Thursday, September 01, 2022

Pantheon, on AMC+

In Beautiful Dreamer, author Ken Liu previously introduced us to a terminally ill mother, who went to extraordinary lengths to maintain a presence in her daughter’s life. Yet, the science fiction means she employs, embarking on faster-than-light space voyages, so she could periodically revisit her daughter as she grew-up and had a family of her own, thanks to Relativity, maybe alienates them more than it brings them together. Perhaps, this might also be the case for Madison Kim, when her ailing father agrees to upload his brain to preserve his consciousness. Unfortunately, the Logorhythms Corporation is not a trustworthy steward of his uploaded intelligence in Craig Silverstein’s animated drama Pantheon, based on several Ken Liu short stories, which premieres today on AMC+.

Kim has had a rough time of it since her father David died, in a physical sense. His pal from Logorythyms convinced him to undergo the upload procedure, but Kim and her mother Ellen were told the process failed. Several months later, Kim starts getting emoji messages from someone who has personal family information. The angel-hacker also helps turn the cyber tables on the mean girls bullying her.

Convinced her father’s cyber-consciousness has been secretly imprisoned and exploited by Logorhythm, Kim reaches out to Caspian, an anonymous high school hacker and conspiracy monger with a keen interest in the company. However, unbeknownst to Caspian, Logorythym also has a sinister interest in him. In fact, he is part of a mysterious long-term project launched by Stephen Holstrom, the company’s late Steve Jobs-like founder.

Separately, none of the elements of
Pantheon are entirely original, but the way Silverstein entwines and enmeshes them creates an extremely grabby story. The series delivers a fire-hose blast of paranoia, which maybe isn’t so unhealthy these days. We have seen plenty of online avatars before, but the way the show envisions the world of an uploaded intelligence is quite provocative and alarming. There are also subplots involving Indian programmers and tech tycoons that are extraordinarily dark and cautionary.

Based on the first four (available) episodes,
Pantheon could be the best new animated series since Invincible. It is whip-smart, but the human component remains critically important. Daniel Dae Kim has the perfect “cool dad” voice for David Kim. Katie Chang sounds convincingly bright and ten years younger as the voice of Maddie Kim. Conversely, the cool, crisp voice of Chris Diamantopoulis well suits villainous Logorhythyms CEO Julius Pope, while Paul Dano sounds as sad and depressed as he usually does, vocally portraying “Prince” Caspian. Notably, but somewhat spookily, the late William Hurt also happens to portray Holstrom, the late Logorhythym founder.

The Titmouse-produced animation is not exactly lush or lyrical, but its hard edges fit the series’ too-near-future-to-be-dystopian themes. Silverstein paces it all quite briskly, maintaining a steady stream of revelations to keep viewers hooked. This might not even be science fiction in a few years, but it should still be a compulsively watchable conspiracy thriller. Highly recommended (so far),
Pantheon starts streaming today (9/1) on AMC+.