“Raised by Wolves” might be the year’s most original series, an audaciously cerebral science-fiction concept that covers so much ground in the premiere it’s hard to imagine where the show can ultimately go. Produced by “Blade Runner” and “Alien’s” Ridley Scott – who also directed the first two episodes – it’s uneven in places, but by virtue of its risk-taking joins the alpha tier of the streaming pack.
Created by Aaron Guzikowski (“The Red Road”), the premise defies a simple description. But it’s hard to escape the sobering real-world echoes of humans being forced to establish colonies beyond Earth, having ruined the planet not because of climate change as much as unfettered tribalism, and war between believers and atheists.
In this case, we begin with the efforts of the atheists, which have dispatched a pair of androids – known as Mother (Amanda Collin) and Father (Abubakar Salim) – to the habitable planet Kepler-22b with a number of fertilized embryos. The plan is to birth and rear the children – which they do – to help lay the foundation for humanity’s survival.
The conditions, however, are hard, to say the least, throwing the group a number of unexpected curve balls. In addition, a ship enters the orbit that’s basically an ark populated by the believers, raising the specter that the hostilities initiated on Earth will follow mankind into space.
There have been a lot of performances by actors as androids, but it’s hard to think of one more creepily believable than Collin – fellow Scandinavian Alicia Vikander’s work in “Ex Machina” comes to mind – which isn’t intended to shortchange Salim, whose Father seeks to distract the children by telling awful Dad jokes. The cast also includes Travis Fimmel (“Vikings”) as a warrior aboard the other vessel, although that’s about all anyone should give away regarding the arc of the series.
Simply put, the show remains constantly surprising, with a visually arresting design and look that gets past a few less-than-blockbuster-worthy special effects. It’s also a testament to the writing that the story draws you into its twists and turns – which include flashbacks to spoon out character details – despite the vast amount of plot that must be blocked out in order for any of this to make sense.
HBO Max (like CNN, a unit of WarnerMedia) has gotten off to a fairly uninspired start in terms of its original programming, but “Raised by Wolves” represents the sort of wildly ambitious offering designed to make waves in the passion-driven streaming space. That could be especially true for those attracted to the service’s fantasy, sci-fi and comic-book fare, such as “Game of Thrones” and DC Entertainment.
Even within that smaller universe, the series won’t be for everyone. But it should make HBO Max a more subscription-worthy destination for a discriminating few.
“Raised by Wolves” premieres Sept. 3 on HBO Max.