Next” (Tuesdays, Fox) was originally scheduled for the 2019-20 midseason but was delayed till now because of the pandemic. That’s only a half-year delay, but it already seems so dated. For one thing, the notion of a dangerous artificial intelligence hasn’t been shocking in at least 50 years; even 30-some years ago, “Terminator’s” Skynet was a plot device. For another, a victim of the titular AI’s engineered car accident, a side character played by John Billingsley, uses a flip phone, making me wonder if “Next” wasn’t repurposed from the 2009-10 TV season.
I’m not saying the danger of a sentient AI is (or isn’t) overblown, I’m saying that science fiction from pulps to great novels to arthouse films to pop entertainment has thoroughly covered this ground. When the camera pans in on the blinking lights of Iliza – “Next’s” equivalent of Alexa – in a dimly lit kitchen, accented by deep zingers in the music score, we’re talking about a domestic HAL-9000. It’s almost accidentally funny, but it’s just so utterly tired.
I’m not sure if showrunner and pilot episode writer Manny Coto (“24”) knows how stale this stuff is, but the actors might. John Slattery, coming out of the episode as unblemished as possible, evinces an oddly casual air as Paul LeBlanc, a former corporate magnate who rightly fears for humanity and – in the backstory — tried to erase Next. Fired from his own company, he’s now a whistleblower, enlisting FBI agent Shea Salazar (Fernanda Andrade), a bland suit who is of course initially skeptical of Paul’s claims.
Paul has hallucinations, but we and Salazar quickly learn these are due to his medical condition; he has five months to live (which is still longer than the show’s life expectancy). I certainly am not wishing that “Next” had spent several episodes overcoming Salazar’s skepticism. But the quick answer about Paul’s visions illustrates how undramatic this show is.
To its credit, “Next” knows it needs personal stakes, so Paul is dying and there’s a 50 percent chance his estranged daughter (Elizabeth Cappuccino as Abby) has the same condition.
Back at Salazar’s FBI office – which is hacked by Next, who is already making this personal – ex-cybercriminal C.M. (Michael Mosely) doesn’t get along with colleague Gina (Eve Harlow), who thinks he’s a neo-Nazi. But she doesn’t know him, he points out. Hmm, could these two end up getting along later in the season?
And at the Salazar home, the Next-run Iliza is a bad influence on young Ethan (Evan Whitten) when dad Ty (Gerardo Celasco) is out of the room.
I don’t care about any of this. Good things can be done with the “AI will alter humanity” theme; for example, HBO’s “Westworld” sometimes flirts with greatness, largely because of its big-budget style. And last year’s “Emergence” (ABC) found a mildly fresh angle by having the potentially dangerous AI be a cute little girl. It wasn’t exactly good, but it was way better than “Next.”
By judiciously delaying “Next,” Fox has something new to put on its fall schedule. But when the new show feels this old, it’s hardly worth it.
No second week for you! Next!