The Expanse: Season 1 (Mini-Review)

A “Spaceship Show” for the Grimdark set

So, The Expanse is a “Syfy” TV show that has been billed as “Game of Thrones in Space” (it isn’t really, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have similarities.  The story is supposed to be a more mature, “realistic” look at Science Fiction.  The show is based on a series novels by James S. A. Corey, which according to a quick check on GoodReads, is up to Book 8 in the “mainline” series, although based on GR, it looks like the author has several “gap” novels that fill in various parts of the story and that exist “between” the time-period of the main story.

I’ve not read the novels, but the show is fairly standard.  It weaves three main stories together: a sci-fi noir detective story about a cop trying to find a missing young woman, a political thriller between a potential war between Earth, Mars and “Belters” (those who live & work in the Asteroid Belt), and a “spaceship show” about the survivors of The Canterbury (aka The Cant) who later become the crew of a new ship: The Rocinante (The Roci).  Each of these tales gets woven with the others, although it doesn’t happen until the later episodes (season 1 is 10 episodes long).

Too Dark, Literally & Figuratively.

Is the show any good.  Not really, not unless you like poorly explained character motivations, trite dialogue that is supposed to be edgy, and character deaths just for the sake of “shock” value (the whole “no one is safe–anyone can die at any time” motif).  The problem is that is a fairly conventional TV show masquerading as edgy.  While a few characters do die, it is nothing like what I’ve heard happens on shows like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, and the few deaths that occur, like most in the genre of “Grimdark,” seem mean-spirited and in poor taste.

Also, in order to go for that grimy, noir vibe, they made the filter really dark.  No, I mean really dark–the color pallet is so desaturated that, after 2-3 episodes, you’ll be reaching for your brightness controls to turn them up just to see the action.  It’s a stylistic choice, sure, but a poor one–they do it to emphasize the deficit that Belters and Mars citizens feel that they have to Earth with its open skies and open water, but it just makes the show seem really bland to me–Bladerunner (the original) did the whole “dystopian” vibe better and with more vibrancy and that was 30-40 years ago.

Oh, and as was suggested by an online review on Amazon Prime where I watched it, be sure to turn on Captions.  Not only is some of the dialogue hard to hear/understand, but the “Belters” speak (sometimes) in their own made-up dialect.  Sometimes this dialect sounds like creole and can be understood and sometimes it is completely alien words that are more like a foreign language.  Good idea in theory, but again, in practice, a poor choice.

Good actors, Poor Story

About the only things that I liked in this first season was the “spaceship scenes” and the female characters.  Anytime anyone was in a spaceship, the show was at least watchable.  Somehow, the producers, directors, and writers seem to “get” the whole spaceship, crew interactions, and space drama of the show (except for the intro “sex” scene not 5 mins into the first episode which turned me off initially–again their attempt to be “edgy,” but it just made it feel sophomoric–especially since this follows the noir section which itself seems like a pastiche of other, better dystopias).  All the other times, the show seems forced, pretentious, and decidedly not fun to watch.

really liked the female characters, however, on the show.  For some reason, these seemed like the only real characters on the show.  All of them, from the political diplomat on Earth, to the “Captain” of The Rocinante, to the “former” girlfriend/lover/partner to the noir detective, even down to the “mother” of one of the main characters (who is only in one episode for a few minutes) feel fully realized where the men seem like caricatures is many instances (for the most part–of course, there are exceptions).

Overall Score: C (73-77)

The only reason I didn’t score it lower was because I really like the female characters in the story and the acting overall by the cast.  Had I been grading just the actual material (writing, dialogue, style, plot, etc.), then it would have earned a D (63-67).

Look, I don’t like “Grimdark.”  So any story that features grimdark elements has an uphill battle for me to enjoy it, no matter its success in the mainstream.  It just isn’t what I like–not to read, not to watch, not to consume in any medium.  Will I watch Season 2 which is available on Prime right now?  Yes, probably.  Will I watch it immediately?  No, I’m good for now.  I might pick it back up later this summer, but I think I’ll move on to another “spaceship show” if I can find one.   Will I read the books?  Most assuredly not.  Like Game of Thrones, this one is for a different audience than me–and that’s okay.

As a writer myself, however, I just wished it worked the other way around.  Fair’s fair, after all.

 

Sidney




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Mini-Review: Netflix’s Lost in Space

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Image of Netflix’s Lost in Space, Robot and Will Robinson, Penny and Judy Robinson.  Image Source: Film Daily

A Great Start

So, last week I finished watching Season 1 of Netflix’s Lost in Space, a 10 Episode Science Fiction show reboot of the original 1960s show and the 1990s movie version and I have to say that I really enjoyed it!  I watched it a 2nd time over this weekend in lieu of Avengers Infinity War in order to help take my mind off the car trouble that I had over the weekend and it held up over a 2nd viewing.  It is classic science fiction, but unlike most modern shows (this includes pretty all genres), the science is fairly crucial to the story.  While not overblown or overbearing, the fact that the new show portrays the Robinsons as mostly a family of scientists and doctors (the father is now a marine vet. who is better at combat than at pure science–but even he has his moments), they actually use the skills and knowledge that they are supposed to have in much the same way the detectives and lawyers on Law and Order use their skills find the perpetrator of the crime and use the law to get a conviction.  This makes the show feel grounded and more realistic than other recent sci-fi shows that I like and watch.

Danger, Will Robinson

I won’t go into spoilers, but a certain robot with a certain “catch-phrase” is back and the origin is pretty unique.  The robot is central to the plot, however, so if you’re not a robot person, then you’re not going to like the show because the robot is as much the main character in the show as is Will Robinson.  Sometimes the robot is CGI and sometimes the robot is some sort of “suit.”  While the robot didn’t bother me particularly, I know from at least one YouTube review of the show that one reviewer said that when it was the “suit,” it brought her out of the experience.  I didn’t really notice it myself, so I’ll just say Your Mileage May Vary depending on your tolerance for special effects.  I know it makes a difference as, while I wasn’t born yet when the original show came on, I could never go back and watch reruns of the original show because of the dated nature of the special effects after having seen the special effects in the Star Wars and Star Trek movies.  I really liked all of the characters in the Robinson family–each was made wildly different from one another and it was easy to differentiate between them, but their skill set and knowledge-base complemented each other.  Well done to the writers on clear and effective characterization.

Dr. Smith, I Presume

So, the chief antagonist is Dr. Smith, played by Parker Posey.  Now her character is polarizing: one reviewer loves the character while another reviewer called her character a major problem for the show.  I personally liked the way she played the character.  The way the character was written and the way the story unfolded, I felt like I understood her every motivation.  Again, no spoilers, but they update Dr. Smith’s character into a “modern day” conception of a bad guy.  If there’s a problem with the character, this is where I think it lies.  I’ve said time and again that being the anti-hero doesn’t really work because at some point, the anti-hero/villain is only out for number one and will work against you when their purposes no longer align with yours, and Dr. Smith is the epitome of this philosophy.  What I think is happening is that the dislike/distaste that people feel toward the Dr. Smith character is actually their distaste for the notion that someone would be selfish enough to work against the group for their own ends so ruthlessly (which is what a villain actually does) and their transposing that distaste onto the character/actor.  Again, Your Mileage May Vary, but the “flashbacks” that show Dr. Smith’s earlier actions before crashing with the Robinson’s sufficiently explained why she acted the way she did and I always felt that I understood her motivations even if I didn’t agree with them.

Overall Score: A- (91-92)

Look, I’m not going to lie, I really liked this story.  I like that there’s a lot of science and science-based concepts in it while also retaining quite a few “science fiction” tropes that really make it interesting.  I really like that it isn’t “grim dark” and is more of a family show that kids and adults can enjoy.  I like the characters and felt that all of them (even Dr. Smith) had interesting and sufficient characterization for me to understand why they were doing what they were doing.  The only reason that I didn’t give it a solid was the fact that it did slow down in a couple of places where they were establishing the robot as a “friend” to Will and Will’s decision not to tell his father (originally) about the robot.  Not telling his father was something that seemed like the writers needing it for the plot and not organically from Will’s character because it sets up a situation later on that could have been avoided had Will told his father about it sooner.  Other than that, however, I found the story to be a fun, and interesting ride.  I’m looking forward to Season 2 (fingers crossed as I haven’t heard if it will get another season yet).

Sidney




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The Olympics Opening Ceremony

So, this will be a shorter blog post–I’ve managed to get behind in my school work (what’s new?) and I need to use today to catch up–but I wanted to give a shout-out to the Olympics Opening Ceremony which I will hopefully watch tonight.  I really love the Olympics, but I never really get to see a whole lot of it.  I probably (still) won’t get to see many of the sporting events, but I almost always try to see the Opening Ceremonies, but we’ll see if that happens today.

I cut the cord a while back and the major disadvantage is trying to find live sporting events that are not on regular TV.  In this case, NBC in America is showing it on regular TV, but I won’t be where I can get to the TV easily and it is always a crapshoot as to whether NBC (& to be fair, other providers such as CBS and ABC) will allow people to watch content without a subscription/login.  NBC also streamed the Super Bowl without needing a login/subscription, so I’m hopeful they will stream this as well, but I haven’t actually investigated it yet.

Here’s hoping and I’ll keep my fingers crossed!  If not, I’ll just have to miss this Opening Ceremony and hope that I will be able to see the Opening Ceremony for the Summer 2020 Olympics.

Sidney
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The Bonds are Back (in Town)

So, this won’t be a long blog post today as I have a lot of work to do over the next few days–reading (Sister Carrie), grading (Rhetorical Analysis papers), classes (working on an informal paper proposal for 19th Century Lit. class) and writing (Character Sketch Plot Outline for Project Skye–yes, I’ve dusted off that old chestnut of a project and am going to try to revive it just in time for NaNoWriMo).

However, I felt compelled to note that Amazon (I believe) is getting all the Bonds back together.  They are streaming quite a few James Bond movies in the month of November.  After writing the post where I listed my favorite James Bond actors, I actually had a fairly large regret of not being able to say that I’ve seen all the James Bond movies and that I had to qualify them by saying all EXCEPT for Die Another Day.  Well, this movie is one of the ones that is coming back so I am going to make a special effort to see this movie.   They have quite a few of the Bond movies from all 4 of the recent Bonds if I remember correctly looking at the list, but it isn’t a complete back catalog.

Still, for someone who is a completionist such as myself, I need to make myself watch Die Another Day–even if it is only for half an hour a day so that I can have a complete grasp of the character through all his incarnations and hey, who knows, I might be able to use Bond in some way in an academic setting or paper in some way And I just know that “Shaken, not stirred,” would make a GREAT paper title! 😉

 

Star Trek Backwards

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Star Trek Original Series Crew, Image Source: Apopka Voice

I have found that I’ve become enamored with Star Trek series again–it is probably because I can binge watch it now, rather than having to wait a week for episodes to come out.

I’ve finished watching Star Trek Enterprise, Star Trek Discovery, and I just started on Star Trek Deep Space Nine (more on that one on another post).  My plan is to finish DS9, watch Star Trek The Next Generation, and then finally the original Star Trek series.

I’m not sure what I’ll do after that (probably) buy and finish the rest of Babylon 5 as I seem to be in a sci-fi mode right now.  Anyway, I hadn’t posted in a while so I thought I should at least update everyone on what I’m watching.  Hopefully, posts should go back to a (mostly) regular schedule.  Fingers crossed!

Till next time!

No Spoilers, Please!

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Image Source: Larkable.com

Wow. Just wow (but not in a good way).  So the first part of the two part storyline for the Season Finale of Doctor Who released over the weekend and it contained three MASSIVE revelations (i.e., spoilers to the story).  Do you know that I was “spoiled” on 2 of the 3 spoilers by people on YouTube?

Now, you know me, when I “review” something on this blog, I go out of my way to give “impressions” rather than actual “specifics” in order not to ruin the experience for others.  I HATE spoilers, unless I go looking for them.  What makes the spoilers for Doctor Who so  onerous is that I didn’t want to be spoiled.  I avoided looking at the “Coming Next Week” portion of the show (this is the first season I’ve actively avoided it), just so that I would have no clue as to what was coming next.

I’m trying to figure out the reasons (rhetorical) why someone would choose to be a part of the “spoiler” culture.  I understand that there are a group of people who get enjoyment for ruining things for others–but that’s not the sense that I get from the YouTuber who put the “spoiler” in the “thumbnail” for her video.  I had no choice to get spoiled because she put a spoiler not inside her video, but on the outside wrapping (as it were) to get people to click on it and watch her video (no, I do not subscribe to this person’s videos, but YouTube so “helpfully” put her video in my “recommended” feed, not recognizing that her thumbnail gave me way more of the story than I wanted).

I don’t think there was any malice in her video, but a kind of unthinking blindness to the fact that while you may know and want to discuss the story (before it is released), others just want to watch the story and then discuss afterwards.  I don’t want to paint her as just an unthinking fan (she did put the spoiler) in the thumbnail image for the video, so there was some forethought in the matter, but I think it was more of “isn’t this so cool,” rather than “I know more than you,” type of thought.

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Image Source: Radio Times

Either way, however, knowing ahead of time really blunted my enjoyment of this week’s episode (made worse that it wasn’t me who went looking for it).  I knew who the villain was and was able to make the deduction of what was going on about twenty seconds too early and figured out two of the three big reveals too early.  Not sure how I’m going to dodge the season finale’s spoilers, but starting next Thursday I may have to go on media blackout.  It’s pretty bad that it has come to this just to avoid knowing what’s going to happen in a story.

People always talk about the advantages of social media, but they never mention the disadvantages.  I remember when social media (or The Web 2.0 as pundits called back in 2010) was supposed to revolutionize the web.  Well, if this is the revolution, then I want to revolt against the revolution.

A Few Thoughts on Time Travel (in general) and the Star Trek Universe (in specific)

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Image Source: Topgentlemen.com

Time Travel is a favorite concept of Sci-Fi writers as it allows us to explore the possibilities of “What If . . .” and to mull about changes in the time line that did not occur vs. the reality that we see around us.  Popular culture is replete with television shows, movies, and other media that delve into the notion of what might happen if you could go back and change time (in effect, mulligan a decision or choice) to see what effect it would have on the timeline (if any).

I guess the reason that I’m thinking about this is two-fold: 1) Star Trek Enterprise has quite a few instances of Time Travel (in fact, most of the show’s 3rd Season is built around the idea) and 2) as a PhD student, I’m supposed to pick two areas of concentration.  As Creative Writing was off the table, I chose Composition and Rhetoric and Popular Culture.  There was a Call For Papers (CFPs) on the topic of Time Travel and how it affects/manifests itself in popular culture.  I didn’t get a chance to write a paper for it during the last semester (too busy trying to stay afloat!), but now I’d like to write at least a rough draft of some of the things that I’ve noticed in recent Sci-Fi shows/movies/media that I’ve watched recently (Doctor Who, Star Trek Enterprise, Dark Matter, and Mass Effect Andromeda to name a few) about how time travel is used (what effects does it have on the characters’ lives), and what pop. culture currently thinks about it.

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Image Source: Cellcli.com

One thing that I’ve notice that popular culture seems to use time travel for is the idea of Erasure, or righting a wrong and then resetting the timeline (so as to start again–from scratch as it were).  Now, the movie Back to the Future used a “literal” erasure from the timeline itself–and that’s not what I’m talking about.  This erasure is more of a “mulligan,” a do-over, a way to say hey, no that’s not the outcome I desired, let’s start again and try for a better outcome.

I think writers like this technique because it allows them to go into some wildly divergent territory with characters, but it doesn’t mean that they have to commit to changes to the characters (as the characters can be “reset” back to their pre-time travel/time incursion selves or entities).  It means that writers (and actors and directors) can stretch themselves creatively without destroying the likability of the characters.  In other words, characters can act and grow in ways contrary to their original characterization and then be reset.  I think audiences don’t find the this element of time travel as appealing because many times it seems like a “cheat” (much like the “and it was all a dream” cliche’).  Audiences want to characters change and interact in new and novel ways to conflict, but they (we) are fickle . . . change too much and we might lose what we like about a character.

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Image Source: Den of Geek

Star Trek (in general) and Star Trek Enterprise (in specific) seems to be a perfect test-bed for the idea of erasure.  While many of the elements and changes to the characters have “stuck,” most have not and most of the characterizations that have not stuck, or been “erased” through time travel are more radical characterizations/plot lines.  While I won’t know for sure until I finish STE, I’ve noticed that, unlike Doctor Who, for instance where there are often “cusp” events that are fixed and where time is more malleable (“Timey-Whimey, Wibbly-Wobbly”), events in ST’s universe, specifically STE tends to be more recursive (circular, or fractal–like the beginning image above.)

While this is a deeper dive than I normally do in a blog post, I wanted to just get a few thoughts down on the nature of time travel (esp. recent developments in media) down on paper.  I’ve done another post on time travel, Where You End is Not Where You Begin: Time Travel in Movies, and I will probably combine these two posts before the summer is over and develop this idea into a longer academic paper over next school year.  I don’t think that I can use this as my dissertation (I think that has to be Rhetoric or Composition based), but it is an interesting paper idea–and more importantly, seems to be something that I can be VERY LONG-WINDED about! 🙂