Letdown Watch (So Far): The Expanse @ExpanseOnPrime #Good Watch

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I’ve been itching to activate a free, 30-day trial of Amazon Prime, mostly because of the Expanse. I’ve heard scientists explain how the show gets the physics of space travel better than any other show or movie before it, which also piqued my curiosity. I never thought I’d say this about this show, but with only a couple of episodes to go in season 1, I’m a bit bored. Surprisingly, the fact that it gets the science right isn’t that big of a deal. They produce drama around it, but they could (as so many other have) produce just as much drama around bad physics.

I haven’t given up hope on it. A fan of the show admitted that it starts off slow, and two of my all-time favorites, The Office and Parks & Recreation, both had weak first seasons to set up the series.

As always, YMMV.

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Overrated Watch: Good Omens @michaelsheen #GoodWatch

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As I mentioned last Monday, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm inspired me to finally start my 30-day free trial of Amazon Prime. I’m otherwise uninterested in adding a 100th streaming service to my monthly bill. So, I asked the social media world what I should after Borat and received a ton of suggestions. Looking up everything, I settled on prioritizing the Expanse (I can’t believe I forgot that was available), Good Omens, Man in the High Castle, the Boys, and Undone. If there’s time, I’ll add Jack Ryan, Catastrophe, and Bosch. Practicing an analogue of Occam’s Razor, I chose Good Omens to start because it’s only six hours of content so far. I watched all six, 50-minute episodes this weekend.

Overall, it was decent, but I’ve seen too many movies and shows reimagining the apocalypse for modern times. Each adds a tiny twist. Tiny, not clever. I also get a bit annoyed by the overuse of flashbacks. Sometimes, holding back the history leading up to an event makes a lot of sense. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it’s just a gimmick. The first 30-some minutes of the sixth episode is a flashback, but it’s also the conclusion to the main story. There’s absolutely no reason for that, and little reason for the last 25 minutes. Finally, I was particularly annoyed by the theft of Sandra Bullock’s joke from Demolition Man (“lick butt v. kick butt”).

But it certainly wasn’t “bad.” If it were “bad,” I wouldn’t have finished it. Besides, if none of these things get on your nerves, you’ll probably like it a lot. It was still a good story delivered by a great cast. It was just a bit trite for my tastes.

David Tennant’s delivery reminded me of Bill Nighy. Every now and then, my mind would see Nighy delivering Tennant’s lines.

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Sophmore Slump Watch: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm @SachaBaronCohen @RudyGiuliani

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Borat 2 inspired me to start a 30-day free trial of Amazon Prime. I’m glad it was free.

Okay, that was a bit rough, but it makes for a good tagline, so I offer no apologies. Borat 2 wasn’t bad; it just wasn’t as good as his first movie. Maybe I was expecting too much. The charm of the first movie was Borat acting crazy and watching the honest reactions of unaware citizens. Too many people recognize him, so that’s much more difficult. The movie is amusingly self-aware of that fact.

The other strength of the first movie was that Borat never learned his lesson. He started the movie screwed up and ended it that way. Not so here. In Borat 2, Borat returns to the “U S and A” but through circumstance is paired with his daughter, Tutar (Maria Bakalova). The movie makes a story out of their relationship, and that’s why I don’t think it was as good. It’s supposed to be a feel-good story, but if you focus on the story as serious, the premise is far too depressing for a comedy.

But that’s okay, as long as we get Cohen’s over-the-top comedy, right? Well, there was only one cringe-worthy moment for me, which was when Tutar speaks to the group of Women Republicans. There was also a funny moment, let’s just say, related to abortion, but it wasn’t embarrassing. It was just a misunderstanding. I can get that from any comedy. I did laugh out loud on occasion, but not enough. In fact, at one point, I walked away from the TV to put water on for pasta. I wouldn’t be able to do that while watching the first movie.

As a side note, the Giuliani thing is greatly exaggerated, probably on purpose. I suspect it was intentionally overblown in order to hype the movie. It seems to have worked.

I hope I have better luck with the Expanse, the Boys, the Man in the High Castle, and Good Omens. If there’s time, I’ll add in Jack Ryan and Bosch.

I really wanted a proper sequel for Borat. As always, YMMV.

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Good Watch: Challenger @Netflix #GoodWatch

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Certain moments in history define a decade, such as John F. Kennedy getting shot and 9-11. Almost everyone remembers where they were when these events happened, or at least when they heard about them.

In 1986, I was a high school senior. I had transferred from a private (Catholic) high school to a public one, Walter Johnson, for my senior year. (I had to pay for my high school tuition, and knowing that I had to pay for college, needed a financial break.) I entered 5th period Chemistry class, and the teacher said, “The Challenger vaporized on launch.”

“Wasn’t that the one with a teacher on it?” asked a more dimwitted classmate.

“Yep. I don’t see how anyone could have survived.”

In 6th period architectural drawing class, the teacher brought in a TV, and we watched the coverage. I remember exactly how I felt. Challenger on Netflix brought all of that back to me.

The four-episode limited series covers the country’s excitement over the space shuttle program generally, and the Challenger mission in particular. It was the first time an “ordinary” citizen, in this case a teacher, was going into space. The thought around the country was that this was the first step towards space travel becoming an ordinary event for ordinary people. Everyone was in for one hell of a rude awakening.

I enjoyed this show. As always, YMMV.

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Scary Watch: Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons @netflix #crime #prison #GoodWatch

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Holy shit! This is some scary stuff. Netflix’s series, Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons, is well-named series currently consisting of four four-episode seasons, with each episode about 45 minutes long. It doesn’t take long to get scary. They start with a prison in Honduras where the guards lock themselves out and leave discipline to the most dangerous of prisoners. They even arm them, and the “warden” is a convicted killer. The interview with the 19-year-old is heartbreaking, but not in the way you might think. He belongs there. Another guy claims he acted in self-defense but still says he wish he hadn’t killed the deceased. Prison is worth than death for him.

From there, it goes to a Polish prison that keeps prisoners in cells 23 hours a day, Mexico, and a couple of overcrowded prisons in the Philippines. That’s just season one. Season two moves on to an understaffed prison in the Ukraine, a prison in Papua New Guinea where constant food shortages create chaos, and an evangelical prison (!?!?) in Belize.

None of these prisons are in the United States, but the show nevertheless reminds me of three concerns I have. First, do whatever you can to stay out of prison. The notion of spending any time there is terrifying for most of us, and the rest of us are just naive. Second, some people truly belong there. I don’t want them roaming the streets and posing a threat to society, so lock them up and make it uncomfortable. Third, we can’t forget that even the hardest prisoners still retain their humanity, and prison often breaks them. I don’t want prison to be easy, but forgetting their humanity assures us that they’ll continue to be a threat once their time in prison is done. We can’t leave most of them in there forever, so I want them returning to society with the assumption that they have a chance to get their lives back on track. It’s a puzzle for which I don’t have the answer, and unfortunately, as with all other complicated problems we face, each of us tends to look at only one side of the story and refuse to budge when presented with criticism. When we pass that sentiment on to our elected representative, we assure that this puzzle will never be solved.

My first draft of this post was written after having watched the first season, and it included a statement that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish it. I’m currently halfway through season 3 and will watch all of season 4. I think I actually got hardened to the imagery after a while. Considering what these prisoners go through, and thus what they may be hardened to, the thought of their release is scary.

This is a very tough watch, but it gives you a lot of food for thought. As always, YMMV.

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Neat Watch: Brave New World @peacockTV #GoodWatch

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NBC Peacock offered their original series, Brave New World, free of charge last weekend. I liked it a lot. The episodes are between 40-50 minutes long, and there are nine of them. From the Peacock website:

In a utopia whose perfection hinges upon control of monogamy and privacy, members of the collective begin to question the rules, putting their regimented society on a collision course with forbidden love and revolution.

In a sense, it was a horror movie for me, but I don’t expect everyone to feel that way. This is probably best described as science-fiction, though it’s also referred to as Utopian or Dystopian. I think of it as trying to achieve the same sort of vibe as Westworld. It’s a different story, and they carve their own path, so I’m not accusing them of doing anything wrong. Among the show’s stars are three actors with whom I’m familiar: Alden Ehrenreich, Hannah John-Kamen, and Demi Moore.

There’s a scene near the end of episode 4 that really hits me. I’m not sure if this is the intention, but it basically says (to me) that you don’t need soma (their mood-improving drug) because there’s music in the world. I doubt that was the precise intent, especially in light of a scene in episode 5, but that’s at least close (or part of) what they’re trying to say.

Is it good? Yes. I liked it a lot and will watch subsequent seasons. However, there’s too much good stuff on Peacock, as well as the other streaming services for which I’m already paying, for me to add another bill. I’ll probably join for a month and spend a weekend watching season 2 and a couple of other shows.

Unfortunately, if you want to watch it now, you’ll have to subscribe to Peacock’s pay service. As always, YMMV.

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Neat Watch: High Score @netflix #VideoGame #GoodWatch

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Netflix has a new limited series called High Score. It’s the story of video games, and it’s fascinating. It’s 6, 40-minute (or so) episodes, and it gives you a great sense of how much video games have evolved. For example, I played the stand-up games in the arcade. Almost 20 years later, I was working on the patents that made Final Fantasy possible. Only 2-1/2 episodes in, and they’ve already covered all that ground. I constantly asked, “Where do they have to go from here?” Every episode, they showed an innovation that changed everything. As a result, you see just how far along video game technology and culture have come in about 40 years.

Even for someone who doesn’t play video games anymore, this was a neat show. As always, YMMV.

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Heavy Watch: Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak @netflix #science #virus #flu #COVID-19 #pandemic #PickleRick #GoodWatch #QuarantineLife

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I do not want to discuss politics on this blog (or the GSLLC twitter stream), so I always do my best to avoid it. I will fail miserably tonight.

Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak is streaming on Netflix, and it’s a good look at the work that the relevant health workers and scientists do to keep the next, big, contagious disease at bay. This involves both the natural and political forces that work against vaccines and other forms of treatment. It’s a limited series of six episodes, each of which is less than an hour.

Much of the episodes discusses influenza (i.e., “the flu”). During the debates over SARS-COV-2 and COVID-19, I hear many people reference the flu, asking, “How is this any different than the flu? Why don’t we make a big deal out of the flu?” Forgetting the medical differences between those viruses, the key takeaway from the discussions on the flu is that we really should be making a bigger deal out of the flu, if for no other reason that it will help us develop better strategies against even more serious diseases. However, the flu is certainly worth wiping from the face of the planet. It’s bad enough on its own.

I’m a science guy, but for what it’s worth, I thought this was an important show. As always, YMMV.

Pickle Rick!
Pickle Rick! (Seriously, if you don’t like masks, make them fun.)

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Good Watch: Fear City: New York vs the Mafia @CurtisSliwa @netflix #GoodWatch #QuarantineLife

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Fear City: New York vs the Mafia is a 3-episode, limited-run series on Netflix. Each episode approaches one hour, so it’s a relatively quick watch. There’s nothing deceptive about its format; it’s a show about the mob in New York, but this show is from the perspective of those that fought back, including legal academia, law enforcement, and private citizens such as the Guardian Angels.

You either find these stories interesting or you don’t. FWIW, I find them interesting, and this show had my attention throughout. As always, YMMV.

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“Ummm, what?” Watch: Norsemen @netflix #GoodWatch #QuarantineLife

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Season 3 of Norsemen just hit Netflix. Here’s the good news. Though produced in Norway, it’s in English. Also, there are only six, 30-minute episodes, meaning it’s a waste of only three hours of your time. You wouldn’t know this if I weren’t a completionist that has to finish what he started.

The show’s primary problem is that it tries to strike a compromise between drama and comedy. Many shows pull that off, but Norsemen fails at both. First, it wasn’t funny. I suppose that the jokes are funny in Norway, but there’s very little that garnered even a snicker from me. I could tell they were trying, though, but that somehow made it worse; cringe-worthy even. Second, it fails dramatically because the characters aren’t meant to be likable, but the attempts at humor prevent you from truly hating the bad ones (i.e., you don’t get any satisfaction from a bad guy receiving his comeuppance). There’s also some behavior that’s just plain weird. It’s hard to articulate why, but even though these characters are ancient Vikings from the other side of the Atlantic, cultural differences don’t explain it. They just do some stupid things that are not part of the comedic side of the story. Maybe if the show were funny, the stupid things would have a purpose.

I would suggest that you watch one or two episodes. If the drama and comedy don’t work for you in those one or two episodes, I guarantee it wouldn’t be any different throughout the show. The show doesn’t evolve in the slightest.

As always, YMMV.

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