Get a Jolt of Tom Hanks’ Electric City

Electric City is the creation of Tom Hanks, one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed A-listers. His animated, dystopian future follows the survivors of cataclysmic events and how ⎯ three to four generations later ⎯ they’ve rebuilt their society.

Key to their survival is the production of electricity, as other forms of fuel have been depleted. Key to the plot are the conflicting motives of the many denizens of Electric City, some of whom are unhappy with the way things are run and others who will do anything possible to maintain the status quo.

Electric City is wired beyond streaming and/or downloading series webisodes. Its app is a lead-in to other complementary media and stories that flesh out Hanks’ vision. Will the series app lead to more accolades for the actor? Find out after the break.

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Plug Into the Plot

Electric City closely follows Cleveland Carr, an operative and former member of AMP (Allied Municipal Police). Carr, voiced by Hanks, gets many of his orders from Ruth Orwell, a woman who is a member of a “clandestine ruling organization of matriarchal elders” who survived the earlier described cataclysmic events that led to the creation of Electric City.

Once welcomed to Electric City, select an episode to download or stream.

Once welcomed to Electric City, select an episode to download or stream.

Orwell and her circle of knitting colleagues speak in coded language as they craft scarves. Their goal? Maintain the order within Electric City and prevent the repeat of the disasters from the past. This sometimes leads to operatives such as Carr “taking care” of problems in Electric City’s dark underbelly.

A revolt is in the works, with folks living outside and inside Electric City coordinating an uprising. Delineating between good guys and bad guys is quite a challenge within the story, but also a part of the appeal of a few of the characters.

What You Get and What You Don’t

If you’re slightly intrigued by its premise, downloaders of the Electric City app will have instant access to the first episode of the series (either streamed or a downloadable clip), which runs about six minutes. Subsequent adventures are also about this length.

Downloaders will also be able to check out profiles and galleries of the series’ main pro- and antagonists. This helps to clarify on which side of the revolt some of the characters fall.

In addition, two short behind-the-scenes videos feature interviews with Tom Hanks and some of the series’ voice actors, which present some new insight into the story and its many players.

Choose a media type to learn more about the story (left) or get to know the characters (right).

Choose a media type to learn more about the story (left) or get to know the characters (right).

Depth gained by watching the series, reading the accompanying comic books and playing the affiliated games through the app is going to cost you. There is currently an in-app purchase where fans can download episodes 2 through 20, as well as the two Electric City supplemental comics, for a combined total of $4.99.

Additionally, Electric City: The Revolt ⎯ a game featuring Frank Deetleman, one of the “heroes” of Electric City and a leader within the uprising, should you cast your lot with that side of the battle ⎯ can be downloaded in the App Store for $0.99. Another game is also set for release later this year.

While these other forms of interacting with the story might extend interest in the series, their being left out of the package does no more than tease what “could be” if the app were at its full potential.

True, nearly every serial on television does the same thing with teasers for the following week’s episode. But here, the empty feeling adds choppiness to the chapters and the total viewing package.

iPhone vs. iPad

Despite a few flicks of switches to guarantee uninterrupted viewing, the iPhone version of the app froze repeatedly during tests for this review.

The iPad edition initially froze, but afterward did a much better job of recovering and playing videos in their entirety. Eventually, freezing was not a problem at all.

To catch Cleveland Carr in action, opt for the iPad version versus the iPhone’s.

To catch Cleveland Carr in action, opt for the iPad version versus the iPhone’s.

While still enjoyable viewing on the iPhone, watching it on the iPad is like watching a feature-length film on the big screen. If you have both, opt to check episodes of Electric City and the app’s other features on the iPad. If nothing else, the artwork is worth the upgrade.

Worth a Charge?

Hanks told The New York Times that he didn’t expect Electric City to be a moneymaker. Through his collaboration with Yahoo, where Electric City is also available, Hanks basically got to create content for the sake of creating content rather than having to drive story outcomes to suit sponsors.

But as a result of this partnership, all 20 episodes of Electric City are available on Yahoo’s website. It would probably be a hard sell to get more than die-hard fans to invest in paying to download the series.

Cleveland Carr gets his latest set of orders from Ruth Orwell.

Cleveland Carr gets his latest set of orders from Ruth Orwell.

While semi-intriguing, much of the free content gives a vague sense of what’s to come. Many of the characters featured in the app’s profiles do not appear in the first episode. That makes it difficult to care about many of them and is definitely a strained attempt at garnering interest in the unfamiliar.

Final Thoughts

By no means is a Web series groundbreaking, but Electric City’s approach is interesting. The multimedia format of the app allows for some dot connecting and the telling of different parts of the story in a variety of ways.

Electric City has the potential to be highly entertaining, but breaking up the episodes into such short lengths may not have as much success or pique interest the way a full-length feature may have done.

However it is cool that everything Electric City can be found, accessed and stored within the app, which may help solve the choppiness problem for those who choose to make the investment.


Tom Hanks' dystopian Web series and multimedia goodies.