Netflix's 'Osmosis' Is the Sexy, Twisty French Sci-Fi Show You've Always Wanted
Now that we live in the age of the algorithm, our tastes in TV, clothes, and even food decided for us by machines according to sample sets of data, we're constantly asking ourselves if it all really works. Can a machine really pick apart the nuances of the human consciousness and create a formula to flawlessly predict something as esoteric as personal preference? In the latest foreign-language Netflix original series, the French sci-fi drama Osmosis, humans live in a future in which predictive technology is not only the norm, but actually trusted with matching a person with their one true soulmate.
Of course, it's never that simple, is it?
The show takes place almost entirely inside the sterile walls of Osmosis, a tech company just weeks away from unveiling their matchmaking technology: a cocktail of miniaturized software you swallow in capsule form that migrates into your brain, eventually pairing you with the person you ought to share the rest of your life with. The company is run by two highly intelligent siblings, gregarious Paul Vanhove (played by Hugo Becker, who looks so much like Jamie Dornan that you'll definitely Google to see if it's Jamie Dornan -- spoiler: it isn't) and his surly programmer sister Esther (Agathe Bonitzer), who spends most of her time talking with the company's AI computer Martin, or engaging in virtual reality sex with a hot computer program.
Ahead of their official launch, Osmosis has just entered the beta test phase, gathering a small group of subjects to ingest the implants into their bodies and find and spend time with the people their tech says are their true soulmates. There's also a rival dating software company called Perfect Match taking a more Tinder-like approach, using an algorithm to narrow down a person's choices to a few individuals, still allowing them the freedom of choice. The Perfect Match people see Osmosis as a kind of prison, saddling you with one person for the rest of your time on Earth.
Like any technology in its early phases, Osmosis has its problems. What if you upend your entire life only to find out that your implant is in the tiniest margin of error, pairing you with someone who isn't actually The One? What if it pairs you with someone who's actively toxic towards you? What if one of you wants their implant taken out or turned off, so that they can find out if they still love you without the technology messing with their head?
And that's not even getting into everything else going on in the show. On the eve of the beta test Paul's wife Joséphine (Philypa Phoenix), who underwent an early version of the technology with Paul, has mysteriously disappeared, her implant offline as if she's been kidnapped. Esther, obsessed with bringing her comatose mother to the surface again, replays memories into her brain shunt in an attempt to galvanize her dormant neurons. That subplot, with its troubling manipulations of memory, lends itself handily to the show's biggest twist involving one of the show's major characters, which, though it's killing me, I won't spoil here.
Much of the show reads like a particularly compelling Black Mirror episode expanded into an entire season. The future it represents is seemingly idyllic, the potted plant jungles of the Osmosis offices softening the building's fluorescent Apple Store aesthetic, the furniture in everyone's homes modern, earth-toned, non-aggressive. The show has a sedate, almost contemplative mood for most of its episodes, really taking the time to relax into its world. For that reason, it can be a slow watch, especially for the non-French-speakers out there (there is a version with an English dub, but come on, just read the subtitles). No word of dialogue is wasted, and the plot gets into some complicated territory, so it really requires your full attention -- that said, it's only eight episodes! A welcome relief from Netflix's often bloated original shows.
Osmosis joins the ranks of shows like the German time-travel thriller Dark, the Norwegian zombie eco-pocalypse The Rain, and the South Korean medieval drama Kingdom, creating a subgenre within Netflix of remarkably good foreign-language genre television. Just goes to show, when the company isn't wasting their money on Adam Sandler contracts and Bird Box ripoffs, the we'll-throw-some-money-at-you-and-you-give-us-whatever-you-want model can actually yield some worthwhile results. If you're in the mood for a twisty, slow-paced sexy French drama about love and computers in which even the scientists are hot (trust me, you are), Osmosis is the kind of show you can just sit and absorb.