I rarely gush about television shows. I never gush about television shows centered around hacking and technology. Today? I’m going to gush about Mr. Robot.
Listeners of my weekly podcast Passenger Seat Radio have been urging me for years to pick up the 2015 USA Network’s thriller — but I have managed to resist — until recently.
See, for those involved in information technology (IT) or even those that may have dabbled in the seedy underworld of hacking (ethical or otherwise) these sorts of “tech-focused” shows are always a disappointment.
Why? The answer is simple. They cater to a broad audience.
I’m sure when real doctors watch Grey’s Anatomy or St. Elsewhere (I’m getting so damn old … sucks) they roll their eyes. When I was in the U.S. Navy assigned to a submarine — the last thing I could stomach was watching The Hunt for Red October.
Those who live in an industry can’t stand it when their industry is watered down to the least common denominator.
Mr. Robot doesn’t suffer from this dilution factor. They proceed with the assumption that you know what this technology is and they don’t spoon feed it to you if you don’t. Do you know what IRC is? Honeypot? Know what a console window on Linux is supposed to look like? The command line keyword to remotely download a file? Know the differences between Linux Mint and KDE?
I do. So does Mr. Robot. You’ll see all of these things regularly on this techno-drama and you won’t be insulted when the subjects are broached.
There are no fake “10 foot screen” interfaces for copying a file. You don’t have a character say “This is Linux .. I know this…” then see a 3D floating file browser that guides you directly where you need to go.
Mr. Robot keeps it real.
Attention to Detail
In the old days, when television producers expected a viewer to see his work once or twice (maybe three times in a summer rerun) there was a legitimate excuse not to pay attention to detail. After all, how many people are going to realize that Jaime Sommer’s has a mustache when she uses her bionics to jump over a 20 foot wall? That’s a true story, by the way — get the DVD sets of The Bionic Woman and see for yourself (the 1976 Bionic Woman … not that terrible remake).
In today’s digital, on-demand world — there is no excuse for lack of attention to detail. After all, regardless of topic, you have armies of trolls out there freeze framing every scene looking for a reason to complain about your content on Twitter.
There are no magic five minute Tachyon ray solutions on this show, either. A mess is a mess.
During a scene in episode 11 of season 2, an old 8-bit computer — the Commodore 64 — is shown as part of the scene.
Anyone who grew up with one of these computers can tell you just how great this is because it was actually done correctly. What you see in the scene is a legitimate set up with the correct floppy drive and monitor (okay, they messed up the drive access sound but I’m 99% sure it is from a Commodore AMIGA computer — so they were still with the same manufacturer).
The way they access the “game” is even accurate — right down to the commands sent to the C64. See for yourself — it is fully recreated right here for you to try it.
The show frequently references the old television shows and movies — and not in a hipster-aren’t-we-cool way that pisses a lot of GenX’ers off.
In addition to favorites like Seinfeld and Fraiser — one character talks about how Knight Rider predicted the future dependence humans would have on technology some 30 years before. The character mentions how dope the theme music is and lo and behold — Mr. Robot starts playing the actual Stu Phillips theme music behind its title card.
There are endless references to Back to the Future (especially #2 — and it might ruin the show if I tell you why) and there are such subtle esoteric nudges in the show that only someone who saw BTTF like 100 times might get. Not pointed out with a big arrow or spoon fed to you (a method spoofed brilliantly in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back).
Did you pick up the radio playing The Ballad of Davy Crockett during one of those scenes? I sure did.
For one episode they created a complete recreation of a 1990’s sitcom. Every detail disgustingly laid out. Shot in 4:3 aspect ratio? Check. The same crappy music bed every 1990’s sitcom used? Check! Cameo by Alf? CHECK!
By Geeks For Geeks But With Other Stuff(tm)
I know I know .. if you want references you’re too young to understand or appreciate you could watch Family Guy, right?
Why should you watch Mr. Robot if you’re not a certified hacker or kid of the 1980s?
I could tell you — but then I’d have to kill you.
Seriously though, the show is a roller-coaster of characters, plot lines, intrigue — you know “regular good television stuff”. You want crazy plot twists? Red herrings? Characters you love to hate? Hate to love? Flash back fill in scenes?
The show has it all.
Academy Award Winner Rami Malek (and the rest)
Whether you loved or hated the biopic Bohemian Rhapsody — Mr. Robot’s star Rami Malek took home the 2019 Oscar for Best Actor thanks to his incredible portrayal of rocker Freddie Mercury.
While I love the listeners of my podcast, it wasn’t their recommendation of Mr. Robot that got me to watch it. After seeing Malek play Mercury and being moved by his performance, I knew I had to at least give Mr. Robot a shot.
As a bonus, I finally get the Family Guy reference where Brian gets a birthday gift of Malek’s circles under his eyes and his deadpan voice.
I’m sure with his new golden statue, Malek (he is a producer of Mr. Robot too, by the way) will be even more singled out during the final season’s promotion — but it is irresponsible to give Rami all the credit for the show.
There is an ensemble cast involved in making this show so great. From the childhood friend, Angela (Portia Doubleday) to E Corp’s own Mr. Price (Michael Cristofer) and everyone in-between (to name more might give away important plotlines) — the show is a tight collection of characters that mesh well to keep things exciting and interesting.
There, I’m done gushing. Thank you for allowing me into your busy Medium reading schedule — I know you have 10 other stories popped into new tabs to read.
Are you a fan of Mr. Robot? Let’s chat about it in the comments below.