Apple just raised their prices for their various services. I’m on a Family Apple One plan, paying for Music, TV+, and Arcade. On top of this, I’m paying for Fitness+, but something’s gotta give. Apple One has just gone up to £23 per month, which I wouldn’t mind, but I’m barely using any of the services. If it was just me, I might cancel — especially in response to the just-released Spirited, a Christmas movie that looks so offensive that even the tile in the app smarts my eyeballs. Apple deserve to lose money for commissioning shit like this.
My biggest issue with Apple, Netflix, and Amazon is that there are too many movies. Just cannot be arsed with them.
This is one of the things regarding subscription services that gall you. The sheer quantity of dross. It’s like when Amazon buys in loads of sport you’ll never watch; you realise you’re subsidising bids for content like today’s rugby extravaganza. Mind you, that’s not quite as offensive to the soul as the knowledge that you’re helping to pay for Clarkson’s lifestyle.
I actually wish Amazon hadn’t wasted all that money on the Lord of the Rings thing. When you think of the alternative intellectual property they could have acquired with that money (even within the same genre), your heart sinks. I guess we’re living through an era when a very small number of people with terrible taste and terrible personalities have too much power.
It has always been the case, of course, when it comes to the BBC licence fee, that most of what you pay for is rubbish. But it’s shocking when you add up all your various subscriptions and look at the bottom line and then look at the absolute gubbins it’s all paying for. Netflix is full of algorithmically commissioned mediocrity. I don’t know what my kids are watching, but I’m (re)watching 50 year old Star Trek, 30 year old Seinfeld, and six year old Travelers. I mean, I have seen some other stuff, but it was immediately forgotten.
I’m holding on to Apple One for the forthcoming second run of Slow Horses, and after that I might cancel at least the TV and the Arcade. To be honest, I’m not using the Music service either, but I’m sure my kids are. Unlimited streaming music doesn’t suit my temperament. It’s all just one big wash. I can listen to anything, so I listen to nothing. Turns out, I prefer scarcity. The end of scarcity is scary. I’m not mad (or rich) enough to turn to vinyl, of course, but I understand why some people do.
There’s likely to be a dearth of things to watch during the forthcoming unpleasantness in Qatar, so I’m girding my loins. Audiobooks?
This retelling of the based-on-a-true-story 1992 film opens out the narrative to encompass more social background, more characters, and (ironically) less baseball. One half of the team behind this, Will Graham, was the producer of Mozart in the Jungle (also on Amazon). Mozart was one of those sui generis shows (impossible to categorise except as itself), which Amazon does seem to specialise in. I enjoyed the first season a lot, but lost interest after that. It happens. Other hard-to-categorise shows on Amazon include Patriot and Casual.
The other half of the ALoTO team is also one of the central characters in the show, played by Abbi Jacobson. I’m more or less unfamiliar with her previous work, apart from being the voice of Princess Bean in the underwhelming Disenchantment on the underwhelming Netflix. Needless to say, she’s a stalwart of that particular kind of American comedy, which isn’t very funny.
She’s not very funny in ALoTO, either, it has to be said, portraying Carson Shaw, a character whose self effacement becomes an irritant — the kind of person who would drive you mad if you were her friend. This is fine, because that is exactly who she is supposed to be in the show. It’s just that, for me, this type of cringe comedy never works. I get Vietnam flashbacks to the unwatchable Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em.
Filling out the main ensemble are Chanté Adams (as Max, a black woman who is excluded from the League); D’Arcy Carden (not a robot); Gbemisola Ikumelo (Max’s best friend, who joins her as a production worker in the local munitions factory), and a whole team of others. There are Latina characters, but no Asians. I guess you have to watch Season 2 of The Terror to find them.
The 1992 ALoTO was a weird moment for me; I have a vivid memory of going to see it in the middle of an awkward and confusing relationship with a woman I’d met at university. I haven’t seen it since, perhaps not wanting the flashbacks, but it was great, wasn’t it? The incredible Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Rosie O’Donnell, Lori Petty, some pop star. It told a vivid story with punched up colours and tightly edited baseball sequences.
For most of us outside America, the obsession with baseball is bewildering. A game as slow-paced and ridiculous as cricket, played over a perversely long season: no wonder it’s seen as a metaphor for life.
The counter argument is, why do we need a metaphor for life when we have, you know, life? But that question will never be answered.
Here the life metaphor of baseball is used as a vehicle for lots of ideas that, if they made it into the 1992 film, were barely there. So, yes, this show has thoughts about sexism – as in the original – but also misogyny, sexuality, racism, and gender identity. All of the hashtags! It’s a lot, a lot for one show to carry, but carry them it does, even if it does sometimes have to awkwardly juggle.
As such, it’s really representative of a cultural moment, and I do wonder how it will age. I’m a big fan of colourblind casting, and of including people of colour in historical narratives, even if some people think it would be “more authentic” to have all the cast white. The counter argument is always that there probably were more people of colour around in the past than film and television would have you believe. In the same way, there were a lot more women around in the past than Hollywood would have you believe: a subject Geena Davis herself has thoughts about. And as older readers will know, I am very much not a fan of “boys’ adventure” narratives that manage to exclude 50% of the population.
Realism and authenticity are very much overrated for some reason, and I’d have been fine with a version of this show that included Max (and other black players) as members of the team, notwithstanding the screams of the authenticity crowd. On the other hand, including black characters would be another way of whitewashing history, I suppose. My argument being, fuck history. If you always cleave to history, you run the risk of only ever allowing black actors to portray victims of discrimination and prejudice. Whereas in my fantasy version of not-history, they would get to be a ball player, and participate in plotlines about getting the yips. But instead we have the really quite upsetting story of Max, who is desperate to play, and whose struggles to be included – even if it is only on the local factory team – form half of the plotline. Because the racism here is not just about playing baseball: it pervades everything, from getting served in a shop to being allowed to apply for a job. I think the show does a really good job of holding up a mirror to American society. And to be fair to the writers, Max gets to double up as a woman who prefers women.
But it is a lot, because then you end up with one character representing three of the hashtag themes, as it were; and it’s an odd mix. Because on the one hand, there are white women breaking out of their constricted lives and being given a chance to do something they love and are good at – which is joy. But on the other there are black women suffering a thousand indignities every day of their lives.
Which is before we get to the themes of sexual and gender identity, with women taking huge risks to explore forbidden love, trying to find a safe space to just be themselves.
It is a lot, but the writers, on the whole, have handled it well, and have still made it a fun and enjoyable watch.
I think it’s telling that Night Sky (Amazon) was originally known as Lightyears. You can almost hear the sharp intake of breath in the meeting room when some wag suggested that – for a show that takes so long to get going – the title Lightyears is apposite. But I concur with many reviewers that it is a watchable show because of its two leads, Sissy Spacek (b. 1949) and J K Simmons (b. 1955), who play a married couple dealing with grief and a secret in their back garden.
The fact is, both Lightyears and Night Sky are meaningless titles for a show that could be called any number of other things more appropriate to its subject and themes. The Shed; or Neighbours; or If We Make it Nonlinear People Will Think It’s Clever.
It’s a show that fits in with several other “slow science fiction” dramas that have been on the “quality” streamers in recent years, from the exceptional (Station Eleven) to the meh-ceptional (Invasion, The Open Range). In fact, there is a growing list of these kind of genre shows, which try to put human relationships in the middle of all the sci-fi ideas, with varying degrees of success. This list might include:
Raised by Wolves
The Terror (and its sequel The Terror: Infamy)
The Open Range
The Man in the High Castle
Now, this is very much a mixed bag. One person’s “slow burn” is another person’s “watching someone scrape the fiddly bits of wallpaper off a wall”. I tried an episode of The Open Range, for example, and couldn’t be arsed with it. And why I forced myself to watch all of Invasion, I will never know. I thought The Man in the High Castle was great, but I wouldn’t watch it a second time (ditto Mr Robot); whereas I watched Station Eleven, Travelers and Counterpart twice each. I really rated Raised by Wolves but on its own it wouldn’t be enough to get me to renew a lapsed subscription.
I’ll admit to having impeccable taste.
The problem with all these “genre shows that put the human drama at the centre” is that, well, all the other dramas do that. Science fiction is the genre of ideas. Big ideas, bewildering ideas, new ways of seeing the world, thinking about the past the present and the future, Big Dumb Objects, mystery objects, strange new worlds. It’s about squaring the circle in a time travel plot, or exploring an abandoned alien ship, or encountering The Other at the far reaches of the universe.
That Spacek and Simmons have some kind of a portal under their garden shed is so incidental to this show that it might as well be a Mysterious Door That Never Opens. They go visit this viewing room, look out at the amazing alien vista, and then go back across the garden to their house. When a stranger appears in their viewing room they take him in and the show is concerned only with him and his story for most of its run. Portal schmortal.
Fine, whatever. Take out the science fiction window dressing and you’ve got a story about a grieving old couple who take in a stranger and get involved in some conflict/shenanigans. And there’s my problem, as a lover of genre shows and science fiction in general. If the sci-fi tropes are incidental to the point of the show, then it’s just a show.
As to the non-linearity of the narrative, we’ve been here before. Does it add anything that we flash back occasionally to when this couple were a younger couple? Or when they were apparently exactly the same age as they are now but it’s supposed to be TWENTY YEARS EARLIER, or whatever? I’m a poor attention-payer, I know, but while I could work out what had happened to the granddaughter’s father, I’ve no idea what became of her mother. Then there’s the side-plot that starts – for no particular reason – in Argentina and doesn’t really add up to much, except… well, there’s this bad guy.
Stop thinking about Spacek and Simmons and you start thinking this show isn’t very good at all. Which is a shame, because they could have done so much more with it. You get a hint of the kind of thing they might have done in the final episode, but by then it’s too late. The litmus test is whether I would seek out a second season, and I’m not sure I would.
When Amazon dropped Ten Percent, the English language version of Dix Pour Cent, which was the original French title of Call My Agent (keep up at the back), the tenor of the reviews was that the adaptation was fairly pointless, largely because the producers chose not to depart from the original storyline very much.
A straight remake, then, almost a shot-for-shot duplication. The action is transplanted from Paris to London, and the cameo appearances are well-known British actors rather than well-known (?) French actors, other than that, same show, complete with all the flaws of the original.
Why was Call My Agent so popular on Netflix in the first place? My theory is that it was because of lockdown. People generally don’t really like watching subtitled shows, but because of the lockdown(s), everybody got desperate.
For myself, I did “watch” Call My Agent, or I should say I was in the room while it was on, but as I treat television as radio with pictures, I didn’t really read the subtitles. My understanding of the show, therefore, was based on my shaky schoolboy French and my high level of media literacy. Anyway, my opinion is and was that it was fairly harmless, lightweight, but that it wouldn’t have been so popular if not for lockdown. It was two kinds of escapism: light entertainment, and dreaming about Paris when we couldn’t go there.
So the English version is almost exactly the same, as I said, except we’re no longer in lockdown and only wankers think London is cool. The show does have several flaws that make it a bit irritating. Here goes.
First of all, the theme music. JESUS CHRIST. If you’ve never heard it, count your blessings; if you have, then rest assured that the deafness is only temporary, unless you deliberately stuck knitting needles in your ears so you wouldn’t have to hear it again. The screeching singing is like two forks tangled together in a drawer, and it’s possibly the worst thing I’ve ever heard.
The irritant music, sans vocals, continues throughout every episode, with the jaunty piano bar interludes padding each one for length. It’s the kind of music used to make unfunny comedy shows seem more, you know, funny. It’s the Comic Sans of music, and like Comic Sans, it’s terrible.
Moving on from the music to the premise of the show, are we supposed to believe that this talent agency in London, which seems to have so many prominent and successful actors on its books, is also in deep financial trouble? Clearly, the joke of the programme is that nobody knows what they’re doing, but still. I’ll redact the names, in case you are the one person who enjoys cameo appearances, but these people are all working and presumably paying the commissions. Shaky premise aside, the show really rests on the one joke (nobody knows what they’re doing) and repeats it over and over again.
The script that accompanies this one joke is dreadful, and it’s one we’ve seen before in a slightly different (but not different enough) context. While there is a team of writers, and they were clearly adapting the original French thing, the principal brain behind this is John Morton, who was also responsible for the BBC-satirising W1A, and the Olympic Games-satirising Twenty Twelve. If you know those scripts, then you know Ten Percent. It’s a lot of people sitting in meetings looking bewildered and or bored and saying, “Yes…” and “Of course…” over and over again.
It’s tired and it is tiresome. Haven’t we been here before, with a show about the meaninglessness of work, the pointlessness of meetings, and the vacuousness of corporate communication? We have. And we have the “Great!” “Super!” guys from The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin to thank for it. Jack Davenport has almost nothing to do except look puzzled and say, “Yes…” at intervals. Meanwhile, Maggie Steed says, “Of course they do,” at similar intervals. Another actor (actually several of them) get to make the same face across the office over and over again. And then there’s the perky American who is “Really excited!” but secretly sad. It’s all very lazy writing. Why give anybody anything to say when you can just have them hem and ha and apologise all the time?
It’s all a bit unforgivable. As to the actors who were clearly queueing to gently send themselves up as the variously stitched up, long-suffering, disenchanted, tolerant, slightly insecure clients of this agency? Shame on them.
I’ve pointed out before that Amazon are terrible at curating their own premium television service. There is actually quite a lot of decent stuff on Amazon, but you would never know it from looking at the interface for Amazon Prime, which mixes so-called “originals” with back catalogue, mixes stuff you have to rent or buy with the stuff included in your subscription, and – now – mixes Amazon Prime stuff with Freevee stuff as well as stuff – like Station Eleven – that you have to get a subscription-within-your-subscription to see.
It’s way too complicated in a universe of premium TV services, and if you’re looking for something to watch, your heart might sink at the prospect of negotiating that interface. And on top of all this, Amazon are simply terrible at telling people when new stuff is going to be available. To the point, I think, that TV critics can’t even be arsed with it. I listen every week to the Radio Times podcast, and it seems they’re much more likely to talk about something on BritBox than something on Amazon.
In the middle of all this nonsense, and for reasons best known to themselves, Amazon have decided to take what is probably their best show (and the main reason to get a Prime subscription) and put its sequel series on Freevee, a television service so pointless that it’s already on its third name — and still nobody cares about it.
Laving aside the terrible (and non-compliant) Prime TV apps, the problems begin on the Amazon landing page, where you’d barely know that there is a whole premium television service with expensively made shows somewhere behind it.
When you do get to the Prime page, what do you see?
Two (2) prominent promotions for an undoubtedly shit film; something that might be a comedy aimed at teenagers, some kind of undoubtedly shit true crime documentary, and some kind of undoubtedly shit live comedy thing. None of which, you’ll notice, is Bosch: Legacy, the sequel series to the five (excellent) series of Bosch. Bosch: Legacy dropped its first four episodes on Friday 6th May – two days ago.
Scrolling down, and we get two almost identical tiles for something called The Escape Artist. Ooh, is this new? No: 2013. Then a bunch of films which were made in years ranging from 1962 to 2019. These are categorised, variously, as Movies We Think You’ll Like (or How Algorithms Get Things Wrong), Popular Movies. Then we get TV Shows We Think You’ll Like and then New Movies Every Day,Science Fiction Movies; suggestions based on the fact that I watched an episode of The Wilds before deciding I couldn’t stand it; then Documentary Movies, Top Rated TV Series, Noughties Movies, Popular TV Shows, Documentary TV Shows, Emotional TV and Movies, Action and Adventure TV Shows, Tense TV and Movies, Because You Watched William and Kate (I didn’t), Comedy TV Shows, Top 10 in the UK, Comedy Movies, Feel Good TV and Movies…
And so it goes. None of the above included Bosch: Legacy.It took till I scrolled down to Top 10 in the UK to even see the latest episode of Star Trek: Picard, a show I have actually been watching. You’ll also note a huge number of movies, comedies, and documentaries, which I almost never watch. I skipped over mention of the sport that I never watch. You’ll also note there’s not a single opportunity to Continue Watching things I’m in the middle of, no Wish List (even though Amazon does let you add things to a personal list). Even the My Stuff tab at the top takes me not to my current list or shows I’m currently watching but to things I have already watched.
Amazon spent $11 billion on TV production in 2020, and $13 billion in 2021. But their trash interface makes their TV service look trashy, and completely hides the good stuff. Stuff like Reacher, Wheel of Time, Patriot, The Man in the High Castle, The Marvellous Mrs Maisel, Homecoming.
And so to Bosch: Legacy, which has been made with the same great production values, same lead actor, same high-quality scripts, some familiar faces and some new ones… and yet where is it?
It’s on FreeVee, which used to be called IMDb TV, and before that IMDb Freedive. Amazon own it. It has stuff on it. You can watch it for free (with ads). And I must say that the phrase “free with ads” did make me hesitate. But it turns out I needn’t have worried. Here in the UK at least there are hardly any ads. You barely even notice them. It seems that its only purpose is to allow Amazon to offer a free, ad-supported tier, although it doesn’t have the same stuff on it as the paid-for Prime service. And all it seems to do, for me, is cheapen the offering, make it harder to find Bosch: Legacy, and make it less likely that people will watch it.
It’s all absolute insanity. Still, as long as Bezos gets to play astronaut, I suppose. Do you think Amazon know how close “Freevee” is to the UK’s “FreeView”?
As to the actual show: in spite of Amazon’s efforts to prevent me from ever watching it or knowing it existed, I enjoyed it. Didn’t like the theme tune much. Bosch has left the LAPD and is working as a private detective. He’s hired by a rich old man in a wheelchair (in a scene reminiscent of The Big Sleep) and is also working with his former nemesis Honey Chandler (Mimi Rogers), who is pursuing to corrupt billionaire who tried to have her killed. And Bosch’s daughter Maddie (Madison Lintz) is a rookie cop. The story picks up exactly where Season 5 of Bosch left off, so that you’d barely know the difference. So a great big shrug emoji, but catch it if you can.
I’m short of TV shows at the moment, apart from New Episode Friday, so I’ve watched a few films, with mixed results.
I’m right off films, and find most of them too dull and too long. I also have zero interest in films based on comic books and/or Star Wars. There’s also a massive darkness problem in both film and TV, which I’m sure has something to do with the current generation of 8K video cameras, or whatever they’re up to these days. Back in the film days, cinematographers knew how to light a scene and knew how far you could push film. With digital video, you can immediately see your shot, and viewing it in “ideal” conditions in the editing suite probably gives a very misleading view of what people will experience in their living rooms.
Take The Vast of Night, for example, which is a perfectly good little micro budget period science fiction film on Amazon Prime. Released in 2019, it’s set in 1950s New Mexico and was reportedly (and almost unbelievably) made for just $700,000. Two friends, one a telephone operator, the other a local radio DJ, encounter a weird frequency and investigate. The film has innovative camera work, lovely dialogue, natural performances, and an interesting enough plot. It’s really worth watching, but it is of course mostly shot in the dark. It’s in the title. I’m sure a lot of its low budget was concealed by the darkness, but still, there were long periods where you couldn’t see much on the screen. Anyway, it’s a lovely film and at 89 minutes, it’s actually as long as most films need to be, so well done everybody concerned. Recommended.
Not recommended is another Amazon acquisition, the Thandiwe Newton and Brad Pitt Chris Pine starring All The Old Knives, which wants to be an espionage thriller, but it fails to thrill. Pitt Pine stars as an active agent who’s called in to investigate an 8-year old terrorist incident when it emerges that an insider aided and abetted the terrorists. His ex-colleague (and lover) Thandiwe Newton is now a suspect, as is Jonathan Pryce. Pulling the strings is a low key Lawrence Fishburne, who appears to be cast as The Spy Whisperer. In fact, everybody mostly whispers, there’s a lot of unnecessary darkness (again) and you can’t escape the feeling that Chris Pine is who you get when you can’t get Brad Pitt. He’s charisma-free, and although there’s plenty of hype surrounding his supposed chemistry with Newton, I think you’d need laboratory conditions to spot it. Poor.
I also recently watched three old romcoms, with mixed results.
Broadcast News (1987) is the kind of adult entertainment they don’t make any more, and one of those Hollywood productions about how the media is getting stupider and shallower and quality and integrity are going out of the window. This coming from the industry that no longer makes films like this in favour of stupid comic book films and other franchise nonsense. Albert Brooks is the hero journalist in this instance, who braves the trouble spots of the world to bring the truth to the masses. He’s in love with colleague Holly Hunter, a brilliant news producer who turns his raw material into compelling viewing. Along comes shallow but pretty sports reporter William Hurt, who admires Hunter but can’t help himself when it comes to faking news and softening it up with sentimentality. A love triangle about news, who knew? Anyway, it’s good, and I like the way it ends up with none of them together.
Another hero journalist comes along in the form of Richard Gere, the cynical reporter in The Runaway Bride (1999), who seems to have a problem with women and writes a scathing column about Julia Roberts, who has left three different men at the altar. Cue predictable unravellings as Gere gets fired by his ex-wife and boss and has to try to redeem himself by profiling Roberts as she prepares to marry fiancée #4. This film has aged quite well, and has a good soundtrack of contemporary country music. Gere is charming, and Roberts lights up the screen, as ever.
Something that hasn’t aged well, though, is High Fidelity (2000), featuring John Cusack as a deeply unpleasant and unprofessional record store owner, whose equally unpleasant employees berate and abuse any customer who dares ask for uncool music. As someone who grew up with a local record store staffed by similarly unpleasant people, I was triggered by this. More problematic still is the way Cusack’s character reacts when he is dumped by his girlfriend, played by Iben Hjejle. He stalks her, harrasses her, insults and abuses her, and generally acts like too many fucking men when rejected by women. Every man in this movie is a different variety of twat.
But that’s okay, because a show doesn’t have to be L-O-L funny to be enjoyable, and Hacks is enjoyable enough, if not quite on a par with the period comedy about comedy The Marvellous Mrs Maisel, in which people are dressed better, at least.
I’ve noticed that a lot of the great and the good have started tweeting about Hacks and how much they’re enjoying it. It has a lot going for it: a female-led cast, and women allowed to be complicated without being cartoon villains. Such things are not to be sniffed at. The short episode length is also a boon: this is one of the main reasons I quite enjoyed Parallèles. There has been too a lot of praise for Jean Smart in the lead role as Deborah Vance, a veteran comedian who has outlasted her way to a lucrative Las Vegas residency; and for Hannah Einbinder as Ava Daniels, a cancelled comedy writer hired to write her some new material.
But of course I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t start disliking the show more every time I see somebody else praising it.
It’s okay, but notwithstanding the shorter episodes, there’s still a bit of a dip in the middle, during which the show seems to be treading (rationed) water in preparation for the big finish. There are moments when Vance’s quips are quite funny, but my biggest problem is that the Daniels character isn’t remotely funny. I’ve been led to believe that comedy writers’ rooms are pressure cookers of excellence, with jokes coming thick and fast for the laugh-a-minute likes of Seinfeld and The Good Place or Brooklyn 99. And she’s supposed to come from such a pressure cooker, so where are the jokes?
The premise is that Daniels has been cancelled for an off-colour joke on Twitter. Believable, except the joke wasn’t funny, nor particularly off-colour. Couldn’t this particular writers’ room come up with something at least a little outrageous? And while I’ve also been raised on the sad clown trope, even when she’s supposedly working, she doesn’t ever come up with anything funny. And the show itself knows this, because it shies away from showing us Vance performing very much of this new material.
Fine, fine, it’s a character-led “comedy” drama, but there’s a problem, I think, because there’s plenty of Vance being funny—before Daniels comes to work with her. But virtually nothing of this new writing partnership. So we’re left with a strong impression of a comedy legend who has been killing it for 50 years, but almost nothing to warrant the continued employment of this down-on-her-luck comedy writer. If she’s so brilliant, why isn’t she brilliant?
Anyway, it’s all right. I mean, when there’s nothing much else on. And once you’ve burned through new episode Friday, there’s nothing much else on.
I can’t leave without adding the obvious: every media personality praising Hacks has probably not paid £4.99 for a month of Starzplay in order to watch Station Eleven and Counterpart. Fucksake.
When I reviewed the first season of Upload (Amazon), all the way back in May 2020, I said it was ‘proper science fiction’, which is fairly rare, once you step away from the hand-wavy Star Trek space stuff. Season Two picks up where Season One left off, which might not be much of a problem if it wasn’t so long ago. Still, I recollected it fairly quickly, and found it as watchable as before, although a decent recap never goes amiss.
It has an odd tone: a mixture of broad, silly comedy (the AI staff at the virtual resort) and darker undercurrents (a growing movement against these corporations who cater to the needs and desires of the super-rich), and it is by no means perfect, but what I do like about it is that it acknowledges the socially corrosive effects of inequality and actually faces up to it in its plotting.
Another show which straddles the line between quirky and (very) dark is Severance, (TV+), which happens to be another (proper) SF show. The premise here is that the notion of work-life balance has been taken to extremes by one company in particular. Some of the employees at Lumon Industries have undergone a procedure that means that their home selves have no idea what their work selves get up to for 8 hours a day, and vice-versa.
The ‘forgetting’ seems to happen in a special elevator that employees enter at the end of every day. The first episode begins with a newly ‘severed’ employee, Helly, waking up in a room with no idea who she is or how she got there. And a lot of the story revolves around the ways in which Helly keeps trying to quit what she sees as a hellish job, only to be thwarted at every turn. Meanwhile her boss, Mark, is new to his position, uncomfortable and inexperienced in his role, and dealing with his own doubts. His ‘severance’ was a way of being able to function at work without thinking about his dead wife, and his outside self is very sad and apparently lonely.
The atmosphere is strange, the production design (possibly through necessity) is stark and empty, and there are lots of long, empty, white corridors. There are quite a few familiar faces in this. I wouldn’t say it was enjoyable, but it is compelling.
Meanwhile, Suspicion, another TV+ show, is about four apparently unconnected British people who somehow become suspects in a kidnapping plot, and end up teaming up to clear their names question mark… It’s actually a remake of an earlier Israeli series called False Flag. There are quite a few familiar faces in this, including Uma Thurman, but while it’s fairly watchable, it isn’t particularly gripping. After a few weeks, it really feels as if the story is being spun out to eight episodes.
Finally to the Star Trek universe, which is about to begin an unstoppable onslaught on our screen time in competition with the Disney+ crap.
The third season of Discovery is just coming to an end. I bought a season pass for this when it was bumped from Netflix and I kinda wish I hadn’t, because this has not been a great season. I’m so bored with threats to Earth/humanity/civilisation. Please just tell stories. Anyway, this is another one that sags in the middle of its run of episodes, and it could really do with more traditional Star Trek standalone episodes.
Just started is Season Two of Picard, which is better than Disco. I think fans are likely to be more enthusiastic about Picard just because it has Patrick Stewart, albeit a much aged version. But it also has Seven of Nine and other delights, and this second season begins with a couple of episodes full of bold moves and gasp-inducing drop-ins. It’s looking promising, but I warn you now: if there turns out to be a threat to Earth I will roll my eyes so hard.
Coming soon is Strange New Worlds, which is a much anticipated series to feature Anson Mount as Captain Pike (pre-Kirk captain of the Enterprise) and Ethan Peck as Spock. Of course, the last time they tried a prequel series, it was called Enterprise and it went quickly off the rails following 9/11 when the producers decided to introduce an… existential… threat… to… Earth… *yawn*. So it remains to be seen whether the producers will fuck this one up, but I’m looking forward to it.
These three live action Star Treks are joined by two animated series, but the other live action show rumoured to be in development is a vehicle for Michelle Yeoh, who has definitely missed from Season Three of Disco. Anyway, look forward to a future that will be all Star Trek all the time.
Greeted by lukewarm reviews, The Wheel of Time (Amazon Prime) has several barriers to overcome, not the least of which is that even people like me, who have more than a passing familiarity with the genre, have never heard of it. Am I so unusual? It seemed inevitable that reviewers in the mainstream would be a bit cool about it. They’re going to immediately reach for Game of Thrones comparisons, and they’ll already have experienced the lacklustre output of fantasy and cod fantasy in the wake of GoT. Sit down, Vikings. Most of the lustre was scrubbed away from GoT in its final season, and the best that has come along since has been the bonkers Britannia, and even that is very much an acquired taste.
This all goes back to William Goldman’s mantra about Hollywood: nobody knows. Nobody really knows why GoT was such a success. Sure, good story, powerful characters, great actors, money thrown at the screen, all that. But still, there have been plenty of shows with those elements that didn’t quite take off, lots of them genre shows. I’ve been a big fan of a lot of them. And even the genre shows that did garner good reviews and a following tended to under deliver in later seasons. And there have been excellent shows that have had five good years and yet: I’ve never met anyone who watched them. Consider the following.
Travelers (Netflix). Superb show. Cancelled after three seasons. Never met anyone who watched it.
Magicians (Amazon Prime). Fucking excellent show. Five seasons of it, and I’m having to force a friend to watch it by threatening the safety of her children.
Stranger Things (Netflix). Yes, it was quite a good first season. But after that? Bof.
Good Omens? American Gods? The Watch? Bof, bof, bof.
If you held a gun to my head, I might suggest that much of the success of Game of Thrones was owed to Emilia Clarke, whose frequent nude scenes in Season 1 made it both controversial and, well, you know. But watch it now, post #metoo, and if you’re not squirming, you’ve not been paying attention. And, well, read the room, casting director: you have to go quite a long way down the cast list before you get to Nathalie Emmanuel and Jacob Anderson.
So the problem with the fantasy genre in particular is that it tends towards the multi-volume epic. We all know about Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire. I’ve mentioned in the past my fondness for Katherine Kerr’s Deverry series. I’ve also read series by Joe Abercrombie, Robin Hobb, Tad Williams, and N K Jemeson — and that short listing barely scratches the surface.
So, yeah, if you said the name Robert Jordan to me, I’d have acknowledged that I’ve seen the name, but I’ve never picked up any of the books, and couldn’t name a title or the series.
Which brings us back to The Wheel of Time, which already looks to me like a better investment than the Lord of the Rings But Only the Bits Approved by the Estate deal. If they’d come to me, I might have suggested one of the above, but that doesn’t mean I think they’ve made a bad choice with the late Robert Jordan’s books. At least they know there’s an ending! As to the premise, it all centres around a character called Moiraine (Rosamund Pike) a magician who is looking for the reincarnation of a figure called The Dragon, who supposedly has the power to save the world or destroy it. And, I get it, to non-genre fans this can sound like it might be a bit silly. So did Game of Thrones. So did Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Because the strength of these narratives isn’t about the magic and the dragons. It’s about the storytelling and the world building. And to anyone who sneers, I say, just look at the cast.
Just a look at it tells you how far we’ve come. For a start, it’s not all bloody men, so it’s not one of those contrived situations where half the population are missing. But the main thing about the cast is that it is colourful and diverse and – thank goodness – the producers haven’t decided that all the characters must be white because it wouldn’t be ‘realistic’ to have people of colour.
I watched the first three episodes (five more to come in this season), and I have to say it was very watchable. There were some distractingly bad fake beards (or, if they were real, distractingly bad real beards). There were some scary monsters, some extended action scenes, a bit of magic, some gruesome cruelty. Quite a lot of exposition, inevitably. Someone coughs up a bat. But no gratuitous nudity cynically calculated to garner headlines. Actually, it’s all right. And Amazon/Sony have done better with this than Apple did with Foundation, so there’s that. Definitely the kind of thing you might like if you like this kind of thing — and a lot of people do.
The final, last, and ultimate season of Bosch has just dropped on Amazon Prime, which I don’t know about you but it was a surprise to me. Amazon are very, very bad at curating their own shows, and you do wonder if there’s anyone over there with their eye on the ball. You’d think, since I’ve used my account to watch the previous six seasons, that they might have dropped something on the Amazon home screen for me, but no. Just adverts for no-name kitchen gadgets that would take up space in the cupboard for a few years and then end up in a landfill.
Still, Bosch is always welcome, notwithstanding the fact that it is under-watched, under-appreciated, and underrated. By now, the producers have reached one of the more recent books, so this story was fairly fresh in my mind.
I was just contemplating, as I sometimes do, whether to delete a couple of posts from this blog because they generate a lot of follow-spam, which is what happens if you make it impossible for spam comments to appear on your blog. Instead, you get lots and lots of follows and “likes” from trashy bot-created content-scraping web sites. It doesn’t create work, but it does irritate the hell out of me. What does this have to do with Bosch? Just that, my various reviews of this series do generate a steady flow of what I assume are real human visitors, curious about whether this under-publicised and under-discussed show is any good.
It is. But Season 7, I think, does feel a bit brusque and hand-washy, so it’s not without its faults.
In brief: Season 7 is (very loosely) based on The Burning Room (Bosch #17), which was published in novel form in 2014. In reality, the connection to the novel is tenuous, and mostly this is a continuation of earlier story threads, and most particularly a continuation of Bosch’s antagonistic relationship with the FBI, who infuriate him by protecting suspects and claiming it is for ‘the greater good’. From Bosch’s point of view, this is always an inversion because he cares more about victims of crime than he does crime syndicates. Anyway, most of the plot and many of the characters of the novel are jettisoned in favour of a kind of similar apartment fire but that’s more or less it.
Titus Welliver and the rest of the cast are still good, and I’m not sure saying this is the final season means that we’ve seen the last of the character, but still. This does feel like a wrap. And this is partly why it feels a bit rushed, because you can kind of see the end coming, and it is all over fairly quickly.
1. There are only 8 episodes, and the longest of them is 50 minutes, meaning that this show ends up feeling more like a modern 5-parter. You barely notice the transitions between episodes. The title sequence usually took me by surprise.
2. The richness and complexity of early seasons, usually based on three of the novels, is replaced by what feels like standard continuity of plot and character – in order to get it done.
3. You don’t really get the sense that the loving photography of Los Angeles is something they think about anymore.
4. The #metoo harassment sub-plot feels especially superficial and deserved more serious treatment.
I still enjoyed it, and I’ll watch what comes next (Lincoln Lawyer? Ballard and Bosch?), I just wish there was more of this that I could make last longer.