At the start of the year, I declared my hope that Foundation would gain a considerable fandom in 2021. And well…maybe that might happen. Foundation is surprisingly good for such an ambitious-in-scope series. For a series that does a pretty significant time jump within its first couple of episodes, has a clone imperial dynasty, jettisons and brings back leads without much care, and takes place across many planets and perhaps, galaxies, Foundation dead to rights shouldn’t work. However, the earnestness of its performances and storytelling, as well as really creative production design save it from being too big.
Part of what makes Foundation almost…charming…is its mix of so many science fiction properties it makes me a little dizzy. A little bit of Star Trek, a hint of Battlestar Galactica, a dash of Westworld, a taste of The Hunger Games, and a whole lot of Star Wars, I’m still not sure how much of Foundation the books actually made it into the series as I haven’t read the original series. And if you’ve never read Isaac Asimov’s books, never fear, because you will be able to follow what happens, I promise.
Foundation tells a grand, time-bending tale, but it’s almost told for the lowest common denominator, which is both good and bad. Sometimes heavy-handed narration hands out what the theme of each episode is, but it’s cloaked in mysterious, mythic tones. Foundation feels less like a futuristic tale and more like a myth written in ancient times. The characters can be broadly drawn by the writing, although the actors do make their characters more than that.
Relative newcomer Lou Llobell does a compelling job as Gaal Dornick, who is much more a protagonist than either Jared Harris’s Hari Seldon or Lee Pace’s Brother Day, despite the two of them getting the first two credits, presumably because they’re Jared Harris and Lee Pace. Another relative newcomer Leah Harvey is also good as Salvor Hardin, who, in any earlier time, surely would’ve been played by an edgy young white man.
As for Harris and Pace, they’re as good as they always are, although at times it feels like Pace was asked to play Thranduil all over again, but as the series progresses his character gets deeper. I can only hope, though, that if Foundation gets a second season, Harris is given much more to do. For the “does Jared Harris suffer” fans: yes, yes, he does. But his screentime is far too short for an actor of his stature and for having the first credit for the whole series.
I also have to give a shout-out to Laura Birn, who has a difficult task in playing Demerzel, a loyal courtier to the genetic dynasty. I won’t say much more, but her character becomes a welcome surprise in a show full of very unshifting and unyielding characters.
There’s a lot to like in Foundation if you’re okay with some derivativeness in your science fiction. If you’re not and would like your sci-fi wholly original — I got nothing for you, I don’t think that actually exists. Foundation doesn’t feel like it’s hiding televisual and cinematic ancestors, but it doesn’t draw attention to them, either. I would say Apple TV+ has done it again because I think it has. No, Foundation won’t win Emmys, like, say, Ted Lasso, but it will only build the young platform’s cred as a place to watch some good, expensively created TV.