.