Revisiting an Old Flame: Lost Season One

lost15Lately I’ve been re-watching that groundbreaking TV show Lost. Lost was one of the earlier shows to have a long-reaching arc combined with an internet fanbase. It had an international cast, which was unheard of at the time. It had multiple roles for women. It was thrilling until it went horribly off the rails, which took about five minutes.

Lost is famous for having promised us that everything would make sense despite the fact that ultimately one must assume that the writers used an increasing amount of pharmaceuticals. But you know what, Season One is still amazing – and it’s tightly constructed. Everything from Season Two to the ending seems to have been constructed by a blindfolded monkey playing scrabble, but Season One is TIGHT. Examples:

  • Sayid never figures out how much English Sun understands, but as an interrogator he can tell when she’s trying to dodge a question.
  • Sawyer is supposed to be just awful but early hints of his inner good-guy are all over the place. The only thing we actually see him bartering is a tube of sunscreen to Shannon (and let’s be honest here, who doesn’t like to see Shannon miserable). When Boone gets hurt Sawyer not only doesn’t barter but he also asks Kate if she needs anything else right after loading her up with alcohol for Boone.
  • Jack focuses on the needs of the community from the first frames of the show. Locke focuses on his own interests. Sometimes these interests coincide with the needs of the group and sometimes they don’t – an early sign that Locke will always follow his own agenda.
  • Despite the bickering in the group, there’s an incredible amount of kindness. Michael and Jin fight in one scene and a few scenes later set that aside long enough to try to free Jack from a cave-in. Sayid makes a pair of glasses for Sawyer even though Sawyer and Sayid hate each other. Jack’s “Live together or die alone” speech from Season One defines the series and keeps it from being nihilistic.Everyone fights to the point of sometimes actually trying to kill each other until a more serious problem arises, at which point they co-operate.

 

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The Angsty Island of Perfect Abs

On re-watching the show, I realize that one of the show’ porblems was that over time the male characters tended to expand while the female characters tended to shrink. No one gave a shit about Kate’s love triangle or Sun’s affair that may or made not have gotten her pregnant. We all got tired of Claire looking for her baby. What a waste of fantastic women who kept being defined by their love interests and their babies.

The question isn’t “Why did we start watching Lost.” The question is “Why on earth did we keep watching it even when as early as Season Two it was clearly not going to pan out? Lost never lost (sorry) the core principles it started with – beautiful scenery, compelling characters, a lot of humor, and moments of kindness and joy. So even when Lost kind of sucked, it gave us episodes like “The Constant” and moments like this one from Season Five:

 

Or this one:

 

Remember when it wasn’t Penny’s boat? And when Hurley beat up Sawyer? And when Sayid killed a guy with a dishwasher? And when Claire was wearing Libby’s shirt? And how about that time when Nestor Carbonell joined the cast the only mystery we cared about was whether or not he wore eyeliner? Good times.

Yesterday I stared Season Two and thought, “Dude, this is all going to go downhill, I can’t even with this.” Today I’m back at it. Lost, like my imaginary TV boyfriend Sayid, is that messed up boyfriend that I just can’t quit.

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I’m here for you, sweetie!

In Honor of Labor Day

New York Construction Workers Lunching on a Crossbeam

What with all the special events and sales, the people who are most supposed to be honored on Labor Day are least likely to get the day off. Here are some people I’d like to recognize. They add joy and luxury to my suburban life. May they all be thanked often and paid well, and may we all vote in favor of a higher minimum wage, increased maternity and paternity leave, paid sick leave, and health care for all!

Janitors, streetsweepers, and trash collectors.

They move about almost unnoticed and without them city life would be unbearable. I’ve spent the year in and out of hotels and convention rooms and public attractions and schools and movie theaters and I owe all the men and women who keep these places liveable, and in many case actually spotless, a huge debt.

People who grow coffee and cocoa and tea (and all my other food, of course).

You know why I can have my hot cocoa every morning, and an occasional mocha or frappachino, and five or more cups of tea a day? Because someone somewhere worked their ass off to grow it and pick it and process it and sell it. From the farmer to the barista to the guy who gave me a free iced tea today, thank you.

The people at the grocery store who always say hello.

If I were a grocery store cashier, I would never make eye contact, EVER. But the people at my store always say hello to me, and let little kids help them fill the bags. I’ve seen them cheer up babies and chat patiently with older custormers who pay entirely in change. When my daughter started riding her bike to the store sometimes by herself, they said, “Don’t worry, it’s good to give kids some independance! We all know her! We’ll keep an eye on her!” That’s above and beyond. That’s community.

Daycare workers and preschool teachers.

I have done daycare at the Salem, Oregon YWCA where we took care of any baby over ten weeks old. I ran my own daycare. I’ve worked in preschools. And I’ve been incredibly fortunate in that my daughter was able to attend two wonderful preschools herself. Taking care of other people’s children is hard work. It involves shit and piss and vomit and tears. It involves memorizing 15 different recipies for playdough and an ability to hear the word “lice” without screaming. to the kids I’ve taken care of – I miss you all. And to the people who took care of my kid – THANK YOU!

 

 

Capsule Reviews: Heather Watches TV!

Guest blogger Heather Thayer has been checking out the new batch of science fiction and fantasy shows. Here’s her mini-revues for Lucifer, Colony, The Magicians, You Me and The Apocalypse, and The X-Files.

 

Lucifer, Fox, Monday Nights

This show is a hoot. Lucifer, yes THAT Lucifer, has gotten bored of hanging out in Hell, so he decides to take a vacation in LA, masquerading as a nightclub owner. He makes no effort to conceal who he is – a cop asks him how he could get shot and not be hurt he looks quizzically at the cop and says, “Did you not understand who I am? I’m immortal.” Later when she sees him get shot point blank, she asks again, and he’s all like, “what about IM-MORT-TAL don’t you get?” In the first episode a friend of his gets killed and Lucifer decides to help investigate. If this seems incongruous, remember that part of the Devil’s job is to punish sinners, and since he isn’t in Hell to do it after the guilty person dies, he figures he can do the job early while they are still alive. The character is funny and charming and naughty and is helpful in interrogations since people feel compelled to tell him their deepest desires. Then, in the blink of an eye, he is all scary avenging angel BECAUSE HE IS. It isn’t a deep show, but it is a fun romp.

 

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Colony, USA Network, Thursday Nights

 

This is my new favorite show. Set in Los Angeles in a near future in which the Earth (or at least California) has been invaded by aliens. Many people died or were separated when the Visitors arrived. The human survivors of the Arrival live in smallish enclaves separated by enormous walls and policed by collaborators and drones. Our main characters, Will and Katie Bowman and their family, are trying to keep their heads down, struggling to survive. The show deals with issues of survival under unimaginable circumstances. Is it better to collaborate if it means survival of your family, or is it better to resist, even if resistance is futile? I’m not going to say more, because watching these issues unfold is what makes this show great.

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The Magicians, SyFy, Monday Nights

 

Based on books by Lev Grossman, this series focuses on Brakebills University, an institute of higher learning for magicians. I’ve read one of the books – a later one that takes place after Brakebills — and I recall it as an enjoyable light fantasy. Unfortunately, the show is not capturing that spirit. The fundamental problem with the show is that this is a character-driven show, but none of the characters is particularly likeable. The show seems determined to portray the worst of each of the characters, with the result that they all come across as pouty whiners, with the exception of Quentin, one of our main characters, who comes across as an incompetent boob AND a pouty whiner. And why is everyone smoking? I wanted to like this show, but I can’t stand any of these people and want to slap them all.

Carrie’s note: I haven’t watched the show, but my recollection of the books is that all of them were very cynical and all of them very intentionally feature incredibly unlikeable characters – the series is a subversion of stories like Narnia and Harry Potter, right down to all of the characters being incredibly dysfunctional. The books are well-written, sharp, imaginative, and fresh, but ugh those people!

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You, Me and the Apocalypse, NBC, Thursday Nights

 

This is a comedy about the end of the world. The show opens with the end – an asteroid hurtling into the atmosphere (covered by CNN, of course) – and centers on some people huddled in a bunker, watching it all on tv. The show follows these folks in the last days, after the end of the world was announced. I want to like this show, I really do. The problem is that it just isn’t that funny. The tone keeps slipping into deadly earnestness and attempted heartwarming vignettes, interspersed with one-liners that could have been funny if the tone were lighter, but as it is they fall flat. The show can’t seems to decide whether it is a touching tale of people doing their best as Judgment Day approaches or whether it is a broad comedy about the ridiculousness of the End Times. It clearly wants to be the latter, but it keeps injecting the former, which throws the whole thing off. Maybe it will improve, more likely it will get cancelled.

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X-Files, Fox, Monday Nights

 

Oh Chris Carter, what are we to do with you? What a waste of an eagerly anticipated reboot. I was hoping for six tightly constructed episodes with a compelling story arc that would bring us up to date with these characters that we love. I haven’t seen the final episode yet, but so far, the three earlier episodes written and directed by Mr. Carter are nonsensical mysticism with a heavy-handed dose of “the corporations are all out to get us” conspiracy theory mushed in. There is no defining thread that links the episodes – giving us stand alone episodes that sink or swim based on their own strengths or weaknesses. So far, all the episodes written by Mr. Carter sink like stone, and we’re glad to see them go.

 

The two episodes not written by Mr Carter swim. The stunning third episode “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” had me laughing and smiling and thinking and laughing and smiling again. It is an exuberant deconstruction of every monster story ever told and a delightful revisiting of the Mulder/Scully dynamic. The fourth episode, “Home Again” is a touching exploration of loss. Go ahead and watch those episodes and skip the others.

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Carrie’s note: You can see more of my X-Files thoughts on Smart Bitches, Trashy BooksCan’t someone lock Chris Carter and George Lucas in a room somewhere and say, “Look guys, thanks for creating this thing, now NEVER TOUCH IT AGAIN?

Further Thoughts:

 

Carrie has written on The Shannara Chronicles. I agree with her completely. Other than Manu Bennett the actors were chosen for their ability to be pretty, not for their ability to act. Painful.

 

I wrote an earlier review of The Expanse. Having now watched the entire first season I have to give it a grudging thumbs up. The story became quite compelling as it went on. However, I recommend binge-watching as it is very difficult to follow week to week. If you haven’t read the books, expect to be lost from time to time, but it started drawing me in at the end.

 

I can’t wait for April and the return of 12 Monkeys (SyFy) and Orphan Black (BBC America). Squee!

 

The Expanse: A Guest Review by Heather Thayer

The_Expanse_TV.pngOur intrepid reviewer, Heather Thayer, is back with a review of The Expanse. This show opened to a lot off hype, but Heather has not been feeling the love 100%. Here’s her review!

The Expanse – Old Fashionedy Space Opera, But Read the Books First

 

I’ve rewritten this review from scratch several times now – poor Carrie keeps asking me when I’ll be done and my answer is always “I have to rewrite it again.” Here’s the overview — I’ve watched the first six episodes of The Expanse, and it could be pretty good stuff, but it is confusing. Not mind-blowingly great, but still definitely worth a watch – if you can figure out what is going on. It has been compared to Battlestar Galactica or Game of Thrones in space. I suppose its “gritty realism in space” could be compared to BSG, although BSG was much, much better, but I am not seeing the Game of Thrones comparison — perhaps that might make more sense as the series goes on.

 

The show is based on books by James S.A. Corey, which I have not read. The basic premise is this – it is the future and mankind is divided into essentially three factions – Earth (run by the UN), Mars, and the people who mine the Kuiper Belt for ice and other resources – these folks are called “Belters.” Earth and Mars have been locked in a cold war for many years. Life is not good for the Belters: they work hard at monotonous manual labor only to send the products of their hard work to Earth and Mars, they live on cramped space stations where water is strictly rationed and clear air can be a luxury, and they are starting to adapt to life in low gravity to the point where some of them can no longer live on a planet with normal gravity.

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Our story follows two primary point of view characters and a third character who is mostly there to provide context for the primary stories. The first point of view character is a hat-wearing detective on Ceres Station, the home of the Belters. He is a walking cliché, after six episodes I still have no idea what his name is. It isn’t important. Detective Cliché is a hard-bitten veteran, maybe a little on the take but with a heart of gold and a desire to do what is right. Yawn. In between trying to calm Belter tensions, he is given the task of finding a rich girl who has disappeared — the viewers know that something strange and bad has happened to her because a scene with her encountering the Weird and Unpleasant is a prologue to the first episode. Our second point of view character, and the one whose story is most interesting, is Holden. He’s the second officer on an ice-mining ship that receives a distress call. Holden and four colleagues are dispatched to investigate and Bad Things Happen. We follow this group for our primary action. The third point of view character is a woman who is high up in the UN, maybe the head of UN Intelligence or something. She’s boring and one dimensional. We only come back to her when the show finds it necessary to explain something about what is going on politically between the Earth, Mars and Belters – hers is not a separate story but merely serves as an expositional frame for the real story being told through Detective Cliché and Holden.

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The special effects, particularly the space ships, are spectacular – exceptional for television. The acting, particularly the group with Holden, is quite good and many of the characters are interesting. There is something mysterious going on and I am invested in the story of Holden and his team. So far, so good.

 

However, I have to call this show out for its inexcusable gender inequity. To double-check my initial perception that this show is a complete sausage fest, as I watched the first three episodes I counted every speaking part for a female and every speaking part for a male. After three episodes the male speaking roles outnumbered the female 3 to 1. The story is largely told from the point of view of two male characters. I note that there is nothing in their stories requiring either of them to be male – either one of these characters could have been female and it would have worked great – probably even better because then the characters wouldn’t be so familiar and uninteresting. As I’ve noted, Detective Cliché and his investigation are not compelling – I suspect that if they had changed the actor to being a woman so that the character wasn’t such a complete trope, the character and the investigation might hold my attention more.   In this day and age, post-Mad Max, there is no excuse for this. I don’t care that the source material has gender inequity – there is no reason for SyFy to have adhered to the source material in that way – after all, is there anyone who would argue that it wasn’t brilliant to have Starbuck be a woman in the rebooted BSG? Every time I try to watch this show the lack of interesting and crucial female characters sets my teeth on edge.

 

The other issue is that it is seeming more and more like it is necessary to have read the books to understand what is happening. For the first four or so episodes I was willing to give the show a pass even though I didn’t know what was going on, because I assumed that my confusion would be cleared up as I got to know the characters and story better. Instead, the opposite has happened. In every episode more new characters are introduced that I have to keep track of, and I don’t have enough context or backstory to be able to figure out who is important and who is not. After six episodes, I’m pretty lost.

 

Will I keep watching? Maybe. The effects and production values are great. But it is clear that this is a show for the people who have read and enjoyed the books. Apparently, the rest of us gals aren’t invited.

Five Things I Love About Merlin

merlinMy tween daughter begged me to watch the BBC show Merlin (now streaming on Netflix and Hulu). I was busy. I had things to do. And Season One was, I’m sorry, AWFUL. But when your tween says, “Mom please participate directly in my life” you realize that this is a limited time offer. So I soldiered on, and while I still can’t say that Merlin is a “good” show in the sense of, you know, making any sense, I can say that I’m helplessly addicted to it as of about halfway through Season Three.

I’m planning to write more about Merlin after I finish the show, so this will be short and, frankly, extremely shallow. Let’s be honest here – most of the things I like about the show are things I like for shallow reasons (Arthur, Gwaine, Lancelot). I’m not also not going to list all the reasons this show is not actually very good except to say that it’s as dumb as a bag of hair. But here are five ways the show got me hooked:

1. Those clothes

The clothes are anachronistic and ridiculous but DAMN they are pretty, and ever since Morgana turned evil her hair jewelry has been AMAZING.

No one with hair like that should look so cranky.

No one with hair like that should look so cranky.

Seriously, these clothes are to die for.

Seriously, these clothes are to die for.

2. Those Guys

I know. Shallow. Revel with me. Unleash the female gaze:

Lancelot

Lancelot

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Arthur

Gwaine, AKA My Little Smoochybear

Gwaine, AKA My Little Smoochybear

I’m not including Merlin here because the actor does a great job of making him a realistic teenager. But he’s a teenager with potential. Like whoa.

Speaking of Merlin:

3. The Subtext

Are they not the cutest???? KISS!! KISS, DAMN YOU!

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Dear Arthur, please stop throwing things at Merlin’s head. The abuse makes it hard to ship you guys. And I really want to:

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4. The Acting

In Season One, Anthony Stewart Head pretty much had to carry the show himself through sheer force of will. but Between Season One and Season Two everyone must have gone to acting school or made deals with the devil or something because man, these people are KILLING IT.

5. Women Fight and Men Cry (and vice versa).

This isn’t a terribly feminist show. In some ways it is exit and in some ways it’s progressive. It’s pretty standard stuff. But there are multiple main female characters who have their own lives, they pass the Bechdel Test all over the place, and there are some nice surprises. Every main male character on this show, regardless of where they fall on the “macho” spectrum, has cried, openly and unashamedly, at least once. And Morgana and Morgause are warrior women, although lately they’ve been doing more conniving and less fighting, to my great disappointment.

Is it stupid that her hair is not tied back? Yes. But it worked for drama earlier in the episode. Meanwhile, she's a badass.

Is it stupid that her hair is not tied back? Yes. But it worked for drama earlier in the episode. Meanwhile, she’s a badass.

Over at smartbitchestrashybooks.com, I’ll give a full review of Merlin when I finish watching it. In the meantime, my advice is skip Season One and start with Season Two. You’ll catch up. It’s not that complicated. Oh, and did I mention THIS!

Who can resist a bad CGI dragon? NOT ME!

Who can resist a bad CGI dragon? NOT ME!

Movie Review: Primer

6955114.3Primer is one of those movies that went under the radar when it came out but has since developed a loyal following, and it shows up all the time on lists of good time travel movies. when it turned up on my Netflix feed, I figured I’d see what everyone was talking about – and it blew my mind. If you want a break from epic, blockbuster, high budget sic-fi, check out this tiny film that packs an amazing amount of suspense and concept into an otherwise small movie.

Primer is the story of four guys (Aaron, Abe, Robert, and Phillip) who are engineers. In their ‘spare time’, they try to build stuff in Aaron’s garage. These early scenes are spot on in terms of character interaction between four engineers who have known each other for a long time – the jargon, the interrupting each other and finishing each other’s sentences, the tensions and tangled history, the jury-rigging parts, the money problems, the complete lack of glamour both at work and in the garage – it feels like a documentary both because of how it’s shot and because the writing and acting is so accurate to the interactions I see between science/tech people in real life. These four guys feel like people who have worked and fought together for a long time. There’s very little exposition here – you have to just try to keep up, and I found it easy to get the gist of what was happening even though I don’t believe I understood a single word. They are out of money, they don’t know what to focus on next, and they are building cool stuff in hopes of a big money-making breakthrough.

In the course of trying to build a device that makes things lighter (or weightless), Abe and Aaron discover that they have accidentally built a time machine. From this point on, the movie is almost a two-person play, since Abe and Aaron don’t want the other guys to know about the machine. Abe and Aaron have to figure out what to do with the time machine and since they are engineers you can bet that “take it apart, burn the notes, melt the parts, and never speak of it again” is not an option that leaps to their minds.

Primer was made for $7000 and it lasts for 77 minutes, although it takes a lot longer to watch it because you have to pause a lot and take notes and say to your spouse, “What just happened?” and then argue about what just happened until you remember that the movie isn’t over yet. You will also have to set aside several days to google “Primer, movie, timeline.” Some movies are confusing in a frustrating way – they feel sloppy. You are pretty sure that what you are watching doesn’t make sense, and never will, and was never meant to. Primer is plenty confusing, but in a tantalizing way. It doesn’t feel sloppy – it feels tight and smart. It expects you to sit down, pay attention, and keep up.

A lot of people love this movie because SCIENCE. I’m an odd duck, because my interest in science is passionate but also superficial. I’m less interested in science than in the process of science, and how scientists think. I loved the lack of glamour in this movie. The grainy film gives it a found footage feeling without having to stick to the rules of found footage and without the curse of shaky cam. The settings are suburban garages, U-Haul storage rooms, and motel rooms. The cold room guy at the University of Texas is actually played by the cold room guy at the University of Texas. The sense of mingled tension and dread and confusion and fascination works for the audience because we are experiencing the tension, drew, and fascination that Abe and Aaron are experiencing. This is a fascinating, weird, unusual movie that does a lot with a little and will keep you googling and debating for days. A+.

Primer

Summer TV – Mini Reviews to Get You Through the Dog Days

Are you ready to do some serious binge watching? Guest reviewer Heather Thayer has you covered!  Here’s her mini-reviews of new TV this summer.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

I can summarize everything wrong with this show in one word: summer. The dark, brooding mood of the show and the heavy, gloomy Victorian settings are unappealing on a bright sunny day when it is light until late at night. I did watch two episodes and they were quite well done. The actor playing Mr. Norrell is perfect. The Man with the Thistledown Hair is frightening and ominous. I wonder whether someone who has not read the books will find the show easy to follow, but the source material is so great that I would hope that people new to the story could pick it up. DVR this show and wait for a storm (or winter) to watch it. I trust it will be excellent in the right weather.

Dark Matter

The concept of this show is intriguing – six people come out of stasis on a space ship with no memory of who they are, where they are, or what they are doing. They start to realize that they have skill memories, and there is an android who can handle the basics of operating the ship and everything else, so that’s helpful. After a few episodes I am still curious about the mystery, although the show can’t seem to steer clear of tropes – for example, one character is sullenly offensive and consistently resorts to conflict and violence. So tiresome. Another character is a manic pixie dream girl who dreams other people’s dreams. Hello, River Tam. The premise is interesting and they occasionally manage to avoid cliché, but it is turning into an “only if there isn’t something better to do” show.

Killjoys

Oh, how this show wants to be the new Firefly. Oh, how it isn’t. The premise is bounty hunters in outer space. Fine, great. I like that the lead character is a kickass woman and I like that the two initial main characters (a straight man and woman) have been business partners for six years but aren’t romantic partners and it is no big deal. I like the feel of the show (which does feel like Firefly) and the world building (which also feels like Firefly). But it is missing the wit of Firefly, the characters aren’t very interesting, and the writing is formulaic. Watch this one if you are sick and you don’t want anything challenging to hit your eyeballs.

Mr. Robot

Full disclosure – I am a lawyer who works with banks on consumer lending issues. I am going to have an issue with a show that has as a ridiculous premise “we’ll hack the banks and everyone’s loans will go pffft, and it will be wonderful for everyone!” But I love this show, even with that nonsense going on. The main character is fascinating. The show has a bleak outlook and is heavy-handed with its depressing message. It is terrific. It is slow-moving and complicated and spends most of its time looking at computer screens. It is riveting. Deliberate, lecturing, absorbing, mesmeric, thrilling. Impossible to explain or categorize. Best show on television right now.

True Detective

First episode. Meh.

First fifty-nine and a half minutes of the second episode. Meh.

Last thirty seconds of the second episode. WTF!!! WTF!!!!!! WTF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!