Altered Carbon Review Roundup: Binge It or Skip It?

The dystopic future of Altered Carbon — Netflix's latest original series — is gaining a lot of attention, but what do the critics think?

Altered Carbon revolves around a future where those with power can transfer consciousness between bodies with a simple upload. Perhaps ironically, the critics seem to be frustrated at how much of Blade Runner and Game of Thrones was transferred into this show.

That is not to say the show is not without promise, as some critics gave it points for its wild visuals and those moral dilemmas that it raises but doesn't explore (saved for the second season, hopefully?). Here's what critics have to say about Altered Carbon.


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io9's Beth Elderkin aims to lower expectations with her review, which states up front that Altered Carbon is "not Netflix's Game of Thrones." Still, though, she gives credit to solid performances from the supporting cast.

"It felt like I was watching Kinnaman play himself." — Beth Elderkin, io9

The Good

"Martha Higareda is good as Detective Kristin Ortega, and I love the inclusion of her family to represent those who refuse to re-sleeve for religious reasons."

"Kristin Lehman was perfect as Miriam Bancroft, combining ageless wisdom with aggressive sexuality. Plus, every one of her outfits was incredible. She looked like a Roman god who was moments away from baring her teeth and swallowing you whole."

The Bad

"The investigation fumbles over itself and doesn’t make sense until the very end. I get that it’s a noir thriller, and detective work is a big part of that genre, but it isn’t very cohesive."

"It felt like I was watching Kinnaman play himself. On a show about minds moving between bodies, his shortcomings are obvious, reminding me of Eliza Dushku’s own issues on the similar series Dollhouse.”

The New York Times

In his review for the New York Times, Mike Hale says Altered Carbon isn't the premium TV show Netflix would hope it to be.

"Altered Carbon tries to meld a dystopian class-warfare story and a hard-boiled detective story by simply piling on the pseudo-philosophical blather." — Mike Hale, New York Times

The Good

"Altered Carbon is a lesson in the importance of context. If it were on the Syfy channel, where it belongs, it would look above average."

"Dichen Lachman, as [a] fellow rebel soldier, has a better feel for the material and shines in the frequent and graphically bloody action scenes."

The Bad

"But if you’re concerned with maintaining your reputation as a leading purveyor of prestige TV, you might want to think harder about what you slap the 'Netflix Original' label on."

"Altered Carbon tries to meld a dystopian class-warfare story and a hard-boiled detective story by simply piling on both the pseudo-philosophical blather and the film-noir clichés."


Todd VanDerWerff of Vox is more positive, declaring that Altered Carbon's initial 10-episode offering "is the best first season of a Netflix drama since The Crown debuted in 2016." He does, however, admit that the show suffers from a slow pace in its early episodes.

"The final three episodes of the season are pitch-perfect noir/sci-fi"— Todd VanDerWerff, Vox

The Good

"The world of Altered Carbon is so much fun to fall into — especially when it starts toying around with ideas of what makes a human being — that it carried me past some of the show’s weaker moments."

"The final three episodes of the season are pitch-perfect noir/sci-fi, with Kovacs and his crew embarking on what amounts to a daring heist in hopes of bringing down a massive criminal empire, while Ortega faces down her literal demons. I left the season wanting so much more."

The Bad

"The first five episodes of Altered Carbon are a bit of a slog. The premiere kicks the story off reasonably well, but also drags its heels when it comes time to get Kovacs to agree to the murder investigation that will drive the rest of the season."

The Hollywood Reporter

In Tim Goodman's review for The Hollywood Reporter, he praises Altered Carbon as "binge-worthy," and ruminates about how the show is both flawed and fantastic.

"The cinematography and world-building is impressive frame to frame, the casting strong and all the riveting popcorn elements firmly in place." — Tim Goodman, The Hollywood Reporter

The Good

"Altered Carbon is a blockbuster — it's a sprawling spectacle that could go on for multiple seasons. In the spirit of Game of Thrones, which every content provider is trying to duplicate, it has a dense, intriguing story that doesn't become so ponderous as to be impenetrable."

"Kalogridis and her team of writers (there are also multiple directors) do a fine job of revisiting the mythology at the core of the series without dumbing it down."

The Bad

"Altered Carbon isn't without its flaws, namely a tendency to veer at times into cheesy sci-fi dialogue, which is often an unavoidable side effect of the genre."

USA Today

Over at USA Today, Kelly Lawler says Altered Carbon's visuals are "a bit too reminiscent" of what we saw in Blade Runner.

"And the show takes itself so seriously that episodes are often weighed down by their own ponderousness." Kelly Lawler, USA Today

The Good

"When Carbon focuses on Bancroft's murder, it's most successful, unspooling a mystery entwined with vice and riches."

The Bad

"It's clear that Carbon was expensive, and its effects are clean but rather uninspired. The world it creates is intriguing but clumsily set up, with so much exposition forced into the dialogue it becomes jarring. And the show takes itself so seriously that episodes are often weighed down by their own ponderousness."

"More often, Altered Carbon gets lost in extraneous subplots and characters."

Credit: Netflix

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.