Tag: TV

A professional

Towards the end of the discussion at MetaFilter of the announcement about Bruce Willis, a delightful reminder of just how much fun Moonlighting was, back at its’ peak.

As Mchelly put it: the "least-Bruce Willis-ever Moonlighting clip"

Bruce Willis may not have been a dancer by trade, but he was a professional who got the job done. That dance sequence was directed by Stanley Donen, goddammit! (It helped that Willis wasn’t the one viewers were paying attention to in that scene, at least not for the bulk of it. Or perhaps that was just me…)

It may have come years before the current "golden age" of TV built up a head of steam, but in the good years Moonlighting was appointment TV.

[Via Mchelly, posting to MetaFilter]

, 2 April 2022. Category: Uncategorized. Tagged: .


Having subscribed to STARZPLAY so I could watch Station Eleven – a very good decision, as it turned out – I’ve decided to compensate for the impending gap in my viewing schedule once Station Eleven ends by catching up with a slightly older show streaming via the same service, Counterpart.

As I hoped would happen way back 1 before any of us had even heard of COVID-19 when I was mulling over the prospect of Counterpart ever turning up on this side of the Atlantic, the producers/rights owners have clearly decided to take what money they can get even if the show wasn’t a global smash hit.

On the evidence of the first few episodes, Counterpart looks very promising. J K Simmons has fun playing two versions of the same person,2 and with Olivia Williams clearly destined to play a bigger part than her role in the first episode suggested this has the feel of a show that knows what it’s doing and has the cast to have some fun with such a juicy Sci-Fi premise.3

I know the show only got two seasons, and I have no idea whether the general view was that the show went off the rails as it proceeded, but the first five episodes suggest that the show-runner seems to be content to invest time in drawing us a picture of just how far the two worlds’ versions of Simmons’ character, Howard Silk, are from one another. I’m content to trust in J K Simmons and his cast mates, for now.

  1. See footnote 3 in this post from 2019
  2. One of the big questions from the start seems to be how come Howard Silk’s Earth-Prime counterpart ended up with such a different career path given that the initial split between worlds/timelines occurred during his/their lifetime. Pure chance, or something about different people around him in the two versions of his life providing/withholding opportunities for him to follow a different path? 
  3. Seeing that in episode 2 Stephen Rea is also part of the cast only adds to my expectation that going forward this show has all the cast it needs to deliver greatness. Which slightly makes me worry whether the show’s demise was down to the writers not giving their cast the material to deliver on the idea’s potential. 
, 14 March 2022. Category: Uncategorized. Tagged: .

Station Eleven

Given the largely positive reviews that Station Eleven got, regular readers may not be surprised to learn that I ended up shelling out for a STARZPLAY subscription with the plan of watching the ten episodes then deciding whether to let my subscription roll over for another month. There’s other content I’d been meaning to watch1 so we’ll see how long they can keep my interest.

I’m up to episode five so far, and while the show has been a bit uneven so far as they’ve introduced the characters my worries that the show might veer into a more Walking Dead-style take on the apocalypse have abated. I’m mostly enjoying some excellent acting and a cast of characters who are (so far) very much not taking the story in that sort of relentlessly grim direction.

More to say once I catch up with the end of the show, but I do have two negative points about the wider experience of watching the show:

  1. Whilst the official podcast has all the access to the cast and crew one could wish for, the content is so self-congratulatory about just how brilliant everyone was that it can be hard to take. This is why for other shows I mostly steer clear of their official podcasts, but I haven’t had time to locate a suitable non-official alternative for this show yet.
  2. The STARZPLAY app for iPadOS breaks so many of John Siracusa’s (unsolicited) rules for streaming apps it’s ridiculous and is also just horribly unreliable when it comes to just playing streaming video, full stop. Silent crashes, the app reacting to a wrong touch by returning me to the start of my episode multiple times per episode, it’s infuriating. They’re lucky the content is worth the perseverance required.

  1. I definitely need to see Counterpart from scratch, and it’d be good to finish off Fringe after I made it to the end of season 2 in an earlier watch on NowTV earlier in the pandemic. 

This Is Going To Hurt

Watching the first episode of This Is Going To Hurt this evening, I was struck by the resemblance to a show called Cardiac Arrest,1 back when Helen Baxendale was a new face and Jed Mercurio was still writing under the pen-name of John MacUre.

Ben Whishaw is very good in the new show and it certainly isn’t trying to make the NHS look good.2 On the evidence of the first episode, the only thing stopping this picking up the crown of "the most realistic medical drama of all time" is that it remains to be seen how open the post-pandemic public will be to the proposition that pushing the NHS to do everything on the cheap while also forcing it to pick up all classes of work is inevitably going to make the NHS look worse than it should.

A lot will depend upon how future episodes depict the role of managers, I suspect. Plus, of course with any BBC show, how far the show catches the eye of the culture warriors in the government and press as they spoil for a fight/headline/soundbite.

  1. Yes, that was a while ago. What can I say, I’m old. 
  2. Beyond depicting the staff as basically people trying to do the right thing despite the pressures of the system they have to work under. 
, 8 February 2022. Category: Uncategorized. Tagged: .

Lasso in NYRB

The New York Review of Books writes about the writing in Ted Lasso, and an Apple marketing executive checks off one more objective reached as Apple TV+ becomes strives to become known as the streaming age’s HBO.

Perhaps the greatest literary move of Season 2 is the redemption (that is, re-seeing) of Rick Astley’s 1987 “Never Gonna Give You Up.” The song is one of pop history’s most sentimental and most grating earworms, as well as the origin of the bait-and-switch Rickrolling Internet prank. Episode 10, though, revolving around the repercussions of Ted’s and Rebecca’s teenage traumas (a father’s suicide and a father’s adultery, respectively), finds a way to use the song in a wholly unfamiliar way. At the funeral of Rebecca’s philandering father, Rebecca is supposed to give his eulogy. “I don’t really know what to say…my father was….” she trails off. Then lightly, tenderly, she begins, “We’re no strangers to love/You know the rules and so do I…” and continues singing, in a stumbling yet lovely a cappella, the first verse of “Never Gonna Give You Up.” When she breaks down, Ted takes up the verse from the back row of the church. Soon all the mourners join in unison.

The song is re-seen, transformed from a saccharine teenage tonic to a strange elegy for a man whose adult daughter still struggles to reconcile her conflicting feelings about him. Such re-seeing or “making new again” gets a special name in literary studies: defamiliarization. It comes from a transliteration of a Russian word that the theorist and critic Viktor Shklovsky invented to describe those moments in literature that make a reader see something in a new light or from a wholly different angle, as if seeing it for the first time.

In fairness the article gives credit where it’s due, in an appreciation of just how carefully the show was written (not to mention how well it was acted by all involved.) Fine work all round.

See also…

, 25 January 2022. Category: Uncategorized. Tagged: , .

Star Trek: Coda

When I dipped a toe in the waters of the Star Trek tie-in towards the end of last year1 I had no idea that the Trek Litverse was just about to wind itself up:

Following the conclusion of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine on television, the success of the series’ continuation in book form, known as the DS9 relaunch (about which I’ve written extensively in this space—see here for an overview and index to individual book reviews), inspired a shared continuity across almost all Trek novels being published at the time. Authors and editors worked closely to keep this continuity as tight as possible across twenty years (2001-2021) of multi-book series storytelling, in the process giving rise to a vast tapestry of interconnected stories that some fans refer to as the Trek Litverse.

That enormous Litverse, at least in its current form, is now concluding. In September, October and November we’ll see the publication of three volumes that will stand as the epic final chapter, called Star Trek: Coda, of the decades-long mega-story:

  • Moments Asunder by Dayton Ward (September 28)
  • The Ashes of Tomorrow by James Swallow (October 26)
  • Oblivion’s Gate by David Mack (November 30)

Clearly I was about thirty years too late to start catching up2 with the Trek Litverse at this late stage in the game, but I decided that if they were just about to wind the whole thing up with a bang then it’d be a shame to miss out on the final round of fun for a bunch of characters I mostly greatly enjoyed in their original run.

Having finished the last of the Coda trilogy a couple of weeks ago, I think it’s fair to say that they wrapped up the story with WAY-more-than-one-bang. There was an awful lot of fanservice going on across three volumes of story, but given the nature of the story that was precisely what I was expecting. Not having folllowed the details of the Star Trek Litverse I was mildly taken aback at the number of familiar characters from the TV shows who turned out, several years after we last saw them in their respective TV shows, to be on hand in the vicinity of their former commanders when needed. The former Major Kira Nerys being a Vedek now, resident on Bajor, was no big surprise, but what led to Odo serving on the replacement Deep Space Nine, with Ro Laren (Ensign Ro when we last saw her in season 7 of TNG) as the DS9 station commander?3 That’s what I get for being a couple of decades behind in my reading, I guess…

The basic point being that for anyone who established some liking for the 1980s/1990s-era Star Trek universe over the years and isn’t put off by the but-this-isn’t-ever-what-we-saw-on-tv-or-the-big-screen premise,4 this trilogy is a fun ride. I’m not tempted right now to dive into two decades of Star Trek Litverse material, but I’m glad it’s there if I’m in the mood.

  1. What can I say? I was in the mood for something lightweight to distract me at a stressful time work-wise and otherwise. Also, I was exploring the pros and cons of an Audible subscription I’d acquired earlier last year to enjoy the first volume of the adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman stories (which, for what it’s worth, worked far better than I’d imagined they would when stripped of their visual component) and was in the mood to see how well a more conventional audiobook adaptation would work for me. Star Trek seemed to fit the bill. 
  2. My mid-2021 dip into the Trek Litverse consisted of a trilogy set in the TOS era consisting of Greg Cox’s Captain to Captain, David Mack’s Best Defense and Dayton Ward and Kevin Dillmore’s Purgatory’s Key, followed by a two-parter by Kirsten Beyer set in on Voyager in the Janeway-gets-sent-back-to-the-Delta-quadrant era, Architects of Infinity and To Lose the Earth. Not, by definition, a comprehensive picture of what’s happened in the Trek Litverse over a couple of decades, but sufficiently entertaining to persuade me that my earlier inclination to look down on material that never got near a TV or movie screen as inherently less satisfying might have been too harsh. 
  3. True, the plan was that her character might end up on the DS9 TV series, but that was – forgive the expression in this context – in a different timeline. 
  4. I used to think that novelisations based to filmed material were fine – perhaps influenced by the James Blish tie-ins back in the day but I always held the original material at arms’-length, uncomfortably aware that if it wasn’t on TV then by definition it hadn’t been in the mind of the show’s writers. 

For 2022

On the same principle that lots of us rewatched Soderbergh’s Contagion in the early days of the first lockdown1, HBO stands to do well with an adaptation of Station Eleven:

The show, based on Emily St. John Mandel’s 2014 international bestseller, follows the survivors of a flu pandemic.

Despite the desperate realities of the world at present, it seems there’s a continuing thirst for post-apocalyptic stories. Station Eleven sees a devastating flu pandemic and follows its survivors as they they attempt to rebuild society.

It seems to be getting enough favourable reviews to suggest that it’s going to be worthwhile, and at the end of January 2022 it’s going to be available to UK viewers via STARZplay (which should mean it’ll be viewable through Apple TV+ or Prime Video and so on.)

HBO’s trailer for the US release makes the show look worth watching:

If, like me, you’re utterly unfamiliar with the source material you might find HBO’s Beginners’ Guide promo useful:

Me, I’m seeing Mackenzie Davis and Himesh Patel (both actors who I think did good work in past projects – Halt And Catch Fire and Yesterday respectively – that didn’t bring them the plaudits they were due) in a speculative fiction show that has some interesting ideas and I’m there. The only question is whether I pony up for a STARZplay subscription that I plan upfront to cancel after 1 month or whether I wait until the end of the first season then binge the entire season in the free trial period. I realise the latter option isn’t exactly playing fair with the spirit in which STARZplay offers a free trial, but then Lions Gate Entertainment Corporation have no doubt costed into their projections how many viewers will "abuse our generosity"2 like this.

My worry about Station Eleven would be that it’ll be in danger of starting out as an even-in-an-apocalypse-human-beings-need-the-arts-too story and by season four it’ll turn into a hellish even-good-people-discover-that-they-have-to-harden-themselves-to-defend-what-they’ve-got spectacle. It’d be a shame to see all that behind the scenes production talent devoting itself to ensuring the small arms deployed by the characters are definitely capable of bringing down a human being at twenty paces in the bloodiest and most final way possible so as to head off a social media shitstorm if some gun fetishist on Facebook posts a video proving that this inaccurate small arms detail is yet another sign that Hollywood’s Liberal Communist Elitists are disrespecting Real Americans again.

In fairness, neither the Wikipedia summary of the source novel nor the entry on the novel’s author in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction suggest that’s the direction a faithful adaptation would go in. Not to mention that HBO are probably not the adapters I’d expect to veer that far from the source material.

  1. I thinktwenty years from now the consensus will be that audiences mostly just wanted to see Gwyneth Paltrow’s corpse with the top of her head peeled off during her character’s autopsy. If they couldn’t have it for real, they’d take it in fiction even if it was embedded in such an unsettling story given the circumstances. 
  2. As they’d no doubt put it, if they thought that adopting the tone of a stuffy British TV executive who felt he or she was entitled to some of our money even where audiences were following the rules the producers laid down when making the free trial period offer in the first place would convince such miscreants to mend their ways. 

New On Netflix

Although I dropped my Netflix subscription three months ago I never did remove my RSS subscription to UK New On Netflix, so every once in a while I have the option of reminding myself of what I’m missing out on.1

Among the recent items that New On Netflix UK lists, I find this:

Please Hold The Line
Date Added: 23rd December 2021 […]

Description: This atmospheric documentary follows cable technicians in Eastern Europe as they visit customers’ homes and forge both technical and human connections.

Certificate: Suitable for ages 15 and up
Year: 2020
Duration: 1hr 26m
Audio: Romanian [Original]
Subtitles: English, French, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian

In fairness, for all I know this was the talk of the Romanian film and TV business a couple of years back, a bit of social observation with a commentary courtesy of a Romanian counterpart of Jonathan Meades that would be worth a place on BBC Four if the Romanian producers could just talk to the right people at the BBC and the description (which I’m guessing was provided by Netflix2) simply just doesn’t do it justice.3

Doubtless, Netflix would say I should resubscribe and watch it and find out for myself. But then they would, wouldn’t they?

  1. Yes, I do need to be very bored to resort to this. I do occasionally contemplate going back to Netflix and re subscribing for a month and bingeing their higher-profile stuff that seems to intersect with my interests, but then I remind myself of how much material was on Netflix and looked promising after I first subscribed to them but which I never got round to watching – the Gilmore Girls sequel, The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs, Stranger Things – and I realise that the issue is more that I just don’t want to be that big a slave to my TV screen. Much better to be a slave to the computer screen, obviously. Hence my spending time drafting footnote-heavy blogposts like this. 
  2. For the record, here’s how the plot description in the IMDB describes it: “Cable technicians in Eastern Europe navigate a modern-day Tower of Babel. With unflappable humour and a dose of philosophy, the technicians hold the line in a dissonant world.” Well, someone put a bit more effort into that. No guarantee it’s any more accurate than the presumably-Netflix-sourced version above. 
  3. No English-language reviews on IMDB, though the one working Critics Review there leads to this review in Italian or German. A quick visit to Google Translate takes care of the rest. 

Invasion gets renewed

In the wake of the news that Apple TV+ have renewed Invasion for a second season, showrunner Simon Kinberg talks a good game about what he plans to do with the show:

[…] there’s a lot I want to explore with the aliens in subsequent seasons. I mean, there’s not a ton of alien information. There’s a lot of mystery and suspense, I suppose, in Season 1. And I think in subsequent seasons, you want to pay off that mystery, build more mystery, but start to really get a sense of the aliens as characters? What do they want? What are they doing here? How do we actually stop them? And that is fodder for some really interesting storytelling, again, filtered through the lens of really emotional characters, dealing with complex psychological stuff. Whether it’s guilt, or it’s love, or it’s remorse, or it’s anger or escape, whatever it is, I think the alien story for me is always going to be told through the filter of our characters.

The thing is, part of me wants to respect the show for sticking to a humans-only perspective on an alien invasion, especially when telling that story in a medium which all too frequently substitutes spectacle for exploration of how these extraordinary events affect ordinary people faced with extraordinary challenges.1 The thing is, though, the first season of Invasion worked spectacularly poorly on so many levels.

Full marks for not solely showing us the impact of the invasion on red-state American civilians,2 but the array of characters we followed over the ten episodes of the first season didn’t really get to develop all that much, and – with the exception of the Japanese Space Agency techie whose lover was apparently lost in space once the encounter developed – didn’t know much about how the wider alien encounter was going. We basically got to follow round a bunch of characters who were, at best, on the periphery of what was going on and stumbled along from episode to episode in the wake of the impending collapse of human civilisation. Beyond the basic empathy for any human finding themselves living through such an experience, I don’t think the series really had us engaged with the story they were being used to tell.

Most of all, I’m unconvinced that continuing that approach will bring us any of the things Simon Kinberg is suggesting in his talk of season 2 and beyond. Will we switch to an entirely different, and much better-informed, set of characters in season 2?

[Via r/tvplus]

  1. Contemplate The Tomorrow War for a good recent example of how poorly that can go. 
  2. Once we got beyond Sam Neill’s retiring Oklahoman sheriff’s appearance in the first episode. 

Firefly Returns

Subtract Joss Whedon and the original cast, and let’s see what comes of the Firefly reboot:

[…] Disney plans to reboot the series as an exclusive for its streaming platform Disney+. Disney had acquired the rights to the franchise after their 2018 acquisition of Fox. _Firefly_seems like the perfect option to diversify their current line-up for streaming.

Could be fun, could be awful. It’s way too early to know, given how little Disney have told us at this point.

Unless Disney’s plans are much further ahead than they’re letting on, it’s likely to be a few years before whatever this new series is shows up on Disney+, by which time Disney will be hoping that the current surge in speculative fiction on TV hasn’t faded away. It’d be funny to see Firefly: The Next Generation competing with the Battlestar Galactica reboot and whatever comes out of the interest in reviving Babylon 5 and Wheel of Time season 4 and For All Mankind season 6 and Foundation season 41.

I’m predicting a slew of opinion pieces in three or four years’ time, wondering why TV is so intent upon saving the world by recycling. What’s next: someone giving us a reboot of Dark Angel or Farscape or Lost?2

[Via More Words, Deeper Hole]

  1. Provided the latter two are lucky and Apple TV+ keep funding the shows that long. Hope they do, though I have my doubts. 
  2. A big old Hell Yes! for Farscape, provided they promise to continue to use the Jim Henson Company to bring us at least half of the regular characters. 
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