The 10 episodes that make up the first season can be stream from Amazon Prime
'Philip K Dick's Electric Dreams' is an epic sci-fi anthology
What do you get when you meld sci-fi loving minds behind Battlestar Galactica and Breaking Bad? You get Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams, in which revered screenwriter Ronald D Moore and celebrated actor Bryan Cranston put on producer hats to question the very nature of reality and humanity, in an anthology series drawn from the late author’s oeuvre.
The 10 episodes now being streamed on Amazon Prime show us that Philip Kindred Dick left us far too soon, at the age of 53. Dick suffered a series of strokes at his Santa Ana, California, home in 1982 that left him brain-dead and, in due course, he was disconnected from life support. But his unparalleled imagination is still with us, whirling around, as fabulous and captivating as ever.
Dick’s 44 novels and 121 short stories pulled in awards like a tractor beam, and inspired films such as Blade Runner, Total Recall (twice), Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly and The Adjustment Bureau. Ubik, his existential horror story set in a psychic realm between life and death, was chosen by Time magazine in 2009 as one of the 100 greatest novels since 1923.
“For the last 17 years, it’s been a pretty busy ride for me,” says Cranston, who also appears in an episode of the series. “I would get frustrated by reading novels and then having to stop and read scripts and proposals and ideas and other things. And then I’d get back to the novels and I’d forget where I was and I’d start over. It was very frustrating.
“But I can get through short stories, and I had been a fan of Philip K Dick’s short stories for a while. So when I heard they were doing this project, I was really excited. They asked me if I knew his short stories, and I said I knew them very well, and so they welcomed me into the group.
“We worked hard to present some really compelling storytelling that resonates with today’s life, so it’s not just about cautionary tales or dystopian societies in the future. Everything has something to do with how we do things in our modern society.”
According to its production partners, Britain’s Channel 4 and Amazon, Electric Dreams delivers “epic, ambitious and moving standalone episodes, each set in a different and unique world – some which lie in the far reaches of the universe and time, and others which are much, much closer to home. While the stories may be worlds apart, central to each is the poignant and warm exploration of the importance and significance of humanity.”
With a track record that includes the Peabody Award-winning reimagined Battlestar Galactica (2004-09), Moore cut his Hollywood teeth on some of the finest sci-fi TV ever made, including Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-94), Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-99) and, more recently, as the developer of Outlander (2014-present).
Although this is his first anthology series, getting top American and British writers and directors to sign up for Electric Dreams proved the easiest part of the team’s two-continent shoot.
An all-star cast – Steve Buscemi, Terrence Howard, Anna Paquin, Geraldine Chaplin, Janelle Monáe, Richard Madden, Mireille Enos, Greg Kinnear, Vera Farmiga, and Timothy Spall – head up what promises to be a thrilling, audacious and emotional journey into the far reaches of imagination.
“It’s the underlying material,” says Moore. “Everyone from the writers, directors, cast – as soon as you call them and say you’re doing a Philip K Dick anthology series – everybody jumps up and says, ‘I want to be part of that.’ His reputation is so strong, and the books, films, TV shows have influenced so many people in the film and TV industry that everyone wants to be part of the next one.”
Cranston’s episode, Human Is, sees the Emmy, Golden Globe and Tony Award-winner star opposite Essie Davis (Game of Thrones), who plays a woman suffering in a loveless marriage. Upon his return from battle, her emotionally abusive husband (Cranston) suddenly appears to be a different man – in more ways than one.
Former Boardwalk Empire star Buscemi appears in Crazy Diamond, which portrays one man’s search for anything that lets him express his individuality, in a future society that discourages it.
Chaplin (Doctor Zhivago, A Monster Calls) stars as an elderly woman travelling with space tourists to Earth in Impossible Planet, in a role that took some singular mental preparation.
“I’ve played all the grandmas – the nice grandmas, the horrible grandmas, the murdering grandmas, the cannibal grandmas – I did a whole load of horror films,” says the 73-year-old actress, the fourth child of screen legend Charlie Chaplin and a prolific actress of English, French and Spanish films.
“Then this came along and I thought: ‘Well, maybe there’s a whole new career in sci-fi.’ But it’s hard to do research on a 345-year-old woman – I didn’t meet any.”
Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams is streamed on Amazon Prime