‘Foundation’ is Super Pretty, but Not Quite the Sci-Fi Epic It So Desperately Wants to Be

I don’t often review TV shows (I can’t even keep up with movies, so how could I possibly handle TV too?), but after Apple TV+ gave me early access to all 10 episodes of the Isaac Asimov-adapted first season of Foundation, I figured I needed to weigh in. 

Yes, I watched all of Ted Lasso Season 2 early, too, but that’s neither here nor there.

Foundation is an ambitious sci-fi epic that clearly wants to be sort of like Dune only without really cool sandworms. It spans decades, if not centuries, and involves a mathematical formula so powerful it can predict the future, and specifically the ruin of an empire that has lasted for millenia. The show is about that slow collapse.

Sci-fi fans should find plenty to enjoy with Foundation as it balances some “harder sci-fi” concepts with the more action-oriented elements that are pervasive in the genre these days. While the show largely stays clear of major space battles, there are plenty of smaller scale action scenes and suspenseful segments, though it’s equally willing to philosophize and preach.

Foundation looks fantastic; every episode is filled with lush, movie-quality imagery, beautiful sets, and amazing visual effects (although, funny fact, literally as I write this I’m finishing up Episode 10, and an unfinished effect just came on screen). 

In short, Foundation looks pretty as hell, but that’s not enough to sustain a show. And even after plowing through 10 episodes in a matter of weeks, I’m not entirely convinced this show has found sustainable footing.

As nice as it looks, and as inventive as it is at times, the show often feels like something slightly more generic than it wants to appear to be. Though the movie boasts several likable characters, most notably Salvor Hardin (Leah Harvey) and Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobell), few really resonate in a convincing way. The protagonists feel like protagonists you could find in dozens of other stories. As a result, their journeys are compelling at a base level, but not at an emotional one. Oddly, the character I was drawn to most is the alleged villain, played superbly by Lee Pace.

Further, for a show that dabbles in “hard sci-fi,” much of what happens is surprisingly straightforward and not particularly crafty. It feels like a show that isn’t quite as smart as it wants to be.

Lots of things happen in these first 10 episodes, and there’s plenty to like–not enough to love. I kept waiting for that moment… you know, that moment, like in Game of Thrones or Lost or whatever show you consider great that caught you off guard and hooked you… and it never came. If anything, the moment that could have been a real jaw dropper happens in the first or second episode–too soon to really punch you in the face the way it probably could have had the world and characters been more established.

I’ll be curious to see how others react to Foundation; some will love it, but I imagine many will agree with me. It’s a dangerous place for a show to operate in; almost really good, but short of the praise a production needs these days to transcend to the stars.

By Erik Samdahl
Related categories: Movies