There are only a handful of genre icons that command respect like Alex Garland. In his first television show, FX’s DEVS, the revered author, screenwriter, and director moves into the world of prestige TV.
In a panel at New York Comic-Con Saturday, Garland gave audiences an exclusive first look at the eight-episode miniseries, of which he wrote and directed every episode. It’s particularly on-brand for the storyteller, revolving around a mysterious software company with a dark secret, and a tense story that unfolds around it.
When describing his move to television at the panel, Garland discussed how he enjoyed the freedom that FX provided and the breathing room of an eight-hour story. He compared it to the pacing of a novel, saying he was intrigued by the prospect of a longer-form story. "I was really interested to know what it would be like to have eight hours to tell a story rather than two,” Garland said. “Just the scale and scope was very, very attractive, and it turned out to be exactly what we had hoped."
As the author of iconic novels like The Beach, screenwriter of modern sci-fi classics like 28 Days Later and, recently, director of some of the decade’s best films in Ex Machina and Annihilation, it seems Garland perfects every form he dips his toe in. He consistently fits into these new roles like a glove, and, if early indications are anything to go by, that looks like a trend that will continue.
Saturday’s panel opened with an exclusive look at footage from the show, starting with a clip featuring Nick Offerman and Karl Glusman. Offerman plays an eccentric boss in the tech industry, introducing his new hire, Glusman’s Sergei, to the job, as a member of a software team known only as DEVS. Secretive beyond all measure, the DEVS team is working on a detailed, high-level coding research initiative. Offerman’s introductory speech is also vaguely threatening, as he lists off many restrictive rules to Glusman’s character, and almost appears like a darker B-side to the happy tech industry depicted in movies like The Internship.
Visually, the clip was stunning, suggesting a massive budget for television. The office where the DEVS team works is a technological castle, complete with a floating elevator and shiny, gold electromagnets. It looks a bit like Oscar Isaac’s secluded tech hub in Garland’s Ex Machina but merged with something like Google HQ and the spaceship from Sunshine.
On top of this, the panel also debuted a more conventional trailer, suggesting that the show’s inciting incident revolves around Lily, a character played by frequent Garland collaborator Sonoya Mizuno. Also a software engineer, though not a member of the DEVS team, Lily is Sergei’s girlfriend and suspects that whatever it is they’re working on is more nefarious than it seems.
The first public teaser concurrently dropped during the panel, but it seems just as cryptic as the show itself:
After the footage debut, the cast and crew took to the stage to discuss the show. Clearly restricted by their own desire to not give away too many of DEVS' details, most of the time was spent praising Garland’s creative process.
In his recent years spent in the film industry, Garland seemed fed-up with the studio process. He hinted at many difficulties with distributors not releasing as planned, with both Ex Machina and Annihilation bouncing from home to home.
"My filmmaking career is: I've made something, I've given it to a distributor and they've said 'we don't want to distribute this,’” Garland said. “I'll turn a thing over and it's as if I've disappointed everyone... It was basically every film I've ever made. Actually, I got sick of it. There's something about the construct of cinema at the moment, and I just thought maybe this is isn't the right space for me. It's just not mainstream. So I thought, 'Maybe TV is a better for me.'"
Eventually, Garland began actually describing the scientific theories and fears that he was working through with the show, and it’s truly mind-numbing stuff. The two central sciences that DEVS handles is Determinism and Quantum Computing. Together, they work together to establish concerns about free-will, independence, and morality as a whole.
"Determinism basically says that everything that happens in the world is based on cause and effect,” Garland said. "And that has all sorts of implications for us. One is it takes away free will, but it also means if you had a computer powerful enough, you'd be able to not just predict the future, but also understand the past."
At the end of the exclusive trailer for DEVS, a character says that no one knows what it is the DEVS team does, including the DEVS team. After seeing this early footage, we’re desperate to find out.
DEVS, entirely written, directed, and edited by Alex Garland, releases Spring 2020. It stars Nick Offerman, Alison Pill, Sonoya Mizuno, Jin Ha, Zach Grenier, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Karl Glusman and Cailee Spaeny.