In 1966, Isaac asimov‘s Foundation trilogy was voted best sci-fi series of all time at the Hugo Awards. Other series have certainly surpassed it since, although it is still considered the work that codified the genre. Despite its fame, because the series is a galactic-level epic told over roughly 500 years, with dozens of characters, conflicts and stories, anybodyunderstood how to bring Foundation in real action. The novelty of Apple TV + Foundation the show didn’t get it either.
Foundation the tv series is not Foundation the series of books. There are a few bones from the original story in there, of course, including the premise. Mathematician / psychologist Hari Seldon (Jared Harris) creates the field of psychohistory, in which the future can be pathetically predicted– not for individuals, but for humanity in general – and discovered the horrible truth that the 12,000 year old Galactic Empire will fall, starting a dark new age that will last for 30,000 years. It cannot be stopped, but it can be reduced to a mere millennium by creating a repository of human knowledge to become the foundation of a new civilization. It’s an incredibly good premise that could never be served in a movie, and a TV adaptation was never going to be easy. The first one Foundation book alone is made up of five separate short stories that have no character in common and take place over 150 years. Very, very few of these characters are developed because we spend so little time with them. They are not history – the Foundation is and how it develops over time.
Viewers would naturally find it difficult to invest in a show where the overall cast and conflict changes with each episode. Showrunner David S. Goyer—Author of around a billion DC superhero movies — limits Foundationfrom the first season to the first two-fifths of the original novel and binds them together in a somewhat forced way. Goyer’s idea of having Lee Pace plays an eternally cloned Emperor Cleon is a nifty way to give the series a (fundamentally) cohesive antagonist. Changing the gender and ethnicity of characters is a must for modern times – there were hardly any female characters in Asimov’s early books – and, of course, that doesn’t affect the story in any way. And he starts the show off with a bit of a sci-fi show that will absolutely inspire audiences to root Hari’s grand plan for success.
Here’s the catch: making a 10-episode season out of around 100 pages of text is an act of insanity comparable to shooting The Hobbit in three films. There is so much to add to fill these episodes, which seem so much longer than the hour they typically last. Some of these additions are incredibly welcome. Hari’s proteges Gaal Dornick and Salvor Hardin (in two terrific performances by Lou Llobell and Leah Harvey, respectively) get broad and much-needed stories to develop their characters. Emperor Cleon, who barely appears in the first book, not only has his own major storyline, but is technically made up of three people: Brother Day (Pace), younger brother Dawn (Cassian Bilton), and senior brother Dusk ( Terrence Mann).
Most of these additions are invented from scratch, having nothing to do with the history of the Foundation. Honestly, after most of the second episode, the show and the books are pretty much unrecognizable. Even if you walk in without reading a page of Asimov, you’ll still notice the long storylines that don’t go anywhere, the padding, and the weird choices that the characters on the show make to keep the plot from moving forward. Cheap, absurd melodrama fills the series (somehow Seldin’s plan suddenly stops working because two people are in a relationship, so he has to break them up). Then there’s the terror of the show that people can’t make certain connections, so it shows something, the character comments on it, and then maybe flashes someone who says something relevant. even though it was said three minutes ago. The show also wants to have bench laser battles and ship fights and spacewalk crashes and junk, none of which offer something you’ve never seen before, and are typically used for running out of time anyway.
I can’t complain about how it feels – despite the fact that psychohistory shouldn’t be able to predict individual actions as well – Hari’s plan relies exclusively on individual people, because that’s a problem with the Foundation books too. But that’s made worse in the series because Hari must have somehow predicted a shootout survivor and his ability to stop a bomb from exploding at the last second. It’s hard to worry about a plan when nothing ever seems to unfold according to him. The second and bigger problem is that all of the generic sci-fi action goes directly against what made the Foundation so beloved series – a celebration of knowledge, history, science and human relations, and the hope for a new galactic civilization that will flow from it.
Foundation does not want to be Foundation. He wants to be the heady, thoughtful and revealing first season of Westworld, so he pontificates on politics, religion and souls, but he doesn’t have the depth to say anything important. The television series also wants to be Game Of Thrones with its political maneuvers (most of which are roughly invented for the show), but once Hari Seldon’s spaceship takes off, these Imperial policies have little to do with the Foundation. It also wants to be a sci-fi action show. He’s so busy trying to be all these things that he doesn’t have time to be Foundation. For people who don’t know or care about the source material, the result is extremely pretty sci-fi, but not particularly compelling. For people who know or are fans of Isaac Asimov and his work, I feel obligated to warn you that if you watch the show, you will see a scene so infuriating that you will tear your TV in two with your bare hands; then you will realize how useless the scene was, and tear it in four.
by Goyer Foundation is not Asimov’s Foundation. It’s not an adaptation, and it’s so different that calling it “inspired by the works of Isaac Asimov” still seems like an exaggeration. Maybe it’s really impossible to bring this flagship sci-fi work into any other medium, but other shows could still do a much better job than this one.
The first two episodes of Foundation just started streaming on Apple TV +. Unique episodes will drop weekly thereafter.
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