Everyone is looking for the next Game of Thrones, a big adaptation that’ll become an award-winning global phenomenon. Netflix is tossing a lot of coin at The Witcher franchise; Amazon is placing bets on The Wheel of Time and its Lord of the Rings series; HBO has multiple Game of Thrones spin-offs in the works. Apple TV+ shoots for the stars with Foundation, its most ambitious show to date. Take a series of sci-fi books by the king of the genre Isaac Asimov. Add writer David S Goyer (known for Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy and Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel), a mountain of cash and king of television Jared Harris to star in it – and you have Foundation.
With a huge budget, a starry cast including Jared Harris, and an explosive interplanetary plot, this new sci-fi epic is based on Isaac Asimov’s centuries-spanning series of novels. “Foundation” isn’t TV’s first stab at adapting a dense, beloved book series to the screen, and it won’t be the last. But the new drama does, at least, do something rather unusual for adaptations. Instead of doing its best to faithfully recreate its source material’s most iconic characters and storylines, David S. Goyer’s “Foundation” uses Asimov’s texts as inspiration for a markedly different version
The show is huge in numerous senses, and its world-building is impressive with its grandeur that’s both practical and also created with IMAX-worthy special effects. It has emotional depth in its method to get you to deeply feel for these many characters as their existence collapses; the show sucks you in a great deal.
The Foundation tv-series is based on the genre classic science fiction book series written by American author Isaac Asimov, first published as a series of short stories in 1942–50, and subsequently in three collections in 1951–53 (Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation). Asimov began adding new volumes in 1981, with two sequels: Foundation’s Edge and Foundation and Earth, and two prequels: Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation. The additions made reference to events in Asimov’s Robot and Empire series, indicating that they also were set in the same fictional universe.
The premise of the books and tv-show is the same: In the waning days of a future Galactic Empire, the mathematician Hari Seldon spends his life developing a theory of psychohistory, a new and effective mathematical sociology. Using statistical laws of mass action that can predict the future of large populations. Seldon foresees the imminent fall of the Empire, which encompasses the entire Milky Way, and a Dark Age lasting 30,000 years before a second Empire arises. Although the momentum of the Empire’s fall is too great to stop, Seldon devises a plan by which “the onrushing mass of events must be deflected just a little” to eventually limit this interregnum to just one thousand years. To implement his plan, Seldon creates the Foundations—two groups of scientists and engineers settled at opposite ends of the galaxy—to preserve the spirit of science and civilization, and thus become the cornerstones of the new galactic empire.
There are bound to be differences in adapting a seven-book series (not counting the expanded Empire and Robot stories that Asimov later tied into a mostly cohesive whole). After borrowing the basic premise — the Empire is going to fall and mankind will suffer 30,000 years of darkness unless something is done to cushion the dark age to 1,000 years — the tv show seems not wholly interested in exploring that concept past the first episode or two.
The individual stories are, however, generally interesting on their own. The “genetic dynasty” of the Cleon’s, a succession of Empire (Lee Pace, Terrence Mann, and Cassian Bilton) ruling the crumbling empire with an iron fist is probably the show’s highlight, thanks in no small part to Pace’s dynamic performances as the cloned Brother Day. The Imperium is ruled by clones of the first Emperor Cleon, and at any given time there are three versions of Cleon in the palace: Brother Dawn (Cassian Bilton), the youngest one whose job is to watch and learn; Brother Day (Lee Pace), the middle-aged Cleon who rules; and Brother Dusk (Terrence Mann), the eldest.
Making Cleon’s clones is an interesting change, and we do not know how it will play out in the show. As far as we are told, cloning does not exist in Asimov’s original works. In fact, many sci-fi staples like robots, cybernetics, cyborgs, androids, and so on were not even thought of when the Foundation stories were written. Even computers were in the early stages of development.
As Hari Seldon, a mathematician who kickstarts the story after calculating that the end of the galaxy as everyone knows it is nigh, Jared Harris is perfectly cast. Hari, like most brilliant academics, has a healthy ego and loves the sound of his own voice — a combination that, in the wrong hands, would weigh down almost every scene. In Harris’, though, Hari maintains a revealing balance of confidence and vulnerability that makes it easy to understand why so many decide to follow him to the literal end of the universe when he and his dire predictions are banished there.
Hari Seldon has figured out that the empire that rules over everyone will collapse in 500 years and revealing this publicly gets him in a great deal of trouble, along with the people who work alongside him—his adoptive son assistant Raych (Alfred Enoch), and new prodigy Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobell), who came to study with Hari after leaving a water planet that looks down on intellectuals. This grand revelation is paralleled with a massive act of terrorism on the bustling planet of Trantor — the destruction of a space-elevator called The Starbridge, which crashes in the pilot episode like a gargantuan snake plopping flopping down on the planet. It’s a jaw-dropping sequence of destruction, one of many that shows how Apple TV+ is investing so much into the cinematic look of the series.
The series presents the major events nearly disciple by disciple, and it doesn’t hesitate to splinter off with different side characters or jump back and forth in time. Along with the story of the Cleon’s, there’s the emotional journey of Salvor Hardin (Leah Harvey), a soldier and leader from Terminus, from a future timeline. She becomes instrumental in protecting the Foundation, along with her father (Clarke Peters) and mother (Jade Harrison) while having visions of what happened with Hari and Gaal.
In taking on material as wide-ranging as Asimov’s — which spans generations, millennia, and entire galaxies — “Foundation” had its work cut out for it. The sheer scope of it was absolutely daunting. But it is remarkable, really, that the drama is immediately organized enough that its frequent jumps through time and space rarely confuse.
“Foundation” is otherwise nimble and engaging, even for those unfamiliar with the work that first inspired it. The series is a lavish production, with incredible special effects and gorgeous production design. You can tell it’s expensive in every frame. The visual effects look stunning, with massive space elevators and uniquely designed ships that help the series stand out from contemporaries like Star Wars, Star Trek, or The Expanse.