Review: ‘Silo’ is one of the best sci-fi TV series in years

WTOP's Jason Fraley reviews 'Silo' on Apple TV+

All last week, I counted down my Top 10 New TV Series of 2023, but wouldn’t you know it? As soon as I pressed “publish” on that article, I binged another 10-episode series that might have actually topped the damn list — if I had only seen it in time!

Rebecca Ferguson stars in "Silo," now streaming on Apple TV+.(Courtesy Apple TV+)

“Silo” on Apple TV+ is easily one of the best sci-fi tales in recent memory. It arrives exactly 10 years after Bong Joon-ho’s South Korean action thriller “Snowpiercer” (2013), but instead of humanity surviving an apocalypse on horizontal cars of a speeding train, we get slow-burn suspense on the vertical levels of a deep silo underground.

Based on Hugh Howey’s self-published “Wool” novels (2011-2013), the series is set in a dystopian future after a cataclysmic event apparently ruined Earth’s atmosphere. Now, 10,000 people live in a cylindrical bunker that extends 144 stories deep, as inquisitive citizens begin to question the strict regulations by the silo’s mysterious governing entities, who send folks on deadly missions outside to clean the windows if they misbehave.

The series is carried by actress Rebecca Ferguson, star of the most recent installments of “Mission: Impossible” (2015-present), “The Greatest Showman” (2017) and “Dune” (2021). In “Silo,” her Swedish accent occasionally bleeds through — how do dialects still exist after 140 years underground? — but otherwise it’s a commanding performance, evolving from blue-collar mechanic to sheriff sleuth with a few wounds to heal in flashbacks.

The supporting cast includes Rashida Jones (“The Office”) and David Oyelowo (“Selma”) as a husband and wife struggling to conceive. Tim Robbins (“The Shawshank Redemption”) is now the warden of this “jail” with no Rita Hayworth poster allowed (such contraband would be considered an illegal relic). Rapper Common is a standout as the cold, calculated leader of a secret society called The Judicial, doing clandestine dirty work behind the scenes.

The series is created by Graham Yost, not to be confused with Coach Yoast of “Remember the Titans” (2000), though Will Patton is in this show, too! No, this Yost wrote the scripts for ’90s action hits like “Speed” (1994) and “Broken Arrow” (1996). He is no less gripping here, dropping compelling new clues each episode and whacking characters with the unpredictability of “Game of Thrones” as heroes face life-or-death scenarios every episode.

The filmmakers intentionally withhold key information, just like the governing leaders within the show. The first three episodes are directed by Oscar nominee Morten Tyldum (“The Imitation Game”), Episode 4 and 5 are helmed by Emmy nominee David Semel (“Heroes”), Episode 6 and 7 belong to the BAFTA-winning duo Bert & Bertie (“Troop Zero”) and the final three episodes are directed by Emmy nominee Adam Bernstein (“Fargo”).

Cinephiles will dig the sci-fi references, including a heroine named “Jules” making her own “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” Another character is named after Douglas Trumbull, the late Hollywood special effects wizard who designed the photo-realistic spaceships in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) and memorably dropped a mother ship on Devil’s Tower in Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977).

The claustrophobia of being constantly trapped indoors is palpable for viewers, who can relate to the characters’ plight after three-and-a-half years of a COVID-19 pandemic followed by recent Canadian wildfires causing new air quality concerns. The same political dynamics emerge of folks questioning the system with similar references to “the before times,” a phrase often used to describe the era before our real world changed in March 2020.

Not only does “Silo” capture the zeitgeist, it keeps us guessing toward a shocking cliffhanger that instantly makes us want more. Thankfully, Apple has already renewed the series for Season two after the pilot premiered as the No. one drama in the platform’s history and has consistently ranked toward the top with “Ted Lasso.” I haven’t looked forward to a sci-fi return this much since “Severance.” Apple is on fire! May the writers’ strike end soon.

4.5 stars

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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