The initial trailer campaign for Altered Carbon was one that really made you sit up and take notice. I remember going into the first season with incredibly high hopes but by the halfway mark realising that this was going to be a massive disappointment. The building blocks were there. Impressive visuals, good world building, a few intriguing ideas but a lot of the good elements were buried under a massively overwritten detective noir that added nothing to the sub-genre. Much as the cast was trying there best with the cliché material they had to deal with working around the massive charisma vacuum of Joel Kinnaman in the lead (who between this and Amazon Prime’s TV adaptation of Hannah is one of the most unengaging screen presences working today.) That said the very premise of stacks and sleeves as established by the show so gives the writers an extremely easy out for recasting the central character of Kovac every season. So, it proved with season 2 with Anthony Mackie (a significantly more charismatic lead actor than Kinnaman) being joined by Lela Loren (Power) and Simone Missick (Luke Cage) among others. Going into season 2 I was not hugely optimistic Mackie is a solid actor and Missick was one of the best things about The Defenders universe so could improve the show.
Season 2 appears to have gotten much more solid response from critics but appears to have gotten a very hostile response from those who loved season 1. After watching the season, it is not hard to see why. This is a marginal but noticeable improvement and a big part of the reason is the much more stripped back action focused approach. There is a noir plot going on but it mostly the fans that apparently loved the overwritten generic high and dry. The action is strong throughout and cast to do a solid job with some very middling material. There is still the tendency for overwritten dialogue but unlike the first season there is enough focus on action so that this isn’t a huge issue. The visuals remain strong and one of the shows greatest assets.
Is easy to see why Altered Carbon season 2 was a disappointment to those that fell in love with-it first-time round. The more stripped back action-oriented focus means that pretty much everything else (including the plot) is secondary. That said as someone who was bitterly disappointed by the first season much as the show is still not living up to its full potential this season is a marginal improvement and if the show is able to refine its focus further with even stronger action in future seasons it might be able to complete a transformation from disappointing to distinctly above average. We will have to wait and see what future seasons hold.