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 Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams is an anthology show built around science fiction themes. It's based on the classic work of sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick. As is common in sci-fi anthologies, themes are often dark and upsetting: a woman who escapes her life in virtual reality fantasies, a group of telepathic people who become Earth's new underclass, a woman who wants to visit a long-abandoned Earth. Violence can be sudden and brutal: characters suddenly shot and killed (with blood but no gore), a man threatening to cut off another man's finger and force him to eat it. Sci-fi weaponry and gadgets, like scanners that can see your thoughts, and a glowing device that paralyzes someone hit by it, are common. Characters have sex with each other with rhythmic movements and moaning; there's no nudity, but expect same- and opposite-sex kissing, romance, and sex. Many characters are shown drinking alcohol (no one gets drunk), and at least one character smokes cigarettes. Women and people of color have strong roles, but role models are few and far between. Cursing includes "f--k," "f---ing," "s--t," "damn," and "ass."
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What's the story?
Based on the beloved sci-fi books and short stories of author Philip K. Dick, each of the episodes in PHILIP K. DICK'S ELECTRIC DREAMS is set in a different world: a law enforcement agency of the future, a train that transports miserable passengers to a more idyllic imaginary life, a future in which an elderly woman wants to recapture a little of her life back on the now environmentally ruined Earth. From five to 5,000 years in the future, each episode delves into Philip K. Dick's prophetic visions and ruminates on the nature of humanity.
Is it any good?
Sci-fi fans who crave dramas with flying cars and spaceships, take note: Philip K. Dick's "futuristic" scenarios are potent and interesting, but carry with them an '80s vibe. Makes sense, since the noted writer died in 1982, and never lived to see many of the technological marvels we now take for granted. So modern techno-geeks prepared to be dazzled, Black Mirror-style, with out-there new ideas, may be a bit disappointed in some of this show's slightly musty setups: an android who wants to extend her artificial lifespan, a plotline about paranoia that amounts to a retread on the Cold War-era Twilight Zone episode "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street."
Still, the best thing about an anthology is that even when some episodes are a little shopworn, you can just skip past them to the gems. And there are gems here. In "The Commuter," a railway worker takes a train journey to a mysterious town where all your troubles are wiped away -- only to find upon his return that his real life has been, too. (Twilight Zone fans might note a superficial resemblance to the classic episode "A Stop at Willoughby," though this take is darker.) In "Real Life," a character becomes confused between what's real and what's virtual reality, and in "The Hood Maker," a psychic and a detective team up to capture a man with dangerous new ideas. As you can see, none of these ideas are brand-new and fresh. But for sci-fi fans, they still hold appeal -- and in the best episodes of Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams, they're fleshed out with unnerving intensity and artistry.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about some of the themes featured in Electric Dreams. What are these stories saying about the way our society uses technology like surveillance cameras, virtual reality, and cell phones, and people's fascination with social media? Do you think the show's dark, satirical style helps make these points? Or does it detract from them?
Is Electric Dreams a good title for this series? Why? What does the term mean?
Have you read any Philip K. Dick stories or books? Any of the stories on which these episodes are based? Does reading the source material make you more or less interested in screen adaptations? If you watch/read different presentations of the same story, does that deepen your experience, or does it distract you from the story itself?
Do you think technology enhances people's lives? Can you think of examples where it seems to have gone too far in real life?