“Pantheon” starts with the introduction of Maddie (Katie Chang), a teenager struggling with both school bullies and the grief of her father’s recent death when she discovers the impossible. Her father, David (Daniel Dae Kim) contacts her from the great beyond. Well, sort of. It turns out that his consciousness was uploaded to the cloud by an evil company, who told his widow Ellen (Rosemarie DeWitt), that the experiment of doing exactly that had failed. Why is David still a ghost in the machine? Who controls him? How did he get free enough to contact Maddie? And while Maddie embraces having him back, her mother struggles to believe that this disembodied version of her husband is the same as the man she lost.
Meanwhile, a young man named Caspian (Paul Dano) helps Maddie, but also struggles with a very different parenting dynamic as he struggles all the time. At least he thinks they are. For some reason, Cary’s parents (Aaron Eckhart) and Renee (Taylor Schilling) play the roles of a dysfunctional home, complete with an abusive father, but they follow orders from somewhere else to push Caspian toward what feels like a predetermined destiny. What do they know about Caspian’s future? Why are they trying to manipulate it? And what are the authors saying here about the way real people can be ‘programmed’ as much as electronic ones?
The voice work throughout “Pantheon” – which also includes Maude Apatow, Scott McNairy, Chris Diamantopoulos, Corey Stoll, Ron Livingstonand the last work of William Hurt-is excellent, plays out the drama of the show as they would a live-action show. Some of them struggle a bit with the occasionally overwritten piece of dialogue about what it means to be human. The show is stronger when it allows its themes to emerge organically from the dense plot rather than literally placing them in the spotlight. For example, in a flashback, David and Maddie conspire to put a cheat code in a game that makes it so you can’t die, prompting Mom to literally ask, “What’s the point of the game if you can’t die?” Ditto life, right?