Does fascinating techno-thriller ‘Devs’ hold the key to FX’s streaming future?

Hank Stuever

THE WASHINGTON POST – At the centre of Alex Garland’s steely cool, eight-episode cyberthriller “Devs,” a group of elite Silicon Valley coders, ensconced in a hermetically sealed lab that resembles the extremely luxe lobby of a W hotel, have finished creating an unsettling technological advancement. Using quantum physics, they’ve essentially invented a Ring doorbell camera for all of history – surveillance video (and audio) that goes back in time. Neato-burrito.

But I’m more interested in a different upgrade, which affects how viewers will see “Devs”. It’s an FX show that is not on FX. Instead, it’s premiering on Thursday as a marquee offering on “FX on Hulu” – a new grouping of the cable network’s content on the subscription streaming service, and just one of a series of outcomes from Disney’s acquisition last year of most of Fox.

Streaming “Devs” instead of getting to see it on cable makes clear that the ingenuity so many of us have long admired from FX (“The Americans,” “Fosse/Verdon,” “Atlanta,” “American Crime Story”) is probably destined for bigger and (no pun intended) better things. Or it’s just another irritating

reminder that the future of TV will be unremittingly niche and, for consumers, involve more extractions from the wallet. We shall see.

Sonoya Mizuno (L) as software engineer Lily Chan, opposite Nick Offerman as Forest, the enigmatic founder of a high-tech corporation. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

In any case, Garland, who earned an Oscar nomination for the screenplay of his 2014 directorial debut, “Ex Machina,” has certainly delivered premium content here. “Devs” is quietly captivating and beautifully envisioned, propelled mainly by Sonoya Mizuno’s subtly fierce lead performance as Lily Chan, a software engineer at a large but clandestine high-tech corporation called Amaya.

Each morning, Lily and her live-in boyfriend, Sergei (Karl Glusman), leave their cute San Francisco apartment and board Amaya’s employee shuttle bus to the company’s campus distinguished by an enormous, eerily lifelike statue of a little girl that emerges from the trees. It’s Amaya, the company’s namesake, the tragically deceased daughter of Forest (Parks and Recreation’s Nick Offerman), the company’s enigmatic founder.

Sergei gets good news, direct from Forest and his ever-present chief developer, Katie (“The Newsroom’s” Alison Pill): He’s been promoted to “devs”, the company’s top-secret development division. Sergei’s first day is a disaster, however. Once inside the devs hive, he is so distraught by what he sees that he breaks a big no-no. It falls to Amaya’s security chief, an ex-CIA agent named Kenton (“The Good Wife’s” Zach Grenier), to take care of Sergei – and take care of him he does.

Lily’s too smart to buy the company’s explanation of her boyfriend’s sudden disappearance. It’s here that “Devs” begins to resemble a typical conspiracy narrative, as Lily reboots one of Sergei’s old smartphones and, with help from her heartsick but still deeply loyal ex-boyfriend, Jamie (Jin Ha), begins to unravel a bigger and darker mystery.

“Devs” is dour from start to finish, which is not a complaint; it’s good to see a serious take on Silicon Valley’s assorted messiah complexes, rather than another satirical riff on geek culture.