Fox's new artificial intelligence horror-thriller-cop show neXt (or Next or NEXT, depending on where you look, and don't rely on Fox because you'll find all three) begins with a quote from world famous stoner, disruptionist, and odd baby namer Elon Musk: "With artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon." It's a quote that's literally two clicks away if you Google "elon musk artificial intelligence," which gives you a hint about how the show was written. The limited series' premise — a rogue artificial intelligence used in things like digital personal assistants has become too smart and, more dangerously, too evil — must have been pitched to networks dozens of times by now, but Fox eenie-meenie-miney-moe'd its way to this version, from former Star Trek: Enterprise showrunner Manny Coto.
You know what the show is based on watching other variations of the same thing elsewhere: An eccentric, arrogant tech mogul named Paul LeBlanc (Mad Men's John Slattery) on the clock with a life-threatening disease (of course) teams up with a no-nonsense female FBI agent (is there any other kind on TV?) named Shea Salazar (Fernanda Andrade) whose work interferes with her relationship with her young son (well, duh) to stop computer code that's running rampant and doing everything it can to protect itself. There are entire action sequences that play out on computer monitors with scrolling lines of code, basic levels of tech jargon to smooth out bumps in plot, and characters who sh-- their pants while staring at a red blinking light on a security cam because it's watching.
Beyond that, there's little to Next. In fact, there's even less than you'd expect based on the lack of philosophical discussion about the dangers of artificial intelligence that's typically standard in these types of shows. Next would rather play up the horror-thriller side of things as Paul and Shea chuck out SIM cards, use burner phones, hide from doorbell cams, and ride in pre-microchip automobiles to avoid detection from an invisible threat that is seemingly everywhere. Paul and Shea use the time in between to mostly talk about Paul's incurable disease — sporadic fatal insomnia, "it's real, look it up," Paul says — and his broken relationship with his adult daughter, and Shea's struggle to keep her family together and safe from neXt, which is actively trying to destroy her life to get Shea to stop looking for it.
But the biggest problem, at least in early episodes, is the same problem all movies and shows about this sort of thing face: the invisible enemy. It's too difficult to muster any real fear of neXt when it's still just a concept that doesn't feel real. There's a scene in Episode 2 where Shea's son has to "keep neXt on the line" so that Paul and a former (?) white supremacist hacker can trace its location like it's a tense hostage situation, except the kid is having a conversation with an Iliza unit, the show's version of Alexa. Even when Next does something creative with the idea of an infiltrating A.I., as it does in a ridiculous moment in the third episode that is so unintentionally funny it made me hopeful that the show knew how silly it was, it's the opposite of scary.
For his part, Slattery is unsurprisingly good as the only character given some dimension. Paul is a jerk with charm, his narcissism bulldozing everyone in his path, and Slattery earns his paycheck by putting in the effort. The other characters, including a former white supremacist hacker for the FBI and the Latinx co-worker who hates him, are so thin they slip into cracks as soon as they're off camera.
If it's a crazy artificial intelligence series you're looking for, hunt down Person of Interest, which at least figured a way to give its maniacal machine a personality and relatable decision making progress. Next is too much artificial, not enough intelligence.
TV Guide rating: 2/5
Next premieres Tuesday, Oct. 6 at 9/8c on Fox.