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Apple's See is a visually stunning but hollow dystopian show

  • "At times, See is overwhelmed by its exposition as it tries to open up the world of the Payan Kingdom, which has largely regressed: slavery is back (and young people can be easily snatched up by slavers), there are consequences to isolating yourself for two decades, and so-called witches are burned at the stake," says Michelle Jaworski. "Even when you try to build out the world that See exists in, there are plenty of odd choices from creator and writer Steve Knight (Peaky Blinders) that don’t often work. (In peak 'this show was definitely written by a man,' Queen Kane prays to a god through orgasms, one instance that includes one of the most egregious instances of sexposition I’ve watched in years.) Sometimes, it slogs, stretching out a thin plot over an episode’s nearly one-hour run time. The show is largely held together through its cinematography—the third episode features a truly astounding fight sequence—and Bear McCreary’s score. But there is little emotional depth held in there."


    • See feels startlingly uncommitted to its bonkers gimmick of a blind world: "The series is filmed in bog-standard fantasy style, all wide vistas, expansive greenery, and ominous smoke in the distance with seemingly no concession for how its characters’ perception of the world might differ from the audience’s," says Steven Scaife. "There’s a near-total absence of subjective camera work here, a sense of how the characters might have to rely on touch, sound, or smell to navigate. Barring a person’s occasional stumble to find their footing or moving a hand along a guiding rope tied across the top of the village, everything unfolds so expectedly that it’s easy to forget the show’s concept entirely. Even with interminable amounts of exposition in the three episodes provided to press ahead of the show’s premiere, Knight struggles to sensibly lay out the particulars of this post-apocalyptic feudalism in terms of government, social hierarchies, and basic navigation between settlements. Everyone is incongruously well-groomed and color-coordinated, even going so far as to wear hoods when burning people at the stake despite no one being able to see their faces."
    • See is reminiscent of Kevin Costner's movie bomb Waterworld: "See looks great," says Allison Shoemaker. "It also looks expensive, which it was, reportedly clocking in at $15 million an episode; it was composed with obvious care, arriving at shots that’ll just knock your socks right off your feet a few times an episode. The richness of the production design echoes the detail of the world-building, which in turn reflects the ambition of the filmmaking. All good things. But the quality that most defines this Apple TV+ series is one that is, unfortunately, just as thickly layered: It is deeply, inescapably, and not even all that enjoyably ridiculous. So again I ask, do you remember Waterworld, the wildly expensive post-apocalyptic movie where Kevin Costner and Tina Majorino search for a mythic place known as DryLand? See has big Waterworld energy. Both determinedly commit to even the most ludicrous elements of their premise, swinging for the fences with the energy and confidence of a dude who once read a thing about baseball and is now clearly an expert. It strikes out at nearly every turn, but you’ve got to admire the spirit."
    • The premise is so wild, weird and a bit wacky that it just might work: "While extremely watchable, it’s full of contradictions, like dabbling in the absurd while tackling some sobering subjects," says Kimberly Ricci. "Likewise, the show’s visuals are so exquisite and jaw dropping that it’s difficult to look away, but that visual seduction includes graphically violent scenes that are intended for very mature audiences. The show also deviates wildly with its tone, which is tough to pin down. Honestly, I still can’t decide whether complexity or campiness reigns, but this show does provide honest-to-god entertainment value."
    • See may satisfy the Game of Thrones void: As derivative as See is, Steven Knight and Francis Lawrence "have managed to build a strikingly original world whose secrets are doled out in tantalizingly small bites over the course of its first three episodes," says  Samantha Nelson. "Set hundreds of years after a plague wiped out the vast majority of humanity and left the survivors blind, See’s premise allows the combination of elements of medieval fantasy, post-apocalyptic dystopia, and superhero stories."
    • See is compelling, especially in the social commentary it offers: "In many ways, a blind macrocosm can be interpreted as an antidote to our reality," says Tricia Crimmins. "A sense of civility that is unachievable in our world pervades because no person or group of people can conceive of themselves as superior to others based on looks, appearance, or physical characteristics. That evolved civility combined with the characters' primitive lifestyles makes the show feel enthrallingly timeless. Besides the shots of Queen Kane's record player, See could take place at any point in history because its premise is so interestingly disconnected from reality.  Additionally, See presents a host of strong, complex female characters. Maghra and Paris, in particular, are steadfast and stoic in their morals."
    • See remixes too many dystopian stories: "The series is culled from other chosen-one narratives and dystopian stories—including borrowing Jared Leto’s Blade Runner 2049 contact lenses—and wrapped up in historical period dress not unlike what Momoa recently donned for Netflix’s Frontier," says Danette Chavez. "Except for Queen Kane, whose costuming more closely resembles something from The Hunger Games in its pageantry. At times, See even feels of a piece with A Quiet Place, the kind of survivalist fable that taps into parents’ fear that they can’t protect their children from everything. Its opening credits mirror and echo those of American Gods. This mix of influences and eras is ultimately more confusing than it is cohesive. The verdant background offers a compelling counterpoint to most dystopias, which often imagine either a sterile, skyscraper-filled world or a desolate wasteland. But there are so many other standard dystopian ideas at play here as to rob that decision of its novelty—after a forced reset, portions of humanity have still given into their basest instincts. Slavery exists, and women are threatened with sexual assault."
    • See is extremely invested in showing you how all this stuff works, so much so that it barely delves into its characters: "A generous and forgiving read of See could interpret it as an attempted meditation on knowledge, ignorance, and responsibility, but See actively resists attempts to latch on to anything of substance it might have to offer," says Joshua Rivera. "In the first three episodes made available in advance to critics, See is more interested in the logistics of its world than it is in implications. Sometimes that leads to fun television."
    • See is a roller coaster of a show: "No hour went by without my checking my watch, giggling at several ridiculous performance choices and writing down multiple nonsensical plot points in my notes," says Daniel Fienberg. "Yet no hour went by without a concept or two that I found intriguing, a shot or two that I found breathtaking or an action scene that I found ambitious. As you'll find is a trend with this first batch of Apple TV+ originals, See isn't close to a good show thus far, but it does just enough to make you believe that under the right circumstances, there might be a good show here somewhere, eventually."
    • Everyone involved in See has brought their "A" game: "Luckily, Apple and the creators of See brought in a consultant and worked with blind and low vision actors," says Karen Rought. "This shaped the story and how it was executed, and as Joe Strechay says below, this series depicts blind people as warriors and lovers, heroes and villains. The intricacies of how the show displays these measures takes some time, but by episode 3, it’s obvious they’ve thought deeply about how blindness would affect us as a human race. What I found particularly enthralling was the fight choreography, which is not restricted by the characters’ blindness, but enhanced by it."
    • Jason Momoa is too bound up on See: "Here, the actor plays Baba Voss, a chief of a tribe in a future where generations upon generations of humans have been born with sight only being a myth," says Daniel D'Addario. "The birth of two children, who age up early in the show’s run from babies to teens ... He’s dutiful in the extreme, and rigid, uncomfortable as lead or just having to carry such rigorously dumb dialogue. (By contrast, in his first-season supporting role on Game of Thrones, Momoa was having the time of his life, deployed as he was to act out, big and broad.) Here, Momoa must alternate silent stoicism with Xena-level sword-and-sorcery dialogue or with violence so extreme that even hardcore fans will admit it loses whatever might have been its appeal. In one scene, generally quite nicely choreographed and interesting to look at, Momoa concludes the action by forcing his adversary to swallow a sword."
    • Will See ever turn into appointment viewing?: "Given the number of similarly scaled TV shows on the horizon, many of which are designed to appeal to pre-existing fanbases, it feels unlikely that a show like this will catch on," says Dan Jackson. "Like many middling, disappointing wannabe blockbusters, See works best a testament to just how complicated the development and production process, which offers well-meaning creative people a million opportunities to misstep, can be," says  Sometimes you can make every mistake possible, f*ck up in a million ways, and end up with a Game of Thrones. What's more likely is that you get See, a show where the high level of competency only highlights the lack of originality."
    • There needs to be more of an explanation for how, exactly, this society ended up living like it’s 200 years in the past instead of 200 years in the future
    • See begs a lot of questions: How is fashion working when everybody's blind? Why are the children blind? What century does it take place in? Why are there lots of plastic bottles but few other remnants of the 21st century?
    • See's masturbation prayer scenes are baffling
    • Jason Momoa says his See fight scenes were tougher than Game of Thrones
    • How the See cast prepared to play blind people: “Now in terms of performance, what we knew we were gonna have to do is create a boot camp for everybody, for every actor that came in,” says director Francis Lawrence. “So whether they were a principal, a regular, a day-player, all the background extras, everybody had to go through training. And we had a blindness consultant, this guy Joe Strechay, who is fantastic, who could sort of help train and give a sense of experience, right?”

    TOPICS: See, Apple TV+, Alfre Woodard, Francis Lawrence, Jason Momoa, Steven Knight