When the trailer dropped for Hulu's new series Dimension 404, made by web content studio RocketJump, you could have been forgiven for picking up a very Black Mirror vibe.
Like Black Mirror, Dimension 404 is a science-fiction anthology series with a new story every episode. Each story features some kind of technology gone wrong (the 404, of course, refers to the error code when a web page is not found).
The comparisons were inevitable. Turns out they were also wrong.
Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker's UK-born hit, which moved to Netflix for its third season last year, goes out of its way to disturb you. It takes premises that sound like they should be funny — the Prime Minister is asked to have sex with a what? — and turns them into morality plays. Each premise is explored with such a straight face that by the end of each show you're disgusted with humanity and terrified for our future.
But based on the first three episodes of Dimension 404, now available on Hulu, you're not in any danger of going to bed with nightmares. There are indictments of modern high-tech culture, yes. The episodes tackle online dating, adolescent 3-D movie blockbusters, and the attention deficit disorder produced by too many childhood cartoons, respectively.
But if there were ever wagging fingers in these scripts, they have been smothered under soft sheets made of purest sitcom.
There are episodes of Black Mirror I still can't rewatch. I don't need to; they play on repeat in my head. Meanwhile, the longest-lasting mental effect of Dimension 404 is that I have a new earworm — the theme tune for a fake 1990s cartoon series called Time Ryder. (Time Ryder! Time Ryder! And the Chrono Teeeeeens.)
Image: Patrick Wymore/Hulu
Black Mirror takes itself very seriously. Dimension 404 couldn't take itself less seriously. Think of the most serious Twilight Zone episode versus the most off-the-wall Doctor Who, and you're getting close. This is weird and wacky B-movie stuff, and would be ideal for drive-ins if we still had drive-ins.
The intro to each episode of Dimension 404 features the sounds of a theremin and Mark Hamill doing his best spooky voice, more Joker than Luke Skywalker. A digital clock goes on the fritz and rearranges itself to 4:04. We're clearly in parody territory.
We're also in low-budget web video territory, though each episode has ambitions beyond its bank account. Each one also contains a piece of fake media (the dating ads, the movie) that could have benefited from a production polish, with the exception of Time Ryder, which is supposed to be on a Captain Planet level.
A big chunk of the budget seems to have gone towards hiring geek celebrities. In "MakerMatch," a dating app turns out to be more than it appears on the surface; Joel McHale (Community) shows up as the founder of the dating firm. In "Cinethrax," Patton Oswalt is a lonely movie nerd who regrets letting his millennial niece pick the picture on their night out.
Image: Patrick Wymore/Hulu
I was really pulling for Oswalt's episode, but it's probably the weakest of the bunch, taking way too long to reach the twist in the tale. But if at least one millennial is inspired by the plot (and by Oswalt's T-shirt) to watch the campy 1988 John Carpenter satire They Live, it will have been worth it.
In probably the most successful outing thus far, "Chronos," Ashley Rickards (Awkward, One Tree Hill) is a super smart physics major who keeps procrastinating on her end-of-term paper, with disastrous results for the time-space continuum. Cue every time travel trope ever, played at ludicrous speed.
There are plot holes the size of trucks and endings that aren't really earned. But who cares? There's also a freshness and energy to the whole enterprise that bodes well for its future.
Dimension 404 will be streaming new episodes every week, and I for one will be making the return transdimensional journey.