A Dystopian, Sci-Fi, Hardboiled, Spy Story: Tom Hanks’ Electric City

It was a rainy afternoon here in New York. I’d submitted all the job applications I could for the day, and not wanting to go out in the rain I needed something to keep me distracted in my roommate-less dorm room. I was surfing facebook when out of the blue an ad popped up for Tom Hanks’ Electric City, a series of shorts hosted on Yahoo. Probably for the first time in my facebook life, I actually clicked the ad link and was transported to the Electric City website where the first video in the series began playing. I was immediately intrigued by the premise, and I watched the whole short series (took about one and a half hours total) while waiting for the rain to stop.

Electric City takes place in a post-apocalyptic world bereft of the technologies we take for granted today. There are no computers, cell phones, motor vehicles, or any of the modern things we can’t live without. The only “amenity” the society offers is a copper wire based radio system and a rudimentary, steampunkish electricity system. But despite the almost agrarian setting, the Electric City is far from a romantic, society of nature lovers. At the top of the social structure, there is a small cadre of old, knitting women (really, no joke), who exercise authoritarian power over the inhabitants of Electric City. They are responsible for squashing rebellions, and technological developments that could actually improve the lives of their citizens. Though they did their own dirty work at some point in their lives, the ladies are too old and feeble to handle their secretive endeavors, so they employ special operatives.

That’s where Cleveland Carr (voiced by Tom Hanks), comes into play. Cleveland is a grid operative (aka an assassin/detective/secret agent), and it is his job to do the twisted bidding of the Knitting Ladies. When Cleveland receives a message from the Knitters, blood follows. But there are a lot of people who realize that Electric City is not all that it could be under the control of the Knitters, and they have begun work on a revolutionary device (to them at least) that will shake the foundations of their very shakeable society. And even the brutally stoic Cleveland will doubt the totalitarian control of the Knitters when he discovers what is happening while on the job.

Electric City was a good time waster on my rainy day, but not much else. While the setting is great and the characters strong and complex, there is kind of too much going on at any given moment due, I think, to the collision of so many ideas. One minute you’re watching a solid dystopian story, the next a spy thriller, then a (backwards) sci-fi movie. Throw in some narrative storytelling straight out of a hardboiled detective novel, and a love interest who is far more attractive when she isn’t on her back and you have Electric City. A lot of cool ideas that get lost in the mix of all that happens throughout the twenty shorts. But that doesn’t mean that Electric City does everything wrong. While the shorts are maddeningly short, they are very dense, and I was impressed by the creators’ ability to pack in so much character development in each short. Individually, the shorts are great, but when you put them together it’s all a jumbled mess of chaos that leaves plenty of questions unanswered. Maybe there will be a sequel?

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