TV Review: Foundation (Series 1)

AppleTV+ throw millions at sci-fi series Foundation and the result is something epic if somewhat sprawling

“Only we can shorten the darkness”

I’ve never read any Isaac Asimov so the adaptation of one of his book series in Foundation didn’t really register for me, despite AppleTV+ apparently throwing 45 million dollars at this TV show. What did catch my eye was a cast list that included Elliot Cowan, Alfred Enoch, Sasha Behar and Leah Harvey among countless others, which meant it has long lurked on my must-get-around-to-soon list and with a second series just premiering, I finally bit the bullet.

And I have to say I rather enjoyed it. I didn’t try to pretend that I understood much of what was going on at first (a version of pure mathematics called psychohistory that can predict the future) but rather just let myself sink into the lush visuals and that top-notch casting that produced all sorts of fun people in supporting roles and cameos (Ben Daniels! Isabella Laughland! Chris Jarman!). And once it gets over a certain hump, it becomes less complicated too.

We’re in the world of the Galactic Empire which has endured for thousands of years, ruled over by three differently-aged genetic clones of an original emperor (played by Cassian Bilton, Lee Pace and Terence Mann) who don’t take kindly to the predictions of mathematician Hari Seldon (Jared Harris). He and his followers are sent into exile to the distant world of Terminus, to build a new outpost of society which can collect the essential knowledge needed to survive what is to come, and it is that exercise that we follow in this first series.

The pacing is undeniably slow and its messaging heavily loaded, but David S. Goyer and Josh Friedman’s series is so sure of itself that you have to admire its establishment of an aesthetic that may well turn off many. If you stick with it though, there’s much here about how power corrupts, empires decline and how humanity will delude itself even in the face of planetary upheaval (an aptly timed climate change allusion that feels horribly real).

Foundation paints with sweepingly epic brushstrokes and so it does mean that it doesn’t always hit the mark in terms of effective emotional resonance. We move from decade to decade and from planet to planet with such briskness that when big disasters and massacres happen, there’s not always the impact there ought to be. When the show slows down a little and lets us spend a bit of time with people, that is when the magic happens.

T’Nia Miller is magnificent as ferociously committed senior priestess Zephyr Halima Ifa, fighting for those of her faith. Daniel McPherson (Neighbours!) is really good as a Han Solo-esque rake. Elliot Cowan brings real gravitas to his Director of the Foundation. Lee Pace is the pick of the archly imperial Cleons, supported in all by Laura Birn’s Demerzel, his robot majordomo. And leading from the front, Leah Harvey’s Salvor Hardin and Lou Llobell’s Gaal Dornick are both excellent as they follow separate but connected tracks towards destiny. One to stick with and savour rather than binge.

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