Westworld (season 2)

Westworld s2 poster

The amazing and brilliant first season of Westworld left more than a few questions still to be answered. As ever, if you haven’t seen the first season, even a mention of something that happens in season 2 might be considered a spoiler, so read on at your own risk!

With the Hosts now taking control of themselves, the fight is on for the park. Caught up in the brewing war are many of the characters we met in season 1, and each has their own story. From Maeve, intent on finding her child, to William aka The Man in Black, still playing ‘the game’, the strength of season 2 is quite possibly the way it lets the bigger events play out as a background to some much more personal stories.

Another brilliant thing about series 2 is the widening picture of Delos’s crowning glory (in more ways than one…!). There are at least six parks, based on a character’s comment, and we get to see another two of them here. I won’t spoil the surprises, but I enjoyed these glimpses into the ‘other’ bits.

If I thought the cast were superb in series one, then I’ve run out of superlatives for the performances turned in here. Emotions have been turned up past eleven, and are displayed with such powerful subtlety from every single actor here. I mean, wows all around, quite frankly!

Of course, the plot is no less twisty than season one, and even expecting this I had to keep questioning: what’s happening, what timeline is this – “is there something wrong with this world”, in other words! Nothing can be taken for granted. Of course, knowing fine and well that this is what the show was likely to do, they even play with that: episode one might show you a familiar face, dead, only for you to spend the rest of the series waiting for the death to happen!

I do love this show. It’s intelligent, and assumes its audience is too. It plays with tropes, but doesn’t disappoint when it needs to deliver. The need to expand the story and follow several main characters on diverging paths possibly dilutes things just a little, so I didn’t adore it in quite the same way as season 1, but it was still some of the best TV out there, and I cannot wait for series 3!

First broadcast:  2018
Series: 2
Episodes: 10 @ ~42 mins each

My rating: 9/10

Advertisements

Lucifer (season 1)

lucifer poster

Once upon a time a little graphic novel series, Sandman, told of the Lord of Hell, Lucifer Morningstar, growing bored of the job and deciding to decamp to Los Angeles – where else?! He opens up a nightclub and sets about living life to the full, encouraging the mortals around him to do the same.

Neil Gaimain’s story was picked up by Mike Carey, and Lucifer got his own spin-off comics – which have now been adapted for the small screen, but with the same irreverent humour and sympathy-for-the-devil tone that would probably have my granny rolling in her grave. Ahem!

So… after a shootout at Lux, his nightclub, Lucifer ends up consulting for the police department. He’s soon rather obsessed with Detective Chloe Decker – possibly the one person on earth who seems immune to his plentiful charms. But talking of immunity, how is Lucifer’s power, and his invulnerability, going to be affected by a prolonged stay in the mortal realm?

I’m a bit late to the party with this one, seeing as it was squirrelled away on a less-than-handy broadcaster. Still, better late than never – except for the bit where, after three series, they’ve only gone and cancelled this! Is it still worth watching? Hell, yes! 🙂

I absolutely love the story here. It’s dark and funny and not as blasphemous as some might think (ymmv). More, the intrigue levels are kept high – I practically bounced off the sofa at the big cliff-hanger statement setting up season 2!

Tom Ellis does wonderfully as the sardonic, not-quite-slimey-somehow title character, utterly clueless as to why he can’t walk through life doing and getting what – or who! – he wants. The fish out of water schtick works really well when your outsider character is a fallen angel with the power to make people blurt out their deepest, darkest desires…! His relationship with the detective is so-so, but his experience with therapy (yes, really!) is a hoot, and his faithful demon, Mazekeen, is absolutely kick-ass and I love her a lot!

Best of all, perhaps, is the way that Lucifer is so upfront about who and what he is and watching all the humans around him try to turn into into something else – metaphor, delusion, etc. Waiting for the penny to drop for some of them is the least of what’s keeping me watching, but watching I am! More!! #SaveLucifer all the way!

First broadcast: 2015
Series: 3
Episodes: 13 @ ~42 mins each

My rating: 9/10

The City and the City

the city and the city poster

When an Ul Qoman resident is found dead in the neighbouring city of Beszel, Inspector Tyador Borlú is granted rare permission to enter the sister location. Sounds like a routine murder investigation, right? But Beszel and Ul Qoma aren’t ‘neighbours’, per se: they exist in the same space. Residents must ‘unsee’ streets from the wrong city, ignore events that happen in the other place.

This deeply ingrained habit of deliberate ignorance is one thing to put on to paper – the book is suitably mind-bending – but how on earth can you put in on screen? The thing that impressed me most about this adaptation was just that: the two cities look like they exist in different decades as well as different colour-palettes.

In fact, while I enjoyed but didn’t love the book (for whatever reason), the cool ideas stayed with me in a rather ambiguous way. Are the cities genuinely ‘in the same space’ (phased, perhaps?) or are they physically in the same space, so literally sharing streets – making the mental gymnastics all the more impressive? Watching the show made that a little clearer.

However, the parts that made this more interesting as a bit of fiction were not suited to the screen, I think. Unlike the fantasy genre’s vague hand waving of ‘magic’, author China Mieville presents us with a very rationally thought-out world. His fiction is rife with border control issues, and bureaucracy – not the most thrilling thing for the screen. The story itself is perhaps a little bit convoluted, as ‘unionists’ terrorists are brought into the mix, and Borlu faces more hindrance from political corners desperate to keep the status quo.

All in all it makes for a very well-considered and well-made show, but one that I think works far better for fans of the book who already ‘get’ the concepts. It looks impressive, but the story takes a lot of attention for perhaps not quite enough ‘pow’ in the final denouement.

First broadcast: April 2018
Series: 1
Episodes: 4 @ ~55 mins each

My rating: 7/10

The Orville (season 1)

orville poster

Seth MacFarlane is well-known as the creator (and voice artist) of Family Guy, A Million Ways to Die in the West, and other showcases for his zany, un-politically correct humour. He now turns his attention to space and gives us his version of Star Trek.

Initial critics reviews were incredibly harsh, but thankfully a friend talked me into giving this a go – because it’s actually a lot of fun. It’s not poking fun at its source so much as paying homage while at the same time playing up some of the ridiculousnesses of the situations. While it never takes itself too seriously, it was surprisingly genuine and with ‘proper’ story lines, never falling into any hint of spoof.

The first episode is easily the weakest, focusing a lot on the break-up of Captain Ed Mercer’s (MacFarlane) marriage and the arrival of his ex-wife (Adrianne Palicki) as the new First Officer. Once this dynamic tails off, the series is a lot stronger for it.

And, as with all good sci-fi, there is actually a deeper moral to many of the storylines. Should a newborn baby be given corrective surgery to fit in with the rest of its culture? What about an alien race whose government is run by popular opinion? What are the real pitfalls of breaking the First Directive – something Star Trek seems to do regularly, with no real consequences.

Visually, there are a few indications that the budget here wasn’t super-high, but at the same time the CGI and makeup has been done well within its limitations and doesn’t distract at any point. And while, for instance, the gelatinous crew member isn’t absolutely hyper-realistically rendered, that’s more than forgivable for the sheer fact that the show has bothered with a non-humanoid crew member – because, why not?!

I not only really enjoyed this show as a light-hearted bit of sci-fi fun, but was actually quite impressed with how the ‘adult humour’ also allowed for some ‘adult level of thinking’ which was so often avoided to keep Star Trek appropriate for kids. Oddly, I actually believe in this society – and it looks both nice and a lot of fun!

First broadcast: December 2017
Series: 1 (2nd announced)
Episodes: 12 @ ~44 mins each

My rating: 8/10

Altered Carbon (season 1)

altered carbon poster

Imagine a future where human consciousness can be downloaded into a chip in the back of your neck, and from there sent across the infinite expanses of space as quickly as light. This ‘digital human freight’ (DHF) needs to be uploaded into a body, or ‘sleeve’, at the other end of course – if you have the money, you buy a good one. If not, you take what’s available.

Digital or not, humans are still humans – so why use the tech just for the means it was intended? After all, once you have enough money you can purchase any sleeve you want, or clone your own. Transfer your conscious into a younger version of yourself, again and again – bingo, immortality.

I loved Richard Morgan’s book when I first read it, full of such cool ideas and a great blend of sci-fi and detective noir. I had my doubts about the transfer to screen, however – could they really capture some of the concepts here?

‘Cyber-punk’ is not the easiest to bring to screen, but this is full of just enough tech and a good mystery to carry the story along. Throw in ‘what ifs’ about near-immortal longevity and what that does to social class, plus the effect of religion, and just what it means to be ‘you’ if you don’t necessarily wear the same body all the time…

However, it’s far from perfect. There’s a lot of backstory and subtlety to the inner thoughts that doesn’t transfer. I really couldn’t get behind the Kristen Ortega character/actor, finding her flat and unconvincing. Thankfully Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman) comes across a little better, his blankness reflecting military training. And James Purefoy, as main protagonist Laurens Bancroft, is always good form (hah!).

Despite these flaws, I really enjoyed the series. It probably helped a LOT that I’ve got all the background from the book, but even going in blind you can find things to like. Or to dislike, I suppose: graphic violence, sex, drug use… yeah, not necessarily an easy viewing! But I’m very pleased that a second season has been announced, even if it does mean a new set of ‘sleeves’…!

First broadcast: February 2018
Series: 1
Episodes: 10 @ ~57 mins each

My rating: 8/10

The Handmaid’s Tale (season 1)

handmaids tale poster

It’s been well over a decade since I read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (and over 30 years since it was first published) but the power of the story stayed with me. It was enough to make me a little cautious about this adaptation, too: both for the usual reason (what if it’s not well done?) and just the feeling of not wanting to go into too dark a place with my viewing. I’m so so glad I gave this a go, though, as it’s one of the best bits of television from 2017!

Set in a not-too-distant future, attacks on America’s government have opened the way for a new regime: a back-to-basics, fundamentalist Christian one, with more than a few ideas that are very unsavoury. The Handmaids, for instance: faced with plummeting birth rates, fertile females are rounded up, tagged, and sent to breed with the most powerful men – whether they like it or not.

The Handmaid of the title is June (Elizabeth Moss, perhaps best known from Mad Men), who we follow as she is ‘placed’ in the home of Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes, Shakespeare in Love) and his wife (Yvonne Strahovski, formerly of Chuck), expected to produce a child for them. You’d perhaps think that she’d be well treated in between times, given the importance of her role, but she’s a prisoner and an object, and treated accordingly. Still, nothing quite as awful as is revealed in the flashbacks, explaining how this bizarre and awful regime not only gets started, but how on earth it can continue.

Although massively shocking, I think there’s actually a little less graphicness on the screen than there was in the books, which is a bit of a relief to be honest. That said, there is more than enough here to make anyone feel powerfully uncomfortable – and that’s kind of the point. The kicker for me wasn’t the horrendous treatment of women – not just the handmaids, but all the women – which I was expecting from reading the book, but that as the series progresses and we piece together all the flashbacks, that there is a perverse kind of logic in how this new political systems starts. Tying in things like climate change brings the whole thing more into the present day, only adding to the oomph factor.

Add in fantastic performances from the entire cast, high production values, and some amazing if un-flashy visuals, and this was just compelling from start to finish. It does end on a bit of a cliffhanger (as does the book, if I recall), but hurrah – we’re getting a second series! Bring it on!

First broadcast: May 2017
Series: 1 (renewed)
Episodes: 10 @ ~60 mins each

My rating: 9/10

American Gods (season 1)

I’d long thought American Gods was probably my favourite Neil Gaiman book, so an on-screen adaptation made me both excited and nervous. Would it translate from the page?

Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) is released from prison when his wife dies. As he tries to make his way home for the funeral, he’s repeatedly approached by the rather shady Mr Wednesday (Ian McShane) – who seems to know more about Shadow than he should. In Wednesday’s company, Shadow meets an array of very very odd… people. Some are keen to have Shadow turn against his new employer, others are – well, not exactly friendly, but at least not trying to kill them. Yet.

Meanwhile, somewhere in America… for every race that travelled to this melting pot of a country, another god made the journey with them. From fertility goddesses to djinn, the old gods are still there – but now there are new gods, too: media and technology, and more. So, who’s side are you on?

This was not an easy story to try to portray on screen, methinks, and as such full kudos to the production team for managing it so well. I’d recently reread the book in preparation for watching this, and mostly that did help a lot with understanding what was going on – there are more than a few strange parts that must have been utterly bonkers without that background. However, a few strands ARE changed – notably around Laura Moon, Shadow’s (ahem) dead wife – which did leave me scrabbling for just a little bit (I’m still not sure I understand the fly spray), especially as we hit flashbacks.

Overall, though, this is a tad bonkers but very worth the watch. The casting in particular is fabulous, with so many famous names and faces, including Gillian Anderson (in so many fab guises!), Emily Browning, Peter Stormare, Orlando Jones, Corbin Bersen, Kristin Chenoweth – I could go on! The range of deities and oddities on show is just as packed as the book, and I loved the way the ‘Somewhere in America…’ sections translated.

I’m disappointed that so little of the story could fit into one series, though, so ideally I’d love to have binged all – I dunno, three, six, ten or however many we’re going to get. Bring it all! 🙂

First broadcast: May 2017 (UK)
Series: 1 (and already renewed)
Episodes: 8 @ ~50 mins each

My rating: 8/10