Review: Devs

Aimee Seddon reviews Alex Garland's latest creation Devs.

Aimee Seddon
29th May 2020
Credit: FX Networks, IMDb
When I’m back home from university , it can be quite hard to find a show that both my parents and I would enjoy (especially with quarantine meaning we need to find 3 months worth of material!) But Devs was a perfect choice. It’s an American science-fiction thriller miniseries released on BBC2 in April, although it premiered on the US streaming service Hulu back in March. This is the third work to be directed by Alex Garland, the others being Ex Machina and Annihilation, both science-fiction themselves, thus Garland remains in his familiar territory.

The show is set in Silicon Valley and centres around the fictional tech company Amaya, whose CEO, Forrest, is Nick Offerman. Most famous for Parks and Recreation, I was intrigued to see Offerman outside of a comic role, although I’m not entirely convinced; his character is generally cold and vacant, so much so I didn’t feel much empathy for him, even when so much of the show is dedicated to his grief for his wife and young daughter, Amaya, who were both killed in a car accident.

Sonoya Mizuno as Lily in Devs
Credit: FX Networks, IMDb

British Actress Sonoya Mizuno plays the lead, Lily, and I found her more interesting to watch; she has a distinct presence, very commanding yet chaotic at the same time. Both Lily, and her boyfriend Sergei (Karl Glusman) work for Amaya, however, when Sergei is invited to join the mysterious Devs department, he soon dies in suspicious circumstances. This creates the drive for the show, as Lily, with the help of Jamie, her ex (tricky!), embark on a mission to discover what happened to Sergei, and what the f*** Devs is??

In the position of Dev’s Chief Designer stars Alison Pill, who I remember most from Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen back in 2004, although her Devs character is very different to Lindsay Lohan’s innocent nerdy friend! The other Devs colleagues we meet are Cailee Spaeny, the little sister from Bad Night at the El Royale, and Stephen McKinley Henderson. His character was the most ‘normal’ of the Devs colleagues—certainly the only one that will make you laugh, and who you can picture in a pub.

It is the type of show that makes you question the way the world works, and it does this really well

So what is Devs? It uses a super clever quantum computer to explore the idea of determinism: if there is no such thing as a random act of free will and everything is predetermined, then moments from the past and future can be predicted and projected for viewing. Whilst I found this complete absence of free will hard to find convincing (and trust me Garland does try!) it doesn’t stop the enjoyment of the show, and if you allow yourself to immerse yourself into their thinking, there are some really clever scenes made. It is the type of show that makes you question the way the world works, and it does this really well.

Devs managed to avoid becoming predictable

Amongst all the sci-fi there is a somewhat romantic subplot, with the aforementioned triangle between Lily, Sergei and Jamie. Plus, with an American tech company at its centre, its unsurprising that there’s a Russian espionage plot too. This subplot is introduced near the beginning, and then seems to be completely forgotten about for a few episodes, which felt a bit odd. But don’t worry it comes back in again at the end, as one of my favourite twists in a TV show for a while. Normally someone in my family guesses what twist will come, and yet this one escaped our pseudo-detective notice. Whilst some shows can become predictable, throughout the series, Devs managed to avoid this.

Besides the character and plot, it’s very aesthetic. Garland spends a lot of time depicting atmospheric shots of San Francisco, a wide expanse that is needed as a relief from the intricate world of computers and technology the characters live in. Also a common feature in these shots is a large kitsch statue of Forrest’s deceased daughter that casts a shadow over the Amaya campus—a very creepy image, but representative of how big a part this girl plays in the very making of the Devs department. This uncanny image is matched by the jarring music that features often, overall creating an interestingly eery atmosphere.

Nick Offerman as Forrest in Devs
Credit: FX Networks, IMDb

Now be prepared, the pace is slow. It’s not slow enough to be considered boring, especially because there is always so much stylistically going on, but it does test your patience. For some series, my family can binge watch multiple episodes in one evening, but for Devs we could only ever stomach two at once. With the series being made of 8 episodes, I do wonder why Garland didn’t make this a feature length movie instead, it may have worked better that way.

But don’t let that put you off, it’s ultimately a very ambitious concept, made beautifully (and expensively I may add), with some thought-provoking moments. Not that anything I say can convince you to do anything you’ve not already planned to do, it’s all pre-determined whether you’re going to watch it or not...

Credit: TV Promos, YouTube
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