"From the very beginning, we have wondered how life began, what our purpose is and where we are headed. We have struggled to understand time, matter, the infinite universe, who we are and if we are alone. Great minds have come up with the most wonderful and the most terrifying answers. We invite you to join us on this great journey!" This opening narration by Stephen Hawking is not exactly accurate, because all of the six episodes attempt to answer only one question, and that is where we are headed. The answer is usually the same: Society and Technology will cause the downfall of humans, machines will take over the Earth and the people will annihilate themselves with nuclear weapons. Whatever the case, the next 100-200 years won't be pleasant, according to the Masters.
Masters of Science Fiction gets its title from the authors of the Stories, the episodes are based on. Robert Heinlein, author of the great Sci Fi novel "Stranger in a Strange Land" is represented, as well as John Kessel, Howard Fast, Walter Mosley, Harlan Ellison and Robert Sheckley. The truth is, the ideas of the episodes are always extremely good. Creativity and Originality can be found in all of the six episodes, but while some have very interesting plots, others are quite dull, and lack exciting scenes and dialog.
Even though, the series features some great actors, most of them are terribly underused. Sam Waterston, Terry O'Quinn and John Hurt are the only ones, who get to use their talent in a large number of scenes, while Judy Davis, James Cromwell, Brian Dennehey, Sean Astin and especially Malcolm McDowell shine in the scenes they have, but often make very short or badly written appearances.
Now as far as the individual episodes are concerned, I will go from the worst to best. By far the biggest disappointment was "Watchbird", especially because it had great potential due to the actors (Sean Astin and James Cromwell) and some good ideas (computer birds, who are programmed to attack anyone with the intentions to kill someone). But the whole plot just drags along and the end does not satisfy the viewer.
"Little Brother" is not exactly bad, but in my opinion horribly written. To have computers as the judges in the future índeed was a great idea, but like Watchbird, a lot of potential was wasted, due to overlong scenes. Clifton Collins, Jr. acts quite well given the terrible script.
"The Awakening" now can actually be called good. The writing was all right and Terry O'Quinn once again proves what a wonderful actor he is. But the political message was just a little too extreme, that all countries are willing to lay down their arms, except the United States. That might actually reflect reality to a certain extent, but this was definitely exaggerated.
Now, as for "The Discarded", that episode was quite a treat. John Hurt is perfectly cast in his role, on a ship full of disfigured people, who are suffering from RIGGUM. The message might seems a little extreme, but we do live in a society, where people do everything to be perfect and I don't think this future is too far fetched. The only flaw of the episodes is once again, that some scenes are a little dull.
Heinlein's "Jerry was a Man" starrs a great Malcolm McDowell and Anne Heche, who plays the seventh richest woman in the world. When she finds out that Tibur Cargrew and his company create humanoids, with a limited brain capacity, to do dangerous or unpleasant jobs, she feels sorry for them and even adopts one of them. A fierce legal battle erupts, as to whether Jerry, a humanoid, has feelings and should be considered a man.
Last, but certainly not least "A Clean Escape" is in my opinion the highlight of the series. A woman, interrogating a man in a room might not sound too interesting at first but the shocking ending and the great acting by Judy Davis and especially Sam Waterston make this episode entertaining, gripping and does not leave us cold after the ending.
In conclusion, I do recommend the series to people who like Science Fiction, but I would rent the DVD. True, the episodes are not everyone's taste and some of them are quite mediocre.