As an intro with nothing to do with the post, yesterday I started reading The Big U (1984), by Neal Stephenson (one of my favorite authors). It’s his first novel and one I’ve been meaning to read for a while. As with his second novel, Zodiac (1988), his first is a social satire with a distinct technological flavor. Unlike most of his later work, these aren’t science fiction. That began with novel #3, Snow Crash (1992), still one of my favorites.
I mention this because I’m eager to get back to it, but it’s TV Tuesday, and I want to commemorate the ending of not one, not two, (…etc.), but four TV shows that recently aired their last episodes.
Two I was glad to see go, but I am in mourning over one of them.
I’ve been awaiting the sophomore season of Netflix’s Russian Doll with both anticipation and dread. Anticipation because I thought season one was outstanding, one of the best shows of 2019. I only mentioned it briefly in a post back then (and gave it a solid Wow! rating). I meant to write a whole post about it but never did.
The dread came largely from how complete the story arc of season one was. It was hard to see more story there. Dread also came from how good it was — a very hard act to follow. Maybe best not to try?
Season two finally came out last month. My best reaction is something along the lines of “Huh?” but the phrase “muddled mess” keeps running through my mind.
One of many benefits gained when I cut the cable and subscribed to Netflix and Hulu was access to a very large catalog of Japanese anime. Until then I was largely at the mercy of the Cartoon Network cable channel and rented videos. While I’ve so far barely scratched the surface of the Netflix catalog, I have been steadily working my way through Hulu’s.
Recently I’ve enjoyed two there: Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? and xxxHolic. The former is a fun medieval fantasy adventure series (with expected twists and unexpected depth). Saying the latter is about a beautiful hard-drinking witch who grants wishes is accurate but misses the point.
It’s a lot more interesting than that.
Recently I watched the first season (twelve episodes) of a new Amazon Prime “original” series, The Legend of Vox Machina. I say “original” because Amazon didn’t originate it and, according to Wikipedia, the first ten episodes were funded by a Kickstarter campaign, so it seems Amazon didn’t really even pay for it.
On the other hand, by acquiring the rights and putting it on their streaming service, they allowed this animated series to be decidedly adult (which, in the USA, means over-the-top violence and gore with some bits of coy T&A because Americans wallow in blood and are scared to death of (yet obsessed with) sex… which is a weird definition of “adult” given it’s what I remember about being 12 years old).
That said, it has some good bits and nothing that really pissed me off.
I discovered, and become a huge fan of, Sherlock Holmes at an early age — somewhere in grade school. Too long ago to remember, so it feels like I’ve “always” been a fan. (Conversely, I can remember watching the first episode of Star Trek in 1966, so reading A.C. Doyle for the first time must be many years earlier.)
Per Doyle’s stories, Holmes has a well-defined center, but as adapted, extended, reimaged, even satirized, by others, his boundaries are extremely fuzzy [see The Real Sherlock Holmes].
There is even a Japanese anime version of Holmes: Case File nº221: Kabukicho.
For me, Japanese anime seems a gift that keeps on giving. Perhaps a better way to put it is that it’s a well that hasn’t yet come close to running dry for me. For one, there is a ton of Japanese anime and even Sturgeon’s Law gives good results on such a big catalog.
There is also that it seems, on average, more nuanced and perceptive than modern Western storytelling. Or it could be a combination of over-familiarity with our dregs and the same cherry-picking selectiveness that sometimes makes the BBC seem superior in contrast (it’s so not).
In any event, here are four I enjoyed recently and can recommend.
For broadcast networks that still observe such archaic traditions, the new “season” has begun doling out episodes. Over the years I’ve watched fewer network shows, although this year I’ve actually added two new ones (at least temporarily). I’m still watching the old three… and still questioning why I do.
It would be easy to dump the three old giant dinosaurs, CBS, NBC, and ABC. I haven’t watched the smaller ones (TNT, USA, etc) in years. Other than baseball, regularly scheduled TV broadcasts are decades in my past. I’m solidly about streaming these days — Netflix, Hulu, Prime. I’m considering adding Apple TV and HBO Max.
I’ve definitely taken to binge watching!
Last weekend I watched the final episodes of Lucifer, a show I’ve really enjoyed since it began in 2016. It’s based on a DC comic book character created by Neil Gaiman, and I’ve always liked his work, so it’s not surprising I’ve enjoyed this series. On top of that, it blends a bunch of my favorite story genres, plus it gets right one of the most important aspects for such fantastic stories: it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
In honor of the show ending I thought I’d also mention a couple other favorite shows I’ve been re-watching lately, Elementary and Boston Legal. I’ve always ranked the latter as a favorite favorite, but seeing the former again I’m experiencing the love all over again.
Got a couple of Japanese anime stories to mention, as well.
History, location, and religion aside, the Wikipedia disambiguation page for “Babylon“ has 52 entries under “Arts and entertainment” — 26 of which are songs (including one by David Gray that I rather like). Two entries, a novel series and an anime series (which I binged last night), link to the same page because they refer to the same very interesting (very dark) story.
By interesting (and dark) I mean it’s about good, evil, and whether the right to suicide is a good thing. The battles here are mainly intellectual and spiritual. A key point for the characters is the question: what is good; what is evil?
I also recently watched Jupiter’s Legacy on Netflix (Meh!), and I want to offer props to the most recent episode of Grown-ish, which I thought was compelling, well-done, and worth seeing.
Last time on TV Tuesday, I ran out of time to write about a collection of sitcoms I’ve been watching that are all produced by, sometimes written or directed by, and in one case even starring: Kenya Barris.
His first creation, the family sitcom Black-ish, is probably the most well-known. That show has a spin-off, Grown-ish, as well as a prequel, Mixed-ish. He also has a family sitcom on Netflix, #blackAF, in which he stars as a fictional version of himself.
I really like these shows, in part because they’re pretty good — fun and funny with good characters — but also because I think it’s so important for us white folks to sometimes just STFU and listen to Black voices. Most of these shows make deliberate attempts to reach out and share something important.