Classic Sci-Fi Gets a Big Budget Upgrade
Review by Matt Owen
Created by David S. Goyer and Josh Friedman, Foundation is an epic science fiction series that's based on the classic 1950s novellas by the iconic author, Isaac Asimov. As another standout show from Apple TV+, Foundation offers a sprawling tale of interplanetary politics, gripping characters, and mind-bending concepts, spread across multiple centuries. Two seasons in, Foundation has established itself as one of the best new big-budget shows, hitting the mark that other series have sorely missed. By committing to lengthy narrative payoffs through intelligent writing and empathetic characters, Foundation rewards viewers who appreciate complex and compelling stories, resulting in a well-rounded watch.
Set in the distant year of 12,067 (in the Imperial Era), Foundation focuses on Gaal Dornick, a curious and sharply intelligent young protagonist living on the water planet of Synnax. After solving one of the galaxy's most confounding mathematical conundrums, Gaal earns a ticket to the bustling capital planet of Trantor, home of the galactic governing body, the Empire. Working under her mentor, Hari Seldon, Gaal runs afoul of the Empire, as their work begins to reveal cataclysmic truths about the future. As pressure mounts on all sides, the pair are forced on a journey that will gravely affect the future of mankind.
Echoing modern prestige television shows like Game of Thrones, Foundation is a series that takes its time at the start, building up its world and character rather than rushing to the excitement. Although there's an abundance of narrative intrigue throughout the show, the first season has a bit of a slow start, but it's all the better for it. Without spoiling anything, the second season proves that Foundation has a plan in place, with excellent story pay-offs and fantastic character arcs. It's a narrative that properly pays homage to Isaac Asimov's original stories, while also expanding the universe in meaningful ways. With each passing episode, the scope grows exponentially, and information is drip-fed with careful intent, leading to a story that feels natural despite its futuristic flare.
Spanning multiple planets, timelines, and several protagonists, Foundation has an enormous cast of unique characters. Luckily, the mass majority of the ensemble fully commits to their performances with emotion and fervour, from leading stars to the smallest of supporting roles. In particular, Jared Harris is fantastic as the introspective and prophetic Hari Seldon. Newcomer actress Lou Llobell also does a stellar job as Gaal Dornick, gently easing the viewer into the Foundation's wild world of sci-fi. On the more villainous side of things, Lee Pace is a true standout as Emperor Cleon/Brother Day, who rules the known universe with an iron fist. In addition to his elegantly intimidating presence on-screen, Pace displays excellent subtlety across the series, portraying important changes in the Emperor's story.
While most modern shows sprinkle their sci-fi concepts judiciously, often in an attempt to dumb things down for the audience, Foundation revels in every off-the-wall concept that the genre offers. In short, there's no shortage of cool space stuff, ranging from epic starship battles to awe-inspiring futuristic cities. Across its various subplots, it touches on an increasingly broad range of thought-provoking concepts, including quantum mechanics, memory alteration, sentient AI, cloning, faster-than-light travel, and much, much more. Better yet, the show doesn't skimp on high-quality visuals, showcasing bombastic action and beautiful cinematography. Although there are a few scenes with rough CGI, they are infrequent, and all the important moments look and sound amazing.
Overall, Foundation is off to a brilliant start, and with two seasons in the books, the future is still bright for this new series. By skilfully balancing multiple interconnected sub-plots that all tie into the greater narrative, it respects the time and attention of the audience, making it easy to press the “next episode” button. Thanks to its careful character development, thoughtful world-building, and some remarkable set-piece moments, Foundation has become a must-watch show for fans of science fiction. Best of all, it's an engrossing story that doesn't question the intelligence of the audience, encouraging thoughtful discussion alongside thrilling action and drama.
Published on October 13th, 2023. Written by Matt Owen for Television Heaven.