DIMENSION 404 Review: Anthology Sci-Fi Done (Mostly) Right

RocketJump and Hulu's new series is a little bit BLACK MIRROR, a little bit ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?

Today, Hulu launches Dimension 404, a brand-new sci-fi anthology series put together by the folks over at RocketJump. The six-episode series - which, impressively, has rounded up some fairly large names for its first season (including Mark Hamill, Patton Oswalt, Lea Michele and Joel McHale) - has pitched itself as something of a spin on Black Mirror: sci-fi stories with a twist, not to mention a darkly comic bent.

Based on that pitch, the talent involved, and the show's trailer (see below), Dimension 404 seemed like it'd be right up my alley, and - for the most part - it was. I'm a sucker for anthology stuff, particularly anthology stuff that's cut from the same cloth that gave us Twilight ZoneTales From The Crypt and Black Mirror. Having seen the first three episodes, I'm not quite ready to declare Dimension 404 worthy of standing alongside those classics, but it's a reasonably fun diversion for fans of the same. 

The first episode, "Matchmaker", is the strongest of the three I was sent for review (it is also, by the way, the most Black Mirror of the bunch). Starring Robert Buckley and Lea Michele, the episode revolves around a couple who meet via a Tinder-like dating app called Make-A-Match. The app, created by the good Dr. Matt Maker (McHale), promises to deliver 100% compatability for those who sign up for the service. Given the type of series this is, you won't be surprised to learn that there's more to this app than initially meets the eye, and soon enough Adam (Buckley) finds himself in a most unpleasant predicament.

The second episode I watched was "Cinethrax", starring Sarah Hyland and the great Patton Oswalt. Oswalt plays uncle to Hyland, and when we meet the pair they're headed out on the town for one of their regular movie nights. Hyland, as Millennial as they come, rolls her eyes when her uncle suggests they go see a rep screening, and instead insists that they go check out a cheesy, Divergent-esque teen adventure called Chosen. The film is playing in a new format called Cinethrax, which promises the most immersive experience ever to hit a movie theater. Once again, things do not go according to plan.

The final episode I was sent, "Chronos", is a time travel joint starring Ashley Rickards and Utkarsh Ambudkar, who play a pair of physics students racing to get their final papers turned in just before graduation. Things derail when Rickards' character discovers that all evidence of her favorite childhood TV show, Time Ryder, seems to have vanished: no one remembers the show, her Time Ryder toys have disappeared, and strange things are afoot in her neighborhood. Soon enough, the actual Time Ryder shows up, and things get even stranger.

One of the teaser posters for Dimension 404 carries the tagline "The twist ending...is just the beginning", and they're not lying. With most of these episodes, the twist happens at the end of the first act, or in the middle of each episode. On the one hand, this is a great way to set yourself apart from the similar series which came before, where the twist ending typically arrived, you guessed it, at the end. On the other hand, I found that this approach had a way of making each episode feel longer than it needed to be (note: each episode clocks in around 40 minutes in length). That's less of a problem in an episode like "Matchmaker" (where there's plenty of story to fill out the runtime), but more of an issue in an episode like "Cinethrax", which feels a little padded out.

The performances are pretty much across-the-board great, with Buckley, Oswalt, and Rickards turning in the most charming work. The special effects, which have clearly been limited by the show's budget, are still inventive and effective, though I was reminded one more than one occasion of Nickelodeon's Are You Afraid Of The Dark? This isn't necessarily a bad thing - there's something charming about the ingenuity on display here, and you gotta admire all involved for their commitment to each episode's vision - but if you go into Dimension 404 expecting a show operating on the same cinematic level of, yes, Black Mirror, you're probably going to be disappointed.

These first three episodes didn't leave me in love with Dimension 404, but they were cumulatively fun enough for me to recommend the show (which is, again, available to stream on Hulu as of today), particularly to fans of the sci-fi anthology genre. Like any of the similar series that preceded it, Dimension 404 seems like it'll be something of an uneven affair, with some episodes stronger than others, but that's okay. Historically, that's how shows like this work.

I'll be curious to see the rest of Dimension 404's first season, and am also curious to hear what you folks think of the show. If you give it a whirl, lemme know what you thought in the comments below!

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