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HBO Max's Raised by Wolves is tragic, thought-provoking sci-fi that doesn't rely on big flashy twists

  • "There might not be a bloody battle or alien confrontation in each episode, but the drama is compelling and built of character-driven moments," says Jacob Oller of the sci-fi series created by Aaron Guzikowski from executive producer Ridley Scott. "That makes the action, when it does happen, intensely exciting and anxiety-ridden. With such finite scope, each moment of possible loss is heavily weighted and gorgeous to look at. While rustic and detailed in its production design, the variety of visuals go from Tatooine’s desert starkness to hyper-glitchy simulation interfaces to war-torn Earth cities in flashbacks. And, like Scott’s most ambitious spacey works, we climb aboard dilapidated spacecraft with flashlights in hand. It’s often gray and washed-out (I know, I know, join the club), which helps with the bleakness and horror—even finding some gorgeous contrast shots in its grades of white—but can sometimes undermine the cool things on display. Things like over-the-top, inventive sex scenes that make Brave New World’s orgies look like sex ed PowerPoints. Smart and crunchy rather than sleek and slick, Raised by Wolves won’t be for everyone. It’s tragic, thought-provoking sci-fi that works through its problems rather than relying on big flashy twists. But for those itching for something unabashedly weird and devoted to its own rules, the show won’t disappoint. Deceptively intimate, the story of repopulation—and the war for humanity’s future—is a family drama living inside a honed genre universe. It’s a world built to last and a show built for fans of Scott’s particular brand of imperfect, muscly fence-swings."


    • Raised by Wolves is a grim bore: "Between the sparse production design, throwback costumes and (creator Aaron) Guzikowski’s fidelity to the tropes that have defined science fiction for decades, Raised by Wolves very deliberately evokes the works that inspired it," says Caroline Framke. "And in directing the first two episodes, Scott establishes a specific visual language that will be familiar to any fan of seminal work like Alien and Blade Runner, though the grim colors and drab setting of this series gives him little to work with in terms of variation. But Raised by Wolves is both too loyal to its predecessors and too unwilling to push itself to be anything particularly interesting on its own. It’d be tempting to say that it throws everything sci-fi has already done at the wall to see what sticks, but apparently everything stuck, because that’s the show."
    • Raised by Wolves is the most exciting sci-fi show since Battlestar Galactica: "Okay, I’ll just say it: Raised by Wolves is hands down the most thrilling original sci-fi show in more than a decade," says Meghan O'Keefe. "Not since the Battlestar: Galactica reboot have I been more instantly hooked by a genre show or flummoxed by its twists and turns. Created by Prisoners scribe Aaron Guzikowski and shepherded to the screen by legendary director Sir Ridley Scott, the new HBO Max series combines mystery with mythology to create a savage vision of humanity’s future. Get hyped because Raised by Wolves is here to take you on an insane ride."
    • Raised by Wolves starts strong, but begins petering out with each subsequent episode: "The first episode of HBO Max's Raised by Wolves is, if nothing else, an intriguingly enigmatic crossroads," says Daniel Fienberg. "Directed by Ridley Scott and shot with evocative flair by Scott's frequent cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, the pilot establishes only a small corner of the show's world, introduces only a taste of the show's science fiction allegory and concentrates most heavily on the show's two most interesting characters. It's hard to walk away from those opening 53 minutes with any clue what Raised by Wolves is as a series, but it's easy to leave the episode with faith — it's kinda the theme of the show — that what you're watching might unfold as something impressive. Derivative as all get out. But impressive. It's more than possible that the momentum of that first episode might be enough to carry some viewers — fans of evasive-yet-ponderous hard sci-fi — through the series. I found the next five episodes a study in diminishing returns, the breathtaking aesthetic fading with Scott and Wolski's baton-passing after the second episode and the overall world of the show becoming less and less compelling with each contrived plot point and thinly sketched new character. With nobody and nothing to really care about, I'll probably skip the season's last four episodes."
    • Raised by Wolves combines Ridley Scott style with creepy robots: "It's deliciously violent, weird and streaked with symbolism," says Richard Trenholm. "But having seen the first few episodes, it's hard to know if Raised by Wolves has enough going on to sustain itself. The hostile alien planet is a pretty tired formula, and the premier episode teases a larger story only to boil things back down to a much more basic setup. The androids are watchably weird, but it's the actual humans who have to make a real emotional connection, and a lot of the weight rests on the burly shoulders of Warcraft and Vikings veteran Travis Fimmel. He brings a smoldering depth to his character, but he's only one man amid a number of less developed characters."
    • At least Raised by Wolves isn’t telling an old, familiar story: "More than halfway through the initial run of episodes, Raised by Wolves still doesn’t feel like it’s entirely cohered into whatever it’s going to wind up being," says Tasha Robinson. "It’s still about discovery and surprises, and about finding endless new variations on the parent-child 'Who’s leading who to maturity here?' questions. The series can be opaque and baffling, or sometimes even arbitrary. But it also feels like it’s trying to tackle a whole lot more than the usual coming-of-age story, or the usual underdogs-vs.-autocrats story, or the usual escaping-parental-control story. Like its horror-movie androids, with their weird jumpsuits, stiff expressions, and not-quite-human behaviors, Raised by Wolves is intriguing because it feels so far away from the usual run of science-fiction TV. It’s uncanny, but at least it isn’t predictable."
    • Travis Fimmel and Niamh Algar say they were drawn to the series by Ridley Scott: "It was Ridley Scott's name on it, so anyone, crew, cast -- would have jumped at the idea of working with him," says Algar.
    • Creator Aaron Guzikowski spent years developing Raised by Wolves: “I’ve been thinking about it for many, many years," he says. "Aspects of it, anyways, for many years. The lore is very worked out. There’s definitely a deeper mythology, in terms of all of that. It’s definitely a tip of the iceberg sort of thing. I think what really sparked, what really ended up being my way into the story was the two androids — starting to think about that family. Basically, seeing this whole pioneering story through their eyes. The birth of this whole new world, through the eyes of the first family to arrive there, who happened to be these two androids who were raising human children as Atheists.”
    • Watch Raised by Wolves' first episode on YouTube

    TOPICS: Raised by Wolves, HBO Max, Aaron Guzikowski, Ridley Scott