'Devs' - Technobabble Gets A Glamorous Makeover

Christopher Fowler
I have started ranting at the TV. I never used to even watch it. As a result, I'm completely out of the loop. The last show I saw was 'Minder' on television in a hospital waiting room. I think they have it permanently tuned to the 1980s. I'd been looking forward to Alex Garland's SF TV series 'Devs'. The writer-director is an exciting, frustrating talent. 'Dredd', 'Sunshine' and 'The Beach' all felt damaged by corporate interference. '28 Days Later', 'Ex-Machina' and the brilliant 'Annihilation' clearly passed more smoothly through the production process. But the risk of all televised SF lies in finding its balance between ideas and humanity, hearts and minds. Into this mix we should perhaps add believability. The rebirth of SF as a popular streaming choice started with the shameless ratings-chasing 'Lost' and drifted into an odd netherworld of SF without FX, where robots are just beautiful people and dystopic scenarios feature abstract conversations unfolding against brutalist architecture. 'The Man in the High Castle', 'The Handmaid's Tale' and 'Westworld' ultimately suffered from this repetitiveness, sandwiching extreme violence and sex between Socratic dialogues. Shows like 'Sense8' and 'The Leftovers' had intriguing ideas buried in repeat episodes of waffle. 'Devs' is more glamorous, more privileged, more GenX and yet somehow more retro, the story of a tech development company, gorgeously rendered in the woodlands beyond San Francisco. The offices may look like a Tom Dixon showroom but at heart this is an old-fashioned adventure; spunky girl detective and sidekick on trail of dead boyfriend's killer come up against sinister corporation. But in this futuristic, cautious world the company guilty secret is carried around on...a dongle? Containing secret information downloaded from a thuggish security guard (presumably one who doesn't know how to encrypt his files) while his back is turned? Never mind, we carry on toward the big reveal of the tech McGuffin...and my jaw drops. Not just because the idea is absurd no matter how much technobollocks you dress it up in, but because its applications are so cheesy. In both 'Contact' and 'Ad Astra' the plots shrank down to hinge upon daddy issues. 'Devs' is more expansive but cut from the same cloth. By the time Marilyn Monroe and Jesus put in an appearance I'd removed my vested interest.
But the big thing here is the look of it all.
It's amazing how much TV manages to convince through the styling. We're suckers for high-tech labs and concealed lighting. Smoke and mirrors can suggest we're watching something more interesting than geeks at keyboards. 'Devs' introduces a new GenX twist - the entire cast acting on horse tranquillisers. The strange casting strands former model
Sonoya Mizuno in a role that demands she show some emotion instead of just looking uncomfortable.
Dialogue is elliptical, tentative, inconclusive. The soundtrack is twiddly and a bit whiny. Episode 5 is the single most soporific instalment of any show in history. 'I'm in fairly deeply like with you,' says one character. The big SF idea is straight out of the MCU, and has been a part of it for decades. The cast members are foetal. And yet - there is something, a faintly mystical otherworldliness that Garland brings to all his projects. He wins my admiration for that. If only he'd made a series from 'Annihilation', which feels like it has so much more potential.


Rachel Green (not verified) Mon, 27/04/2020 - 18:08

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Oh, Thank Dog!
I was so bored I dropped it after 5 episodes.

Wayne Mook (not verified) Mon, 27/04/2020 - 19:24

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

With that picture Chris I was thinking 'Land of the Giants'.

Sunshine looked lovely but went a bit Pete Tongue plot wise. this is only the 3rd thing he has directed the other 2 are 'Ex-Machina' and 'Annihilation'. Shame it's not good. I will get round to watching it, possibly.


John Griffin (not verified) Tue, 28/04/2020 - 18:13

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Annihilation was a work of a major talent. Devs isn't.

Chris McCall (not verified) Tue, 28/04/2020 - 20:00

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

After watching Tales From The Loop I was in the mood for more sci- fi. Devs sadly brought me down to earth with a bump.

Wayne#1 (not verified) Wed, 29/04/2020 - 06:40

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I'm amazed anyone got as far as five episodes, I couldn't make it all the way through one.

Jan (not verified) Wed, 29/04/2020 - 08:33

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

"Devs" is a proper good programme for getting you to sleep though. I found myself snoozing about ten minutes into the 1st episode then thought no you were knackered that day give it another run...no just the same result next time round. They could market it as sedative telly. Could soothe the anxious through the crisis.

I tell you what IS good though a load of posts back you asked what folk thought of the new modern interpretations of Sherlock Holmes. Since then I have discovered the U.S. version of Sherlock with Johnny somebody (Dunno his name) as the man himself and Lucy Lui or is it Liu as JOAN Watson. Well after a bit of adjustment I really like it. Yes its clever - the scripts show a greater variance in quality to the UK Cucumberpatch version but some of them are really good.

It's interesting what they've done with the character's though Joan Watson has become very Sherlock like imperious, uber confident and well bright. The old duffer from the Basil Rathbone days has disappeared along with the slightly confused Martin ? from the UK version.

Sherlock himself reflects a lot of the same traits as the Cucumberpatch interpretation. He's a bit more of a,laugh though. Sherlock without the angst. Except that in some ways he's that bit further on along the Autistic spectrum. Maybe really Aspergers.... There's stuff he doesn't get at all. Stuff that Doc Watson doesn' t or in her new persona can't interpret for him its rather his liaison officer the NYPD Tec the black guy with the goatee beard who translates many of Sherlocks extrapolations into reality. That's the real change in character being the L'estrade D.I. figure. L'estrade is no longer Sherlocks straight man the target of his humour and intelligent deductions he's become more his buddy and translator (into human speaks) . Yes its grand I like the NYPD Sherlock...... Johnny Lee Miller that's the blokes name. Is he famous? Never heard of him me self and now signals very intermittent and Google unobtainable @ present so can't find out.

Have a good day Chris + Pete.

Ian Luck (not verified) Thu, 30/04/2020 - 18:38

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I thought 'Devs' was utter toss. I then binge watched all 17 (yes, I know that there is an alternate version of 'The Chimes Of Big Ben', but it's not much different) episodes of 'The Prisoner' and felt better.

John Howard (not verified) Fri, 01/05/2020 - 06:48

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Jan - Johnny Lee Miller... Yes he is fairly well known.. Try both of the Trainspotting films and especially Plunkett and MacLeane..

Back on subject - As you are watching just a bit more telly, and this is where I hesitate to put forward a watching suggestion but would just say, give Killing Eve a go.. It's assassinationy and spy'y but worth a peruse

Jan (not verified) Mon, 04/05/2020 - 14:07

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I tried watching that "Killing Eve" but just never liked it John couldn't get on with it At all.

SEVENTEEN (17) episodes of that claptrap? Devs the mogodon of bbc2. That's barmy.

Ian Luck (not verified) Tue, 05/05/2020 - 08:25

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Jan - I'd drunk (as an experiment, mind) a bottle of beer I was given. 8.5%, which gave some of the higher parts of my brain a half-holiday. I meant that I had watched all 17 episodes of 'The Prisoner', and that there are actually 18, as there is an alternate version of the second episode. I'd certainly never watch any more of 'Devs' than I had to, thank you very much.
Similarly, if, like me, you loved both Dave Stevens' 'Rocketeer' comics, and the brilliant movie adaptation, I strongly suggest you avoid the 'Rocketeer' cartoon. It's awful. Truly, truly awful, having been made into a kid's show, set in the present day. It is, as the Germans say, Dreck. The original material by Stevens was for adult consumption - pulp violence, and Bettie Page as Cliff Secord's (The Rocketeer) girlfriend, who has a serious allergy to clothes. And Disney thought 'kid's show'. The know nothing bastards.