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Friday, March 27, 2020

Coronavirus and the Media

I've been interviewed over the past few days by several newspapers and websites about the impact of the Coronavirus on television, the Internet, and online education and entertainment.  The titles and publications (with) links appear below.  I'll add to this list when new articles appear.

  • "Our TVs are full of characters spreading germs and now we can never unsee it," Washington Post, 24 March 2020.  (Note: This article may be behind a paywall.  If you can't access it, you can read it here.)
  • "Can the Internet Break From Overuse?" How Stuff Works, March 25, 2020
  • "Why coronavirus may be a watershed moment in this digital age," Atlanta Journal Constitution, March 25, 2020 

The Sinner Season 3 Finale: Short Hair, with a Beard

A powerful, powerfully odd season 3 finale of The Sinner tonight, including a cut to black ending with no closing credits.

Before that, why didn't Harry shoot Jamie sooner, after Jamie came this close to killing Harry's grandson?   But Harry's reaction afterwards, trying to save then comfort the dying Jamie, and then breaking down to Sonya, that makes perfect sense.  Harry shared such an essential part of Jamie that Harry felt that he killed a part of himself.

The best thing to come out of this season for Harry is finding someone like Sonya.  She clearly felt some kind of kinship with Jamie, too.  That's why she didn't leave her home after Harry warned her that Jamie was coming to do her harm.  She had to face Jamie, to talk to him, because she felt she could better know herself via that encounter.  So Harry and Sonya have a good basis for a relationship: they both had an attraction, see something of themselves, in this deeply troubled psycho (I guess that's redundant - deeply troubled psycho - but it seems an apt description of Jamie.)

Another puzzle:  unless I imagined it, I thought I saw a shot of Jamie with short hair and the beginning of a beard in the what's-ahead splash in the commercial break.   Did I imagine that?  If not, what was that?  A shot from an alternate ending in which Jamie somehow survived?

Questions like that get to what's really unique about The Sinner: stories just this side of insanity, that quote Jung, as Jamie did tonight, that draw you in because they have just that necessary minimum of logic, but increasingly flirt with going off the rails.

More than enough for me to know I'll be watching the next season, if there is one!

See also The Sinner 3.1: Second Degree Murder, First Degree Detective ... The Sinner 3.2:  The Contractor and the Contractee ... The Sinner 3.3: The Baby Monster ... The Sinner 3.4-5: Why Doesn't Harry Just Arrest Jamie ... The Sinner 3.6: Faustian Bargains ... The Sinner 3.7: Confession and Connection

And see also The Sinner 2.1: The Boy ... The Sinner 2.2:  Heather's Story ... The Sinner 2.3: Julian's Mother ... The Sinner 2.5: The Scapegoat ... The Simmer 2.7: Occluded Past Unwound - Mostly ... The Sinner Season 2 Finale: The Ambiguity of Harry

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Curb Your Enthusiasm Season 10 Finale: Unjust Desserts

An excellent, funny end of the tenth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm this past Sunday, which tied up all kinds of loose ends in this hilarious season.

A fundamental principle of Larry's life in this series has always been that he's punished for the risks he takes - takes on behalf of righting some more or less real wrong that was done him.  The season began with Larry objecting to the wobbly tables and tasteless coffee in Mocha Joe's.  He puts together a spite store, with all sorts of innovations for a coffee place, right next to Mocha's.

The season finale begins with one of Larry David the producer's trademarks.  Josh Mankiewicz does a full-trim NBC report on spite stores and their cultural significance, featuring Latte Larry's.  And that, folks, was highpoint for the story of Larry's store.  By the time the episode is over, the store has burned down, and the firefighter on the scene tells Larry he might be investigated for arson, since the fire was caused by all the innovations (such as no easily tappable water in the men's room) Larry put in his store.

But that's my no means it.  Very early in the season, Larry gets caught up in a sexual harassment suit.  He's innocent.  But he gets out of the suit only because his accuser loses her memory, after she passes out in a elevator, choking on a too-dry scone.  Larry is standing right next to her, but he's afraid to apply the Heimlich, because of the sexual harassment suit.  A neat little story, and a rarity, because Larry comes out ahead.

But in the finale, even this victory is snatched from Larry's battered yet still proud psyche.  The woman regains her memory, begins her persecution of Larry.  But she falls for Joe, whose store also burns down, and in the last scene we see she and Joe have bought the house next to Larry.  We have the makings of a new season, with this new couple, each of whom has reason to not like Larry, to say the least, living right next door.

And I'll be back here with a review as soon as that new season begins.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Paul Levinson Talks about Welcome Up on Bear Tone Podcast

Among the many people and media in music and science fiction I talk about in this podcast, recorded the day I finished recording Welcome Up: Songs of Space and Time in Old Bear Studios in Batavia, NY in November, 2018: Alan Freed, Murray the K, Stu Nitekman, The New Outlook, Ellie Greenwich, Herb Abramson, Twice Upon A Rhyme, Boris Midney, Nikita Khrushchev, Paul McCartney, Robert Christgau, The Village Voice, Tina Vozick, Record Collectors Magazine, Big Pink Records, Anthony Nyland, Chris Hoisington, Phil D'Amato, "The Chronology Protection Case", David Hartwell, Borrowed Tides, Peter Brown Called, Steve Padin, Vincent van Gogh, Jeremy Thompson, Electric Lady Studios, Egypt Station, Bill O'Reilly

The Plot Against America 1.2: The 33rd President

A powerful second episode of The Plot Against America, with its now patented mix of sharp historical details and disturbing alternate history.

The details again range from rarely heard Yiddish, like bahaimhe for cow, to those light green semi-translucent dishes on the table.  And the delicatessen looked so good I could taste it.

The alternate reality was equally, if verging on tragically, convincing.  Lindbergh, running on a me vs. war platform, beats Roosevelt in his quest for a third term in 1940.  We learn this by witnessing the Levins learning of this via the radio in their living room.  Though I knew this was going to happen in this story, it was a blow, anyway, offered at almost the same time as Herman Levin ducks into his Newark moviehouse to see the Nazis taking over Europe.  The mix of movies and radio indeed typified this time - nothing alternate about their role in history - and The Plot Against America's employment of newsreels and radio to convey its narrative makes its alternate history all the more real.

The other smack-in-your-face element is Rabbi Lionel Bengelsdorf's support of Lindbergh in his campaign for President.  The character is all the more horrifying because he's played the charismatic John Tuturro.  Bengelsdorf is so charismatic, so sure of his beliefs and so well spoken, that he even attracts Evelyn Finkel played by Winona Ryder.   Is he based on a real person?  Not that I know of, and I suppose that's one optimistic aspect of this frightening story.

Lindbergh's election as the 33rd American President means the pace of this short series will be quickening.  Alvin Levin has gone to Canada to enlist in their armed forces because he want to "kill Nazis".  Will America with Lindbergh in the White House offer Britain and Churchill no help in their heroic attempt to stave off Hitler?

I'll be back here with my report next week.

See also The Plot Against America 1.1: Yet Another Alternate Nazi History, with Forshpeis


Monday, March 23, 2020

Homeland 8.7: The Vice Tightens

Just about everything got worse for just about everyone in Homeland 8.7, another excellent episode in this concluding season.

Max is still alive, so in that sense things at least did not get much worse for him.  But he's in critical condition, and still in Taliban hands.  The fact that Jalal Haqqani seems to be in charge is probably a good thing, since, at very least, he can be reasoned with.  But this still doesn't leave Carrie much room.  Fortunately, Yevgeny is there to stop her from, in effect, throwing away her life in a futile attempt to rescue Max.  But it looks like Carrie and Yevgeny will not be enough to spring Max on their own.

Saul is not doing too well, either.  His attempt to get the judge to delay Haissam Haqqani's trial by a week flops when the judge is replaced at the last minute. Back in Washington, Saul's attempt to get the Chief of Staff to get the new U. S. President to intercede on Haissam Haqqani's behalf also fails, and the President is being pressured to do nothing to help Haqqani.

While all of this is swirling around, the big question still remains of who set up the two Presidents to be assassinated?  Someone in Afghanistan or the United States?  I'm thinking G'ulom, now in Washington also pressuring the U. S. President to let Haqqani be executed, is too obvious a choice.  It would more consistent with the Homeland brand that the dual assassinations were plotted out by someone in the United States.

The final season of Homeland could have been searingly relevant to our current events.  As it is, it makes a good diversion from this our age of the Coronavirus pandemic.

And see also  Homeland on Showtime ... Homeland 1.8: Surprises ... Homeland Concludes First Season: Exceptional

Westword 3.2: Dolores' Enemies

A fine second episode of the third season of Westworld on HBO tonight, even though Dolores and what we saw of her life last week was present only in the lives of others, Maeve and Bernard, and the characters, androids and humans, in their worlds.  Of course, all the worlds and lives are connected, so Dolores was actually very present in the story, and the stories of Maeve and Bernard, on the way to approaching each other, were quite good.

Maeve has always been a great character, driven by the need to find her daughter, able to defy programming and orders, but only most of the time.  We encounter one of the times she can't, a very significant time, at the very end of tonight's episode, when Engerraund Serac freezes her, in that excellent white dress, with a remote control (yeah, reminiscent of today's television remotes).  In that instant, Serac instantly becomes one of the most important and provocative characters on the show, maybe even a successor to Ford.  He clearly has enormous knowledge of the hosts and how they work.  And, just for good measure in making him provocative, he wants Maeve to kill Dolores.  (It also doesn't hurt that he's played by one of my favorite actors, Vincent Cassel.)

Does Maeve have loyalty to her kind?  So far in the two seasons plus two new episodes, it's tough to say.  She has loyalty to and love for her daughter, clearly.  She'd kill Dolores in a heartbeat to save her little girl. (It's still not 100% clear, by the way, why Maeve is so devoted to her - the devotion is definitely sprung of something deeper than programming.)  But if her daughter wasn't at stake, would Maeve kill Delores?  Certainly not necessarily if she were commanded to do so - she could defy the command.  But since we don't really know what makes Maeve tick, it's impossible to say at this point what Maeve would do.  Which makes her story this season especially alluring.

Bernard also wants to stop Delores from wiping out humanity, and if killing her is the only way to do that, I'd say at this point that he would.  Bernard remains a supremely interesting character, since he's both a host and a master programmer.   That makes him uniquely different from both Dolores and Maeve, in different ways.   In one obvious sense, he's also a successor to Ford.  And there's no doubt the Bernard and Serac will meet before this season ends.

So we're off and running, with more sharp characters and storylines.  And I'm glad Warworld and its Nazis were apparently just an appetizer for a much bigger story.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Outlander 5.6: Locusts, Jocasta, and Bonnet

A top-notch episode 5.6 of Outlander tonight, in which Roger vanquishes locusts (which were not the kitten's fault, as I wrongly wondered about last week), Jocasta's life takes a significant turn, and Jamie gets on his way to confront and kill (he hopes) Bonnet.

Jocasta chooses a little peace for the rest of her life rather than the true love she feels for Murtaugh, who, though a little late in professing it, feels the same about Jocasta.  We see the reason that Jocasta makes this choice - the death of her beloved daughter back in Scotland during its time of war with England.  She can't go through this again in what we the viewers know is the impending Revolutionary War, which Jocasta sees up ahead as well.  But, you know what?  I think we haven't seen the last of Jocasta and Murtaugh, and they'll be together before the end of this series, if not this season.  (Now's a good time to mention again that I haven't read the books, because I want to be surprised by the television series.)

On to Bonnet, the road to Jamie confronting him comes with some tempestuous make-up sex between Jamie and Claire.  She of course wants Bonnet dead, too.  But the last thing she wants if for Jamie to risk his life.   Yet she also knows that there's nothing she can do to stop Jamie from confronting Bonnet and killing him if he can.

Which I think Jamie will do before the end of this season.  Unless Bonnet dies by someone else's hand, or for another reason, that we can't see right now.  But, one way or the other, I don't see Bonnet surviving this fifth season, which continues to be one of the best, of this excellent series.  Jamie and Claire, not to mention Brianna and Roger, have more important things to do in their lives than be tormented by this blaggard.  Is that a word?  I think so.  See you next week.

See also Outlander 5.1: Father of the Bride ... Outlander 5.2: Antibiotics and Time Travel ... Outlander 5.3: Misery ... Outlander 5.4: Accidental Information and the Future ... Outlander 5.5: Lessons in Penicillin and Locusts

And see also Outlander 4.1: The American Dream ... Outlander 4.2: Slavery ...Outlander 4.3: The Silver Filling ... Outlander 4.4: Bears and Worse and the Remedy ... Outlander 4.5: Chickens Coming Home to Roost ... Outlander 4.6: Jamie's Son ... Outlander 4.7: Brianna's Journey and Daddy ... Outlander 4.8: Ecstasy and Agony ... Outlander 4.9: Reunions ... Outlander 4.10: American Stone ... Outlander 4.11: Meets Pride and Prejudice ... Outlander 4.12: "Through Time and Space" ... Outlander Season 4 Finale:  Fair Trade

And see also Outlander Season 3 Debut: A Tale of Two Times and Places ...Outlander 3.2: Whole Lot of Loving, But ... Outlander 3.3: Free and Sad ... Outlander 3.4: Love Me Tender and Dylan ... Outlander 3.5: The 1960s and the Past ... Outlander 3.6: Reunion ... Outlander 3.7: The Other Wife ... Outlander 3.8: Pirates! ... Outlander 3.9: The Seas ...Outlander 3.10: Typhoid Story ... Outlander 3.11: Claire Crusoe ...Outlander 3.12: Geillis and Benjamin Button ... Outlander 3.13: Triple Ending

And see also Outlander 2.1: Split Hour ... Outlander 2.2: The King and the Forest ... Outlander 2.3: Mother and Dr. Dog ... Outlander 2.5: The Unappreciated Paradox ... Outlander 2.6: The Duel and the Offspring ...Outlander 2.7: Further into the Future ... Outlander 2.8: The Conversation ... Outlander 2.9: Flashbacks of the Future ... Outlander 2.10: One True Prediction and Counting ... Outlander 2.11: London Not Falling ... Outlander 2.12: Stubborn Fate and Scotland On and Off Screen ... Outlander Season 2 Finale: Decades

And see also Outlander 1.1-3: The Hope of Time Travel ... Outlander 1.6:  Outstanding ... Outlander 1.7: Tender Intertemporal Polygamy ...Outlander 1.8: The Other Side ... Outlander 1.9: Spanking Good ... Outlander 1.10: A Glimmer of Paradox ... Outlander 1.11: Vaccination and Time Travel ... Outlander 1.12: Black Jack's Progeny ...Outlander 1.13: Mother's Day ... Outlander 1.14: All That Jazz ... Outlander Season 1 Finale: Let's Change History


Altered Carbon 2: Timeless

I really enjoyed the first season of Altered Carbon.  I enjoyed the second season even more.  It was sharper, tighter, more effective in narrative in just about every way.

I did miss Joel Kinnaman as Takeshi Kovacs.  In a universe in which brain, soul, whatever you want to call it - in Altered Carbon it's become "stack" - can be relatively easily inserted into any sleeve aka body, it's not surprising to see Tak in a new sleeve in Season 2.  Not to mention that he gave up his Kinnaman sleeve at the end of Season 1.  Anthony Mackie does a fine job as Tak in the new sleeve in the new season.  And we get the benefit of two Taks in the second season - a younger Tak played by Will Yun Lee - who has a much larger role in the second season.  But I miss Kinnaman, whose acting I've admired since The Killing.

But my favorite character is the AI Poe, perfectly played by Chris Conner.  He had an appealing mix of vulnerability and savvy, loyalty and stubborn independence in the first season, and all of this is heightened in the second season, by his digital mind not being all there, literally, having been damaged in the first season.  I can't think of an AI I've liked more in any science fiction on the screen, maybe only Star Trek: The Next Generation's Data, if we consider an android an AI, though the two kinds of artificial beings are very different in many ways.  Season 2 also has the addition of Dig 301, well played by Dina Shihabi.  Dig makes a great apprentice, guardian angel, and eventually loving partner for Poe.

The master plot is fast moving and hard hitting, with Simone Missick doing a good job as Trepp on the gritty ground, and Renée Elise Goldsberry effective as Quellcrest, more tortured than ever by what turns out to be the Elders, an indigenous intelligence with super powers on Harlan's World, where the action takes place and Tak urges her to change her modus operandi of fixing things then dying. Torben Liebrecht rounds out the crucial cast as Carrera, an at once brutal and cunning military man, with his own very complex axe to grind, a condition common to all the major characters in a story in which the only way any human can succumb to death is via destruction of the stack at the base of the head.

I was talking to a reporter from The Washington Post the other day about what it's like to watch television in our Coronavirus age.  Series that take place in our present, such as any hospital show, seem oddly out of synch with what is going on in our world - they have no mention of Coronavirus, since it was not yet known when the episode was made.  I mentioned Altered Carbon as a series which doesn't have that effect, since it takes place so far in the future.  "How far in the future?" the reporter asked.  "Thousands of years," I unthinkingly replied. (Here's the article.)  Actually, Altered Carbon takes place less than 400 years from now.

It's a measure of how well Altered Carbon has created its future world that it feels so timeless.  Back to our own 2020 world, if you're home and looking for a high-concept, engaging, story-book colorful series, I'd recommend Altered Carbon, both seasons.

See also Altered Carbon 1: Roads, Spit, and Immortality

"As otherworldly, mystical and far-out as the subject
matter may be, the songs burst with love and warmth
and humanity."  -- Evan LeVine, Swan Fungus, 3 February 2020

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Yesterday: And I Love It

Well, my wife and I just saw Yesterday, having taped it last week on HBO, and we loved it.  This is contrary to some otherwise worthy critics, but what else is new.

The premise, that some kind of solar flash causes just about everyone in the world to have no memory of the Beatles, except a struggling young songwriter, Jack Malik, who remembers the Beatles and all of their songs, was a nice, even brilliant, piece of science fantasy.  It's a set-up Mark Twain would've been proud of, not to mention all kinds of more recent science fiction and fantasy writers.

And the song delivery was excellent - Himesh Patel, who played Jack, has a fine voice.  Yesterday would've been enjoyable, just because of all of those wonderful Beatles songs, even if the plot was bad or rickety.  As it was, the plot was good enough, with everything from true love to commerciality and its drawbacks as Jack becomes world famous - as a writer of fabulous (Beatles) songs - given a solid workout.

And there were some points of sheer, heart-breaking incandescence.  As I a science fiction writer, I've explored John Lennon not being killed more than once - see my Loose Ends Saga - but Yesterday explored it in a unique way.   They got an actor to look just as Lennon might in his 70s, and even if his voice and accent weren't perfect, just his face was enough to nearly stop your heart.

Back to the plot, there were some good jokes on jokes woven into the story, such as the oft-commented upon pressure by Ed Sheeran (who plays himself) on Jack to the change the title of "his" song to "Hey, Dude".  And the dream sequences were handled very well, including the oddities of Jack's dreams, as when Paul and Ringo show up in Jack's nightmare as the true writers of the Beatles songs.

So, hats off to Danny Boyle and Richard Curtis for creating this movie, to Himesh Patel and Lily James and Ed Sheeran for memorable performances, and to the Beatles for such peerless music.  I predict that Yesterday will become a much-loved classic.