The gut-punching bleakness of brilliant SF anthology series Black Mirror may leave some viewers seeking a lighter, breezier alternative. At first blush, Hulu’s Dimension 404 might look like a decent candidate, but ultimately it’s not up to the task. While it does possess a certain upbeat quirkiness, it simply lacks the depth and originality a series of this nature requires, and the level of quality ranges from wildly uneven to abysmal.
The series opens decently with “Matchmaker,” a loopy clone comedy that riffs off shows like Humans and Orphan Black. This one benefits from shrewd casting, led by iZombie’s Robert Buckley, whose internet dating life takes some deeply weird and unexpected turns. Buckley is in fine form, and Lea Michele, Matt Jones, and Joel McHale provide timely support as this one riffs playfully on its premise. But eventually it devolves into a chaotic, scattered finale.
The same can be said of “Cinethrax,” a movie theater horror which benefits from an entertaining chemistry between Patton Oswalt and Modern Family’s Sarah Hyland. This trip to a hip new cinema drives a wedge between Oswalt’s grouchy Gen X movie buff and Hyland’s trendy millenial. The relationship is charming enough, and the clumsy escalation provides a handful of funny moments, but again, any careful build-up eventually crashes in a last-act trainwreck.
Alas, these mediocre high points are about as good as it gets. Backwards-looping time-travel tale “Chronos” fails to capitalize on appealing leads Ashley Rickards and Utkarsh Ambudkar, pursuing cleverness without ever quite finding it, while the retro arcade horror of “Polybius” is virtually unwatchable, a rambling mess. Things rebound ever so slightly in “Bob,” a silly tale that reimagines the Person of Interest machine as a giant brain of artificial flesh with empathy problems. The spirited appearances of Constance Wu and Megan Mullally render this one more appealing, but that’s hardly enough to elevate it beyond meh. Rounding out the season is “Impulse,” a tepid morality play about video gaming and responsibility. Lorenza Izzo and Matt Lauria are likable leads, but they can’t make up for the script’s failings.
To its credit, Dimension 404 tackles its mission with charming, light-hearted moxie. It’s also mindfully diverse, and generally populated by well-chosen performers, most of whom escalate the material. But ultimately it’s hard not to see Dimension 404 as a campy attempt to capitalize on the success of Black Mirror — essentially the Outer Limits to its Twilight Zone. (Indeed, Mark Hamill’s opening narration is basically an Information Age repurposing of The Outer Limits’ “we are controlling the transmission” spiel.) Ultimately, I think the fault lies in the writing, which is just cagey enough to seize on decent skiffy concepts, but not thoughtful enough to capably explore them, and definitely not skilled enough to see them through satisfyingly. Decidedly not recommended.