The first season of "Mr. Robot" started and ended spectacularly. Its unrelenting opening scene gave us the central character at his best; its closing moments belted us with a surprise. Now the 10-episode second season is finally here, debuting Wednesday (July 13) and rerunning often. Here's the story I sent to papers:
By Mike Hughes
These days, TV
producers have lowered their expectations. Nothing starts big; the
best shows slowly find an audience.
That's what Sam
Esmail was hoping for when he created “Mr. Robot,” a young-hacker
drama. “I consider myself a nerd,” he said, “so I figured I'd
get at least the nerd base .... It would be this small, little cult
thing. But it wound up being a lot bigger than that.”
A LOT bigger. As it
starts its second season, “Mr. Robot” already has prestigious
Peabody and American Film Institute awards. It won Golden Globes for
best-drama and supporting actor Christian Slater ... and Critics
Choice awards for those two plus star Rami Malek. Critics at TV
Guide, Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly called it the best show
of the year; the upcomiong Television Critics Association awards have
also nominated it as the best overall.
Slater, who has had
failures on TV and alcohol-related arrests in real life, finds
himself gradually accepting success. “I'm always sort of, you know,
like 'So far, so good.'”
And Esmail savors a
leap from his boyhood, when “girls rejected me a lot. I loved
being on the computer and I loved going to the library and reading
.... When you are a funny-looking Egyptian growing up in Jersey and
in South Carolina, it kind of gets rough sometimes.”
He became a film
buff, wrote some scripts that drew attention (but haven't been
filmed), then was the writer-director of a movie (the 2014 “Comet”)
and now “Mr. Robot.” No longer rejected, he suddenly had a
fiancee (Emmy Rossum, his “Comet” star) and a hit.
The praise began
after the first “Mr. Robot” scene, in which Elliot Alderson
(Malek) verbally eviscerates a pedafile with quiet – and,
seemingly, unblinking – precision.
“There's so much
turmoil and strife going on in his head,” Malek said, “that I
think the only thing he can do at times is try to hide .... There's
just a level of focus, when I'm in there; I just don't blink.”
Like Esmail, Malek
is an American of Egyptian descent; his most visible role has been as
the young pharaoh in the “Night at the Museum” movies. But he's
also had roles – from “The Pacific” to “Mr. Robot” -- that
had nothing to do with his ethnicity. “I want to have a very
diverse career,” he said.
After that first
scene, Elliot met an intense stranger (Slater), who nudged him into a
mega-project: Bring down E Corp – Elliot calls it Evil Corp; in his
mind, so does everyone else – and wipe out debt.
There's much more,
viewers later learned: That stranger doesn't exist. Elliot imagines
him – giving him the persona of his late father – while pushing
himself into audacious action.
The hard part was
keeping that a secret, Malek said. It “was difficult at times, when
you are on set and you are telling other actors, 'Just try not to
look at him.'”
finale gave viewers the truth ... and showed that Elliot had created
As the new season
starts, he's trying to withdraw, but others push on. His old friend
Angela is working for E Corp. Their former boss Gideon is being
probed by an FBI agent (Grace Gummer). The E Corp legal chief finds
her orderly world shattered. And Darlene, Elliot's sister, keeps
pushing for more and bigger hack attacks. “She's tenacious and
persistent,” said Carly Chaiken, who plays her.
And Elliot? Still
plagued by that imaginary stranger, he tries to sink into monotony.
Now another stranger (Craig Robinson) keeps trying to recruit him.
It's a tough ride
for the actors, who have many things to fret about ... including
changing passwords at home. “Mr. Robot” has that effect, Slater
said. “It raises your level of awareness and paranoia.”
10:01 p.m. Wednesdays, USA Network; season opens July 13
Opener, with few
commercial breaks, runs 91 minutes; subsequent runs are two hours –
that night at 11:32 p.m. and 1:32 a.m., then 11 p.m. Thursday
(rerunning at 2 a.m.) and 9:30 a.m. Saturday.