I watched the first season of The Feed (2019), a British SF-horror series on Amazon Prime. I can’t say I was terribly whelmed by it. By the time I watched the last two episodes (of ten) I was mostly kinda over it. It has some neat ideas, but far too many tropes and cliches.
Full disclosure, I am not generally much of a horror fan. As with fantasy, I need a bit of something special — original — in my horror (like alien face-huggers or alien trophy hunters). Ordinary horror stories (especially outright slasher flicks), or, for that matter, ordinary Medieval magic fantasy stories, just don’t make the cut.
The problem I had with The Feed was finding it pretty ordinary.
Both revolve around an advanced form of the interweb, “the feed” in Windo’s book, “feednet” in Anderson’s, that connects directly to the brain.
I haven’t read either book, but in the TV series (and I assume in both books), the connection is wireless. One aspect of The Feed is that the connection is made in utero.
Not having read either book, I’ll just talk about the TV series from here. There will be spoilers.
The basic premise of The Feed is that something is happening that seems to be due to the feed. Much of the season is devoted to solving the mystery.
It happens when people are sleeping. They have what seems to be a seizure. Sometimes they continue to sleep, but sometimes they wake up. In either case, their brain has apparently been taken, and they are no longer who they were.
In most cases, the “taken” person is murderously violent. The family members of the taken typically get killed, often in their sleep, but almost always before they realize their spouse/parent/kid is taken.
At first, of course, the Hatfields, the family that invented, owns, and runs, the feed, along with willing cooperation from the government, tries to cover up what’s happening. Taken people are kidnapped as soon as they’re identified, and all news is suppressed.
Lawrence Hatfield (David Thewlis) is the brains behind the advances that make the feed possible. Just as the interweb today has become a required utility service, nearly everyone has the feed (often from birth). His wife, Meredith (Michelle Fairley), is the family matriarch.
Their two sons, Tom (Guy Burnet) and Ben (Jeremy Neumark) offer a Yin-Yang Cain-Abel contrast. Tom, clearly always favored by their father, has rejected the family wealth and control of the feed and gone off to do his thing (he councils people with feed addictions). Early in the series he marries his girlfriend (Nina Toussaint-White), and they have a baby.
Meanwhile, Ben, with life-long jealousy, the son who can’t seem to please their father, divorced and unable to get over it, has gained a high position in the company (because he’s daddy’s son). He’s basically an arrogant entitled prick who uses an illegal black market feed app to create a virtual porn AI of his ex-wife.
The feed’s connection to the brain allows virtual conversations where it appears the other party is actually standing there. (If you watched The Expanse, think Miller appearing to Holden. Like that.) Or that you’re actually seeing data-generated images. Or, in Ben’s case, feeling the VR porn.
Much of the first series (no word on whether they’ll be a second; it definitely ends with a cliffhanger) involves figuring out why people are being taken.
Is it a bug in the software? Is it hackers? If so, who? Is it AI? Has the feed become self-aware? (That was my rough guess, that AI would factor in. It wasn’t the AI I thought, but it was still kind of AI after all. This is horror, so it was more morbid than I thought.)
Ben’s (perhaps justifiable) inferiority complex and jealousy cause some significant problems along the way.
Because this is SF horror, there’s some amount of violence, murder, and blood. I’ve seen much (much) worse, even in TV series. They don’t linger, and they often cut away just in time to avoid serious gore. But it is definitely in the horror genre, so expect deaths.
Lots and lots of deaths if you want to consider everything that happens off screen, but plenty of deaths on screen. There’s even a massacre of taken people and the floor runs red.
One thing I’ll mention in particular and definitely spoil here involves jeopardy to children or infants. I’ve known people who are very sensitive to that sort of thing. (I’m kind of that way about dogs — as a kid, I couldn’t watch Lassie; too afraid something would happen to the dog.)
Tom and Kate have a daughter, Bea, who acts, in part as a possible McGuffin, and certainly as a hostage or apparent target. The people I mentioned would have a hard time watching that. I will say this: nothing bad happens to the baby.
As I mentioned, overall I found it ordinary. I liked the first few episodes, but as it wore on, it wore off, and by the time everything was explained I no longer really cared.
Some of that is on me and my lack of interest in horror. Fans of the genre might enjoy it a lot more. There’s nothing really wrong with the story.
But I found it pedestrian and unoriginal. There are enough science fiction futures visualized by now that there are tropes and icons. The data pads, displays, and touch control panels, for example. (When will people stop thinking transparent displays are a good thing?)
The future of The Feed isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. Nothing caught my eye about the production design. Most of it felt very pro forma.
I give it an Eh! rating. (Although by the end I was thinking Meh!)
I did notice an apparent motif involving long narrow hallways. At some point I started noticing, “Oh, yeah, look at that; long narrow hallway again.” Perhaps the idea was to create a ‘walls are closing in’ feeling — quite appropriate for the Hatfields.
I will give it some credit for being fairly self-contained, but it does involve a global threat to humanity. (Self-contained is my new rant. I’ve grown weary of everything having global, if not galactic, stakes. Small stories are more engaging to me.)
[I’m not sure I’ve ever really loved a story that have global stakes. I bet most of my favorites are self-contained. LA Story, Grand Canyon, His Girl Friday, Maltese Falcon, the Thin Man movies, any older film really, nearly all comedies,…]
It’s dead people. (Told you it was morbid.)
They created a new feature, SAVEU, that backed up people’s brains. It essentially uploaded their consciousness (but didn’t run them). Lawrence was experimenting with the backups of people who died — and he wasn’t just running their conscious minds, he was tinkering with them.
It’s gotten away from him. (At its core, this is Frankenstein and his monster.) The dead minds have managed to start invading the feed, and they’re taking over people through it. They want out!
Worth seeing if you like that sort of thing, but nothing to write home about. I’m not sorry I watched it, but I can’t say I have much interest in series two or what happens next.
Not when there are so many other things to watch. Next on my Prime list: Tales from the Loop.
Stay safe, my friends! Wear your masks — COVID-19 is airborne!