In this peak TV period, I thought we could use a thread on TV like we do the "Movies I Have Watched Lately" thread. I'll start with two:

ALTERED CARBON: Stupid name for a good sci-fi concept.

In this far future, humans can download their brains/personality/soul/what-have-you into chips called "stacks" that are located at the top of the spine. Nearly everybody has these stacks, and if your body fails you can load the stack into a new "sleeve," or body. The richer you are, the better body you can get. And the ultra-rich clone their own bodies, so they are effectively immortal. They are called "Meths" -- as in Methuselah -- and are just as awful as you can imagine. In the end, the rich win. Imagine that.

The Meth we get to know best is played by James Purefoy (Rome, John Carter, Solomon Kane) and he thinks he's become a god, or at least the difference between him and a god is so minor as to not be important. His stack is backed up every two hours to his own satellite, and if his body dies the stack is automatically downloaded to a clone. But when he is killed in a locked-room mystery in the two-hour window -- he doesn't remember how it happened, because his current stack didn't experience it -- he pulls the stack of a great warrior (an "envoy") who has been dead (and the stack preserved) for 250 years to solve the murder.

There's a whole mythology behind the envoys (as well as everything else -- the show is based on a series of novels) and we constantly see past lives, where the protagonist is usually Asian. We also see his lover and his sister in these past lives, where of course their appearance isn't static, either, so there's a little hurdle at first figuring out who the players are every time the Envoy has a flashback. 

There are some people who think the whole stack/sleeve business is an affront to God, and mark their stacks to not be resuscitated. They are called Neo-Cs (Neo-Catholic) and the cop who is A) gorgeous and B) immediately attached to the protagonist at the hip by the plot is one (or her family is, anyway). The ethics of this technology is explored through these characters.

The rich live up in the clouds, of course, in graceful spires that top out above the clouds, so they don't have to see how the other 99 percent live. which evidently is in Blade Runner. Seriously, Bay City (San Francisco metropolitan area) looks just like that movie, with the constant rain, the explosion of neon signs and people scraping by with food carts and such .

Sex is very straightforward in this show. There's frontal nudity for both men and women. Once I got over being surprised I came to appreciate it. Sex is pretty meaningless in this world, and it's presented that way. Once you get over the taboos being broken, you take in stride and don't think much about it. Which is consistent with how the characters view it. But if you're into boobs, trust that every pair in the cast will be naked sooner or later.

My wife enjoyed this more than I did. The F/X and writing are top-notch, but I found the acting a little substandard. The guy playing the Envoy also played Rick Flagg in Suicide Squad, and his acting varies from bland to blander. His sister, played by a thin Asian actress who's been in a bunch of other stuff I've seen, is even worse. I'm no actor. and even I could tell she was mis-delivering her lines. Purefoy just looked bored with the whole enterprise. The actress who plays one of the Pussycats on Riverdale -- the one that briefly dated Archie -- in in here, too, so you'll probably recognize her.

I enjoyed it well enough despite my misgivings, due to the cool concepts and great future world on display. And, as I said, my wife really liked it.

THE FRANKENSTEIN CHRONICLES: We just started watching this, and have only seen the first three episodes. I like it because I love history, and the show does a great job of depicting 1820s London. I guess. Anyway. It's pretty sooty and poverty-stricken, which is probably true.

The story here is about a "Runner" -- what cops are evidently called -- who is hired by a lord to find out who is killing children and sewing their dead bodies together. This threatens a bill he has in Parliament to make doctoring a profession and regulate it -- putting out of business holistic practitioners, body snatchers, barbers and a host of other dodgy types. 

Our hero is played by Sean Bean (Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship, Game of Thrones), a guy mourning the deaths of his wife and child, evidently from syphillis, which he gave them. So he's not doing so hot, either, as syphillis isn't curable in 1827, when the show begins. 

I'm not really sure how policing works in this age. They don't call themselves police, and they only arrest people when the victim can afford a prosecution. As noted, our protagonist is paid directly by a lord, and a local police station ("court of magistrates") is at his disposal. I know our police at the time were basically escaped-slave catchers, so I find this situation likely. I just don't know the rules of the game.

Our Runner meets William Blake, who dies, and Mary Shelley, who is an integral part of the plot. (She's about 30 here -- Percy Shelley's been dead for 4 years, Frankenstein has been in print for about 12 years, and she won't die of a brain tumor for another 20 years or so.) I'm not sure what her game is yet, but she is clearly lying to our hero.

There is a lot of super-religiosity on this show. Some of it I think is a bit too modern; our hero and his assistant are shocked and totally against it when a street urchin girl says she's pregnant and she's going to "take care of it." I don't know what the attitudes about abortion were back then, but I doubt anybody would give a toss what happens to a street urchin's pregnancy. If our heroes had expressed concern about HER safety I'd buy it -- most people who tried to prevent pregnancies in back alleys up until the 1920s died of sepsis. Anyway, they find her a place to stay that will keep her until the birth. Lucky street urchin!

There's a lot of super-religiosity on display I have no problem with, as it was no doubt mainstream at the time. Not being part of a church would be very suspicious. 

They also have cast as our hero's assistant a black actor. I know that this is almost a necessity now, especially at the BBC, but I have to physically swallow my disbelief every time he's on screen and nobody seems to notice that he is black. I don't know how many black people there were in London in the 1820s, but I imagine whatever that number was they were all domestic help, or in some other subservient position. Here, our black guy is a Runner, a position of authority, and nobody even blinks. I would think he'd be such a novelty among the common folk that they'd turn and stare when he walked down the street in his middle class clothes, and I'd guess no white guy, criminal or not, would suffer being interrogated by a black guy. I just have to pretend he's white for his scenes to work.

I don't know where this is going, but my wife and I are enjoying it so far. Bean's his usual craggy, muttering self, albeit less physical than in previous roles. (He's not getting any younger.) We'll see it through to the end of the first season, anyway.

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Ha. No, that's in there. the part I'm referring to that's in Let It Be and not Get Back is this businessman in a derby hat who climbs up a fire escape, then strolls across the roof as naturally as if he does it every day. Peter Jackson shows him on the roof, but not climbing the ladder. 

Yeah, I remember that. Not as well as you, apparently!

But see, The Beatles is sort of like comics to me, in that it was something I enjoyed that nobody else in my world did, and I just had to do it on my own.

I used to quote the "hope we passed the audition line" all the time in college, and nobody knew what it meant. Also "'I Dig A Pygmy' by Charles Hawtrey and the Deaf-Aids! Phase one, in which Doris gets her oats!" I did that all the time. Nobody got it. Not at Vanderbilt, not at University of Memphis, not at University of Texas at Austin.

I never met another Beatles fan until I was out of college. And I entered college in the '70s!

Speaking of UT Austin, when I was living there, with three other guys in a four-room apartment, the night John Lennon was shot, I was alone in my room. But in my apartment, with these three other guys, some of whom had friends there.

I came flying out of my room. "John Lennon was shot!"

There were about seven people in the common room. They all looked at me quizzically. Finally one said, "Who is John Lennon?"

None of them knew. In 1980. None of them knew who John Lennon was. I was too distraught to deal with that. I spun back in my room. My sister called, in tears -- I had a landline in my room that I paid for -- and we cried all night together.

I have never met big Beatles fans off this board before. I have lived in the American Southeast most of my life, and my neighbors are, by and large, not people who share my interests. Or my music. Or my politics.

It's just one reason, among many, that I appreciate the camaraderie here.

And learning about the guy with the hat. Thanks, JoEJ

It boggles my mind that someone wouldn't at least know who John Lennon was. In 1980, I didn't know who Jim Morrison, Mick Jagger or Eric Clapton were, but I knew who John Lennon was.

Hell, even my Dad,who hated rock and roll and thought it was part of a Communist plot to weaken America's moral fiber and forbade us to listen to it, knew who John Lennon was. I would have thought of him as one of those people that everyone knew who they were.

I still remember when I heard about it.  The Pats were on Monday Night Football, and Howard Cosell announced it between plays.

December 8, 1980 was "the day the music died" for me

The Baron said:

I still remember when I heard about it.  The Pats were on Monday Night Football, and Howard Cosell announced it between plays.

That's how I heard the news. I was in my kitchen and my brother was watching the game in the next room.

Cap said:

I came flying out of my room. "John Lennon was shot!"

There were about seven people in the common room. They all looked at me quizzically. Finally one said, "Who is John Lennon?"

That is damn near unbelievable to me. I was 7 when this happened, and I knew who John Lennon was.

I'm pretty sure I also heard about it on Monday Night Football. That triggered me into becoming a much bigger Beatles fan. My sister and I both got very into them and we even attended Beatlesfest a few times. 

It was "Radio Rich" who told me when my clock radio went off at 7:00AM the morning after. Then I waent downstairs and my dad told me; it was on the front page of the Globe-Democrat.

We just binged the first season of Wheel of Time, sans the season finale, which isn't out yet. We're enjoying it (how can you not enjoy Rosamund Pike?) But I have to note that it feels really familiar.

It owes a lot to Shadows and Bone, or maybe it's the other way around. I don't know which was written first. But my wife kept saying, "this is like that other show." (I speak Joan, so I translated to Shadows and Bone, and she said, "that's it.")

Or maybe both owe a lot to Dungeons and Dragons, Lord of the Rings and/or Game of Thrones, with the vaguely medieval setting, magic-users, sentient fantasy species, conflict of good and evil magic, wars and rumors of wars, etc. If a dragon doesn't eventually show up, I think I'll be disappointed.

The Lord of the Rings comparison felt strongest when a group of different types (four teens, a warrior, two magic-users and an ogre) formed a ... well, let's call it a fellowship to go on a quest, while they are pursued by agents of the Dark One (Sauron), foot soldiers called Trollocs (orcs), led by Fades (Nazghul).

In the last episode, they traveled portal to portal through The Waylands, a dark, terrible place that acts as a shortcut across vast distances (Magik's portals in and out of Limbo, The Shade's Shadowlands, Cloak's cloak and similar) in scenes that felt and looked like similar scenes in LotR's Mines of Moria.

There was a surprise lesbian reveal, which wasn't really a surprise since both of us guessed it was coming. That's in just about every show now, which I think is required by law.

The "Wheel of Time" doesn't seem to be an actual thing (so far), just a philosophy of reincarnation, plus "the universe does what it does and doesn't care how you feel about it." I don't know if that's derivative of anything specific, but it doesn't feel new.

The magic-users are all women, called the Aes Sidai (which put me in mind of Dune's Bene Gesseritt). Some pronounce it A-yes sid-EYE and others Ase-id-eye, as if they didn't all get the memo. (Shrug. Happens in all fantasy TV. I choose the pronunciation I like.) Their magic manifests visually as threads that they weave, similar to the magic in A Discovery of Witches. Cursed used vine/vegetation imagery, which was similar. Of course, the weavers of fate exist in both Norse and Greco-Roman mythology, as The Norns and The Fates, respectively.

A wrinkle that doesn't exist in older fantasy works is the presence of a fanatical religious order that is trying to wipe out magic-users via inquisition, regarding them much as the Puritans did witches. Here they are called the Whitecloaks and dress all in white; there was a similar organization in Cursed called the Red Paladins, and they dressed all in red. Both act with impunity, in that the political structure (feudalism) avoids conflict with them. I wonder what it says about us that the most significant addition to fantasy works by our generation are religious fanatics.

The Aes Sidai have different orders, called ajahs, each with a different specialty, reflected in color of clothing. Red is secret police, blue is intelligence, yellow is medical, green is warrior. There's also black, brown, white and grey, but I don't know what they do yet. Their headquarters is the White Tower, called Tar Valon, which is just "Tower Avalon" after a few drinks. Sidai looks similar to "Sidhe," so I looked it up, and lo, the "aos sidhe" was a supernatural race in Celtic mythology, similar to elves or fairies.

Like in all these stories, there's an "Old Tongue" that only a few know, and it is associated with magic. Evidently, like in our Babylon legend, everyone spoke the "Old Tongue" in the long-before time, but it has degenerated into different languages in different nationalities. That's such a commonplace that they didn't bother to explain it.

Which is one reason that Wheel of Time is enjoyable. Yes, it re-uses a lot of tropes from other, similar stories, but Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings have made these concepts so mainstream that the show feels no need to explain. There's less expository dialogue than you'd expect, as you just flow along on the narrative, which moves pretty quickly. The emphasis is on characterization, which is what we all want, so yeah, it's a fun watch.

(Or it may be that Prestige TV doesn't have time for exposition, being usually eight or 10 episodes per season, and often 12-18 months between seasons. The last season of The Expanse is only six episodes, so I don't expect them to slow down and explain anything to me.)

Plus Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)! And Peter Franzen (Harald Finehair from Vikings)! And that Native American chick from Van Helsing!

I don't mean to oversell, but I don't want my exposition on its derivative elements to be a deal-breaker, either.

Got two shows to talk about.

THE WITCHER s2

We just binge-watched The Witcher Season 2. If you saw Season 1, you know what to expect.

It was OK, but just OK. Maybe it's because it's the third fantasy series in a row we've binged, after Shadows and Bone and Wheel of Time, but I have to say Witcher didn't feel as well-written or maybe as well-directed as the other two.

There are scenes, for example, where characters just kinda wait around for what the script says is going to happen next, rather than take action in response to what's happening. That not only defies human behavior, but gives the audience a peek at the little man behind the curtain, which is death to drama.

For example, in the final episode, Ciri (a living MacGuffin) is possessed by Baba Yaga (that's not what she's called but that's what she is) and is saying she's going to do terrible things. She's also released two big monsters from wherever Baba Yaga is from. So everybody in the room is fighting the monsters ... in the background. Meanwhile in the foreground Geralt (the hero, played by Henry Cavill) enjoins Ciri to fight off the possession.

Those are all familiar tropes, and are acceptable. The problem is that A) Ciri was giving no impression of fighting the possession off at all, and B) it went on too long. So the hero is just standing there talking while all this fighting is going on. And the possessed girl also does nothing, except talk about all the terrible things she's going to do. This goes on way too long, and makes Geralt look impotent and/or stupid.

Of course, Ciri does eventually fight off the possession, but at no point did the acting/writing/directing give us any clue that this was possible. Instead we get the impression that everybody on the screen knew the fix was in, so they just stood around until it happened. Since they were waiting for it, I learned to wait for it, and whatever anxiety I might have felt at this critical point in the story melted away.

That's not good TV.

In another scene, characters fleeing through a sewer are attacked by tentacles from some unseen monster. One character is grabbed and the others ... stand and gape. After about 30 seconds or so, after the snatched character is pretty thoroughly dead, one of the other characters dives in to save him. Um, what? Why didn't you do that 30 seconds ago, instead of watching and metaphorically eating popcorn? The other characters take this cue to cut and run, but again, why didn't you do that when the monster attacked, instead of now, when he's evidently gone?

I have to pin that against the director, but the actors take some blame as well.

Add to that a couple of other irritating points: 1) Yennefer, the powerful sorceress in Season 1, is de-powered throughout Season 2, which is boring; 2) The annoying Jaskier the Bard makes an unwelcome return, singing tunelessly and providing un-funny comedy relief; 3) other characters spend an inordinate amount of time discussing the politics of this made-up world, whose thread I lost long ago, and have no interest in re-learning; and 4) it's hard to go wrong with Henry Cavill in the lead, but his characterization restricts him to limited dialogue and lot of grunting. Take a good actor and make him play a mannequin? Criminal.

Which is not to say I hated The Witcher. I just didn't enjoy it as much as Shadows and Bone and Wheel of Time, both of which (IMHO) are better acted, better written and better directed.And all three shows have excellent F/X and production standards, which is probably why I enjoy them so.

I have to note for the record that most reviews of The Witcher Season 2 are of the swoony variety. But then, to a man (and it's almost always a man), they say they are great fans of the video game. I suspect it's the thrill of seeing their favorite video game brought to life on TV that they are reviewing, not the relative merit of that show.

THE SILENT SEA

We are currently midway through The Silent Sea. Once again, I'm going to note all the negatives without discouraging you from watching the show.

Because it's a pretty good show. It is genuinely suspenseful. And it's an interesting look on Korean culture, or at least how Koreans view Western space movies (or just Westerns).

It takes place in, I'd guess, about 100 years from now? Anyway, many countries are engaged in space travel, so much so that South Korea has an enormous base on the Moon. However, the basics -- space suits, rockets, landing craft -- are not that far advanced from where we are now. It's a "what if For All Mankind married Space 1999" kind of thing.

Meanwhile, something terrible has happened on Earth, to where most water has somehow gone away. There's rationing and riots and occasionally we see a dried up river or even ocean. It's pretty dire.

Our focus is on 10 astronauts sent to the Korean base on the moon, which was closed down five years ago after a radiation leak killed everyone there. They are supposed to pick up a "sample" of unknown nature and bring it back.

You may well be wondering why Korea is spending that kind of money on this unimportant FedEx run, why they closed a huge space base without trying to salvage it, why they need various specialties like an astrobiologist (the biggest star on the show, Bae Doona from Kingdom), why they need so many security people, and, why, at the last minute, the co-pilot was switched out, which was a surprise even to the captain (Gong Yoo of Squid Game). At first you think it's just bad writing, but then you realize -- as does the crew -- that this mission makes no sense because they're not being told the truth of what it's about. The puzzling nature of the mission is a plot point, not an error.

And it's this sense of anxiety that kept me enthralled, as one reveal after another shows just how deep the the doo-doo is that the crew is in.

OTOH, there's a whole lot of swiping going on. You'll see concepts and sometimes whole scenes lifted Alien, Aliens, Star Wars and other Western Sci-Fi shows. There's one brief swipe from, of all places, Get Out! And, as you'd expect, the F/X aren't quite up to Western standards. The actors do their best, pretending to be in Moon gravity and such, but you have to supply a lot of suspension of disbelief.

The last thing I want to mention is cultural. And as I said above, I'm not sure if what I'm seeing is Korean culture, or Koreans aping what they perceive as Western culture. For one thing, the captain and a couple of the other men are all pretty macho, posing with hands on hips and declaring their intentions a lot. (The other men are generally comedy relief.) The fact that their leaders have lied to them about the mission doesn't seem to come as a surprise; the primary response is "how do we get out of this?"

And further, their own captain is lying his ass off throughout, but is never called to account for it, even as his lies are revealed. He is still treated by the show as a hero, is given the heroic bits to do, long after I have lost all respect for him. (At this point, midway through, two crewmen have died who probably wouldn't have if the captain hadn't been lying about the nature of their mission and the nature of the threats they might face.) There even comes a scene where Captain Han (yep, that's his name) insists on going into a data room with Bae Doona, announcing pompously, "I haven't decided if I can trust you yet."

Dude, you are the least trustworthy person on this show!

But is what I'm seeing a reflection of, say, Korean deference to authority? Or a reflection of how they see Western heroes, as liars who are nevertheless lionized? Are good leaders supposed to be good liars in Korean culture? I just don't have the experience or tools to evaluate this.

Also, the crew seems pretty ... incompetent. They have only one engineer left (of two) who is constantly telling the captain he can't do this or can't do that. Where's Scotty when you need him? Others are overtly cowards. It makes me wonder if that also is a plot point, a reflection of Alien (where the Nostromo crew was obviously bottom-of-the-barrel types). Or something else that would be obvious if I watched a lot more Korean shows?

But it's not such a big deal that it boots me out of Silent Sea (which is reference to the Sea of Tranquillity). I'm still hooked, and we'll watch to the bitter end. (Which will probably involve a lot more dead crewmen. They started with 10, and they're already down to 7!)

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