“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, sorta. It turns out that his consciousness was uploaded to the Cloud by a nefarious corporation who told his widow Ellen (Rosemarie DeWitt) that the experiment to do exactly that had failed. Why is David still a ghost in the machine? Who is controlling him? How did he get free enough to contact Maddie? And while Maddie embraces having him back, her mother struggles to believe that this non-corporeal version of her husband is the same as the man she’s lost.
Meanwhile, a young man named Caspian (Paul Dano) helps Maddie but also struggles with a very different parental dynamic as his are fighting all the time. At least, he thinks they are. For some reason, parents Cary (Aaron Eckhart) and Renee (Taylor Schilling) are playing out the roles of a dysfunctional home, complete with an abusive father, but they’re following orders from somewhere else to push Caspian toward what feels like a predetermined fate. What do they know about Caspian’s future? Why are they trying to manipulate it? And what are the writers 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, Scoot McNairy, Chris Diamantopoulos, Corey Stoll, Ron Livingston, and the final work of William Hurt—is excellent, playing the drama of the show as they would were it a live-action program. Some of them struggle a bit with the occasionally over-written slice of dialogue about what it means to be a human being. The show is stronger when it’s allowing its themes to emerge organically from the dense plotting instead of literally placing them in a 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, leading mom to literally ask, “What’s the point of the game if you can’t die?” Ditto life, right?