On Thursday, a new eight-part series called “Devs” premieres on Hulu (it’s actually the new “FX on Hulu” service), and I really liked it. It’s from Alex Garland, the guy behind “Ex Machina” and “Annihilation,” and it’s an ambitious science-fiction story that nudges viewers into thinking about a lot of big things in new and different ways. What are those things? I’m not even going to gesture at them; “Devs” is best experienced without any foreknowledge. The piecing together of the core themes and mysteries on the show is critical to its power.
It’s not for everyone, of course. What is? “Devs” is a cerebral pleasure that gets very philosophical and presses its brainy atmosphere with lots of ponderous soundtrack music and deadpan acting. Everything and everyone on screen is laden with the knowledge of the dangerous potential in the relationship between technology and humanity, and it’s a heavy — at times almost religious — vibe. Even the look of the show, with its sleek, futuristic production design and centered shots, is there to press you to think big. At points, I could see how it all might seem like pretentious twaddle to other people, but I was already hooked.
What I can say without spoiling anything is that Sonoya Mizuno stars as Lily Chan, a software engineer for a Bay Area company called Amaya. In the premiere, Lily’s boyfriend, Sergei (Karl Glusman), is promoted to a secret department of Amaya known only as Devs, where the company owner Forest (Nick Offerman), his assistant Kate (Alison Pill), and the security guy Kenton (Zach Grenier at his most arch) put most of their energy. After a day working for Devs, Sergei disappears, leaving Lily to figure out what happened to him. I found Mizuno’s lack of affect frustrating at points, but ultimately, it didn’t get in the way of my enjoyment.
Offerman is excellent. He creates a more complex version of those egocentric tech gurus we’ve seen in TV comedies, including Matt Ross’ Gavin Belson on “Silicon Valley” and Rob McElhenney’s Ian Grimm on “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet.” On the surface, Forest is gentle and, we can see, quite sad, with long hippie hair and a soft voice; but there’s an obsessiveness and smugness that are hard to ignore, for instance as he sits in a meeting eating greens with his hands.
Like “Years and Years,” “Devs” occasionally feels like a stretched-out episode of “Black Mirror.” It’s a cryptic thriller that has the potential to get under your skin, if it doesn’t annoy you to death first.