Hit or Sh**: Hulu’s DIMENSION 404
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
The only thing worse than a bad show is a bad show you hoped would be a good show. Most pilot premieres nowadays are doomed to disappoint, but the teeny-tiny, TWILIGHT ZONE-loving, plushy core beneath my jaded critical exterior hoped that DIMENSION 404 would be kinda fun. Yet, within the first 10 seconds of watching, I knew this was going to be garbage. Don’t dream, kids. Just give up.
DIMENSION 404 is the latest creation of Rocketjump, a self-described “weird, hybrid studio/production company” responsible for various viral YouTube sketches and the series VIDEO GAME HIGH SCHOOL. Despite funneling their content over to Hulu, they remain primarily based on YouTube, where they got their start. Rocketjump’s YouTube origins explain a lot of the flaws in DIMENSION 404, and honestly makes me wonder why a concept much better suited to the web series format found its way to long-form television in the first place.
Sorry, Freddie Wong, but having two shows on Hulu won’t make your mom any happier about your unconventional career path
“Sci-fi anthology” is quickly becoming the new CBS procedural, and this latest addition to the canon doesn’t add much. DIMENSION 404 consists of self-contained 40-minute-ish episodes centered around a sci-fi gimmick commenting on some aspect of society’s relationship with technology. Been there, done that, got the shrink ray. To its credit, DIMENSION 404 clearly did its homework. It takes cues from BLACK MIRROR, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, and (as true patricians will recognize) THE OUTER LIMITS—the Sierra Mist to TWILIGHT ZONE’s Sprite. Both shows were sci-fi anthology series with title sequences nearly as famous as the shows themselves.
DIMENSION 404’s title sequence most directly rips off homages the OUTER LIMITS, and brings to light a key problem with the series before the opening credits even roll. The gimmick of the OUTER LIMITS intro was incredibly effective in the ‘60s, when seeing that little white dot in the middle of your screen meant something was actually wrong with your TV and you could do little to fix it other than bang on it. Indeed, the comments section of the above YouTube video is chock full of adults remembering the terror they felt watching this introduction as children because it felt so real. DIMENSION 404 attempts to accomplish this same effect and starts off strong using Hulu’s actual pause and loading animations, but in a world where we can pick up a remote and just press “pause,” the effect is lost. Mark Hamill’s ooky-spooky narration letting us know that another dimension has taken over our TV screens feels lame, disinteresting, and definitely not creepy. This will be a running theme for DIMENSION 404: good ideas just not quite working.
“B-B-But a Mark Hamill voiceover makes makes everything good! Right . . . ??”
“Matchmaker,” the first episode, starts in the neighborhood of BLACK MIRROR’s “Nosedive,” then packs its bags and heads off to a new life in Shitsville. Filler-white-dude Adam meets the love of his life Samantha on a new dating app, only to find himself dragged away by mysterious soldiers when she rejects him. Come to find out, he’s the fifth in a series of clones commissioned by Samantha to be her custom-made perfect love matches and—having been rejected—will live out the rest of his days in captivity. He and his fellow clones team up to escape the facility and defeat the evil Joel McHale to become their own people.
The five different Adams (all played by Robert Buckley) reflect Samantha’s ever-changing tastes: one is a punk rocker, one is a cute dork, one is a bodybuilder, the other a man-bun-wearing vegan. This could have been an opportunity to explore the fact that there is no perfect person for anyone, but it isn’t really touched on that deeply. In fact, I found Samantha’s character (who keeps having these clones commissioned to suit her changing wishes knowing where they come from) to pose much more interesting ethical questions that could have elevated this premise to the next level. The episode is kind of about moving on from a breakup . . . but not really. It’s kind of about how love isn’t perfect . . . but not really. This is a really interesting concept, but it forgot to have a point.
But that’s OK, because I was eager to move on to what got me interested in this show in the first place:
“More of this, please.” – Me
For fans of Patton Oswalt, particularly those who have read his amazing memoir about how his love of film nearly ruined his life, the opportunity to see him plopped right in the middle of THEY LIVE is more than enough to motivate you to watch this show. Oswalt plays “Uncle Dusty,” a film snob who would feel right at home on the Crossfader staff, who has imparted his niece (MODERN FAMILY’s Sarah Hyland) with his love of all things silent and celluloid. When she hijacks their monthly movie night to see the latest 3D Teen Dystopia movie with her friends, Dusty reluctantly slogs along for the ride. Only with the use of his “shifter” glasses (turning 3D to 2D— kind of a fun gag) does he see the menacing alien lurking behind the image waiting to take over the audience’s minds.
So . . . yeah
The episode, titled “Cinethrax,” suffers from many of the same issues “Matchmaker” does: namely, it takes what should be a really interesting premise and goes in the complete wrong direction with it. Rather than using the set-up as an opportunity to explore the film industry’s current state of “sequelitis,” or even take the time to comment on the importance of evaluating the media we consume, it just takes the piss out of millennials. Patton constantly rolls his eyes at his niece’s dumbass friends who are loath to separate from their phones and talk like valley girls. This is an impulse I really don’t understand coming from Rocketjump, which rakes in a good chunk of its YouTube subscribers with film tutorials for millennials. Why would they so directly alienate their core following like this? This is a glaring missed opportunity for Rocketjump to guide its young fan following toward classic films, but the only “patrician” film reference (to the Lumiere Brothers’ THE ARRIVAL OF A TRAIN) is uttered condescendingly in French by one of the episode’s brainwashed villains.
A moment of confession: for someone who spends a lot of time thinking about film, I have never been great at picking up plot holes and other continuity errors. So if a show is at the point where even I notice them, they are bad. In no particular order: there is no way a basement-dwelling film geek like Uncle Dusty would not know about THE ARRIVAL OF A TRAIN and the legend of audiences fleeing the theater for fear of being run over, yet when it’s presented to him, he seems to have no idea what it is. The episode clearly sets up that the alien’s victims operate as a hive mind after being brainwashed. There are moments when one member of the hive mind gets punched in the face and they all recoil, and other moments when one gets their foot smashed on and others continue to make a grab for our protagonist. It’s also established that you can see the alien with the “shifter” glasses, but not with the regular 3D glasses—yet, in one shot where the brainwashed audience holds Sarah Hyland down and force the 3D glasses on her, she screams in terror because she can see the alien coming towards her. How can Uncle Dusty send text messages with emojis from his flip phone? How would he know how or when to use them if he’s struggling through the actual act of texting?? This all seems like nitpicky stuff, but character consistency and world-building are especially important in sci-fi. DIMENSION 404 drops the ball to a distracting degree across the board.
To be perfectly honest with you, I didn’t bother watching the third episode of this series. I got the picture from the first two. This experiment, while noble, is not worth the viewer’s time. With all the TWILIGHT ZONE, OUTER LIMITS, and BLACK MIRROR to get through, we hardly need another sci-fi anthology—let alone a bad one. DIMENSION 404 sabotages its clever premises and brief moments of brilliance with clumsiness and tone-deaf storytelling. Rocketjump bit off a bit more than it could chew with this endeavor, and would be wise to stick to short-form content where a series like this would truly excel.
New episodes of DIMENSION 404 appear on Tuesdays on Hulu