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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Wandering Sensei: Moderator Man said:

Especially Walton Goggins as Baby Billy Freeman, whose silver hair and shaded glasses make his appearance match his outrageous preaching.

I became a big fan of Walton Goggins on Justified. Everybody on that show was great. The first time I saw Patton Oswalt was as an under-estimated cop on that show.

We've finished binging Another Life on Netflix. In an earlier post, I said we were enjoying it. By the end, we were enjoying it for a new reason: to make fun of it.

Not only did this show swipe every bit of its DNA from other, better movies, but it is D-U-M dumb. Dumb, dumb, dumb. It started out generic, and that's when I first posted. But pretty quickly it just became a scriptwriting mess.

OK, OK, you don't believe me. Well, let me set it up:

The premise is that an alien artifact lands on Earth and becomes a big tower. Scientists and military converge to try to talk to it (cue Close Encounters of the Third Kind). Meanwhile, a signal from the artifact is going to Pi Canis Majoris, so a ship is equipped to go there. By amaaaaaaaaazing coincidence, the lead scientist is married to the captain of the new ship. So the story bifurcates, following these two.

The crew on the ship are suspened in "soma sleep," until Katee Sackoff (the captain, who was in Battlestar Galactica) is awakened because the ship is off course (Alien). Her awakening is awful and she is weak and semi-blinded for a period of time (Alien, Prometheus). She is awakened by a hologram AI who runs the ship while everyone's asleep (Prometheus, Star Trek: Voyager).

It is significant to note how hard it is to wake from soma sleep here, because this is the only time this happens. In every other instance, the plot demands the sleepers awake alert and ready to go, so they do. If you are a member of this board, that will probably bother you.

But there's so much more that is worse:

One of the crew is infected by the aliens, so the crew traps him ... on the command deck. And leaves him there. Instead of, you know, shooting him. Or overpowering him, since they outnumber him 8-to-1. Or disconnecting the command deck. ANYTHING except locking him up where he can do the most damage and leaving him there. WHICH IS WHAT THEY DO.

The ship's doctor is a modern, millennial, androgynous sort who may be the worst space doctor I've ever seen. He always wants to talk about everyone's feelings instead of, you know, doing medical things. His response to the crewman who is being taken over by an alien is meditation techniques. Dr. McCoy, he is not.

Speaking of feelings, the hard-as-nails commander, that everyone hates because she's hard as nails, is never hard as nails. Never. She's awfully concerned about everyone's feelings, too. It's disorienting to hear the crew complain about behavior that the captain never exhibits.

The captain displaces the regular captain of this crew, so they hate her for that, too. So does the displaced captain. Yeah, I bet they do. Which is why no military would ever do that. There's this thing called "unit cohesion" that ... oh, never mind. This is the most unprofessional crew I've ever seen, and when former captain mutinied, I wasn't the  least bit surprised. But somehow Katee Sackoff was.

Speaking of unit cohesion, CIsco's gf from Flash is such an over-the-top whiner, complainer and general malcontent that no crew, ever, and no military, ever, would tolerate her for five seconds. Heck, I'm basically a pacifist, but if I was the captain, the second time she mouthed off to me she'd get a warning, the third time she'd be in the brig and the fourth time she'd be in an airlock. I don't care how big her boobs are.

Oh yeah, Katee has an affair with the hologram AI. Don't ask, I don't understand how it works, either. Anyway, the AI goes off to pout when she dumps him. It's bad timing, because the cooling system for the engines have been turned off (by the alien in the command deck). So when the AI finally arrives in response to summons, the captain's first order is "Turn the cooling back on!"

Ha, ha, no. She wants to talk about his feelings. They talk. He pouts. There's a tiff, and he vanishes. MEANWHILE THE SHIP IS ABOUT TO EXPLODE. Someone nearly dies fixing it manually.

Not learning their lesson, this happens AGAIN when the alien has turned the ship toward a black hole. The captain summons the AI. They discuss his feelings. A breakthrough! They reconcile. Oh yeah, now let's talk about this black hole thing.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, the scientist in charge of communicating with the alien keeps bungling his job because he's so concerned about his daughter's needs. (And this whiny brat has a lot of needs. "Pay attention to me, daddy!") This is not played as a bad thing. His undivided devotion is played as a good thing.

Even when he drops the ball to pay attention to her while the EXISTENCE OF MANKIND IS AT RISK. Can't have the little darling feel ignored, can we?

There's a "journalist" -- she's basically an overblown Internet influencer -- who brazens her way into the military compound around the artifact. Apparently, she's untouchable. Except when the plot says she isn't, whereupon she is abruptly arrested. Which should have happened, you know, the minute she walked on base without authorization.

The he/she doctor and another character fall in love. The other guy says "I didn't realize something wonderful was happening." I searched my memory for what that could be. Then it dawned on me: They were falling in love. The acting was so bad I didn't notice. Then their great love affair is essentially ignored for the rest of the episode, where they stand on opposite sides of every group shot. I was mildly interested to see if this development would have any effect on the rest of the crew, but that would mean script cohesion. I needn't have worried.

I could go on, but you probably get the gist. This show, with all its concerns about feelings and relationships, feels like it was written by a bunch of 12-year-old girls at a slumber party. At no point in this show does anyone act like a functioning, professional adult. They are ALL whiny children, and by the cliffhanger at the end of the first season (please, let it be the last), I was rooting for the aliens to wipe us out.

After creating Another Life, we don't deserve to live.

I had a brief non-encounter with Walton Goggins in the Louis Armstrong Airport in New Orleans a few years ago (detailed on my much-neglected blog). In retrospect, I think he'd flown in to Louisiana in order to film Django Unchained. Anyway, he's a fave. I'm looking forward to him this season in what looks like a fun new romantic comedy show, The Unicorn. (It doesn't hurt to have Michaela Watkins in the cast; she's always great too.)


Richard Willis said:

Wandering Sensei: Moderator Man said:

Especially Walton Goggins as Baby Billy Freeman, whose silver hair and shaded glasses make his appearance match his outrageous preaching.

I became a big fan of Walton Goggins on Justified. Everybody on that show was great. The first time I saw Patton Oswalt was as an under-estimated cop on that show.

A few weeks ago, my family binged Dead to Me on Netflix in record time.   This is one of the rare shows that my entire family agreed was excellent.  Stars Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini in a black comedy that keeps you guessing.

I'll put Dead to Me on the to-watch list.

Let me add one, too: Carnival Row on Amazon Prime. It stars Orlando Bloom, now in his 40s and with a much more lived-in face, and Cara Delvigne, still with the world's most dramatic eyebrows. The elevator pitch is "Ripper Street, only after World War I, which pseudo-England lost, and dealing with an influx of unwanted immigrant refugees who, instead of being Irish or Indian, are pixies, kobolds, pucks and centaurs."

The production values are fantastic. London -- excuse me, "The Burgue" -- is a wonderfully remade 1880s or so, with soot and snow and dynamic street scenes and every detail perfect. The magical creatures are convincing, especially the pixies, of which Delvigne is one (they are normal size, only with convincing cicada-like wings). 

The casual bigotry toward "the Critch" is pretty convincing, too, and not only reflects the reality Irish and non-white immigrants to England faced 100 years ago (and probably still do), but has tremendous echoes of our own situation on the Mexican border, with some of the same words you here today ("They're bringing crime, drugs and sexual licentiousness!" "They're taking our jobs!")

Bloom is a war veteran and police detective, and oozes world-weariness. He's not popular with his peers as he works as hard on Critch crimes as human ones on Carnival Row, which is the main drag in immigrant-ville. He's also got a big secret that could be his undoing, and regularly visits a fellow veteran (and fellow veteran of an orphanage) who was bitten by a werewolf during the war and is now locked up for life. 

Bloom and Delvigne were lovers in the war, but it ended badly. The war ended badly, too. it was over resources in Anoun, where the Critch come from, and the bad guys dress pretty WWI German-ish. Weapons were World War I-ish, with the highest tech being Gatling guns, dirigibles and bombs dropped by hand from the air. 

It may be a stand-in for WWI, but the more I think about it, it's more like the Crimean War. Except, as noted, England The Burgue didn't win.

Interestingly, and it makes sense if you think about it, there is no prejudice against black people. After all, there's someone lower in the social order to look down on! The genius of this is that we get some fine black actors in a period piece who aren't maids or butlers and it doesn't puncture my suspension of disbelief. 

Also, the always welcome Indira Varma (Rome, Game of Thrones) and Jared Harris (Chernobyl, The Terror) have meaty roles.

My wife and I are inhaling this. After the disaster that was Another Life, Carnival Row is very refreshing!

I'm enjoying Carnival Row, too. I think I'm down to the final two episodes. I've also been watching Fleabag, also on Amazon (a co-production with the BBC). I'm late to it--didn't start on it until a second season was up--but they're short, 26 minutes long or so. Features an outrageous, oversexed woman who is constantly speaking to the camera, or mugging to it. Hilarious when one of the characters starts catching her at it.

I loved Dead to Me. At the end of the first episode, I was sure I didn’t want to watch any more, because I thought I knew exactly where it was going. I’m happy that I was too lazy to get the remote, because after the second episode, I was hooked. 

I’m also loving The Righteous Gemstones from HBO, although I wish I could binge the whole season at once—Netflix has spoiled me. 

My wife put Fleabag on our to-do.

As noted elsewhere a time or two, I can always drop what I'm doing and watch Barney Miller. Fortunately, I get the oldies channel Antenna TV, which runs two episodes back-to-back each night, Monday through Friday, so I've begun watching it regularly again, even though I've seen them all. I've recently gone through most of Season 5 and am coming up on the end of Season 6, with Season 7 on tap by next week. 

(Another oldies channel, FeTV, also carries the show, but right now they're on Season 2.)

Unfortunately, they don't always show them in order. It usually doesn't matter, but at this point in the run, they ran a lot of two-part stories, which I did not remember.

Also, although most episodes of Barney Miller are stand-alone stories, there are some running subplots. There's Harris's book, which he was inspired to write in Season 2. In Season 6, he gets a book deal, and several episodes deal with him neglecting his police work, frequently asking Barney if he can leave early or take extra-long lunches to handle contract matters, go to book signings, etc. In one, he needs to get the guys to sign releases to their stories -- "It's just a formality" -- and is stymied when Dietrich refuses. And Barney himself isn't too excited about signing on the dotted line.

It comes to a head in "Uniform Days," which covers the NYPD's annual Mandatory Uniform Day ... and Harris refuses to get back in the bag. Barney, in his usual way, tries nudging, cajolery and persuasion, but Harris parries. ("Buy off the rack, Barney?") Finally, Barney has to put his foot down and ORDER Harris to be back at 6 p.m. in full uniform or suffer the consequences. 

In another plotline, Inspector Luger gets a gentle nudge from 1PP* to retire at full rank and pension ... and a not-so-gentle warning that if he doesn't take the offer, he'll get demoted to captain. He figures they're bluffing and doesn't take the offer ... and they call his bluff and do demote him to captain. Worse, they assign him to the One-Two, under Barney's command! This circumstance is no fun for anybody. Bad enough he always cornered Barney in his office with long-winded tales about old cronies Brownie, Foster and Kleiner; now all of the detectives get to hear them when he's partnered with them on calls.

And at this point, the show has enough history that some of the recurring street people, neighbors, merchants, and petty crooks are welcomed as old friends. 

* Police headquarters, so-called by the abbreviation of its street address, One Police Plaza.

Another ongoing thread through the latter seasons of Barney Miller was about Officer Zitelli, a rather scrawny uniformed officer with a bushy black moustache, who delivered the mail and daily manpower reports whenever Leavitt was working plainclothes with the detectives.

In one episode, the ever annoying Lt. Scanlon of Internal Affairs comes around because someone has sent an anonymous letter to 1PP admitting he is a homosexual who is assigned to the 12th Precinct but is afraid to publicly say so because to the potential career repercussions, although he believes he serves the NYPD to the best of his ability. Scanlon wants to ferret out the writer, supposedly to tell him he has nothing to fear -- which is, of course, the kiss of death, professionally. By episode's end, Zitelli confesses to Barney that he authored the letter; Barney, as is his way, doesn't turn Zitelli in but tries to persuade him to come forward. "You started something with that letter, Zitelli," Barney says, "now you need to see it through."

Zitelli appears occasionally in subsequent episodes without confessing. He eventually does so another time when Scanlon is sniffing around for dirt. The upshot? He gets a better post in the deputy commissioner's office! 

Now that American Horror Story Season 9 has started, they finally make Season 8 available for streaming, so I got caught up. I had been watching Season 8 towards the end of the run, and had gotten to the last two episodes on demand when I had SlingTV connectivity issues. So I waited until the next night to finish, and it was no longer available! So frustrating.

So I re-watched the final episode of Season 7, then the entire Season 8 (it had been so long I was sure I had forgotten a lot). "Apocalypse" was great, right up to the finale with its twist ending. It seems clear that it was intended to be the final season, since it made such a point of referring to so many of the earlier ones (with the notable exception of "Roanoke"--apparently the creators also saw it as a misstep).

The current season American Horror Story: 1984 appears to be free standing, at least so far. It's a slasher story set in the summer of 1984 at a summer camp: perfect for Halloween. Only three episodes in, and there have already been big surprises.

Mark Sullivan (Vertiginous Mod) said:

I'm approaching the end of American Horror Story. I liked "Hotel" (Season 5), but "Roanoke" (Season 6) was awful. A major misstep. It's as if the show runners had completely run out of ideas and decided to channel The Blair Witch Project and The Cabin In The Woods. The only thing that got me through it was the acting, excellent as always. "Cult" (Season 7) was burdened with heavy-handed political commentary. It's not that I disagreed with it, just that it tends to make bad art. But the story managed to rise above it, surprising right to the end. "Apocalypse" (Season 8) may be the most novel concept of any of the seasons. Surprising when it suddenly brings in past characters--but it has been going in such interesting directions that it quickly won me over. 

I just got all caught up with Silicon Valley. Jared Dunn is one of my favorite characters from anything.

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