Television review

Online intrigue in USA’s moody ‘Mr. Robot’

Peter Kramer/USA Network/USA Network

If you weren’t already sufficiently frightened about the tenuous nature of online security, “Mr. Robot” is here to remind you that you should be.

On the heels of the superficially similar “CSI: Cyber,” the new USA drama, premiering Wednesday at 10 p.m., delves into the world of computer hacking.

The way into the dark net comes courtesy of Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek, “The Master,” “Night at the Museum”), a squirrelly young computer genius with major social anxiety issues that he is self-medicating with morphine. Elliot works as a tech at the online security company AllSafe by day and is a vigilante hacker by night, turning in child porn peddlers and protecting the people he cares about, including co-worker and childhood friend Angela (Portia Doubleday, “Carrie”) and his court-ordered therapist Dr. Gordon (Gloria Reuben, “ER”). His hacking got him into a spot of trouble, thus the therapy.


Elliot also thinks he’s being followed. And as the old saying goes, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you. But the person on Elliot’s trail turns out to be a professed white-hat hacker who wants to start a revolution by bringing down one of the world’s biggest conglomerates, E Corp (think Apple), which just happens to be AllSafe’s biggest client.

That man is the Mr. Robot of the
title, played by Christian Slater (“Kuffs”). Mr. Robot feels a lot like what a few of Slater’s famous ’90s film characters might have grown up to be. He has the bad daddy issues from J.D. in “Heathers” and the anarchic spirit of that character and the pirate radio DJ “Hard Harry” from “Pump Up the Volume,” but with a desire to blow up the financial markets instead of Westerberg High.

In the pilot, now available in its entirety online, Elliot struggles with whether he should narc on Mr. Robot to the Feds or join his revolution and incite global chaos. Given the name of the show, it’s not hard to figure out which pill he swallows. What’s less clear is how interesting this premise will actually be, as Elliot asks lots of reasonable questions and Mr. Robot offers few, if any, satisfying answers, which could get tedious.


Malek is an actor worth watching, though, and he is well-suited to his character’s quirks. And “Mr. Robot” may be one of the few shows in the last decade where a voice-over — framed as Elliot talking to an imaginary friend — actually proves useful beyond redundant exposition. Elliot is a character who shares precious little about what he is thinking. He comes across with a blank affect. The narration shows how very active his mind is, how it is travelling at a speed light years ahead of what his few facial expressions would indicate.

While USA’s summer fare generally has a lot more humor and light than this series — which favors gritty subway scenes, a dimly lighted and abandoned Coney Island arcade, and cramped office spaces — the network has proven it can successfully go a little darker with shows like “Graceland,” so “Mr. Robot” could turn out to have some life in it.

Television review


Starring: Rami Malek, Christian Slater, Portia Doubleday, Carly Chaikin, Martin Wallstrom


Time: Wednesday, 10 p.m.

Sarah Rodman can be reached at srodman@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeRodman.