Monday, February 13, 2017

TV Musings: Fall Science Fiction and Fantasy

Welcome to my latest discussion post for television I’ve enjoyed recently.  This one covers mostly television shows that premiered in fall of 2016, some seasons of which have only recently finished.  There is a massive amount of genre television out there these days, and I’m enjoying being spoiled for choice in my entertainment! My next post on television will probably involve a lot of original streaming content from Amazon/Netflix.

Falling Water (USA) Season 1: This unusual show follows three characters whose lives are taking unusual turns due to situations involving lucid dreaming. Burton struggles to differentiate dreams and reality as he aids his firm in brokering a sketchy deal for rights to “rare earth metals”. The detective Taka pursues a deadly collective dreaming cult, spurred on by the hope that they may be able to reach his catatonic mother. Trendspotter Tess is convinced that she has given birth to a son, though she remembers no details beyond the vivid experience of childbirth.  She begins to see a young boy in her dreams, and joins a collective dreaming study in exchange for help in finding him.  Their three stories interact in unexpected ways as we slowly begin to see what is going on with dreaming in this world.

I think the writers really took a risk with this one, because the show is unapologetically weird and confusing.  For that reason, it also doesn’t work particularly well as a one-episode-a-week show.  After the first few episodes, I waited until the full season was out, so that I could watch everything at once.  It’s much easier to keep all the details in mind and to make the right connections if you watch the episodes back-to-back.  Watching it this way, it was easier to appreciate the originality of the show, as well as its ability to capture the baffling logic and unexpected transitions of dreaming. This is a show that demands patience and attention, and it doesn’t hurt if you have a fondness for stories about dreams. There’s no word yet on whether there will be a second season.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (BBC America) Season 1: Humor is a very tricky thing, since what makes one person laugh until their sides hurt will always make someone else yawn.  Dirk Gently’s dark, absurd humor was perfect for me.  I would say that if you aren’t laughing by the end of the bridge scene in episode two, you can safely assume that the rest of the show’s humor will not be your thing.  If you are, though, then you will probably love it as much as I did!

This is another show that requires some patience, this time because in the beginning it intentionally and aggressively doesn’t make any sense.  For instance, Dirk Gently’s original goal is to investigate a multiple murder that happened in a hotel penthouse.  The murder weapon is apparently a shark. There are tons of different factions (the police, the FBI, a cult, the Spring family and staff, some energy vampires,  the holistic detective, the holistic assassin…) and a multitude of little details that only begin to slot together near the very end. The plan of Dirk Gently and his reluctant assistant Todd is to just keep doing stuff until everything makes sense, and so the viewer also has to surrender to the flow of the universe.  The ending did fit most things together nicely, though, and I was happy to hear that there will be a second season for this one!  

3% (Netflix) Season 1: This Brazilian Netflix series is an interesting take on a familiar premise.  Civilization has mostly collapsed, and a small subset of people (3% of the world’s population), like in a technologically-advanced offshore paradise.  The founders of this community were believers in meritocracy, so “the process” is held each year to select the top 3% of the world’s 20-year-olds as new members.  This show follows the process in Brazil, where the egalitarian terrorist group “The Cause” is attempting to infiltrate the offshore.

It starts out simply, following a group of young people as they try to pass the various tests in the process.  However, there’s a lot going on beneath the surface, both in terms of the motivations of the young folks and the machinations of the testers themselves.  It’s unclear whether the process is actually selecting the ‘best’, and whether that definition is even something that everyone would agree with.  The show can be pretty violent at times, because it does not flinch from the darker side of human nature.  At the end of the first season, there is clearly still more story to tell.  I believe I have heard that a second season is planned for later this year.

Frequency (the CW) Season 1: The CW primarily targets a teenage demographic, so its adult-targeted shows are rare and almost always cancelled after one season.  Containment was a victim of this tendency last summer.  It was a pretty decent show that had a very disappointing series finale.  I’m afraid Frequency is now falling to the same fate.  The second-to-last episode was a very good conclusion to the season, so I opted not to watch the finale this time.  I enjoyed the series, but I feel like the story has reached a good stopping place.  

The show involves a father (Frank) and daughter (Raimy) time-travel-communicating over a twenty year gap using a ham radio.  They’re working together to stop a serial killer before he abducts and kills Raimy’s mother.  They make a lot of understandable mistakes in the process, since neither of them are used to this sort of time-hopping investigation.  I appreciated that they stayed consistent with the concept of how the timeline changed, and I found the mechanics of how it worked really interesting.  Raimy’s working knowledge of the world didn’t update instantly when something in the past changed.  Instead, she would only realize the alteration when she actively retrieved the memory, realizing in the process that she recalled multiple overlapping versions of events. I can’t imagine how disorienting it would be to have your reality and history shifting underneath you like that.  All in all, the father-daughter teamwork, the high stakes, and the timeline-changing mechanics made it a pretty compelling show to watch!

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