Frequently billed as Game of Thrones in space, Apple TV Plus took a bold step in its programming with its Foundation TV series. The ambitious sci-fi epic is among the streamer’s pricier outings, but is Foundation worth watching? Absolutely. It’s one of the best new shows of 2021.
Apple TV Plus
Apple TV Plus has quickly become a major player in the streaming game since its launch in 2019. Its slate of original programming includes shows like Ted Lasso, The Morning Show, Foundation, and For All Mankind as well as movies like The Banker, Greyhound, and Palmer
1. A gripping premise
Foundation starts with a fascinating and simple premise. What if one could use advanced mathematics to predict the future based on human behavior?
That’s the story of Dr. Hari Seldon, who predicts the fall of the Galactic Empire in a distant future. This puts him at odds with the three clone brothers who run things and who wish to stop him and his followers before they lose their generations-long reign.
Knowing that killing Seldon will embolden his followers, they instead agree to let him form a foundation on the farthest reaches of the galaxy in preparation for the coming dark age. From there the series follows the far-off foundation as well as the Empire in crisis, with humans fighting for survival in uncertain times.
2. Foundation boasts an impressive legacy
Often discussed alongside works like Dune and Star Wars, the original Foundation is an iconic and influential work of sci-fi by American author Isaac Asimov.
This isn’t the first attempt to adapt Foundation. New Line Cinema, Sony, and HBO all held the rights to the property at various times starting in the 1990s, with Roland Emmerich and Jonathan Nolan attached at different times. The Foundation TV series on Apple TV Plus is the first project to actually materialize.
First appearing as a series of short stories in the 1940s and 50s, Foundation was collected as a trilogy of novels in the 50s: Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation. Asimov won a Hugo Award for Foundation, named best all-time series in 1966.
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The author returned to the series later, writing sequels and prequels to the original trilogy during the 80s.
So Foundation is worth watching not just on its own terms but also as an adaptation that shares a rich legacy with science fiction that came after Asimov, including Dune, Star Wars, The Expanse, and so much more.
3. Complex, smart political intrigue
The Foundation TV series puts forth some thoughtful political and philosophical questions. Virtually every episode offers a moral quandary with no easy answers. There’s no clear right and wrong here, which makes the drama and conflict all the more compelling.
Even the “bad guys” are rich and complex figures who challenge us. The Empire, with its three fraternal figureheads, is, in virtually every way, a force for evil. They rule with an iron fist. They are anti-democratic. Their rule is precisely what will end civilization if Seldon is right. And they stand firmly against change and progress.
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And yet they’re tragic figures, locked into a generations-old system set into place by one man — who also happens to be the original from which they were cloned. So what does that mean for their humanity? Do they have free will despite their positions? Can they go against one another? Once Seldon tells them their time is coming to an end, how they each respond has enormous ramifications for the universe but also for each clone’s sense of self.
Even Seldon, who effectively wishes to save humanity from itself, is not entirely good. His calculations and predictions leave little room for free will, and his methods similarly erase the autonomy of even his closest allies.
4. Foundation looks incredible
With a reported $45 million budget, Foundation puts every single dollar on the screen and makes it count. The series is absolutely gorgeous, with a mix of digital and practical effects that give the series a cinematic quality. Each planet, spaceship, and city feels lived-in and real.
Lee Pace has somewhat become the face of the Foundation TV series, posting (often shirtless) behind-the-scenes looks at the show’s production. And Pace is absolutely brilliant as Brother Day, one of the three clones who rule the Empire. He lends a sense of humanity and introspection to a man struggling to hold onto his unearned power while coming to terms with his own peculiar mortality and role in society’s inevitable downfall.
The acting in Foundation is stunningly good.
But he’s joined by stellar co-stars too. Major standouts include Lou Llobell, Jared Harris, Leah Harvey, Laura Birn, Clarke Peters, and T’Nia Miller, who all add a great deal of substance to the show’s aesthetic grandeur.
5. Worldbuilding on a huge scale
Foundation does a remarkable job of managing its many parallel storylines.
The narrative jumps across generations and solar systems, building on the questions introduced in the pilot. The fate of the Empire has incredibly far-reaching implications and is due to take place over thousands of years. What will cause it? Will it be slow, or will a single event cement what goes wrong? Seldon’s predictions recognize broad patterns, not individual actions, so the story has plenty of room to develop in surprising ways, even if we ostensibly know how it ends.
But for it to work, we have to have some sense of the scale we’re dealing with. Foundation has that covered, giving us glimpses into the lives of many key players and allowing us to believe in the interconnectedness of this vast, fictional world.
It would be all too easy to blow it, but Foundation threads that needle with great care and undeniable style.
If you’re still on the fence and wondering, “Is Foundation worth watching?” those are our top five reasons why you should check it out. And if you like it, you’re in luck, the Foundation TV series has already secured a second season for itself, so there will be more down the line.