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.
Now I'm watching Tidying Up With Marie Kondo on Netflix. I must admit, all of my clothes are in my living room right now and I'm sorting through them.
We finished season 3 of The Expanse last night, and wholeheartedly endorse it.
It's based on a series of sci-fi novels, so it actually goes somewhere and the status is never quo.You do have a core group of protagonists on a renegade ship who drive most of the narrative, but they are not always all on the ship and others come and go. This feels really organic, with the core four finding a sort of found-family kinship and others leaving because they have actual families to return to. Fortunately, all four are interesting in their own right -- especially Amos, who is the muscle, but literally can't tell right from wrong and, given his black and white view of everything, is both scary AND comedy relief.
It also world-builds in a satisfying way, with, for example, an almost Jamaican accent for "Belters," people who are born, live and die in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter who mine the outer planets for resources. They've done this for generations, so naturally the language would change. All the actors -- especially vets like David Straighthairn (Good Night and Good Luck) and Jared Harris (The Terror) -- master and use it skillfully.
Other recognizable faces include Chad Coleman (The Walking Dead), Thomas Jane (The Punisher) and Shoreh Aghdashloo (Star Trek: Beyond, The Punisher TV series). The four principals are unknown to me, but they do a terrific job. Except maybe the lead guy, who appears to be a male model who arrived at the wrong studio -- but even there, it might be the script, which gives him nothing to do but look worried and tired. Other standouts include Franke Adams, a true-blue (true red?) Martian Marine, who nevertheless ends up on the wrong side of Mars by doing the right thing over and over, and Cara Gee as a tough-as-nails Belter who, despite her size, forces you to respect her.
Another selling point is how gorgeous this show is. The production values are over the top, with gorgeous space scenes, grungy space stations, plausible weaponry and more. Everything works together beautifully, too -- gravity is dealt with via boots and other methods (and, thankfully, the show doesn't waste time explaining a damn thing -- you just catch on), the "Epstein Drive" allows travel time to be shortened (and is explained, sorta) and so forth. This is a well thought-out world, and someone poured a lot of money into The Expanse so that it is shown off to great effect.
So what's the story, you ask?
Initially, Mars (a martial terraforming colony, very Sparta-like) and an overpopulated and polluted Earth are at each other's throats, with both looking down their noses at Belters, whom they both need. Everyone's on the brink of war, when something from outside the solar system -- called "the protomolecule" -- is found on a moon of Saturn and kicks everything into overdrive as all seek to possess it (including some private, commercial interests). Things move at a terrifying rate until the end of Season 3, when you understand the meaning of the show's title.
I don't want to spoil any more than that. Syfy dropped the show after the third season, but Amazon Prime picked it up and a fourth season is coming this year, and everything is available there (although the third season won't be available for free until later in the year). Go watch it!
I have been watching the Showtime series Homeland, courtesy of our year-long Hulu trial. Several episodes into the first season, and I like it a lot so far. There have been several surprise developments, and I expect more. Just what I want from a spy story.
Asside from the excellent Titans which I loved I'm binge-watching the first season of Beyond and am really enjoying that too!
Last night I watched the first three episodes of HBO's The Deuce. Thus far, it's been kind of separate/parallel stories about two brothers who go in to open a bar (both played by James Franco) and the prostitution scene of 1970's New York City. This is back when New York was thought of as a relatively dirty, unsafe place. Maggie Gyllenhall is one of the other actors, and she is fantastic.
This show is not for everyone. It makes you feel a little grimy. But it really brings the 1970's back to life. To think of the attention to detail that has to go into making a period piece, it's mind-boggling.
Watching the police side of it is interesting, because I imagine Barney Miller taking place in the same world.
Thanks for reminding me about The Expanse, Cap. I watched the first season, and absolutely loved it. I also watched the first episode of the second season, but somehow fell off.
I did watch the second season of The Patriot, an Amazon series dealing with a spy who is on a mission, but is clearly depressed. He living an almost Job like life to carry that mission out. He is being aided by his brother, and members of the company he pretends to work for. His handler is his own father. It was also great to see Debra Winger again, it took me a while to recognize her. Neither one of us look like we did when Urban Cowboy came out. For me the show is both depressing and funny.
Right now I'm making my way through Frasier. Most of these episodes I've only seen once, and I had forgotten how damn funny that show was. I often find myself literally laughing out loud which I don't do a whole lot when I watching sitcoms, even when I do find them funny. This time around I'm really appreciating John Mahoney a lot more than I did the first time around.
I've been wondering about The Deuce, Jeff. Thanks for the analysis.
Speaking of period pieces, I think you can get away more with older stuff, like Elizabethan England and Viking Denmark, because who would know if you got a chair wrong? But something like The Deuce, where a lot of the audience actually lived through the period, must be a lot harder to get right. I think I'd spot anachronistic cars, clothes, furniture and tech pretty fast, which would ruin the show for me. Even the streetlights were different then. It must be hard.
But even older stuff can be done really wrong, and Exhibit A is Britannia, from BBC. We were really looking forward to this show, which is set during the second (and successful) Roman invasion of Britain. except in a world where Druid magic actually works (to a small degree). And who could get that righter than the BBC?
But, boo, anachronisms right and left.
For one thing, there's no language barrier between Romans and Celts. Pardon me?
Also, the Celts wear machine-made leather armor. They might have worn leather, but probably animal skins would be more common. And that leather certainly wouldn't be machine-made. That's just way too obvious, especially when it's uniform among the tribal warriors. It's just way wrong.
My wife and I both laughed when some characters hid out in a poor village, and the poor village shacks had lots of furniture -- chairs, ottomans, etc. -- that nobody short of royalty would have, especially among the Celts, who were barely out of the stone age. There was also a whole lot of dining implements -- bowls, dishes, forks and spoons -- in the "poor" village. Seriously? They'd have had one wooden bowl for each member of the family, and they'd have eaten with the fingers. And who among them would waste time building an ottoman? (And, yes, the furniture looked machine tooled, not crudely carved.)
So, it was a little disappointing in that regard. But we've warmed to the story, which stars the guy who played the Governor on The Walking Dead as the head Roman. We'll be back for Season 2, due this year.
We've also started watching The Punisher. I don't care what the critics say, or if Netflix cancels them, the Marvel Netflix shows have been aces with me, and Punisher is no exception. Jon Bernthal is awesome in the title role -- all his acting tics fit perfectly -- and they've established the character as more three-dimensional and sympathetic than his comics counterpart. He's still a damaged, violence-loving, self-loathing maniac, but he's our maniac, you know?
Ben Bates is back as Billy Russo, know to us comics fans as Jigsaw. He's Jigsaw here, too, but I'll bet a dollar he never calls himself that. I recognized his psychiatrist, but couldn't place her right away. Then it dawned on me that it was the same actress who played Maggie Sawyer on Supergirl, where she was Alex Danvers' girlfriend, a National City police detective (and not the head of the Metropolis Special Crimes Unit, like she is in the comics), I was thrown because the actress was more feminine here, wearing a dress and makeup, whereas Maggie wore jeans, a T-shirt and minimal (if any) makeup. I fell pretty shallow right now.
Having watched the rest of the first season of The Deuce, I can safely say that this is a like a grimier version of Boogie Nights. They have moved from only the prostitution side into the porn industry side. The 70's stuff still astounds me, but so do the intricacies of this subculture (of any subculture, really...it's always more complex than you would imagine at first).
Finished The Punisher Season 2. Very good. By the end, I liked all the characters. (Even the evil ones.)
I finished The Punisher Season 2 last night. Liked it a lot, and almost agree about liking all of the characters. Can't say I felt bad about what happened to the rich couple pulling all the strings, though.
I also watched the animated Hellblazer series Constantine: City of Demons. The streaming content is available on CW Seed (there's a Roku app) in two parts. I gather there's a longer movie version, but I'm guessing I'd need DC Direct for that. It's pretty good, and by tying the infamous Newcastle fiasco in with a current crisis it gives a nice historical overview of Constantine as a character.