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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Jeff of Earth-J said:

"Why bother to watch a show whose central mystery is never solved?"

I know, right? The Robinsons are still lost in space and Gilligan never did get off that damned island!

Well, the Robinsons may be lost in space, but Gilligan and company did get off the island, albeit 15 years later.

The Prisoner was about the attempts of the people running the Village to find out the Prisoner's secret as well as the Prisoner's attempts to escape. Its real subjects were the threats in modern society to freedom and the hero's fight to maintain personal integrity.

The show's surrealism gives it a unique flavour, and I like the intelligence of Patrick McGoohan's hero. (He played the hero of Danger Man the same way.) The show inspired Kirby's depiction of Latveria in Fantastic Four #84-#87. Learning what kosho is might make your day.

On the downside, they didn't have enough good stories for all the episodes and the show could be pretentious. If you slammed it as silly and muddled I couldn't say you had no case. The last episode is an incoherent mess.

Randy Jackson said:

* Something that Erle Stanley Garnder apparently insisted on for the show was that Perry have no romantic entanglements. It's breath of fresh air, and it just would have gotten in the way of the storytelling, as frequently it seems as if there isn't enough time per episode to tell the current story fully.

* I do wonder if Della Street had any life whatsoever beyond working for Perry. She was seemingly always available whenever he needed her. There was some measure of flirtation and tension, but it never went anywhere.

I remember reading, back when they first revived Perry Mason with the series of TV movies, an article that raised the question of whether Perry Mason and Della Street were ever involved. After all, the first movie had Perry, now a judge, resign from the bench to clear Della of a murder charge.

The article mentioned a moment in which Della went to sleep on the couch in the office, and Perry gallantly gave her his jacket to cover herself. In a very subtle bit of acting, Barbara Hale drew it over her shoulders and snuggled into it with a smile. Subtle enough to get past the network censors, but visible if you could read the cue.

As for Erle Stanley Gardner and his insistence on no romance in the show, he was a lawyer and mystery writer, not a romance writer, so he played to his strengths. And Raymond Burr, we know now, was in the closet (although he was married three times); I gather that he didn't desire to play romantic scenes any more than Gardner wanted to write them. 

"So there are only 17 episodes? Maybe that's few enough I can talk my wife into it."

I've been thinking about a discussion of The Prisoner on this board for years, but I feel too close to it to run it. If someone else would host it, however, I promise that I would have a lot to say.

Would you consider that a briefing or a debriefing?

I just know I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered!

We just wrapped up the first season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel...and it lives up to its name. It's sharp-witted and funny and loves its characters, even the heels. Can't wait for more!

Doctor Hmmm? said:

Would you consider that a briefing or a debriefing?

Is a wedgie considered debriefing or somewhere in between?

Throughout the show, the implication that Della has feelings for Perry has been there. In fact, if someone were to tell me that Perry and Della had a hot and steamy romance going on offscreen, I would be inclined to say it was plausible. She didn't seem to socialize with anyone else, and Perry regularly took her out socially.

ClarkKent_DC said:

I remember reading, back when they first revived Perry Mason with the series of TV movies, an article that raised the question of whether Perry Mason and Della Street were ever involved. After all, the first movie had Perry, now a judge, resign from the bench to clear Della of a murder charge.

The article mentioned a moment in which Della went to sleep on the couch in the office, and Perry gallantly gave her his jacket to cover herself. In a very subtle bit of acting, Barbara Hale drew it over her shoulders and snuggled into it with a smile. Subtle enough to get past the network censors, but visible if you could read the cue.

As for Erle Stanley Gardner and his insistence on no romance in the show, he was a lawyer and mystery writer, not a romance writer, so he played to his strengths. And Raymond Burr, we know now, was in the closet (although he was married three times); I gather that he didn't desire to play romantic scenes any more than Gardner wanted to write them. 

Just finished Ripper Street. Highly recommended. I've got a lot to say, and I hope you read it and want to watch this show.

Despite the name, the series doesn't take place during the Jack the Ripper murders. Instead, it takes place six months later, and the murders only inform the story. It's not really clear how much until the final episode, where we see our first (and last) flashbacks to the principals during the Ripper investigation. I will not spoil this.

Even before that we get an inkling that the title isn't as misleading as it seems, as ghosts of the Ripper investigation metaphorically float into view. Also, nobody would watch a show called Leman Street, which is where the police station was located.

I was rather glad of that -- I've read and seen pretty much all I want to of the Ripper murders. For one thing, as I get older and worse atrocities occur, and I become aware of other atrocities in history, the Ripper murders shrink in my mind to a size more commensurate to their importance.

Aside from the goriness of the Ripper murders -- he was certainly one sick puppy -- he only killed five people, according to most experts. Four to six more corpses were attributed to him after his five, but those murders didn't reflect his M.O. as much as they did the need for the newspapers of the time to drum up circulation.

But he's famous because he committed his murders in what was then the media capital of the world, and during a time before objectivity was the standard in newspapers -- it was the era of "yellow journalism." So I attribute a lot of Jack the Ripper's notoriety to sensational newspapering -- in fact, the newspapers of the time likely fabricated evidence, such as at least one of the Ripper letters to a newspaper. I have little patience for the misbehavior of my profession, so this angers me.

Anyway, a serial killer with only five victims -- all of them really vulnerable people in an area with little chance of the killer being caught -- isn't a very accomplished serial killer. John Wayne Gacy and the Green River Killer leaves him in the dust. Heck, the contemporaneous H.H. Holmes was more impressive in body count and methodology. The difference between Ripper and Holmes was that the former got a lot of press.

Anyway, the story centers on Inspector Edmund Reid, who hasn't gotten a lot of attention in history or fiction, AFAIK, but is a real person. Reid was CID chief (Criminal Investigation Department) of H Division (Whitechapel) during the Ripper murders. He was the highest-ranking person in H Division, and the station chief.

The show also features Fred Abberline, who is considerably better known. Historically and on TV, Abberline was the former CID of H Division, and was replaced by Reid when Abberline was promoted to a desk job at Scotland Yard a couple of years prior to the Ripper (whose activity was pretty much confined to 1888). When it became clear that the Ripper murders were connected -- and the press and public were howling -- Abberline was sent to his old patch to take charge of the investigation. But Reid was there before Abberline and was with Abberline every step of the way afterward.

The real Reid and the TV Reid couldn't be more different. The real Reid was something of a showman and daredevil; he set a skydiving record of some kind, was a magician, singer and actor, as well as a policeman. His theory of the Ripper murders was rather mundane and doesn't reflect what we know of the murders -- for example, he didn't think the Ripper had any medical or butcher training, when the evidence clearly shows otherwise -- so he probably wasn't that great a policeman.

The TV Reid is the reverse. He's buttoned-down, obsessive and insightful. He is an excellent investigator, dogged, quick to spot lies, always keeping up with the latest science and whose informed hunches usually pan out. He's portrayed by Matthew MacFadyen, with whom I was unfamiliar, but whose minimalism makes Reid a powerful, still eye in the center of the action. (That minimalism makes Reid's every head nod, gesture or eyebrow raise seem like he just threw a lamp across the room.) But he's not infallible, and by the end of the series his failures of profession, personality and morality catch up with him -- including his failure to catch the Ripper, which we learn is what helped create this man.

Another theme is the advance of progress, as we watch the Metropolitan Police go from a motley collection of mavericks like Reid and his contemporaries to a more professional, more bureaucratized, more civilized police force. Yes, they're mostly "milkface" boys by the end -- that's the blustery Abberline's phrase -- who follow the rulebook, are far less aggressive and ambitious, and seem more complacent than Reid & Co. did. But they are the future, and you watch the 20th century arrive in almost real time. (The show lasted five seasons, and in-story it ran roughly 10 years, from mid-1889 to Jan. 1, 1900.)

Some of it is a little eye-rolling. Reid & Co. seem to use or discover science that was in its infancy, not well known or even non-existent for the time -- like fingerprints, blood types and blood-spatter analysis. The show does a good job of selling the discovery and exploration of this science, so I rode along with it, even when I knew it was preposterous. If nothing else, they probably stumbled onto these things just  as they were discovered in reality -- only by other people in other places at other times. So it helps to think of the show as a telescoped history of forensics.

I keep saying "Reid & Co.," because it's really an ensemble show, and a strong one. Reid's right-hand man (who handles all the action and torture of suspects), is Sgt. Bennet Drake, who is recognizable as Bronn on Game of Thrones. (There are a LOT of Game of Thrones actors on this show. The guy who plays Abberline is another.)

Another principal is "Reid's American," a surgeon who goes by the name Homer Jackson, but is a man on the run who fled the U.S. and is reality named Matthew Judge. Jackson is a legitimate U.S. Army doctor and medical practitioner with experience at Johns Hopkins, and is up on all the latest advances. (In fact, he's waaaay too up on the latest advances, knowing about theories in Poland or Japan or places whose information would not be available to a contemporaneous doctor in the U.S. or England, especially to a fugitive who doesn't exactly have the wherewithal to read international medical journals, assuming any of this was put in writing at the time.)

But Jackson is a genius in the "dead room" -- he and Reid create this out of necessity, a room which starts as a makeshift lab, but transforms into a legitimate, and familiar, forensics room and morgue by the end of the series. Many episodes of the first three seasons are straight-up police procedurals, courtesy of Reid's dogged investigation, Drake's persuasive fists and Jackson providing the evidence necessary to convict.

Jackson is also a man of action, and the only character to carry a gun -- a Colt Peacemaker, to be exact. Those Americans and their guns! Jackson is forever whipping it out, which often gives the trio an advantage in an era when nobody is armed with much more than fists and knives. I will say that it becomes so commonplace for Jackson to put the gun to someone's head and cock the trigger, only for Reid or someone to convince him to stand down, that it almost becomes comical. (It was surely not meant to be.) But I assume the writers didn't want everything to be solved by a bullet. I should also mention that Jackson never runs out of ammunition, and I don't recall it ever being mentioned how he got more. (It's 19th century England. Who stocks .45-caliber six-shooter ammunition in 19th century England?)

Jackson is played by another guy I've never heard of (Adam Rothenberg), but he subtly sells being as American, with not just dialogue but body language -- slouching next to the ramrod straight Reid, smirking when others react with Victorian outrage, and so forth.

Jackson is also a reluctant member of this team, and is essentially a paid contractor. Needless to say, a fugitive doesn't want to pal around with the police, but Reid loves science and Jackson is great at it. So, while Jackson doesn't want to be there, Reid & Drake bully, threaten, cajole and bribe him into service in a relationship that is always in flux.

Another aspect of the character, at least at first, is that he the opposite of Reid when it comes to moral rectitude. He whores, drinks himself into the gutter on the regular, gambles badly and doesn't seem to have a selfless bone in his body -- his first instinct is always self-preservation. Yet he is complex; sometimes he does the right thing for the right reason, and even he seems surprised by that. The character grows over time.

Drake and Reid aren't static, either. I won't spoil anything, but Drake's brutality has consequences on his psyche, and it is becoming less acceptable, so he has to change -- and change he does. It is wonderful aspect of this show that the Big Three aren't locked into the relationships we learn at the beginning, and evolve in plausible, if not always welcome, ways.

I should say "Big Four," because Jackson's wife is another fugitive under a false name, who operates a whorehouse (while, it is frequently noted, not whoring herself). "Long" Susan Hart (nee Caitlin Swift) was born well in America but lost everything when she hooked up with Judge/Jackson.

She tries to protect her girls, paying them bettern than is the custom and often helping them into a better life. She is an early feminist, enraged at her disadvantage when dealing with men, which is initially welcome to 21st century eyes -- until you see how her rage transforms into ruthlessness.

Some of Hart's girls do better themselves, and are regulars in both roles. It's nice to see whores who aren't there for eye candy or comic relief, but are actual characters.

None of this would matter if the production values didn't support the era and the subsequent acting. But boy howdy, do they ever. They really get the late 19th century down to a science, from the sooty air to the comically mismatched plaid suits to the hats -- which also evolve, from almost universal bowlers in 1889 to fedoras and derbys in the late 1890s. The twisty alleys, crowded streets and dark corners of Whitechapel are covered in trash, debris, dirt and horse poop (and other -- we meet a "dirt man" whose job it is to collect human feces on his cart every night). The lack of technology is rather refreshing -- these men have to do everything that to us seems the hard way, but to them is utterly normal. What isn't normal is the arrival of things like the telephone. The younger characters take these advances in stride, but the older characters have a dawning awareness of the world changing around them. Sounds familiar, don't it?

Also -- and this is the part that made me fall in love with the show -- is the lovingly crafted dialogue. Victorians never used one word when 10 would do, and the elaborate verbiage is a joy to listen to. Sometimes after a few sentences, I'd suddenly realize how it would be said today: in five or six words. Or I'd be fascinated at the use of the passive voice at all times, where "I've come back" becomes "I've been returned." But it's not over the top -- the writer hits a sweet spot between the strange and the plausible, and I was transfixed by the beautiful flow of words.

And it's not for show. These words advance the plot, effect characterization and their very structure are revealing of attitude and intent. They're not just fun to listen to, they are the bones of the story. So:

If you love words, watch this show.

If you love history, watch this show.

If you love good acting, watch this show.

P.S.: The show's troubled production had an effect on the writing, which occasionally was ham-handed enough that it raises questions. Let me answer those questions.

The show ran two seasons ("series") on BBC but was canceled. Amazon Prime picked it up, but the writers didn't know if there would be a fourth season, so the third season comes to an organic end. (After watching the third season finale, I actually wondered aloud, "Where can they go from here? Everybody's story is finished.") But Amazon gave them a fourth season -- and to avoid the third season problem again, they asked to have two more seasons, to write the story they wanted to write and bring it to a planned end.

And they got it. So seasons four and five have a more cohesive soap opera feel, and less of a police-procedural feel. IOW, the first three seasons were more episodic, the last two more long-story writing. Everybody's lives are scrambled in seasons 4 and 5, reform into different configurations and then rattle on to a dramatic finish. Then ...

The last episode of the last season was a little controversial. Unlike most shows, the plot threads were all tied up nice and neat early on, and we get at least an hour of television following all the characters after that. And it's not all scones and tea.

It made me sad, yes, but it was meant to. And, frankly, I knew the ending was going to be sad, because we already know the fates of Abberline and Reid from history, and just as important, how the other characters weren't important enough for history -- so whatever they did or tried to do, it wasn't a big deal. And, in any case, they're all dead. Whatever conflicts they had, whatever successes or failures they had, whatever changes they sought to make in the world ... it doesn't matter. Friendships end. Marriages end. Jobs end. Lives end. And the world turns on, uncaring.

There was a scene where a bad guy is taunting Reid that he's going to get away with his crimes ... and I wondered, so what if he does? This all happened more than 100 years ago, and whether the bad guy wins or Reid triumphs, what difference does it make? And, by extension, how many times DID the bad guy win in actual history, and we don't know it ... and it just doesn't matter that the good guys lost? Fiction gives us heroes that win -- but in real life, who really caught on to the plans of evil men and stood in their way? How many of them quietly got away with it, and it never made the history books because they weren't caught?

If all this sounds depressing and existential ... well, to me it is. I freely confess that my temperament and rational musings run that way.

Re-reading what I just wrote, I almost make it sound like everybody died in that last hour. That's not the case. But the old gang breaks up, and the final scenes should bring a tear to even the most heartless. If not for our sympathy for the characters, than for ourselves, and own doomed mortality, of which this is an enormous reminder.

So, I found this a profound ending that fit the themes of the show. This is not a show that's going to end in a group hug, nor should it.

But the ending angered my wife, and her reaction reflects a number of other viewers (I see online). She announced right after we watched it that she hated the ending, and repeated it the next morning first thing. She wanted some kind of happy ending, I guess, and Ripper Street ... well, Ripper Street doesn't do happy endings.

They never did catch Jack the Ripper, remember?

You've convinced me to add Ripper Street to my list of shows to watch.

I really enjoyed Alan Moore's From Hell.* It is well-constructed even though it had its biases. When they made the movie version they combined Abberline with a psychic character and had him run off with a still-alive Ripper victim, which offended me since Abberline was a real person.

* The title supposedly taken from the only Ripper letter generally deemed authentic

From Hell is probably the only Ripper book I'll keep on my shelf. It's a great story, even if Moore's Ripper candidate has been more or less ruled out by subsequent information. If nothing else, you learn a lot about mysticism from a Moore book. I already have the old TPB, and if and when an HC arrives, I'll swap out.

The movie adaptation was an abomination. Let us not speak of it.

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