Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams – The Father Thing

Starring: Greg Kinnear, Mireille Enos, Jack Gore, Shannon Brown
Director: Michael Dinner

Review by: Sidney Morgan

This review CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS. You’ve been advised.

After watching two episodes of Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, I was looking forward to this next installment. I sat down, excited, and watched. And then, the credits rolled. I tuned into the weather channel, but I had this uncomfortable feeling that something wasn’t quite right. My glass was still half full, so that wasn’t it. I wasn’t hungry… And then it hit me! I wasn’t really thinking about the episode. A sci-fi episode, written by PKD, and I was more interested in the seven-day forecast on the weather network. A shame really.

The Father Thing stars Greg Kinnear as the father, Mireille Enos as the mother, and Jack Gore as their son Charlie. In a nutshell, it’s a story where aliens begin to take over humans by cloning them and replacing the original version. But let’s be honest, it wouldn’t be much of a story if the copy was perfect in every way and the conquest occurred without a glitch. So – cue the drum roll – predictably, some humans notice that a replacement has occurred, while others happen to be at the right place, at the right time, to witness something that exposes those big bad aliens. Yawn.

At its root, the story’s idea is that our world, our loved ones, and even ourselves, can be copied and replaced, and we’d barely notice, if at all. This concept is done, quite often, in television shows and movies, such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, V, The Matrix, and The Island to name a few. And in each one of these iterations of the idea, there is always something, some small detail that the copy/clone fails to replicate accurately, which sets in motion the eventual discovery of the truth.

What made those adaptations worthwhile, was the how they dealt with the reasons for the clones or the copies. Use us as batteries? Whoa! Mind blown! Use clones for organ harvesting? Ok. Scary, but still, a neat idea. Unfortunately, this adaptation doesn’t offer anything new. At all. And that’s unfortunate. Given some of the liberties taken by directors in the other episodes, there was a golden opportunity to give us something new, something to make us think, to discuss. But, it didn’t.

What I liked

Amazon must have loosened the purse strings to ensure high production value because the episodes have looked really good, and The Father Thing is no exception. The setting and CGI are realistic and well done.

The actors, especially Kinnear and Enos, played their roles well, given the material they had to work with. Even relative newcomer Gore gives a convincing performance of the kid whose dad has been cloned.

And that’s about it…

What didn’t I like

Some of the details to move the plot along were, well frankly, ridiculous. There’s a serious and psychologically scarring event that happens at an elementary school, witnessed by students, but there’s barely any reaction from them. When Charlie makes a discovery that could have a profound effect on him and his mom, he runs to tell his friends, not his mother. Three aliens, who’ve cloned members of law enforcement, are standing next to a car, but fail to notice when their prisoner gets out and runs away. And the list goes on. Maybe one, or two of these mistakes could be excused, but for an hour show, it can’t. It’s lazy writing.

I was also disappointed with the portrayal of the family members, their roles, and interactions. The father-son relationship was so cliché. The two share a love of baseball and most of their conversations, if not all, were about baseball trivia. You really couldn’t ask for anything ‘safer.’ But when there’s the need to be serious, to talk about something that, you know, will require that most uncomfortable element, that yucky word… oh, heck, I’ll just say it, emotions, the father delays and avoids doing so. Oh, and don’t worry, the mother-son interactions aren’t any better either.

When Charlie goes missing, mom barely bats an eye. When Charlie asks for help, desperation oozing from every pore in his body, she’s too busy to do so. Really? And, the mother-father interactions? Not much there. As I watched the episode, I found their behaviour with one another odd. To be honest, I wouldn’t have been surprised if they’d all been clones from the start! Now, that would have been some twist! Sorry, I digress.

There was potential to make this episode far more thought-provoking than it was. Why not question what the end result of this kind of alien invasion would be? Would we end up exactly where we are now? If this was reality replaced by an exact copy, where cloned humans had all the memories, the experiences and the situations of the originals, would we even notice? Unfortunately, the episode stuck to the old plot and did none of that. It was a disappointment. Unless…

I’ve watched this episode through the eyes of an adult, with all their experiences, filters and biases. Perhaps that was the mistake. If I had watched the episode through the eyes of the show’s protagonist, the pre-teen Charlie, well then, all that adult logic, with which I evaluated the show, wouldn’t apply. The relationships (to some extent), the decisions made, the behaviours, and the interpretation of what is going on would all make sense. From that point of view, it works. And there’s nothing wrong with that, except that given the source material, I’m not sure that was PKD’s intent.

Watch it
, with a caveat: do so through the eyes of Charlie, a pre-teen. Then, just like in E.T., the story makes sense, you can accept the flaws I’ve pointed out, and you’ll get to enjoy and nicely shot sci-fi television show.

Sidney Morgan

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