An interesting take from Alan Sepinwall on what a nice job the writers did in season 2 of For All Mankind of bringing together various storylines come the season’s climax:
“I started jogging again.”
This sentence is uttered by astronaut Gordo Stevens (Michael Dornan) midway through the Season Two finale of For All Mankind, the Apple TV+ series depicting an alternate history where the Soviets landed on the moon first, triggering a never-ending space race. Gordo’s statement will likely not go down in the annals of quotable dramatic television with “I am the One Who Knocks!” or “That’s what the money is for!” It seems an utterly banal statement of fact, not nearly as colorful as those iconic declarations. But in the context of this FAM season, it feels just as potent, and serves the same purpose that all serialized television ideally should: It makes the viewer feel as if, to borrow another famous line, all the pieces matter.
I can’t shake the notion that delivering a season of TV where we can look back and see that most, if not all, of the the pieces fit into an overall story shouldn’t be that remarkable. Isn’t that what a writers’ room is supposed to deliver, unless external pressures1 get in the way or there’s uncertainty about where the story is going or how long it’s going to continue. We’re assured that our showrunners have their story mapped out for seasons to come; I do hope they’re not going to be forced to admit that that plan was ‘Do whatever it takes to keep Apple funding us and find a way to keep Joel Kinnaman in the story. Maybe in season 5 we’ll have his digitised face and voice being used as the front end for the AI that runs the Callisto colony.’ rather than ‘By season 6 humans will be mining the asteroid belt and building a permanent station on Callisto.’
[Apologies that I’m expending so many words on a show that’s trapped on Apple TV+, which is to say somewhere most people aren’t watching. What can I say: I am watching and I’m finding it interesting, so I’m writing about it here. In the medium or long term, will Apple – or Sony, who I believe are making the show for Apple TV+ – end up selling repeat rights to another streaming network? Will we all one day be able to buy, or even rent, For All Mankind on Amazon? I’m sure right now Apple’s answer to that would be "Hell No, come and watch it on Apple TV+", but five or ten years from now will all that content remain buried on the 10th-most-watched-streaming-service?]
Interesting that Sepinwall makes passing reference to Halt and Catch Fire, another favourite in these parts that got better as the focus was shared with the equally talented and ambitious female characters who found ways to make their careers alongside the men who had been the show’s focus at the outset. For All Mankind has from the start been about how in this alternate timeline NASA had been pushed by the White House to bring women astronauts into the space programme,2 and about how they proved to be as capable as the male military/test pilot contingent they served alongside. The thing is, the storytelling of For All Mankind has (so far) focused less on how American society has changed in a society where the space race went on much longer than in our timeline, and much more on how in NASA results seem to trump expectations being based on gender roles. Is that reflected in wider society, and are we going to see evidence of that?
By and large the astronauts the storylines have been following are living in a bubble: all the signs are that the wider society they live in may be enjoying a somewhat faster introduction of technology – electric cars, a global videophone and d-mail3 network – in part because the space race kept on pushing technology forward. However, the general impression is that there’s still plenty or racism out there in wider society, and an assumption that everyone is aiming for a heterosexual marriage (or at least, isn’t flaunting any other lifestyles.) Ellen, our astronaut-turned-NASA-Administrator-and-Reagan-favourite still can’t contemplate a political career AND an out lesbian relationship.
As of season 2’s end, the main story is coming to the end of alt-Reagan’s second term of office in 1985. It’ll be interesting to see where things stand come 1995. My guess would be that we are set going to continue with a story where we focus on a small group of astronauts and NASA staff who are living in a bubble where gender is no barrier to advancement, provided you really are twice as good as the next (white, heterosexual) guy.
- “You can’t change that character’s job to one that would move him out of the group the storyline is focused on: he’s by far the biggest name we’ve got when it comes to promoting the show. Keep his character in the same job and slap on another couple of layers of make-up to keep his character in place through yet another time-jump.” ↩
- Purely for image purposes, given that in this timeline the Soviets put a woman astronaut on the moon before the Americans had so much as put a woman in space. ↩
- That’s Digital Mail, not Electronic Mail. I have to confess, I’m a little relieved that Apple don’t appear to be pressuring the showrunners to insert more Apple technology in this future. Give it a couple of seasons. By the time we get our storyline to 2015, everyone will have gone through the stage where they listened to music on their dPods and will be listening to music via their dPhone and walking around with dPads, and we just won’t mention that their d-devices all have an Apple logo. ↩
From Dirty Feed, a magnificent, thoroughly documented deep dive into the history of one of the greatest punchlines in the history of British television:
Sad to contemplate that none of the three actors involved is still with us, but what a memorial to their work together on a programme that shaped a generation’s view of how government worked.
Fascinating to see the history of that joke pieced together, and the very different version of the punchline used in earlier incarnations.
If it turns out that Apple TV+ has the highest-quality content out of all streaming services…
A new study reveals that Apple TV+ has the highest-quality content when compared to Netflix, HBO Max, Prime Video, Disney+, and Hulu. […]
In terms of their libraries of content, Apple TV+ has the highest percentage of “good” and “excellent” at almost 86%. But […] it has the smallest offering at just 65 titles.
… does that help make Apple TV+ a sound idea for the company?
So far I’ve greatly enjoyed several Apple TV+ shows (For All Mankind above all else, but also Calls and Mythic Quest), and found several other Apple TV+ shows (Little Voice, On The Rocks, The Banker, Little America, The Morning Show and Ted Lasso) to be decent-to-pretty-good. The thing is, I could as easily pick a similar number of really good shows from Netflix or Amazon Prime Video or Now1 or Disney+. There’s not yet a distinctive ‘type’ of show that Apple TV+ is getting to be known for known for and it’s way too early to tell2 whether Apple are going to prove to be better at supporting shows long enough for them to build an audience.
I don’t doubt that Apple has sufficiently deep pockets to keep up the level of spending on content for the Apple TV+ streaming service for quite some time to come, but will they? Surely Apple are just one more potential source of finding for producers; yes, there are plenty of Apple devices out there, but Apple are as close-mouthed about audience numbers for their streaming service as everyone else, so who can say how well their shows are doing? Putting out numbers and surveys that use figures like this as proxies for audience numbers doesn’t really address the question of which shows are doing well compared to their rivals.
In this era where the streaming services are competing for a monthly subscription from their audience, how come most of these Apple TV+ shows seems to disappear from the online discussion online within a couple of weeks of their launch.3 That cannot possibly be a good sign, can it?
[Via Daring Fireball]
- Recently rebranded from NowTV in the UK, and heavily associated with the Sky TV empire. Basically, a way (with “No contract!”, as their ads emphasise) to get access to a slice of Sky TV’s library for those who don’t want to commit to the full package. ↩
- Come back after a decade and there might be sufficient data to form a meaningful picture of Apple’s track record. ↩
- Am I just looking in the wrong places, or is it just that commentary on TV shows is so dispersed nowadays that it’s a full-time job to keep on top of it? This was much better in the days of Usenet, IMHO. ↩
A couple of minutes into his video speculating1 about a new-to-the-MCU appearance by a guest character in this week’s episode of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, MovieBob reminds us, which storyline the Power Broker first showed up in Jack Kirby’s comic adaptation/expansion of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Comics are, as MovieBob says, Weird…
I’m still sceptical that the Power Broker’s identity will be shown this season. Unless Disney have an unannounced appearance for the character in one of the next phase of feature film projects, they’ll get more mileage from dropping the name in a TV series like this then leaving a portion of the fan base to speculate – feverishly, as is their way – about the Power Broker being at least a supporting character up in every future MCU storyline set on Earth-616. Disney’s executives must be delighted at how much bang for the buck they got from encouraging viewers of their recent TV tie-ins/spin-offs to create publicity for the franchise by picking up on the tiniest hints. Until they reach a point where the blizzard of speculation about what might be to come creates so much hype that the actual films are seen as a disappointment (and, to be fair, there’s no sign of that) they can use the fannish anticipation to keep audiences hyped for what might be to come for a while yet.2
- Wrongly, or at any rate prematurely as it turns out, that the identity of the as-yet-unrevealed Power Broker character would turn out to be Sharon Carter. ↩
- Not because a significant portion of the population cares about the Power Broker. More because the sheer volume of chatter about these shows adds to the impression that these are interesting, so media need to devote attention to them. For goodness’ sake, I’ve spent some of this morning listening to a Vanity Fair podcast which includes a section speculating about the identity of the Power Broker and what’s next for the character of Sharon Carter after she’s apparently reacted to being dropped by S.H.I.E.L.D. in the wake of the Civil War storyline. Condé Nast think this is worth putting a podcast out over, and the actress gets to spend time pretending that there are things she’s not allowed to tell us about this plot! How much would Disney have to spend to get these column inches/screen time by other means? ↩
After watching this week’s instalment of For All Mankind early this morning1 I found myself dipping into the first half dozen episodes of new Apple TV+ show Calls before starting work for the day, then picked up on the final three episodes this evening.
I was aware that this show was coming, but had deliberately not gone out of my way to find out more. I realise that goes completely counter to the modern trend that pushes viewers to try to find out as much as possible about forthcoming programmes and speculate endlessly online about what’s to come2 but I’m here to tell you that you definitely want to watch Calls with as little foreknowledge as possible of what you’re about to hear.
Yes, I said "hear" not "watch." Calls is a TV show, but it could as easily have been a podcast or a radio drama. We never see any of the cast, and while the on-screen graphics do help viewers visualise what’s happening and who is talking to who, the audio is sufficiently well-produced that (IMHO) it’s perfectly possible to get what’s happening without visuals.
No, I’m not going to say anything more about what happens in the story: all I’ll say is that if you have any interest at all in a well designed and delivered piece of speculative fiction then Calls is a very worthwhile experience.
Apple TV+ probably won’t get the credit they deserve for pulling it off, and given that Apple TV+ is very much the runt of the litter3 of modern streaming TV services Calls might be destined to be looked back on as an interesting failure. I do hope not; it’d be good to see more experiments like this.
- No, I wasn’t sitting there trying to catch For All Mankind once it dropped on Apple TV+, I just happened to be awake at 5am and realised I wasn’t getting back to sleep so decided I might as well fill the time until the sun came up by watching something to keep my brain occupied until it was time to prepare for the old working-from-home-office-job. ↩
- Contemplate Disney’s recent WandaVision multimedia extravaganza for a prime example of how that can go. ↩
- Also, to be fair, I suspect Apple TV+ isn’t pulling in the sort of viewing figures that Apple would have hoped for, though I’m not sure they’d want to admit that publicly just yet. When the most critically-acclaimed shows you have – Ted Lasso and The Morning Show – are between seasons Apple TV+ just isn’t exactly the focus of much talk in social media, once you look beyond the more Apple-centric corners of the internet. ↩
It’s a shame that Halt and Catch Fire diesn’t seem to be on any UK streaming services just at the moment when this Halt and Catch Fire Syllabus has popped up.
This site features a curriculum developed around the television series, Halt and Catch Fire (2014-2017), a fictional narrative about people working in tech during the 1980s-1990s.
The intent is for this website to be used by self-forming small groups that want to create a “watching club” (like a book club) and discuss aspects of technology history that are featured in this series.
I’m not sure their chosen format1 would have worked well for me when I was devouring the show back when we were still in the first lockdown, but the nice thing about the internet is that now it’s up there hopefully it’ll still be there, waiting for me2 one day when I do a rewatch.
[Via RT by @hondanhon]
- Book clubs imitating a college study group, with syllabuses and reading lists, really aren’t how I want to spend my leisure time. I’ve no doubt that with the right classmates bringing their perspectives on the story to a discussion this could be terrific, but I don’t think I move in the right circles to make that work. True, I could buy the four seasons of the show and watch them online whenever I like, but that’d … not be a good use of my funds at this time. ↩
- I find it weird that I don’t seem to be able to add the four seasons of the show to my Amazon wishlist. I get that Amazon want me to throw money at them now rather than put off that decision for later, and I suspect that they’d suggest that I add them to my Watchlist in Prime Video, but that’s not quite the same thing. To my mind, my Watchlist is for stuff I have yet to watch, while my Wishlist is for stuff I have yet to buy. I don’t want to clutter up my Watchlist with stuff I’ve seen. That just makes my Watchlist less efficient, or requires me to spend more time than I want to organising/filtering it. Just let me chuck a pointer to something I might want to buy one day on my Wishlist and let me be done thinking about it, Amazon… I could rid myself of this problem by adding the show to my Wishlist in what-used-to-be-called-iTunes instead, but I don’t think Amazon want that. … And now these footnotes have pretty much doubled the length of the post they’re attached to, which is a sign I should do something about that or that I should get an editor. ↩
A full trailer for For All Mankind Season 2 has been published. Looks as if the rest of the world is set to watch the Cold War playing out a quarter of a million miles away.
Given where season 1 left off this was probably always going to be the sort of storyline they gave us in season 2, but I hope that we’ll look back on this in later seasons1 as the difficult transitional season that we had to get through to get to the real story.2
- Yes, this assumes that the show gets several more seasons but let’s be optimistic here. In theory Apple have the money to fund this for as long as the story needs, but how long the producers get for this show on this streaming platform is another question entirely. ↩
- Interesting to see that the IMDB cast information for the episodes – which admittedly, is pretty thin once you get beyond season 2 episode 1 – doesn’t list returning cast members like Joel Kinnaman or Jodi Balfour past that first episode. Nothing against the returning cast members, but wouldn’t it be interesting to see the story transitioning to a different main cast by the end. Against that, some returning actors we see or hear from in the new season’s trailer don’t even appear listed against season 2 episode 1 so it may just be that the IMDB’s list is, to put it mildly, a work in progress. ↩
Contemplating the new year, I was just thinking that it was about time I pruned the list of streaming media services I’m subscribed to.1 I hadn’t watched a show on NowTV regularly since I drifted away from Lovecraft Country halfway through the season, I thought. I meant to quit NowTV once Game of Thrones finished, I thought to myself, but I didn’t. Then I got sucked into the Nolan/Joy reboot of Westworld so I let the NowTV subscription live. More recently, NowTV brought me both Succession and an opportunity to see a show I couldn’t see when it was originally broadcast, The Newsroom2, so again that kept me paying them that monthly fee for a while.
Let me just take a quick look in case there’s anything popped up recently that I’ve missed, I thought. And then I found that since last I looked they’re now showing Fringe, a show that I couldn’t watch at the time but which I’ve always wanted to catch up on, what with it having an excellent reputation as an X Files substitute.
DAMN YOU, EVIL GENIUSES BEHIND NOWTV! YOU KNOW ME TOO WELL…
So, NowTV is safe for however long it takes me to work my way through Fringe, and I have further evidence that I am a weak-willed puppet of a massive media giant.
One day HBO are going to take the UK market seriously instead of letting NowTV have first refusal on UK streaming rights to most of their dramatic content, and I suspect I’ll be adding another media streaming service to my subscription list.3
- I’m not kidding myself that this was a New Year Resolution, because I know from long experience that, for me, those don’t stick. I was just sitting here contemplating a day off work and how best I could use it. ↩
- I know Aaron Sorkin’s show got a terrible reception and it probably deserved much of it, but it also had enough of the good stuff that it was worth a look, IMHO. Looked back on towards the end of the Trump era, we should all be a bit less certain that a bunch of well-meaning white liberal men can be counted on to fix the world’s problems (indeed, we can be pretty certain that they can’t) but that’s a topic for a different post. This post is about how NowTV keep pulling me back in every time I’m tempted to drop my subscription, so let’s stay on-topic. ↩
- Of course, I recognise that another way of looking at it, one that NowTV’s current owners might endorse, is that NowTV have built a business over the years based on their knowing what UK customers of a certain age and type want and giving it to them. Yeah, I could believe that. Not sure I do. ↩
Catching up with my podcast queue the other day, I was slightly taken aback at the moment in episode 153 of Imaginary Worlds where Doug Jones mentioned that he’s recently turned sixty years old and finds himself having to think a bit harder nowadays about whether a younger performer might be a better fit for a role’s demands. I suppose the fact that he delivers most of his performances from under layers of latex and makeup has hidden hasn’t helped.
His current role as Saru on Star Trek: Discovery, excellent as his performance is, probably isn’t destined to turn him into a superstar1 given what a niche of a niche that show is followed by. I have a horrible feeling that a decade from now he’ll be at least semi-retired and for a certain generation of Trekkies2 he’ll be remembered alongside Mark Lenard and Jeffrey Coombs and as one of the fan-favourites of the franchise.
That’s not a small thing, even if it’s not the level of fame he deserves after a long career bringing other peoples’ dreams – or nightmares – to life on-screen.
- To be fair, within his very particular niche he is something of a superstar. It’s just that his niche is one of those where – almost by design? – thirty years after his death people will be amazed to find out that the same guy was under all that make-up in Pan’s Labyrinth (in two different roles!) and in the Buffy episode Hush and in The Shape of Water and as Abe Sapien in the two good Hellboy films and in oh so many others. ↩
- Not sure whether that’s still a term that they approve. (Probably not.) Pretty certain I’m past caring. It’s not meant as an insult. ↩
Happy to see Battlestar Galactica return to BBC2 tomorrow. Looks as if the plan is for two episodes a week on Saturdays, so that’ll be something to look forward to.
Admittedly All This Has Happened Before and All This Will Happen Again, but perhaps this time knowing in advance how badly they lost their grip on certain aspects 1 of the wider story will bother me less this time round.2
The thing is, somewhat improbably given the source material, the BSG reboot still ended up delivering several seasons of high quality speculative fiction on TV. I’m delighted to have another opportunity to watch the story unfold.
- e.g. what happened to that whole Cylon Plan that supposedly underpinned their actions from the start? ↩
- In a perfect world Ron Moore will end his new baby, For All Mankind, well into the future with a conclusion that sees the alternate history space race sending teams off to establish a colony on Kobol and we’ll look back on that show and recognise all the sneaky connections to his earlier story that the writers slipped in this time round. (I doubt that the storyline of For All Mankind will extend that far into the future, but I can hope, can’t I?) ↩