Web TV Dystopia In Tom Hanks’ ‘Electric City’

I really love the idea of Electric City, the web series Tom Hanks is doing through his Playtone production company with Yahoo. The show is set in its titular dystopia, a place where criminals are sentenced to time on generating bikes, mail’s delivered by footbound couriers, reliable electricity access is a class issue, and a secret society of older women called The Knitting Circle really runs everything:

The thing is, though, it’s hard to set up a dystopia in five-minute chunks, and hard-boiled dialogue often goes down better if its silliest-sounding pronouncements are surrounded by some more normal conversation. The first episode of Electric City begins with a voiceover about how utopia is “The place of security. The illusion of freedom. Humankind gets in the way of perfection…It’s best to ask no questions and be told no lies, here in the Electric City.” That last sentence might have been better as a piece of advice from one character to another, earned after we’ve actually had a chance to see how the city works. But instead, it comes across as a thunderous cliche that distracts from what’s specific and interesting about the show.

The best of those things are the ominous members of the Knitting Circle, whose members actually bust out their crochet hooks and knitting needles while they plot in a building called the Camera Obscura that gives them a view of the entire city. “A source of our trouble has yet to become a responsible resident of our city. he is again a free man,” Mrs. Orwell declares, after a man named Vernon is released from his sentence generating electricity and has returned home where he’s commenced beating his wife again. “We only get so many chances,” one of Orwell’s compatriots tells her. “Get rid of him.” I imagine that the show will flesh this out, but not knowing what the Knitting Circle’s official role is in Electric City makes it hard to know how to feel about their actions and their tone even as a baseline. I like the idea of this show a lot. But folks who want to make web shows have to figure out how how to get context and setup in much shorter episodes, and to tell shorter story arcs. It’s not just a matter of making cuts at the five-minute mark. The episodes have to work on their own.