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Scott D. Pierce: Holy spaceballs! Apple TV+ has turned Asimov’s ‘Foundation’ into a TV show!

Isaac Asimov’s story takes viewers 50,000 years into the future.

(Apple TV+) "Foundation" starts streaming Friday on Apple TV+.

Isaac Asimov was, without a doubt, one of the greatest science fiction writers of all time. And one of the greatest names of the 20th century.

The Isaac Asimov Super Quiz ran in newspapers across the country — including The Salt Lake Tribune — for years, allowing readers to grade out at freshman, graduate and Ph.D. levels.

Asimov was the author of almost 500 books, none more popular than his “Foundation” trilogy. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read them, along with the sequels, prequels and parallel “Robot” series. And I never thought for a moment that “Foundation,” “Foundation and Empire” and “Second Foundation” could be made into movies or a TV series.

They are a history of the future — approximately 50,000 years from now — when humanity has spread across the galaxy. They feature dozens of characters in a narrative that often leaps forward by several decades at a time as the story lurches from crisis to crisis.

If you include the sequels “Foundation’s Edge” and “Foundation and Earth,” we’re talking approximately 500 years of future history. How do you bring that to the screen?

(Apple TV+) Jared Harris stars as Hari Seldon in "Foundation."

And yet Apple TV+ has made the effort. Writers/producers David S. Goyer and Josh Friedman have come up with a series that at least begins to tell Asimov’s story. Genius mathematician Hari Seldon (Jared Harris) develops psychohistory, which uses math to predict that the Galactic Empire is falling — and when it goes, there will be 30,000 years of bloody barbarism for the trillions of humans across the galaxy. Seldon comes up with a plan by which a second empire will span the galaxy in just 1,000 years, saving umpteen planets and untold lives.

This prediction does not please the current rulers of the empire … and drama ensues.

Goyer and Friedman’s plan is to produce 80 episodes to tell the story on Apple TV+. We’re getting 10 episodes in Season 1, and who knows if we’ll get all eight seasons?

Clearly, TV series are not books and this “Foundation” is not the one readers are familiar with. Here’s what to expect:

• The first two episodes will start streaming Friday; the remaining eight will debut one-by-one on successive Fridays.

• “Foundation” is incredible to look at. The visuals are spectacular.

• It gets off to a slow start.

• If you’re a fan of the books, try to forget them. There are similarities, but there are also a lot of differences. (There are some new characters, and other characters have switched gender.) If you focus on and stew over the differences, you’ll completely ruin it for yourself.

• The books are plot, plot, plot and almost zero character development. In the series, plot often takes a back seat to character development. Entire episodes focus primarily on the backstory of one or more characters.

If readers can let go of their expectations about what the “Foundation” series should be, they’ll enjoy it. If you haven’t read the books, you’ll have to be patient. And you’ll have to pay close attention.

I applaud this effort. And I’ll keep watching. But I’m not sure if Apple TV+’s “Foundation” is going to work for most viewers. Or, at least, most Apple TV+ subscribers.


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