Netflix has this new show called Altered Carbon that everyone has been talking about. People are claiming that it’s going to be a hit. So, is it worth 10 hours of your time watching? My thoughts below.
What is Altered Carbon?
Altered Carbon is a cyberpunk novel by author Richard K. Morgan that has been adapted into TV format by Netflix (10 episodes). I haven’t read the book, and I don’t really care to, because cyberpunk is just not a fiction genre that I’m into.
The basic premise: The story is set in a dystopian future where peoples’ consciousness can be stored in a some sort of a disc called a “stack”. Bodies are called “sleeves” and are basically just treated like meat suits. People can put themselves in different bodies by transferring their stacks. Of course, all this costs money and people who can afford it actually don’t experience “real death” anymore, and practically live forever.
The richest guy on the planet was murdered, so his back-up version “resurrected” ex-Envoy soldier Takeshi Kovacs (who died 250 years ago) to figure out who killed him. This starts the story that uncovers the dark secrets that hide just beneath the surface of this dystopian society.
Here’s the trailer:
ALTERED CARBON SEASON 1 REVIEW
I spent 10 hours straight during the weekend watching Altered Carbon and I got a headache. I don’t know if you’re supposed to watch this with breaks in between, but I just wanted to finish and get it over with. So you might want to watch this more slowly.
The thing about these kinds of Netflix shows is that they are looooooonnnnggggg. It’s like watching a very, very, very long movie. This gives the creators enough time to do some good world-building and flesh out the characters, but honestly, watching these things can get laborious. I’ve watched Netflix’s Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Defenders, and The Punisher series and they all suffer from the same issue, imho – dark and tedious, with the end a long, long way away.
This is a very adult show with lots of nudity and violence. Don’t watch this with your kids. I don’t know why some shows really go all out showing nudity – I feel like this is similar to Game of Thrones in this regard, where all the actors have a clause in their contract agreeing to be nude or be in sex scenes in this show. Does all the nudity add to the gritty feel of the show? I just feel like these shows are going overboard with it already.
With that out of the way, I have to say Altered Carbon is a top quality show. The sets, the CGI, the effects, you would think you were watching a movie and not a TV show. The world building here was simply superb.
The acting was really good – they hired talented actors and actresses. The were a few recognizable faces for me like James Purefoy (the bad guy Kevin Bacon was chasing in The Following), Tamara Taylor (Camille from Bones), Dichen Lachman (Jiaying from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Matt Frewer (guest stars on so many shows & movies) and Hiro Kanagawa (Smallville, Heroes Reborn, iZombie, Dark Matter, etc). I felt like I was watching James Purefoy doing Shakespeare while all the other actors were just doing normal acting, haha 🙂
Story and plot-wise, it mostly all tied together neatly in the end. I didn’t feel like there were threads that went nowhere. The seemingly unrelated characters and plots introduced in the beginning converge towards the end. Generally, you get pay off for almost everything and every one who was introduced/ shown. They did leave some unanswered questions that keep the door open for a next season.
I did have an issue with Takeshi waking up 250 years in the future and it seemed like nothing has changed in 250 years – he seems familiar with everything. Or more probably, that nothing has changed on earth in 250 years – was there was no technological progress since 250 years ago because people stopped caring?
As for the artsy stuff, this show has it, too – symbolism, themes, etc… I’m just not that kind of a reviewer. I see those things, I appreciate them, but I’m just not into them enough to discuss them. Also, those topics are boring.
Eye-catching fight scenes – there are a few fight scenes in Altered Carbon that will make you sit up and watch.
If you are going to watch it, I strongly recommend watching it in the highest definition possible so you can appreciate all the cool visual elements and fight scenes. I also recommend watching with subtitles on so you get the names and terms right.
All in all, this is a good quality TV series with a good story, good acting, good effects, good action. It’s just all good in those aspects. Everyone did a good job here, and I can see all the effort and hard work that went into making Altered Carbon. If you like this genre, you will most likely think this is the best sci-fi TV show you’ve seen.
Finishing the 10 episode series felt like a chore. This is not to say that Altered Carbon is bad. In fact, it is a very good show in terms of the tight story, visuals, etc… But I was so sleepy I could barely keep my eyes open! It is a point for Altered Carbon that I chose to continue watching it instead of stopping and dropping it. The ending of each episode made me curious enough to continue watching. I only finished it because I wanted to know what the ending was, and I knew that if I skipped some episodes and jumped to the end, that I would have questions and probably miss out on the impact of some of the resolutions, and that is why I stuck with it. There were also a lot of flashbacks, and one episode that was mostly flashback felt dragging.
While the ending was generally neatly tied up, the “new” character who suddenly showed up to save the day felt kind of off. There was build up to this character but I’m not okay with how this character was now suddenly turned into a killing machine. The end villain was kind of predictable. There was also subtle agenda pushing.
Another thing why Altered Carbon felt so heavy to watch were the issues they tackled. There’s domestic abuse, child abuse, prostitution, drugs, morality, etc… It’s just so dark and depressing. One can argue that it’s cyberpunk, so that’s to be expected. I guess cyberpunk is just not my thing, because I want to watch light and happy things, not dark and depressing shows. I can watch something dark and heavy, but few & far between, and not for 10 hours straight.
So why did I watch it? Well, everyone’s been talking about how good Altered Carbon is since it came out last week. I wanted to see what the fuss was all about. I didn’t expect it to be this heavy.
One of the problems that I am starting to see with these Netflix TV shows is how some can really be so tedious to watch. It’s just one big, loooooong story cut into several episodes, unlike regular TV shows, which are mostly self-contained per episode with a beginning, middle and end. With regular TV shows, you get a resolution at the end of each episode – the bad guy gets caught or something like that. Even if I binge watch a season’s worth of a regular TV show, I don’t feel depressed and tired afterwards, except with Criminal Minds.
With Netflix shows like Altered Carbon and the Netflix Marvel shows, you have to wade through so much before you can finally reach the end of the story. This is not to say that all Netflix shows are like this – it just feels like most are. The few Netflix originals that I didn’t feel were this tedious to watch were Santa Clarita Diet, Stranger Things and 13 Reasons Why.
So, is Altered Carbon worth 10 hours of your time to watch?
It depends if you like these kinds of shows. For myself, I’d probably say no. Shows like these, especially something that deals with the depths of human depravity, just aren’t something I like watching. It doesn’t mean that I don’t realize the talent and the amount of hard work that went into it, I do. And I get the warning that it’s a possible future for us if we don’t rein in our greed. It’s just not my thing.
A lot of people seem to really like Altered Carbon though. If you like stunning visuals, a tight but long story, good action sequences, and you like musing about humanity and where we’re headed, thinking about where the human soul resides, and have 10 hours to spare, this show just might be something you’ll enjoy. 🙂
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