Black Mirror is a three part futuristic drama created by Charlie Brooker. Each episode is thematically related in showing a rather bleak and morbid view of how the future could be if taken to an extreme length. Some of the themes and motifs that are covered include 24 hour news media, reality television, social networking and video game violence. All of this might sound like pretty well worn territory but rarely have they put together to tell stories as interestingly and effectively as this. Each episode functions pretty well as both a cautionary morality tale and also as black comedy satire. I think the premise of all three episodes is immediately eye catching. The first episode is about a member of the royal family taken hostage and the terrorist demands that the prime minister of Britain commit an extraordinarily explicit act on live television in exchange for her freedom. In the second episode, humanity is reduced to a miserable existence toiling on exercise bikes to produce enough energy to run the country. People who want to escape this existence must compete on a reality show to make a better life for themselves. In the final episode, a technological development allows people to have a chip imbedded into their heads that record everything that they see. The episode explores the possibilities of living a life that you can rewind and revisit whenever you like.
I loved all three episodes but I think the third episode was the strongest. It was such a simple yet believable premise. I think if someone were to offer me the technology to record my entire life in a digitized format, I would probably take it, which is why this episode unnerved me so. After all, why the hell do I put several hundred hours into recording my thoughts and actions for 12 years on this website?
Homeland Season One Finale
I’ve been raving about the Homeland series on TFW for a while now. Earlier in the show, when I wasn’t sure whether it would sustain its quality, I compared it to The Killing, a show that had an enticing premise, some strong early episodes but finished with an absolutely abysmal and unsatisfactory finale which needlessly dragged out the show into a second season. Homeland was much more consistent in maintaining the quality of the show and I was both surprised and intrigued by the direction they took Claire Danes’ character Carrie Mathieson. When her character suffers a mental breakdown and gets booted from the CIA for her actions, I can’t help but feel the writers seem to have backed themselves into a corner. Happily, the show didn’t offer any easy answers for her character. She didn’t magically win over everybody’s confidence and uncover a big mystery. She just…suffered a meltdown.
The show left off without conclusively answering questions about whether Nicholas Brody will become a terrorist but they did it without backflipping on his character like The Killing. Instead he is a man conflicted with his spiritual guidance and his strained attempts at rebuilding a normal life. The first season was excellent throughout and I expect big things in season two.
The Walking Dead – Season Two
Over the holiday break I went back and finished watching the rest of The Walking Dead Season Two. I’m glad I did. After an excellent pilot episode, The Walking Dead had a rather dreary run of five or six episodes where the show failed to build much interest in the characters and inexplicably, ran a series of episodes that were virtually self contained and gave off little sense that the characters were in much danger which is pretty much the worst thing you could do in a show about surviving a zombie armageddon. This run of poor form ran through the early episodes of Season Two. Rick’s son Carl gets shot, the group loses Sophia in the woods and they stumble upon a safely contained farm run by the deeply religious Hershel and his family. These were all significant events but the show felt rather pedestrian.
Around episode four, the show finally finds its feet. Scenes like the one in which the survivors attempt to lure a zombie thats caught in the bottom of a well really turned the show around for me. It was a great scene because it allowed the characters to be themselves. Little snippets of dialogue as they send Glenn in as ‘zombie bait’ really gave you a better idea of who these people were and what they would have to resort to, to survive. The scene even gave us some much needed humour and levity.
Peripheral characters like Glenn, Dale and Daryl are all given more meaningful direction and start to mean more to the audience than just ‘Asian Guy, Old Guy and Redneck Guy shooting stuff and running around’. Glenn’s storyline with Maggie in particular is pretty cool. I think Steven Yuen is excellent in the role and we probably haven’t seen an Asian dude get such a prominent role in an American show since the days when Yul and Yau-man were tearing it up on Survivor five years ago.
As a fan of the comics I desperately wanted to like The Walking Dead and felt severly underwhelmed by most of Season One and the start of Season Two. I’m glad the show is finding its form creatively and has the ratings to ensure a healthy future. I look forward to the second half of Season Two which is due to arrive in February.
The Layover – Season One
I’m pretty late to the party in discovering Anthony Bourdain, the celebrity chef most well known for his book Kitchen Confidential and his show No Reservations. In The Layover, Bourdain visits various major cities around the world for just a couple of days and explores some of the best food available in a short stopover. I started out with the episodes where he visits Singapore and Hong Kong and enjoyed the format of the show. I’ve been gradually going through the rest of the episodes and when I’m done I think I might finally get around to watching No Reservations. I like Anthony Bourdain’s rather dry sense of humour and his passion for eating good food. This is something you could say about a million different tv chefs but I dunno, for some reason, Bourdain really clicked with me.
House of Lies
The global financial crisis and the greed of American corporations who recently ruined the lives of millions of people should make excellent material for a tv show or movie that skewers this sort of shameful behaviour. Unfortunately, all we’ve got to show for it so far is some shitty looking Eddie Murphy movie about robbing a building and now this turd of a show from Showtime. House of Lies is a show about high flying, millionaire corporate consultants. Two of the lead roles are played by Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell. The concept is promising and the cast likeable but the execution is woeful. I like Cheadle as an actor but I don’t think he has the flair to pull of the role of a debonnaire asshole who fast talks his way into big business and sexy women. Or maybe its because that type of character is rather brutally played out that I struggle to care. Kristen Bell was given almost nothing in the first episode. Right now, she’s just there to play the straight man who rolls her eyes at what Cheadle does and look frustrated with her bafflingly poor choice of roles since Veronica Mars.
Sometimes a tv show can take a couple of episodes to get settled so I’ll give this show another shot but right now, I’m not holding my breath.
Survivor Season 23 Finale
The finale to Survivor at the end of last year gave us a pretty deserving winner in Sophie but unfortunately we were robbed of seeing Ozzy in the final three when he came undone in a puzzle challenge after winning a formidable eight challenges in a row. The show offered an opportunity for both Ozzy and Coach to redeem themselves and win the money. Last season when they tried this, Russell Hantz learnt nothing, played the same game and was booted in his first tribal council. Meanwhile Boston Rob adapted to the new wrinkles in the game (the hidden immunity idol in particular) and played a strong social game to win the million dollars. This season Ozzy played the same game and came close whereas Coach actually adapted his strategy, employed a unique Bible Camp approach to tribal unity and came agonizingly close. A surprisingly weak and poorly thought out end game blew his chances.
Overall it was an entertaining season. As usual, I’m a bit cautious about the gimmick for the next season. It looks a bit like Survivor meets Big Brother. Yuck.
Life’s Too Short
This show really ran out of steam by the end, didn’t it?