Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD (Season 4)

This season was all over the place.

For like the first third of the episodes, there’s a guy (Ghost Rider) who’s possessed by some kind of devil. What happened to science? The show is usually focused on superhero powers deriving from inhuman DNA being acted on by some kind of material transforming agent. Being possessed by a being from another dimension for no particular reason doesn’t fit very well with the science that gives everyone else weird powers. Also, how is it that his car can burst into flames and not burn? Did the car make a deal with the devil, too? Whatever.

Then Ghost Rider pretty much disappears, and we’ve got an android (AIDA) who has some powerful AI and also an evil magic book that looks like a Buffy the Vampire Slayer prop. Is the android the primary antagonist in the season, or is the primary antagonist the man who created her? There’s a lot of back and forth on that issue; I won’t give away the ending.

There’s a digital world called The Framework that’s suspiciously like the one in a certain movie I keep comparing everything to. It was created (with the help of the ridiculous-looking evil magic book) for a specific set of individuals to live in. In The Framework, one major regret was erased from each of those individuals’ lives. I object to the use of the word ‘regret’ in this context because the thing that changed wasn’t something that the individual was responsible for; it was just something that the person wished had been different. That confused me for a while.

It’s great that the characters care about each other, face tough choices, and overcome tough problems, but I enjoy the show mainly because the writing sparkles with humor. Some sci-fi (*cough cough* The 100) is just too serious.

Colony (Seasons 1 and 2)

In a world where aliens with advanced tech have divided up human cities using giant walls and chosen new human governments to rule on their behalf, one family in Los Angeles strives to stick together, and, maybe, fight back.

The setting of Colony

It’s been interesting to see how things are the same but different in this near-future world. What does the city look like after the arrival? How does the economy function? How does the dictatorship function? How and why do people try to resist or cooperate with it? How do people use power to advance their own ends? What must people do to stay safe? To keep others safe? What has become of the rest of the world? What does the future hold for humans?

The characters of Colony

Against that backdrop are the characters who have to cope with life under the strictures of the Transitional Authority. I’m not such a fan of Sarah Wayne Callies as Katie Bowman. I’m not sure whether it’s the acting or the character I dislike, but Katie often gets this wide-eyed indignant look that insists, “This is all someone else’s fault,” even when it’s hers.

The actors of Colony

On the other hand, it’s and good fun to see Will Bowman played by Georgia boy Josh Holloway (who is familiar to me as Sawyer in Lost, and who I also just saw unexpectedly in Ghost Protocol). And it is a real joy to see Alan Snyder played by Peter Jacobson (who is familiar to me as Doctor Taub in House).

I’m looking forward to seeing what new developments Season 3 will bring.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/tv-season/colony-season-1/id1061234096

Timeless (Season 1)

Although iTunes calls Timeless a drama, there’s a healthy dose of science-fiction as well. It’s a time-travel show, for Pete’s sake!

The three main characters, who have a pretty nifty-looking time machine, are struggling with some kind of shadow organization that has control of a newer one.

The sets, costumes, and special effects are fun (the show must cost a fortune to produce), but I found the expositiony dialog intolerably overbearing. Clearly the writers are trying to contrast prejudiced views of women and minorities in the past with views of women and minorities in today’s more enlightened times, but the well-meaning messages are written in clumsily.

Since the good guys and the bad guys both wind up changing history and killing people, there are interesting moral issues at play, involving questions of the good of the many vs. the life of an individual and whether the end ever justifies the means. Why couldn’t some of the same subtlety be brought to bear on issues of race and gender?

See below for two grating examples of political correctness in Episode 8, “Space Race”.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/tv-season/timeless-season-1/id1142726283

Continue reading Timeless (Season 1)

Westworld (Season 1)

After watching the trailer plus one episode, I would say Westworld reminds me of two other sci-fi productions.

Westworld reminds me of Bladerunner (1982) because the “hosts”, the synthetic people who inhabit the Westworld theme park, are, like the replicants, starting to want to protect themselves and choose their fates. The difference is in the hardware: the replicants are genetically engineered, not built by robotic 3D printers and controlled by wireless signal receivers like the hosts.

Westworld also reminds me of the show Dollhouse (2009–2010), which is also about an expensive service that gratifies rich clients by supplying them with realistic but fake people. One difference is that the dolls are not fundamentally artificial; they were and will again be people with their own pasts and futures. Their brains and bodies are simply borrowed during their contracted time. Another difference is that the dolls go out into the real world and pass as people, whereas the clients of the Westworld park only interact with the hosts within the park itself… at least as far as we know!

There’s also an element of repetition reminiscent of Groundhog Day (1993) or Edge of Tomorrow (2014), but the loops are not actual loops in time, just loops in the behavior of androids who have been programmed to behave the same way over and over.

I’m interested in the philosophical questions the science-fiction premise raises:

  • Could an android become human by having experiences?
  • How should we treat androids for our own sakes, if not theirs?
  • Could we be downloaded into replacement bodies, and thus live forever? If so, would we still be human?

What I don’t like about the show is that it has violent scenes with a real tinge of horror. I get that the show is trying to be raw and disturbing. Reining back the violence would lessen the drama.

https://itunes.apple.com/au/tv-season/westworld-season-1/id1174542850

Update 13 March 2017: After watching all of Season 1, I can say that the show is thoroughly bloody, and yet philosophically interesting enough to hold the attention even of a squeamish person. Free will vs. determinism, good vs. evil, humans vs. artificial intelligence. Captivating.

RahXephon (2002)

The show has stunning visuals; long, meditative pauses; a sci-fi plot with humanoid aliens; giant mechas, good and bad; Mayan design motifs; a coming-of-age story; time distortion; love triangles; a chosen one; an immortality quest; military loyalty and in-fighting; and more hidden identities than you can shake a stick at. Weird as the show is, it all comes together in the end (unlike Lost). Highly recommended!

I bought this set in Singapore very cheaply—too cheaply, it turns out. The picture quality for a good third of the episodes is terrible. Though the box has the MDA approval sticker on it, I don’t think the discs are legit.

Furthermore, this version has English subtitles but no English audio, except for the random words that are in English in the original. Hearing the original audio is somewhat edifying because I still remember some Japanese words from a class I took back in… 2002, coincidentally. However, I watched the show in English years ago, and I remember the story as being thoroughly weird even without subtitles that come across as error-prone, awkward or downright mystifying.

I want to watch the show (and the movie) with English audio and better quality video, and I feel bad for buying some kind of knock-off—I really try not to do that, since I think the content owners should always get the requisite fees. Luckily, there’s a RahXephon DVD set on Amazon again.

Dark Matter (Season 2)

Huh. Well. I liked Dark Matter (Season 2) much better than Dark Matter (Season 1). The dialog and plotting improved, and now—ta-da!—I care about the characters as a cohesive group.

There were a variety of meta-improvements as well: they got rid of the cheap, irrelevant title sequence that calls to mind Transformers, and they gave the episodes titles. Yay!

And, incidentally, I learned that the ship is called The Raza as in “tabula rasa”, meaning “blank slate”. The premise of the show is that the crew are all given a new start, a blank slate. I’m glad there’s a reason for the weird (deliberately alien-sounding) name of the ship, but I wish the ship had been given a meaningful name by the characters, not the writers of the show. In the universe of the show, the ship was called The Raza before it was crewed by people with their memories wiped, which makes no sense. In contrast, Mal names his second-hand Firefly spaceship Serenity after fighting on the side of the Independents, the losing side, in the bloody Battle of Serenity Valley…

There was this awesome image of the crew that was rectangly-shaped in the more useful direction than the DVD cover I’ve used, but I think maybe that image is fanart and I didn’t want to just lift it from Google images, because that’s a bad impulse to indulge. Sometimes even a financially dangerous one!

https://itunes.apple.com/us/tv-season/dark-matter-season-2/id1126864978

More below on how Season 2 went, with lotsa SPOILERS.

Continue reading Dark Matter (Season 2)

Is Dark Matter the new Firefly?

No.

Nevertheless, there are some striking similarities I would like to point out.

Since Dark Matter begins with the characters knowing very little about themselves, telling you about them involves giving away a lot of the plot.

If you don’t mind spoilers, keep reading below for plot and character similarities between Dark Matter and Firefly.

If you’re just generally curious about the show, read this post. In fact, you might want to read it first anyway.

Continue reading Is Dark Matter the new Firefly?

Dark Matter (Season 1)

If you squint really hard when you watch Dark Matter, you can pretend you’re watching a crappy remake of Firefly, because there are some similarities.

In a time when humans have colonized many worlds across the galaxy, in which the little people’s concerns are ignored by a heartless government, a crew of misfits attempts to unravel not a few mysteries while struggling just to survive.

That could describe either show. This “formula”, while intriguing—entertaining, even—means comparatively little if you haven’t got Joss Whedon writing the scripts, though.

On the other hand, two seasons have already been made and they’re working on Season 3, so it would seem audiences decided the characters have at least a modicum of enduring appeal. I, too, like the show enough to keep watching. I am curious where the plot’s going.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/tv-season/dark-matter-season-1/id1005305661

See below for more thoughts on the show, including SPOILERS.

Continue reading Dark Matter (Season 1)

Broadchurch (Season 2)

I liked Season 1 of Broadchurch better than Season 2 of Broadchurch. Switching between two plots was clever but made the show less unified. It was also darker.

The second season brings in three new lawyer characters as well as two characters from D.I. Hardy’s previous, unresolved case. Two of the three lawyer characters are urban outsiders, and despairingly cynical, pragmatic, and detached in their approach to the law and in their manner of dealing with people generally. The two characters involved in the other case belonged in another town and didn’t know anyone. In contrast, all the characters in the first season, apart from (the big-city journalist and) the tortured soul D.I. Hardy himself, were locals with skin in the game, and that game was the only game in town.

The dual nature of the second season is in fact reflected quite well on the DVD cover, where you can see a photo of the dramatic beach cliffs imposed on a photo of the two main characters in the woods. The DVD cover for the first season just had the two of them standing on the beach itself.

Part of what made the second show darker was just the yuckier nature of the Sandbrook crime, but I think I liked the second season less mostly because it was thematically darker. I think it’s common for sequels to have to be. In the first story, the readers or viewers are introduced to the characters and the world they live in, and the main character starts from a position of relative weakness and overcomes obstacles until finally he or she winds up in a position of relative strength. As an encore, what else can you do but rip that character apart? You often have to destroy that first victory to create a new challenge. The character has to start at square one again, except that it can’t be exactly the same starting point—that would be tedious—so you’ve got to make the starting point a worse one than before. The character then has to scramble, not to succeed on some externally directed quest but to defend his or her very life, outlook, or core principles. The goal is not to triumph but merely to survive. I think that such stories, while they may be ‘deeper’, are harder to write and harder to enjoy. Beginnings are (relatively) easy.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/tv-season/broadchurch-season-2/id953297364

Next year when Season 3 of Broadchurch airs, we’ll see how they do with endings, which are also pretty tricky.

Broadchurch (Season 1)

In shows like Lie to Me and House, M.D., there is one mystery per episode. There’s only one mystery—well, one murder mystery; lots of minor “mysteries” and secrets—in Season 1 of Broadchurch, which lasts 8 episodes. I suppose I was expecting a police procedural, but this is a drama. There are lots of long, musical shots of sunsets and waves crashing, and the whole thing feels very melancholy, very human. It wasn’t happy, but it was clever and it was satisfying.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/tv-season/broadchurch-season-1/id674190653

Update: I am given to understand that the series Gracepoint is an American remake, with David Tennant, of the same plot… but different.