Devs (2020) s01e01

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a director more desperately want to be compared to Stanley Kubrick than “Devs” creator, writer, and director Alex Garland. The show’s a stylistic mash-up of 2001 and The Shining, maybe with some Eyes Wide Shut thrown in (for the street scenes).

It takes place in San Francisco at a Google-esque tech company, run by a mumblecore dramatic Nick Offerman (with a Stallman beard going, no toe cheese yet), and involves some young programmers. There’s Karl Glusman, a Russian guy who came to the States after undergrad, and his girlfriend, Sonoya Mizuno, who’s third generation Chinese-American. Why’s it important? Because when Glusman gets promoted to the corporation’s most elite project—Devs—security chief Zach Grenier (at his most Zach Grenier) doesn’t like the idea of a Russian and a Chinese person around.

Though it’s unclear when “Devs” takes place, is it present-day or near future, does Garland have some other kinds of sociopolitical situations in mind or are they “just” our own.

There’s a big bait and switch in the episode—followed by Garland trying to amp up the Kubrick with some Fincher thrown in—but it’s not a big enough one to distract from Garland not actually explaining the Devs department. It’s this mysterious bunker lab with a Phase IV garden outside—there are various “hints” at to what it’s going to be through references, like when Mizuno is reading Colossus (AI goes wild). Phase IV is hyper-intelligent ants. Is Offerman making hyper-intelligent ants?

Neat.

But we don’t find out this episode. Instead, we find out things are not what they seem at the company, which maybe should be obvious from the giant “statue” of a little girl, the company logo, towering over the campus like a less disquieting Palomar statue.

The best performance—oh, the cast also includes Alison Pill as Offerman’s sidekick—but the best performance is Jin Ha, as Mizuno’s ex-boyfriend. She goes to him for help when Glusman flips out post-first day in Devs.

Really good cinematography from Rob Hardy.

“Devs” looks great. It’s manipulative and basic (albeit in 20th century sci-fi deep cuts), but it does look great.

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