‘FOUNDATION’ lays down a richly thematic soil to build an excitingly cerebral sci-fi series

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

FOUNDATION

TV-MA, about 60 min. an episode.
Creator: Josh Friedman and David S. Goyer
Cast: Lou Llobell, Jared Harris, Lee Pace, Alfred Enoch, Leah Harvey, Laura Birn, Terrence Mann, Cassian Bilton, Daniel MacPherson and T’Nia Miller

Great sci-fi sends the mind and heart racing—and Apple TV+’s new series, Foundation, does exactly that. It’s got a fantastic cast, a massive universe of opportunity, stunning popcorn-flavored visuals and thoughtful themes about fate versus determinism, legacy and the cyclical nature of history. While it throws a lot at you right out of the gate, you’ll reach a point when the dust begins to settle and its ideas take you on a journey worth tuning into each week.

Based on Isaac Asimov’s epic saga of the same name, Foundation begins when revolutionary Dr. Hari Seldon (Jared Harris) predicts the impending fall of the Empire. His theory sends the universe in a frenzy, attracting acolytes while others wish death upon him. Seldon and his followers (including Lou Llobell and Alfred Enoch) travel to the far reaches of the galaxy to establish the titular group that will work to rebuild and preserve the future of civilization. However, trouble is afoot when the ruling Cleons – a fascinating longline of emperor clones at different life stages (a very good Lee Pace, Terrence Mann and Cooper Carter) – fear their reign may be weakening as a result. Science, math and classic good versus evil come together for an exciting series launch.

Apple TV+ doesn’t get cheap with its aesthetics one bit. Instead, everything about the Foundation’s universe feels lived-in and authentic, from the production design, character costumes and technology. The logic of it all may cause you to scratch your head from time to time, but the conversations open up your mind in a fashion that forgives its shortcomings. 

Take, for instance, the series third episode, titled “The Mathematician’s Ghost.” I don’t foresee the series’ chapters being more profound than this one. In this relatively quiet and meditative episode, Brother Dusk (Mann), the eldest member of Cleons, is reaching the end of his life. Signs of his body failing him begin to show, and he cries for more time because he has finally reached a true point of tranquility. He has passed down all the knowledge to his brothers to keep the ruling of the Empire consistent. He’s seen this never-ending situation play out from his former brothers that have passed on. But, in a tone and narrative that’s too far off from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Duncan Jones’ Moon, Brother Dusk doesn’t want the sun to set on him. And from there, we learn more about the ascension process. I mean, isn’t it fascinating and scary to think about the same person ruling the galaxy for eternity? Do you mean to say that each of those clones will have the same line of thinking? Well, maybe not. You’ll have to keep watching to see where it goes.

That’s only one fraction of the multi-plot show. The Shakespearean-like feel spills into other areas of its narrative, and it’ll throw you for a loop each time you begin to become comfortable with how it’s going. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a sign of thrilling television. Hopefully, it stays on that track and continues to ask big existential questions, expand its world and back its complex characters into challenging corners.

Grade: B

Watch the first three episodes today on Apple TV+, followed by weekly drops on Friday for the remaining seven chapters.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.