Created by Alex Garland, the filmmaker behind Annihilation and Ex Machina, Devs is a new sci-fi miniseries from Hulu. Without going into spoilers, it’s an 8-episode drama about a tech worker named Lily Chan(played by Sonoya Mizuno) whose boyfriend goes missing while working for the quantum computing company Amaya. But like Alex Garland’s other work.
It’s more complicated than it sounds. Devs examine the themes of grief, surveillance culture, and how technological advances are shaped by the messy human emotions of their creators. The show is incredibly stylish, from the vibrant music to the dreamlike visuals. If you’ve seen Alex Garland’s last two movies.
You may recognize the work of composers Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury, who created the distinctively creepy alien noise in Annihilation. Central to Devs’ mystery is a machine. It’s represented as a looming mothership of golden circuits and blinking lights, a helpful visual for the show’s philosophical conceit—which, thanks to Hulu’s spoiler embargo, I can’t actually discuss.
This computer is the brainchild of Amaya’s CEO, Forest, played by Nick Offerman. Forest is a familiar Silicon Valley figure: rich and secretive, with occasional flashes cultish ruthlessness. “Devs” is the company nickname for his top-secret development department, managed an unnerving physicist named Katie, played by Alison Pill.
Her team’s research involves data-gathering and predictive modeling, a technology that impacts our lives to a frightening degree but is still kind of a hard sell for a TV drama. Devs is a rare piece of media that successfully depicts the disturbing, almost religious power of tech companies knowing everything about your life. God sees all, and so does Google.
The more tech companies spy on our lives, the more they can predict our future choices, both personally and as a society. That’s the horror story at the core of Devs. But Devs isn’t as abstract as it sounds. It’s still a corporate espionage thriller with an engaging hero and a killer soundtrack.
Lead actress Sonoya Mizuno isn’t a household name yet, but she’s already shown impressive range through previous roles including Crazy Rich Asians and the Netflix series Maniac. Here, she plays an unassuming young tech worker, whose steely resolve shines through when she pushed to extremes. When her boyfriend goes missing, she kicks off her own investigation, running straight into the brick wall of Amaya’s private security. Amaya’s security chief Kenton (played by Zach Grenier) is the kind of stone-cold attack dog that big corporations hire to protect their interests.
Forest is a more unexpected kind of antagonist though, partly because Nick Offerman is so distinctive. Instead of going full supervillain, Forest is downbeat and thoughtful. The point is that he’s a normal guy with normal trauma, whose colossal wealth allows him to warp the world around him. It’s an interesting choice for the usually-comedic Offerman, but the show might have benefitted from making Forest even weirder.
Devs episodes run at a well-paced 45-50 minutes, keeping a conventional thriller storyline ticking along while gradually sinking into more enigmatic and experimental ideas. While some people won’t be excited to watch quantum physicists discuss determinism while standing in front of glowing lightbox walls, I for one was into it.
Plenty of shows offer accomplished style or gripping drama, or an original, politically relevant concept, but you rarely get to have all three at once. The first two episodes of Devs premiere on Hulu March 5. This review is not sponsored in any way by Hulu or FX. While you’re waiting for the premiere of Devs, there’s plenty of great sci-fi and thrillers to stream.
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