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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Still watching American Horror Story. The 2nd season ("Asylum") was a considerable departure from the first, although I enjoyed seeing many of the same actors in new roles. The biggest surprise was the alien abduction angle, a surprising hard left turn that happens in the first episode. It's clear that we're supposed to believe that it really happened--one of the victims winds up in the title insane asylum, but it's never implied that it was all in his imagination, and it comes back in a big way in the final episodes. The asylum is an amazing collection of memorable characters, patients and staff alike. Lots of twists and turns--the "good doctor" turns out to be a serial killer, and the Angel of Death turns up, again as real rather than a hallucination. I've already started the 3rd season ("Coven").

I also finished the 2nd season of Ozark, which is another dark wonder. I told my wife it was really a family story, but she doesn't believe me. The characters are all so damaged that it's hard to know who to pull for, but there are plenty of truly evil ones that deserve what they get.

This reminds me of something from my theatre days.

The company that I was working with rented out the main theatre for a production of Gilligan's Island: The Musical. After a few weeks of rehearsal, I finally got to see it and...it was pretty bad. I realized that the lion's share of the problem was the actors--not that they were poor or incompetent, but rather that playing the show as if it were an SNL skit. Rather than play the characters seriously--which is where a lot of the humor comes from in the original show--they instead were choosing to mug for the audience as if they were in on the joke, rather than playing things straight and allowing he humor to come from there. Imagine the Batman! TV show if Adam West and Burt Ward were obviously smirking throughout, and you'll get the idea.

I did get to find out what it might be like being an actor playing Godzilla during that run, but that's a tale for another time.

Richard Willis said:

I agree. It was funny to them. It reminded me of many of the SNL skits over the years that were green-lighted because the writers thought they were funny when they weren't.

I have six episodes of The Prisoner left to go. My intention had been to moved on to Land of the Giants next but, out of the blue, Tracy decided she wanted to watch The Addams Family. That's all right with me. (We may end up watching both at the same time.) I saw some episodes growing up, but I was more of a "Munsters" guy (which had more to do with my market, I think, than anything else).

I've never watched The Prisoner -- it wasn't available in my area growing up, and when it finally did become available, it had long been over and I'm aware that there was no resolution. I saw a couple of episodes in syndication here and there, and they seemed rather repetitive.

I recognize that it's a cult favorite, but this is a serious question: Why should I watch it?

Why bother to watch a show whose central mystery is never solved? Why watch a show where the central plot -- McGoohan tries to escape, fails -- is repeated endlessly? Why watch a show with only a single recurring character and no supporting cast?

What's the attraction? McGoohan's acting? Great sets? Philosophical debates? A sense of nostalgia? Let me know, Legionnaires.

As for the wife and I, we're up to season 4 on Ripper Street, and it's awfully good. It will definitely end with Season 5 (the Internet tells me), and that will be bittersweet.

I loved the first season of Ozark, but I still haven't gotten around to watching the second. I need to remedy that soon.

Mark Sullivan (Vertiginous Mod) said:

I also finished the 2nd season of Ozark, which is another dark wonder. I told my wife it was really a family story, but she doesn't believe me. The characters are all so damaged that it's hard to know who to pull for, but there are plenty of truly evil ones that deserve what they get.

I’ll take a stab at answering some of those questions, Cap.

[Mild SPOILERS follow.]

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

But the final episode does bring the series to a close. (Whether or not one is happy with the ending is another matter.) I like the interpretation taken by Dean Motter in the 1988 DC comic book series: “The man who would not bend simply broke.” Commander Benson once put forth a theory that the Prisoner himself is Number One (and there is a certain scene in the finale which suggests that that might be the case).

Prior to his death, McGoohan steadfastly refused to divulge the secret behind The Village, reasoning that if he did so, the viewer himself would have no role. McGoohan originally planned to do only six or seven episodes. The original 13 was more than he really wanted or needed, then he was given an additional four to wrap it up. He himself says there are six or seven episodes that are truly key.

“I saw a couple of episodes in syndication here and there…”

I hope one of those was the first episode.

“Why watch a show where the central plot -- McGoohan tries to escape, fails -- is repeated endlessly?”

There are a few variations on that plot: McGoohan turns the tables on his captors without trying to escape, his captors conduct bizarre psychological experiments on him, some simply depict what life in The Village is like, etc.

“What's the attraction?”

For me it’s the concept (that, and the setting).

There is a six-issue The Prisoner comic book series currently being published. I read the first two issues as they were released, started to read the third and then determined they would read better in a single sitting.

And I cannot recommend highly enough the audio reimagining of the series from Big Finish.

During my recent convalescence, I discovered a show that I"d always rejected out of hand in the past, namely Perry Mason. I'm working through season 4, and a few thoughts:

* Do not mistake this for any sort of accurate courtroom drama. Yes, this show is over 50 years old, but I'm pretty sure that most of what is seen in the courtroom is pure fabrication--surprise witnesses, surprise evidence, etc.

* In the early days, it seemed as if there was a personal vendetta between District Attorney Burger and Mason. This softened later.

* Mason himself wasn't pure as snow either, as he frequently tampered with evidence, attempted to hide witnesses, and did other things that broke the law in order to win his cases.

* Speaking of pure as snow, I can't think of a single murder victim on the show that I felt one iota of sympathy for.

* I did feel sympathy for many--not all, but many--of the murderers.

* Seemingly 90% of the cases involve blackmail.

* 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.

* Lots of famous TV actors appeared on the show, including Angie Dickinson, Barbara Eden, Norman Fell, Neil Hamilton (several times), Yvonne Craig, Robert Redford, Werner Klemperer (so weird to see him in a serious role as a Casanova type) and others.

* Everyone smokes. Everyone. It seems so odd now.

* Perry does a lot of pro bono work. Well, perhaps not pro bono, but he seems perfectly willing to defend anyone he feels requires justice whether or not they can pay.

* I am surprised that Perry has no partners or associates. He does have people working for him, but it appears that he does all of the work himself, even for non-criminal cases. You rarely see anyone identified as another attorney working for him.

* The shows are in black and white, but there are times when plot points and such center upon colors, and that's a problem. For instance, there's a plot point where a woman dyes her hair in order to fake her own death, but you could only tell by paying particular attention to the dialogue.

* The various and sundry murderers confess with way too little pressure, IMO.

* William Tallman, who played District Attorney Hamilton Burger, was written out of the series a number of times. I don't mean he didn't appear in an episode, the title sequence was changed to not include him. I'm sure I can find this out via a search, but does anyone know what was going on there?

Is there any significance to the DA's name being Ham Burger? I always wondered why an otherwise serious show had that awful pun.

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

Jeff of Earth-J said:

I’ll take a stab at answering some of those questions, Cap.

[Mild SPOILERS follow.]

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

But the final episode does bring the series to a close. (Whether or not one is happy with the ending is another matter.) I like the interpretation taken by Dean Motter in the 1988 DC comic book series: “The man who would not bend simply broke.” Commander Benson once put forth a theory that the Prisoner himself is Number One (and there is a certain scene in the finale which suggests that that might be the case).

Prior to his death, McGoohan steadfastly refused to divulge the secret behind The Village, reasoning that if he did so, the viewer himself would have no role. McGoohan originally planned to do only six or seven episodes. The original 13 was more than he really wanted or needed, then he was given an additional four to wrap it up. He himself says there are six or seven episodes that are truly key.

“I saw a couple of episodes in syndication here and there…”

I hope one of those was the first episode.

“Why watch a show where the central plot -- McGoohan tries to escape, fails -- is repeated endlessly?”

There are a few variations on that plot: McGoohan turns the tables on his captors without trying to escape, his captors conduct bizarre psychological experiments on him, some simply depict what life in The Village is like, etc.

“What's the attraction?”

For me it’s the concept (that, and the setting).

There is a six-issue The Prisoner comic book series currently being published. I read the first two issues as they were released, started to read the third and then determined they would read better in a single sitting.

And I cannot recommend highly enough the audio reimagining of the series from Big Finish.

I've never watched The Prisoner -- it wasn't available in my area growing up, and when it finally did become available, it had long been over and I'm aware that there was no resolution. I saw a couple of episodes in syndication here and there, and they seemed rather repetitive.

I recognize that it's a cult favorite, but this is a serious question: Why should I watch it?

Why bother to watch a show whose central mystery is never solved? Why watch a show where the central plot -- McGoohan tries to escape, fails -- is repeated endlessly? Why watch a show with only a single recurring character and no supporting cast?

What's the attraction? McGoohan's acting? Great sets? Philosophical debates? A sense of nostalgia? Let me know, Legionnaires.

As for the wife and I, we're up to season 4 on Ripper Street, and it's awfully good. It will definitely end with Season 5 (the Internet tells me), and that will be bittersweet.

I have some of the same questions. Like you, I've always heard or read a lot about The Prisoner but have only seen it a couple of times.

But these questions sing out to me:

  • Why bother to watch a show whose central mystery is never solved? Why not? It's the journey, not the destination.
  • Why watch a show where the central plot -- McGoohan tries to escape, fails -- is repeated endlessly? Because it's the same but different every time. Like Law & Order. Or Bar Rescue.
  • Why watch a show with only a single recurring character and no supporting cast? Because of the stories, and how that single recurring character interacts with the other people in the story. Columbo didn't have a supporting cast, and it was an enduring hit. And a single recurring character wasn't a big problem for show like The Fugitive or The Incredible Hulk or other man-on-the-run shows, was it?

I haven't watched much Perry Mason, but the books about him started in 1933. Apparently, Hamilton Burger made his first appearance in The Case of the Counterfeit Eye (1935).

I've been enjoying Raymond Burr's old movies when he always played the bad (sometimes very bad) guy.

"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!

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