Top 5 TV: 'Mr. Robot' Fries Our Circuits & HBO Shows Us a 'Hero'

(Note: Only posting the section about Mr. Robot)


For the past several weeks, TV critics and creators gathered in Beverly Hills for the annual Television Critics Association press tour, where the networks previewed the upcoming season and everyone talked a lot about the state of the medium. One of the big topics of conversation was whether the recent boom in original programming has led to an unmanageable glut. In short: Are we so bombarded with quality these days that clearing out our DVRs is becoming a chore?

That's a valid question. Yet looking down our "Top Five TV" list below, we see outstanding shows that wouldn't exist if content-providers didn't have so many holes to fill. So in our weekly appreciation of the boob tube's best and buzziest, it seems as good a time as any to express gratitude toward the basic cable shows that are better than anyone could've expected, and to hail the personal and political statements that have found a welcoming home. There's a lot of TV out there. If they keep hitting this high a bar, then Viva Le Glut.

5. Mr. Robot airs its most circuit-frying episode yet (USA)
Up until this past Wednesday, the hacker drama's antihero Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek) has presented himself as a morally righteous, socially anxious super-hacker, cautiously affiliated with the anarchic, anti-corporate organization "fSociety." But it's also been obvious that he's a little nutso, and is either hallucinating or misunderstanding much of what he describes in his narration. So when this week's "White Rose" (or, more accurately, "eps1.7_wh1ter0se.m4v") pulled several series-changing switcheroos in its last 10 minutes, they weren't wholly unexpected. But holy crap, were they stunning.

It turns out — spoilers ahead — that in Elliot's narcotics-clouded brain, he'd forgotten that fSociety's aloof, alluring coder Darlene (Carly Chaikin) is actually his sister, and that the group's probably imaginary leader "Mr. Robot" (Christian Slater) has the face of their late father. And then, as a twist on the twist, Elliot blamed us, the viewers, for not telling him what was going on, since we've clearly known from the start that something was off (and since apparently he can hear us yelling at our TVs). The whole sequence was mind-bending, completely changing our understanding of the hero's mission.

Creator Sam Esmail has conceived something stylish, allusive, and tricky here — the kind of series where the villain's wife speaks of murder and then scrubs away at a stubborn stain, so that everyone will be hip to the Shakespearean pretensions. But while the showrunner and his protagonist have been treating the audience as their savvy co-conspirators, they've also turned on us savagely every now and then, to shake us out of our complacency. No one's meant to remain passive while watching a damaged young man try to blow up civilization as we know it.