So far, Mr. Robot has received almost nothing but a heavy dose of love from critics and viewers. [Update, 9/19/16: Rami Malek took home an Emmy for best actor in a drama series at the 2016 Emmys.] The story follows Elliot, a young anti-social computer hacker with some questionable morals and strange coping mechanisms, but whose unusual skillset attracts a dangerous anarchist, hacking organization — fsociety — to him, led by Mr. Robot, a man who wants to convince him to join the team and target the company Elliot works for. The general consensus is that the shows attraction lies in its fast paced, unpredictable, and exciting plot, as well as the way it targets modern day subjects that are increasing relevant and on the minds of viewers.
“In an obvious way, Mr. Robot seems to be setting itself up to be another semi-stylish thriller in the network’s usual manner; but in its better moments, the show artfully depicts some of the paranoia of the Edward Snowden era,” wrote Hank Stuever from the Washington Post. Similar thoughts were echoed by other critics, including the Atlantic’s David Sims, who called the show “a dark, compelling drama for the paranoid internet age.”
Given there recent events over the last five years, from Edward Snowden’s released documents outlining government data collection, to an increased general awareness of online tracking and marketing, to cyber attacks from overseas militaries on economic targets, it makes sense that there’s a fascination with the subject matter dealt with in Mr. Robot. Let’s take a look at other television shows that successfully call to mind the fears and concerns of the modern day.
If you’re looking for a show about an antisocial criminal element with a questionable moral compass and a tendency to get involved where it would be better to stay out of things, Dexter follows the struggle of a serial killer with a strict code as he struggle to maintain a facade of normality. Where Elliot hacks, Dexter kills, but both make an effort to remain in the shadows while struggling with their own personal version of right and wrong.
Kiefer Sutherland’s dramatic action packed television series went on for eight season, drawing on the fear of terrorism and attacks from abroad. Mr. Robot has a more local concentration rather than focusing on fear of foreign dangers, but both address the risk and security holes represented by improving technology and the changing security needs in America post-9/11. Mr. Robot has moved forward to an age when some of America’s greatest dangers are from within as well as without, whether those dangers are on Wall Street or in overzealous government activity.
3. CSI: Cyber
Another new show to hit TV this summer is CSI: Cyber. As the name of it would suggest, the show follows in the footsteps of other CSI shows, focusing on crimes and those who do the background work to solving them. The protagonist, Avery Ryan, is a “CyberPsychologist” that works for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The show looks at how the internet and cyber crimes take away the face of criminals and create a whole new kind of criminal that requires a different method of attack to take down.
Homeland follows in the footsteps of 24 in ways, looking at intelligence, national security, and terrorism. The protagonist, played by Claire Danes, is a tortured but driven intelligence agent who believes a returned American prisoner who had been held in Iraq for years was a danger to the country and had been turned into an agent for the enemy. Her character is both enticing and flawed, making for an interesting characters study both of her, and the returned Marine, something the show has in common with Mr. Robot.
5. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Mr. Robot and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo both are built on a bedrock of cyber paranoia and feature main protagonists who survive on the fringes of society by hacking and invading the privacy of others. Like Elliot, Lisbeth has socializing problems and reaches out to others through her hacking, making connections by accessing data on individuals rather than through interactions. Both also present a distrustful view of the world, both those in it and the systems in place more generally. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was made into an American movie, but there was also a three part film series that deserves to be tagged on here with the TV shows because it has such strong commonalities, and it’s a long term streaming option, particularly if you have Netflix.
Season 2 of Mr. Robot premieres on USA Network July 13 at 10 p.m. Eastern.