Category Archives: Television

Posts about television shows, primarily seasons/series that have already finished and are available on DVD.

Futurestates, season 5 (2014)

What’s Futurestates? To quote its producers, “For four epic seasons, FUTURESTATES ha[d] taken us on a journey to explore possible futures through the prism of today’s global realities. Written and directed by veteran and emerging indie filmmakers […], this groundbreaking series of science fiction shorts invite[d] the public to envision the future.” I didn’t like every single episode – who can say that about an long-running anthology show (see my reviews for seasons three and four)? -, but overall, the series was a worthwhile collection of thought-provoking science-fiction short films. It never really gained any traction with viewers, though, so maybe that’s why producers decided to change things up for the fifth and final “season”.

They tasked an emerging-media company “to reboot the series as an immersive, next-generation project. For the first time, it utilizes a shared storyworld between each of the individual films, a rich backstory, and an immersive web experience across multiple online platforms to tell a larger story. The goal was to experiment with a new narrative form and a nonlinear storytelling structure, yet allow each of the films to still stand on its own.” The success of the latter goal is debatable (I’ll get to it further down), and that of the first, well… Continue reading

Futurestates, season 4 (2013)

I’ve written about Futurestates before, a digital-premiere collection of short, mostly unrelated science-fiction films. The fifth and last season debuted earlier this year, but I’ve only now gotten around to watching season 4.

I was a bit disappointed by season 3, but I’m glad to report that the next batch of episodes proved to be more consistently high-quality. (If you want to watch them, I’d normally guide you to the series’ website, which was well-designed and featured all the videos neatly arranged by season as well as background information, image galleries and behind-the-scenes documentaries. No more. In a misguided attempt to appeal to a hipper audience, the release of season 5 was turned into a cross-platform “event” that resulted in a monster of a website that’s hell to navigate (impossible, with some browsers) and has swallowed all the previous episodes. You can find a half-functioning mirror of the old website here, a list of the episodes from seasons 1 through 4 at PBS, or individually on YouTube.)

If there’s a bit of a trend in season 4, it might be a certain LGBT-friendliness in three of the seven episodes. That wouldn’t normally be significant enough to be remarked upon, but it’s striking compared to previous seasons, which featured a single episode somewhat about “gay issues” (“Beholder”, starring the much-more-famous today Jessica Paré) and, from what I can recall, no gay or transgender main characters.

“Elliot King is Third” rectifies that oversight with a cast made up of lots of transgender actors, revolving explicitly around the question of how people whose gender identity doesn’t fit their biological bodies are integrated into society. In this version of the very near-future, all citizens of the US are fitted with implants declaring them to be Ones (men, naturally), Twos (women) or Threes (neither, for people who haven’t got the money to fully transition). Ostensibly the idea here is to protect Threes from hate crimes, but in reality it results in their ostracisation. It also leads to social unrest because the religious right, fed up with having had to accept gay people, has drawn a line in the sand and proclaims to fight against perceived privileges of Thirds (like operations). About a third of the way into the film, this tension unloads in an apparently religiously-motivated mass shooting that prompts the main character to procure a One implant on the black market and pass as a man.

The episode has a slick look, is well-acted and opens up lots of intriguing questions not just about this world of the future, but also our present. I wonder if the story would have had quite the same effect had I watched it a year ago as opposed to now, after a year of news stories about transgender bathrooms, transgender teachers, transgender models, and Conchita Wurst. In any case, the discrimination angle (different forms of discrimination as well as different strategies of dealign with it) is universal and not just limited to transgender people.

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Futurestates, season 3 (2012)

Futurestates is an interesting experiment. Technically, it is a television series: it is ultimately funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (an entity that finances the production and distribution of content for public television and radio, including PBS), and its instalments are referred to as episodes. But these episodes aren’t shown on TV, at least not at first. Some of them premiere at film festivals, but the majority debut online, and they’re designed from the outset for online and mobile device viewing. They wouldn’t fit into a traditional television grid, anyway, since their respective lengths vary wildly (between 12 and 25 minutes, as of season 3).

Futurestates is an anthology show, which has consequences for its consistency: there isn’t any. Characters, cast, and crew are replaced every episode, which makes for a bit of a wild ride when watching several in a row. In essence, the episodes are mostly unconnected short films tied together by a common, very general premise: every one of the up-and-coming independent writer-directors asked to make one of these films was told to take an issue in the news, extrapolate it, and make a film about how that topic might be dealt with in the future United States (hence “Futurestates”). Over the course of three years and three seasons, topics have included robotics, genetically manipulated food, overpopulation, illegal immigration, climate change, vaccination, pollution, virtual realities, extreme partisanship, gentrification, and digital obsolescence.
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Edge of Darkness (1985)

My experiment of watching the American remake first has yielded an interesting result now that I have seen the original British TV serial: my appreciation for the movie’s perceived strengths has diminished, and its weaker aspects have been retroactively highlighted even more. This suggests that it doesn’t really matter which version one watches first; certainly as far as I’m concerned, the remake suffers in comparison with the original.

There just doesn’t seem to have been much of a point in telling this story again. And it is basically the same story, changes in setting notwithstanding: it’s easily possible to write a short paragraph summarising the story, and have it apply to both versions. The UK miniseries has several more hours at its disposal, of course, so it contains more subplots and expands some that were not excised for the movie, which all in all makes for a richer viewing experience. But the broad strokes of the story remain the same, whether in 1985 or in 2010. In fact, almost every scene in the front half of the Gibson film is also in the TV version in one way or the other, which makes the movie seem like a poorly-put together York/Cliff’s Notes outline.
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My Little Pony Friendship is Magic 2×01+02: “The Return of Harmony” (2011)

Click here to skip past the introduction to the review proper.

If people had told me a year ago I would become a fan of a My Little Pony television series, and even become a fairly regular contributor to the wiki about the show, I would have laughed in their face and declared them to be insane. That’s an immature and premature reaction from someone with a sizable collection of Disney DVDs who is used to defending their hobby, but an understandable reaction all the same. After all, Disney is one thing; the company may mostly be considered (unfairly, I might add) a peddler of audiovisual babysitting material today, but at least many people have a nostalgic connection to older Disney products, which were/are mostly considered decent family entertainment. My Little Pony is supposed to be for really small children. Specifically, little girls, which is even worse, because we all know “girls-only” programming is absolutely horrible, something all adults can see and admit, regardless of whether they’re male or female. (Not because anything made for girls was inherently stupid, mind you, but because apparently the people producing the majority of girls-only content think their audience likes stupid, stereotypical and soulless stories and characters; see below for elaboration.) Right?

Right. Probably. I mean, I’ve now seen clips of the first, original My Little Pony television series, and while the animation is low-budget, the songs are grating and the characters appear to have no personality whatsoever, at least there seems to be a semblance of plot, danger, tension and adventure. It’s my impression that the My Little Pony franchise had a tolerable, if not decent start into the television world, and became progressively worse every time Hasbro retooled the franchise — worse, and closer to the clichés I associate with “girls-only entertainment”: zero actual plot, cutesy and childish dialogue, no hard edges, no conflict (either external or internal), a mostly or purely female cast obsessed with stereotypical “girly-girl stuff” (makeovers, shopping, dieting, playacting, sleepovers) and nothing else. This is what I would have expected from any My Little Pony film or series a year ago.

Of course, that was before ponies took over the internet. Or at least made friendship-touting incursions into several corners of the internet I frequent regularly. I won’t bore the reader with the details of my conversion; to summarise, I went from “are those pony avatar-sporting MLP evangelisers part of an elaborate exercise in irony?” to “I may as well watch the first episode to see what all the fuss is about” to “holy crap! PONIES ARE AWESOME!”. Continue reading

Sherlock, series 1 (2010)

Like most people, I’m annoyed by Hollywood’s current tendency to remake, reboot or sequelise pretty much every major property they can find, as opposed to developing new ideas. But I’m not ideologically against this process, because occasionally it produces something worthwhile. In 2007, the BBC broadcast the six-episode miniseries Jekyll, a reimagining of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson novella. Set in (then) contemporary England, it is a bit uneven and sometimes a little too campy and has a few rather bonkers plot twists towards the end, but overall it’s very watchable. Last year, Jekyll‘s writer Steven Moffat (who is also currently showrunner for Doctor Who) and the BBC reunited for another transposition of Victorian literature to the 21st century: Sherlock.

I quite like the Guy Ritchie-directed Sherlock Holmes starring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law, but I recognise it for what it is: mindless entertainment owing more to modern superhero flicks than to old-fashioned murder mysteries. So I’m glad to report that this television version blows the movie out of the water. Not literally, thankfully; unlike the film, there aren’t many explosions to be found.

The series’ first episode spends less than 15 minutes on introducing Holmes, Watson, Holmes to Watson, and the two to the case at hand, sticking fairly close to how Doyle originally did it. The cores of their characters and their circumstances in life have not been changed: John Watson is an army doctor recently returned from a war in Afghanistan(!), and Sherlock Holmes is a brilliant but abrasive loner who needs someone to share an expensive flat with. Detective Inspector Lestrade also features occasionally, and unlike his usual depictions, he’s fairly useful for and respectful to Holmes (if not exactly competent).
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