When it comes to creating other worlds within our world, Alex Garland has proven himself a master.
The filmmaker has done that with his challenging and well-received movies “Ex Machina” and “Annihilation,” and now, he’s doing it on television … or more accurately a streaming service, since his “Devs” becomes the first FX-furnished series to originate on FX on Hulu by debuting the first two of its eight episodes Thursday. The fantasy-mystery centers on software engineer Lily (returning Garland colleague Sonoya Mizuno), who suspects her Silicon Valley company Amaya is responsible for her boyfriend’s disappearance.
As she weaves her way through a high-tech maze in pursuit of the truth, she clashes with the firm’s CEO (Nick Offerman, “Parks and Recreation”) and security chief (Zach Grenier, “The Good Wife”). Alison Pill — currently appearing in CBS All Access’ “Star Trek: Picard” as well — and stage veteran Stephen McKinley Henderson (“Fences”) also are regular cast members.
Serving as writer, director and executive producer of “Devs,” Garland allows that “some of the scientific and philosophical ideas that I became comfortable enough to write about — after really, like, 10 or 15 years of reading and trying to understand them — are just sort of irreducibly complicated. You can’t really make them easy. You can’t reduce them to soundbites.
“It’s just about being thoughtful and not dropping too many hammer blows of big ideas … actually drip-feeding it rather than front-loading it, I guess, but also having a kind of underlying faith that the audience will be more interested in this than we are led to believe. I think the world I came from is incredibly oppositional to complicated ideas. And the world I came into, by which I mean cinema and television, is much more open to much more free-thinking. And also, you have time. You’re not trying to cram stuff into two hours.”
As for the “Devs” actors responding to Garland’s approach, Offerman noted, “You’re used to shooting things out of sequence, and you do your best to map out the roller coaster of emotion and the dynamic that your arc requires. But this particular sort of mind-blowing, trippy material made us very grateful, I think, that by the time we were on the sound stage shooting the final couple chapters of the show, it was good that those were in order and that they were the end.
“It’s a testament to Alex’s writing,” added Offerman. “You know, we’ve all worked on a lot of different stuff. Even so, at the end of five or six months together, we were standing around in the final days still saying, ‘This scene is amazing. How did he do this?’ ”