Altered Carbon

TV review by
Marty Brown, Common Sense Media
Altered Carbon TV Poster Image
Intriguing sci-fi idea undone by over-the-top violence, sex.

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 13 reviews

Kids say

age 16+
Based on 3 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Characters are almost universally duplicitous, self-interested, bloodthirsty, and degrading of others.

Positive Role Models & Representations

There are no real positive role models. Characters are drawn in broad strokes, without clear systems of ethics or morality. Most, if not all, people in this world have a pronounced disdain for their fellow humans.

Violence

One of the conceits of the show is that physical bodies can be replaced. So the show takes advantage of frequent gruesome and bloody deaths. Guns are used constantly, even in casual conversation. One character pays a happily married couple to fight one another to the death, in a scene that features the man repeatedly punching the woman. A woman drugs and rapes a man.

Sex

Altered Carbon features full-frontal male and female nudity. In the world of the show, there are endless variations of prostitution, and casual sex is also often portrayed as a transaction. The show finds every excuse to feature female nudity. Actresses do full, dramatic scenes topless. Important conversations take place in strip clubs. Dead and unconscious bodies are posed naked and filmed in an alluring manner. 

Language

Profanity is abundant: "a--hole," "s--t," "f--k," "c--k," and various Spanish expletives.

Consumerism

There are no product placements, but the way that money operates in the world of the show is worth noting. Money is almost exclusively used to buy weapons, sex, and drugs, and for the wealthy characters, to exploit the poor.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters are often drinking, many times to excess. Protagonist buys and uses drugs in the first episode, and the experience is shown from his point of view.

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. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byAndy G. February 5, 2018

Very fun.

Common Sense Media can be way too sensitive. The violence and sex doesnt RUIN the show. That said it isnt for prudes. It is very gory. Very sexy. ADULTS ONLY. B... Continue reading
Adult Written byTeal F. February 11, 2018

Amazing! But not for kids to watch.

Captivating concept, strong message to humanity. Watch when the kids are asleep. This is one of the best series I have ever watched.
Teen, 14 years old Written byJakob Eli February 12, 2018

This is simply not a good show.

I found, when watching Altered Carbon, their weren't many original ideas presented, and sex felt crammed in and unnecessary. Weak plot line + unnecessary... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byRuxy2002 April 2, 2018

Great serial!

I loved all the plot twists and how every episode uncovers something unexpected and overall intriguing. I think it's a serial worth watching if you are in... Continue reading

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?

TV details

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.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality and learning potential.

Learn how we rate