For sci-fi lovers there’s a new show in town. Netflix Altered Carbon is a sci-fi crime noir action show with flying cars, lots of violence and lots of sex. But the show’s plot stands out as well, following a loose adaptation of the Altered Carbon novel.
In the future Humanity has found itself settled amongst the stars. People can live forever if they have the money for it. Everyone has a stack, a small bit of technology, in the back of their heads which works as a hard copy of their mind. You can be put into different bodies as long as your stack stays intact.
We follow Takashi Kovacs, an Envoy from the planet Harlen’s World. Envoys are superhuman soldiers, trained and enhanced to be the ultimate weapons. Their conditioning makes it that they can be sleeved, the act of being put inside a body, anywhere and instantly be fighting ready,
Kovacs is the last Envoy. He wakes up in a strange body after 250 years on ice, that is, not living, serving a prison sentence for treason. Kovacs is enlisted by an immortal human, Laurens Bancroft, known as Meth. Meths are the people who are so rich they can afford to clone their bodies and be constantly resleeved whenever they need to, living forever and controlling the world.
Bancroft hires Kovacs to find out who murdered him. If he finds out, Bancroft will give Kovacs a pardon for his crimes and enough money to start a new life. Otherwise, Kovacs can go back on ice and serve out the rest of his indefinite terms. Who would kill one of the most powerful men on earth? Kovacs is caught in a web much more tangled and dangerous than it would seem, with multiple unknown parties coming to kill him.
One of the great things about the show is that the world building is fantastic. A futuristic Earth, complete with smog, neon lights and AI hotels. It’s a lot like Blade Runner, only with a higher budget.
The show follows the book very closely with the world building. It’s easy to immerse yourself, and there’s a lot of back story. The show itself is set on Earth, but there are flashbacks to Kovac’s time in Harlen’s World.
The cinematography and setting feels both sci-fi and noir, setting the tone for the rest of the show. Although distinctly futuristic, there’s a very clear human element that gives it a sense of realism.
The characters are easy to understand. Kovacs, the hard-edged soldier with nothing to lose. Kristen Ortega, the spunky police lieutenant who just wants answers, and her calm uncle-figure partner who just wants to look out for her.
Bancroft, his wife and the rest of the meths play a good role as the superior rich who don’t care for the little people. Whether they are the bad guys are not isn’t black and white.
There is also Poe, the AI who runs The Raven Hotel, instantly loveable he is both the most courteous of establishments and also one of the deadliest. More than happy to gun down anyone who threatens his guests he brings a fantastic touch of humour to the show.
There are other major players, like Quell who lead the Envoys and whom we see in flashbacks and well as hallucinations by Kovacs. Finally, we have a few mystery characters who appear later on as the story develops in a few twists and turns.
Altered Carbon is a great addition to sci-fi TV. Although it doesn’t follow the book entirely, it stands well on it’s own and the choices made are mostly good. The characters are interesting, and the way the actual sci-fi aspects are handled are done well.
The cinematography is on a high level, feeling more like a film than a TV show. Netflix continues to hit it out the park with the original series.
Combined with shows like The Expanse, The Orville, Star Trek Discovery and Black Matter the sci-fi genre is really nailing it on TV.