The OA reviewed

A couple of weeks ago I finally got round to watching the first season of Netflix’s The OA. I was well aware that it got a mixed-but-respectful response from reviewers at the time, and I’d always had in on my list of shows to catch up with some day. I’ve since enjoyed various reviews of the first season, but this one is by far the one that chimed with me most, partly because the reviewer makes a connection with a very different big budget swing-and-miss that I love:

[The OA…] is a swing and a miss on a colossal level, but oh, what a swing. Both Jupiter Ascending and The OA share a thread of DNA, a plot that you just know, at one point, made complete crystalline sense to somebody, but somewhere down the line (or more likely, when morning came) the smudges on the glass became apparent. They are filled with lines of dialogue that could sound profound or heartwarming if you don’t think about them too long, but I’m to distracted imagining the writer nodding and smirking at his computer screen. They forgo rational characters for convenient or dramatic plot developments, and cohesion for spectacle.

The thing is, I adore what the Wachowski siblings do and, slightly against my better judgement, I loved The OA too. They established a strange mood and stuck with it, and ended up with something seriously compelling even if reason didn’t get much of a look-in at times.

I’m intrigued to see what they do with the imminent second season of The OA. I do hope they don’t react to the response to that first season by suddenly trying to explain themselves. More saving the world via the medium of interpretive dance, I say. Swing away!

Discovering more Discovery

When Netflix started screening season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery to the rest of the world I was aware that CBS had produced a number of shorts in the same setting and featuring characters from the show under the title Short Treks, but the word was that no UK service had picked them up so we right-side-of-the-pond users would be destined to miss out, at least until someone put together a DVD release for the series.1 Driven by curiosity after I saw Discovery season 2’s latest episode The Sound Of Thunder which tied in heavily with one of the Short Treks stories, I went looking around the web and found that somewhere along the way, without any fanfare or publicity that I could see, Netflix 2 do now have the four Short Treks on their site, slightly hidden away under the ‘Trailers and More’ menu option.3 I’m a little surprised that Netflix didn’t make any effort to let their audience know when they popped up, but I guess little stuff like this just slips between the cracks sometimes when you’re a global brand more focused on capturing an ever-higher higher percentage of users’ screen time than on catering to every show you offer’s cult following.4

Having seen more of Commander Saru’s home world in The Brightest Star, one of the Short Treks, I do wonder how much the characters featured in the other shorts are going to factor into the remainder of season 2. Will Tilly find herself calling on her relationship with a newly-crowned queen from a distant planet at some point? Given the hints that the Red Angels are using time travel, will we get to see why the crew of the Discovery abandoned their ship for almost a thousand years (and, more to the point, will they return to the ship after some time-travelling adventure meet their newly-evolved ship’s AI? And then do some more time-travelling – this time taking their ship with them – to get back into their place in the timeline? Will their new hyper-advanced ship’s AI replace the Spore Drive as the USS Discovery‘s secret weapon in future seasons?) Will the crew of the Discovery run into Harcourt Fenton Mudd again? 5 The four shorts aren’t going to set the world on fire for exploring a wild new range of science-fictional ideas, but they form a nice little look at the wider Trek universe a few years before the Kirk-captaining-the-Enterprise era that we saw back in the 1960s.6

For what it’s worth, I reckon season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery is doing well at compensating for many of the issues fans had with the first season. Anson Mount is doing good work of filling in what sort of captain Christopher Pike was, to the point where it’ll be a real shame if they can’t find a way to have him return to the Enterprise yet occasionally find him and his crew backing up the USS Discovery occasionally in future seasons of Star Trek: Discovery. Whether he ends up providing backup for Captain Saru or Captain Burnham (or Captain Tilly, even) is way less important than that he’s still around occasionally to provide an injection of proper, old school Star Fleet values to the story.

“What do you mean you’re not willing to electrocute your cat? It’s a cat! It would do the same to you in an instant!”

John Scalzi shares a story of an encounter with Automated Customer Service in the not too distant future:

Thank you for calling the customer service line of Vacuubot, purveyors of America’s finest automated vacuum cleaners! In order to more efficiently handle call volume, we rely on automated responses. To continue in English, press one. Para Espanol o prima dos. […]

That Purge Mode is a doozy!

[Via Metafilter]

The First

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.1

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.2 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.3 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 cast4 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

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.

Or,

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.

Brrr…

[Via MetaFilter]

AROOGA-THUMP

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.

AROOGA-THUMP…AROOGA-THUMP…AROOGA-THUMP!

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]

Of Interest

It’d be marvellous if writers about TV could spend a few years never mentioning Lost at the drop of a hat,1 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]

The Program Audio Series

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.1

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 questions2 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.

Alien(s)

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]

2001 remembered

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]