First published in the 1950s, Asimov envisioned a world on the brink of annihilation, seeking to identify its foundational elements to leave as a road map for those who would eventually rise from the ashes.
The series begins with Hari Seldon (Jared Harris), a brilliant scientist who has identified the doom that awaits, a forecast that has angered the Empire, whose ruling triad consists of perpetually cloning the same individual, the Cleons, raising new progeny as older ones die and thus sustaining the line across thousands of years. The middle member of that trio, Brother Day, is played by Lee Pace, with an imperious demeanor that brings to mind his Ronan character in the Marvel universe.
Seldon doesn’t hope to prevent disaster but rather “shorten the Dark Ages that follow.” In that endeavor he finds an ally in a brilliant young scientist, Dr. Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobell), telling her of the Empire, “They don’t like the future that I predict.” That leads to an elaborate mission to establish the foundation before this worlds-spanning society crumbles, as Seldon and his followers journey into the unknown while Empire ruthlessly seeks to maintain its grip on power.
Even so, “Foundation” — which premieres with two chapters, dropping one a week thereafter — might be one of those projects that simply defies adaptation.
In success, the filmmakers have said there’s enough material in Asimov’s books that “Foundation” could run for as many as eight seasons, as “Thrones” did, and given that this opening salvo just scratches the surface that certainly seems possible.
Yet the dense, at-times muddled narrative offers little to warrant the enthusiasm to justify that, leaving behind an impenetrable show that looks like several million bucks but feels as if it lacks the tools to save itself, much less all mankind.
“Foundation” premieres Sept. 24 on Apple TV+.