Adama from Scyfy’s Battlestar Galactica says, “There’s a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.” As John Edwin Mason writes, “God bless the screenwriter who wrote these lines.” Hat tip to Paul Hsieh.
I happened to learn of a new ABC show, Defying Gravity, over at Hulu. My wife and I watched, and mostly enjoyed, the first episode. The premise is that a group of astronauts is headed on a trip around the solar system.
But why can’t somebody just do good, hard, exciting sci-fi? Defying Gravity is seriously marred by some mysterious force (alien?) on the ship that is driving events. Way to ruin a perfectly great premise.
Fortunately, the BBC show that inspired the dumbed-down, soaped-out American version, Voyage to the Planets and Beyond (originally Space Odyssey: Voyage To The Planets) suffers no such silliness. We Netflixed the two-hour show and really enjoyed it.
The only thing I didn’t like about the BBC show (aside from its asinine PC environmentalist segment) is that it portrays a future global (meaning political) effort to explore the solar system, rather than a truly useful future of free-market space exploration. Typical of a political program, the voyage is a rushed, astronomically expensive venture with little payback for the investment. It would be absolute lunacy to send five astronauts on a three-year trip to Pluto, for example. What they should have done is spend the entire time on Mars, as Bob Zubrin suggests.
Still, part of the point of the show is simply to show the solar system, using top computer imaging based on the latest discoveries. In this goal, the show is a spectacular success. Wow, wow, and more wow. Don’t miss the documentary about robotic exploration of space.
Jennifer and I are watching Charmed on Netflix (as the DVDs cost quite a lot to purchase). Sure, some of the episodes are silly, some of the acting is poor, and sometimes the focus seems to be on hiring pretty faces. In case you’ve missed it, Charmed is about three sisters with magical powers.
Sometimes, though, the writing is superb. And I really like the central characters. Tonight we watched “Awakened” from the second season. It and “Morality Bites” are the two best episodes of the show so far, as far as I’m concerned. Both have the same theme: integrity. Doing the wrong thing can have unforeseen and disastrous consequences.
In “Awakened,” Piper (one of the sisters) brings unsafe fruit into her club, and she contracts a dangerous illness from an insect in the box. Then, the sisters try to save her by misusing magic, and that creates many more problems.
Unfortunately, the moral rules by which they use their powers are arbitrary and ambiguous. The idea is that they cannot use their power “for personal gain.” But that’s clearly not an enforced rule; all the time they use their powers to save themselves from nefarious creatures. Even if we add the exception of fighting magical villains, the characters still use their powers for personal gain all the time. For example, Piper regularly freezes people merely to chat privately with her sisters or to resolve some awkward situation. In the previous episode, another sister uses her powers to help care for a baby, for her own convenience.
So the sensible rule seems to be something more like, “Don’t try to control innocent people for unearned gain.”
The ridiculousness of the magical rules becomes obvious near the end of “Awakened.” Somehow it’s bad for two of the sisters to save the third from a non-magical malady by the use of magic, even though this is not for “personal gain,” yet it’s noble for another magical being to save Piper through magic (even though he’s punished for it by his order).
However, if you abstract away from the silly magical rules to the universal theme of integrity, it’s a good story. And the theme is actually carried off much better when a third sister quits her job in protest of her boss selling a painting she knows is not authentic. The show avoids the same flaw often enough to remain interesting.
We just watched the first episode of The Goode Family at ABC.com. It is about an environmentally-conscious, sensitive vegan family (think Boulder). The parents adopted a child from Africa to fight racism and accidentally got a white kid from South Africa. The dog is vegan, too — and, coincidentally, many of the neighborhood animals have gone missing.
[September 14, 2014 Update: The video in question is no longer available.]
This is biting social criticism from Mike Judge (of King of the Hill and Beavis and Butt-head fame). And, like all of Judge’s work, it has something of a soft heart, despite its sometimes-painful satire.
This is not “ha, ha funny” television. It’s so satirically critical of environmentalism that I’m surprised a major network picked it up. Good for ABC. I’m not sure it can last with its hard edge (especially among an American audience, which loves the dumbed down, Americanized version of The Office). Still, very interesting television.
I’m thrilled for Nathan Fillion (a.k.a. “Cap’n Tight Pants.” Not that I noticed, or anything, but I hear tell). Castle, the hip “Murder He Wrote” for ABC, has been picked up for a second season (via Wikipedia).
Jennifer and I just finished watching the final (tenth) episode of the first (replacement) season. The last episode illustrates why I like Fillion. He’s funny, yes. But he also has that hard, tense edge when he needs it. I also quite like Stana Katic, who portrays the cop with whom Fillion’s Rick Castle partners to solve crimes.
I like the show because Katic’s character is driven to find justice, yet the crimes often are shown to be what real crimes are: messy. Sometimes the perpetrators are a little sympathetic, and sometimes the victims weren’t so nice.
Okay, so now that Fillion is a big damn movie star (though he already had a fantastic TV show and two outstanding feature films to his credit, plus some other fun work), now that Summer Glau is a freakin’ terminator, now that Alan Tudyk is back working with Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse, now that Whedon is obviously in his prime, it seems high time to get the crew together and finish making the Serenity movies.
I’ll review a few rules here for making the last two movies a success.
1. Film them both at once to save costs.
2. Don’t title them “Serenity,” which sounds like retired people fishing in a pond or something. Call it “Mal’s War” or something bad-ass. (“Serenity” can be in the subtitle.)
3. Run real ads, not those strange “cult following” ads that accompanied the first movie.
4. This is optional, but I like it. Whedon killed off two characters in the first film. Okay, I get it. But you can bring back these characters, say by having Tudyk appear in Zoe’s dreams (say, to tell her she’s pregnant), and having Book appear in a video recording addressed to Mal. Or something like that.
I sincerely believe that the next two Serenity films would make money. (Hell, I think you could re-release the first film and make more money off that.) I think there were some problems with the first film in terms of packaging and marketing that held back its sales, but that could be fixed for the next two films. Yes, scheduling conflicts and all that. But this is great art. And great art deserves commitment and funding. I believe the money will follow.
Give us Serenity parts II and III.
Last time I had access to cable TV, I watched several episodes of the show “How It’s Made.” It’s a spectacular show that reveals how various products are mass produced.
What has mass production done for us? In short, a lot fewer people can make a lot more life-advancing stuff. That allows more people to enjoy the products. Practically all of the clothes we wear, most of the food we eat, and just about every product in our homes was mass produced (or significantly assisted by mass production) using advanced technical processes.
Many of today’s labor-intensive jobs are made possible by mass production, which frees up labor for other jobs. When the country first started, most people worked in agriculture. Now a tiny minority do. Today, businesses exist to wash your dog or provide it with therapy. “In 2003, more than 15 million people practiced Yoga, according to Yoga Journal magazine,” writes one practitioner. Several massage clinics have recently opened up near my house, and chiropractors are everywhere. These are just a few examples.
Yet who pauses to recognize the profound improvements to their lives made possible by science, technology, and a market free enough to develop the wonders of mass production?