Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Mad Men: Obergruppenf├╝hrer edition

Guest-poster and Amazon Prime subscriber Zach is here to tell you all about Man in the High Castle. Ever imagine what would have happened if the Axis won WWII? Amazon has you covered. --Maggie Cats

Truth is, I’ve been waiting for Amazon’s adaptation of Man in the High Castle for some time; it’s one of my favorite books, and I’ve been hearing about it’s expertly crafted dystopian sci-fi world since September

The plot in two sentences: In this world, Germany got the atomic bomb first, and used it on Washington, DC, ending WWII and dividing up the United States into the occupied “Greater Nazi Reich” and the Japanese puppet state, Pacific States of America. The series brings us in during the early 1960s, focusing on the capitals of each of these states, New York and San Francisco. 

The two main characters are Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos), who's trying to figure out exactly what her newly deceased sister was wrapped up in, and Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank), a Nazi double agent posing as a resistance fighter. 

Will you like it? If you like lush, gorgeous detail, and the intersection of 1960s culture and consumerism colliding with Nazi/Japanese domination, then yeah. The series provides a rich crop of easter eggs and clever visual asides and it's clear the show creators really thought through this alternate universe. I found myself pausing and rewinding constantly, checking out small amusements such as a little boy reading a copy of the kid’s magazine, “Ranger Reich.”

Also, rocket planes are a thing.

Beyond the detail though, is a near-constant gripping drama, with the only lull spent in an early episode in Canon City, a “wild-west” located in the neutral zone of the Rocky Mountains, the last refuge for outcasts (elderly, albinos, Jews, etc.) who would be institutionalized or exterminated in either state.

Drama’s not your thing? Then enjoy the rich secondary characters (who sometimes outshine the leads). Let your stomach get queasy when you find yourself essentially agreeing with the family values espoused by the Rockwellian Smith family, the paterfamilias being a strict but kind husband and father, but also the head of the SS for the Greater Nazi Reich with a prevalence for sadism. Revel in the fascinating social commentary on race and gender--at one point our lead characters are led through a “white dancers only” fetish strip club, run by the Yakuza. The series seems tailored for us to examine our own America through our glimpse at this fictional world.

For me, the only downside to this adaptation is that the eerie version of “Edelweiss” featured in the opening credits is my new nightmare fuel. Here’s hoping it can be yours too.

Man in the High Castle is on, and is free to Amazon Prime members. All episodes are available for streaming Nov. 20th, 2015.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

I Am Strange

Close viewers of BBC America or just anglophiles in general may have noticed this past summer that Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell got the miniseries treatment from the boys over in London.  Because I love a miniseries and alternate history, this one was high on my must-watch list. And then, natch, I didn’t get around to it until after the weather started to get sucky. Sigh. At any rate, the miniseries was glossy, composed, and very, very English.

Before I say anything else, I should mention that I actually haven’t read the book, so my thoughts are purely limited to the TV show. My understanding is that, despite the show’s seven hours of total screen time, there are still loads of plot points and character bits from the books that were condensed, eliminated, or otherwise altered in the final product. Though, honestly, given the show’s obsession with pondering over what it means to be English, I have to imagine that’s for the best. (Readers, please correct me on this if instead you believe what was actually eliminated was more germane to the plot.)

At any rate, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is set in 19th-centruy England during the Napoleonic Wars. It presents an alternate history of England where magic, formerly thought to have been eliminated from England a few hundred years before, has begun to make a comeback in the form of Mr. Norrell, a fussy English gentleman who has gleaned how to work magic from his massive collection of books. Being the only Magician in all of England, he somewhat reluctantly goes about reviving the practice of “English Magic”, offering his services to Lords and Royals as he can find them. Mr. Norrell is fastidious about preserving the English decency that he feels magic requires, though to be fair we never really see any examples of what non-English magic would be or why it would be less preferable.

"Yes, yes. Much magic. Quite special. Tea, please?"

Just when Mr. Norrell is about to make good on his fame and fortune as the sole Magician in the land, in comes a young gentleman of property (of course) named Jonathan Strange. Strange it seems has also become awakened to magic after hearing a prophesy from a street vagrant. Like you do. Strange becomes Norrell’s pupil, though the two initially disagree about the importance of a character known as The Raven King. Strange believes The Raven King to be the source of English magic, whereas Norrell sees him as sort of an enemy of the state for practicing a wilder, less organized (read: less English) magic. This small theoretical difference eventually grows into a much bigger rift that generates much of the action for the story.

"Mine is a dashing and brazen magic, much like my waistcoat."

Things are further complicated when Norrell, somewhat out of his depth, is asked to resurrect the wife of a prominent Lord. In doing so, Norrell brings forth The Gentleman, a fairy who agrees to revive the Lady, but at a cost of half of her life.  Unable to admit defeat, or that the magic that returned the Lady to life wasn’t proper English magic but the magic of Faerie, Norrell allows the Gentleman more interest in the “real” world. The Gentleman also soon develops designs on Strange’s wife Arabella as well as a servant in the Lord’s house. And from there the fun starts.

Pictured: Not David Bowie.

The story begs and borrows a lot from earlier English literary traditions. Strange is a classic Byronic Hero; the emphasis on structure and Englishness flies straight out of the Regency and Victorian periods where England was the unquestioned capitol of the world. As such, it spends much of its time focusing on bringing those concepts into a fantasy story, allowing the more fantastic elements to serve as stand-ins for England, its virtues, and its faults. Which sounds incredible, but after about hour four you really do start to feel a little like you’re listening to a stuffy literature professor ramble on about the Romantics when all you really want to do is go outside because it’s such a nice day out.

Plenty of aspects of the show work very well. It’s gorgeous to look at with a very refined and specific art direction that is quite eye-catching. The visuals are lush, costumes are gorgeous, special effects FAR better than I thought they would be. Performances are strong, particularly Eddie Marsan as Mr. Norrell, who nails the fussy, quick-to-offend, yet vulnerable and self-doubting character so ridiculously well that I was completely ambivalent about how to feel about him the entire time watching the show. He’s not exactly an antihero nor a hero outright; that the actor is able to walk the line between someone you really want to know more about and someone you just want to punch in the face is impressive and keeps you paying attention to him.

There's also a lot of dancing at a supernatural ball in Hell. Seriously. 

Where I think the show falters is in taking what is arguably an incredibly immersive reading experience and translating it to a viewing experience that doesn’t have the same heft. The novel takes a story about defining what it means to be English and makes even that process as English as possible, purposefully opting always to describe the magic in the most mundane and muted ways possible. The novel also contains more than 200 footnotes, giving it the veneer of a researched scholarly paper and further bolstering its detached, English sensibility.

Did I mention there are also zombies?

That creative interpretation of a fantastic story is wonderfully ironic on the page and doesn’t translate at all to the screen. Which is understandable. It’s not a good idea, cinematically-speaking, to tell a story about magic and then downplay the magical effects. So where the book would take an almost distasteful approach to describing a scene where Jonathan Strange conjures horses out of sand and sends them charging into the surf to right a frigate that’s shoaled just off the coast, the show is left with no option but to make this a fantastic event.

All of this will depending on your need for the show to be faithful to the book, of course, or your affection for the experience of reading the book to be accurately recreated in your watching of the show. Classic Your Mileage May Vary situation.

Bottom line: If you desperately can’t wait for the Harry Potter prequels to come out and really need a good dose of English people talking about magic and you’ve always nursed a crush on Count Vronsky, Mr. Rochester, or any other literary brooder of that era, this is a fun way to spend seven hours of your time. 

Friday, November 13, 2015


Supergirl feels like a show from another era. Sure, it's got top notch special effects and aside from an awkward green screen here and there, it looks amazing. And nobody is sporting a beehive or a mullet or feathered bangs. But when I watch Supergirl, I feel like I am watching one of those action adventure shows from when I was a kid. The A-Team, Macgyver, or Star Trek. Oh, and of course you can't forget Wonder Woman in that list.

What is it about Supergirl that makes me feel so nostalgic? I think it's the overall tone, and forgive me for using this term, how it feels so earnest. It's certainly not cool to fight for truth, justice, and the American way (which is why Superman is supremely uncool), but I remember watching shows with my family as a kid that held up these ideals. If you were in trouble, and you could find them, you could hire The A-Team. Macgyver used his brain to save others, and you can't get more idealistic than Star Trek.

This doesn't have anything to do with the post. I just wanted to put a picture of Richard Dean Anderson on here.

Supergirl inhabits the same universe, where a young woman with unlimited cosmic power* just wants to use her abilities to help people. I imagine little girls, their brothers, their parents, and all other members of the family watching this show together. Cheering for Kara to catch the bad guy, to realize her cute friend likes her, and to show the doubting secret agent-types that she can save the day on her own.

There's no doubt in my mind we are living in a Golden Age of Television, but everything is just so dark. I'm all for hard-hitting drama, but sometimes you need a break from the bleak. Supergirl is just the thing: an adventure story with a strong (literally strong) female lead who saves the day and loves doing it.

OK, so let's talk specifics. Will YOU love Supergirl? Like I said above, it looks great. Sometimes the dialogue is a bit clunky and I'm not sure we needed a love triangle (though teens will probably eat it up). If you find the basic plot of The Devil Wears Prada untenable, then you might not be a fan of Kara's day job--executive assistant to the demanding media mogul, Cat Graham--but I for one could watch Calista Flockhart chew the scenery and bitch out her underlings all day long. And it certainly makes Kara relateable; who hasn't had a job with a bad manager?

If you also prefer your drama on the more existential side of the spectrum (The Walking Dead, looking at you) you might find Supergirl a bit too...nice. But if you're looking for a good old fashioned adventure, this could be the show for you.

Supergirl is juggling a lot of elements, but as the writers find their legs I think it could really be something special. The show and Kara both need to figure out how to better balance her freelance superhero work (and family issues) with her role as an agent with the black-ops agency tasked with protecting Earth from alien threats. This is a minor quibble though.

At its heart Supergirl is a fun throwback to the action adventure series of old improved with modern effects and more inclusive storytelling. Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay Supergirl is that at the end of the first episode I wished this show had been on when I was a little girl. It would have been nice to have someone like Kara to look up to.

Supergirl airs Mondays at 8PM on CBS.

*and more than itty bitty living space based on her palatial apartment in National City.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Through the Looking Glass, Darkly

Okay. So. I watched Black Mirror. And while I generally liked it, I don’t know, you guys. There’s some serious shit going down in this one that needs talking about.  And that shit is all about the way the speculative fiction show from England’s Channel 4 treats women.

So, here’s the thing: there’s really no way I can talk about the misogyny issues in Black Mirror without getting spoiler-y, so I’m breaking this into two sections; The first will be spoiler-free (and largely reflect that things about the show that I really liked) and the second will unpack the, let’s call them problematic, issues the show struggles with.

Metaphor! Metaphor!

Part I: Stuff That I Like! (Spoiler-free!)
Black Mirror has been compared positively to The Twilight Zone, something that to my mind is more or less accurate. Just like its predecessor, Black Mirror is an anthology series with each episode being a different story with a different cast and a different setting. Unencumbered by any kind of continuity, it makes for an easy watch knowing that you literally don’t have to know anything at all going into any given episode.

What the show really excels at is being unnerving, which is different from being scary or creepy. Black Mirror is not a horror show; there are no monsters or ghosts or demons or other things hiding under the bed just ready to pounce. If anything, the villains in the show are to the letter all human. For as much as the show has been sold at least partially on the notion of it being about the dangers of technology, the show itself is pretty agnostic on that point. If anything, it suggests that technology is a blank thing, neither good nor evil. In each story, it’s always a human who ends up being the scary one. That notion of ten minutes in the future and There But For the Grace of God Go I is what creates that unnerving feeling you get watching it.

You are 100% guaranteed to make each of these faces at some point while watching.

In that sense, the show wears its anti-transcendental attitude on its sleeve. Each episode gives us another story of people more or less always being forced into making hard choices. The first episode details the British Prime Minister being presented with a revolting choice in the face of a terrorist threat.  One episode pretty ably mocks reality TV by showcasing a class of people whose lives are geared toward literally nothing more than winning a television talent show. Another one presents a woman whose new husband has died when she is given a vaguely Monkey’s Paw-style option for getting him back. The show presents no easy victories.

It also looks great doing it. You could easily confuse almost every episode for a mini movie with high production value, talented actors, and a broad scope. The end result is entertaining certainly and tailor-made for Netflix binging, a fact that Netflix apparently was keen to since they’ve announced that they are going to take over production of the show in its third season from Channel 4.

Now to talk about the ugly bits. If you don’t want spoilers, jump ahead to Part III below.

Part II: Things That Make You Go, “Hmm.”
Clearly, there are things that Black Mirror does very well, which is what makes the rest of it so confounding. Amidst all that really cool speculative fiction stuff, there’s a really unsettling vein of misogyny that I had a hard time dealing with. Let’s unpack, shall we? (Again, a reminder: Here there be spoilers.)

The first hint is in the second episode, “Fifteen Million Merits”, starring a de-Downton Abby’d Jessica Brown Findlay. The episode is about a future where people, possibly everyone, live in a confined building and must spend each day cycling on a stationary bike to earn merits which can be used to buy food, clothes, and of course, avatars for their online selves. The episode tries to say a lot, but its primary story comes from a woman who is gifted the requisite merits needed for the most expensive purchasable item – a chance to compete on a reality talent show and liberate yourself from this dreary life. Findlay’s character performs for a panel of judges who deem her not talented enough as a singer, but perfectly suited to, ahem, other services. This episode almost gets a pass from me given that it’s sort of blatantly underlining the use and abuse of women for others’ pleasure and if that were the end of it, the message would be received, albeit in a heavy handed way. 

"Being sold into pornography and dying giving birth. Note to self: Get new agent."

But let’s look at another example. The next episode, “The Entire History of You” is set in a future where the must-have technology device is actually an implant in your head that allows you to replay everything you see and do and even share those memories with people around you. A man, struggling at his job as a lawyer, comes to believe after a dinner party that his wife may have slept with another party attendee years ago. The jealousy leads to fights between the two as he comes to insist not only that she’s lying to him about having had an affair but also to demand that she show him her memories of the time in question to prove her fidelity to him. If this episode ended there, it would have simply left the main character as an insecure douchebag, but by forcing the issue we learn that his wife did actually have an affair and that, in fact, their young daughter was the product of that affair. In other words, the wife’s character, in the eyes of the show, was not entitled to the privacy of her own memories and the man’s frankly line-crossing behavior is utterly justified because of her lying ways, even after establishing that the man is borderline abusive, demeaning and jealous over perceived slights. While in the end his insistence on learning the truth leaves him hollow and without his family, that fate is cast as the result of her affair, not his inability to not be an ass to his family.

"Reviewing memories now...damn, turns out there was a 'it's all my fault' clause in the marriage vows..."

The trend continues in the episodes “Be Right Back” and “White Bear,” the third and fourth episodes. In the first, a woman (Hayley Atwell) becomes inconsolable after the death of her husband before learning that a company has perfected a way to create a sort of digital copy of his personality based on his online and social media activity, allowing her to get emails and phone calls from her “husband” before eventually even purchasing a life-sized artificial copy of him, a shell that can contain program files to recreate his personality. Throughout the episode, Atwell’s character moves through the stages of grief but becomes shrill and unreasonable. Again, handled differently this could be a powerful story about grief, or at least about how much of our personalities we leave in the world without thinking about it. In the end, what we get is a story about a woman who can’t handle not controlling her husband and so banishes the last remnants of him to an isolated existence.

Likewise, “White Bear” deals with a woman who awakes in a house she doesn’t recognize, unsure of who she is, and is quickly confronted with a kind of zombie-apocalypse style horror where the population has become mindless, focusing only on recording her every movement on their cell phones while she is chased by mysterious people in masks who want to kill her. In the end it’s revealed that she is actually in a kind of correctional facility for the crime of allegedly murdering a young child with her boyfriend and filming the murder and her punishment is to be tortured in front of a live audience every day with her mind wiped clean every night. Despite the presence of another woman (played by Tuppence Middleton) who actually has some agency of her own, the entire episode is one torturous sequence after another for a character who is hardly proven to have committed the crime she’s accused of.

An apt summation of the show in one image.

Part III: Conclusions (Come Back, Spoiler-phobes.)
So there’s my dilemma about Black Mirror: It’s an extremely well-produced and creative show about how humanity relates to technology and each other, but it’s got some major issues with the unstated politics of the show. Your mileage may vary as to how much this of value to you when watching. I’m not usually one to get caught up in a show’s political underpinnings. I can usually shut down that part of my brain and just enjoy the story. Something about Black Mirror made that hard for me, though. And once the switch was flipped in my brain, it made it really hard for me to go back.

I should also mention that I don’t think any of my issues with the themes in the show suggest that it isn’t well written, well-acted, and generally well done. It just makes for some sticky watching for me. Regardless, Netflix has already commissioned 12 episodes, almost doubling the existing seven that have already aired. Look for them on Netflix now with additional episodes due out in 2016. 

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Latest TV News

We now interrupt your usual Fall TV blogging with some breaking news. I swear that Supergirl review is coming soon, but I've been seeing and reading so much good stuff on the internet lately (all hail the internet) that I just had to share.

First up! The return of one of television's most beloved franchises: Star Trek. CBS announced yesterday that it would create and air a new Star Trek series in 2017. The catch? While the pilot episode will premiere on CBS's television station, all other episodes will only air on the network's paid streaming service, CBS All Access.

I'm not sure I can adequately express how important this news is, not just for me, but for geeks everywhere. Star Trek: The Next Generation was one of my first fandoms and the first show I remember watching as a family. To this day, my brother and I have a tradition of seeing all the new Star Trek movies together (well at least at the same time since we live on different coasts).

As this most excellent article from The Verge points out, CBS is clearly using one of its most promising and popular established properties to send a clear signal that it is doubling down on its streaming service. Will it work? Only time will tell--but I'm not making any plans to subscribe just yet and I consider myself a big Star Trek fan. My current prediction is that CBS will only succeed in making it one of the most pirated shows on the internet (all hail the internet), but that's because the quality of Star Trek series since TNG has not been great. If CBS is really serious about making this work, they're going to need to get an amazing showrunner and fantastic writers to pull it off. If they try this shit with another Enterprise, well, it won't be pretty.

Speaking of networks upping their profile with new shows, Starz is really knocking it out of the park lately. They got on the map with Outlander, are developing American Gods (based on the Neil Gaiman novel) into a series, premiered Ash vs The Evil Dead on Halloween, and I am really excited about Flesh and Bone, an upcoming drama about ballet.

Center Stage fans, REJOICE!

Flesh and Bone is about a dancer getting her last shot! at living her dream! and dealing with mean dance company directors! But it also looks really beautiful, dark, and painful. So I'm on board. Flesh and Bone premieres on Starz on November 8. Break out your pointe shoes and set the DVR now.

Next in the "items I feel compelled to share" category, is this great bracket series over on Vulture dedicated to determining the Best High School Show in the Past 30 Years. If you're looking for something to distract you from the mind-numbing minutia of your everyday life, this series is it. The articles will fill your brain with happy memories of the shows that perfectly documented the angst and pain of teenage life. Early winners are Buffy and Daria (duh), but decisions are going to get really painful the more we need to cull the herd. I recommend reading this while at work, when you don't want to do work. Prefect time waster!

And finally...Jon Stewart is returning to television! Kinda. At some undetermined time. According to EW,"As part of a new four-year production agreement with the premium network, Stewart will create daily short-form content that will be showcased on the company’s streaming outlets HBO Go and HBO Now, as well as on other venues." It sounds kind of like Stewart has carte blanche to release short videos of himself talking about whatever strikes his fancy whenever the hell he wants. That's pretty sweet. But if it means more Jon Stewart in my life I am all for it.

That's all the news that's fit to print! See you soon with a Supergirl review and more fun from the internet (all hail the internet).

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

I'm not sure I can express how much I love this show. Will you like it? I don't know. But it's basically Maggie catnip. A heroine who is funny, smart, likeable, and yet awkward and realistic? Check. Romantic comedy? Musical numbers? CHECK.

Yes, it has musical numbers. But don't freak out, it's only like two or three per episode. And they're witty and funny and catchy.

A lot of you will probably find the basic premise troubling. From wikipedia: "Rebecca Bunch is a single woman who still longs for her longtime soul mate Josh, who dumped her after their summer fling during summer camp in 2005. In 2015, she restarts her pursuit of Josh after she spots him in New York City. When he tells her that he is moving to West Covina, California ("Just two hours from the beach, four hours in traffic"), Rebecca decides to move there too, hoping that it will give her a fresh start and hopefully bring her closer to the still-elusive Josh."

So yes, she pulls a Felicity and moves somewhere in pursuit of a guy. And while this is where the crazy part of the title comes in (because why would a normal woman follow a man she hasn't seen for 10 years across the country?), Rebecca was deeply and completely unhappy with her life in New York. So Josh is more like...a metaphor if you will. For the last time in her life she was happy. She's chasing the dream of happiness.

Or maybe she's just kind of crazy. Either way, when I see her I see someone I would love to be friends with. She thinks things real women think and does things real women do. Rebecca, played by the wonderful Rachel Bloom, could be me. And I love it. She's even a lawyer!

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend airs on the CW Mondays at 8:00PM EST. You can catch up on the two aired episodes on the CW website, linked above.

Bonus video: my favorite song from the pilot, the "Sexy Getting Ready Song." Please note the Spanx.


Monday, October 05, 2015

Fall Premieres, Part II

Here we are, well into Fall premiere time and I have barely expressed my opinions on anything. What is going on? Has the world gone mad?

Let's just say that a combination of factors (and I'll be honest, one of them is laziness) have kept me from writing on the blog. These factors also include some unexpected surgery. On my face.

A little hole in the head hasn't stopped me from watching new shows and forming opinions, though. It's just kept me from having the time to tell you about them. But fear not, gentle readers! It's a rainy weekend, I'm stuck inside, so I'm going to give it to your straight. So let's get to it!

Scream Queens: Have you ever seen a Ryan Murphy show? You know, like Glee or American Horror Story? If you have then you know exactly what to expect from Scream Queens. Snappy, too-clever dialogue, characters that are more caricatures, blatant racism, misogyny, and homophobia but it's ok because it's funny and full of social commentary, right? RIGHT? Oh, and lots of gore. Buckets of blood even. So be warned.

Objectively the show is not good and doesn't really make much sense. But that doesn't mean it's not also awesome. It's not as fun as I had hoped, but it's still some fun and I'll keep watching through the end. If nothing to else to observe the shit show and see how things spectacularly fall apart. And if they don't it will be a pleasant surprise! And I admit, I am kind of intrigued as to who the killer is and just how they hell they are pulling off these increasingly ridiculous murders. There's a lot of eye rolling going on in the Maggie Cats household during this show, but there's also a lot of laughing and snorting.

And honestly, Jamie Lee Curtis knocking it out of the park every week is worth the price of admission alone. She's in on the joke and is just having a great time with her character and the circus going on around her. If you want some brainless Halloween-appropriate fun, you could do worse than Scream Queens.

Scream Queens airs Tuesdays at 9:00EST on FOX. 

Rosewood: Morris Chestnut is ridiculously handsome and charismatic. And that is pretty much the only reason to watch this crime procedural drama. It's kind of like House meets Bones meets...I don't know, something about a hot doctor who solves murders. 

So Morris Chestnut is Dr. Beaumont Rosewood, Jr., a private pathologist living and working in Miami who contracts with the local police force to help solve murders. Is a private pathologist actually a thing? Like, you can take the body of your loved one to this guy and he will do a private autopsy? I don't believe this is actually a job. 

Anyway, the two episodes I've seen have had pretty run of the mill murders to solve, though the Miami locale means they are a bit flashier than other similar shows. Dr. Rosewood is surrounded by quirky and clever friends (and lesbians!) and his Mom and is very observant (like House, but slutty). And there is sexual tension with the homicide detective (of course) who has a tragic back story (of course) and so has trust issues (of course). Unless you're a fan of the police procedural drama, you can pretty much skip this one.

Don't look so smug, Morris Chestnut.

Rosewood airs Wednesdays at 8:00PM on FOX.

Quantico: You guys, I really wanted to dislike this one. Some of my favorite bloggers, Tom and Lorenzo, wrote a review where they basically grumped about how the show is a collection of all the worst trends on television right now. The overly pretty people, the season-long flashback plot device, the "nobody is who they seem" mysteries, and the ridiculous plot twists--it's all true. But, dammit, I'm still hooked and will have to keep watching.

The series' protagonist is Alex Parrish (Priyanka Chopra), an overly gorgeous FBI-recruit who is suspected of committing a terrorist attack. Flashbacks tell her story as well as the story of her classmates at the FBI Academy in Quantico.So basically it's How to Get Away with Murder but with terrorism and FBI stuff.

Let's say that I liked it in spite of myself and even against my better judgment. If you're looking for something to fill your conspiracy theory drama slot, you can do a lot worse than this. Well, at least as far as I could tell from the pilot episode. Time will tell if things stay interesting...or devolve into a big stinky mess.

If this is what the FBI recruit-class actually looks like I will literally eat my hat. I'll boil it first, but by Jove, I will eat it.

Quantico airs Sundays at 10:00PM EST on ABC.

Friday, October 02, 2015

October Netflix: New Seasons of Things

So, new seasons of things have been popping up on Netflix. I've watched halfway into a few of them.

One of the problems that plagues continuing series is that, after the first two seasons or so, the plot tends to resolve all the really interesting things that brought you to the series in the first place, and now it has to find new conflict. I'm going to rank the series in ascending order of how well they do that.


Running to a murdered plotline
I had such high hopes for Longmire's fourth season. The last one tied up who killed Walt's wife, and yet there was a cliffhanger.

And now, four episodes in, Walt's still avenging his wife's death, the cliffhanger got tied up too fast, and, worst of all, the nuance in the original seasons seems to be lacking.

A good example is the character of Jacob Nighthorse. In the first season, he was a polarizing figure in a moral gray zone; the constructor of a casino on reservation land, Nighthorse was a forceful advocate for American Indian rights while also being a semi-criminal land developer. Now he's been developed into a cartoonish crime lord who uses American Indian grievance as a recruiting tool for his thugs and justification for his actions. I liked Longmire for its lack of "good Indian/bad Indian" cliches, but now that's gone, I kind of don't want to see how the series finishes. 

Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries

Apparently, my wife and I weren't the only ones saying, "put more gold-plated, pearl-handled revolver into this series!" It shows up a lot in Season 3.
Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries seemed to be floundering a little in its second season; while still entertaining, the major interpersonal conflicts between the characters had basically been resolved and stayed in stasis.

I was going to write that for the third season as well, but the series started picking up in the third episode, making the romantic subplots more nuanced and, frankly, stepping up the game in the "murder of the week" department. Still definitely worth watching.

The Blacklist

These are ridiculously ugly sunglasses that James Spader wears all the time in the second season, possibly as a conspiracy involving the costume designer to make me want to destroy my television in sartorial fury, allowing a secret organization to replace it with a new one that explodes or bugs my apartment or releases biological weapons, or all three.
So, when you have a show whose first season is based on being so over-the-top with cliffhangers, every-other-episode twists, reveals, false reveals, etc. that the plot doesn't just border on incoherence, it is in fact completely nonsensical, you can't really jump the shark. 

Seriously, if James Spader's character Reddington water-skied over a shark to prove his cojones to a Mexican drug lord so that the drug lord would provide Reddington with the Swiss bank account number of an autistic Kazakhstani albino who can crack uncrackable ciphers by comparing them to the bar codes on bulk packages of candy, that would really only be par for the course for this show. Nearly every major plot point of every episode would make you say "wait, WHAT?!?" if you took The Blacklist seriously.

But that's not why you're watching, right? You don't really care if Elizabeth Keane figures out who her real parents are or what happened on the night of that mysterious fire or what she means to Reddington, right? You're watching because James Spader is amazing as an oleaginous criminal mastermind with amazing monologues. 

And, if you haven't heard one before, a Spader Monologue in The Blacklist is amazing. They tend to go like:

Red, did you kidnap and/or murder a person I kind of cared about again?

Lizzie, when I was a young man, I spent a summer kayaking. Besides developing an attractive tan, I learned some valuable things about the way one has to move while essentially alone in white water rapids. One day, I was passing over a particular stretch when a bear catching a salmon distracted me...

And it goes on for five minutes, and maybe Spader will answer the question, but who cares? He owns the character so completely that the fun is in watching. 

Friday, September 25, 2015


Mac Attack is back (and making me look lazy) with another review, this time of NBC's Blindspot. The ads make it look a bit derivative (Memento, anyone?) but who knows, you may be surprised. Read the review and find out! --Maggie Cats

Disclaimer: This show was basically made for me. I've been a big fan of Jaimie Alexander since an obscure show she was amazing in called Kyle XY, before she picked up momentum with a slingshot maneuver through Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Remember this show? Of course not. NO ONE remembers this show.

Blindspot also has a better backstory for narrative-but-not-procedural-or-semantic memory loss (which is actually explained, briefly but accurately, in the show) than usual for an 'amnesia' show. It's got tattoos. And quickly, in the background of one shot, is definitely a 3D printer. In short, this was geared to tickle my fancy.

I will try to give an unbiased review, nevertheless.

A completely naked woman is found inside of a duffel bag in the middle of Times Square, with no memory, and her body is covered in tattoos... including "Kurt Weller FBI" in huge letters between her shoulder blades. Kurt Weller, agent of the FBI, is assigned the lead on her case. He has no idea who she is, and she doesn't remember him, or anything. The overarching plot is, they want to find out who did this to her. Within the episode, they find and decode one specific tattoo, which helps them stop a crime. A few other tattoos are shown to have subtle meaning, implying that whoever tattooed this person knows a great deal about criminal elements, and about the FBI agents who end up in charge of this Jane Doe.

Kurt Weller is an FBI agent. Jane Dow is a kung-fu master who speaks Chinese and can remember nothing before yesterday. They fight crime!

The idea behind the show seems basic, not entirely original, but solid and interesting. The writing as it pertains to dialogue is... okay. I have high hopes for the supporting cast; none of them really shine in this first episode, but both the characters-as-written and the actors, from what little we get to see, show promise. As for plot, it raises some interesting questions in this first episode, but only time will tell if these questions will be answered in satisfying ways, or if we're just getting another LOST.

Much as I'm a fan of Jaimie, I felt they pushed the envelope on fan-service. As should be apparent from the posters, her body is covered in tattoos which are pertinent for plot reasons (I assume the formula will be, they start figuring out the 'clue' hidden in each tattoo just in time to rush and try to save something). More time is spent showing a lot of them than I think was strictly necessary. (They stay within their rating, but a woman wearing nothing but her own hands and a cocked knee is what it is.)

NBC, keepin' it classy.

I personally am giving it at least a few more episodes. This episode suffered a bit from Pilot Disorder; they introduced too much stuff and the show hasn't found its legs yet. The potential seems to be there, and I'm hopeful. If you only watch a few shows a season, I doubt this will make the cut, but it seems to be a solid, entertaining, something-to-have-on-in-the-background while you fold laundry.

Blindspot airs Monday nights at 10pm on NBC, and is available on Hulu.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Minority Report

There's no way the regular TV Sluts could make it through all these Fall Premieres by ourselves (even we're not THAT talented), so we're calling in all the troops. Here's a guest post from Mac Attack covering the new show, Minority Report, based on the movie of the same name. It's not a remake, but rather a continuation of the story. Is it worth your time? Read on to find out! --Maggie Cats 

 Minority Report: Somewhat aptly named. A show about precognition gives us a vision of a post-racial future. Main character is a woman of color, DC's mayor is a black man married to an Asian woman (who used to play professional football for the... wait for it... Washington Redclouds!). Even the semi-antagonistic office-political rival within the cops is FES from That 70's Show. Minority indeed. The only four white people with significant roles in the episode were all characters from the movie.

As someone who thinks "psychic" is a pretty terrible premise for a show, I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. In part, they down-play the psychic element. The show focuses on Dash, one of the two twin male psychics, and establishes that he was, by far, the weakest of them. For whatever reason, he's the only one still interested in stopping murders; for the other two, their days of future crime are in the past. So, the heroes will have FAR less information than Tom Cruise did.

I do like pre-cog humor, which this episode was unfortunately somewhat light on. Two jokes stood out, and they were good, but not great. And they've already overused the "You're the pre-cog, you tell me" gag. A lot.

I think they knocked the tech out of the park. It was ubiquitous. It was central, or shown in the background, or as an accent, and just all over the place. Sometimes it was a plot point, sometimes it was just to give a sense of place. I worry that it's a breeding ground for 'forgotten phlebotinum'. Will an episode come where a crime could easily be prevented, if someone just used the device some random students are seen using in the background of episode 7?

Hopefully, no. One of the first scenes was... kinda the worst. They tried too hard, I feel, at the first crime scene. Their forensic technology seems impressive, but the woman using it looks like she's playing Dance Dance Revolution, or possibly that scene from the Toxic music video where Britney Spears dances past some laser beams while lip-syncing.

 Don't pretend you don't know what I mean.

I have seen the movie, and I have not read the book. My gut says that you don't have to have seen the movie to understand what's going on, and you definitely don't to enjoy it. They re-cap the salient details of the movie quickly right at the start and let you get into the show. There's one huge detail central to the movie that they leave out for a long time, until it's revealed at a dramatically appropriate moment; I feel like if I hadn't seen the movie, I would have enjoyed that aspect of the episode more. As it was, I spent the whole episode thinking, "But why aren't they mentioning..." and then when they finally did, instead of a big pay-off, I was like, oh well then. Okay.

All in all, I think this was a solid first episode. Better than I expected from a "based on". There are the central characters, who are plucky but seem unaware that they've stumbled upon a much bigger picture. There are at least three side-characters who obviously have their own agendas; are they nefarious, merely self-serving but otherwise decent people, or actually altruistic heroes?

Perhaps Dash could tell you.

Guest post by Mac Attack. Minority Report can be seen on Fox Mondays at 9e/8c, or on Hulu the following day

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Fall Premieres Part I

It's the most wonderful time of the year! The Fall TV season is upon us and it's like Christmas morning, but with even more potential for fun and disappointment! Which of our anticipated favorites will end up being awful? What black horse series will be take us by surprise and become a new obsession?

And remember, there's also the chance that everything will be terrible. Wheeee! It's like TV show roulette!

There's a whole lot of shows and only so much typing my little delicate lady-fingers can handle, so I am going to knock these out quick and dirty for you over the next couple weeks. Sure, some things might be worthy of a full write-up, but I'm fundamentally lazy so the chances of that are kinda slim. #truthtelling

Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris: You gotta give it to him, NPH always works really hard. You can tell that he really wants to make this one succeed; he was almost manic in the premiere, with the jokes! And the stunts! And the dancing and the quipping and chatting and smiling and jumping, it's exhausting just writing about it.

The producers don't want you to call it a variety show (that's been made very clear in all the pre-premiere press), but I'm not sure there's any other way to capture the essence of the show. Best Time Ever's website describes it as "a live one-hour show that is unlike any other on American television. Anything can happen on "Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris," which will feature appearances by A-list stars, stunts, comedy skits, incredible performances, mini game shows, audience giveaways and hidden camera pranks."

They're also very open with the fact that it's based on a British series called "Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway," and while I've never seen the original, I'm willing to bet it's better than the American version.  Because the first episode of Best Time Ever felt a little too rushed, a little too full, that there was never any time to breathe. NPH worked his butt off, but none of the segments got the chance to stretch their legs.

I can't decide if making the show live is a help or a hindrance; in the premiere NPH felt almost frantic and the pacing was kind of off. NPH came across more "used car salesman" rather than "comfortable show host." But the guts of the show are sound, the gags were pretty funny and/or cute and/or clever, and I think with time when everyone settles into it there really could be something here. Though it's unlikely it may get the chance based on the premiere ratings. Still, if you're looking for something family-friendly, say to watch with the parents sometime, this would be a great pick.

Honestly, the best reason to keep watching is to see what the show does with the "Little NPH" guy. He's kind of like Neil's Mini-Me. Please, God, let there be a Doogie Howser, MD, reference soon.

Best Time Ever airs Tuesday nights at 10:00PM EST on NBC.

The Bastard Executioner: Wow, this show has really thrown me for a loop. I kind of hated the first hour which felt like a total Braveheart rip-off except in Wales, and featured such gratuitous violence (especially towards women) that I almost turned the television off in disgust. The entire set up of the series was so paint-by-numbers it was kind of embarassing.

According to the press-release monkeys over at FX, The Bastard Executioner is about "Wilkin Brattle, a 14th century warrior, whose life is forever changed when a divine messenger beseeches him to lay down his sword and lead the life of another man: a journeyman executioner. Set in northern Wales during a time rife with rebellion and political upheaval, Wilkin must walk a tight rope between protecting his true identity while also serving a mysterious destiny."

So basically, this guy was a bad ass soldier fighting on the side of the English King in Wales, but gave up the sword when he saw an Angel (for real) on the battlefield. He gets married, lives the whole quiet life, until he fights back against the local Baron's tax-collectors. Of course there is retribution, and his entire village and family is killed in really horrible and awful ways, and it all goes down just as you expect. He swears vengeance and pretends to be a traveling punisher, basically a torturer and executioner for hire to infiltrate the Baron's estate. No, really.

Like I said, the first hour was pretty bad for several reasons, but then the second hour when Wilkin (ugh, that name) ends up in the Baron's castle got intriguing. Mostly due to the character of the Baroness, credited as "Baroness Lady Love Ventris" (no, really), who so far is fascinating and really well-acted by Flora Spencer-Longhurst. I've never heard of her, but I am impressed. I am really hoping that she will end up as more than just a love interest and will stick around for a couple more episodes to see where the show is going. Oh, and there was also some really interesting twists at the end of the premiere episode dealing with Katey Sagal's character (yes, THAT Katey Sagal) and excellent work from Stephen Moyer (Vampire Bill in True Blood!) that left me pseudo-hooked.

One warning though: there is some REALLY graphic violence here. So much so in fact that I was shocked this aired on regular cable--sure, it's not basic cable, it's FX, but still. This is the kind of stuff that you wouldn't even see on Game of Thrones. If that's something that bothers you a lot, you're going to want to avoid this show like the 14th century plague. But if you can handle it or even dig it, The Bastard Executioner might be up your alley.

The Bastard Executioner airs on Tuesdays at 10PM on FX.

There's a lot of RAWR on this show. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

There are Two Kinds of Pain

In the pilot episode of House of Cards, Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) talks about the two kinds of pain – the kind that is motivating and the kind that is useless. I’m going to posit that there’s a third kind which is the pain you feel that is half confusion about where the hell something is going, particularly when before it seemed like things were on track.

"Francis, Air Force One seems to have gone off course..."

Warning from here on out: I’m going to get mildly spoiler-y, but nothing major. Still, if you haven’t watched season three yet and you really don’t want to know anything about the outlines of some major storylines, go watch it and then come back.

We’ve talked about House of Cards before. Gushed about it, even. And while there have always been aspects to the show that didn’t exactly ring true to reality (it is television, after all), I, at least, have always appreciated the verisimilitude put forth by the show. Even when characters were doing things that no real politico would ever do, the show was trying to so hard to adhere to the look and feel of reality it helped to go a long way to excusing the need for dramatic license.

Now? Ugh. You guys, I’m just not sure anymore. Maybe it’s because so much of the action has moved away from Congress, a body that I understood even if I found it nutty, to the White House, which no matter how accurate the setting, it’s always going to be compared to The West Wing. But either way, the cracks are starting to show.

Some of those cracks just feel like stories that the writers have written themselves into the corner with. Case in point: The quickly disappearing prostitute. Remember Rachel? Didn’t she do something back in season one? How many of you remember what it was? Since then, we’ve gotten two years of Rachel either hanging out somewhere doing nothing or gone completely into hiding. Her only reason for remaining a character on the show is to further illustrate what a creep Doug Stamper is. She’s his plot point, not her own. What’s more, her brief appearances in season three actually kind of make Doug into something even worse: a boring creep. His entire arc in the season is to find Rachel and… what? Kill her? Rape her? Own her somehow? All we know is his intentions are clearly not good and for some reason he can’t get past them, even after she bashed his face in last season and left him for dead. While we do finally get some closure to this story, its closure that should have come two years ago.

Rachel, is it? Go buy yourself a nice condo in Vegas, Sweetie. It'll work out better.

The bigger cracks, unfortunately, are reserved for Frank and Claire themselves. House of Cards has always been about the intrigues and chess moves that make Washington a favorite topic for anyone writing a suspense thriller.  Likewise, its biggest flaw has always been that Frank and Claire are portrayed not only as master manipulators but as essentially the only master manipulators in town. For every scheme they hatch, there is literally almost no one who has any kind of counter-scheme, a concept that is about as far away from reality in Washington as is possible. Now, Frank has maneuvered his way into the Presidency and from the Bully Pulpit has decided to… do a reasonable job.

The intrigues that made seasons one and two so watchable are all but gone here. There’s a half-hearted attempt to establish a new level of intrigue by making this season’s “Big Bad” a very thinly veiled stand-in for Vladimir Putin, but it never quite moved beyond a simmering boil. To say nothing of the fact that anyone who has truly been paying attention to someone who is as good at double-speak and reactive tactics as the real life Putin could see half of his ploys coming from a mile away. It just doesn’t feel like any of the story rings true with anything approaching that verisimilitude I mentioned earlier.

"I'm sorry, I can't hear you over the sound of how not-Putin I am."

Then there’s the domestic agenda. Frank Underwood, a democrat, spends his political capital as a relatively unpopular, unelected President trying to do away with social security.  Never mind that social security is called the third rail of politics for a reason or that both Republicans and Democrats don’t go anywhere near it. The show makes a half-hearted attempt to explain this away by saying that the needs of the sweeping social program don’t meet the needs of today before getting into some truly wonky talk about a new jobs program, the details of which are of course never discussed (fair enough – this is entertainment, not a real campaign). And while in life there is a certain truth to the fact that social security is a system in need of repair or revamping, the fact remains that no politician seeking reelection, even one as bold and unhindered by impossible odds as Frank Underwood, takes that kind of a risk. And, more importantly, the show never makes it clear why Frank wants this program to succeed. Is it to have another thing that he “wins” at? Something to cement his legacy? Or just because he thinks it’s the right thing to do?

All of which leads to the biggest crack: the Underwoods are, like, nice. Power may corrupt, but for most of season three it turned the two of them into civic-minded public servants. Think about it: In the first episode of season one, Frank strangles a dog with his own bare hands. Sure, he does it out of some twisted rationalization that it’s better for the wounded dog to die quickly instead of suffer longer in pain, but it’s not like there aren’t animal hospitals in Georgetown.  Now he’s just sort of vaguely wormy, trying to maneuver candidates so that he can have the best possible field to himself when running for President. Claire used to be the woman who used that utterly sweet and kind voice to mock a dying man in his hospital bed who had just confessed that he loved her, telling him that not only was that feeling never going to be returned but he was pretty much an idiot for even thinking that telling her would do anything. And that’s before she told one of her former employees who was making life difficult for her that she would purposefully withhold prenatal insurance coverage for the pregnant employee if she didn’t give up her lawsuit. (I believe her exact line to the employee was “I will let your unborn child wither away inside you.”) Flash forward to now and she is ambassador to UN and spending nights in jail to protest a political prisoner’s capture in Russia.

Watching characters grow and change is good; characters that evolve are far more interesting than ones that are static or worse, evil just because. That said, the Underwoods’ growth is almost done in the wrong direction. Unlike real life, we don’t want to watch the Underwoods get redeemed, we want to see them make a mess of things. House of Cards isn’t A Christmas Carol, its Macbeth. The more the Underwoods use their powers for good rather than pure self-interest, the less interested we are in them. And while that trajectory starts to get a bit wobbly toward the end of the season, the characters’ motivations are far more left in the bright center rather than the dingy perimeters.

Yes, that's more like it. Now, more spot-cleaning. Could we possible get three weird sisters on set?

Much like Frank Underwood himself, rising up to the most powerful job on the planet a mere two-ish years after being denied a cabinet position, House of Cards is starting to feel like it has peaked too soon. And while the show sets up its next Big Bad, presumably in the form of an opposing candidate for the presidential campaign that is just beginning at the end of season three, it’s hard to see how much more of this story there is to tell without moving into the inevitable final act: downfall. We’ve seen Frank and Claire rise; the only thing left is for them to fall. If the show can’t get there quickly, we’re going to be all out of reasons to keep watching the realistic sets. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Fear the Walking Dead

When I first heard AMC was making a prequel series* to The Walking Dead, my response was "ugh." The show is insanely popular so of course we need to milk that teat until it's completely dry.

After giving it some more thought,** I realized there is actually a good story to tell here. The Walking Dead picks up after the the zombie apocalypse has already occurred. We, the viewer, see the show through Rick Grimes' eyes, and his initial confusion and lack of information adds to the feeling of dread and unease we experience. The Walking Dead has never explained the events that led up to the collapse of civilization; we don't know where or how things started, how quickly the world fell apart, how the government responded, when things went to....well, to put it bluntly, went to shit.

So then I was excited for Fear the Walking Dead. I was hoping it would fill in some of the gaps and give some more information about the virus, which to me is the most interesting part of The Walking Dead's story. I was also hoping that the show would learn from some of the elements of TWD that didn't quite work--such as the family drama bullshit with Rick, Lori, and Carl. Oh, I'm sorry. I mean, "Caaaaaaaaaaarl!"

Alas, no. Because the public was definitely crying out for more family drama.

I don't want to say I'm disappointed in FWD exactly. It's great to look at, the acting is top notch (especially from Kim Dickens whom I loved in Deadwood), and it's very effective at building tension. Just like people used to say you had to watch Doctor Who from behind the couch, FWD sometimes makes me want to peek out from behind my fingers because I don't think I can handle what is going to happen next.

And that is what makes it all so monumentally frustrating that almost every single one of these characters is completely and utterly stupid.

Stories like this only work if you like the characters. You have to care what is going to happen to them. And it's hard to have your audience care about people who are TOTAL FUCKING MORONS.

Maybe FWD takes place in a world where George Romero never existed. Where Night of the Living Dead, World War Z, and the whole zombie genre never existed. Maybe these people don't have any reference for the undead shambling around craving brains. But there is nothing in this series (or TWD for that matter) to establish this as an alternate universe following those rules and I am not letting the showrunners off that easy. To leave it to the third episode before even one single person proffers that the infected are actually dead, to have no character even mention the word "zombie," defies belief and makes it seem as if all these people are brain-dead themselves.

I'm sorry if this sounds harsh, but the more I think and write about this the madder I get. Seriously. All these characters have already seen the infected stumbling around, appear as if corpses, get shot MULTIPLE TIMES and keep going, feast on the flesh of the living, and they are still standing around asking, "what is going on?" I can't. even. handle. it. Just having one character say, "Hey, maybe it's zombies" and then everyone can shoot him/her down about how that is so implausible, only happens in movies, etc. would placate me. But no. Instead they sit around looking shocked and dismayed and trying to convince each other that we shouldn't destroy the neighbor's brain because there IS STILL A CHANCE HE CAN BE CURED. Even though we just caught him snacking on someone's dog and is actively trying to kill everyone in the house.

Flames. On the sides of my face.

But I guess the sickest part is I still want to see what happens next. At the end of the third episode the National Guard shows up and seems to be doing well with putting down the infection. So I still want to see how it all goes to shit.

But if all these people survive the season I am giving up. Because there is no way people this dumb would survive the zombie apocalypse. Zombies? I have no trouble with that. But these characters all surviving will defy even my ability to suspend belief.

Fear the Walking Dead airs Sunday nights at 9:00PM EST on AMC.

*Oh, excuse me, a COMPANION series. Whatever, AMC.

*I'll have you know I spent a good 10 seconds of brain power on this topic.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Sense8: A Rebuttal

Your TV Sluts have already reviewed Netflix’s Sense8, but with all due respect to my fellow bloggers, I’m here to offer a counterpoint. Rather than being a collection of disjoined stories that foists generic political correctness on the TV landscape, I submit that the show is moving, beautiful, and incredibly unique.  

If you’ll recall, Sense8 tells the stories of eight strangers picked to live in a house who somehow become mentally connected to each other. Each of the characters live in a different city and most live on different continents, as such the stories told are both stories about the individual characters’ lives, but also about the cities they inhabit. And of course, because nothing is simple, these eight people are also being targeted by a mysterious organization that wants to… kill them? Dissect them?  Mate with them? It’s unclear. 

Maybe they're planning on shooting the album cover for a '90s era alt rock band?

The action begins when one of these special people, Angelica (played by Darryl Hannah), kills herself in front of her sometime-lover Jonas (Naveen Andrews, reprising all the weird stuff about his character in Lost) because the mysterious Whisper is about to close in on her and if he does, terrible things will happen.  In killing herself, Angelica “births” the next cluster of Sensates, the folk who will make up our cast of heroes, and leaves Jonas as the (presumably) last remaining member of his cluster.

So who are the new cluster? Roll call!
·         Capheus (Aml Ameen), a bus driver in Nairobi who is desperately trying to get money for his mother’s HIV treatments.
·         Sun (Bae Doona), a financial executive in Seoul who’s relationship with her father and brother is strained after the death of her mother.
·         Nomi (Jamie Clayton), a trans woman and hacktivist living with her girlfriend in San Francisco. (Said girlfriend is played by Freema Agyeman, of Doctor Who Martha Jones fame, btw.)
·         Kala (Tina Desai), a pharmacist in Mumbai who is engaged to a man she doesn’t love.
·         Riley (Tuppence Middleton), an Icelandic DJ living in London with a tragedy in her past.
·         Wolfgang (Max Riemelt), a locksmith and jewel thief in Berlin.
·         Lito (Miguel Angel Silvestre), a closeted actor in Mexico City who has built his fame on playing tough, macho roles.
·         Will (Brian J. Smith), a police officer in Chicago haunted by an unsolved murder .

And therein begins the action as each of the new Sensates begins to see and interact with each across global distances.  As they each come into contact more frequently with each other, they begin to realize that they can not only speak to each other, hear each other, and see each other, they can become each other if they need to. Each Sensate can sort of possess the other and lend his or her knowledge, skills, and abilities to whatever the task is at hand.

This proves especially effective as Nomi is hospitalized early on and imprisoned by the organization that Whisper works for, telling her that she has a serious brain tumor that they need to remove but surely seems like what's going on is far more sinister. Nomi is the first to realize that she can borrow Wolfgang’s lock-picking ability break out of the hospital, Will’s knowledge of police procedure to out-maneuver a team of guards trying to apprehend her, and Sun’s experience as a kickboxer to subdue some of the more handsy guards.

The "I" in team.

Which is what brings us to what could be the hard line to cross for some viewers – despite an interesting premise and a wide collection of characters, the first five episodes of the show do tend to lag. Only Nomi seems to have much action central to the big mystery of the show while the rest of the Sensates are just sort of tripping out on seeing and meeting these other people that they’re connected to.

Sense8 is a product of J. Michael Straczynski and the Wachowskis. For those familiar with Straczynski’s work on shows like Babylon 5 or Jeremiah will be familiar with his slow-burn approach to writing. The man is a genius at putting together stories that have long payouts but seemingly slow starts. This has been called Joss Whedon Syndrome, but it’s probably more accurate to say that Joss Whedon has a case of Straczynski Syndrome. While slow burns and long payouts can make for some mind-blowing experiences, they unfortunately ignore one of the central truisms of television: don’t hold back. As a series creator, you never know if you’re going to get to season five, so don’t hold off on your great moments in season one.

And yes, that means you always include a fight with a machete. 

But if the plot is, at least to begin with, less than utterly thrilling, the show more than makes up for that in the casting and the production design. To understand how incredible this show is, consider that each of the scenes were filmed on location. Chicago scenes were shot in Chicago. Nairobi scenes in Nairobi. For each character, we’re not seeing a studio set built in Los Angeles, we’re getting the real deal which also means we’re getting the real cast and crew from a diverse background. As such, this is as much a science-fiction/action story as it is a story about how interconnected the modern world is. In that sense, it’s very much one of the first real multinational television shows.  Add to that how lushly visualized it is and you can begin to appreciate the different storylines even more. The show is, simply put, beautifully shot. The picture is rich and cinematic and it feels far more like watching a movie than watching a television show.

But the real strength of Sense8 is the characters. Plenty of shows have token characters. It’s not that hard to find a show with the One Black Guy or the Cool Asian Girl, almost always used as set-dressing to back up the lives and experiences of the main white protagonists. Despite what Hollywood typically believes, you can tell stories that feature more than one person of color. And Sense8 does this in spades. The show has arguably 16 main characters. Of them, six are white, three are black, three are Indian, three are Latino or Latina.  Sun represents one of the only East Asian characters, however given how solitary her story is that’s unsurprising. Going further, four characters are gay and one is transgender.

That’s not to suggest that everything is perfect with the characterizations. Even with ten episodes, that’s not a lot of time to fully flesh out eight characters and some characters veer closely to stereotypes at times. (Sun’s kickboxing background is a good example of this, though at least she’s given a reason to be the one Asian person who is also a martial artist and it’s not just the product of “honor” or something.) All the more reason why I want another season from the show to help these characters become even more fleshed out.

Also, because seriously you guys - have I mentioned how beautiful the cinematography is?

What’s impressive about the diversity of the show is the fact that it was put to film at all. The creators have stated that the genesis of the show was thinking about how easy it is to make people into an Other and that the show was a way to illustrate how tribes form and what that does to humans when they suddenly realize they’re connected to someone different from them. And while none of the characters are expressly bigoted or hateful in any way (which is almost a shame because that could also have been an interesting story), half of the joy of watching these characters come together is seeing the beautiful ways in which they connect. A few of them are given sweet love stories; the meeting of Wolfgang and Kala, opposites if ever there were one, has all the hallmarks of a Hollywood romance. Riley and Will’s growing flirtation and attraction to each other plays off as less dramatic and sweeping, but still compelling. On the other end of the spectrum, the bonding that begins between Cepheus and Sun as two people who are so self-sacrificing to their families that it’s causing them a great deal of personal pain is a compelling story about how friendships can actually be formed without having to turn into something romantic.

The diversity represented in Sense8 is likely a reason for the divided opinion on it. As the nation is learning, it can very uncomfortable to look at representations of ourselves and see what’s missing as well as what’s on display.  And yes, this show embraces its differences. Ostensibly a mainstream television show, it takes pains to introduce multicultural themes that aren’t usually talked about. Kala’s devotion to Hindu-ism is a direct contract to her future father-in-law’s desire to eradicate old style beliefs from India, believing that they make the country seem backward. Nomi is presented as a comfortable, confident transgender woman who doesn’t feel any pressure to “forgive and forget” her mother’s ongoing brutality to her by denying her identity. In one particularly moving speech, a heartbroken Lito describes the first time he performed oral sex on his male partner and how that experience was spiritual and transcendent for him. These aren’t the narratives that make it into most television.

It's not all touching sentimentality. There's also a five-minute mind orgy that happens at one point. 

On August 8, Netflix announced that Sense8 would get a second season. August 8th is an important date in the mythology of the show. Nice cross-marketing there, Netflix. It also dovetails nicely with the title and the repetition of the number eight. The show has proven popular (it is the most pirated Netflix show created) but has had a polarizing critical analysis. It also has to be extremely expensive to film, given the Wachowski’s insistence on filming on location in each of the major cities with a little extra time in Reykjavik for good measure. But for someone like me who really wants to see more of this show, and more about shows with this level of diversity in general, the second season is a gift.