It’s millions of years in the future and the Galactic Empire spans hundreds of planets and trillions of people. It’s been surprisingly calm and stable for thousands of years, but psychohistorian Hari Seldon (Jared Harris) is convinced that something terrible is about to happen. Seldon, a mathematician, has invented the science of psychohistory, an amalgamation of psychology and statistics that allows him to analyze humankind across eons to predict future events, both large and small.
Seldon is convinced that the Empire is poised to fall, which doesn’t go over well with the ruling Cleons, who banish him and his followers to Terminus, a tiny planet on the far edge of the galaxy. Most notable among those followers is young Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobell), a brilliant, intuitive mathematician and one of the few people who can understand Seldon’s work.
The Foundation series is based on the classic sci-fi book of the same name by Isaac Asimov. “Foundation” later became a trilogy, then a five-book series by the extraordinarily prolific Asimov. It’s also a sweeping saga, famously difficult to film or even visualize. Fortunately, writers Josh Friedman and David S. Goyer have delivered an engrossing sci-fi epic for Apple TV+. It’s another example of how streaming services are producing some of the best content in the industry.
Being so far in the future, there are some strange aspects to the world too, notably the Cleons: The emperor of the Galactic Empire is not a single person, but three clones of an earlier emperor, at three different ages: Brother Morning (Cassian Bilton), Brother Day (Lee Pace), and Brother Dusk (Terrence Mann). It’s a fascinating triumvirate, with young Morning representing fear, yearning, and hope, Day a passionate, confident, and commanding presence, and Dusk as the older, wiser voice who offers counsel to Day. It’s Day who steals the scenes, though, a powerful presence who embodies both the best of the Empire and the seeds of its downfall in his arrogant approach to ruling a far-flung empire.
Harris is splendid as Hari Seldon, offering a typically nuanced performance as a genius who can see the future, doesn’t like what he sees, but recognizes that psychohistory isn’t about the desired outcome, but about probable future events. Alfred Enoch as Seldon’s adopted son Raych is also a moving presence, and early in the series when Raych asks Hari “Do you ever wish there was another way?” we feel Hari’s angst as he responds “Every day.”
The heart of Foundation is Lou Llobell as Dr. Gaal Dornick, however, and she’s terrific as a young woman who has escaped her backward planet just to be immediately pulled into the whirlwind that is Hari Seldon and his Foundation. Dornick is a startled, confused, and seemingly naive “galactic country bumpkin”. A newcomer to the screen, Llobell delivers a highly empathetic and interesting character who will inspire many young folk to follow their passions as they enjoy this series.
The production itself is gorgeous, bouncing between the capital planet of Trantor, the isolated planet Terminus that Seldon’s Foundation eventually calls home and Dornick’s home planet of Synnax. My favorite setting is the Trantor space elevator that makes it easy for galactic visitors to pop down to the surface. Foundation is one of the most beautiful shows I’ve seen in a while, with the visuals so crisp and stunning that they beg for an IMAX showing. Please don’t try to watch this on your iPhone while commuting to work, Apple fans, the visual effects deserve a big screen.
If you’re a fan of epic science fiction then you’ll love Foundation. This is a good enough series that it’s worth a subscription to Apple TV+. With its combination of a deep and profound storyline, excellent performances, eye-popping visual effects, and the ability to view each episode as many times as desired, this is the next big hit for Apple TV+. Highly recommended.