recent TV

In lieu of sleeping, I watch television. I have opinions. In no particular order, here's some stuff I've watched recently:

  • Preacher: This is the best thing on TV right now, and is an amazingly faithful adaptation of the comics. I haven't read them in years, but I loved the shit out of them back in the day, and so far this is doing justice to all of the characters. Cassidy, especially, is spot on. The TV version of Tulip is much more interesting, too: in the show she's a person, but in the comic she was The Girlfriend. The first season seems to be building to Jesse giving The Sermon in the finale, and just about every episode ends with an "Oh shit, here it comes" feeling. I am loving this so much.

  • Mr. Robot: Season one was absolutely incredible in every particular. It's impossible to talk about my favorite parts without massive spoilers, but there's a bit where they do a cliché thing and you're thinking "Oh, you're not going to do the cliché thing are you?" and then there's an instrumental music cue that is the most perfect music cue of all time because in just a few seconds it says, "Not only are we doing the cliché thing but we know it and we know you know it and we are going all in on the cliché thing."

    Also: it is best to view Mr. Robot as a sequel to Pump Up the Volume in much the same way that Grosse Point Blank is a sequel to Say Anything (Lloyd Dobbler found that kickboxing didn't work out and joined the army) and that Don't Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23 is the prequel to Jessica Jones (back when Jessica and Patsy lived together before meeting Killgrave -- Jessica was way more fun and less uptight back then).

    Anyway, season two of Mr. Robot is not really impressing me yet. I hope they get their shit together.

  • The Magicians: It took me a few episodes to warm to this, because I have no time for Harry Potter (a series about how hard it is being the popular jock who's good at everything) and this series sounds like it's going to be "Hogwarts, The Graduate School Years", but it's not really that, and it gets pretty dark pretty fast, e.g., the "C. S. Lewis / Lewis Carroll was a pedophile" subplot. It feels much more "real world" than most shows about magic do, and the characters actually have recognizable personalities. This show is excellent.

  • The Expanse: This might be the best science fiction I've ever seen on TV. It's actually science fiction, not "a western in spaaaace" like so much that passes for it is. The world-building is amazingly complex, the politics seem sensible, it has good characterizations, and probably the best physics I've seen in a scifi TV or movie since 2001. The writers understand gravity and inertia if you can believe that. I know, right?

  • Stranger Things: I would like to thank everyone who has been raving about this show for being so vocal about it, and thereby letting me know that I should utterly disregard your opinion on everything, ever. This is the biggest piece of trash I've seen since... well, since the last piece of saccharine pabulum that Spielberg vomited onto the screen. It's a ham-handed Spielberg / Stephen King pastiche, and it's just as bad as the warmed over, Very Special Episode 80s crap it is imitating, but nostalgia is a hell of a drug, so the fact that it is doing a decent job of imitating barely-remembered crap passes for depth with a lot of people, I guess?

    This is a show that had Amnesia Psychic Girl actually say the line, "Friend? What is friend?"

    Someone actually wrote that down. Someone wrote that down and thought, "Yes! Nailed it!"

    There is a makeover montage. A god damned makeover montage.

    It's basically this:

  • Orphan Black: Still amazing. Watch this show! If you are even remotely considering watching Sense8, stop that, and watch this instead, because anything that was interesting in Sense8 was already covered by Orphan Black by season 3, and in a less stupid way, and using characters you actually give a shit about (most of whom are played by the same person, which I still can hardly believe).

  • Wynonna Earp: This show is pretty dumb, but it's fun-dumb in the way mid-series Supernatural was dumb (the period when they kind of just said "fuck it" to making any sense, but before they ran out of ideas). The first few episodes are kind of hard to take, mostly because the writers didn't seem to be in agreement over whether the little sister's character was supposed to be 16 or 25, but it picks up. There's a lot of shooting demons in the face, and it's the most "open carry" show I've ever seen. I wonder what part of Canada is standing in for Arizona here.

  • Fear the Walking Dead: This show exists solely to remind you that The Walking Dead could be so much worse. You will love this show if you watched The Walking Dead and said to yourself, "You know what this show was missing? All of the incuriosity, pointless secret-keeping and one-note unsympathetic non-characters that I came to expect from Lost." This show is the walking embodiment of, "Why did the character decide to do the thing? Because the plot demanded it." Fuck this show.

  • Dark Matter: I call this "Amnesia Firefly". If you give your characters amnesia, they don't have to have personalities! If you keep giving them amnesia over and over again, you can keep rewriting the same episode! Avoid.

  • Killjoys: It's another Firefly ripoff, and it's not a whole lot better, but at least two of the characters have something approaching motivation. There seems to be some complex world-building in the background, but it's a slow reveal.

  • Powers: The first half of season one was pretty lousy, but it picked up (naked Eddie Izzard eating people! how can you not love that!), and season two is getting good. If you watched the first season of Heroes and wanted to throw things at the TV the whole time, this might be the show that you wished that was.

  • Penny Dreadful: Or, "The League of Extraordinarily Bloody Gentlemen". Season one was perfection. Season two was pretty good. Season three was a betrayal: just avoid it.

  • Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: I find this show hilarious. Apparently the people who do not find this show hilarious are people who did not find 30 Rock hilarious. So let that be your guide.

  • Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: Ok, stay with me here. This is actually a musical. Like, a full-on, people stop talking and break into song and dance numbers three times an episode musical. How did this happen? How is this a thing that exists? How is this so funny? Because it's really funny. It's as if Kimmy Schmidt was produced by Bialystock and Bloom.

  • Black Sails: There is really a lot of excellent pirating in this show. Excellent pirating. Pirating and whoring and quite a lot of historically accurate pubic hair. The seasons tend to bog down and get a little talky in the middle, but they bookend it with some amazing naval battles. And even when it's talky, it's pretty great. Like this:

    Flint: That's not why you did it.

    Silver: Really? Would you like to tell me why I did it, then?

    Flint: Well, I wasn't there, but, I'd hazard the guess that you learned of what had happened, told him how fucking stupid he was, and in that moment, he gave you a look that amounted to something less than contrite. And in that moment, you felt it.

    Silver: Felt what?

    Flint: Darkness. Hate. Showing indifference to the authority that you sacrificed so much to acquire, disdain for refusing to acknowledge that his actions, had you not intervened, would have led to an outcome that he would have held you responsible for reversing. Pride. Questioning what kind of man you are if you don't seek retribution for the offense.

    Silver: So what are you saying? You saying I went too far with him?

    Flint: Maybe you went too far. Maybe you didn't go far enough. Maybe you did it just right. The point is that while you were doing it, you heard a voice telling you that disciplining him would prevent him from repeating the offense, a voice that sounded like reason, and there was reason to it, as the most compelling lies are comprised almost entirely of the truth. But that's what it does. Cloaks itself in whatever it must to move you to action. And the more you deny its presence, the more powerful it gets, and the more likely it is to consume you entirely without you ever even knowing it was there. Now, if you and I are to lead these men together, you must learn to know its presence well so that you may use it ... Rather than it use you.

    Also, it's a prequel to Treasure Island. You don't need to know anything about Treasure Island to follow it, but if you want to, I recommend the 1934 version.

  • Outlander: Our protagonist's problem is that she's just too smart and too good at everything, and too many people keep falling in love with her, so she keeps needing to be rescued by a brooding shirtless kilt. This is the most "Mary Sue" thing I have ever seen in my life. It's awful.

  • Lucifer: Speaking of Mary Sues, this show is basically identical to Castle: that is to say, "I don't give a shit about your stupid mismatched-buddy-cop police procedural -- oh, no chief, please don't partner me with the witty and charming outsider" -- but I watched it for a few episodes because that guy is kind of charming. But yeah, I gave up on it.

  • Ash vs Evil Dead: So, remember that scene, where Bruce Campbell is fighting his possessed hand and it keeps smashing plates over his head? If you want to see a series that is basically that scene over and over again, this is the series for you. (Note: I do, and so this is the series for me.)

  • Another Period: This is the actually-watchable version of Downton Abbey.

  • Outcast: How can you make exorcisms so boring?

  • 12 Monkeys: This is pretty lousy, and it's clear at this point that the writers have no plan at all, and are going to just keep palimpsesting over the plot as needed to keep it going. Bleh. But you have to admire what's-his-name's commitment to maintaining 5 days of stubble. It's a Miami Vice level of tonsorial devotion.

  • Blindspot, Gotham, The Strain: These shows are bullshit.

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38 Responses:

  1. Jason says:

    Mr. Robot: Yes, I keep waiting to hear a needle drop on Leonard Cohen.

  2. Bob Frobber says:

    I read the first book of The Expanse (Leviathan Wakes) and I have to say, it's quite good sci-fi. I think the idea was to fill in the gaps between modern day sci-fi and post-scarcity stuff like the Culture books. Somehow it manages to combine believable physics with believable interplanetary politics.

    • phuzz says:

      Pretty much my only complaint about The Expanse is that they don't have the multi-billion dollar budget required to shoot in actual free fall. Everything else is fanboy nitpicking.
      Oh, and Avasarala needs to swear more. In the books she's effing and blinding all over the shop, and in the show I think she's had one 'shit'. that's it. Apart from that it's a great adaptation.

      As for The Magicians, they went in a completely different direction from the books, and I'm ok with that. Penny in particular is now an actual (awesome!) character rather than a plot device who only exists to make the protagonist's life a bit more angsty from time to time.

      Now I think about it, there's a lot of book/comic adaptations in the list, I wonder why.

      • jwz says:

        Now I think about it, there's a lot of book/comic adaptations in the list, I wonder why.

        For the same reason that all movies are remakes or sequels. Why invent something new when there's so much of the past to mine?

      • The freefall sequences in The Expanse are really pretty good given that it's all being done with wires, camera angles and a bit of CGI hair. It'd be nice if they had the insane amount of money to regularly do shoots on the Vomit Comet, but in some ways I'm even more impressed that for the most part they don't seem to need to.

    • Ben says:

      I think the idea was to fill in the gaps between modern day sci-fi and post-scarcity stuff

      Yep, that's exactly what they were going for:

      "There’s a lot of science fiction that talks about the near future. There’s a lot about great galaxy spanning empires of the distant future. But there’s not much that talks about the part in between."

      It's a good interview.

  3. George McKie says:

    Southern Alberta, specifically the area vaguely around Calgary, is standing in for Arizona.

  4. Yes, finally - an actual Science Fiction show is back on TV! I enjoy The Expanse novels and they've been sticking to the books pretty well so far, and I like all the casting choices. I hope SyFy doesn't fuck it up.

  5. I wonder if you have tried Bojack Horseman. It starts off ... without clearly conveying what it is going to be, but it gets better over the season, and then again in seasons 2&3.

  6. Pavel Lishin says:

    I read the first book that The Magicians was based on, and loathed it. I can't remember the last time I hated a book that much. And the one part of the book I liked, I didn't feel like the TV show did well. So I gave up.

    • M says:

      The thing about The Magicians is that the narrator is a loathsome person and you're supposed to hate him while he stumbles around ruining his life and other people's lives and just being a shitty human being. If you can't stand that sort of book then yeah, it's not for you.

      I love the books because the main characters are all broken in the ways that smart/gifted/high-achieving kids often are, the critique of Narnia / Potter is spot on and often hilarious, and it does an excellent job of both sending up its genres and indulging in them without restraint or apology.

      • jwz says:

        I've also been reading the books and I think that's a very good summary -- though I wouldn't go so far as "loathsome". He's very broken, though.

        This is actually the first time ever that I've read a book after seeing the tv show that was based on it. They are different enough that it wasn't very spoilery.

        I do like the books, but Penny is so much better written in the show. Julia too.

        • Elusis says:

          Well, they could hardly be worse.

          I suppose they could prance around in lingerie a lot and make out with each other. But his "ha ha, everyone is so awful, aren't they awful, isn't it just too too outrageous how awful they are?" attitude does a shit job of pasting over the fact that actually, his narrator is pretty awful in some utterly predictable, boring ways that smart women have seen every time they log onto OK Cupid, including extremely dull millennial "ironic" straight dude sexism that is not actually attractive or sympathetic to anyone who is not a straight dude, and he is not actually terribly precious or exceptional in his awfulness. And I can meet That Guy just by reading the links on File 770 any day of the week.

        • Pavel Lishin says:

          I commented to another person about the fact that I wrote a review of the book that I didn't want to repeat here. There's other problems I had with the book, other than the characters. (Briefly; none of what we see matters; all the rules are completely arbitrary and inconsistent; we see flashes of an incredibly interesting world, but keep getting ejected into the shittiest, most boring possible Manhattan.)

      • Pavel Lishin says:

        you're supposed to hate him while he stumbles around ruining his life and other people's lives and just being a shitty human being.

        In that case, Mr. Grossman has completely succeeded, and I applaud him for it. But I think that this book prompted my first ever review on Goodreads, just so I could get the bile out of my system; there's more I hate about it than just the awful people we're being dragged along with.

        • UnlikelyLass says:

          I got about 70% of the way through the first book and set it aside. I am reasonably sure I won't pick it back up.

          I'm sure there's an argument to be made that Grossman is capturing some universal life experience in this, but I have zero confidence that either he or the 'protagonist' have enough self-awareness to see just how much of a paen to white straight male privilege the whole narrative is.

          The reduction of pretty much all female characters to 'hot or not' did not actually endear me to anything. I was mostly reminded of the bit about how 'write what you know' leads to a lot of novels about middle-aged college professors struggling with adultery.

          F-, would not read again.

    • Elusis says:

      Hear, hear. I hated that book and its hateful, hateful characters so much that I could barely finish it. And then I read a free "teaser" chapter for Book 2, and it was clearly not getting any better. And the author's smarmy "I'm a white guy with literary cred so clearly I would never write anything so lowly as GENRE, who writes GENRE anyway, small people that's who, small poor people, which is why I'm in the New York Times and GENRE people are not" attitude made me desperate to punch him and his shitty, whiny, sexist, self-pitying, solipsism in the mouth.

    • jwz says:

      Ok! You all hate The Magicians. Fine. But nobody wants to fight about how UNRELENTINGLY AWFUL Stranger Things was?

      • nooj says:

        (Youtube playlist of the bands mentioned below:
        A smattering of Holodeck Records artists:
        S U R V I V E, Marie Davidson, Troller, BOAN (NSFW)


        Nah, Stranger Things wasn't great, but I made it to the end. I mostly kept going because I really like the music!

        Turns out it was done by some guys in a band called S U R V I V E that I already like! They do "dark electronic" or something.

        I've seen them four or five times now. They did Fun Fun Fun Fest last year-- in the rain!--and SXSW. Great live show. It's just four guys behind nine synthesizers making awesome music! Somehow they can set all that shit up in about twenty minutes, even on a very small stage.

        They release under Holodeck Records, who has a few other bands people love: Marie Davidson, who has a wonderful song called "I don't love you." Since she's Canadian, she says it in French "Je ne t'aime pas" and it sounds all sexy. Also, she's delightfully friendly!

        Also on the label is Troller, who doesn't grab me so much, and BOAN, a stuck-up narcissistic diva whose music would be better if she just shut the fuck up and let her synth player do solos.

        Oh, and before I forget:

        Michael Stein, one of the guys who did the Stranger Things soundtrack, is doing a solo set at Volstead Lounge (Hotel Vegas) in Austin on August 1. Also, one of the Troller guys is doing a solo set. Go check it out!

        • rcn says:

          Ah, the music. Yeah. You know, that's one of the things that makes it look like a fake 80s simulation made by someone who wasn't really there in the 80s.

          If Kang and Kodos tried to build up a "realistic" human environment for their alien experiments on humans and they tried to base it on 80s culture, they'd probably say "yeah, we'll use that music made with bleeps and blops and electronic instruments from that era, that'll make it".

          BUT, music in the 80s didn't really sound like that. When I see a blatantly obvious 80s scene (a group of goonies/et-like kids on their bikes in a forest or a makeup/dance montage) there are three types of music my mind instantly pastes into that:
          - A typical John Williams piece with strings, you know, that kind of ionian/lydian hollywoodesque majestic things he does for movies.
          - A power ballad
          - Cheesy pop or electro-pop (think of the Footloose song)

          But even if the electropop song uses instruments from the 80s, the people back then weren't making bleeps and blops with them, they were trying to make them sound like real instruments, that's why they sound so cheesy!
          It wasn't until well into the 2010s when more mainstream electronic musicians started to use SID or NES or YM2612 patches and think "OMG that is SO 80s!" and use them for the fake nostalgia effect.

        • Michael Böckling says:

          If you liked the Stranger Things, soundtrack, you're going to love Jeremy Schmidt / Sinoia Caves:

      • Stranger Things wasn't that bad (my brain did not turn to tapioca pudding and leak out of my ear ruining my favorite chair and rug), but I certainly don't have the buy in to defend it. It was absolutely a stitched together 8-ball of nostalgia and what ever else goes in that drug concoction, but...and here's my huge fucking cop-out, I felt they stitched it together well. I actually feel it works. But I also get how people might want to stab their eyes out with old fudge-sidle sticks rather than watch more than 30 seconds of it.

        Also now I have to watch The Magicians...

  7. nooj says:

    The Expanse was great! I can't wait for the next season!

  8. nooj says:

    And Orphan Black I just watch for the acting. I get to the end of each episode and think, holy shit, I never get confused as to who is who! Is Tatiana just that damn good?

    I turn off my brain when it comes to plot. The science has had so many "I cured cancer! Oh wait, no I didn't. Oh look, yes I did, but the only way is if you'll let me inject you with this one-of-a-kind thing....that I just dropped on the floor. Fuck it, we'll make some more in the next episode." So now I just tune all that shit out.

    • jwz says:

      There was a show a few years back called United States of Tara where Toni Collette played a woman with multiple personalities, and in the early episodes she'd change clothes or put on a hat or something when she switched, but after a while they gave up on that, and you could tell who she was this time just by her body language. She was great. But, Tatiana is beyond that.

      • nooj says:

        I love watching Tatiana's interviews. You see the elements of her characters pop out, and it's like, omg, how does she fit everyone inside the same skin??

        • Editer says:

          I regularly watch the end acting credits and wonder where all the other women are. I actually forget they're all the same one.

  9. Michael V. says:

    So you've got a pretty packed TV schedule, but if you find yourself needing another show, may I suggest The Americans? Tense Cold War drama, 80s music, great acting, and an FBI mail robot. My favorite show right now.

    • jwz says:

      Yeah I've been watching that too, but the current season hasn't really been grabbing me as much.

      I first started watching The Americans while Agent Carter was doing their Black Widow Program subplot, and sometimes I would lose track of which show I was watching, because it's the same operation! One just had more kung fu.

      • Michael V. says:

        I'm not through the whole season yet, but the Martha situation is pretty tense. The episode with The Day After reminded me just how much that movie fucked me up as a kid - I grew up near O'Hare, and every time a plane went by, I'd have a panic attack.

        Good catch on the AC similarity!

  10. nooj says:

    Penny Dreadful: Loved season 1, and couldn't make it past a few episodes of season 2. The only character I liked by then was Frankenstein's monster. Rory Kinnear is just awesome. May I have a supercut of just his scenes, please? (For those of you who don't remember, Rory Kinnear was the Prime Minister in the pilot of Black Mirror.)

    Mr. Robot: Loved season 1 till the finale, where nothing happened. Same for the premiere of season 2. Are they going to spend the whole season doing nothing, and helplessly wondering what happened? Yeah, fuck that. I'll wait until the interwebs tell me what happened, and use that as my cue to pick it back up. And if he doesn't slowly disembowel and then dismember the shit who kidnapped his girlfriend (who ran off and isn't in season 2), then the emotional climax of season 1 meant nothing.

    Lucifer: I loved the comic. Just devoured it! The show, however, is worse than Constantine.

    Ash vs. Evil Dead: I'm waiting to binge this on a day where I'm so sick I can't move. I'll still be so sick I can't move, but at least I'll be happy!

  11. Pronoiac says:

    Mr. Robot - I've only seen season 1. I love everything with Elliot, but Tyrell bores me. I wonder if the show's good at atmospherics, but utter crap at plot.

    Crazy Ex-Girlfriend - I love it! The soundtrack apparently has entertaining commentary for each track. "Heavy Boobs" is kinda messed up. It's on Spotify.

  12. nooj says:

    "Last thing: the gift, for the elders, for footing the bill for the debauchery."

    "Right. What did we get them last year?"

    "An actual, working bag of dicks."

  13. Eric TF Bat says:

    My kids are fond of a cartoon called Kipper The Dog, whose voice actor isn't the guy who plays Lucifer, but they sound identical. It's really quite distracting.