By Kevin McDonough
| Times Herald-Record
— Technology enhances our lives and frightens us at the same time. The history of entertainment is filled with movies and series about the threats posed by new and mysterious devices and knowledge. One of my favorite movie moments takes place at the end (spoiler alert!) of the original 1958 version of “The Fly.” As our tiny hero screams “Help me, Help me!” to avoid the clutches of an approaching spider, Vincent Price consoles the hero’s son and cautions him that dear departed Dad went “too far” in his pursuit of science.
In one scary tale after another, we are warned that science remains on the verge of playing Prometheus, challenging “the gods” in its quest for fire.
That theme runs through the new series “Next” (9 p.m., Fox, TV-14). John Slattery (“Mad Men”) stars as Paul LeBlanc, the Steve Jobs/Elon Musk-like head of a tech firm, who warns his staff that their artificial intelligence (AI) technology threatens mankind’s future. Or at least our place at the top of the food chain. For his warning, he’s fired from the firm he founded and replaced by his resentful younger brother, Ted LeBlanc (Jason Butler Harner, “Ozark”). At least none are named Matt.
Shot through with paranoia, “Next” follows a nervous tech type trying to evade every cellphone and surveillance camera on his way to warn Paul that his evil genie has escaped and that a self-replicating AI system is on the loose, capable of “learning,” replicating itself and getting exponentially smarter with each incarnation.
Fernanda Andrade (“Sons of Anarchy”) is Shea Salazar, a fetching FBI agent distracted from her big case against a child pornography ring to look into this looming tech threat.
In most tech-as-monster movies, science is perverted by some evil entity that decides to use the latest gadget “for evil and not for good.” In “Next,” the AI is its own evil mastermind. Only “Next” never seems to ask the essential question: Why is a superior intelligence inherently bad? Couldn’t it be simply benign? If it’s so smart, why become consumed by something as mundane as human cruelty?
But seriously, where’s the fun in that? That’s like saying there is no devil. Tech thrillers depend upon the projection of societal fears. So in “Next,” our enemy can seem both omniscient and ominous, friendly and even intimate, taking over an Alexa-like device and cooing to a child even as it plants the seeds of violence and even murder.
This “Terminator” doesn’t have to look for Sarah Connor. It’s after all of us. And we’ve already invited it into our homes.
— TV-themed DVDs available today include the second season of the French series “Balthazar,” streamed on Acorn.
TONIGHT’S OTHER HIGHLIGHTS
— Kevin Costner fans awaiting their next season of “Yellowstone” can find solace in the 2000 Cuban Missile Crisis movie “Thirteen Days” (6 p.m., Showcase), the soggy 1995 bomb “Waterworld” (9 p.m., Showcase) and the 1989 baseball fantasy “Field of Dreams” (10:45 p.m., Showcase).
— Jane Lynch hosts “Weakest Link” (8 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).
— “Cosmos: Possible Worlds” (8 p.m., Fox, r, TV-14) relates a tale of seeds and hunger.
— CW’s latest DC Comics adaptation “Swamp Thing” (8 p.m., TV-14) gets a 90-minute debut.
— Game 4 of the NBA Finals (9 p.m., ABC).
— A desperate dad targets a tycoon on “FBI” (9 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14).
Ziva needs help on “NCIS” (8 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14) … The audience plays along on “Ellen’s Game of Games” (9 p.m., NBC, TV-PG) … Greg Proops appears on “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” (9:30 p.m., CW, r, TV-14).
Method Man appears on “Conan” (11 p.m., TBS, r) … Jimmy Fallon welcomes Lin-Manuel Miranda and Luis Miranda, Ruby Rose and the Highwomen on “The Tonight Show” (11:35 p.m., NBC) … Timothy Olyphant, Bob Woodward and Benee visit “Late Night With Seth Meyers” (12:35 a.m., NBC).