Class of ’09 Season 1 Review – A relevant but inhuman future

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: May 17, 2023 (Last updated: last month)
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Class of '09 Season 1 Review - A relevant but inhuman future
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Summary

Class of ’09 has some big and undeniably relevant ideas, but it’s seemingly more interested in them than its characters.

This review of the FX on Hulu series Class of ’09 Season 1 does not contain spoilers.

Much like how the Covid-19 pandemic spawned a wave of popular entertainment that was set in, informed by, or terrified of public health emergencies and national lockdowns, the current anxiety over the rise of AI technology is forming the basis for shows and movies everywhere you turn.

If you turn in the vague direction of Hulu, you’ll find another: Class of ’09, an FX-produced dystopian series about a crime-fighting future dominated by algorithms and artificial intelligence.

Those even cursorily familiar with the on-going Writers Guild of America strike will know it hinges largely on the matter of essential human roles being outsourced to a computer program. So, you know – timely.

Class of ’09 Season 1 review and plot summary

Class of ’09 is divided – sometimes smugly – into three separate timelines. The first is 14 years prior and is set at the FBI’s training facility in Quantico, Virginia. The titular “Class of ‘09” comprises Poet (Kate Mara), Hour (Sepideh Moafi), Lennix (Brian Smith), and Tayo (Brian Tyree Henry), among others, with Brooke Smith and Jon Jon Briones playing their instructors Drew and Gabriel.

The point of this narrative tract, which is given a nostalgic patina, is to introduce not just the characters but their interpersonal relationships, backgrounds, and motivations, both so we get to know them but also the broader idea or talking point that they’ll inevitably become a stand-in for down the line.

This is “The Past”. In “The Present”, the agents are all at work. And whatever happens here invariably informs “The Future”, a third and final timeline in which Tayo is the director of the FBI and some significant present-day event has justified the mass proliferation of an AI system that has made people safer, but at the cost of their civil liberties and utility as free-thinking human beings.

Class of ’09 is from writer Tom Rob Smith, who also employed a deliberately convoluted structure in his American Crime Story season, The Assassination of Gianni Versace. It worked better there than it does here. One does get the sense – thus far, anyway – that none of the individual story strands here have enough meat to stand on their own, and that the show overall is much more interested in its ideas than it is in its actual characters.

Is Class of ’09 good or bad?

This is a shame since the cast is great. Brian Tyree Henry’s involvement is an obvious selling point, but the most interesting version of him – the FBI director of the future forced to justify a new status quo – is also the most muted. It’s the same with Mara, who was great in A Teacher, also an FX-on-Hulu endeavor, but feels a bit hamstrung here in her stoicism.

As mentioned, Class of ’09 poses interesting and worthwhile questions, but then values answering them above all, and sometimes boils down the nuance of humanity to more neatly explore the knock-on ideas of its premise. Privileged Lennix has political aspirations; Hour, the child of Iranian immigrants, seeks the acceptance of a country that has ostracised her.

Is Class of ’09 worth watching?

These traits and motivations aren’t necessarily without value, but they are overly familiar, and feel secondary to broader matters of technological and government overreach, the risk of human fallibility, and the age-old matter of freedom versus security. Class of ’09 is a show that wants to be talked about and pondered above all else, but its modern take on old dilemmas sometimes forgets an essential ingredient in good television – it has to be entertaining on its own terms.

What did you think of Class of ’09 Season 1? Comment below.

You can watch this series with a subscription to Hulu.


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