Fox is getting into the event series game with its newest release. Simply titled Next, or stylized in some spheres as NEXT, the series looks to introduce its audience to the newest form of A.I, a highly intelligent, ever-evolving computer program that can rewrite itself to learn. In doing so, it can learn exponentially to quickly become the smartest thing on the planet. Sound scary? You have no idea.
The series begins with a simple but chilling quote from Elon Musk: “With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon.” The death of Dr. Richard Weiss puts Paul LeBlanc (John Slattery) and SSA Shea Salazar (Fernanda Andrade) on a collision course with each other. Salazar, who is working a child pornography case, wants nothing to do with LeBlanc at first, but Dr. Weiss saved her life and so she decides to investigate his death. This investigation puts a hamper on the child pornography case, but Salazar assures her team that she can handle both cases at the same time.
On the way to LeBlanc’s company, Zava, in California, LeBlanc begins to tell Salazar about a concept called technical singularity, but Salazar doesn’t believe him when he begins to talk about superintelligence and a program’s ability to rewrite itself, despite working cybercrimes for the FBI. LeBlanc holds the answers and warned of the dangers of technology after he was fired from his company for his erratic behavior and for pulling the plug on a program that got away from him.
Only, LeBlanc’s brother Ted (Jason Butler Harner) and a group of hotshot programmers have basically revived the program and it’s revealed that their creation is much scarier. Using pieces of LeBlanc’s code, they’ve created NEXT, a program similar to Siri, Alexa, and Bixby only NEXT goes one step further. NEXT is completely self-aware, thanks to its programming. The programmers swear that NEXT is on a closed circuit but quickly learn otherwise. When LeBlanc gives it a test, it gets angry and hacks into the FBI database deleting all of Salazar’s files on the child pornography case.
Elsewhere, after being bullied in school, Salazar’s son, Ethan (Evan Whitten) converses with a home device called Iliza who gives the boy the combination to a gun safe in his home.
I’ll admit that “File #1” didn’t catch my attention at first. Slattery and Andrade didn’t gell until they arrived at Zava and Salazar saw the true power of the technology she uses every day and what technology could mean in the hands of the wrong people. But the thing is, this isn’t about technology in the hands of the wrong people. At least, it doesn’t seem like that yet. No, this is something far more sinister. This is a program that is made in the interest of helping people (or capitalism, as I’m sure that’s how this will go, just going off of Ted and his actions in the episode. More on that later.) that gains its self-awareness and doesn’t like that people know about it. I keep thinking of the familiar trope that the program learned about humanity’s inherent vices and decides humans need to be eradicated, but that doesn’t seem like NEXT’s MO. No, NEXT is after something and what that something is the audience isn’t made aware of.
At least, not yet.
Many of today’s societal worries are weaved through this episode, setting into motion what are sure to be interesting plot threads in the future. For instance, will Ethan’s retaliation on his bullies result in every parent’s worst nightmare, and the very thing that many Democrats and, you know, decent people fight to prevent and change every day? School shootings are a hot topic, for good reason, and Next is bringing that front and center very quickly. It’s an eerie sequence that might bring startling implications and consequences down the line, not only with Salazar and her job as an FBI agent, but also Zava, LeBlanc, and his brother Ted.
Speaking of Ted, another hot button topic pulsing through the episode is capitalism. It’s subtle, but it’s there. Ted is the CEO of Zava and part of the whole reason LeBlanc isn’t the CEO anymore is that he killed a multimillion-dollar program that was going to bring Zava a lot of money. When LeBlanc threatens to cause NEXT to self-destruct, Ted complains about how he can’t just kill a multimillion-dollar project and that if he does decide to kill it, he’ll have to speak to the board of directors first. Ted is going to be a problem later on down the line. Mark my words.
Writer and creator Manny Coto gave the audience a solid pilot that was narratively interesting but not overly complicated. Understanding technology is the complicated part, but Coto does a good job explaining what is going on without talking down this audience. He’s also created interesting characters, but he fell into the problem of introducing too many characters all at once.
Two of Salazar’s team mates seem interesting, but I don’t know enough to make opinions on them. Which is weird because Coto does explain why they have animosity between them, but I don’t care and they’re not given enough screen time in the first episode to really matter. They’re background characters. LeBlanc and Salazar are obviously the stars here both literally and figuratively and Coto treats them as such, giving them compelling backstories and flaws and making sure they’re the ones fleshed out the most.
I’ve not seen Mad Men so I’m unfamiliar with Slattery but as LeBlanc he sizzles. He has just enough manic energy to make me not really trust him. Is he friend? Is he foe? He’s a dick, he says so himself, and that is obvious by the way he treats his former employees and his brother. He’s full of himself but Slattery gives him just enough humanity that I care about him, especially when he reveals he’s going to die in five months from a brain eating disease. The only thing I worry about is his chemistry (or lack thereof) with Andrade. I understand their characters are coming from a place of distrust, at least on Salazar’s side, but for the two main characters in an event series, chemistry (or any kind) between the main leads is important. Will it develop as the series goes on? Here’s to hoping.
As for Andrade, separate from Slattery, she is a force to be reckoned with. The last few scenes in the server room with NEXT was enough to give me chills. She portrayed Salazar’s anger perfectly with amazing believability. I want to know more about Salazar, and not only that, I want to know her backstory, all because of Andrade and her near perfect performance. She’s a tough woman, fully capable of running her own taskforce but there’s a vulnerability to her that Andrade taps into and she does it well.
Overall, “File #1” is an intriguing start to the ten episode event series. Tune in next week to find out what happens next in “File #2.”
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