Mixed media, Sunday 9 October 2016

Oof, why do I let these things pile up on me.

TV shows are by far the biggest source of media consumption for me right now.

  • Before we left for California, I still had a few episodes left to go in the third season of Person of Interest. I finished season 3 on the plane, and then ploughed straight through the last two seasons as well. There are some excellent episodes in there, and I’m happy that they were able to draw the show to a conclusion. I’m impressed by how they managed to stick to the show’s original premise all the way to the end. Even in the midst of a battle between superintelligences where humans are no more than pawns, when the heroes’ world is falling apart around them, the show keeps confronting them with number-of-the-week plots, and they still make time to help those in need.
  • Season 3 of Agents of SHIELD had a lot going for it. I had been under the impression that Agent Fitz was going to be written out of the series, but I’m glad he’s still part of it. Sad that Bobbi and Hunter are out instead. Lots of good character development on this show.
  • I watched season 1 of Dark Matter while we were in California in August. (It’s not on Netflix in NL yet.) Discount Firefly, following the crew of a starship who all wake up out of statis with their memories wiped. It’s kinda fun, but it takes the show a while to discover that the character they had set up as the lead (“One”, played by Marc Bendavid) is actually the least interesting one to tell stories about. Also: they have a sexbot episode. In 2016. It would have been embarrassing even in the nineties.

  • I usually describe Lev Grossman’s The Magicians as Narnia crossed with Harry Potter, but at university, and all the characters are assholes. I loved it, and was excited to see the TV show. It doesn’t disappoint! It does take a lot of liberties with the story, introducing new characters and removing others, but it maintains the central premise, and most importantly the feel of the book(s). (The first season of the show incorporates Julia’s story from the second book, The Magician King. Julia and Penny both benefit from getting a bigger spotlight.) The first season also has a very different ending than the book. Watching the show made me go and re-read the book, and I was impressed at how much the showrunners had made it their own. If you’ve read/watched one, you will still find a lot of surprises in the other.
  • Mr. Robot, season 1: Dark, claustrophobic, disorienting. Rami Malek as Eliot is quite brilliant.
  • Chef’s Table, seasons 1 & 2: I love how this series focuses on the chef’s story rather than necessarily on their food. Sure, the food is important, but it’s really all about what drives them, and how they got to the point they’re at. A consistent theme is just how crushing the life of a chef, or really anyone in the hospitality industry can be. The hours they have to put in are ridiculous, for a tiny chance of the kind of recognition only a handful of top chefs enjoy. I also found it interesting to watch the management styles of the various chefs — how they treat their staff in the kitchen. Some are brusque; some see them as co-creators of amazing things (Grant Achatz); some take their responsibilities as teachers very seriously (Magnus Nilsson). The show briefly rekindled my love of fine dining, but then I remembered that I’d have to dress up to visit these places, and my wardrobe currently consists entirely of concert T-shirts and corporate merch.
  • Stranger Things, season 1. This made me curiously meta-nostalgic for a kind of eighties I never experienced, but saw portrayed in exported films and TV shows that this one echoes. It’s like being melancholy for the 1950’s vision of the future with jetpacks and flying cars. ‘Twas never thus. Taken on its own, the show is great. Predictable, but very satisfying.
  • Archer, season 7: inappropriate fun, as ever.

  • Luke Cage, season 1: mostly excellent, though I was disappointed by how the final episodes seemed to revert to a very comic-booky hero vs villian storyline, when the rest of the show had set up the characters to inhabit a much more down-to-earth and nuanced world. That’s what I enjoy most about Netflix’s Marvel shows, how they treat comic book characters in a realistic (well, ish) setting. Jessica Jones and Luke Cage don’t wear costumes, and are the better for it. The music of the show is fantastic. I find myself listening to a lot of TV and movie scores while I’m working these days, and the Luke Cage score has a lovely seventies soul vibe to it.
  • Agent Carter, season 1: fun, but flat. The setting is post-war New York, but the show felt like it was also trying to mimic the over-acted mannerisms of media from that era. The characters are drawn in bold strokes and vivid colours that make them feel like stereotypes rather than rounded characters. Some of this is deliberate, so that the stories can then play against those stereotypes, and that’s one of the major themese of the show: the awfulness of Peggy Carter having to prove herself all over again in the face of institutional sexism and prejudice. Sometimes it works, sometimes it feels artificial.


  • Suicide Squad: forgettable. Too many characters, not enough interplay. Jared Leto’s Joker is overwrought and awful. Fortunately, his part was cut back to almost nothing.
  • Jason Bourne: really forgettable. I saw this with Fiona at the Grand Lake in Oakland in August…or did I?
  • Keanu: silly, but I liked it. For a comedy about mistaken identities, it has surprisingly few cringe-inducing moments, and goes for absurd laughs instead.
  • Spotlight: fantastically acted and sensitive newsroom drama about a terrible scandal. Just like with Chef’s Table I had an eye on the behaviour of the various management-level characters, and was observing how the editors and team leaders worked to make big things happen.
  • Maggie’s Plan: subtle comedy about people in love and trying to deal with the consequences of getting what they want. (I don’t think I would call it a “romantic comedy”, though. Romance plays a part, but it’s not the focus. Nor is the comedy, really. The humour is sly and wry, rather than laugh-out-loud funny.)
  • The Constant Gardener: I normally like subtle spy thrillers like this one, but I just found it dull. Maybe I watched it in the wrong frame of mind: in a cramped airline seat on the red-eye back from New York after an exhausting week. Maybe don’t trust my judgement on this one.
  • Eye In The Sky: intense drama about a single drone mission over Nairobi, and the life-or-death decisions the military officers and commanders have to make in the course of it, with only limited information. Given the limited number of settings, this almost felt like a theatre play. It’s a good film, but it left me with a creeping revulsion to the modern military technology. Drone strikes may be more precise tools than bombs, but is the ability to kill more precisely and effectively really a step forward for humanity?


  • Geoff Manaugh – A Burglar’s Guide to the City: Geoff Manaugh’s 2010 article Nakatomi Space is about movie characters (taking Die Hard as a specific example) and real-life military operations subverting architecture to achieve their objectives. In it, he says, “What I find so interesting about Die Hard—in addition to unironically enjoying the film—is that it cinematically depicts what it means to bend space to your own particular navigational needs.” This book goes deep on those same ideas. It doesn’t feel like there’s a concrete point to the book, but it’s a neat delve.
  • Chuck Wendig – Zeroes: I came back from California convinced that I had read two books, but it took me days to remember what the second one was. This was it. It’s not bad, and as a techno-thriller it moves at a nice pace. I just didn’t love it.


  • Injection vol 2 is a moody follow-up to the first volume, with a neat detective story at its heart, and truly beautiful colouring.
  • The Vision vol 1, “Little Worse Than A Man”: Ooh, dark dark dark. The Vision trying to figure out what it means to be human by literally making a family for himself. Themes of loneliness, isolation, and strangeness pervade the book. Very good.
  • Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat! vol 1 “Hooked on a Feline”: I loved this. I didn’t know anything about Patsy Walker before reading Charles Soule and Javier Pulido’s run of She-Hulk. This book gives her a spin off that follows her after those adventures, as she tries to get herself set up as an independent hero in New York. In terms of style, it’s a cross between Soule and Pulido’s She-Hulk and North and Henderson’s Squirrel Girl. It’s adorable.
  • Ms Marvel vol 5 “Super Famous”: keeps on being good and worth buying.
  • Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur vol 1 “BFF”: This didn’t really work for me. The prehistoric Killer-Folk just didn’t register as a viable threat, even taking comic book logic into account; and I found Lunella’s constant interior monologue grating. Part of the point of the story is that she doesn’t have anyone she can talk to about her life and problems, but I would have enjoyed it more if she’d had a sidekick. (Devil Dinosaur doesn’t count — yet — unless she emerges from her Terrigen cocoon with the ability to talk to him (her?) directly.)


  • Fiona loves Marianas Trench, and spotted that they were playing in Amsterdam (Tolhuistuin) in October. Of course we got tickets. I started listening to them last month, and OMG! They’re fantastic. I’m super excited about the gig coming up on Tuesday. Power pop to the max!
  • I still haven’t watched season 3 of RWBY, but I’ve listened to the soundtrack now. It has some strong tracks, but not nearly as many as on the soundtracks for the first two seasons.
  • I pitched in for the kickstarter for De La Soul’s new album, And The Anonymous Nobody, and it’s finally here. It’s okay, but maybe I haven’t given it enough opportunity to grow on me yet. It’s pretty downbeat, and I’ve been mostly in the mood for more shiny and upbeat stuff recently. (See: Marianas Trench above.) (Okay, so maybe Astoria’s lyrics are a bit dark, but the soaring power pop hooks cut right through them.)