If you had told critics and film executives thirty-five years ago that Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner would be one of the most beloved sci-fi films of all time—that it would transcend cult status to become a near-religious object in science fiction and anime filmmaking—you would likely have been laughed out of the room. If you had predicted that, thirty-five years later, it would spawn one of the most spectacular sequels imaginable, you might have been met with concern for your sanity. The world was just not ready for Blade Runner in 1982, just as it was not ready for Philip K. Dick in the 50s when he began his writing career and “couldn’t even pay the late fees on a library book.”
In the following decade, however, Dick’s work came into its own. Many years before it provided a near-infallible source for technological prescience and existential futurism in cinema, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the novella from which Blade Runner adapted its story, got a Nebula award nomination, one of three Dick received in the 60s. Five years earlier, he won a Hugo award for The Man in the High Castle.
Now, after the success of that speculative historical novel’s grim Amazon adaptation, the company has partnered with Channel 4 and Sony for another small-screen Dick project—Electric Dreams, co-produced by Bryan Cranston, a longtime fan of the author.
An anthology series based on Dick’s stories, Electric Dreams first airs on Channel 4 in the U.K., and will soon move to Amazon, where Prime users will be able to stream the whole 10-episode season for free. (If you aren’t a Prime user, you can get a 30-day free trial to watch the series, then keep or cancel the membership.) Electric Dreams reminds us that a couple of phenomena from Dick’s heyday have made a significant comeback in recent years. First, imaginative, high-concept anthology shows like Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror and the Duplass brothers’ Room 104 hearken back to the success of The Twilight Zone and lesser-known shows like Roald Dahl’s Way Out.
Secondly, we’ve made a return to the paranoia, social unrest, authoritarianism, and threats of nuclear war that formed the backdrops of Dick’s visionary fables. These are indeed “anxious times,” as Cranston says, but he and the show’s other producers instructed the writers to “use the original material as a springboard to your own re-imagining of the story—keep the core… or idea behind it and enhance that and see how that affects not a Cold War period when it was written, but now. How does it affect the modern-day audience?”
Given the all-star cast and high-dollar production values evident in the trailer above, we can likely expect the same kind of quality from Electric Dreams as we have seen in nearly every Dick adaptation thus far. And if it doesn’t catch on right away, well, that may be everyone’s loss but those viewers who recognize, as Dick himself recognized when he saw Blade Runner in 1982, that they have experienced something truly unique.