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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Ugh, I started watching this series, and only got a few episodes in before I cut it off. I should have listened to you the first time. I wasn't already depressed, but I could tell I was headed in that direction as I watched.

Captain Comics said:

Yeah, don't watch Chernobyl if you're already depressed. Especially the scene with the dogs.

I haven't heard much about AHS or Silicon Valley that wasn't corporate/entertainment journalism puffery. What can you guys tell me about them?

Apple+ dropped the first three episodes of For All Mankind the first night, and then went weekly (on Friday nights). The premise is that the Russians landed on the Moon two weeks before we did in 1969, so the Space Race didn't end -- we kept going to get a "win" and the Russians kept beating us, so we had to keep going. The most recent episode had us finally beating the Russians to finding ice on the Moon (which will allow for a permanent settlement) in 1971 or so. I have no idea what the next one will bring.

We. Are. Mesmerized.

They get the period stuff exactly right. For the most part our ensemble consists of white military/NASA types, who still had short hair in the late 1960s and a 1950s mindset. (I know, I was 11 years old in 1969, in a military family.) But the counter-culture is creeping in, with the dope-smoking, long-haired husband of an irreverent female astronaut a painter of acid rock album covers. And in the last episode we finally met the husband of the only black female astronaut* and he is a Vietnam combat veteran who is pretty pissed at having to go, and really pissed at privileged white people who didn't. 

Everyone smokes, all the time, everywhere. Men drink a lot and cheat on their wives. Women are reduced to stay-at-homes, which some embrace and some resent. Most action takes place in Houston and Cape Canaveral (mostly in bars and suburban homes).

It's a true ensemble. Some characters get a lot more air time than others, especially the Baldwins. The male is an astronaut, and played by Joel Kinnaman, who starred in the first season of Altered Carbon and was Rick Flagg in Suicide Squad. Mrs. Baldwin is played by the woman who was Patty Spivot on Flash. But mostly everyone gets some time, and nobody is all good or all bad. And there are no Mary Sues, male or female. It's dangerous stuff for real human characters, and the space scenes are edge-of-the-seat stuff, since success and survival aren't givens. And this NASA takes big chances, since we're behind in the race.

Also, Nixon is still a Dick, as he was back then. It's great, great stuff. 

* Yes, there is a black, female astronaut, and she didn't just appear like magic as happens so often in period pieces that try to pretend racism never happened. In fact, she is an astronaut because she is black, and is female, and this is all shown in the smoky-room conversations that place her in the program. It's actually very good writing.

Women have already joined the program, because the Russians have already put the first woman on the Moon, her picture has become a global sensation, and Nixon is livid that we got beat again. So a group of women are immediately recruited. In the smoky room, one woman after another is proposed and accepted or shot down (and some are historically accurate). A black woman with master's in both math and engineering (she was one of the "Hidden Figures" women, once again historically accurate) is proposed.

"I'm not putting someone in this program because they're black!" says the hard-bitten head of the astronaut program, the historically accurate Deke Slayton.

"You're putting her in the program precisely because she's black," responds the real power in the room, the president's rep. "Nixon wants us ahead of the curve on this one. Besides, I don't want Jesse Jackson crawling up my ass. Or, God help us, Ralph Abernathy."

Oh man, this is good stuff.

That sounds like a very good show. It occurs to me that if the Russians were continuing to compete with us regarding the Moon the space program wouldn't have been starved almost to death. We'd probably already have made it to Mars.

For the Christmas holiday, we binged The Moody's Christmas. As it was six half-hour episodes, it was pretty easy. 

The Moody's Christmas is another in the vein of "dysfunctional family members reunite for the holidays." Said members includes patriarch Sean (Denis Leary) and matriarch Ann (Elizabeth Perkins). The first episode opens with Mom in a rage firing a shotgun at various Christmas decorations -- including the star atop the household tree -- because the members of her brood have failed to come together for a "perfect"* Christmas. Each episode then covers a single day leading up to the finale on Christmas.

The dysfunctionality includes eldest son Sean Jr. (Jay Baruchel), a thirtysomething slacker who lives with his parents but refuses to join Dad in the family HVAC contracting business, because he has a dream of his own company -- launching people's ashes into the air with fireworks. Middle daughter Bridget (Chelsea Frei) arrives in frustration; she recently had a one-night stand with some guy and is grappling with what this means for her marriage and whether and how to tell her husband. Youngest son Dan (Francois Arnaud) is similarly discomfited, as he has just broken up with his latest girlfriend because he's iffy about moving in with her.

Over the course of the week, each one of them finds ways to make their problems worse. Dad's a recovering alcoholic, and some of his friends from AA are still repairing the bathroom, a job that should have been completed three months prior. Dan instantly becomes smitten with Cora, his cousin's girlfriend, and their flirtation consumes him over the week -- and wrecks his relationship with his own girlfriend. Bridget reconnects with a high-school friend, now the wrestling coach, who helps her get over her pain and confesses he had a crush on her back in the day. Dad helps Sean connect with a single mom who needs a quick furnace install. 

It's funny, and there are enough twists to keep things moving, with a happy yet true-to-the-dysfunction ending to cap it off. 

* A wise pastor once told me that striving for perfection is folly; it's impossible to achieve and the effort will only drive you crazy because you inevitably will fail. Strive for excellence, she said; that's possible.

We saved up The Mandalorian until the in-laws were in town, since they wanted to watch it and don't have Disney+. We watched the first seven (of 8) episodes over a few days.

It's pretty good. I like the spaghetti Western vibe. It's still Star Wars, though, so some things don't make a lick of sense. For example, the Mandalorian is asked by a guy with a grudge against him to do something, and he'll get something he wants in return. Obviously, it's a trap. The character knows it's a trap, so he brings back-up. When the bad guys make the expected heel turn, I'm waiting to see what his plan is ...

... and he doesn't have one. 

Well, there's one more episode to go (tomorrow), so maybe I'll be surprised. But it's hard to imagine, since one of his three-man team is dead, the bad guys have the MacGuffin, and he and his back-up (a woman played by an MMA fighter, who is appropriately impressive in fight scenes) are captured. Any plan that involves a third of his team getting killed isn't a very good plan.

But it's Star Wars, so I have a low bar for good writing. I'm sure it will all work out fine. The important thing is to enjoy the ride.

Your in-laws wanted to watch The Mandelorian?

Way to bury the lead there, man! You have the coolest in-laws around. I cannot even fathom trying to get my parents to take an interest at all.

My in-laws aren't like yours, Jeff -- they're not parents, they're peers. All of our parents, both sides, are dead. Today my in-laws consist of my wife's sister and her college-age daughter. In a get-together, I'm the oldest person in the room. And even given all that, there are some things the sister-in-law won't watch, as she's very religious. Whenever I pick something out for us to watch, I have to do a mental inventory in advance for possible sex scenes or dirty words. But she likes sci-fi, and The Mandalorian is clean-cut Disney, so it was right up her alley. By contrast, she was extremely offended by Sabrina last year, and we had to stop after one episode.

Watched The Mandalorian to the end, and it was a lot of fun. My wife said it was the best Star Wars movie she'd seen since Return of the Jedi, and I agree. It was essentially a Western, of course, but so was the original 1977 movie, only with hi-tech six-guns and horses. (Some war movie tropes were thrown in as well.) Pretty good TV.

If nothing else, it's worthwhile for the scene where two landspeeder Storm Troopers are stuck at the edge of town, waiting for the boss to order them back to base. Meanwhile, the boss is busy monologuing to The Mandalorian and his friends, who are trapped in what amounts to a Western saloon. "Has he said we can come in yet?" says one on his communicator. "Look," is the response, "he just shot an officer for interrupting him, so I'm not going to ask, OK?" They chit-chat, and it's pretty funny, because they are pretty clearly not the best and brightest. They also engage in a little target practice, and neither one of them could hit the broad side of a barn -- a metatextual wink to the audience, which was hilarious.

We also binged His Dark Materials over the course of three days. Also good TV, with A-list actors and production values. I never watched The Golden Compass -- the reviews were pretty bad -- so this is my introduction to this world. It's a good one, internally consistent with great imaginative leaps, that are explored through action and argument, rather than exposition. And the armored bears are terrific.

Dafne Keen (X-23 in Logan) carries the narrative burden, and she handles it superbly, like a much older pro. She's buttressed by some excellent British actors, including James McAvoy (Professor Xavier), Ruta Gedmintas (Dutch Velders in The Strain) and Will Keen (Dafne's father). The top two bad guys are just flat-out terrific, scary even when they're not moving or talking, played by actors unknown to me, Ruth Wilson (The Affair)  and Ariyon Bakare. Lin-Manuel Miranda (Broadway's "Hamilton") has a big role, but I liked him less than I thought I would -- too theatrical, which doesn't work very well in TV, where he's right in your lap and not 50 yards away on stage. Then again, he's playing a character described as "difficult to like," so maybe I'm not supposed to like him. Thankfully he only sings a little bit -- if they gave in to the temptation to let him go full musical I'd have turned it off.

One of the things I like about the show is the playful use of language. I think we can credit J.R.R. Tolkien and his linguistic prowess for that influence on today's fantasy books and shows (like Game of Thrones), where words are vaguely familiar because they're derived from various real languages. For example, the armored bears in HDM are a species called panserbjorn, which is the German word for tiger (panser) and the Old Norse word for bear (bjorn) mashed together. They are tiger-bears, which is an apt description.

The original books really slammed the Catholic Church hard, and while that's been lightened, the bad guys all work for the Magisterium. That's basically the Catholic Church, and it's a world-governing body. Anyway, all the titles of the church/government leaders are linguistically adjacent to what they'd be on Earth. ("Fra" baffled me for a second, because it sounded like "Frau," German for married woman/housewife. But then I realized it was meant to suggest "friar".)

Other such words proliferate. One of the bad guys is named MacPhail, which is basically "Son of Fail." That made me laugh.

I strongly recommend both shows. Up next: The Witcher. Reviews are "mixed," as they say, so I'm a little leery. Will report back.

We don't have DisneyPlus so my wife and I watched The Mandalorian over two weekends at my daughters place. We all enjoyed it - in fact my daughter was watching it for a second time. I think it is successful because it takes place in the Star Wars universe while avoiding the primary elements of the Star Wars/Skywalker saga. The production itself hearkens back to the original trilogy in the handling of characters, settings, right down to the wipes between scenes.

The prequels and sequels took themselves much too seriously and turned off much of their audience. The Mandalorian maintains the more light handed touch of the originals.

I'm waiting for the DVD.

doc photo said:

The prequels and sequels took themselves much too seriously and turned off much of their audience. The Mandalorian maintains the more light handed touch of the originals.

By golly, Doc, I think you've articulated my formerly hard-to-articulate feelings about Star Wars. I like them, but I don't take them seriously. But, as you say, they've taken themselves really seriously since The Phantom Menace. The more they take themselves seriously, the less I enjoy them.

Because Star Wars is utter, total, complete nonsense. It's a raft of cliche characters running around in a cliche setting (the Western, with some war movie tropes thrown in). It is not ambiguous. It is not mature. It's a Western, from the time when Westerns were aimed at children, and those Westerns were black and white stories with white hats and black hats, uncomplicated plots, and uncomplicated resolutions.

Further, it lifts the pacing, vibe and approach of the 1930s Saturday afternoon movie serial, complete with the scene-changing wipes. Which was deliberate.

Because not only does that ape the Western serial, it also apes Flash Gordon, which was what George Lucas originally set out to film. But nobody was interested. Then some young genius on staff suggested "Young Flash Gordon," an origin of sorts, which morphed into Star Wars.

And did George Lucas sit down, like George R.R. Martin and James S.A. Corey, and build out a world in his head or on paper, and a story with a beginning, middle and end, and then commit to filming it? No, he did not. He played it by ear, and George Lucas has a tin ear. That's why spaceships make noise in airless space and X-wings bank against non-existent atmosphere. That's why Luke and Leia kissed in the first movie, and then turned out to be siblings in the third. That's why the third movie was basically a remake of the first. That's why Anakin Skywalker's babysitter somehow found him attractive, despite, you know, changing his diapers or whatever.

The original trilogy had a lot of problems, especially in internal consistency, which I ignore because I didn't take them seriously. When I am forced to take them seriously ... well, to paraphrase CK, it takes all the fun out of it.

As a secondary note, that's why I don't really care about the so-called fans who got made at The Last Jedi for not doing whatever it is they wanted it do, and the other group of so-called fans who are mad at Rise of Skywalker for some reason. I don't even understand those reasons, because, again, I refuse to take all this nonsense seriously. I just let Star Wars movies wash over me with my brain turned off, and walk out of the theater with a happy grin.

I have never, for a single second, thought about Star Wars continuity and the broader history and geography of the Star Wars universe. George Lucas never did, so why should I?

So far I haven't seen a reason to subscribe to Disney+. Like Jeff, I can wait for the DVD to see The Mandalorian. I get a lot out of CBS All Access because I watch many CBS shows and prefer this to recording them (ditto Hulu).

The original Star Wars trilogy is worth multiple viewings. I've watched all of the later Star Wars movies but have never wanted to watch any of the others more than once.

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