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Raised by Wolves, written by Aaron Guzikowski (who wrote the movie Prisoners) and with early episodes directed by Ridley Scott, has the ambition that’s advertised but lacks the characters and storyline to engage.

Courtesy of HBO Max / Crave

In the matter of HBO Max you might be wondering what is going on. The streaming service launched earlier this year in the United States and is not available in Canada. Instead, Crave and other BellMedia outlets have the rights, and will roll out the original HBO Max content here.

Some of the hot content that HBO Max has acquired, you might be surprised to find, has been available in Canada for some time. Where? On CBC Gem to be precise. Two shows heavily promoted by HBO Max, Pure and White House Farm Murders are on Gem, which you can watch for free if you’re willing to see some commercials.

Binge-watching guide: The recent shows you need to catch up on, all available to stream

As you will know from content on Netflix, AppleTV+ and other streaming services, what you get is often less sizzling than promised. Such is the case with Raised by Wolves (Thursday, CTV Sci-fi Channel 9 p.m., and streaming on Crave), an allegedly big-ticket drama, and an ambitious sci-fi epic asking big questions.

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Written by Aaron Guzikowski (who wrote the movie Prisoners) and with early episodes directed by Ridley Scott, it has the ambition that’s advertised but lacks the characters and storyline to engage.

We are transported to the distant future and a distant planet. There, two noble androids named Mother (Amanda Collin) and Father (Abubakar Salim), are obliged to establish an Eden-like environment and raise six human babies. Beset by various problems they manage to raise only one who survives. Undaunted, the Mother figure wants to do more nurturing and is intent on raising more children more successfully. She has been programmed to do this.

As we eventually gather, it seems planet Earth was essentially destroyed in a war between religious zealots and atheists. The principles of child-raising are dearly held by the religious side, and what is happening with these androids was verboten. Or something.

The premise behind the series is not a meagre idea. Can a robot be programmed to mimic mothering instincts and raise a child? If human life and planet Earth were to be restarted on a distant planet, what mistakes of history would be avoided? However, to turn major ideas and musings into compelling drama, something is required: flesh-and-blood figures who act as vessels for the ideas.

Based on the evidence of the early going in Raised by Wolves – not a lot was available because HBO Max doesn’t seem to recognize Canadian media – the androids are interesting figures if you have a thing for androids. What is unfolding is both dramatically ponderous and visually austere. The planet where it is set has the visual oomph of a gravel pit and it is very hard to find anything – character or issue – that might be worth sticking with for multiple hours.

It might seem unfair to dismiss an ambitious and costly series on thin evidence, but there is a worrying trend at work here. When big ideas about civilization are the basis for drama, everybody heads for outer space and spectacle is the result, not emotion or relatable narrative. It’s not as though we were short of earth-bound material at the moment.

Also airing Thursday: Note that there is a repeat of the pilot episode of the Canadian-made Transplant (NBC, CTV2, 9 p.m.) as NBC builds on what is the best-reviewed new series in ages.

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