It was the summer of 2007 when Don Draper’s smoke-charred voice first appeared on AMC. Suddenly, the cable channel, long-known for movies devoid of color and CGI, had a hit piece of original programming on its hands. Without its success, there would’ve been no Breaking Bad or The Walking Dead. It gave the network a facelift. What Mad Men did for AMC, Mr. Robot is about to do for USA.
Yes, Mr. Robot is on USA. And if you’re not watching the anxiety-riddled hacker drama, that’s probably the reason why. We understand. A show on after a Law & Order marathon, an episode of Chrisley Knows Best, and a few reruns of Monk shouldn’t be on your radar. But give it five minutes you’ll be saying, “This is on USA??”
And that’s the nicest compliment you can give a show on USA.
In Mr. Robot, Rami Malek plays Elliot Alderson, a hacking whiz working at a cyber-security firm who gets tangled up in an Anonymous-esque plot involving a company affectionately known as Evil Corp. He’s brilliant. Like, can’t take your eyes of him brilliant. Like, your eyes will look like his eyes while watching him brilliant. If there were to be a lull in the show—there hasn’t been—he could carry it on the back of his black hoodie. The storyline, dialogue, music, and vibe of Mr. Robot are so slick, but Malek makes it mesmerizing.
Elliot exists in a world hauntingly real. While we’re far from a group of hackers here at Cool Material, the terms being tossed around and the depiction of the acts in Mr. Robot feel right. It’s something creator Sam Esmail is particularly proud of, as referenced in his recent AMA. And this is good because Esmail clearly has the goal of making Mr. Robot seem bizarrely plausible. Hell, there are shots at Apple, Twitter slang that doesn’t feel written by someone who never used a hashtag, and an Evil Corp. logo that’s a spitting image for Enron’s. You’re supposed to feel uneasy when watching; this could happening.
There’s drug use (snorting morphine and chasing it with Suboxone, which is not exactly just lighting a joint). There’s cursing. There’s partial nudity and sex with drug dealers. There’s a lot of stuff that hasn’t been seen on basic cable, which gives Mr. Robot the feel of an HBO program. And if USA had been fearful of pushing the limits, they didn’t show it, picking up Mr. Robot for a second season after just one episode.
It’s early, but a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes is nothing to sneeze at, nor is the praise, like Forbes calling it the show of the summer and a potential modern classic. According to Nielsen’s Live+3 estimates, the kind that take into account people DVRing a show and watching it within three days, Mr. Robot saw a 13% bump in viewership from episode 1 to 2, and a far more substantial one among the 18-49 demo. All good signs.
Summer is a TV wasteland. Shows premiere and die before you even know they existed. Sure you can hop on Netflix or On Demand to discover something you might’ve missed, but why not go for something fresh? Instead of spending the entire summer wondering whether or not you like the new season of True Detective (you don’t), flip on USA—yes, USA—Wednesdays at 10pm for the best new show of the year.