Disturbing ‘Next’ tech trend; ABC press tour notes



Don’t we have enough paranoia with the coronavirus pandemic that we need not start fretting about artificial intelligence thinking for itself in ways that may prove detrimental to our sanity, let alone existence?

Many rely on Alexa (doesn’t she sound condescending sometimes?) for useful information, like Derek Jeter’s career batting average or what is today’s weather in Istanbul.

FOX network’s new fall series “Next” postulates an advanced first true digital assistant that is actually interactive, and in the words of one techie “uses cognitive architecture” and “rewrites its own code.”

Interestingly, the series opens on a black screen with a warning from the Elon Musk quote: “With artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon.” The billionaire industrial designer views A.I. as an existential threat to humanity.

“Next” has its own eccentric mega-rich tech inventor, John Slattery’s Paul LeBlanc, whose growing paranoia on top of a degenerative disease, has resulted in him being forced out of his Silicon Valley company by his scheming younger brother Ted (Jason Butler Harner).

Even though out in the cold from his own creation, Paul is sounding the alarm about a malevolent A.I. system, known as “neXt” that poses a threat to human existence.

The tech billionaire brings his concerns to FBI agent Shea Salazar (Fernanda Andrade), who heads up the agency’s Cybercrime Task Force in Portland, Oregon. At first, Salazar is unconvinced that LeBlanc’s worry should be taken seriously.

Suffering from a hereditary disease that causes paranoia and mental decline, LeBlanc remains brilliant about technology in extraordinary ways, but his brusque and often volatile behavior often undermines his credibility.

For her part, Salazar may well be coping with dark secrets that may emerge at some point. Her family life is also troubled because 8-year-old son Ethan (Evan Whitten) is being bullied at school.

The Salazar household, including the agent’s husband Ty (Gerardo Celasco), discovers that their home version of Alexa, known as “Iliza,” turns ominous with private talks with Ethan, prodding him to take violent action and how to access a handgun.

Salazar’s cyber team, including expert hacker and former white supremacist CM (Michael Mosley) whose presence is resented by co-worker Gina (Eve Harlow), is reeling from an attack wiping out critical case files.

For a thriller, there’s plenty happening in “Next” that is suspenseful, with murders needing to be solved and an invisible enemy that must be vanquished.


The ABC television network came late to the party in holding its own virtual press tour to tout some new fall programs and a return of certain series that adapt to the pandemic situation.

Visionary storyteller David E. Kelley has created the thriller series “Big Sky,” slated for a debut on November 17th, that is adapted from a series of books written by author C.J. Box.

“Big Sky” follows private detectives Cody Hoyt (Ryan Phillippe) and Cassie Dewell (Kyle Bunbury), who join forces with Cody’s estranged wife and ex-cop Jenny Hoyt (Katheryn Winnick), to search for two sisters who have been kidnapped by a truck driver on a remote Montana highway.

When they discover that these are not the only girls who have disappeared in the area, they must race against the clock to catch their captors before it’s too late.

While a preview of the series is not yet available, writer and showrunner David E. Kelley did not want to give away plot details, noting that “a big part of the series are the twists and story turns that we take.”

Kelley divulged a tantalizing morsel in observing that what the audience will “notice is we come out of the box as a thriller and as we proceed from episode to episode, we will cultivate a real investment in the characters.”

“The Conners” returns on October 21st in an all-new season that follows the family continuing to grapple with parenthood, dating, financial pressures and aging in working-class America.

John Goodman’s Dan, the family patriarch, is still trying to catch up on delinquent mortgage payments and avoid a potential eviction, while the Lunch Box is closed for everything but takeout and delivery.

Darlene (Sara Gilbert) and Becky (Lecy Goranson) are both forced to search for additional income at the newly reopened Wellman Plastics plant, the same place where George Clooney played a foreman in the first season of “Roseanne.”

As a production in progress during the pandemic, showrunner Bruce Helford told critics that while there are rigid protocols on the stage, “the family doesn’t wear masks or social distance amongst themselves” because they are in quarantine in the house.

The seventh season of “black-ish” takes us to the beginning of the global pandemic for the Johnson family with stories that address such topics as systemic racism and the movement for social justice.

As a first responder, Tracie Ellis Ross’ Rainbow Johnson gets praise for her work but soon discovers someone in her house is breaking the quarantine lockdown rules, while Anthony Anderson’s “Dre” Johnson tries to convince everyone that he too is an essential worker.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.