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So… how about that Twin Peaks revival, huh? February 26, 2019

Posted by sjroby in TV.
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It’s about a year and a half since the Twin Peaks revival ended, and I’m still not sure what I think. I’ve watched most of it only once, as it aired, and I know some reactions will firm themselves up or dissipate with a couple more viewings of the whole season. But I think it’ll always boil down to this: it’s a terribly self-indulgent mess that was rarely less than compelling, and a show that lost the original series’ essence by spending so little time in the location the series is named after.

If there is anything the 2017 series makes clear, it’s this: David Lynch was much more interesting in following up Fire Walk With Me than much of anything in the second season of the original show. It’s also clear that this isn’t Blue Velvet Lynch, it’s barely even Mulholland Drive Lynch. This is all over the place Lynch. I know Mark Frost was involved, too, but his two tie-in books… well, they tied in a lot less than I expected.

There are things that don’t fit perfectly well together in the old series and FWWM, so it’s not too surprising that a filmmaker whose work has been becoming steadily more hard to follow wouldn’t be consistent or tie things up neatly. The books might have helped in that respect. They didn’t. But it now seems like we now less about Bob and Mike, the Black Lodge, and all the other supernatural elements of the show than we thought we did. Meanwhile, we also have new supernatural elements that don’t quite fit in or seem, frankly, goofy, like Freddie’s glove.

Then there’s the whole Dougie thing. Episode after episode of Dale Cooper not being Dale Cooper, though at least we had two not-Dale Coopers to watch.

There’s also just not enough Twin Peaks in Twin Peaks: The Return. The original series generated a wave of quirky series set in quirky towns, and while there was a lot more to the show than that, it gave the show a unique atmosphere to set its genre-mashing in.

There’s a lot to be frustrated about. And yet… I was glued to the screen, utterly fascinated by what was going on. There are some outstanding performances. It looks great. It does often progress in a reasonably linear manner, enough to generate suspense about what’s coming next. And there are moments of alien beauty in the other realms. The final episode raises way more questions than it answers, but the final scene, with Laura’s doppelganger Carrie hearing Sarah calling Laura (I heard it, but some people apparently missed it) and screaming was genuinely chilling.

I doubt we’ll get any more. If we do, I doubt it’ll give us any answers. Do we need it? Maybe not. But I’d watch it.

 

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Let’s talk about Star Trek February 25, 2019

Posted by sjroby in Star Trek, TV.
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There’s a new TV series. It’s like Star Trek: The Next Generation all over again, a brightly lit show of mostly standalone episodes about the crew of a very comfortable looking ship. The humans, aliens, and artificial life form work together on the nice big bridge, many of them hang out in the nice big lounge after hours, the captain’s got a kind of thing with one of his officers, the security officer is an alien, and hell, the doctor used to be on Deep Space Nine. The main character, of course, is the captain, a white guy. And many people with Star Trek connections work on the show, from writers to directors to guest stars.

And there’s another new TV series, one that doesn’t look a lot like Star Trek of any generation, one that started out pretty damn dark and got darker before the new season lightened up quite a bit, one that is heavily serialized, and has some new elements that seem hard to fit into canon as we thought we knew it. (No, I’m not talking about the third and fourth seasons of Enterprise, though it fits just as well.) The main character isn’t the captain or even a white guy. It doesn’t have too many people who worked on past incarnations of Star Trek, either.

Obviously I’m talking about The Orville and Star Trek: Discovery. I’ve seen a lot, and I mean a lot, of disgruntled Star Trek fans proclaiming that The Orville is the real new Star Trek and Discovery is an abomination. And you know what? They’re wrong.

Star Trek — the original — wasn’t like much of anything else at the time. Star Trek, the animated series, was different from the original in several ways — being an animated half hour show, for one, but it also introduced new regular characters and new technology (life support belts and an early version of the holodeck). Then in 1979 live action Trek returned, but everything looked and felt different — uniforms, the ship, relationships between characters, and holy cow, the Klingons. Then the very next movie changed the look again, with a more military feel and new uniforms, and a new character with some kind of history with Spock, and suddenly Kirk has a son?! And Spock dies?!

1987: a whole new ship, a whole new crew, a whole new look and feel, and some significant changes to what we knew about the Federation and Starfleet. Meanwhile in the movies, suddenly Spock has a half-brother. 1992: a TV show not even set on a ship, but on a starbase, where instead of seeing something new every week, we see a smaller number of things, but in much more detail, and supporting characters evolve and become as important as the regulars. Then Voyager takes us away from the Federation and all that’s familiar and plops us a long, long way from home. And Enterprise is a prequel series that doesn’t look like the original series at all, and suddenly the Vulcans are a lot different, and…

Do you get where I’m going with this?

Every time Star Trek comes back, it’s different. It tries something new. It changes its format. It changes its balance of continuity/arc elements and standalone stories. It brings in new people behind the scenes. Even if it doesn’t quite go as initially planned — Voyager and Enterprise had a tendency to do TNG retread stories too often — they started with the goal of going where no Star Trek series had gone before.

Which brings me to The Orville and Discovery. Discovery is unmistakably going where no Star Trek has gone before in many respects, despite frequent nods to canon, from using characters like Mudd, Pike, Spock, and Sarek to revisiting (previsiting?) the Mirror Universe. The Orville is a retread of TNG, from its look and feel to its supporting characters too obviously drawn from TNG characters to its plotlines to… well, at least the focus on dick jokes was new, if immature. But The Orville is bound and determined to go exactly where Star Trek has already been before. Seth MacFarlane knows and loves Star Trek, but instead of taking the next step into the final frontier, he’s stepping back. He’s making a show in 2019 that looks like 1989. Discovery, on the other hand, is moving forward, making Star Trek that looks and feels like 2019. The Orville is a lot of fun, don’t get me wrong, but it’s like watching TNG reruns with someone cracking jokes. Discovery, on the other hand, has me wanting to see what comes next. The characters matter a lot more to me, and so do the ongoing arc elements.

The real Star Trek is the one with Star Trek in the title. Not just because it’s in the title, but because it’s doing what Star Trek has always done.

(And how cool is it that it’s doing well enough that we know we’re getting several more new Star Trek series?)

Review: Life on Mars novels, part one June 30, 2017

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, TV.
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Life on Mars: Blood, Bullets & Blue Stratos

Why you may want to read this: there are four books that tell what happened to Sam Tyler after the end of the TV series.

Might as well start with the basics: Life on Mars was a British TV series about Sam Tyler, a modern day police officer who’s hit by a car and wakes up in 1973. There were two series of eight episodes each, followed by a sequel series, Ashes to Ashes, in which a police officer who studied the Tyler case is shot and wakes up in 1981, meeting some of the same people Tyler reported meeting. Then there’s the US TV remake, which lasted one episode longer than the UK version, in a single US season, which had the courage to resolve things in a very different fashion. But by then it barely mattered, due to miscasting and frequent changes of tone and direction.

A few years ago, a set of four Life on Mars tie-in novels were released almost surreptitiously. Even people who reviewed things like that in magazines managed to miss the news. Apparently they were originally ebook-only, no doubt part of the problem, and only later released in paperback in the UK. All four were written by Tom Graham, apparently the brother of the show’s co-creator. Whether the creators of the show had any input into or control over the books, I have no idea. (In other words: don’t ask me if these are canon.)

So far I’ve read the first two books. Reread, actually. I read those two books as soon as I knew they existed but for some reason didn’t finish the set at the time. Now, coming off a rewatch of Life on Mars, I decided to get back to them, rereading the first two books because I didn’t remember much about them at all.

Tom Graham sets out to follow up on the TV series. Sam’s made his irrevocable decision to stay in 1973. But Graham’s writing with the knowledge of how Ashes to Ashes ended, which made some big revelations that affect both series.

So… while the plots of the first two novels (Blood, Bullets & Blue Stratos and A Fistful of Knuckles) are pretty similar to regular episodes of the TV series, with Tyler involved in CID investigations in Manchester — with plenty of action, violence, and Gene Hunt dialogue — there are other developments that move the story forward. The test card girl who occasionally appeared to Sam has changed her appearance, becoming more overtly sinister, dressed in black and carrying black balloons. Sam’s seeing her when he’s wide awake, not just dreaming or half awake in his miserable flat. He’s also sleeping badly, having nightmares — and it turns out Annie Cartwright is having nightmares, too, similar to Sam’s. Speaking of Annie, the relationship between Sam and Annie continues its slow progress with significant conversations and occasional kisses but not much more so far.

Anyway, the test card girl tells Sam there’s a devil in the dark coming for him and Annie. He’s having nightmares and visions of something ominous, something that becomes more overtly active in the second book. It looks like it’s going to keep building in the next two books, leading to — well. that remains to be seen, but in Ashes to Ashes, Gene Hunt tells Alex Price that by 1981 Tyler’s dead, and there’s no mention of Annie. Another touch of Ashes to Ashes: there’s the occasional hint that there may be more to Nelson than meets the eye.

The books aren’t perfect. The cop story plots feel a bit familiar. The named CID regulars, Gene, Annie, Ray, and Chris, appear, but all those other guys — the older bearded guy, the Ray Davies lookalike, and the rest — may as well not exist. Sometimes the tension between Sam and the A Division lads feels more like the early first season than later in the show. Some of the objectionable 1973 stuff — the sexism and all that — doesn’t work quite as well without the charisma of the actors making up for it. But the second reading worked better for me than the first.

So… do I recommend them? I think I’m going to have to wait until I’ve read all four. The first two are standalone novels, for the most part, but they’re clearly building to something. I’m curious what that’ll turn out to be.

It is happening again… May 21, 2017

Posted by sjroby in Life in general, TV.
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Less than half an hour to go, and I have no coffee, no cherry pie, no donuts. But I’m otherwise prepared. I’ve watched most of Twin Peaks and I’ve read some books on Twin Peaks. I watched Mulholland Drive again in case the Silencio rumours are true. I’ve read Mark Frost’s Secret History. I’ve also read David Lynch’s comments about not having watched the original show again, and not having read Frost’s book, so I don’t know if doing that even matters.

I didn’t watch Twin Peaks when it originally aired. I had my first real job, my first real girlfriend, my best friend from years before and miles away had moved to town, I was going out several nights a week. I saw a few minutes of one episode and figured I was coming in too late to make sense of it so I might as well not bother. I bought Julee Cruise’s Floating Into the Night, though, having heard a song on the radio and loving it.

In 1995 the new cable channel Bravo started airing daily repeats, and that’s when I got into the show. (I’d broken up with the girlfriend and the best friend had been transferred out of town, so I had plenty of free time again.) Waiting through the weekend for the next episode on Monday was an unbearable hardship. Just as well I didn’t watch it the first time around, with the long waits. I bought Fire Walk With Me and the pilot movie with the European ending on VHS. I bought Blue Velvet on VHS and loved it, too — it’s not directly connected, but it feels like it could be. I tracked down a couple of the books. I watched the show again a few times, bought soundtracks, a few issues of Wrapped in Plastic magazine when I found them, bought more books, upgraded to DVD, etc.

And I never expected the show to come back.

I got into Star Trek when it was off the air, and it came back. Same with Doctor Who. But Twin Peaks isn’t the same kind of thing and bringing it back in a way fans would recognize and respect as the real thing seemed like too much of a long shot to even consider.

And now here it is. Thirteen minutes away.

I have no idea what to expect. FWWM was significantly different from the TV series; so is Frost’s Secret History. But they’re both back with a lot of the original cast so I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen.

Wish I had some cherry pie, though.