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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After watching the Mad Men imitator Pan Am, I started watching the real thing. I've gone through the first three seasons and am mostly through the fourth. I used to watch it, but not from the beginning; I started almost halfway into the run and have just gotten to the ones I've seen before.

Consequently, I have just been filled in on the import of Don Draper's Dark, Dark Secret (do I need  for a 14-year-old show? If so, here's one): Don's real name is Dick Whitman, and he committed identity fraud during his days in the Korean War, trading his dog tags with those on the body of his recently killed CO. Stateside, Whitman reinvents himself, using Draper's name, as a salesman and then as an adman. So the overarching theme is identity and how people present themselves to the world: like products to be marketed. 

The other overarching theme is the coming-of-age story of Peggy Olson, who rises from being Draper's secretary at the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency, at a time when being a secretary is almost more than any woman can expect. 

It's great stuff. I don't know why I didn't latch on before. There's a lot of personal, racial, ethical and sexual mores in play that are presented here as being of their time, but really aren't. There's one episode in which the agency tries to get Rolls Royce as a client, and the buyer makes an egregiously unethical demand for the business. I haven't gotten to it yet, but I recall that in the here-and-now, Rolls Royce felt compelled to make a statement that its executives behave honorably, and believe they always have in the past.

Looking forward to the rest of the run.

Mad Men was that rare show where I had to watch the episode when it hit the airwaves. Some seasons proved stronger than others, but I cannot say it ever had a bad one.

Currently, I'm catching up with Man in the High Castle. I just started season three-- I have to take breaks of at least a week and destress after each season.

Mad Men: Sounds more interesting than I thought. Another one to watch.

There was a TV show about these guys? Hell, I'd watch it. 

We just watched the eight-episode first season of The Irregulars. Even though I just gave it eight hours of my life, I don't think I can recommend it. I'll tell you about it, and you can make up your own mind.

The show uses the Baker Street Irregulars as a jumping-off point. For those who don't read Sherlock Holmes stories, the Irregulars were street urchins in the slums of London that Holmes used to get information. Street urchins were ubiquitous and largely ignored, so the Irregulars could eavesdrop in places where Holmes or Watson would stand out.

Holmes had tons of Irregulars. In this story, though, there are only four of them: Two sisters and two boys they live with (but not romantically -- well, both boys have a thing for one of the girls, but it isn't necessarily reciprocated). They share a cellar apartment that I initially didn't realize was supposed to be inhabited. It's pretty crappy. (Although they somehow had their own keg of ale.)

Which is one thing the show gets spectacularly right: the sets. It really looks like what I imagine late 19th century London to look like, full of smokestacks, and grimy brick and wood buildings, and streets filthy with mud and effluent, and half-built pipes that go nowhere. And the lower-class inhabitants wear grubby clothes of the time, some of which were pretty colorful before being worn 24/7, which my wife affectionately referred to as "dirty clown clothes."

But this is a UK production, so the people in those clothes take some getting used to. UK shows don't make any allowance for race in casting so you have scenes where a Black Dr. Watson and an Asian Irregular are having a conversation, and it sort of jolts you out of the story. Or the Asian Irregular is talking to her sister, who is Anglo, and you start wondering if you've fallen into an AT&T commercial (where a family consisting of mom, dad and two kids are, mysteriously, some combination of white, Black, Asian, Persian and Arabic, for no discernible reason).

But nobody else in the show notices race, so obviously we're not supposed to either. That became one of the reasons my wife and I declared this to be a parallel-world 19th century London, where Black people could routinely become doctors and Asian kids ran the London streets.

I should also note here that I think the kids are supposed to be kids, although they look like adults (most of the actors are 19-21), talk like adults, go to bars like adults and have sex like adults. My only clue as to their age is that both the women are flat-chested (no doubt due to some wardrobe wizardry), indicating they are pretty young. I don't know why they bothered, since the "kids" otherwise act like adults (especially in how they hold their own with adults in arguments). So add that one to the list of impossible things to accept before breakfast if you want to enjoy the show.

Another element that marks this as not-our-London is magic. The entire premise of the show is a magic-based "Rip" into another dimension which gives various people, most of whom are nuts, magical powers. One of the sisters (the not-Asian one) is some sort of magical savant (they call her and others like her an "Ipsissimus," which is a real word) so Watson hires her and the other Irregulars to track down these villains with the ultimate goal of finding, and closing, the Rip.

You may wonder where Sherlock is in all this, and well you should. But just like the similar Cursed (which had a Black, non-heroic Arthur, with the real hero of the story being a female, Nimue), Sherlock is extremely non-heroic, and it is the girls who are the real heroes. In fact, Sherlock doesn't even appear in full until like the fourth episode, and he's an irredeemable junkie who isn't nearly as clever as the books made him out to be. He's a junkie because he lost the love of his wife (who is not named Irene but is, by an amazing coincidence, the mother of the two female Irregulars), to a previous Rip and he started using opium (not cocaine, like the books). Watson, who is secretly in love with Holmes, takes care of him, but is kind of a rotter to the Irregulars before going on his inevitable Redemption Arc.

Remember Sherlock in the books? Yeah, he was sort of asexual. Add it to the list.

So the main heroes of our story are the two female Irregulars, Bea (the Asian one) and Jessica (the not-Asian one). The two boys, later joined by a third (who is secretly the historical Prince Leopold, youngest child of Queen Victoria) are basically back-up. Historical note: Leopold had hemophilia, which killed him at age 30. I guess that's why the TV Leopold, who also has hemophilia, keeps surviving things he really shouldn't -- he's not 30 yet!

A further divergence from our timeline is the kids' dialogue. For one thing, they're all pretty well-spoken for street urchins. They also have a pretty broad general knowledge, of botany and such, the kind of thing you get in school, although they don't go to school. Further, there are tons of anachronisms that keep clanging off my ears, like expressions that didn't exist until this century, or Bea knowing what a clone is (since that word didn't exist yet, much less the concept). I kept mumbling to myself "parallel universe, parallel universe," but I couldn't help but wince at modern turns of phrase.

In fact, taken altogether, these changes are probably what kept the show from endearing itself to me. If it was just the anachronistic dialogue and impossible general knowledge, if it was just the casting of non-whites in a world that was almost 100% white and would look askance at non-whites, if it was just the smearing of Sherlock and Watson (and Lestrade and Mycroft), if it was just the wholesale re-invention of the Baker Street Irregulars ... if it was just one of those things, I would probably have enjoyed the show more. But it was all of them, and it was a chore to maintain my suspension of disbelief.

I mean, if you change 19th century London that much, is it still 19th century London?

And what cemented my annoyance was the final episode. Not only was the ending telegraphed, but it happened way too soon, leaving sufficient time for the moral equivalent of the goodbye scene at the end of Lord of the Rings. As various characters had cringe-y, heartfelt conversations with each other, one after another, my wife cried aloud in exasperation, "will this show ever END?"

But your mileage may vary. And, who knows, maybe I'll even talk myself into watching the second season. Yep, The Irregulars has already been renewed.

Completed watching the run of Mad Men. Having done so, I must confess I misspoke about the auto company whose representative made an egregiously unethical demand of the ad agency. It wasn't Rolls-Royce; it was Jaguar.



ClarkKent_DC said:

After watching the Mad Men imitator Pan Am, I started watching the real thing. I've gone through the first three seasons and am mostly through the fourth. I used to watch it, but not from the beginning; I started almost halfway into the run and have just gotten to the ones I've seen before.

Consequently, I have just been filled in on the import of Don Draper's Dark, Dark Secret (do I need  for a 14-year-old show? If so, here's one): Don's real name is Dick Whitman, and he committed identity fraud during his days in the Korean War, trading his dog tags with those on the body of his recently killed CO. Stateside, Whitman reinvents himself, using Draper's name, as a salesman and then as an adman. So the overarching theme is identity and how people present themselves to the world: like products to be marketed. 

The other overarching theme is the coming-of-age story of Peggy Olson, who rises from being Draper's secretary at the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency, at a time when being a secretary is almost more than any woman can expect. 

It's great stuff. I don't know why I didn't latch on before. There's a lot of personal, racial, ethical and sexual mores in play that are presented here as being of their time, but really aren't. There's one episode in which the agency tries to get Rolls Royce as a client, and the buyer makes an egregiously unethical demand for the business. I haven't gotten to it yet, but I recall that in the here-and-now, Rolls Royce felt compelled to make a statement that its executives behave honorably, and believe they always have in the past.

Looking forward to the rest of the run.

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