Six more Charlie Brooker-written dystopian fictions, now streaming in our dystopian reality.


Nosedive

Not the best opening to the new series, too blunt and screamy for my tastes. A yelp/ebay/etc star-rating system gone out of control, with everyone rating everyone else over every interaction, and all social status and even home loans depending on personal ratings. Lacie (Bryce Howard of Lady in the Water) gets increasingly desperate as her plan to increase her ratings for a society wedding backfire, and she spirals down until she can’t even get picked up hitchhiking due to her short-term social media reputation. Trucker Cherry Jones gives her an inspirational speech about living outside society, then Lacie crashes the wedding. Directed by Joe Wright (Atonement), cowritten by Parks & Rec‘s Michael Schur and Rashida Jones, and featuring the best Black Mirror music ever, courtesy Max Richter, who incorporates the downvote sound effect into the music during Lacie’s death spiral.


Playtest

Cooper (Wyatt Russell, the guy who pretends to still be in college in Everybody Wants Some!!), kind of a likeable idiot, gets stranded while traveling the world, signs up to earn some quick cash playtesting a VR game. I’m a sucker for movies with dream/game layers where you can’t tell what’s real, and this was a good one. The idea behind the game is a haunted-house horror experience that uses your mind’s own fears against you, and Coop’s biggest fear is losing his mind like his Alzheimer’s-afflicted father did, which is what happens when his attempts at trade-secret espionage interfere with the equipment and it fries his brain. Director Dan Trachtenberg made 10 Cloverfield Lane.

Coop playing an early, harmless demo:


Shut Up and Dance

I don’t think this one is based on any technology that doesn’t already exist. After trying to have affairs or look at child porn or other blackmailable offenses, strangers with prankster-infected laptops get dragged around the city making deliveries and being asked to do increasingly terrible things, including bank robbery (“I saw it in a documentary. It looked easy”) and fistfighting to the death. Then their secrets get leaked to friends and family anyway, a grinning trollface sent to each of the victims. Director James Watkins made The Woman in Black and Eden Lake, lead Alex Lawther played young Turing in The Imitation Game, and his older partner in crime was Jerome Flynn of Ripper Street, not Michael Smiley like I first hoped.


San Junipero

Just what I needed after the nihilism of the previous episode, a lovely story with complicated ideas about (virtual) life and (actual) death. Opens with a Lost Boys poster and Belinda Carlisle song on the radio and Max Headroom on TVs, pushing its 1987 setting hard, but then “one week later” we’re in 1980, and “one week later” it’s 1996. Shy Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis of Always Shine) met exhuberant Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) one night in a time-hopping Matrix fantasy world but didn’t have the nerve to follow through on their relationship, and now searches for her every week during their time-limited trials, as their actual, aged bodies live in separate nursing homes. The most human-feeling Black Mirror, and also the one that ends in the most inhuman manner, a robot arm attending to its databank of disembodied consciousnesses. The director did last season’s Be Right Back, also about personal/virtual relationships.


Men Against Fire

Not my favorite episode, by director Jakob Verbruggen (Whishaw/Broadbent miniseries London Spy) who makes a hash of the action scenes, but it’s one of my favorite evil technologies – military implants that help soldiers kill the enemy without hesitation by making the enemy “roaches” look and sound inhuman. Lead soldier Stripe, whose equipment glitches so he can see the truth, is Malachi Kirby of the new Roots remake. He’s briefly allied with Ariane Labed (Alps, The Lobster) before his partner catches up with him, kills Ariane and his equipment is recalibrated to brainwash him back into blissful ignorance and conformity.


Hated in the Nation

A combination of previous ideas – rogue hacker messes with people over social media leading to their deaths, and intrusive government technology leads to dystopian horror. In this case the gov-tech is bee-drones which replace the country’s dying honeybees and happen to double as ubiquitous surveillance devices. After our hacker uses a sort of twitter poll to let the people decide whose brains the bees will burrow into through their ears, cop Kelly Macdonald (voice star of Brave) tries to protect future victims. She finally gets lead beemaker Benedict Wong (Prometheus and The Martian) to try deactivating all bugs, but instead they go after everyone who participated in the online death polls, killing hundreds of thousands. A nicely apocalyptic way to leave off. Director James Hawes made a TV remake of The 39 Steps a few years back.

Rewatching this series for obvious reasons, after recently reviewing the prequel film. I remember season two becoming tedious, so I’m only watching the late episodes directed by Lynch and/or written by Frost, which will leave some major plot holes I can cover with synopses from wikipedia or wherever. So many characters to keep track of, and so many actors I haven’t seen since the show ended in 1991, and some I have.

Agent Dale Cooper – loves Tibet, doughnuts, clean air and good coffee. I’ve seen Kyle MacLachlan in Northfork, Portlandia, and that version of Kafka’s The Trial which I don’t remember at all but IMDB says I gave it a 7/10.

Lucy is the police receptionist who has feelings for Andy. Kimmy Robertson did voices in some Disney movies and The Tick.

Deputy Andy is dumb as hell. Harry Goaz worked with director David Lowery before his Ain’t Them Bodies Saints breakout.

Sheriff Harry Truman is a good lawman, secretly (everything in the show is “secretly”) dating Josie Packard. Michael Ontkean costarred in a Disney movie with four monkeys and Wilford Brimley, and was apparently in The Descendants.

Deputy Hawk is a good, quiet cop. Michael Horse was in Passenger 57 and a movie directed by John Travolta’s older brother.

Agent Albert Rosenfield works with Cooper, expresses contempt for the locals. Miguel Ferrer died the week I started season two, also starred in On The Air.

James Hurley is sweet but so dumb, per an audiotape of Laura’s. He runs around with Donna playing detective. James Marshall was one of the murderous privates on trial in A Few Good Men.

Maddy is Laura’s identical twin cousin, who appears in the show immediately after the show-within-the-show (soap opera Invitation to Love) introduces its own identical-twin plot. Sheryl Lee played twins again in the great Mother Night, also costarred in the unfortunate John Carpenter’s Vampires.

Donna Hayward is Laura’s innocent friend who ends up with James after Laura’s death. Lara Flynn Boyle was Ally Sheedy’s predecessor in Happiness, also starred in Threesome and the show The Practice.

Leland Palmer, Laura’s dad and killer and the town lawyer… is complicated. Ray Wise is incredible and prolific but I’ve seen him in too few things (Good Night and Good Luck, Bob Roberts).

Sarah Palmer is Laura’s traumatized mom with freaky hair. Grace Zabriskie got to look freaky again in Inland Empire and My Son My Son What Have Ye Done, was a regular on Big Love.

Will Hayward is the town doctor who ends up discussing dead and comatose bodies with Agent Cooper. He’s Donna’s dad of course, with a wife in a wheelchair and at least one other daughter. Warren Frost, Mark’s dad, did some Matlock, died just last week.

Ben Horne runs the town’s hotel, department store, and a brothel called One Eyed Jack’s over the Canadian border, is always trying to do business deals with rowdy groups of foreigners who get frightened off by murderous town rumors. Richard Beymer was in Angelina Jolie movie Foxfire, earlier Bachelor Flat and West Side Story.

Jerry Horne is Ben’s excitable little brother who loves exotic food, business deals and the local brothel. David Patrick Kelly was the military guy who Lysistrata ties up in Chi-Raq, also in the John Wick movies and played the president in Flags of Our Fathers.

Dr. Jacoby was Laura’s wacky psychiatrist and had an unhealthy romantic interest in her. I don’t think we see any other locals going to his office except Bobby one time, so he’s got enough free time to chase ghosts. Russ Tamblyn, Ben Horne’s best friend in West Side Story, had roles in Drive, Django Unchained and Cabin Boy, and played a “Dr. Jacoby” on General Hospital.

Audrey Horne is Ben’s daughter who has to avoid a horrifying meeting with him at One Eyed Jack’s while she’s retracing Laura’s steps. Sherilyn Fenn starred in Boxing Helena, which I have yet to find a decent copy of.

Major Briggs doesn’t know how to deal with his wayward son Bobby, leaks mysterious military intel to Cooper. “The owls are not what they seem.” Don Davis was a regular on the Stargate TV series, which ran for more seasons that I realized.

Bobby Briggs is excitable boyfriend of Laura Palmer and Shelly, sullen son of Major Briggs, rival of James Hurley, drug dealer friend of Mike (“Mike and Bobby” mirroring the evil Black Lodge “Mike and Bob”) and associate of Leo and Jacques. Dana Ashbrook was in the L.A. Crash TV series and the latest Bill Plympton feature.

Leo Johnson is a drug dealer, spouse abuser and murderer, is in a coma at the start of s2. Eric DaRe appeared with good company (Brad Dourif, Angela Bassett) in Critters 4.

Big Ed Hurley, James’s dad, married to Nadine but thinking about leaving her for Norma. Runs a gas station. Everett McGill was the villain(?) in The People Under The Stairs and appeared in The Straight Story.

Nadine Hurley, James’s mom though we never see them interact, wears an eyepatch and is obsessed with creating silent drape runners. Later she gets amnesia and super strength and falls for Bobby’s friend Mike. Wendy Robie was in Corbin Bernsen horror The Dentist 2.

Shelly Johnson is Leo’s abused wife, working at the diner, dating Bobby and conspiring to frame her husband for Laura Palmer’s death. Lynch’s character, Cooper’s boss, is sweet on her in season two. Mädchen Amick has been on every TV show at least once, plus the terrible Stephen King movie Sleepwalkers.

Josie Packard runs the sawmill, has a suspicious past, and I think was supposed to be a bigger deal but got left behind by the writers. Joan Chen was a movie star from The Last Emperor but wouldn’t fare as well in Hollywood, appearing in garbage action flicks Wedlock, On Deadly Ground and Judge Dredd.

Peter Martell helps Josie run the mill, isn’t as dumb as he looks. Jack Nance’s final film was Lost Highway.

Catherine Martell is married to Pete, resents Josie for owning the mill, which used to belong to Catherine’s brother/Josie’s late husband Andrew, who of course turns out not to be dead. Piper Laurie played Carrie‘s crazy mom, later in The Crossing Guard and The Dead Girl.

Norma Jennings is dating Big Ed, runs the diner, unhappily married to Hank. Peggy Lipton is Rashida Jones’s mom, appeared in modern classic The Postman.

Hank Jennings is a criminal in cahoots with Leo and Jacques. He thinks he killed Josie’s husband, gets out of prison halfway through s1. Chris Mulkey acts in a ton of movies, recently Whiplash and Cloverfield.

Margaret has a log that sometimes sees things. Catherine Coulson starred in early Lynch short The Amputee, died before the reboot filmed but not before appearing as “Wood Woman” in a Psych episode.

Julee Cruise, house musician at the Roadhouse. I have her album The Voice of Love, produced by Lynch and Badalamenti.

The Giant appears to Cooper in dreams and visions, dropping cryptic clues. Carel Struycken played Lurch in the Addams Family movies and appeared in Men In Black.

The Waiter might be an alternate form of The Giant. Only Cooper can see the two of them. Hank Worden did nothing after Twin Peaks but plenty beforehand as a Westerns regular (marshall in Forty Guns, drunk in The Big Sky).

The Man From Another Place is maybe Bob’s boss or partner, speaks in reverse, is somehow connected to One-Armed Mike. Michael J. Anderson played a similarly mysterious fellow in a curtained room in Mulholland Dr., was a regular on Carvivàle.


Season two, Cooper recovers from a gunshot wound. I think Josie ended up being the shooter, but skipped enough episodes that I’m not sure why.

“You’d better bring Agent Cooper up to date.”
“Leo Johnson was shot. Jacques Renault was strangled. The mill burned. Shelley and Pete got smoke inhalation. Catherine and Josie are missing. Nadine is in a coma from taking sleeping pills.”

A bunch of new characters show up… I missed most of their intros, but got to see a few of them die. Sadly I missed cross-dressing David Duchovny completely, and I saw Billy Zane but don’t remember what his deal is.

Annie is Norma’s younger sister, starts dating Cooper then gets kidnapped by Earle. Coop’s searching for Annie when he ends up in the Black Lodge. I haven’t seen Heather Graham lately but it seems she was everywhere in the late 1990’s: Swingers, Austin Powers, Scream, etc., and most notably Boogie Nights.

Dick Tremayne was Lucy’s classy lover while on break from Andy. When she gets pregnant and isn’t sure which is the father, Dick and Andy get competitive. Ian Buchanan starred in On The Air and did a million soap opera episodes.

Windom Earle is Agent Cooper’s rival, who gets tangled up in the crimes and horrors before having his soul sucked out by Bob in the final episode. Kenneth Welsh, seen here about to murder Ted Raimi, seems to be tenth-billed in bunches of horror/action movies.

Andrew Packard returns from the “dead” in season two only to be blown up in the finale, along with poor Pete and probably Audrey who was chained to the vault door at the time. Dan O’Herlihy, Bunuel’s Robinson Crusoe, was also in The Dead, Fail-Safe, Imitation of Life and Odd Man Out.


I was surprised that nothing supernatural happens until the end of episode 3, four hours into the series. Really a top-notch melodrama with excellent casting, at least for a while. Here’s hoping the reboot is great.

Last left off with the Master of None spring roundup, and besides the shows below I’ve also watched a couple miniseries, some Black Mirror and all of Neon Genesis Evangelion since then. It’s been a televisiony year.


Archer seasons 1-4 (2009-2013)

Addictive escapist comedy. I watched season one for two weeks this summer, then the next three seasons in just a few days after the election. Kinda crazy about the show, and it helps that some of my former coworkers helped make it. Nice bookending Bob’s Burgers and Sealab references in season 4.

I knew Archer (Jon Benjamin) and his mom (Jessica Walter of Arrested Development) and Cyril (Chris “Dr. Leo Spaceman” Parnell). Cheryl is Judy Greer (Ant-Man, Jurassic World, Tomorrowland), Pam is Amber Nash (Frisky Dingo), Lana is Aisha Tyler (kickstart-directing a movie called Axis), Ray is show creator Adam Reed. Dave “Meatwad” Willis plays Barry and Other Barry. R.I.P. George Coe, who played Woodhouse.

Most of the cast:

Standoff:


BoJack Horseman season 1 (2014)

It takes a lot for me to start watching a new comedy show: years of increasing acclaim and/or recommendations from an unusual source like Cinema Scope. I finally, grudgingly, checked out the show about the former sitcom star who is a horse and the wreck of his current life, and it’s good.

I skipped the last season of Arrested Development then watched all the shows by its former cast members, so Will Arnett plays BoJack. With Amy Sedaris as an agent/cat, Paul F. Tompkins as an actor/rival/dog, Alison Brie (Community) as the dog’s/horse’s shared human love interest, which sounds gross out of context, Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) as BoJack’s roommate and Kristen Schaal as his TV daughter.

And Patton Oswalt as a publisher:


Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt season 2 (2016)

A bit too much Tina Fey – is it okay to say that? And sometimes Tituss can be overwhelming. These are minor gripes about a nearly perfect show. This year Jacqueline dates David Cross, Lillian fights against gentrification, Kimmy’s bunker-mates make regular appearances, and Tituss dates construction worker Mikey.


Horace & Pete (2016)

I appreciate the concept very much, taking old fashioned ideas of television and making them brand new, and embracing silence and stillness in a unique way. And Louis has lined up a dream-come-true cast, so the acting is always a pleasure to watch. He has also written a relentlessly grim show that ends with his character’s murder at the hands of his psychotic brother, with some suicide and cancer and cheating and abandoned children and drunkenness and depression along the way. For every weirdly wonderful scene, like David Blaine being berated and thrown out for doing magic tricks, or Steven Wright quip, there’s fifteen minutes of everyone feeling lousy. Complaints aside, I’ll buy anything Louis sells, and more promptly next time.


Delocated season 2 (2010)

Yay, Jerry Minor. But for the most part, this show is juuust barely maintaining my interest, and I think I’ll probably check out a bunch of other things instead of continuing. For instance, the guy from Review was in a few episodes – I wonder if season two of his show is online anywhere.

Eugene Mirman works on becoming a stand-up comic whose jokes revolve around vodka so his big brother Sergei (Steve Cirbus, 89th billed in Bridge of Spies) takes over the threats and the killing. Zoe Lister-Jones has the thankless girlfriend role, Mather Zickel takes over as bodyguard, and Todd Barry plays himself.


Girls season 4 (2015)

I’ve become more ambivalent about watching this show about aggressively self-involved young white people… still into it, but I’m also reading The Brooklyn Wars and can’t pretend I’m not noticing the problems. But hey, Ray is joining the city council so there’s hope for more socially-aware content in the future, and I heard season five is really good, though I might take a break.

What else is happening? Hannah’s writer’s retreat thing didn’t work out, she becomes a teacher and dates a coworker, Marnie breaks up Desi’s engagement, Caroline gives birth, everyone seems frustrated with everyone else (or maybe that’s me?).


W/ Bob and David season 1 (2015)

Well, after expectations so absurdly high that I couldn’t bear to even watch this for almost a year, that was… not bad. Wish I’d known that the fifth “episode” was an hour-long behind-the-scenes thing – I kept thinking it was a self-reflexive joke and would turn into more comedy. Special guests Key & Adsit are a nice touch, and Tom Kenny’s appearances are always highlights. More episodes now, please.


Full Frontal with Samantha Bee (2016)

One of the few things keeping us sane these days.


Also watched some standup comedy:

David Cross – Making America Great Again
Ali Wong – Baby Cobra
Michael Ian Black – Noted Expert
Todd Barry – Crowd Work Tour
Barry Crimmins – Whatever Threatens You
Brian Posehn – Criminally Posehn
Doug Stanhope – Beer Hall Putsch

And saw Louis CK live in Omaha.

Didn’t take notes on any of these, but enjoyed ’em all.

I think we watched four episodes of Key & Peele, so that’s half of season one. Haven’t fully invested yet in Enlightened, Lady Dynamite, Documentary Now or Steven Universe. Abandoned Shameless and probably a couple others.

Detective Robin (Elisabeth Moss of Queen of Earth) is visiting her sick mom in the New Zealand small town where she grew up. A 12-year-old girl is discovered to be pregnant then disappears, and Robin takes over the case.

The story sucked me in, and I appreciated the actors, particularly Moss and local drug lord (and missing girl’s dad) Peter Mullan and a too-rarely-seen Holly Hunter as the guru of a makeshift trailer-park of troubled women. I was hoping for a good movie given extra time to deepen and spread out, but it started to feel too television. Each episode develops the main plot a bit more, gives the main character a bit more backstory, and reveals a bit more of the town’s dark secrets. And the big hook at the beginning (pregnant child) and big reveal at the end (child-molesting club run by chief cop), along with Robin’s stories of past abuse and constant present threats and the women’s camp and whatever they’ve been through, all adds an icky air of sexual violence to the show. As the episodes progressed, I started to cynically believe that this isn’t helping anyone, just attempting to give an air of importance to an otherwise standard story, though I suppose the intent was to recognize the sexual violence present, mostly hidden, everywhere. Overall I did like it, the distinct characters in gorgeous settings, but not jonesing for season two.

Bonus subplots: clashes with local law enforcement, occasional stories of the women at the camp, some late revenge on one of Robin’s childhood rapists, a major on/off/again affair with her high school boyfriend (Thomas Wright of The Bridge), adventures of tight-lipped Jamie (Tui’s most trusted friend), threats of incest, a couple of deaths (most horribly Jamie’s) and a late reveal that the drug lord is Robin’s real dad.

Jamie:

Robin’s mom and stepdad:

Cowritten with Gerard Lee (Sweetie) and directed with Garth Davis (Lion). Same cinematographer as True Detective season one – that’s no surprise. I recently saw Peter Mullan as the evil father in Sunset Song – he’s good at being menacing. Local boss cop Al is David Wenham of Public Enemies. Moss won best actress at the golden globes and the show won best cinematography at the emmys, but Behind The Candelabra took best TV movie at both.

Sepinwall liked it:

The character work is rich and devastating, the atmosphere hypnotic, and the overall storytelling so good that even if the mysteries hadn’t been resolved, I wouldn’t have felt like my time was wasted … who done it ultimately isn’t as important as the toll the crime takes on our heroine, and on the community around her.

Finally got around to watching the rest of these episodes (though not the Jon Hamm Christmas special) in prep for the upcoming American launch.

Be Right Back

After her cellphone-addict boyfriend Ash dies in a car crash, pregnant Hayley Atwell (Agent Peggy Carter in the Marvel movies/shows) signs up for a service that analyzes his voice recordings and social media posts and creates a Siri-like program she can speak with. Then she beta tests the next version, where a folded-up pseudo-flesh Ash (Domhnall Gleeson of About Time, who plays the human in the similar Ex Machina) is shipped to her house. But it turns out the way you behave at home with your spouse can’t be easily predicted by your social media posts, and even though Ash is able to learn, Hayley finds him creepy and finally banishes him to the attic. Director Owen Harris also made Holy Flying Circus.


White Bear

My favorite of the bunch, either because it’s the most horrific or because it costars Michael Smiley as a dystopian game show host. Victoria (TV’s Lenora Crichlow) wakes up confused and amnesiac, is told that most of the world has been consumed by a mysterious screen transmission, and those who haven’t are insanely murdering random citizens – so The Signal meets The Purge. Vic and a couple refugees come across Smiley in the woods, who first appears to be on their side, then is revealed to be one of the killers. After her thrilling escape, all this is revealed to be a complicated piece of theater. Nobody is dead, except the child Vic kidnapped and murdered, for which her punishment is to live in this nightmare, being constantly pursued and terrified, humiliated in front of a live audience, then her mind zapped with the MIB forgetfulness-ray for the next show. Director Carl Tibbetts has worked on Hemlock Grove, did a little-known plague thriller called Retreat with a promising-looking cast.


The Waldo Moment

Comedian Jamie (Daniel Rigby of the show Jericho) who talks through a cartoon bear called Waldo finds his attack on politicians going viral. Jamie’s more of an insult comic than a politician, but his producers smell a hit and strong-arm him into continuing, even entering Waldo into the campaign, at the expense of his sanity and his relationship with a woman in the race. This isn’t quite dark enough for Black Mirror, so at the end a guy from an unnamed U.S. agency meets them wanting to use Waldo to destabilize global elections. Based on a Nathan Barley sketch, I think. Director Bryn Higgins has a series of historical hospital dramas.

Unstable puppetmaster:

Dignified debate:

Dumont sure has a great sense of picture composition. The last movie of his I watched was in a familiar mode: long-take elliptical arthouse cinema. But what is this? A comedy with no jokes, a miniseries detective story with no resolution. On the basis of Hors Satan alone, if you told me Dumont made a comedy miniseries, this is pretty much what I would’ve imagined, but the reality of it still comes as a surprise.

All the actors are unknowns, and at least the casting director deserves a mighty round of applause for the interesting new faces on display. I did kinda tire of the extremely twitchy Inspector, who is visiting a coastal town with his dim assistant Lt. Carpentier to solve a murder – then a new murder occurs every episode, all spiraling around the family of P’tit Quinquin, who is generally more interested in hanging out with his racist buddies and bike-riding with his girlfriend Eve.

Premiered at Cannes, watched here during Cannes Month two years later. Film of the year according to Cahiers, so there must be more to it than I noticed… or maybe it’s just their ideal situation of a sharp-eyed arthouse auteur joining the Peak TV revolution.

“All the suspects have been murdered.”

Mike D’A:

Would have preferred an ending that feels less like a resigned shrug, personally, and fewer antics involving Quinquin’s brother … and I wish I could get that fucking “Cause I Knew” song out of my head for even ten minutes.

M. Sicinski:

Dumont shows us a world bigoted and illiberal enough that most anyone would harbour sentiments similar to those that prompted the murderer to kill … by the time we have reached the final episode, and the fourth murder, there is no hope for identification, and certainly no hope for resolution, much less justice.

Gotta read his great Cinema Scope article again after watching Dumont’s L’humanité.

We’re dumped into the middle of a complex situation in a mechanized future city, where teenage kids are piloting giant robots to fend off invading aliens, or “angels,” then as the show settles into a groove of one angel per episode (each requiring either skill, strategy, or brute force/rage to defeat) it gradually fills in the details – some of them, anyway. Plenty of questions remain: why teenagers? Where do the alien-angels come from, and how are they connected to the apparently partly-biological robots (or “evas”)? Who’s the shadowy organization that runs the shadowy organization that runs the eva program and where did they get their plans and prophecies from? Why do the main characters have a pet penguin? And why is every single character in this show extremely neurotic?

I get that we’re in Japan, so of course there are teenagers piloting giant robots and of course there’s an out-of-place, comic-relief pet penguin. These traditions endure from Voltron to Macross/Robotech to Gundam to American movies like Robot Jox and Pacific Rim. I just played a 2015 Japanese video game in which cool dudes and underdressed sexy ladies pilot giant robots to kill marauding aliens, accompanied by a comic-relief talking potato, so it’s still going strong.

Our heroes:

Things get dark quickly:

The show is obsessed with numbering things (the third child, unit 04, seventh construction phase of tokyo-3, twelfth angel, second branch, code 707), feeling at times like the script was written in Excel. Set in the futuristic time of 2015-2016.

Seele or Nerv or something:

Our tormented lead character is Shinji. He lives with Misato, a hard-drinkin’ penguin-owner who runs mission control along with ex-rival Ritsuko and ex-flame Kaji, or actually I’m not sure what any of their jobs are because I watched the show slowly and missed or forgot some details. Also living with them is super-cocky pilot Asuka, whose whole world falls apart if she can’t be the best at everything. And living on her own is the quiet, often-injured Rei. Everyone has major, major parental and/or love-life issues, the worst of which is that Shinji’s dad Ikari runs the shadowy Eva organization Nerv but has never once spoken to his son with affection, and has a weird offscreen relationship with Rei, who he might be cloning.

Rei-clones:

Ikari-hand:

Then in the final episodes, instead of polishing off the story it dives into the tortured minds of the lead characters for an experimental-film psychoanalysis session. “This is the me that exists in your mind.” Shinji meets the perfect friend who turns out to be the final angel and must be killed by Shinji’s own hands. Asuka’s and Shinji’s moms die repeatedly in flashback. Ikari talks to an eyeball in his disfigured hand. Rei keeps being resurrected. Even the penguin is sent to live with someone else. Finally, Shinji reaches self-acceptance. “It’s okay for me to be here.” I found parts of the final episodes whiny and repetitive, but over the next few days warmed up to the idea of the whole series having been a prolonged Shinji therapy session.


The End of Evangelion (1997)

Then, the movie remakes those last two episodes the way the fans preferred: with mad apocalypse instead of therapy. There are still sexual and parental hangups, petty grievances, inter-agency power struggles, and everyone’s still super lonely and unhappy, but now there’s more sci-fi storyline to go with it. Nine new winged evas are unleashed along with military forces upon our Tokyo base, decimating it. Asuka goes on the biggest homicidal rampage of all time, taking down all the new evas, then Shinji has the biggest crippling self-doubt paralysis of all time, then every other character in the entire series is killed, then Rei becomes a planet-sized god, rapturing and absorbing the souls of all humanity. Unfortunately, the underground control panel nerds stay alive until the very end so they can keep spouting nonsense:

“Ikari has installed a Type 666 firewall on the MAGI’s external feed circuits.”

“Psychograph signal down!”

and my favorite,

“Pilot response approaching infinite zero!”

Said to be one of the best anime series ever… after this and Paranoia Agent I wonder what I should try next. Apparently Death & Rebirth is a skippable movie, condensed from the series and End of Evangelion movie, and there’s a trilogy of remake movies from 2007-2012 from the original creative team, which might be good, but I’ll hold off watching those since Wikipedia says there’s a part four coming. Writer/director Hideaki Anno apparently created the series (particularly the finale) in response to his own battle with depression. He started out as an animator on Nausicaa, also made Cutie Honey (which I enjoyed), some other kid/teen animated shows, and I guess he’s making the next Godzilla movie. Codirector Kazuya Tsurumaki directed the weirdo series FLCL.

Master of None season 1 (2015)

We watched this in mourning for the end of Parks & Recreation, and it’s fantastic – a very successful comedy-drama mix with hot issues (most notably racism and immigrant-parent stories) mixed into its relationship drama. I love how there’s an ensemble cast but each episode gets to tell its own story without roping in superfluous characters just because their actors are listed in the opening titles. Aziz, returning from Parks & Rec and the great Human Giant is a struggling actor, having been cast in (and cut from) an awful-looking movie called The Sickening. His on-again girlfriend is SNL’s Noël Wells and his friends are the giant Eric Wareheim and Lena Waithe (a writer on Bones and producer of Dear White People) and Kelvin Yu (Bob’s Burgers writer, in Milk and Cloverfield), with appearances by usual suspects Todd Barry and Jon Benjamin.

Great editing and music, widescreen cinematography – TV comedy is reaching new levels. Eric and Aziz directed episodes, along with Lynn Shelton (Laggies, Humpday) and James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now).


Rick and Morty season 2 (2015)

Not as revelatory as the first season, but just as high quality.

Featuring Key & Peele as testicle monsters, Jemaine Clement as a psychic cloud-being named Fart, Christina Hendricks and Patton Oswalt as hive-minds, Matt Walsh as Beth’s new bisexual husband Sleepy Gary, Stephen Colbert as a Rick-like scientist inside the car-battery microverse, half the Mr. Show cast in minor roles, and Dan Harmon as Ice-T.


Veep season 3 (2014)

In which Selina is running for president, Amy and Dan compete to be her campaign manager, and Jonah bounces between campaigns while running a DC insider blog. Also in the presidential race are defense secretary Isiah Whitlock Jr., senator(?) Randall Park, MLB coach Glenn Wrage, and some normal-looking white guy who I forget who he is (Paul Fitzgerald). Unbelievable ending, as Veep’s losing on the campaign trail, but becomes President anyway after her boss steps down. I’m guessing it won’t last long.

Presidential debaters:

Veep Daughter Sarah Sutherland in front of the strategy board:

Trip to England:


And rewatched The Mighty Boosh season 3

Six years in the life of Yonkers NY, surrounding the building of court-ordered low-income housing for black/hispanic residents in the white parts of town. Lots of scenes in city council meetings and offices, places which don’t necessarily make for great TV viewing, and of course the local bars where David Simon characters always meet to make the real decisions.

The less-engaging side of the series is about local politics with Nick (Oscar “Llewyn Davis” Isaac, who had an epic 2015) as our protagonist. He’s the title hero, though his investment in desegregating Yonkers seems a far distant second to his self-centered political aspirations, which take off when he becomes an unlikely young mayor, swept into office (replacing Jim Belushi) to fight the desegregation, but finding himself having to defend it. Sure, Nick has morals, but his “doing the right thing” is meant to keep the city from going bankrupt from federal fines, not to bravely and singlehandedly defeat racism. And though he turned out to be the mayor the town needed at that particular time, he’s quickly run out of office by arrogant bastard Alfred Molina, and Nick’s political dreams turn to despair, feeling that he’d won a great victory, but a victory the angry residents would never recognize.

The rest of the show follows prospective residents of the new townhomes, detailing their individual lives and travails. Among the indifferentiated mob of white residents who show up to town hall meetings screaming about their property values is Mary (Catherine Keener), who’s representative of the gradual acceptance of the new housing. When the houses finally go up and families move in, Mary is coerced (by Clarke Peters, Det. Lester Freamon) to join a committee to meet with the residents and help them adjust – and help their bitter white neighbors adjust as well.

Mary before/after:

“We’re not prejudiced. Anyone is welcome to live in my neighborhood if they have the money.”

Most of the future residents we follow are women in trouble. Doreen (Natalie Paul)’s man is a drug dealer with asthma – and we know what happens to movie characters with asthma, so soon she’s a single mom, hooked on the crack. Norma (LaTanya “wife of Samuel L.” Jackson) was a nurse until she loses her sight due to diabetes, is helped out by her son Brother Mouzone. Carmen (Ilfenesh Hadera, currently on the Paul Giamatti show Billions) is from Dominican Republic, tries going back there but can’t make ends meet in either country. Billie (Dominique Fishback, soon appearing with D’Angelo Barksdale in another period New York David Simon miniseries, The Deuce) gets pregnant (a bunch of times) by petty criminal (later major criminal) John (Jeff Lima of Half Nelson), who spends half the show in prison.

Meanwhile, Nick will do anything to get back into office, including getting his wife (Carla Quevedo) fired and turning on his oldest council friend Winona Ryder. But he’s not exactly beloved around Yonkers, having sided with the federal enemy. The quiet unsung heroes here are the smart federal specialists (housing experts Peter Riegert and Clarke Peters, and judge Bob Balaban) manipulating a belligerent town towards social change.

Molina don’t give a shit:

Some awful hair and suits, gradually getting more tolerable as the horrors of the 1980’s fade away. Lots of Bruce Springsteen and a good Steve Earle tune used as theme song. Sadly, only one use of the word “mook”. Movies often start at the end (I have a starts-at-the-end tag on the blog), but this one repeats its suicidal-Nick-in-the-cemetery finale at the beginning AND in the middle.

Mostly this got deservedly great reviews, though the Haggis-haters at Slant tore it apart (I’ll agree with the line “Keener dons ridiculous old-lady drag”). Presumably they didn’t tear up, as I did, at the final episode: the joy and terror felt by the new residents about their neighborhood, Nick’s strangled cry for help before heading to the cemetery, the horrified look Winona Ryder gives Nick’s widow at the funeral, and the thaw in hostilities between new neighbors represented by Poodle Lady (played by the director’s ex-wife).

Poodle Lady: