Tag Archives: pbs

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

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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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