Lately, I’ve found myself very attracted to stories about massive mobilization to prevent some existential threat (mostly sci-fi stories about sci-fi threats.) Organizations, especially governments, doing what needs to be done, surviving by the skin of their teeth, saving the world from crisis through collective, concerted action. (Gee I fucking wonder why that would be so appealing to me anyway its hot out here.) So yeah, I liked Chernobyl a lot.
Chernobyl is an HBO miniseries created by Craig Mazin and starring Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgård, and Emma Watson, about the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and the effort to contain the catastrophe. So it’s not really a story about stopping a catastrophe, but rather stopping a catastrophe from becoming a thousand times worse. Before watching this show, I had no idea how bad the Chernobyl incident was, much less how bad it threatened to become, but holy shit. Essentially, the show has built-in escalating stakes. First they have to just stop the fire, but once they’ve done that they’ve got to keep the meltdown from setting off a thermonuclear explosion, then they’ve got to keep it from reaching the groundwater that millions of Ukrainians drink from—there’s always another crisis around the corner, each problem causes its own problems, and so does each solution. An unending parade of “no, and” and “yes, but.”Read More »
Splendor and Misery by Clipping — So I’m late to the party on this, but better late than never, right? Splendor and Misery is a sci-fi concept album by experimental hip-hop group Clipping—already, what’s not to love? The album follows the lone survivor of a slave uprising aboard a spaceship, who commandeers the vessel and attempts to escape his pursuers.
What I love about this album is the way it blends ideas and styles. For a start, it’s fascinating to see how Clipping renders common sci-fi motifs musically, making them fresh and fascinating again. It’s not just an album that utilizes sci-fi jargon and aesthetics (though it does that as well), it’s an album that is clearly born from an understanding of the genre and its tradition. A great example of this is the track “All Black Everything,” which communicates the oppressive nothingness of space through it’s skeletal production and Daveed Diggs’s continuous, monotone refrain of “All black everything.” The album also blends different musical genres, mixing in negro-spiritual-inspired songs, blending past and future to create a gritty world that’s nevertheless full of emotion, and deeply human.
Sci-fi aside, the production on the album, by William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes, and Daveed Diggs’s rapping are just fantastic. The beats manage to suggest the environment, with beeps and clicks and staticky whines, while also effectively establishing different moods for each song. Diggs’s lyrics are great, punchy and complex, and his flow is phenomenal. Splendor and Misery really shows the range that this group has, from songs like “Air ‘Em Out,” a braggadocious gangster-rap-in-space type track, to “True Believer,” a song with a driving industrial beat, a spiritual-inspired chorus, and some wildly imagistic verses detailing a creation myth that offers some clues as to how these people have ended up enslaved.
The album is short, and has a lot to offer with each replay.
The Terror— This AMC series just wrapped up a few weeks ago and my god did it stick the landing. I love a good, one-season series, and The Terror does not disappoint (it may come back for a second season, though with a completely different story, American Horror Story-style.) The show, David Kajganich’s debut as a show-runner, is based off the Dan Simmons book of the same name, which tells a fictionalized account of the lost Arctic Expedition of Captain John Franklin. What little is known about the expedition’s fate after becoming trapped in the Arctic ice in 1846 is faithfully reproduced, and indeed everything that happens in the show could’ve plausibly happened in real life—except, that is, the strange, enormous bear (is it a bear?) which seems to dog the sailors wherever they go.
I’ve watched Netflix’s Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events in its entirety now, and there’s a lot to talk about. This post will be part review, part analysis, and part comparison between the books and the show. The first third of the post contains no spoilers, but the next two thirds do, for the books and the show, and I’ve put a disclaimer in at that point.
For reference, and so I don’t have to explain it later, this is the basic plot: Three children, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are orphaned when their parents die in a fire which destroys their home. The parents leave behind an enormous fortune, which cannot be accessed until the eldest Baudelaire comes of age. The children are moved from guardian to guardian, always pursued by the villainous Count Olaf, who schemes to steal their inheritance, and is ruthless in his pursuit of this goal. Violet Klaus and Sunny survive by their inventive thinking, extensive knowledge, and ability bite things (respectively.)
So, here we go:
If You Haven’t Read the Books …
If you’ve never read the books, I highly recommend the show. I don’t know if it’s better or worse to have read the books, but I’m confident that it stands by itself as a terrific work of art. There is nothing like it on TV, and for good reason.
Imagine if a showrunner spent seven years writing hundreds of pages of stories and characters and settings, and wrote all of them in the voice of the show’s narrator. Imagine they worked with a designer who drew hundreds of pieces of concept art detailing the looks of characters, props, and sets. Imagine if the showrunner also composed and performed thirteen songs to go along with different parts of the show (though not to be actually used in the show.) And imagine they had a decade after that time in which they continued thinking about the show, and expanded on the background of the narrator by writing a few hundred more pages about his childhood in this same world.
That, of course, would be absurd, but because of the way this all developed, it’s essentially what happened. And while this could be said of many shows and movies adapted from books, the difference here is that the original creator usually isn’t the one writing the screenplays. Daniel Handler, author of the book series, is also the screenwriter for every episode of the Netflix series (and although he’s not the showrunner, he is an EP.) The result is an uncompromising vision of a world and the characters who inhabit it. The music, set design, and writing are all of a cohesive style—one which is confidently gothic, bizarre, and witty. The show is highly engaging, full of wonderful(ly wry) commentary from the narrator, beautiful(ly ugly) sets, and charming(ly villainous) performances. At times I had doubts about the direction the show was going, the portrayal of a character, or the handling of a particular scene, but never, throughout watching the entire show, did I feel I could look away. I expect that kids will devour it.
If you have read the books, you will also probably love it, unless you love the books for some particular reason which the show has altered. In that case, I’d advise you to pretend that the series has nothing to do with the books, and enjoy it for what it is.Read More »
Jurymore– Another podcast from the great Justin Robert Young, though unlike my previous recommendation of Politics Politics Politics (which I’m recommending again right now because it is continually terrific and it’s now going up three times a week) this one is not a one man podcast. It’s also not ongoing—it ended awhile ago, at about 30 episodes long. It ended because Justin got married—that’s the premise of the podcast. Justin Robert Young and his then fiancée Ashley Paramore recorded a regular podcast for the better part of a year leading up to their wedding, and document the process of planning the ceremony.
Terrific. The two have great rapport, and most episodes focus on an interesting topic—often something to do with the wedding planning, sometimes just something to do with relationships. Their honesty and ability to speak (and sometimes argue) freely while streaming the podcast live is refreshing, and some of the greatest moments of the podcast are when they get into fights. Because the two really are a terrific couple, and their fights aren’t abusive nonsense, they’re genuine arguments. And the whole show has an energetic, comedic tone, because it’s JuRY after all.
Also, they had the wedding ceremony at DragonCon, so once you’ve finished the podcast you can watch it, like a finale.Read More »