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Foundation Season 1, Like Watching Beautiful Paint Dry

Last night I watched the Apple TVs series, Foundation, and I’m mad about it.

Honestly, I get worked up about almost anything; it’s a massive character flaw that I’ll arc out eventually, but not today because I’m worried about becoming overpowered. This is a needlessly long review of Apple Tv's Foundation, entirely based on my personal opinion. It is not a review of the books. And while I made it to the show's end credits, it was only by fast-forwarding the boring bits—of which there were many.


Apple TV+ Series Foundation poster

TL;DR: Meh. Fountion is okay, 6/10. Have your finger poised to fast-forward and be prepared to spend ten hours of your life without laughter or even the concept of smiling...

This show got me really worked up. Mainly because I fell into a near coma while watching it, emerging hours later dazed and confused, irritated that something could have so much potential and waste it so thoroughly. This show is painfully boring; it’s like watching beautiful paint dry; my face is less wrinkled for the lack of facial expressions I pulled while watching it. I could have drooled, and I’m not sure I would have noticed. But like all terrible things, it had its moments. It love bombed me every so often to make sure I would stay around even after it had abused me with boredom.


What's Apple's TV Show Foundation About?

Depending on how you look at it, Foundation is a TV series based on Isaac Asimov's much loved stories about a Galactic Empire on the precipice of a fall into 30 000 years of darkness and a motley crew of Maths believers who seek to save it. Or it's a show about the Cleon Genetic Dynasty, a set of three clones of different ages, who have ruled over the Galactic Empire for almost 400 years with a somewhat disinterested, often violent, but seemingly not ineffectual hand. No, longer do Kings worry about knocking up their Queens; there are no Queens, just a consistent body of three clones of the original Cleon I—eat your heart out, Henry VIII. The youngest Cleon 'Brother Dawn' spends his days learning how to one day become a mental copy of the ruling clone 'Brother Day.' The oldest Cleon, 'Brother Dusk,' has finished his ruling phase; he… paints and… er... waits for death, a voluntary one.

This genetic dynasty isn't pleased when Dr. Harding informs them that their Galactic Empire, home to trillions of people, will fall. They particularly aren't all that jazzed at the idea that they have to end the cycle of cloning to reduce the roughly 30 000 years of darkness to a more manageable 1000 years. They are just clones, so who cares? As the show points out, they basically don't have souls. These backward power maniacs balk at this idea and go about trying to disprove Dr. Hardin's grim maths by bringing in the only other person in the whole billion people galaxy who can understand it to disprove it, Gaal Dornick. Unshockling (because plot), she unravels the complex magi— I mean maths, in a single night and agrees that the Galactic Empire is doomed to fall. News that shouldn't shock anyone, I mean, I don't need math to tell you that no Empire ever continues on exactly as in perpetuity; it's impressive that the clones managed to pull it off for as long as they did. Visited the Ottoman Empire recently? Yeah, me neither.

After this battle of words, our dueling storylines diverge; the motley crew of science believers are banished to a distant planet. There they will build a sort of knowledge arc for a decimated society to follow out of the dark and into the light. Meanwhile, the Cleon's keep on Cleoning, dealing with the busy work of being clones and ruling an Empire, occasionally mentioning Dr. Harding and his predictions to create a tenuous link to the plot taking place on the other side of the literal galaxy. While watching in fascination as this epic shitshow tries to CGI its way into people's hearts, I had the thought, "Am I rooting for the Empire? Oh no, I am. I'm rooting for the damn Empire. The dark side."

Foundation Characters

Apple TV+ Series Foundation poster. main characters. Gaal, Hardin, Demerzel, Cleon, Brother Day, Dr. Hari Seldon.

With source material that doesn't find its foundations in character development, the series had the daunting struggle of grounding Foundation as a tv show to draw the viewer in. Dr. Hari Seldon (Jared Harris) is a maths genius and fortune teller using psychohistory. Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobell) is maths genius and Dr. Hari Seldons protégé. And later in the series, Salvor Hardin (Leah Harvey) makes an appearance as a wise battle-hardened warden of the Terminus and thus the Foundation. Salvador Hardin might be a maths genius but either way, she gets visions, so that's cool. And finally, we have the various times of Day: Brother Dawn (Cooper Carter), Brother Day (Lee Pace), and Brother Dusk (Terrence Mann) in the forms of Cleon's. Lee Pace was so good in the role of Brother Day that I didn't realize he was the same dude from Pushing Up Daisies, a show I love and have watched many times.

We can put most of these characters into neat little categories, the Cleon's are the antagonists, Gaal is our protagonist, and Dr. Hari Seldon is the catalyst and sage mentor. Side characters include Rayche Foss (Alfred Enoch), who sucks only marginally less than Gaal, so it makes sense that they date. Demerzel (Laura Birn) is one of the more interesting characters in the show. As the last intelligent robot, she is hard-coded to be loyal and obey, but she's also strangely religious. Demerzel is the Cleon's minister and also kind of their mummy figure, with some of the best WTF moments she contributes considerably to the overall interest in the Cleon's storyline.

While the more seasoned Jared Harrison, Dr. Hari Seldon, who is old hat at playing the powerful religious type figure, is billed as the shows lead, he patently isn’t. Not only does he have limited screen time, but he also isn’t the POV character; Gaal Dornick is. She even narrates the story.

Foundations In Painful Narration

I'm not anti-narration, often i even like it, but Foundation's narration makes an already slow show slow down further. The narration is written in a painfully poetical style and voiced in a sad lyrical way by Gaals comically broken Australian accent. Some have called her accent South African, and as a South African, I can confidently tell them: no, I refuse this information; South Africans are funnier. Others who aren’t Australian (or South African) might not find this accent as distracting as I did; for them, it might sound exotic and different instead of painfully out of place.

I would have preferred as neutral an accent as possible, one without a distinguishable location to make the jump into the future more paletable. I don’t blame the actress for any of this; it’s hardly her fault she was directed to be yet another character devoid of joy. Lou Llobell has Zimbabwean and Spanish heritage and spent time in South Africa, but listening to her in interviews, her accent is distinctly not South African or Zimbabwean, or even Australian. So, this was a conscious directing choice, and I am not making fun of her natural accent. To my faulty ear, she sounds British. Which makes sense given that it is where she is based, in London.

Is Anyone Allowed To Die In This Show?

A lot of articles have been calling Foundation, Apple's pitch at a new GoT. Game of Thrones, set in space, if you will, I call bullshit because Game of Thrones had a lot more death and a lot more boobs. First, we have the clones; obviously, they can't die (humanity and the human experience aside) because there are copies of them lying around waiting to take up screen time. Then we have Seldon; he's dead, so sad, but oh wait, he's not. Then we have Gaal's boring boyfriend; he's dead. Oh, wait, no, he's not.

Old mentor figures aside, nobody can die; it's simply not allowed. My guess is that with only a character light book to lean on, Foundations values the characters on the screen too highly. They have few cards to play with and are scared of losing any of them. I found myself cheering when the Huntress final got hers. Not because she is coded as a supposedly sympathetic villain who I should enjoy seeing defeated but because I finally didn't have to deal with her one-note angst anymore but also because there is satisfaction in someone finally, truly dying.

Foundation's Writers Reach Through The CGI To Scream, "Like Her, Please Like Her!"

Apple TV+ Series Foundation. Gaal

Foundation is desperate to make you like its female characters. So desperate that they decided to hit us over the head with the idea of perfection, importance, and specialness. Because who doesn't love, empathize and want to watch perfect characters being perfect? It's so committed to this idea that it makes Gaal simultaneously a priestess who fits into society hand in glove and a lonely girl outsider who's just too smart for these backwater hicks who hate learning. In case you forgot, Gaal is the one person in the universe who can verify Dr. Hardin's math. In an intensely dull bunch of scenes, she all but opens the show, establishing her significance as early as possible. She is so important to the show and the plot that she's MIA for over twenty years, and she spends most of the show's runtime (post math verification) swimming, counting prime numbers to herself (quirky is not a personality trait), and floating around space.

Gaal's most baller move is to contribute to the murder of an old man and then raid his corpse for a contraband book—I'm making this sounds interesting; its not; very little in this show is. We spend a decent amount of an episode being reassured that sure, Gaal raided a dead body, but she's still perfect. Gaal tried to save the old man, but she told him to leave, and he wouldn't. Oh, also, he gave her the book before he died. So really, where's the harm? She's perfect, after all. And perfect gals don't jump into ocean bodies to steal books from corpses; well, they do, but only if it technically doesn't count as stealing.

My giddy glee at what I thought was going to be, I don't know, an actual arc was ill-founded. There's the old adage, show don't tell, but how about Gaal tell somebody that she contributed to the murder of an old man (and from what I can gather, a lot of other people as well) because she wholeheartedly bought into a belief system that turned out to be garbage? When her equally dull love interest Rayche Foss are quipping, in what passes for witty banter in this story, about spheres not having corners, how about she mentions her long past of murder? There's no room for that; we are too busy leaning into epic shots of CGI (which are often epic) and giving every character who isn't the big bad emperor or a side character a perfect moment silhouetted against sunsets or slivers of moon.

I could maybe be on board with Gaal if she was acknowledged as not being the bestest greatest gal in the galaxy. If when she is annoying, someone calls her annoying. If she wasn't everyone's favorite gal pal, the best at magical math, the most self-sacrificing. Can someone just turn around and point out that much of her behavior can be attributed to saving her own ass? What a brave angel who turns around and validates Seldon's predictive model even at the risk of death. True, if she doesn't validate it, then she gets to go home, where they will arrest and kill her by drowning her, letting her join her murder victim at the bottom of the steadily rising ocean.

Salvor Hardin—The Beginning of Genetic Dynasty, But Not One Based On Cloning, So It’s Alright

Ah, Hardin, I dislike you most of all. The specialness factor is off the charts with Hardin; she is another perfect (badass) angel who only has to pick up a weapon to know how to use it. She's not like other girls dialed up 11. From a young age, Hardin’s doting parents looked at their daughter and knew she was special, and here’s the kicker, unlike the bulk of parents, they were apparently right.

Here we get into maths is magic, but also magic is magic territory. Hardin gets a vision; the giant diamond in the sky chats with her (or doesn’t, depending on if you believe Dr. Seldon or not, given that the dude can’t speak without lying, I’m thinking not, but also I don’t care, but also why is anyone following him again?) She’s also, get this, the genetic daughter of our favorite corpse-raiding murderer, Gaal. Bloodlines will out, am I right? But never forget cloning is bad. Babies are good. Hereditary right to rule and nature over nurture are all top-notch notions but cloning bad, but also science good, but mainly math. It’s a simple message.

Dr. Hari Seldon—Dynamic, Charismatic, and Convincing (i.e., The Personality Of A Cult Leader)

The two primary male characters are a lot better—which, why? Stop writing such terrible female leads! Dr. Seldon is a bit dull, the all-knowing, all-seeing mentor character we have seen more than a few times before. It does beg the question, why don't I have a problem with his character while I'm so vitriolic about the two female leads? Mainly because Dr. Seldon isn't the lead. He's not the protagonist; he's the catalyst. His role could be fulfilled by an old book with prophecy squirreled away inside its pages.

Would I like some more Dr. Seldon backstory? Yes. Am I wrong to want that backstory? Yes. The mentor figure is often enigmatic; he's Hannibal Lector (but less murdery—kinda.) We all want a Hannibal Lector origin story, but when we get Hannibal Rising we wish we'd never asked. Dr. Seldon has the same hand-wave specialness as Gaal and Hardin, but he gives off the vibe of having worked at it all his life for his skillset rather than being someone who woke up one day and started mathing. He's a professor who developed psychohistory. That's his back story. Plus, he dies (kind of). I still wouldn't follow him around a corner, let alone to the ends of the galaxy.

The Emperor, or Empire, Empires, Cleon, Clones, or Times of Day. Whatever

Apple TV+ Series Foundation. Emperors, Empires, Cleon's, Brother Day, Brother Dawn, Brother Dusk

The Cleone clones are perhaps the most well-rounded, interesting element of this show, which is hilarious given that it's one of the most significant additions to its original source material. Which is perhaps why it feels like two shows smooshed together rather than one cohesive plot. The clones have ample time and opportunity to let us get to know them. Not only do we get plenty of character-building screen time, but we also get to know them at various stages of their lives. It's hard to get truly mad at the big bad when the child version of him is standing a few feet away, kindhearted but being brainwashed.

The show tries its darndest to pitch Brother Day comically evil from episode one (he doesn't kick the dog, but he zaps an old, loyal retainer into dust.) But Brother Day becomes Brother Dawn; there's a new Brother Day in town, and he didn't kick any dogs, not on the screen anyway. I'm not actually sure there are any dogs to kick, which must leave the writers in a panicked sweat.

We don't meet one Empire; we meet him over and over again, witnessing his slow assimilation through control that is exercised by himself on himself. It's damn sad, and as someone who finds cults, the delicate balance of mental health, empires, and cloning interesting, you're ticking a lot of boxes. This is perhaps why I fast-forwarded through the last few episodes and only paused to watch when I saw an ugly Emperor's bodice or a robot Demerzel. The other plot, the one that had something to do with special blood and collectibles, I skipped. You know, the plot from the books.

Foundations Fashion and Costumes

Apple TV+ Series Foundation. Dr Hari Seldon, Gaal Dornick, Costumes

When I'm not bored to tears, I'm fascinated by how terrible the clothing on this show is. No wonder the showrunners are endlessly keen to get the more attractive actors and actresses out of as much fabric as much as possible. Is it weird that I actively dislike many of the characters for their fashion choices? Can I be shallow for judging the future's fashion sense? Perhaps, but I'm going to carry on doing it anyway. My personal favorite fashion moment was when I realized that this clone Emperor has been wearing the same ugly blue dress for at least thirty years, likely more, but I refuse to rewatch the show to find out. Do they get a new one made, or just copy the original over and over again until it becomes sentient and walks away? Is this not the true crime? Should we not end the Cleon Genetic Dynasty just to improve the fashion? Maybe.

Foundational Science and Religion

My belief in science borders on the religious. I mean, I can’t personally verify the math; you tell me that there is a CERN halo that cracks open atoms leaving their most interesting contents on the floor, and I’m like, cool, no need to personally verify because I wouldn’t know what I was looking at even if I saw it. There’s a great big hole in the sky that’s causing floods on the other side of the world, and I need to turn off my lights and worry about plastic to close it up? Get me a recycling bag and some glass jars to store my perishables. You speak, I listen, oh wise one.

That being said, the minute we all start following around any one dude, who happens to be a charismatic charmer who tells me I’m going to go down in the history books for doing laundry, I’m out. Sure, going down in the history books sounds cool, but I sure as hell don’t want to be remembered for drinking Kool-aid, moving to another planet, and spending my days arguing about whether we should include sundials or water clocks in our seed vault with extras. When the same charismatic charmer walks out of the giant diamond in the sky and tells me he has hand-picked us to, ahem, populate the new world, but only after we essentially start a massive war, well, then I’m drinking the Kool-aid as a quick method of getting the hell out of here.

"What I kept saying to Chris and the team was, 'We know that Hari Seldon and Gaal Dornick [Lou Llobell] are the only people that can understand this math, but we're so far into the future I don't want to see Arabic numbers," remarks Goyer. "I also want it to be beautiful and spiritual. When Gaal and Hari look at the math it's almost like they are communicating with angels or God."

The messaging, which gets wildly confused the further into the show we go, is that cloning rulers is terrible but that the notion of rulers in themselves is perhaps not? Maybe even a ruler based on bloodline, that there are, in fact, some people who are just more special than others; it’s in the blood, see? Maths, apparently, is in the blood. It’s not anything silly like the blue blood of Kings and Queens, a perceived connection to a God-like figure represented on this earth with a pointy gold hat; nah, it's maths, science that gets passed down along the genetic code, and that’s different because reasons.

Foundation Could Have Been Brilliant If It Was Called Cleones And Was About Clones

Is Foundation the worst thing I've ever watched? Absolutely not, God's Favourite Idiot is the worst thing I've ever watched, and that was at most fifteen minutes before I ran for the hills. I got through six episodes of Foundation before I started trying to find the exit. Foundation is an incredibly frustrating watch. Every piece of the puzzle is in place except for the all-important corners: the writing sucks. It sucks so badly. It's yet another show that doesn't want to be about the original story it's piggybacking on. It wants to be a story about clone emperors, and to get that done they have to deal with the pesky business of including this other story that they either don't care about or don't have the skills to carry. Apple TV's Foundation is not bad at all, but it could have been brilliant. Hell, it could have been two brilliant shows, one about clones and another, you know, called Foundation, a show actually based on its source material.

I really wanted to flip my hair and tell Foundation, "You offer nothing new, just a younger grape on the same vine, destined for the same old bottle." I can't though because in keeping with the mixed messaging of the show, Foundation convinced me that sometimes a clone is a good thing, sometimes a book is a damn fine vintage, from a damn fine grape, and we want it just as is.


Mazvita Selemani
Mazvita Selemani

As a Zimbabwean who lives in the UK I can tell you that accent is definitely South African and it's even more evident in the second season. Not British at all

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