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Direct Beam Comms #46



TV

Black Mirror – Season 3, Episode 1: Grade B+

Until recently, the TV series Black Mirror wasn’t easy to see. Originating from the UK, other than a Christmas special that aired a few years ago on DirecTV, the six episode first and second seasons never officially aired anywhere here in the US. In fact, until Netflix picked up the series the only way for anyone on this side of the Atlantic to have seen any Black Mirror was via less than legal means.

new_star_studded_black_mirror_trailer_shows_social_media_gone_madBut luckily Netflix began streaming all existing episodes a few years back and even better last Friday debuted six new episodes for a third season of Black Mirror, the first of which is titled “Nosedive.”

“Nosedive” focuses on Lacie Pound (Bryce Dallas Howard) who lives near-future in a place where how many “likes” each person gets determines their worth and status in life. Think how someone like one of the Kardashians lives their lives online and that’s essentially how everyone in “Nosedive” lives.

If you’re one of the popular people with lots of likes you get all sorts of free perks, if you’re less than popular doors literally remain closed for you and you’re barred from even going certain places. And because everyone’s trying to get the most likes Lacie’s world is a place where everyone dresses their best, looks like they’re ready for a photoshoot which they have to be since they’re all constant shooting selfies and is super-nice to everyone else lest they upset them and get down-voted.

Of course just under their veneer people still can’t stand other people, the food, though gorgeous looking is practically inedible and there’s constant discrimination based this underlying algorithm.

What struck me was at one point Lacie says something about how their society is structured, “That’s just the way it is.” Which people say today with a lot of things too like with FICO scores.

In “Nosedive,” Lacie has enough likes that she’s just on the cusp of becoming a tastemaker and sees her friend Naomi (Alice Eve) who’s got it all and more importantly loads of likes as the way to get there. But as Lacie tries to get to Naomi’s wedding her world begins to crumble as a cancelled flight sends her online rating to a nosedive.

Black Mirror is the first 21st century sci-fi series that actually gets what it’s like be swept up in all the technology of the 21st century and not know where it’s taking us. Sure, things like cell phones and computers and laptops and AI are great, but what’s the downside? And that’s where Black Mirror excels. Series creator Charlie Brooker has created a show that takes things we all have today and asks what happens if that technology doesn’t go wrong, but goes to a slightly bad place? What happens if things like “likes” become the new currency of discrimination or like in another episode criminal justice becomes so twisted and bent that by the end of one episode we’re actively rooting for the criminals?

That’s when sci-fi and specifically Black Mirror works so well whereas other modern sci-fi series does not. A lot of regular sci-fi series are all about exploring tropes of the past that were once relevant but are now not. Or are still relevant but don’t resemble anything like they used to in the past. Black Mirror on the other hand is so relevant and so now that I wonder if the series will be as connected with viewers in 10 years as it has to the jugular of viewers today?

And yes, it does strike me as ironic that I’m rating the episode much in the same way people in Lacie’s life “like” her. Then again it’s the times that we live in.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – Grade: C+

If anyone were ever to try and pin me down I’d have to say that my favorite book is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (HHGG) by the late, great Douglas Adams. I first read that book in a gigantic collection of all of Adams’ HHGG stories and tore through them as fast as I could. I think it’s Adams absurdist humor that appealed to me so much.

frodoEven with all of my love for all things HHGG and Adams non-fiction work as well I’ve so far never read Adams other book series based on detective Dirk Gently. However, when a new TV series was announced based on this character with Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency on BBC America my interest was piqued.

So I’m not sure what was taken from the Gently novels in this new series which means that I’m going into Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency without a lot of preconceptions as to how it should be.

Here, Todd (Elijah Wood) is a sad-sack, down on his luck bellboy when he stumbles upon a murder at the hotel he works at. And investigating the murder is “holistic” detective Dirk Gently (Samuel Barnett) who quickly puts himself upon Todd and tries to recruit him to be his assistant. And the Todd/Gently stuff/story is actually pretty interesting. Todd is mostly normal while Gently is this weird eye of calm in this crazy storm of weirdness that constantly swirls around him.

Unfortunately there’s so many other things going on in the first episode of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency that all this extra stuff overwhelms the Todd/Gently story. There’s a “holistic” assassin driving around killing people, a missing woman, a group of skinheads who may be involved in the murder, a group of crazed guys who go around smashing things up, a CIA team surveying Gently, a police team surveying Todd and Todd’s sister suffering from a disease all introduced very quickly without a lot of time for story development. All this seems like elements that will be important over the eight episode season but right now feels really weird and very confusing. Especially since after having watched the first episode I really don’t know what the overall story of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is or what it will be?

From the commercials it seems like the first season will be the examination of the murder Gently was investigating and Todd becoming his assistant. But I feel like if Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency would have taken a page from the Doctor Who manual and gone with more self-contained episodes even if there’s a season-long story/mystery running throughout the stories it may have been better for the show.

OR — was Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency designed to be a series people can watch over the course of a weekend in one long eight hour bing? Maybe that would work better for the series? Except here in the US it’s being shown as a weekly show where there’s a 167 hour wait between episodes.

Still, I’ll be sticking with Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency for the short term at least. I think Douglas Adams would have wanted it that way. 😉

Movies

Logan aka Wolverine part 3 movie trailer

“…the world is not the same as it once was.”

It’ll be interesting to see just how this movie fits in with the overall X-Men universe as a whole, especially since the events of Days of Future Past seemed to have made this bleak future impossible.

The Arrival final movie trailer

“What does it say?”

Books

The Art of Atari

Out this week is the loooooooooong awaited The Art of Atari book that collects many of the gorgeous illustrations that graced the packaging of Atari game cartridges of the 1970s and 1980s. In many ways those illustrations were better than the actual games since they were selling what those games could be, or what those games might be in the player’s imaginations rather than what the game would actually be like when played.

From Dynamite:

To usher in the new era of electronic entertainment, (Atari) hired an array of talented illustrators to emblazon game cartridges, boxes, magazine advertisements, and more with mind-blowing visions of fantasy and sports thrills, science fiction and adventure, that elevated pixelated gaming to the realm of high art. Art of Atari is the first official retrospective of the company’s illustrative accomplishments, spanning over four decades and cultivated from museums and private collections worldwide.

This week in pop-culture history

  • 1943: Michael Crichton, creator of Jurassic Park, Twister and the TV series ER is born
  • 1959: Sam Raimi, director of The Evil Dead and Spider-Man franchises is born
  • 1984: The TV series V premiers
  • 1984: Terminator opens in theaters
  • 1994: Stargate opens in theaters
  • 1996: The TV series Millennium premiers
  • 1997: Gattaca opens in theaters



2016/17 TV Preview



New series

It’s been a long while since I can remember the last time I was as disinterested in the crop of new TV series that are set to start debuting on network TV this fall. Usually, there’s at least something I can look forward to, some series I can get excited about. But honestly this year looks like it’s going to be mostly a bust on the networks.

The Good Place

The Good Place

All that I’m looking forward to on network TV this fall is the comedy The Good Place on NBC starring Ted Danson and Kristen Bell about a woman that died and accidentally went to “the good place” rather than the hot one and Star Trek: Discovery on CBS. Though this sixth Trek TV series is set to only air once on CBS before it moves to their streaming service.

And there’s a few new shows I’m looking forward to on cable and streaming too, one of which is Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is on BBC America and is based on the Douglas Adams (The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) book of the same name. This new TV version of the Adams novel is being written and produced by Max Landis (Chronicle). On Netflix is Marvel’s Luke Cage that’s a sort’a spin-off of the Jessica Jones show about a man, Cage (Mike Colter) who’s super-strong with super-tough skin that brushes aside bullets who decides to clean up the streets of New York.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot more to scoff at on network TV next fall than to look forward to.

If the last few years the networks have been trying to turn as many come books into TV series as they could, then this year it’s all about turning once popular movies into TV series, or rebooting once popular past TV series into modern ones. Which I have no problem with, except that nothing I’ve seen from any of these new shows makes me thing that the networks have anything other than a bunch of creative duds on their hands.

Time After Time

Time After Time

Based on the movie of the same name, Time after Time on ABC features author H.G. Wells (Freddie Stroma) building a time machine in 1893 and traveling to present day 2016 New York City to find Jack the Ripper who’s also travelled to New York City in the same time machine. Convenient, ain’t it? If the movie version was a love story between Wells and a modern day woman, then the TV version seems to be setting the two up as a male/female investigative duo ala Castle, Blindspot, The Blacklist, etc., etc., etc.

Emerald City on NBC is the latest attempt at a network to create a TV version of the Wizard of Oz story that various channels have been trying to do since at least 2002. This version of the Oz story has Dorothy being swept off to a totally reimagined and harder version of Oz that seems to be a mashup of Game of Thrones and Once Upon a Time.

Fox has two shows based on movies set to premier this fall; The Exorcist and Lethal Weapon.

The Exorcist

The Exorcist

The Exorcist looks to be essentially the story of the novel/movie about a girl possessed by a demon — with a little bit of things like The Conjuring thrown in for good measure. My one question about The Exorcist is if the entire season will be about the girl’s possession, or if each episode will be about some other evil forces possessing some other poor souls? It doesn’t help matters that The Exorcist is the second “possession” series on TV with Outcast also about demonic forces already on Starz.

The TV version of Lethal Weapon seems to take the zanier elements of the movie from Martin Riggs (Clayne Crawford) having a death wish which makes him practically fearless and his older, world-weary partner Roger Murtaugh (Damon Wayans Sr.) who has to deal with Riggs and is “too old for this @#$%.” But somehow I’d imagine that if it does take the zanier elements of the Riggs character that it’s not going to use the movie version of him being suicidal and his substance abuse problems. You know, all the stuff that made him seem human and not some cartoon character.

Frequency on The CW, takes the elements of the 2000 movie where someone from the present, here Raimy Sullivan (Peyton List), is able to talk with their father from 20 years in the past via a ham radio. And because she’s able to send information to her father in the past she’s able to change events in her present. But if other time travel movies/TV series have taught us anything, it’s that meddling in the past will being about unintended consequences in the present/future. Time After Time should take note!

MacGyver

MacGyver

On CBS there’s a series based on the movie Training Day and one on the 1980s TV series MacGyver. Much like with the movie, the TV version of Training Day follows a young, idealistic police officer (Drew Van Acker) sent to spy on a seasoned, up to no good, “King Kong ain’t got [email protected]#$ on me” detective (Bill Paxton).

MacGyver (Lucas Till) is a younger take on the character but with the overall concept of the original series — solving crimes/rescuing people/stopping terrorists by making whatever’s needed with what’s on hand to get the job done — intact. I was a huge fan of the original MacGyver as a kid, but somehow I doubt that this middle-aged man is going to be a fan of this new version of the show.

returning_tv

Returning series

black-ish

black-ish

If new series this year look crummy at least there’s a slew of great and interesting shows to look forward to.

Out of the gate early this fall are ABC comedies The Goldbergs, black-ish and Fresh off the Boat. While black-ish and Fresh off the Boat get a lot of good press for their diversity and somewhat controversial storylines, I’m more concerned with whether or not the shows are funny or not and these are.

The Goldbergs and black-ish return September 21 and Fresh off the Boat October 11.

Ash vs. Evil Dead

Ash vs. Evil Dead

I was a huge fan of the Starz series Ash vs Evil Dead right up until the very end of the final episode of the first season when things kind’a fell off the rails. That series deals with sad-sack Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) who accidentally released evil spirits from the bound in human skin Book of the Dead. And in Ash vs Evil Dead it’s up to Ash and his two friends Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) to figure out a way to undo what he’s done.

The show was everything I’d ever wanted in an Evil Dead TV series with over-the-top action, comedy and lots of gore. But that ending, it was so out of tone with what had come the previous nine episodes that it really frustrated me. That being said, I’m ready for loads more wise-cracking Ash in a second season of Ash vs Evil Dead which starts back up September 23. As long as they do some ‘splaining about that ending I’ll be back for more gore!

Star Wars Rebels

Star Wars Rebels

Existing alongside the current film franchises, the animated Star Wars Rebels on Disney XD tells the story of what was going on in the galaxy when the evil Empire was consolidating power and trying to wipe a nascent rebellion out. The stories of Rebels can be surprisingly deep and emotional for a series we already know the end to. Hint — none of the characters of Rebels show up in Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope so… Star Wars Rebels returns September 24.

The British series Black Mirror is available on Netflix October 11. This anthology series that originally debuted back in 2001 that’s a bit like The Twilight Zone but updated for modern day originally didn’t have a series run here in the US until Netflix picked it up a few years ago. And boy am I glad they did — this show about what happens when technology and all its uses goes wrong is consistently one of the best things on TV. Black Mirror can be so intense that I’ve yet to be able to go back and watch old episodes again even though I loved them the first time around.

The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle

The alterna-history The Man in the High Castle returns to Amazon Prime December 16. I was surprised as to just how interesting a show High Castle was since I’d never really been interested in any of the other original Prime series. Here, it’s an early 1960s where Germany and Japan won the second world war and now occupy most of the planet, the US included. These two superpowers are engaging in a Cold War of sorts with what’s left of the US set to be the battleground for World War III. Except that events in the first season of High Castle reveal that this may just be one reality of many, one where the allies won the war (ours) and others where Germany or the Soviets won it all.

Better Call Saul

Better Call Saul

Another sci-fi series The Expanse returns to SyFy this January. Based on the book series Leviathan Wakes, The Expanse takes place in a future where mankind has colonized most of the solar system and has brought along all of the problems we have here on the Earth like racism, war, disease, hunger… But all this pales in comparison to what starts happening when something’s released on an asteroid outpost that threatens to consume all of humanity.

Also sometime in January a fourth season of the PBS series Sherlock is set to return with, I’m assuming, four new episodes. The series has been on since 2011 and has so far aired a paltry 13 episodes of TV. They may be “paltry” but they’re also darn good!

And the show I’m looking forward to most returning next season is Better Call Saul on AMC, the third series about how lawyer Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) goes from a guy trying to go good to someone who’d have people killed if it would earn him any money which is set to debut sometime early next year.