Foundation Season 1 Review – A beautifully crafted but underwhelming sci-fi epic

Season 1

Episode Guide

The Emperor’s Peace -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Preparing to Live -| Review Score – 3/5
The Mathematician’s Ghost -| Review Score – 2/5
Barbarians at the Gate -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Upon Awakening -| Review Score – 2.5/5
Death and the Maiden -| Review Score – 2.5/5
Mysteries and Martyrs
The Missing Piece
The First Crisis
The Leap


Foundation cost 45 million dollars to create. And boy does it do everything in its power to showcase that. Gorgeous set design, wide-spanning alien vistas and detailed, beautifully set interiors are the order of the day. AppleTV’s sci-fi epic is a visual delight from start to finish.

But ogling at visuals is no different than praising the front cover of a book – it’s superficial and a moot point for what’s inside. And unfortunately what’s inside Foundation is far less beautiful than one may be expecting.

For those unaware, Foundation is an AppleTV original series, loosely adapting Isaac Asimov’s novels of the same name. I say loosely because aside from a couple of ideas and placeholder names, this doesn’t have a lot in common with its source material. With the showrunners even confirming as much, referring to this as the MCU equivalent of the comics they’re based on, Foundation trades thought provoking ideas about science and the future of humanity for paper thin characters and big explosions.

Now, granted the novels this is based on span hundreds of years so it was always going to be a challenge for anyone to come in and try to adapt this. In essence though, the story takes place across three different perspectives.

The first, and most important, comes from the Empire’s home planet, Trantor. The Genetic Dynasty (an ever-lasting royal family of clones) are the rich elite here, basking in the natural glow of the sun while those below are reduced to darkness and artificial skies. Essentially this is the serial equivalent of Shinra in Final Fantasy 7. Three brothers – Dawn, Dusk and Day rule with an iron fist but are about to find their lives turned upside down.

Hari Seldon, a brilliant mathematician discovers a formula that predicts the end of the dynasty and plunging the world into 30,000 years of dark age barbarism, with fighting breaking out and the entire galaxy tumbling into turmoil. However, Hari has a solution that could dramatically reduce that. And part of that key comes from Gaal Dornick.

After solving a difficult puzzle box called the Abraxas Conjecture. On her home world, Gaal is shipped off-planet to Trantor. Only, a terrorist attack forces Hari and the gang onto a ship bound for the outer-worlds and, more specifically, exiled to the barren wasteland of Terminus.

It’s here where the story branches slightly, following a new colony called Foundation set up on Terminus in the future. Our central pillar there is Salvor Hardin, who finds herself plagued with strange visions and the focal point of a weird object called The Vault.

This forms the crux of the story, as Foundation spends the rest of its 9 episodes dancing around various different conflicts and melodrama. There’s a good deal of change from the books but the ensuing result – even for those who haven’t read the books – is a sci-fi series in desperate need of direction and pace.

There’s a really sloppy amount of unnatural exposition that’s spewed throughout this show too, and for such an interesting world to explore, it really shouldn’t be that way. The Expanse, for example, hows how to do this properly and in a sci-fi setting. Game of Thrones too manages to give a sense of place and time through its rich lore and history, but Foundation doesn’t even come close to either.

Instead, Foundation dances with big ideas but either over-explains everything (hey, the Genetic Dynasty are clones. But don’t worry, this show will tell you every chance it gets) while other characters are reduced to walking plot devices.

There’s also an unnecessary amount of luck and deus ex machina involved in the plot, something Foundation even points out and references several times in its story – especially late on.  While a little is to be expected from any series, Foundation is rife with them. And if that wasn’t bad enough, it even rips whole plot ideas from other sci-fi IPs to pad out its run-time. Most notably is a planet-killing ship late on that could destroy everything (Star Wars anyone?) which, interestingly, doesn’t show up in the book either.

So ultimately Foundation is an absolutely gorgeous, lavishly produced… bore-fest. It’s a show full of clunky exposition, uninteresting characters and an underdeveloped world begging for better scripts. Apple may have spent 45 million on this show but quite clearly none of that was invested on good scriptwriters. With the show already renewed for a second season, this isn’t the end of the journey but let’s just hope there’s enough people left over to see this through to the end of the scheduled 80 episode run.

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  • Verdict - 4.5/10

4 thoughts on “Foundation Season 1 Review – A beautifully crafted but underwhelming sci-fi epic”

  1. Absolutely brilliant show. Season 2 is amazing, as threads down into the story from the beginning start to become clear. The biggest confusion is the Cleon timeline – trying to reconcile which one kids what…

  2. I rereading/listening to the audiobooks now. Haven’t read these since I was a kid. Damn they are good. But why the hell would someone think this could be put on screen? The characters aren’t very developed in the book as each of the crisis’s is more like a short story. Which is fine. It works and tells more of the story about Foundation as a whole then it does any individual character. Which I think was the point.

    I’ve read some other reviews and they paint some of the themes as “the haves vs the haves not” is that true? If so, that is not really what the books were aimed at IMO. Yes the outer fringe worlds didn’t have much, but that was more due to the decay of the empire then it was oppression of any sort.

  3. @JULES – Actually No. SW might have had some inspiration from Foudnation; but SW was mostly based on Seven Samuari.

    (1) this has been definitively stated by Lucas directly several times
    (2) you are on the internet, so please do a 5 second search before you make posts trying to state facts that are not.

  4. fair point but btw this series is where most of what is used in star wars and other well loved sci-fi originated from! those ideas aren’t ripped off from them, they took it from the book series.

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