Foundation (show) is rated TV-14 by the MPAA.
Reviewers need to cut Apple TV’s Foundation some slack.
In the week since the show premiered, I’ve been surprised and disappointed to read a parade of disillusioned reviews of Apple’s new flagship series, all written by reviewers seemingly eager to pick holes in what is, by and large, a good show.
Sure, it’s not a perfectly strict adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s famous novel of the same name, far from it, but is that such a bad thing? I won’t deny that the original novel has some innovative brilliance, but that genius lies mainly in the abstract story, not the specific one.
Both versions of Foundation are ignited by mathematician Hari Seldon’s discovery of a new branch of mathematics, which he terms “psychohistory”. Basically, the principle is this: If a chemist knows all the data about two particles (position, momentum, mass, etc.), a sufficiently powerful computer can model the particles and predict their future. An even more powerful computer can model a large number of particles and predict the outcome of their interaction, even if it can’t predict the future of any single particle with any accuracy.
In Foundation, mathematicians like Seldon can apply the same principle not to particles, but to people, allowing them to foretell the future of worlds, empires, or even galaxies. Unfortunately for Hari, he lives in a galactic empire he predicts will soon fall, an empire eager to avoid its fate. With blood, if necessary.
More insightful reviewers than me have pointed out the folly inherent in basing Apple’s “new Game of Thrones” on an esoteric math concept, especially one originally dreamt up in the 1950s, but take the story in broad strokes and it remains poignant. A scientist says “the world is ending”, and a ruler says “no it’s not.” A scientist says “we can’t undo our mistakes, but we can soften the fall, we can preserve hope for our children and our children’s children,” and a ruler says “I’d rather not.”
Asimov may not have intended to write a climate change story, but that’s what I see in it, and I’m glad the writers of Foundation seem to see it too. More importantly, I’m glad they’re willing to flip the script on Asimov, a man notoriously unwilling to write women into his novels.
The two part premiere of Foundation, which launched last week on Apple TV+, takes its most interesting turn in episode two, when a relatively progressive but small group of colonists on a struggling colony ship are forced to pit their views on reproductive rights and body autonomy against the practical necessity of maintaining a survivable colony population. The idea is a natural extension of Foundation’s original colony story, but it’s not one Asimov ever would have written. And while that story gets edged out a little by the main plot, Dr. Seldon must get his due, the scenes we do get are sharp, well-written, and thought provoking, and they do the hard work of making real representation a part of sci-fi. It’s never enough to just change the faces in white mens’ stories. Real change requires changing the story, and so far Foundation has succeeded in that.
So yeah, Foundation has changed, and I genuinely don’t know where it’s going next, but I, for one, am willing to trust the show’s writers long enough to follow them down whatever branch of possibility they’ve charted, if only to see what new ideas lie hidden along the way. After all, what else is speculative fiction for?