“Devs” was the first series to debut as part of the new partnership between the streaming platform Hulu and television network FX. It is a science fiction miniseries brought to us by Alex Garland (“Ex Machina,” “Annihilation”). Like any work from Garland is a visually striking work that will leave you thinking long afterwards, but it lacks the punch that his previous works have made.
“Devs” unravels the story of Lily Chan, portrayed by Sonoya Mizuno (“Ex Machina,” “Maniac”), a young software engineer who works for a leading innovative tech company in Silicon Valley. After her boyfriend commits suicide on company property the day of his promotion to the mysterious Devs department, Lily’s sneaking suspicions of foul play lead her on an irreversible path towards the company’s secretive CEO Forest, portrayed by Nick Offerman (“Parks and Recreation,” “Fargo”). In her quest to discover the truth, she uncovers a technology-based conspiracy that could change the world’s perceptions of fate and faith.
“Devs” is an intriguing exploration of the theory of determinism. It grounds a heady philosophical debate in a grounded story. Garland uses a simple visual effect to perfectly illustrate the concepts and ramifications of determinism. It is a brilliant flex of his eye for cinematography.
Throughout the series, you are taken by the visuals presented. The production design is immaculate and gorgeous. The tech company’s sprawling nature campus contrasted against the industrial and futuristic pod that Devs is held within underlines the tensions between society and industry. The effects used in the show to demonstrate their projections and forecasts progress with the progression of the technology but maintain a fundamental visual appeal.
Yet, “Devs” is largely underwhelming. It is not engaging enough to justify it’s eight-episode run. The well-constructed atmosphere and plot ideas aren’t enough to support more than four episodes. The reach beyond this length only exposes the weakness Garland has in creating characters and plotlines. The details are heaping in some areas and far too sparse in others. The plot pacing moves glacially and then all at once. At points it is intentionally confusing, but most of the time it seems to be a little lost itself.
The main character, Lily Chan, is frankly quite annoying. Her actions and intentions rarely line up, and the performance by Mizuno only makes the situation worse. Truly, it is one of the worst lead performances on a show with this caliber cast. Her affectation is utterly numb even when delivering a full range of emotional beats from defiant to hysterical to joyful to grief-stricken. It is frustrating to watch her fall so flat in the performance that is meant to carry the show.
Nick Offerman and Alison Pill give amazing performances in the miniseries. Offerman is showing a new dimension of his abilities, far from the comedic turns he is known for. He embodies the dark technocracy and god complex that we fear all tech giants may actually have. Pill delivers another intricate, emotional and weird performance that she is often pegged for as his right-hand assistant who may be just a little too committed to the boss.
“Devs” is an interesting and thought-provoking piece. It is just too long for its own good.