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Aidan 5 Review

on Mon, 01/30/2012 - 00:00

In addition to quality writing and a gripping storyline, the best science fiction inevitably contains two key ingredients—homages to the past and an underlying philosophical discourse on present day society. The ABC drama Lost, for instance, contains numerous overlapping references to such sci-fi classics as Star Wars and Back to the Future, while ultimately telling the very basic story of finding meaning in a world that often feels meaningless. The FOX series Fringe, meanwhile, offers a similar analysis of hope, redemption and family wrapped in its own complicated mythology involving twin parallel universes at war with each other. In such instances, the familiar initially assists in drawing viewers into the narrative, while the plot itself keeps the audience engaged throughout the episodes.

The web series Aidan 5 likewise incorporates an amalgamation of past science fiction endeavors that are combined with an examination of what it means to be mortal. In the year 2064, human cloning has been perfected with both legal and illegal usage of the technology. Police detective James Aidan (Brian Michael Block) is forced to enter this scientific realm when three of his own clones—undergoing the procedure is an apparent prerequisite for joining the force—are murdered and the remaining fourth attempts to kill the original Aidan. He is accompanied in his investigation by partner Morgan Riley (Maya Sayre), herself a clone, and withstands additional threats and assaults, cryptic messages from an unknown “Deep Throat,” an attack on a presidential candidate and eventual journey into his own past as the narrative rolls along during the course of a sixteen episode first season.

The Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and its subsequent big screen adaptation Blade Runner are obvious influences on Aidan 5, as is the 1920 play Rossum’s Universal Robots by Karel Capek and even Joss Whedon’s short-lived television drama Dollhouse. All of those predecessors deal with issues of identity, emotions and a philosophical discourse on human existence. In Blade Runner, for instance, Rachel struggles with the newfound knowledge that she is a replicant, while the androids Helena and Primus experience love in Rossum’s Universal Robots and active Echo balances who she once was with the persona she has inevitably become on Dollhouse. Morgan Riley, meanwhile, struggles with her own identity issues on Aidan 5, especially after her “original” is likewise found dead during the investigation.

“I think, breath and feel just like a human—except I’m different,” she explains in a flashback episode. “Clones are created for a variety of different reasons. Unskilled worker, soldier, manual laborer, accountants. There are all kinds of needs.” Riley’s original illegal birth was for use in a brothel, making her born into a form of slavery in much the same fashion as the “dolls” on Dollhouse. She was later able to escape that life, but her attempts at being fully mortal still end up unfulfilled. A dinner date with an actual human initially goes well, for instance, then concludes quickly once she reveals her true identity. “I can’t believe I was this stupid,” he tells Riley in disgust before calling her a “carbon copy.” The scene exposes an underlying prejudice in the society of 2064, an issue that also serves as the centerpiece of Senator Kendrick’s controversial campaign for president.

The works of Philip K. Dick, Karel Capek and Joss Whedon include a giant corporation at the forefront of the technological advances of their respective narratives, and Aidan 5 also contains its own Infinity Corporation to go along with the likes of Tyrell and Rossum. James Aidan’s investigation into the death of his clones ultimately leads to Infinity and its CEO Edward Hughes (Tom Brown), who apparently has a number of secrets regarding his technology that he is intent on keeping hidden by any means necessary. Aidan later discovers that the whereabouts of his own wife and son—who disappeared three years earlier—is likewise intertwined with the mystery, making his mission even more personal than he initially believed.

While science fiction classics of the past help shape the basic storyline of Aidan 5, creators Tim Baldwin and John Jackson, along with executive producer Ben Bays, incorporate a gritty noir texture to the web series as well. A voiceover narrative by James Aidan has a distinct Raymond Chandler quality, while the black and white production gives Aidan 5 a 1940s film style that the likes of Humphrey Bogart would no doubt have fit in perfectly. Aidan 5 was filmed entirely against a “green screen,” meanwhile, with the setting of each scene graphically illustrated in varying shades of grey, much like the Robert Rodriguez adaptation of the graphic novel Sin City.

The Aidan 5 website describes the series as a “living comic book,” and the epitaph is fitting in more ways than one. Although initially dismissed as a medium for adolescents, the later creations of Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, Alan Moore and Brian K. Vaughn raised the level of the genre to serious literature with the likes of The Sandman, Sin City, Watchmen and Y: The Last Man. The web series medium has also struggled to find its way into the mainstream, especially in the area of dramas. By evoking the concepts of such esteemed writers as the aforementioned, Aidan 5 proves that well-constructed dramas work just as well on the World Wide Web as comedies, and that an effective and thought-provoking narrative can be told with limited resources just as easily—if not better—than multi-million dollar productions.

In the end, the combination of familiar and original works well for Aidan 5. “This does not mean that everything is trite or clichéd,” Paul Levinson remarks in Fringe Science (BenBella Books, 2011), a collection of essays on the FOX series that likewise pays homage to the past. “If done right, the old in a new package can be especially exciting precisely because it evokes echoes of what we know. This is the secret of Fringe.”

Suffice it to say, it is also the secret of Aidan 5.

Anthony Letizia (January 30, 2012)

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