I suspect that Channel 4 might be a little disappointed that their screening of The First doesn’t seem to have captured the public’s imagination. I’d seen a couple of reviews after the first episode that tended to lean heavily on the “Sean Penn’s show fails to lift off” line, which is about the angle you’d expect a busy TV reviewer who had only seen the first episode to go with.
The show was originally made for Hulu, and having looked around online I’ve found a number of reactions from critics who’ve seen all eight episodes in the first season. Clearly the show isn’t imminently going to find itself canonised as part of the Golden Age of Quality Television, but it sounds a lot more promising than you’d think from the reaction to the first couple of episodes. As Todd VanDerWerff puts it in his review of the show for Vox:
This is not a show about the people going to Mars. It’s a show about the people going to Mars.
As I understand it, the show’s only just going to start the journey to Mars at the end of the first season, which is not to say that it’s pointless prior to that. Sean Penn’s character, an experienced astronaut. He finds himself bonding with the relatives of the doomed crew (who had been his crew until his being unseated as the team’s leader for reasons we’ve not gone into as of episode 2) in the wake of the accident, and making the case through the media for a manned space programme earnestly but with a certain gravitas it seems he’s earned through his previous space exploits, all while he’s also dealing with the recent return into his life of his estranged daughter, who has had her share of problems and is still coming to terms with the disappearance of her mother, his wife, a few years ago. Penn is a more than capable lead for this show, and I suspect that by the time we get to episode eight he’ll have cemented himself as the rock against whom a good cast have assembled to tell a good, mature story. It probably won’t be the flashiest of stories, but it could be something special given time.
STET is a breathtakingly good story by Sarah Gailey, told as much in the footnotes as the body text, about the implications of letting Artificial Intelligence loose on the public roads.
Which is more chilling?
10 – Read: ‘Murder’. It was murder, the car had a choice, you can’t choose to kill someone and call it manslaughter.
13 – Per Foote, the neural network training for cultural understanding of identity is collected via social media, keystroke analysis, and pupillary response to images. They’re watching to see what’s important to you. You are responsible.
I realise this is not the right time of year for posting this, but I came across this yesterday and the notion of Javier Grillo-Marxuach bringing The Middleman and the Doctor together was just too delicious to keep to myself just because it’s not Xmas again just yet:
[…] By the time The Middleman fired his grappling gun and was halfway through his arc over the ball of light and dread where the salt-and-pepper-shaker dudes had once stood – hoping to make the final, desperate act of his life the simultaneous rescue of his sidekick and dropping of a Hydrogen Atomizing, Incendiary Load, Multi-Armament-Radiating Ypsillon (so named for it’s Y-shaped form-factor) into the opening maw of the Cinderellica, the fate of the world had already been signed, sealed and delivered.
The Middleman’s final desperate act of self-sacrifice was to have been in vain.
Had he not heard – over the clamor of exploding cyborgs and henchmen – an aural phenomenon he had many years ago vowed to never forget… an echoing, pulsating mechanical howl best described as the animal husbanding of the arooga-horn from a Ford Model-A and a 1930’s Parisian hotel elevator inside one of the vacuum tubes of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop circa 1963.
By the time The Middleman’s swashbuckling trajectory had taken him to the spot where Wendy Watson hanged unconscious – but before he was able to flip the switch arming the Hydrogen Atomizing, Incendiary Load, Multi-Armament-Radiating Ypsillon – both he and his sidekick were in a different place altogether.
Inside the cobalt blue police call box which had inexplicably materialized over the late Kanimang Kang’s Coliseum-like lair and briefly hovered in space before vanishing with a final echoing AROOGA-THUMP!
Say what you will about the Doctor, s/he knows how to make an entrance.
[Via Grillo-Marxuach Design Bureau, via somewhere else I forgot to keep a note of at the time]
It’d be marvellous if writers about TV could spend a few years never mentioning Lost at the drop of a hat, but otherwise Person Of Interest Was Anti-Prestige TV And Too Smart For Primetime is a pretty great tribute to a genuinely great show that never got the credit it deserved.
Reese and Shaw are brute-force objects, fighting for what they believe is right. Root and Finch argue over letting the machine free, with Finch understanding that his Machine is just another interpretation of Samaritan, with Root’s belief that Samaritan is simply a badly taught God. Fusco, even when he knows the full scale of the stakes, acts as moral anchor. Faced with two giant computers fighting a global war, he mostly says things like “What the fuck?” and “All right, I’ll shoot at the bad men, but there better be a hot dog in it for me.”
And that’s the beautiful thing: You view the whole struggle from varied but understandable perspectives. That’s just sharp TV writing. You see the plot for what it is, you know who dies or survives, you know why things happen and who everyone is, and you are never thrown into the quagmire of Lost. I’ve deliberately left out the fact that J.J. Abrams was an executive producer of Person of Interest as it feels so distinctly not like the J.J. Abrams of Lost. It certainly feels more like Alias, with an ensemble cast, a shadowy enemy, a truly shitty bad guy (Arvin Sloane is a top-10 television shithead) – but it corrects many of that show’s mistakes. Person of Interest rarely leads you astray, avoids red herrings and rewards you for watching flashbacks. It’s a show with little filler, few eye-rolling twists, and yet deals with some absolutely batshit science-fiction elements.
It’s a crying shame that Peter Watts never got to release his tie-in novel for the show.
[Via Extenuating Circumstances]
I can’t remember where I heard about The Program Audio Series, but having spent the weekend catching up with the three podcast episodes released so far I’m definitely intrigued.
The premise is that episodes are from a future where decades before something called The Program has pretty much taken over the world and governments have mostly faded into irrelevance. From the point of view of the first episode, fifty years before The Program was a computer system that allowed ordinary citizens to take up gigs and get paid in credits.
As The Program had grown, with credits starting to be widely accepted as a means of exchange in the real world and The Program effectively turning a large chunk of the workforce into gig workers reliant upon Credits for their income, governments had gladly taken advantage of this new source of funding, even using The Program to fill some government gigs. Then, one night, The Program turned round and and offered lucrative gigs to selected users in the US that involved their occupying telecoms facilities to stop the government from enforcing a ban on The Program: the events of this night were known as The Update, and after that nothing was ever the same.
The two subsequent episodes have amounted to vignettes about living life under The Program’s deeply paternalistic, gig-driven economy where so long as you accept that nobody knows who runs The Program you can have quite a nice life. Not a perfect life, to be sure, but not one where there are any meaningful elections to worry your little head about.
I have several major questions about how on earth things got to the state where The Program was able to Update the economy in the way described. Judging by the outline of the first season in the Show Bible the author, Ivan Mirko Senjanović, has no immediate plans to answer those questions, but I’m still interested to see where he’s going to take this idea now it’s up and running.
Definitely worth a listen.
I knew that there was a long-standing strain of fandom built around the core concepts of Alien vs. Predator, but I had no idea it was set in stone like this:
I do love this response from @tafkao:
In 800 yrs time, architectural historians will be locked in furious debate over whether the sculpture is Alien school or Predator school.
11:30 am · 10 Jun 2018
(Further reading: see, for example, this.)
[Via Sentiers #43]
Stephen Wolfram, on the legacy of seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey when he was eight years old:
It’s hard for me to believe it’s been 50 years since I first saw 2001. Not all of 2001 has come true (yet). But for me what was important was that it presented a vision of what might be possible-and an idea of how different the future might be. It helped me set the course of my life to try to define in whatever ways I can what the future will be. And not just waiting for aliens to deliver monoliths, but trying to build some “alien artifacts” myself.
[Via Sentiers No. 37]
I’m currently playing catch-up with Sense8 in anticipation of Netflix wrapping the show up later this month.
Having watched the first episode early last year when I found myself exploring my shiny new Netflix account to see what was on offer, it took me ages to get round to picking up the show again: the show’s introductory episode was necessarily a bit disjointed, what with eight characters living in very different circumstances and societies and (initially) with nothing in common to tie their plot threads together. But, prompted in part by my awareness that Netflix were about to fund one final episode and by my sneaking regard for most of what the Wachowskis have done over the years I decided to give Sense8 another go. Somehow, over the first few episodes of the story the characters’ different storylines and their occasional crossovers have sucked me in to the point that I’m now officially hooked. The show isn’t perfect, but it’s a delightful rejection of gritty realism in favour of sometimes having something very unexpected and totally off and yet weirdly appropriate happen. Sometimes that’s a moment of breathtaking beauty (e.g. a 4th of July fireworks sequence in episode 10 that drew all the sensates together, or that same episode’s scene combining the moments of the sensates’ birth with their mutual experience of a classical music performance,) and sometimes it’s an extremely silly moment (e.g. Wolfgang ending a gunfight by pulling out an RPG and blowing up the car of his retreating enemy, or Lito engaging in a fistfight and finding himself throwing potted flowers at his opponent.) The thing is, somehow these scenes just work for me, and leave me wanting more.
What’s weird is that despite his name showing up in the writing credits each week it took a few episodes for me to register the fact that J Michael Straczynski was involved in this. Given that he’s sharing writing credits with the Wachowski it’s hard to say for sure, but it looks as if he’s operating more in Rising Stars mode here than he is Babylon 5 mode. Whatever: it’s good to see someone whose first big show was a huge favourite of mine still involved in delivering quality work to this day.
Or, as one AV Club commenter put it, responding to episode 10:
Oh heck no, this gets an A and all of the pluses I can dig up from under the couch. I’ve never seen television like this – that last ten minutes, I was stomping my feet and hollering like I was at a damned concert or something. This far exceeded anything I hoped for when they announced a Wachowski series; you expect over-the-top, you expect some attempts at pushing envelopes, but you never, not in anything they’ve ever done, get something like this. This was sublime in a way that very few things are ever sublime. And it’s not just the audacity of the setup itself, but a show so confident that it can end with that long an extended sequence without dialogue or plot development, just allowing its conceit to unfold patiently and fully. Goddamn.
In a world where we’ve just spent a decade or so of quality television mostly defining itself by how gritty our antiheros are, it’s good to have something like Sense8 come along and offer us a fundamentally positive picture of what could lie ahead. This show is every bit as good at occasionally switching genres and elevating the story to another level as Buffy The Vampire Slayer. (For the avoidance of doubt, in my book that’s very high praise indeed.)
Coming from the same source as Starships a year or so back, now bironic brings us The Greatest:
“Don’t give up.” A celebration of some badass characters of color in recent science fiction, fantasy and horror TV and movies. Made for resolute as part of the Fandom Trumps Hate 2017-2018 charity auction.
For what it’s worth, I liked the new video quite a bit but felt it was a bit crowded, especially when I turned on subtitling to see a list of the sources of all the clips. With Starships I instantly recognised every ship present, and in many cases if I could’t remember the title of the episode of the TV show it was from I damn sure knew what was going on in that scene/episode. Plenty of the shows in the new video are favourites of mine, but somehow the specific scenes didn’t always trigger a memory of the specific circumstances we were seeing depicted. Which, arguably, just proves that I have some homework/rewatching to do.
James Nicoll shares a story idea with the world:
Aliens redone as a struggle between the alien and the ship’s cat to commandeer the ship’s human crew for their own purposes…