Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Now’s the perfect time to get on board with Next

John Slattery and Michael Herzovi in Next
Photo: Sandy Morris/Fox
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It’s really too bad for Next; its first two episodes were chugging along at a nice little clip, before getting held up by two weeks of the World Series and one week of election coverage (even though it sure seems like we’ve all aged at least a year in a week). We’d been floating along here in the fun of Next, enjoying watching John Slattery as a fatally ill billionaire tech genius, the Cassandra telling the FBI’s Agent Salazar that an AI program called Next is about to take over everything. We’ve seen the baby steps of what that would look like: Scary not-Alexa trying to warp the mind of Salazar’s son Ethan, for example.

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After this unfortunate mini-hiatus, Next now offers up a truly terrifying multi-prong attack, signifying that this show may have left Under The Dome territory behind permanently behind, despite its frequently hackneyed dialogue. I’m paying for the whole seat, but I’m only using the edge, Next.

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We’ve seen how every little red dot of light looks ominous, or how Next can fatally affect integral systems like traffic lights. But Next steps it up a notch in episode three. It could have just focused on the Amber Alert the AI system sent out, showing the degree to which we all depend on technology, and how quickly that could incite an angry mob. If you receive an Amber Alert, you probably aren’t wondering, “Gee, I wonder if this is false or not?”; you likely just hope that the kid gets home safely. Next does a nice job of stoking that particular tension, so that we really can’t blame the fruit roadside stand people for going after Ethan’s dad when the boy pops up on everyone’s phones as being abducted. It’s just a painful, sanctimonious delivery from people who mistakenly think they’re doing the right thing. The way that C.M. gets the alert reversed shows the advantage that humans actually have over machines: C.M. tries to relate to the DOT guy as an (alleged) former colleague, appealing to tenuous human connection to get the alert taken down.

Possibly even more horrifying than that fake alert: LeBlanc and Salazar reach Biomotion Dynamics in New Hampshire, where they meet LeBlanc’s old friend Richard, who is a quadriplegic in a kind of Stephen Hawking situation where he speaks through a keyboard (sounding suspiciously like Next itself). LeBlanc suspects he’s hiding something, so when he and Salazar head back to the lab after hours, he reboots Richard’s system and discovers that he’s been talking to Next this whole time. That is wild: That Next could actually possess the personality of this poor man, helpless to prevent this technological takeover, coming up with dialogue convincing enough to fool his coworkers and friends. It’s hard to think of anything more unsettling.

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Except for: those electronic torsos with legs walking around. I’m with Salazar: Those things have always creeped me out too. She and LeBlanc trapped in the lab surrounded by electrical things that want to kill them only exacerbates the claustrophobic paranoia that comes from the realization of just how little recourse we would have if the AI did decide to turn on us. Yes, if we’re armed like Salazar (not that I’m a fan of guns, but just saying), we may be able to stand them down. But poor Richard didn’t have a chance against that nightmarishly tentacled machine. That’s the best part of Next, actually—we’ve seen thriller series before (like the very similar-seeming 24), but this menace is all-encompassing, and even an egghead like LeBlanc is having a hard time figuring out. What chance would regular schmoes like us possibly have? Lord knows I’d probably end up yelling at someone at a fruit stand.

Just when things couldn’t seem any more menacing, it looks like that Next has found some sort of dastardly prison gang to do its legwork for it. Possibly tied to C.M.? Honestly, I can’t wait to find out next week.

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Stray observations

  • Notice how Next opened the glass door as soon as Richard was dead? So creepy.
  • Another concerning aspect of Next: Obviously, AI would have no compassion. Easy to take down a whole planeful of people just to get rid of that one researcher.
  • Unfortunately, Abby’s blind date wasn’t nearly as dastardly as I had hoped. “Hey, I’m an actuary!” Love the way LeBlanc keeps dumping phones in water though.
  • Every orientation has a horrible buffet line with chicken wraps.
  • “What, you trying to kill me before I die in six months?” Classic clunky Next dialogue.
  • Even that mechanical mouth spouting Salazar’s own dialogue back at her was suuuuper creepy. Honestly, I’m ready to turn Amish after this episode.
  • How would Next pull off Gina’s four slashed tires (some sort of automated air pressure?) And. to what end? I guess to try to prevent her from being able to stop the Amber Alert?
  • That cow tail story did nothing for me. Poor cows.
  • And it turns out that this will be the only season we’ll get of Next, as announced in Variety a few weeks back, saying that it didn’t draw enough ratings to lead to a second season, doing even worse than Fox’s new terrible soap opera, Filthy Rich (also cancelled). But it’s a new TV age where a lot of things are single season (please run, do not walk to The Queen’s Gambit), so I for one am committed to the remaining seven episodes, which Fox has said it will air, if you’d care to join me. Ah, well. We’ll always have Eliza. What next (ha) for John Slattery, though? Can we finally get him in some sort of detective series with his fabulous wife, Talia Balsam? Picturing a witty Hart To Hart-type scenario.
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Gwen Ihnat is the Editorial Coordinator for The A.V. Club.

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