What I'm Not Watching: Another Life

New Netflix UFO first contact series. It's rare that a show flunks out with me as fast as this one has. Maybe I'm unfair, maybe I have impossible standards of mediocre TV. Certainly my tolerance for bullshit like FTL, non-functional starships, and implausible human social structures in SF decreases asymptotically with the newness of the work; I ignore or even enjoy it in pre-'60s SF (H. Beam Piper and Robert A. Heinlein can do no wrong), tolerate it in '60s-70s (Star Trek TOS & TAS are cool, even if it's technical nonsense), eyeroll in '80s-90s (TNG is not cool; I tried rewatching recently and made it 8 episodes in before going insane. Babylon 5 and Stargate SG-1 were competent and avoided most of my technical and social complaints), and just say "fuck that" in the 21st C.

So, this. Starts off badly with vapid people oohing and ahhing at maybe the shittiest CGI spaceship ever drawn, an overhead drone shot with fisheye lens for no reason, a shitty CGI impact & Photoshop crystals growing, and lens flares everywhere. Yeah, this is gonna be a chore to look at, isn't it?

Then the main character, Astronaut Niko (Vic from Longmire) & her trivial other are introduced and start "As You Know Bob"-ing each other. With an iPad with shitty plastic prosthetics on it so it doesn't look like an iPad. Apparently this is the distant future, not the present like the previous scenes and the lame Midwest honky fashion suggests?

Next scene she has a shitty CGI starship which makes no structural sense the size of a… tanker? The ring suggests it rotates for pseudo-gravity, but is so thin this thing would have to be city-sized instead. And it'd be vulnerable to radiation, especially when they cruise right up to a giant bright star like Sirius A (8.6 LY away). Rough estimate from on-screen size of the ring is 1mm thick, 10cm across, which would put a 20m thick ring around 20km wide & 30-40km long starship. So something is very wrong here.

She said she'd be gone 3 months each way to Pi Canis Majoris, 96 LY away. They have FTL, but haven't gone anywhere with it? So why does she have to go into what seems to be cryogenic sleep? You'd use cryo for a STL ship that would take centuries to get there, not for magic FTL.

Immediately we're informed that the star isn't where they thought (what, no) and there's a "dark cloud" in the way. And her first concern is maybe they'd hit a planet. OH FUCK YOU. Space is fucking huge; hitting a planet in light years of cloud would be like hitting a BB in the ocean, if you were a microbe.

Making a pit stop at Sirius to get to Pi Canis is like making a pit stop at Barstow on the way from LA to Poughkeepsie, New York; yeah, it's thataway (they are in the same direction from Earth), but you've barely started. The star map shown is ludicrously wrong in scale.

Now there's a black man hologram who's apparently the ship's AI. It's paranoid about the aliens being hostile, and is inexplicably Human-behaving. I loathe machines pretending they're people, and presenting your AI slave as black is some nasty shit.

The crew apparently don't know each other and have to introduce themselves, except they don't finish the introductions so the audience is left in the dark; there was no on-Earth briefing or training, they were just loaded aboard in cold-storage? They say spaceships haven't had uniforms in decades, which I find even less plausible. Shitty space teenager has to lounge in a sofa and text her parents during debriefing; so they have FTL comms, but decentralized command like an isolated exploration ship?

Everyone talks over everyone else, finishes their sentences, which would be fine if it was witty Howard Hawks banter but instead it's lame technobabble and bad leadership. The writers for this have never spent a minute in an engineering or military organization.

Now trivial other, left behind with the annoying child (best decision yet; I'm annoyed they're ever on screen), has gone crazy and is trying to use bird sounds to talk to the shitty CGI UFO, and explains this in a "Holo-Call", which is two actors sitting in the same room with some shitty CGI static to suggest they're light-years apart.

This is 20 minutes in and my hate for the incompetent writers and filmmakers could set fire to the planet. I'm done, stopping. Fuck this.

☆☆☆☆☆ I award you no points

Expanse Plot Holes

I forgot about these when writing What I'm Watching: Expanse S3, but these annoyed me to no end:

During high-G maneuvers, Prax's suit hose gets cut, and he immediately can't breathe. Amos unplugs his suit and gets up, spends 2 minutes crawling over to him and plugging it back in. Why can't Prax's suit hold 2 minutes of air? Also Amos is apparently such a badass he can hold his weight at maybe 3-10G by the fingertips. Don't arm-wrestle that dude.

Just before they rescue the kids, a scene establishes that Bobbie Draper's power armor is just about out of thruster fuel, and Holden says they have no hydrazine, they ironically don't need rocket fuel. Bobbie then spends the next 30 minutes flying up shafts and across vast expanses of open Ionian sky.

So, where'd the fuel come from? First, even an advanced Martian fusion torch spaceship probably would have hydrazine or some equivalent for maneuvering thrusters, and all the spacesuits have thrusters with kind of ridiculous amounts of thrust and range. Second, it's easy to make hydrazine with common chemicals, it's the easy part of rocket science (also drug manufacture). But there's no scene of them refueling Bobbie's armor.

What I'm Watching: The Expanse S3

So, I read these when they came out, some years ago. They ("James S.A. Corey" is a pen name for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck; I don't know why they didn't just use both their names) wrote a good hard SF STL setting, then there's an unfortunate "space zombies" episode, and then they kind of blow that up for a more traditional space opera thing.

The first season was great, but took a lot from the 1st & 2nd books; the second season was the rest of the first two books. Minor improvement in not having space zombies, but so much of the books are skipped for more standing around talking time.

So finally S3 is free with 'Zon Prime. Well.

The space battles and gunfights are generally very good, when you can see them; about half the time you can't see anything happen except on a tactical scanner, which is "realistic" in that there's no camera handy, but dull storytelling. The "Prax tries to rescue his daughter, but he's a botanist which isn't very useful" story works well.

Unfortunately, this is a politics-heavy season, and Earth politics are incredibly dull and preachy, and have maybe the most annoying character ever introduced since Jar-Jar Binks, Preacher Anna Volovodov (also, shitty translation, it should be Volovodova), blonde bimbo savior. Every scene she's in is a Boomer ex-hippie preaching about love and peace and ideals, or how scared everyone is but it's OK because "god" is with them. Ugh. She contributes nothing, has no real useful skills (supposedly she's a nurse but in the two times that matters, she doesn't do anything but "comfort" people; no medical skills exhibited) but fills about 30% of the screen time of the season. All her Earth scenes are created for the show, they have nothing to do with the books.

Once the politics are resolved, maybe we'll get rid of Preacher Anna? No, she shows up at the Big Dumb Object for no reason (which is where she comes in in the books), and preaches about how "There are things in the Universe much bigger than we are", but none of them are her god, so it's utterly pointless. The military characters try to ship her off with the other civilians, and she finds a way to stay just to annoy me.

I'm impressed that there's two full-on mutinies and lunatic captains shooting their own people rather than the "enemy". In real navies you don't get that kind of action too often, because nobody that insane is ever given control of a multi-billion-dollar vessel. Actual military people at upper ranks tend to be selected for calmness and sucking up to hierarchy, any rebellion is beaten out of them when they're cadets, but here we get a traitor and an actual space pirate deciding who walks the plank.

Bobby Draper is still very cute, and keeps showing what dicks the Martians are. Earth people are assholes with no redeeming traits, Belters are piratical but generally fun, but the Martians are like the Mitchell & Webb Nazi sketch, but none of them realize they're the baddies.

Finally a dumbass Belter, a girl hopped up on drugs screaming for "vengeance", two annoying paparazzi, James "What the Fuck Have You Done Now" Holden, and a hallucination of Joe Miller's Stupid Hat turn on the Big Dumb Object and go have the magic space opera part of this season. Most of this doesn't make a whole lot of sense, physics-wise or in Human psychology. But it turns on the Plot Device so they can go explore 1300 star systems next season.

★★★☆☆ but I fast-forwarded over a lot of Preacher Anna's preachin', I'd probably give it ★☆☆☆☆ if I had to sit thru all of it.

What I'm Watching: The Boys

So, The Boys comic by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson is my 3rd favorite comic of all time (right behind Transmetropolitan and The Invisibles ). It carries on in Garth's inimitable tradition of showing how rotten everything is from The Pro.

A band of CIA-funded wankers based in the scenic Flatiron building, led by appropriately-named psychopath Billy Butcher, recruits conspiracy freak and recently bereaved Simon Pegg, er, "Wee Hughie", an organized freak NCO Mother's Milk, and two insane killers, The Frenchman and The Female. They power Hughie up like they are, and go fuck up superheroes who deserve it.

Wee Hughie knows nothing about superheroes or comics, so he goes on a Heart of Darkness style voyage of discovery into deep dark shit. The comics are heavily about the nature of comics and the superheroes they "report" on; they're from an age when superhero movies were pretty crap and nobody cared. Stan Lee is The Legend, now a useless old man in a comics shop basement, but he knows shit. Vought-American is very clearly doing the same Nazi-science-for-America thing we did with rockets, but there's supes all over the world, and everyone (well, anyone in "the industry") knows how they're made. And the supes are all insane with power, as they would be. The Seven live in a flying citadel full of awesome tech and everyone's flunkies and whores, because of course they do.

The Boys comics cured me of superheroes as a serious genre, and they can cure you, too. I can enjoy one for a laugh now, like Deadpool and Guardians of the Galaxy, but any serious preaching and I wonder who they're literally fucking to death. I know how they got that way.

But now we're in a more vapid, useless age, full of shitty superhero movies worth literally billions of dollars, comics conventions bigger than religious revivals, fucking jocks pretending they're superhero fans instead of nerds, bobbleheads, and social media. Especially social fucking media.

The Boys on Amazon Prime reflects this shittiest of all Human eras, the final death throes of the Anthropocene. It's not even terrible, just all the mediocrity of this decade shat into streaming.

So here, the Boys are vigilantes on the run; this reduces the number of sets enormously to just a few shitty warehouses and abandoned diners, no need for on-the-street shots of New York City, they can use shitty parts of Toronto instead, and boy do they. The Seven get an even worse downgrade, being in a mid-size skyscraper in a CGI "matte painting" (nobody paints them anymore) background, with only the Seven's conference room, one corridor, and a bathroom; we never see their lounges and bedrooms full of sluts, or the hangar for the plane Black Noir can't fly. Doesn't matter, you can't see anything because the cameras are permanently tinted dark orange/dark cyan. For shots with chipper superheroine Starlight, they go back to bright colors, because that's real subtle filmmaking.

Wee Hughie instead becomes a 6' tall Billy Joel-listening douchebag "l33t haxxor"/mom-and-pop electronics store guy (most implausible background of anyone: There are no mom-and-pop electronics stores anymore), who's madly into superheroes, especially A-Train. I think the vapid video producers thought this would provide "pathos", but it's just stupid. Lives at home with his Dad (actual Simon Pegg), not in the shittiest transient hotel in New York like Wee Hughie does. Does not rescue a gerbil. I suppose Richard Gere is tired of that story, but I never will be.

Billy Butcher is just a confused loser here. And short. No dog. Doesn't fuck. A couple references to Guinness and tea from other people, but he never brings it up. He's useless. I didn't like Karl Urban as Judge Dredd, either, he was more like Judge Mediocre Honky Cop on a Talking Dirt Bike in Generic Skyscraper "The Raid" Rip-Off, but that title was too long for them; in any case here he shows the same lack of menace, talent, or ability to enunciate; he mostly stands around while actors read their lines. Decent beard and trenchcoat; he's the only one who gets a trenchcoat in the show.

Mother's Milk gets some of the NCO personality, but he doesn't have his namesake's background, no powers, and still has a wife and a tiny daughter, not a junkie ex-wife and a teenage skank daughter; the point in the comic was he has all his shit together for everyone else, but his life's a disaster. No, here he's just good and professional. Whitewashed.

The Frenchman is… he's fine. Not quite enough insanity about France, but he's a violent, passionate lunatic anyway, and close enough that I won't complain.

The Female looks and works great, and the actress does a good job with the "behave like a mad dog" role, but in the comics she's independent, she's perfectly capable of taking jobs on her own and will if they don't have a supe for her to kill.

The supes are a mixed bag. Homelander came out OK; he has more of a plan this time, he's less overtly rapey, but on a scale of 1 to Genocidal Superman, he's pretty far up there.

Black Noir is more useful and less creepy silent stalker than the original; I doubt his backstory's been left intact. But he does nothing; I actually forgot he was there when I started writing this, "wait that's six, where's… OH!"

Starlight's great, she's as perky and stupid as possible, and seems like a decent girl-next-door in her sorta romantic scenes.

A-Train's great, an A-grade asshole murderer with no conscience; but he has a "reason" for being that out of control, which somewhat dampens it.

The Deep is changed from a probably-crazy black man in a diving helmet who can fly, to a white hormonally-bitchy rapist low-rent low-IQ Aquaman who can actually talk to fish (uh, including dolphins and lobsters… so he has general telepathy, he's just insane and only uses it with aquatic creatures?). He's useless and offensive to rapists, and they half write him off the team by the end. Every scene with him in it could be deleted and this would be a marginally less shit show.

Jack from Jupiter is replaced with "Translucent" the naked invisible man with diamond skin; it's such a stupid name that even the show tells him how stupid a name partially-transparent is for invisibility. I loathed Jack, so this is a good change, but then they just use it to have characters talk to empty air and an occasionally CGI shot of him fading in and out.

Queen Maeve gets hosed. From being the queen bitch of the Seven's station, with a harem of naked men, who literally cares about nothing except her next drink or fuck but can kill anything short of Homelander, to a mopey bi woman doing Xena cosplay, in therapy and AA, who's just kinda strong and tough. Just appalling writing, losing the whole point: What does absolute power do to someone that damaged?

James Stillwell ("The Man from Vought American") is replaced with Madelyn Stillwell (played by Elisabeth Shue, "Replacement Jennifer" from Back to the Future II-III; she's never the original). James is a cold, stoic, perfectly rational machine for optimizing profits and killing anything that gets in the way, the one mere Human the Homelander is wary of. Madelyn is a mommy-figure for sad broken little Homelander (and by extension all the Millennials who made incest porn so popular), and a doormat for Starlight (though if she wasn't a doormat, Starlight would have to act like she could plan and be sneaky… which she can't). Her arc is terrible, she's stupid and fallible, the writers are idiots. She's a goddamned catastrophe.

All the secondary stuff falls down bad. Popclaw goes from an active party girl (girl, maybe 18-20) to a middle-aged sad has-been kicked out of a team. She does have one of the more spectacular kills, but her story is garbage. A fat Doogie Hauser wanker not from the comics is introduced to provide exposition that shouldn't be provided. Tek-Knight is mentioned but never seen. The mad scientist just has a cinderblock room, probably filmed in Jeff Bezos' basement sex dungeon, not a silo and a nuke.

No other teams are seen or really mentioned; that ecosystem of D-grade teams feeding C-grade teams feeding B-grade teams feeding The Seven isn't touched on at all, when that's the pyramid scam behind the entire setting. In the show there's just a few villains planning everything, not an entire industry of scumbags using superpowers.

The Jesus freak event is sad, a tent show which cost them nothing to make and it shows. I can't imagine these cheap Amazon assholes making Herogasm, the annual party for supes, look good.

The politics show up and then vanish. In the comics, there's a pro-supes VP "Vic the Veep", like Ahnold Shwazzanagga crossed with Rain Main crossed with George W. Bush, with less IQ than any of them, and he's involved. Here, there's a governor and a senator seen at various times, we're told but not shown anything about a vote on military supes. Cheap and lazy and bad writing.

★½☆☆☆

I'm beyond disappointed. I had a real hard-on for this, but now I'm utterly flaccid. Occasional moments of characters doing something interesting interrupt an endless orange/cyan fog of nothing.

Shows have improved between seasons, superheroes especially. Sony's Powers (another good "superheroes are dicks" comic) adaptation on Playstation+ was unbelievably terrible in S1, decent in S2; Sharlto Copley as Diamond was ludicrous, but they wrote a good plot for him. Amazon's The Tick in S1 was the most depressed, mopey, unheroic, unfunny thing I have ever seen; S2 was less bad, though still inferior to the comics, the cartoon, or the first live-action series.

But for now, please go read the comics instead. They're fantastic.

What I'm Watching: Dark

(Needed a little break from EVA which brings up both happy and terribly sad memories for me… So something "dark" instead)

Dark is a German Twin Peaks/12 Monkeys/La Jetée/Stranger Things/The Caves of Time CYOA mashup.

Kids go missing in the woods around a nuclear power plant.

Terrible English dubbing, often gravelly old people for the kids. But I find German harder to tolerate for long periods than most languages, even Dutch or Finnish, so I'm doing both dub and subtitles; the two are often hilariously unalike.

Is everyone in Germany supposed to be terminally depressed, or just this town? It's shot bleaker than any Scandinavian drama, everyone just stands around crying or staring blankly, with bursts of aggressive activity.

Guy leaves an office with, "Do you ever wonder where we took a wrong turn?" Dramatic non-sequiters abound.

Also wow these are some unattractive people. They've never seen the Sun, most are lined or lumpy before their apparent age, nasty looking hair. Cinéma Vérité is one thing, but this is going too far.

Senile old physicist doing the Log Lady routine. Drug dealing kid like Bobby in Twin Peaks. But there's nobody with any charisma or good looks.

Music ranges from '80s pop to some sorta dark atmospheric, both of which I love, to very gloomy, whiny incidental music which I could do without.

The actual plot so far—non-spoiler, this is all in the first couple episodes—seems to be someone using kids as guinea pigs for a time machine. But they do this in the most hamfisted way possible, creepy dude grabbing local kids instead of, say, taking strays in Berlin back to the Secret Underground Lab.

There's enough good parts, and more enough downbeat but interesting parts, that I'm still going in it, but I wouldn't call any of this compelling.

★★★☆☆

Evangelion Session 4: E11-12

Almost normal mecha show episodes: NERV HQ is shut down by unknown attackers by unknown means so everyone has to infiltrate the base and do a launch manually. Security really isn't very good when the power's down, three children are able to break into NERV. And then the orbital bombardment… Accurately understands the kinetic power of dropping things from orbit. The "miracle" of holding your hands up and wishing (OK, with an AT Field) is a little cutesy.

Maybe the NSA shut NERV down with STUXNET. You know in this setting the US espionage services would be incredibly perturbed at Japan having such an essential resource, we've seen "UN" ships with very obviously US-supplied Naval officers being pissy about it.

Misato's backstory and damage, similar to Shinji's and Asuka's, leaves her easy prey for Gendo's schemes. All the awkward people are excluded at the party, while the noisy ones make a mess. The phone call with Shinji and Gendo is just terrible, "Don't put him through ". Then later, all Shinji notices is that this is the first time his father's ever praised him. He can't even notice Asuka's abuse. There's long stretches of Asuka screaming at people I just tune out (and I know perfectly well why I react that way from my own psychological damage).

The Angel designs in this one are very goofy, the Johnny Quest-looking spider with dripping eye-chor, and the orbital happy-face thing. As we'll see later, there's not a universal leader behind the Angels, Adamic life doesn't seem to be able to coordinate or communicate with each other (and only occasionally with the Humans), they're just trying to reach Adam or Lilith, so each one comes up with its own plan and carries it out.

While sailing to the Antarctic recovering the Spear of Longinus, Gendo & flunky muse that Humans survive because of Science. I think it's more that a swarm of Humans collaborate, which beats the vastly superior solitaire Angels.

Evangelion Session 3: E08-10

Asuka strikes! The terror of the show. The worst Human who could possibly be one of the Children. Great T&A fanservice as long as you don't mind her terrible shrieking voice or brutal abuse of everyone around. So, the kind any project attracts. "Why is she so bossy?" "Why are guys always so stupid and horny?!" Gee, Asuka, I dunno, maybe it's because you strip-tease in front of them and then get mad when they look? It's impressive how Rei just shuts her down, though: "I'll be your friend if I'm ordered to."

Once there's more than one of the Children, the expression "First Children", "Second", "Third" seems weird; it's literal English in the Japanese script, but should have been "Child" or "of the Children" and then you'd ask "whose children? Why Gendo's?!" And speaking of, Gendo spends no time in the base; Rei would be lonely if she knew what that was. Shinji's used to his absence.

Dance Dance Evangelion ep is ridiculous, reminds me very much of the comedy filler episodes of Slayers. Synchronized tooth-brushing and dancing just so they can hit a target at once. But it does start to humanize Asuka, which Rei still hasn't had.

Magma bath has Asuka behaving slightly less awful. She's still a bossy prima donna, and her crush on Kaji is ridiculous but nobody's yet called her on it, but she actually steps up and does her job for once with a minimum of screaming hissy-fit. It won't last.

But here and the first Asuka ep we finally get to see the lifecycle of the Angels, or more accurately Adamic life, starting as Human-like fetuses but almost instantly developing according to genetic programming. Interesting parallel to the Perfect Being in The Fifth Element; designed to look like a person, but she's far far more than that, and can be regrown from just a few cells.

Back in the day, this is where the first sequence of bootleg tapes ran out, and there was a long interregnum, I think most of a year, before we got more. So there was an over-analysis of these, which isn't really helpful because so much more backstory was written later.

(I got the toy in a LootCrate. Obviously, I would much rather have had Misato or Rei; this one keeps yelling at me.)

Evangelion Session 2: E05-07

Stopped just short of Asuka. That's too much to leave as a cliffhanger for one day.

Rei's early appearances are even more stiff and awkward with everyone except Gendo than I'd recalled. She is an utter robot, not even autistic or depressed and withdrawn, but just not there. That weird smile is almost worse than nothing.

Misato in a towel, and Rei in a towel or nothing at all, the fanservice was a little heavy still, but less than the first few eps. Misato's morning ritual is how I lived my 20s, too, but sooner or later that catches up with you. Just coffee now.

The "Human weapon" ep… if you wondered how cold and calculating Ritsuko and Gendo are…

If you're missing the old ED music instead of Rei's theme, because the songwriter and 26 artists couldn't make a deal with Netflix:

  • Every "Fly Me to the Moon": I recommend watching it now, maybe youtube-dl if you want to keep it. (minor annoyance: It's in webm, so I now have 4 CPU cores on fire[^1] trying to convert it to mp4)

The reviews are in!

Netflix isn't providing subs for some of the text screens, but they're usually duplicated later in English (at second commercial break?). I can read enough kana to recognize things like the roommate chore board being all シ (Shi, for Shinji) and just a few ミ (Mi, for Misato), which is funny because she won't even do those days. This is really motivating me to get back to learning Japanese properly, because just reading nonsense words is frustrating. I accept that my calligraphy will always be shit.

1:

Evangelion Session 1: E01-04

In the distant future of 2015… after the Second Impact in 1999… SIGH. Those seemed like plausible "future" times when this came out, really.

Netflix defaulted to JP/subtitles for me, but I tried the EN dub for about 15 minutes. It's OK, maybe better/more literal than the old one? Nobody sounds goofy, Shinji's very mild, as he should be. But I went back to JP, at least for this first time thru. Might do a dub watch second run.

This is the Netflix English dub actors list:

Looking some of these up, they're interesting choices. Several also appear in the new Gundam dubs. The Shinji actor Casey Mongillo being a transwoman is very appropriate, given Shinji's gender ambivalence.

It's weird that Netflix changed the "Fly Me to the Moon" cover from the end credits, it's just incidental music now. Rights problems? I never felt it was really appropriate, but I only sit thru the end credits to see the "next episode" bit, which is A) Not very spoilery, and B) sometimes contains in-jokes. "More fanservice" is not so much a joke as self-awareness; there's a lot of T&A from Misato and even scientist Ritsuko in early eps.

I am just as much in love with Misato as I was when I first saw her. When she kicks her clock and wakes up looking like a storm hit. Whoo.

Get in the damn robot, Shinji. And follow Misato's orders, ya little creep. I'd forgotten about the blackout/flashback structure of E01-02. The dumbass schoolkids are great for illustrating how weird Shinji is, but they're an annoying distraction the rest of the time, and they mostly get dropped later.

The constant SDAT rewinding of tracks 25 & 26…

Only goes up to 22, so I dunno how he's listening to the last two eps (yes, I know Shinji doesn't have the OST to his own show on his SDAT. OR DOES HE?!)