Tuesday, July 25, 2023

New episodes of Futurama start today


This caught me by surprise, but Hulu released a new episode of Futurama today (7/24/2023). 

Futurama was an innovative satirical cartoon that originally aired on Fox from 1999 - 2003. There were also a few movies after the original series was cancelled.

The cartoon is known and loved for it's hilarious send ups of common sci fi tropes as well as its satirical portrayal of politics and mass media.

Depending on which web site you look at, the new episodes may be identified as season 8 or season 11. I think this is due to confusion over whether the movies count as seasons. 

Regardless, I'm looking forward to the new episodes.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Fantastic Voyage

 Fantastic Voyage by Issac Asimov

Four men and one woman reduced to a microscopic fraction of their original size, boarding a miniaturized atomic sub and being injected into a dying man's carotid artery. Passing through the heart, entering the inner ear where even the slightest sound would destroy them, battling relentlessly into the cranium.

Their objective . . . to reach a blood clot and destroy it with the piercing rays of a laser.

Isaac Asimov wrote the novel based on Harry Kliener's screen play. Rumor has it, that when Asimov saw the original screen play, he remarked that it was full of plot holes and scientific inaccuracies, and insisted on correcting them for the novel. 

Unfortunately, he failed to correct the basic structural and character development flaws. So instead of a 'fantastic voyage', we have a seriously flawed novel. 

The first chapter is literally four "As you know, Bob" conversations about the importance of an off-page character. The Turkey City Lexicon lists an "As you know, Bob" as when two characters tell each other what they already know to bring the reader up to speed. It's a common sci fi trope among beginners. Editors hate it, and this book exemplifies one of the reasons for that hatred. 

By having his characters discuss an off-page character, the author is telling the reader that the characters he's introducing us to on the page aren't that important. So the reader is wondering" if these characters aren't that important, why is the writer wasting my time introducing me to them? Let's get to the real story".

Granted this book was written in 1966, is based on a movie, and opening scenes like this were very common in films of the time. But I still expected better writing from a Grand Master of Science Fiction. 

A second major flaw is the dialog. Most of the dialog consists of one character telling another what they should be thinking. Often with hyperbolic emotional exaggeration that might have worked on the screen, but on the page, makes the characters look like caricatures.

It's was difficult to get into the story, and I was so disgusted with the dialog, I quit reading half way through. Can't recommend this book, not even for historical value.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

The Glass Teat

I'd heard about Harlan Ellison's The Glass Teat for years, but couldn't find a copy until recently. I'd heard it was an insightful commentary on the deleterious effects television had on the human mind and American culture. Nope, it's not. It's a collection of short vitriolic rants about the lack of realism in a  TV shows and a few other things Ellison didn't like.

According to the book's intro, these rants were originally a weekly newspaper column, reproduced here the order they were written. So there's no real structure, nothing to tie them together.  And since I've never seen most of the shows he mentions, it's impossible to determine how accurate his opinions are. 

The out-of-date references and the vitriolic rhetoric make this book a waste of time for most audiences. The only readers I'd recommend this book for is those specifically studying the counter culture of the 1960s and 70s.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

School Spirits

Okay, enough with the negative reviews. Time to talk about something really, really good: School Spirits.

Streaming from Paramount+, School Spirits is a supernatural crime drama staring Peyton List and Christian Flores. 

Peyton List plays Maddie Nears, a teenager who has just died and whose spirit is now stuck at school. But she has no memory of how she died or where her body is.  The show follows Maddie's ghost and her living friends as they try to solve the mystery of what happened.

Each episode the kids investigate a different potential suspect. First Maddie's boyfriend, then her teacher, then.... (hey too many spoilers). Each episode ends with the kids discovering a clue that clears one suspect and casts suspicion on a new one. Keeping my interest right up to unexpected twist at the end of the first season. (and no, I'm not going to tell you what was finally revealed.)

Along the way we meet many of the other ghosts who've died at this school over the past 60 years, all of whom are trapped there, with no way out. Maddie forms personal connections with four of these other ghosts, and these friendships provide some deep and beautiful character moments.

In spite of the fact that I usually hate high school dramas, School Spirits proved to be one of the best shows of 2023, thanks in no small part to Peyton List's superb performance. But I'm giving this show high marks all around: Excellent writing, directing and acting from everyone involved in the show. I'm looking forward to season 2.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Class of '09 TV show

Class of '09 is a sci fi crime drama now airing on the FX channel and streaming from Hulu. The show follows four  FBI agents in three different periods of their careers: as cadets in '09, as mid-level agents 2023, and as senior agents in 2034. 

More importantly for sci fi fans, in 2034, the FBI has replaced most of its analysts with an AI that can predict crime and stop it before it happens. 

In the pilot's first scene,  which takes place in the future, the AI sends two agents who apparently haven't seen each other for years to arrest a man without explanation. But instead of finding him, they find a recording of the FBI director (another classmate) claiming the US is now the safest nation on Earth. 

Without preparation, were suddenly thrust back to the moment they meet - their first day of training at Quantico. After a few moments seeing the characters here, then were sent back further in time to when one of them was recruited. (I almost turned off the show right there. I hate flashbacks within flashbacks.)

To write a fair review, I watched the first two episodes. But I couldn't get into the show. Time jumps happen frequently and without preparation.  One minute we're seeing them in at training, then in the middle of an under cover assignment 14 years later, then back to training, then back to 2034. This  totally destroys the rhythms of each story line, and makes it impossible to connect with any of the characters.

The events in each time period seem totally disconnected from the others. There's no mention of the AI in the 2009 or 2023 scenes. No mention of the 2023 crimes in the 2034 scenes. (At least not in the first two episodes.) And in the 2023 scenes, the agents are working totally separate cases. So you're trying to follow six different story lines.  That is way too much.

 In the future scenes, there are hints and accusations that the AI has gone rogue. But these scenes are so brief and the acting is so wooden, you don't care. Brian Tyree Henry, playing the FBI director, looks like he's stoned or sleep walking through these scenes. Kate Mara is nearly as dull. (The other two supposed leads are barely present through the first two episodes.)

 While I normally like to see TV shows try new innovations, Class of '09 simply doesn't work.