Recently, I’ve Mostly Been Watching TV

It’s been a while, so I’m going to do a couple of quick posts that sum up some things I’ve seen – this is the first one and it’s about TV series.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency season 1

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The series is based on the novel of the same name by Douglas Adams of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fame. I’ve read the novel and its sequel some decades ago, but don’t remember much anything about them.

The plot of the series is delightfully Adamsian, that is, completely nonsensical. There is logic there and with great care one can pull together everything that is happening everywhere and figure out, if it forms a coherent whole. To quickly recap, it is about Dirk Gently getting involved in a time traveling, soul swapping romp, and being Dirk Gently, that is, completely nonsensical and utterly delightful, through all of it.

For the early part of the season, it is very much unclear, what is happening, but the weird humor and explosively surprising in gory violence keep things entertaining. Towards the end of the season the episodes tend to concentrate more on carefully pulling through the various twists of the plot. This and the occasional serious brooding leave less room for delightful humor, which in turn makes the series slightly tedious to watch at times.

Luckily the season is only 8 episodes, so the more free flowing early bits of the season weigh more heavily on the scale and the whole thing ends up being a positive experience. Haven’t seen the 2nd season yet, but I have a feeling it will not be as good, since with the now familiar characters, there’s less room for quirks and surprises and more need to get plot heavy things going early. Nevertheless, if the occasional bits of heavy gore don’t bother you and if you enjoy weird humor, this gets a recommendation.

  • Finished on: 15th Aug 2017
  • 3/5

The Expanse season 2

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This is another series based on novels of the same name, this time by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck under the shared pen name of James S. A. Corey. My thoughts on the previous season are found here.

At the end of season 1, I was pretty apprehensive that the protomolecule was going to take center stage for season 2. Unfortunately, that is the case. We spend half the season chasing after clues with the crew of the Rocinante and the other half in a stand of between Mars and Earth, while only a few key players understand, that the tensions have been staged by a rogue group that has been developing the protomolecule.

The series keeps the ruthless power hungry politics in the picture and the sci-fi setting keeps me interested in general, but the protomolecule is just boring, the rogue crew perpetrating the quickly heating political conflict is much less interesting than two groups clashing naturally over self interests, and this single ship crew being in on all the key events and surviving time after time is… well, most series still don’t kill their darlings regardless of what George R. R. Martin has been doing…

Altogether, the 2nd season is much weaker, but still very much a good experience.

  • Finished on: 3rd Oct 2017
  • 3.5/5

Orphan Black season 1

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An original series for a change. Orphan Black is a story about Sarah Manning and her fellow clones. They are the result of illegal cloning experiments and mostly unaware of each other, when the series starts. The plot involves Neolution / Dyad Institute, who are technology believers and intentionally push the boundaries with their experiments regardless of the law, and Proletheans, who are religious activists, who think badly of many recent technological innovations including the clones.

Sarah and all the other clones are played by Tatiana Maslany. For the most part she does an excellent job jumping between roles and making each individual clone recognizable and interesting, but someone somewhere didn’t trust in her completely, so they’ve added irritating gimmicks to each character in order to make them even more individual. Nevertheless, kudos for Tatiana.

This series suffers from pretty much the same things as the ones reviewed above – the setup is interesting, the characters are interesting, getting to know all of it is interesting, but the moment the characters and the viewers know enough about what’s going on to actually be active with the situation, the thing falls slightly flat. The mystery isn’t good enough and can be revealed only once, and the endless chasing after clues and power reversals soon become tedious. Oh well, at least the first season was worth it.

  • Finished on: 28th Jan 2018
  • 3/5

Game of Thrones season 7

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Well, this series should require no introductions. By now the series is past the novel series. As far as I know, George R. R. Martin has been giving the script writers pointers as to how the novels are going to progress, and the plot attempts to follow the rough picture that the forthcoming novels are going to follow, but mostly the script writers are on their own… And it shows. While George R. R. Martin has never been a great novelist, he does have an idea or two about plotting and revealing said plots slowly and patiently. The season 7 lacks far behind on that regard – the previously convoluted plots are now downright hamfisted and easily guessed, and the series has to rely on cheating the viewers to get some surprises across.

As mentioned above, George has his deficiencies as a writer and the series is actually able to improve on a few of the flaws. Most notably, the series has dropped multiple plot threads and scenes, some of them even quite prominent in the novels, in order to fit things into the less expressive TV format. And this is what George mostly needs – an editor, who would say to him that you don’t actually have to follow every god damn side plot to its conclusion.

Oh well, this is still some of the best fantasy imagery ever seen in TV and rivals most things on the silver screen as well. Unfortunately that does speak more to the qualities of the genre in these media. Despite the many problems, the series has its merits as well. Most prominent obviously being that I still enjoy watching it.

  • Finished on: 10th Feb 2018
  • 3/5

Russian Doll

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The series follows Nadia Vulvokov, a New Yorker of Russian origin, who is celebrating her 36th birthday in a big party organized by her friends, she leaves with a man to have a fling with him and after the thing, accidentally gets hit by a car… and wakes up back at the party. The plot twist was made famous by Groundhog Day and has been rehashed multiple times since then.

Regardless of the obvious comparison, this bears few similarities with that film. Nadia is a nihilistic woman living with a devil may care attitude drinking too much and using anything and everything she comes across. The dark tones of the protagonist carry over to the series overall tone. The supporting cast is full of dark characters, the lighting is almost always dark and reddish, there’s homelessness and drug use prominently on display, etc.

I love this short series format. Longer than a movie, shorter than an endless progression of season. You can play wonders in this format. And this does. Each iteration through the party (and sometimes) the following days follows slightly different patterns with Nadia trying to get to grips with her situation. This is again the most interesting part – when the viewers and the protagonist are still figuring things out. As the series progresses, it slowly shifts gears from people to the mystery. Unfortunately, the mystery falls a bit short of the setup – that seems to be common pattern (as witnessed above). At least this one keeps the last twist to the very final scenes of the show, and that was actually slightly surprising.

By far the most refreshing new thing I’ve seen on the TV series front in years.

  • Finished on: 18th Feb 2019
  • 4.5/5

The Umbrella Academy season 1

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This time a series based on a comic book and it shows. The series follows a dysfunctional group of adopted sibling superheroes, who reunite, when their father is found dead. Soon after it’s revealed that the world is about to end, due to their long lost brother returning from the future, where he’s been stuck for 30 years in a world that stopped existing 8 days from now.

The plot follows the efforts of the family to stave off the end of the world. Nobody seems to much care about how it’s going to happen – they just attempt to prevent it from happening. Besides the apocalypse, the plot is burdened by the family grudges. Although the series features a multitude of family meetings, it never actually features a calm discussion, where things could actually be explained – pouting and storming away is the name of the game.

I can’t really explain, what kept me entertained. The characters are quite inane, they act like teenagers all the time, the plot hangs on people not talking to each other, the amount of pouting makes teenage Instagram accounts look like nobody ever purses their lips… But I sat through this with a smile on my face. The one hour episodes give room to build atmosphere and change it multiple times and occasionally the series hits spot on.

Borderline watchable, but I hope they won’t make a second season, so I don’t have to watch a few episodes and figure out that it’s going nowhere fast.

  • Finished on: 28th Feb 2019
  • 2.5/5
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Badlands [1973]

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Terrence Malick is a director, who used to direct very rarely. The first film I saw by him was The Thin Red Line, which I liked immediately. I missed The New World and finally 13 years later, I saw The Tree of Life. That hooked me and it was a given that I’d go see To the Wonder, when it came out a year later. Even that one I liked, but I was starting to wonder, if Malick had lost his edge – The Tree of Life and To the Wonder seemed like they were directed by a man, who’d found formula and was furiously applying it left and right. A few years later Badlands was playing at the cinema of the local film archive and I went to see it – now I knew that his later films were but a pale shadow of  his first film. Now, a few years later, Riviera Kallio was screening Badlands again and I had time on my hands, so I went to see it again.

Badlands has strong vibes from Camus’ L’Étranger, but unlike that, there’s also a strong undercurrent of innocence. Finally, this has a weight of geography to it. The film is situated in South Dakota and the endless flat lands of the northern flyover states give the film a gravity it would not otherwise have.

Basically a boy meets a girl, girl’s father gets angry, because boy is of a bad sort, boy shoots father and runs away with girl to live under their own rules and conditions, until it all comes crashing down and they start running to get away and start again, but innocence is lost and reality must catch up.

The story is told in a toned down manner. There’s all kinds of explosive scenes, but they are depicted in a toned down manner. This plays nicely with the protagonists not quite registering reality to the extent they perhaps should. Their innocence is shielding them from the gravity of their actions. This could make the whole film seem like it is forgiving towards the protagonists, but it isn’t. Nobody in the film much judges anything that happens – sure, the cops apprehend them, but as mentioned, some hours later all of them are all smiles. The film could almost be seen as approving of the actions, but it isn’t.

One judgement is in the depiction of the killings. The first one seems almost like an accident. Band, and it’s done. The body is quickly hidden and the crime is wiped away by burning down the house. Little by little the killings are given more weigh though. The chip away at the shield of innocence and they are depicted in a more and more gruesome fashion. This is the girl seeing the killings – she doesn’t even realize what happened with the first one, but no armor is perfect and reality seeps in through the cracks little by little.

Another judgement is given by geography. While the protagonists are living in the forest away from everyone else in their innocent little bubble, the horizon is always close by. The forest envelops them in a protective shield like their innocence and nothing is far away. First shots with even a little room for anything to seep in already contain other people, who call in bounty hunters and the sanctuary is suddenly lost. It is replaced by the endless badlands of the mid-northern US, where there is no escape. The horizon is always impossibly far as is the salvation that waits behind it. There is no escape, only more badlands. The inevitability of the landscape reflects the inevitability of reality catching up, and finally also the police.

The weight of this film is enough to crush the world beneath it.

  • Director: Terrence Malick
  • Watched on: 14th Jul 2017
  • Watched at: Riviera Kallio
  • 6/5

Change of Pace

I started this blog with some lofty ideas and ideals about highly thought out contemplation on films and other cultural content that I consume. Occasionally on things outside cultural content as well.

Well, as anyone can see, I haven’t been able to produce said content at any meaningful pace. I have a dozen films to write about on my backlog, but I can’t get them done, because I don’t have the time to write about them at length. By the time I get to writing about them, I’ve already forgotten half of the film and half of the thoughts I had about the film to begin with.

I’ve been keeping various journals or memos or something about these sorts of things before this blog. The purpose has been to write just a few words about pretty much everything in order to remember the films I’ve seen and the books I’ve read. Just 5-20 lines most of the time. It was a process to help me remember and it worked fantastically. Sometimes I had more to say than just a summary of the plot and whether I liked it or not. Sometimes I thought I had a nice idea and would have liked to share my notes to others.

I thought about scrapping this blog altogether, but people keep telling me that I seem to have thoughts worth sharing. Most of the time I don’t. Occasionally I think I do. So I’ll keep the blog as it is a convenient combination of a few things:

  • It allows me to keep at my practice of writing a few notes on the cultural products that I consume to help me remember them.
  • It is accessible to others and allows me to advertise the my texts to others, when I feel like I maybe had a point somewhere in there.
  • It allows me to write anywhere, when there’s a quiet moment or an interesting thought.
  • It allows me to write on a multitude of topics without having to find separate appropriate platforms to journal my thoughts on books, films, games, role-playing games, programming, etc.

So there. Blog remains. Hopefully more content on a quicker pace, but shorter write-ups most of the time. I still don’t have much time to spare for this, so we’ll have to see, if I can keep up with this even with the shorter notes…

Hello World

So this is a blog and I made this and now I’m supposed to publish stuff here…

Well, here goes. Hello World! This is me posting. I’m going to update this quite rarely, since I don’t have too much spare time on my hands.

Obviously, the title has little to do with the expected content. That’s because I couldn’t figure out anything witty about the expected content, so I picked something important to me. Maybe I’ll write here about turtles and slow life at some point, but that’s too personal for today.

The spark for this blog came, when my lovely fiancee gave me Juho Kuorikoski’s wonderful new book Suuret seikkailupelit as a Christmas present. I don’t have much spare time, but all of it was spent on that, once I’d picked it up. Unfortunately, it is (at least for the time being) available only in Finnish. Nevertheless, it tells the history of the adventure video game genre through the mouths of the people, who created the classic games of the genre, and goes through the most notable titles. I’ll talk about that more in a later post.

In any case, the book made me realize that although I’m a fan of the genre, I’ve missed nearly all of the classic titles or at least have not finished them. I just had to fill in the gaps and play through the classics, so I set myself a goal of playing through them. As writing is a way for me to make something a bit more real and permanent in my mind, I’ll write about the experience too. Kuorikoski’s penmanship moved me into embarking on the project. Who knows, maybe mine will move someone else.

From having a blog about an adventure gaming project, it was a short step to decide that the blog could have other stuff too. I already write quick book reviews in Goodreads and film reviews in Letterboxd, so those’ll appear here as well in the future. Obviously reviews about stuff not fit for those sites, and maybe some talk about my currently years long computer game development project that does not have a single line of code written down yet… Maybe writing about the development project will make me do something about it. Sprinkle in some more personal posts, if I feel like it.

That’s it for now. As I don’t expect to have a single reader at this point (I’ve told one person about this for now), I won’t bid my readers farewell.