A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Altered Carbon is a dark, violent sci-fi series that asks the question: What does it mean to have access to cutting-edge technology in a declining society? In Bay City (formerly San Francisco), high society literally lives above the clouds, while below, the lower classes are inundated with advertisements, live in robot-run hotels, and indulge in drugs and prostitution. The sex and violence in this series often feels exploitative; nudity (full-frontal male and female) is shoehorned into many scenes where it's not necessary, including women stripping, lengthy topless scenes, and even dead or unconscious characters posed sexually. Single characters can be killed more than once in the same scene per the sci-fi premise, and death scenes are exceedingly gruesome and bloody. Guns and other weapons are sold on the black market, and carried and deployed frequently.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In ALTERED CARBON, by the year 2384, people can live forever. A person's soul is digitized into a metal disc (a "stack"), which is then placed into a vacated body (a "sleeve"). Takeshi Kovacs, a Japanese-Slovakian mercenary who has been unconscious for 250 years, wakes up in the body of a former policeman (Joel Kinnaman). He immediately finds himself under surveillance by policewoman Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda), who is suspicious of Kovacs' reappearance.
Kovacs lives in San Francisco, now called Bay City, a dystopia populated by gun runners, drug dealers, and various houses of ill repute. Wealthy citizens choose to live in the sky, above the cloud cover, where Kovacs is brought to meet the richest man in the world, Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy). Someone has murdered Bancroft by destroying his stack, which is the only way a person can truly die in this world. Fortunately, Bancroft is one of the only people alive who was able to afford a backup stack. So, though he's able to go on living, he has no memory of the details of the murder or who killed him. He hires Kovacs to find the killer.
Is it any good?
Riding primarily on atmosphere and a complex premise, this series has potential but doesn't live up to its classic cyberpunk counterparts. Here's the deal: People can live forever in digitized versions of their personalities ("stacks"), which are placed into discarded human bodies ("sleeves"). The only way a person can truly die is if their stack is destroyed. This is a complicated enough idea to carry through the entire show, but it's quickly doubled-down on with variations on the concept, like "double stacking" and "full-spectrum DHF remote storage backup." In other words, no sooner does the show establish the rules for its world than it immediately begins to break them.
That's because Altered Carbon is less interested in the ethical and moral implications of technology, or even how the rules of this world can work on a story level, and is more interested in what the setup allows it to depict. Good cyberpunk (like, Blade Runner, Snowpiercer, or Mr. Robot) depicts how technological advancement can lead to moral and social decay within society. But Altered Carbon seems most interested in exploiting that moral and social decay within its world instead. The show works so hard to push the envelope that it often depicts truly offensive scenes, forfeiting the promise of its genre for the sake of cheap violence and sketchy depictions of sex. It's a shame, because the plot has so much potential: solving the murder of a man who's still alive could have been really fun.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the moral implications of Altered Carbon's premise. If someone can live inside another person's body, what does that mean? What does it mean to be able to live forever? How does that affect the characters' behavior and choices? How would it affect yours?
Families can talk about the difference between using nudity and sex for artistic purposes and using them for exploitative purposes. How does Altered Carbon depict sex? How do the characters use their sexuality? Is this a responsible depiction of nudity on the part of the makers of the show? Why or why not?
Are the depictions of violence in Altered Carbon to service the story or to make a greater point about the world the characters live in? Or does the violence feel excessive? What's the difference?
Themes & Topics
Browse titles with similar subject matter.
For kids who love science fiction
Our editors recommend
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.