My Netflix Review: End of the F***ing World

Sometimes I get a show recommendation that goes wrong, and I should have guessed something from the recommendation when part of it includes, “the episodes are real short so you’ll finish quickly.”  Well true enough, so I decided to give it a try.  I’ll give you my overall summary of the show quickly: Interesting but not entertaining, until it’s not interesting.                                      

This show had a lot of potential I think, which may explain the totally out of proportion buzz for the show.  The British show revolves around teenagers James and Alyssa, two outcast loner types who find each other.  James is a psychopath who faced a major trauma in his childhood and acts out by burning his hand and killing small animals.  He self-diagnosis’s himself as a psychopath, and with that history, who’s to say no?  Alyssa is a rebel who hates being told what to do and just…well everything.

These two form a relationship and decide to run away from home, for totally different reasons. James wants to graduate from small animals to humans, specifically Alyssa.  Alyssa meanwhile regards James as her boyfriend, although an extremely passive one. This actually sounds like a pretty good premise but the rest of the review has spoilers as I breakdown what goes wrong.

James and Alyssa break into a house with an absent owner and live it up for a while until James discovers some pictures and video of the owner torturing women. Then of course the owner returns.  James hides and the owner spying Alyssa asleep in his bed, proceeds to get rapey.  This actually provides James his long awaited opportunity to kill someone, and to protect Alyssa, he stabs the homeowner.

Naturally, everything goes wrong from this point.  They try to clean up the crime scene while processing the trauma of the murder, which is framed as a defensive act to save Alyssa.  Suddenly the running away from home bit goes from being a lark to a life changing event.  And then what happens?  James deals with the fact that he’s a killer and we, and he, slowly realize that the kid really isn’t the psychopath he thought he was.  So if James isn’t a psychopath but he had a history of killing small animals and was plotting to kill Alyssa on multiple occasions, then he’s just evil.

For me, that sucked the interest out of the show. The kids go on the run being chased by two lesbian police detectives, a totally irrelevant plot point that goes nowhere and does nothing except to point to their current year bonafides.   I think we’re supposed to still sympathize with the kids because the killing was kind of in self-defense and the victim was a terrible person, but I don’t know how self-defense plays in the UK.  In Texas, James would probably get a medal from the local PD for taking someone out who “needs killing.”  But this isn’t Texas, so the police are hot on their trail.

Eventually, after much nonsense, the kids hide out with Alyssa’s estranged father, apparently the Brit version of a redneck.  So naturally he gives up the kids to the police for the reward money, leading to an extremely absurd and trite cliff hanger.

I don’t know why this show has garnered such positive buzz.  Is it the lesbian detectives, or is it because the kids are outsiders?  As if that’s never been done before!  Otherwise I feel the show went downhill from the moment we realize that James, as troubled as he is, isn’t a psychopath.  The fact that he discovers that he really cares for Alyssa when he wanted to kill her mere days before doesn’t ring true.  So this show, as edgy as it’s supposed to be, is edgy in a totally unrealistic way.  But I made a good effort and stuck with it till the end so I won’t feel bad about not sticking around for season 2 to find out how the “cliff hanger” is resolved.

Advertisements

Star Trek Discovery First Season Wrap up

Spoilers Included.  I’m not going to warn you again.

The Season Finale wrapped up all of the various entangling plotlines (except of course for what really happened to the Prime Universe Lorca, so in that way, it was a satisfying, and within Star Trek TV show parameters, solved the main struggle of the season, the Klingon War, in the most Federation-ie way possible, by appealing to the Klingon’s better selves, and of course, also appealing to the better nature of deposed emperor Georgiou. I’ll admit that struck me as ridiculous. Georgiou held the trigger for the bomb that would have devastated the Klingon home world, and rather than use it, she surrendered it to Burnham instead of killing her.  One doesn’t get to be Emperor of the Terran Empire with that sort of maudlin sentimentality.

And even more unrealistic was the resolution to the Klingon War.  With Klingon ships on the edge of the solar system, Burnham gives the detonator to L’Rell, with the hopes that she will unify the empire and yada yada yada, the Klingons abandon the war?  On the edge of full victory? And that’s exactly what happens.

To me, this was a cop out to resolve the war, in a pretty unrealistic way, but I’ve no doubt, most Star Trek fans loved this finale for the very reasons I found it unrealistic; the solution to the war wasn’t found in delivering a decisive military defeat on the enemy, but by adherence to the Federation’s highest principles, and assuming (always correctly) that everyone else in the universe at some deep down level, shares those same principles.  In unrelated news, the Federation has no money but everyone shows up for work and tries to be the best they can be.

But hey, that’s Star Trek.

Finale aside, this has been without a doubt the best first season story arc (or arcs) of any Star Trek show.  Traditionally Star Trek shows start out not having any idea what direction they were going nor any idea on how to get there, or which characters were going to break out. As a result, they’ve ended up stumbling around for the first three seasons before they get their act together.  But in a media universe of too much content, fans don’t have to be patient, and won’t be. As I mentioned in my review of the first three episodes, the first two episodes were not even a proper pilot, but more of a prequel, with the third episode being the actual pilot that introduces the cast.  I’m not sure if in a general sense that’s a good idea for a television show since it makes it difficult to actually figure out much about the show from the first three episodes.  However in this particular case, that had a high pay off in the last half of the season. So I feel that this time they managed to cram the usual three season shakedown cruise into just a few episodes.

This was a heavily fan service season.  True, you would expect any show like this to be loaded with Easter eggs, but the show moved ahead with a season that had both Harry Mudd and the Mirror Universe. So in an overall sense, this was a show and a season well worth watching. I might have watched even a crap take on Star Trek, but that’s harder to do when you actually have to pay extra to view it.  Luckily I didn’t have that struggle.  I felt I got my money’s worth.

The Trouble With Quibbles…

There were a few things that bugged me though. The reveal that Ash Tyler was a Klingon spy made sense to me and there were certainly enough context clues to figure it out before the reveal; I did. However Lorca being from the mirror universe was, I felt, the proverbial turd in the punch bowl.  Do I think that was planned by the producers all along?  Yes.  In episode 6 Admiral Cornwell and Lorca are sharing a bottle of triple malt scotch and she references a shared event from years ago that Lorca clearly doesn’t remember.  However, Lorca had turned into one of the more interesting characters on the show, based on the appearance that he was a psychopath commanding a Federation starship.  But rather than go with that angle, they decided to comic book it up and make Lorca a Mirror Universe villain.  Sure, it played well on TV and few characters get as great a death as Lorca did, but the idea that if he’s evil, he must be from the mirror universe, is in some ways, a cop out.  There are no bad guys in the Prime Universe?  Starfleet has had no end of various Admirals and Captains that have gone rogue.  The original series did an entire episode around a Starfleet Captain, Garth of Izar, who went criminally insane. And mutinies in the Admiralty were the plot points of at least two Star Trek movies, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and Star Trek: Insurrection.

I’m just saying I would have enjoyed a few more seasons of Lorca the psychopath fooling everyone around him.

The two Harry Mudd episodes were a bit of a disappointment.  Not because of Rainn Wilson’s performance, which was great, but turning Mudd into a many times over mass murderer and traitor seems like a total retooling of the character.  There was nothing comic relief about this Mudd.  True, his murders got wiped out in Discovery’s Groundhog Day episode, but the seizing control of the Discovery and trying to sell it to the Klingons didn’t.  It seems like there were enough real crimes committed both pre and post time loop to send him to Federation jail for a long time.  Instead…they decide being with his wife (Stella!) was a worse punishment and let him go.

The Mirror Universe arc wasn’t a disappointment and was total fan service.  My only quibble on that was again, the Trumpification of the Mirror Universe.  Like the Klingons, the Mirror Universe is retconned so that they just want to make the Galaxy great again^ with a Terra First foreign policy that, to the Prime Universe Discovery crew, is “racist and xenophobic.”  I get it; every TV writer hates Trump and the people who voted for him and wants to squeeze #resist into their work.  But don’t destroy the original idea to do it.  The Terran Empire, as first shown in the original series episode Mirror Mirror, was anything but racist and xenophobic.  Spock was a half Vulcan First Officer serving in a top of the line Imperial warship, with the total trust of his captain, Evil Kirk.  Race based regimes usually hate half breeds more, so the path from son of a rebel Vulcan traitor Sarek (complete with goatee) to his mixed blood son serving the Empire doesn’t make sense on its face.  There is a lot I could write on the Mirror Universe but it would be plunging down a nerd black hole, and no one wants that.

Klingons:  Why Oh why did they go with this total re-do of the Klingons?  If there was an in story reason they didn’t get to it. It seems totally unnecessary after the decade’s long wait to explain why the Star Trek Movie/Next Gen Klingons looked so different from the original series Klingons. There finally had been a canon resolution to the last Klingon re-do in the last season of Enterprise.  It just seemed pointless and irritating to restart that again.

One of my initial complaints about the show was how to access it.  Since the show is shown exclusively on CBS’s streaming service, CBS All Access, I was a bit grumbly about having to pay for a special effects laden show that didn’t have a smart TV app.  Well CBS heard my cries and halfway through the season they added an option to access the app through the Amazon Prime Video service, which does have a smart TV app. So now I can watch the best special effects laden show on television the way it was meant to be seen, on glorious HD big screen TV.  No more hunching over my computer in my home office with my wife asking what I’m doing in there with the door closed.

And speaking of, for some mysterious reason, my wife decided to give the show a try the other day and sat down and binged the first 8 hours of the show with claims that she liked it.  It could be that, or she found a good way to avoid household chores without me bugging her and decided to ride it for all it’s worth.

Good plan.

Travelers on Netflix

Welcome to the 21st…       

When it comes to TV these days, there is just so much content! As it is, I can’t keep up with the shows on regular cable TV.  I’m at the point where I watch almost everything from the DVR and at best,  I’m about a week behind.  That of course doesn’t even count streaming shows, where I may be months behind on.  It’s hard to avoid spoilers for a show that’s dropped on Netflix 8 months ago.  I do my best…

However because there is so much content, some shows get little attention, unlike media hyped shows like Stranger Things, which had a ridiculous amount of promotion, Travelers has barely made a whisper.  In fact the only reason I even heard of the show was because some guy on the radio found it by accident and really got into it.  So on that recommendation, I gave it a try.

Wow, was a blown away!  And it’s not because the premise is particularly clever or ingenious.  In the future, humanity is hanging on by a thread with the Earth largely uninhabitable, so to save themselves, they go back in time to make corrections to history to prevent whatever future disasters have occurred. That idea has launched many science fiction books and stories over the years.  Their method of time travel is only slightly less unoriginal.  Apparently matter can’t travel through time, so they send human consciousness into the “present” to inhabit the bodies of people that history records will die.

The actual results of this may be what make this show uniquely entertaining.  They maintain the cover of the bodies of the people they inhabit.  FBI Special Agent Grant MacLaren (Eric McCormick) is inhabited by a Traveler who continues to pretend to be…Grant MacLaren.  Although he’s briefed on the subject’s life, he’s not really that person, so whether it’s dealing with personal friendships, his computer passwords at work, or his “wife,” he’s faking it until he makes it.  Other members of his team include an engineer who in the future, is the oldest man on Earth, but in the 21st Century, finds himself in the body of a high school jock and bully.  The team’s doctor Marcy finds herself in the body of a mentally disabled girl, immediately raising the suspicions of her social worker David. The teams soldier finds herself as a single mom with an abusive boyfriend (one who was, by history, destined to kill her), and the historian finds himself in the body of a heroin addict.

For most of the team dealing with their new lives, there isn’t the constant scrutiny and observation, but MacLaren is married, and his wife, although used to dealing with an FBI husband who can’t speak about his work, is suspicious of his abrupt change of diet and personality. Team doctor Marcy has social worker David Mailer constantly in her business and finds herself under even more scrutiny.  Of course, she wasn’t expecting to be overwriting the mind of a mentally disabled woman.  David and Marcy’s relationship becomes the closest, and potentially most threatening to the Traveler’s anonymity.

This is Marcy (actress Mackenzie Porter) by the way.   

Well future knowledge isn’t perfect.  A mentally disabled woman and drug addict are not great candidates, but the limits of knowledge include not only official records but social media…so take that Facebook.

Ethically, the body snatching is justified by the fact that all of these people were destined to die within minutes of being taken over, so either way, they would have been dead. I’m sure that philosophers can debate the morality of that, but it has to be weighed by the good of changing the future to prevent multiple catastrophes that threaten the existence of the human race.

The show does a great job of gradually doing reveals, so that each episode you learn a little bit more about the Travelers, their mission, and the future they come from.  That’s a far superior approach than the old JJ Abrams idea of “I promise this will all makes sense in the end!”  And then it doesn’t make sense.  At least this way, I don’t feel cheated because the story gradually becomes clearer without curve balls and purposefully irritating misdirects.

So there are real payoffs on this show.  By the end of the first season, you have a clear idea of the Traveler team’s main mission, and by the end of season two…well I don’t want to spoil it, but it was one of the best season finale’s I’ve seen.  It had a really satisfying payoff, which is what all season finales should have, instead writing them into a corner.

Of course I have quibbles…  Why does Maclaren work so hard to keep his marriage together?  It’s like he’s trying to really make the marriage work, even though he is, by necessity, lying to her every step of the way, and he’s only just met her.  He doesn’t have the years and years invested in a real relationship with his “wife” Kat.

Also, I don’t think they really addressed the issue that the team has abandoned their original bodies in the future for what’s really a one way trip in someone else’s body.  You would think that the psychological trauma of looking at someone else’s hands, and someone else’s face in a mirror would be a trauma that would have to be addressed.  Instead, they seem perfectly comfortable in their new bodies.

I do hope this show gets a third season.  It made the top ten most binge-watched show for 2017, so that certainly gives me hope we’ll see more of Travelers.