Russia’s first Netflix Original melds a family drama with a cautionary tale to pretty decent effect.
From one first-ever international Netflix Original to another — Better Than Us is the second of this weekend’s series’ to mark a first-time foray into a particular territory, after the solid Colombian crime thriller Green Frontier. Next on the global takeover agenda is Russia, which is ironic, when you think about it. Folding a cautionary sci-fi tale into a family drama with a fair helping of corporate conspiracy, Better Than Us Season 1 boasts a crowd-friendly setup that’ll inevitably poach genre fans looking for further proof that our ever-evolving technology is out to get us.
It’s the near-future again, and in 2029 Moscow, robots — not-so-affectionately referred to as simply “Bots” — have become a rather mundane part of human life, fulfilling various roles in service to their human overlords, and constantly being upgraded and mass-produced by a shady company who fail (or not) to realise they’re becoming more evolved and thus dangerous.
This is a pretty familiar sci-fi setup about the dangers of evolving technology, but where Better Than Us differentiates itself somewhat is in how a murderously rogue Bot, Arisa (Paulina Andreeva), finds refuge in a dysfunctional family, involving herself in matters domestic as well as conspiratorial as the patriarch’s (Kirill Kyaro) ex-wife (Olga Lomonosova) threatens to take the kids away. It’s not an entirely new blend, but it works well here and gives the story an emotional contour that might have otherwise been lost in the machinations of terrorists, homicide investigators, and sinister corporations.
Sixteen fifty-odd-minute episodes is perhaps a few too many — Green Frontier at half that length felt like it did a better job of whetting appetites for a follow-up season, which is necessarily a part of Netflix’s international strategizing. (All of the platform’s most popular shows run for several seasons; it’s rarely a case of one-and-done when there’s money to be made.) But Better Than Us Season 1 makes a case for itself, all the same, delivering genre thrills supported by a slick production that bodes well for the future of Russian entertainment on the streaming platform.