Entertainment

Amazon's New Sci-Fi Series 'The Feed' Predicts a Bleak & Terrifying Technological Future

the feed
Amazon Studios

In the not-so-distant future, a simple bit of tech will change humanity as we know it. "The Feed," a tiny implant that allows anyone to connect their brain to a neural network of content, where every conversation, noteworthy event, and inconsequential memory can be shared. 

This is the gist behind Amazon's new original sci-fi series, titled The Feed. Based on the book by Nick Clark Windo, the tale explored in the series, which premieres on the streaming platform on Friday, November 22, the instantaneous nature of this type of social media on steroids, and how a simple little device can impact society in both positive and negative ways. And, as you might expect, there's a fair share of terror that comes with it. 

Guy Burnet and Nina Toussaint-White star in the program as married couple Tom and Kate Hatfield. With a new baby to care for, they're not only just getting the hang of this parenting thing, they find themselves stuck at the center of a controversy that finds some users driven to madness by the implant. As luck would have it, Tom's father, Lawrence (played by the incomparable David Thewlis) is the Mark Zuckerberg of this story -- he's the one who invented The Feed -- and Tom's mother, Meredith (played by Game of Thrones's Michelle Fairley), oversees the company's day-to-day operations as CEO. 

The underlying plot that drives Tom's mission to stop his father's tech before it destroys humanity completely is the deeply profound need to keep his family off the grid -- we mean, The Feed -- and protect his infant daughter, no matter the cost. And for first-time showrunner and long-time writer on AMC's The Walking Dead, Channing Powell, that basic survival instinct, as she explains to Thrillist, was at the core of her decision to bring the program to life in the first place.

"My agent sent me the synopsis of what the book was about and a sizzle reel of what they sort of wanted the feel of the show to be, and I just really gravitated more toward it," she said, before adding, "I was also pregnant at the time with my second."

Becoming a parent can be a wake-up call for many to both the wonders and tragedies of the world around us, and for Powell, who had lived in a different sort of fictional TV dystopia for some time, the pending birth of her second child supplied her with a fair share of discomfort and anxiety, and some unique insight into the story Windo's book was telling. 

"When I went in to pitch my ideas for this, I brought up Rosemary's Baby," she continues. "Some women think pregnancy is wonderful and beautiful, but I felt very much sort of like a pod person carrying this weird alien thing inside of me. Suddenly, your body is not your own -- it's actually two bodies, which is so creepy. There are just so many elements of it that you can't control and are so confusing. And, to top it all off, once the child arrives, you love it inexplicably more than anything in the entire world and all you want to do is protect it. The world suddenly feels like this huge chaotic place where you can't control everything and anything could hurt your child at any given turn. So, not to speak ill of motherhood, but I find it very anxiety-inducing and The Feed was sort of a way to funnel those anxieties into something."

the feed
Amazon Studios

Aside from Roman Polanski's classic horror film, other pieces of genre inspiration helped Powell and her crew map out exactly how The Feed would look and feel. First, there's Ridley Scott's Blade Runner -- a sci-fi masterpiece that, in many ways, predicted how 21st century humans would interact with technology. There's a similar sense of savviness exhibited in the new series, where the bits of fictional tech exhibited in the story feel as if they're just out of our grasp.

"We were really worried about how futuristic we could make it feel without making it feel alienating," Powell explains. "But, also, how simplistic we can make it feel so that when you watch it three or five years from now -- and hopefully you do -- that it doesn't feel already so outdated that it feels ridiculous. And we did think that going as simplistic with it as possible would be our best bet. That was the way that we could make it look as futuristic as possible but also as believable as possible."

"User-friendly" and "accessible" are two adjectives always high on the list for any tech company when they work to release new devices to the general public. But accessibility, especially with a high-concept series such as this, is what will hopefully connect with audiences. That sort of "what if" scenario of free will and morality in a near-future world has given Black Mirror all sorts of success. We mention Charlie Booker's landmark anthology series here as there are definite aesthetic similarities -- POV interfaces, moody lighting -- audiences will surely glom onto.

And while Powell is quick to point out that The Feed has a narrative 10-episode first season, and is not an anthology, there is a conceptual resemblance to the program. They're both British productions; they each handle moral quandaries in a future society not that much different than our own; and the Black Mirror episode, "The Entire History of You" touches on similar social media issues, and the societal, dissociative ramifications it may have.

the feed
Amazon Studios

"When we were writing it, Zuckerberg was brought in to Congress, there was the Russian hacking scandal during the presidential election, and all of these issues about privacy were coming forward," Powell reveals. "That was happening and I sort of found myself thinking, 'Well, you know, of course, they've been storing our data and selling it.' They've been doing that for years and I had sort of this complacent view about it.

"I tried to do some research about whether The Feed could actually happen in real life and it is," she continues. "We are already putting implants in our wrists -- RFID scanner IDs to get into our offices, or whatever. Elon Musk is working on a neural lace that goes into the brain. They're already putting implants in the brain to help with epilepsy and good positive things. But things could very, very quickly evolve and happen rapidly. Already, they track everything that we're doing on the computer: every group, Google search, and what have you. But, at least our thoughts are kind of our own, still. Putting something in your head that can read your thoughts? That's the last frontier of privacy. I found that to be a really terrifying notion and also a very realistic notion. People are really trying to do this."

As terrifying as The Feed's story is, Powell is aware that her show is contributing to our content-heavy, technology-dependent society. While the success of the show depends on the number of eyes they get on screens -- whether they're conventional television screens, or on pocket-sized mobile devices -- she's hoping audiences take the story of The Feed as a warning. 

"I'm hoping people look at this and realize that we're putting our future into a handful of people's hands," she says. "We don't have government regulations in place to monitor what's happening and it is, I think, a scary idea that man and machine could become one much faster than we think it can. We've already allowed technology to take over our lives in so many ways… I just hope that people take a moment to stop and think about it, and allow themselves a little bit of distance from it because it does affect so many different levels of society."

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, get Streamail for more entertainment, and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Aaron Pruner is a contributor to Thrillist.