Black Mirror trailer

The trailer for Black Mirror season 5 seems mainly to exist to remind us that having access to some of Netflix’s money allows the show to cast bigger names and keep the standard of special effects up to scratch: no attempt to let us in on what any of the stories are about. Charlie Brooker seems to know what he’s doing thus far, so let’s see what sort of nightmares he’s going to share with us this time round.

I’d love to see them deliver a season of relatively upbeat tales in the vein of San Junipero, just to see how that’d feel, but I’m not going to hold my breath…

[Edited to add: ask, and ye shall receive… JR 23 May 2019]

[Via Slate]

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.

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.

Weekend TV

Such a good weekend TV-wise.

Catching up with a new season of The Good Place was a delight. (Provided you could ignore Ted Danson/Michael’s attempt at an Australian accent when he was posing as a librarian to help nudge Chidi in the right direction at one crucial moment. It’s entirely possible that half a dozen episodes from now we’ll discover that there was a reason that accent was that bad.)

But of course the big TV event of the week came this evening when we got the debut of Jodie Whittaker in the Chris Chibnall-as-showrunner era of Doctor Who. I had my doubts, but they were more about Chibnall on the basis of how poor his past efforts at writing for the franchise had been than they were about his choice of an actor to play the lead role in his take on the show. 1

On the basis of the first episode of the new era, I think it’s going to be fine. The first episode spent much of the time showing us what the new Companions are like, which is fair enough, but still left plenty of time for Jodie Whittaker to show us that she’s got the chops to give us a memorable Doctor once she’s reunited with the TARDIS and she gets a couple more stories under her belt. At this early stage, that’s as much as we can reasonably expect.

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]

Farewell, Saga

I was so pleased to see that after four seasons The Bridge stuck the landing_ so nicely.

I’d half expected that the show would end with one of the leads killed off – very possibly having sacrificed themselves to save an innocent victim – but the writers resisted that temptation and instead showed us a Saga who had let go of the guilt that drove her to be a detective and seemed to have resolved to try to decide on a different career.

I’ll confess that I had a moment of doubt when Saga pulled in while crossing the bridge and went to peer at the grey, choppy sea below, but we left her driving away in her odd-coloured Porsche to a new life doing something she wants to do. Part of me wishes we’d get to see what she does next, but most of me is just glad that such a complicated, troubled character made it to the end of the story with, if anything, fewer psychological scars than she’s carried over four seasons. Good work, writers.

One obvious question now is what Saga is going to do with her life if she’s no longer going to carry a badge. Given her personality it’d be hard to see her becoming a private investigator and building up a client base: she’d definitely need someone with more people skills to act as her liaison with the rest of the world.1

Assuming that Saga is going away for a while, I wonder what sort of stories Henrik is going to tell his daughter Astrid (who, after all, only met Saga briefly and under extremely stressful circumstances) about his best friend Saga while she’s away?

Hunks Punch Lunks

Prompted by the release of the first season of The Professionals on Blu-ray a few years ago, Taylor Parkes reminds those of us who grew up in 1970s Britain of [just how strange mainstream UK TV got] as the nation turned to Mrs. Thatcher to save it from the foreigners and lefties who were responsible for our losing the Empire (or something)1:

These early episodes are Clemens in excelsis. Not one line of the dialogue bears the slightest resemblance to anything anyone would ever actually say; logic and reason are abandoned; a strange kind of excitement is the only thing that matters. In ‘Close Quarters’, Bodie has a fortnight off because he’s been shot in the hand, so he takes Nick Drake’s sister out on the river at Marlow – only to chance upon the very boathouse in which the leaders of the Baader-Meinhof gang are staying whilst on a jolly to Britain. Despite only being able to use one hand, and having to wet-nurse a terrified woman who looks like Nick Drake, Bodie captures Andreas Baader (the gang have all been given false names – perhaps the producers were worried they’d write in and complain? – but it’s not hard to work out who’s meant to be who). He flees to a nearby vicarage, pursued by three angry RAFers all toting machine guns which they must have found lying around somewhere. In a subtly symbolic moment, the vicar tries to make peace with the terrorists and is shot to smithereens – although, as ever when people die in The Professionals, nobody gives a shit. Anyway, a thrilling siege ensues, and Bodie sees off the whole Baader-Meinhof gang, quite literally single-handedly – although of course, the task of dispatching the lady terrorist falls to Ms Drake, because we couldn’t possibly see Bodie do that. A nice day out for her, then. Unsurprisingly, we don’t see her again. Still, she learnt a valuable lesson: hot lead is the only language Marxists understand.

I have a horrible feeling that the only thing saving us from a post-Brexit remake of The Professionals is that they can’t possibly pay Martin Shaw enough money to turn up in this version to play the new George Cowley.

[Via [MetaFilter](http://www.metafilter.com/174451/the-very-epitome-of-the-good-bad-TV-show “”The very epitome of the good-bad TV show | MetaFilter)]

Sense8

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 years1 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.)