After a disaster causes civilization to collapse, a seemingly idyllic city rises from the ashes, powered by electricity and a strong sense of community. But the Electric City is also carefully controlled by a shadowy matriarchy, which uses propaganda and violence to keep everything moving slowly. Their most powerful weapons in this battle for stability are the Grid Operatives, unquestioningly loyal and deadly agents. Even they, however, might not be able to quell a brewing rebellion, one that threatens to free the city from the matriarchy's intellectual control.
This is Electric City, the new webseries created by Tom Hanks and launching today. It's a beautifully designed piece of Flash animation that follows various characters as they fight for the future of their city. But in this battle of energy consumption, freedom of information, technological advancement, and political control, can the Electric City survive?
Set decades after the collapse of our civilization, Electric City in part follows Grid Operative Cleveland Carr (voiced by Hanks), an enforcer loyal to the shrewd matriarch Ruth Orwell (Holland Taylor). Electric City is an oasis of stability after a violent and unstable post-fall existence, and that stability comes at a price. "All in service of all" is the city's motto, and everyone must limit their power consumption, power down at the appointed time of night, get their products from licensed guilds and vendors, and even apply for licenses to have children. The news and entertainment services reinforce the need to follow the rules, emphasizing the wastefulness of our deceased civilization and offering tips on limiting power consumption. Carr tackles any problems that threaten this stability: violent criminals, black marketeers, power leeches, and people who are trying to evade the city's approved communication channels with "tap boxes," devices that send and receive a sort of ever-changing Morse code. Eventually, Carr gets wind of something bigger than tap boxes, a new kind of technology that could completely undermine the city's carefully orchestrated control.
The first 10 episodes of the 90-minute series come out today, with the remaining episodes due out tomorrow and Thursday. They paint a city that is, for all of its secrets and propaganda, a rather charming spot. We may have been bumped back to the technological era of Edison and Tesla (plus more fanciful elements like air bikes), but Electric City remembers its modern sensibilities with its architecture, fashions, coffee stands (okay, morning grain stands), and restaurants. But it's clearly a restrictive place and some people (especially those who work in media or politics) feel the chafe of those restrictions more clearly than others.
In these first episodes, Electric City isn't a tale of heroes and villains. Mrs. Orwell and her knitting circle have very good reasons for wanting to maintain control of their city. (Watch out for those ladies; their knitting needles could give Madame Defarge's a run for their money.) Carr comes off as a sort of anti-heroic James Bond, but there are clearly some secrets in his own past that Carr himself is not privy to. Even among the characters who join with the rebellion, some do so out of self interest, and others may be so caught up in the thrill of a new and liberating technology that one wonders if they've entirely thought their plan through.
Hanks has assembled a talented group of animators and voice actors for his project. The sketchy Flash animation over the lush backgrounds works well to showcase both the city's beauty and Carr's often violent tasks. The voice cast includes both familiar celebrity names like Jeanne Tripplehorn and Ginnifer Goodwin and big names in voice acting like James Urbaniak (The Venture Bros.), Chris Parnell (Archer, 30 Rock), and Tara Strong (The Powerpuff Girls, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Super Best Friends Forever). The result is a made-for-web series with as high production values as anything on television.
The real delight is in discovering the details of Electric City, from the energy pumping bicycles placed in prisons (much like those in the "15 Million Merits" episode of Black Mirror or in one of Brazil's prisons) to the use of the word "expletive" as an actual expletive. There are some interactive components to Electric City that we haven't gotten a chance to play with, but will hopefully offer greater insight into this world and the characters that populate it. Perhaps if Electric City proves to be a hit, we'll see more of this type of web-based original content backed by folks with similar big-name draws.