Devs, the new eight-part drama written and directed by Alex Garland (Ex Machina, Annihilation), is the kind of series that signals its grandiosity from the word go, with an abstract montage featuring choral music, saxophone interruptions, and fragmented scenes of San Francisco. In the opening seconds, the camera pans in slowly on the darkened features of Forest (played by Nick Offerman), a tech-company CEO with a bedraggled beard and a frozen expression, like a GEICO caveman who’s seen some stuff. Then it cuts to a triptych of video installations featuring a small girl blowing puffy white seeds off a dandelion. Devs is immediately ponderous, alienating, and full of unintentionally funny details: Why is there a 100-foot-high sculpture of that same small girl in the middle of the redwoods? Has the Golden Gate Bridge always seemed so IKEA-poster generic? Why is the most high-tech coding campus in Silicon Valley as gilded and blandly opulent as a Mandarin Oriental business center?
With Devs (one of the first shows to air on Hulu under the “FX on Hulu” mantle), and with the third season of Westworld, which debuts on HBO on Sunday, TV seems to be entering its age of algorithmic anxiety. There are no robots in Devs, but the characters are so flatly preoccupied with determinism—and with data’s potential ability to assess and contain the complexity of human lives within lines of code—that there may as well be. Every character in the show seems oddly muted in some way, tranquilized into mechanical acquiescence. It’s not that Offerman doesn’t have the range to play Forest, the delphic overlord of a “quantum AI” company called Amaya, with its unspecified products and creepy child logo. It’s that on-screen, the actor practically bursts with ebullience, and this is a whimsy-free zone. I burst out laughing when, in one scene, Forest shoved salad into his face without using any utensils, like a combless Amy Klobuchar. It was the one scene in eight plodding hours when Devs, for a minute, seemed as if it were in on the joke.