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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I liked Dark a lot, too. I agree that it was hard to keep up. Time travel!

We finished watching Lost in Space (TOS) over the weekend. One of the features on the “extras” disc was the surviving cast (plus some others) doing a table reading of Bill Mumy’s script for a “final episode” to the series. Another feature was a documentary, The Fantasy Worlds of Irwin Allen, which we watched last night. Next we’re going to finish up Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (which we started a couple of years ago). Soon we may very well watch Land of the Giants (which I have never seen).

I've binged on the first four seasons of Mom.

When Roseanne Barr got her revival version of Roseanne canceled, there was a lot of bleating that it was popular because it captured the concerns of people in flyover country, who feel like they are not represented or heard on television. I thought that was nonsense; there are several shows that do that today, such as Jane the Virgin, The Middle (which just ended its run), the revival of One Day at a Time, and Superstore. Most of those do it even better than Roseanne ever did. I particularly like Superstore because it really gets people who are trapped in a dead-end life and how some of them accept it and others are frustrated because they don't accept it but know they don't have any better options

Mom follows the misadventures of Christy Plunkett, who as the show opens is six months sober after a lifetime of drinking, drug use, gambling, and all the problems that flow from those habits, including working as a stripper and feeling abandoned by her mother. Christy's a waitress at a tony restaurant in Napa, Calif., with a bitter teenage daughter, Violet, and a younger son, Roscoe.

In the pilot, Christy gets reacquainted with her mother, Bonnie, who has her own sordid history -- drinking, pot and cocaine use, meth dealing, running a sweatshop, outstanding warrants in multiple states and a few foreign countries, and more. Bonnie bounced around the foster care system, got pregnant at 17, and barely cared for Christy over the years. Bonnie comes to live with Christy and they travel the path of sobriety together, with a lot of arguments along the way. 

The biggest problem that Christy and Bonnie have is that the kinds of bad things that happen that drove them to drinking and using drugs still keep happening, and they have to cope with them and hang on to their sobriety. In the pilot, we learn Violet is pregnant by her dim-bulb boyfriend Luke. The first season follows the pregnancy, and her decision to give the baby up for adoption to break the cycle of poverty and poor lifestyle decisions. 

Other misadventures include Bonnie falling in the shower, hurting her back, and getting hooked on painkillers, which causes her to lie to Christy and family, really straining their relationship. Christy falls three months behind on the rent, and her sponsor, Marjorie, and Bonnie lend her enough to cover one month and tell her to make a plan with the landlord to pay the rest. Christy gambles with the money, and triples the amount -- making enough to pay all the back rent and pay back Marjorie and Bonnie -- but she gets robbed. So she and the whole family flee.

The show spends a lot of time with Christy and Bonnie going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Eventually, it develops a regular set of attendees at the meetings, phases out the restaurant (Christy still works there, we just don't see it), and writes out Christy's kids.

Violet parties and uses pot a lot, breaks up with Luke, and gets engaged with a professor at her community college, but they break up when she starts partying again. She moves to Tahoe and becomes a blackjack dealer, but gets in trouble and moves back home and reconnects with Luke. Christy's son Roscoe moves in with his dad, Baxter, an amiable pothead who becomes a car dealer after he dates the daughter of the dealership's owner. Eventually, he marries her and straightens up, although he smokes weed on the side, and Roscoe finds it and starts using it himself.

There's more, and this description sounds grim, but it's funny, although sometimes needlessly crass, as one might expect from Chuck Lorre, who also produces Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory. And it has a golden asset in Alison Janney as Bonnie, who is so talented and versatile she won a best actress Emmy for comedy (Mom) and for drama (Masters of Sexon the same night.

One of the over the air / antenna stations shows back to back episodes of Barney Miller each weeknight at 9PM. They appear to be showing them in original broadcast order. When I started watching a couple weeks ago they were in Season Two. The show holds up extremely well - a credit to the writers and the actors. I watched the show during its original run but I appreciate it much more now.

doc photo said:

One of the over the air / antenna stations shows back to back episodes of Barney Miller each weeknight at 9PM. They appear to be showing them in original broadcast order. When I started watching a couple weeks ago they were in Season Two. The show holds up extremely well - a credit to the writers and the actors. I watched the show during its original run but I appreciate it much more now.

I can always stop what I'm doing and watch Barney Miller. It does hold up extremely well, as its episodes were rooted in strong characterization.

WOJO: "How'd you get to be so smart?"

HARRIS: "Man, when I was a kid, I stole books."

Loved that line.

Started watching Bordertown, about one of those somewhere-on-the-spectrum detectives who are brilliant at solving crimes but so weird no one can stand them. The twist here is that it's a Finnish production and takes place on the Finland/Russia border.

It's pretty good. But my main takeaway is that Finnish is like no language I've ever heard before. When people  are speaking German, Russian or one of the Romance languages, I can usually pick out a few words. I can recognize Mandarin and Japanese well enough to know one from the other.

But Finnish? Absolutely unlike anything else.

There is at least one (excellent) tabletop RPG that uses this as a cornerstone of its setting (which also involves literal Lovecraftian concepts)..

It is such an exciting idea that it may well not need Nyarlathotep and company, though.

Luke Blanchard said:

The Bow Street Runners preceded the Metropolitian Police (and continued to exist for awhile after their founding). They were founded in the 18th century by Henry and John Fielding. Henry Fielding was a magistrate as well as a novelist and playwright, and his brother succeeded him.

Finished Bordertown, and my rear-view summary is that it was OK. I might have enjoyed it more if I hadn't been spoiled by Berlin Babylon, Occupation and Dark.

One thing the show made me think about is how our shows look to other countries. Because Bordertown showed Finland as a truly beautiful place -- there wasn't an ugly vista to be seen, everything was lush and green and offices and homes were gorgeous. It appears that one out of every four walls in Finland is glass, allowing a spectacular view of whatever's outside.

And the women were all busty. They weren't necessarily gorgeous, because most of them were in their 40s and 50s. But even at that "advanced" age they were objectively attractive -- and had impressive bosoms. The two "teenage" girls -- I assume they're in their twenties -- had almost Barbie-like proportions.

Obviously, this is a pretty glossy view of Finland. As my wife noted, "It's never winter on this show." Because we both assumed that winter in Finland -- especially on the northern part -- would be solid white.

So it made me wonder how unrealistic our TV is when shown overseas. I've never really paid attention to whether the U.S. on TV looks like the real one, and I would guess that there's enough variety in America TV to show all sorts of socio-economic classes and areas. But I could be wrong.

Now we've moved on to The Break, which is a Belgian cop show. It's in French, but has an actor who had a major role in Broadchurch, where he spoke the same English as the other actors. I know that Europeans often speak several languages, but I was impressed at his facility with both languages. We're only two eps in, so I don't have a good impression yet.

I've noticed that (in real life) some people who learn English in European countries really sound like they are from England. I think it depends on one's facility with learning languages. I've seen scientific programs explaining that most people learn languages easier as children because the part of the brain that does this is larger in a child. In some cases the part of the brain that does this doesn't shrink  in adulthood.

I've been catching up on a couple of Amazon series. 

First was Sneaky Pete season 2. I thought the first season was really good. It took a few episodes for this series to get going. I was thinking, "Geez, if these people would only talk to each other." But for the most part they straightened it out. Plus, I always enjoy stories involving con men.

Also, Bosch season 4. I was kind of surprised this was the 4th season of the series. This series has never really knocked my socks off, but there is always one or two true surprises each season which makes it worth watching. I also really like Jamie Hector here. He seems to have more depth to him than the main protagonist. 

Finished The Break, originally La Treve (The Truce) in French. It's a Belgian whodunnit and psychological thriller, as so many of these foreign police shows are. It was very good, although the ending became guessable by the penultimate episode and not very plausible. Lots of landscape porn (it's in the Ardennes), more boobs than American TV and more red herrings than you can shake a kipper at. Evidently a second season is in the works, although I don't see how that's possible, given how many characters are no longer usable.

Up next: Case, from Iceland.

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