Idiot Box for the Isolated

by wjw on May 16, 2020

Here in my isolated rural paradise I’ve been watching a lot more video than I usually do, and— for some damn reason— doing a lot less reading.  The least I can do is share my online encounters.

Safe and The Stranger, both on Netflix.  Two of Harlan Coben’s thrillers (which I haven’t read) have been shifted from America to Britain, apparently without harm.  Safe’s plot revolves around the death of one teenager and the disappearance of another, taking place in a gated community which is supposed to be, well, safe.  The relentless father of the missing girl is played by Michael C. Hall, who played the serial killer Darkly Dreaming Dexter, and every time he got into a confrontation with someone, I kept thinking, “Do what he says, dude!  You don’t know who you’re dealing with!”  The Stranger likewise takes place in a small, intimate setting, an English village, where a young stranger (Hannah John-Kamen from Killjoys, equipped with a baseball cap and some eerie green contact lenses) starts revealing the town’s most intimate secrets.  Both series have very satisfying twisty plots and people who go missing, and both feature teenagers who are keeping secrets from the grownups, because that’s what teenagers do apparently.  Of the two, The Stranger is probably the more satisfying, with a terrific performance by Stephen Rae.

The Prisoner, the Sixties series on Amazon Prime.  No time like the present to review tips on surviving a technological panopticon!  Holds up surprisingly well, and manages to engage the viewer despite McGoohan’s character never letting you know what he’s feeling or thinking, because that kind of reveal is the equivalent of handing information to the enemy.

I keep picturing that somewhere there’s a proper British club inhabited exclusively by former Number Twos, none of whom understand the series finale.

Bosch, Season 6, on Amazon Prime.  Each series mashed two or three of Michael Connelly’s police procedurals together, which has the effect of making Harry Bosch as overworked as a real police detective. Season Six, just released, mashes with less success— the plot seems more scattered than unified, but excellent performances make it very watchable.

Extraction, on Netflix.  Those of the appropriate hormonal persuasion will be pleased to note that Chris Hemsworth is even more buff in this series than when he played Thor.  I think it’s self-defense, because Hemsworth spends the entire film in knockdown fistfights, dragging himself through sewers, or being thrown off rooftops.  If his soft tissues weren’t surrounded by a hundred pounds of solid muscle, he’d be dead.  The action scenes are completely insane— you see Hemsworth’s face as he goes off the rooftop, only to bound off an awning, hit another awning on a food truck, then flop off into the street.  The stunt doubles were underemployed on this one.

And the plot?  Well, the son of India’s foremost drug lord is kidnaped by a rival in Bangladesh, and white savior Hemsworth is hired to break him free.  Hemsworth has to do this pretty well by himself— you’d think the subcontinent’s foremost drug lord could afford a larger team.  It’s not plausible, but it’s fun for those who enjoy bucket loads of action.

Bordertown, a/k/a/ Sorjonen, Season 3, on Netflix.  Detective Kari Sorjonen is back in the third installment of this cerebral, depressing Nordic police procedural.  (I mean “depressing” in a good way.)  This time he’s up against a mastermind who’s basing his crimes on Sorjonen’s previous cases.  I haven’t got through the whole of the this series, but if you liked the first two, you’ll like this one.  (Here’s my take on the first season.)

When I encounter a fictional character like Sorjonen, who resides somewhere on the autistic spectrum, I have to wonder how he managed when he was just an ordinary cop.  His nonstandard mental focus makes him perfect for solving complex crimes, but how did he survive when his job was handing out parking tickets and hauling drunks off to jail?  And it’s not just him— can you imagine Monk as a beat cop?

Money Heist, seasons 3 and 4, on Netflix.  The first two seasons of this Spanish series, which covered one spectacular, elaborate crime in 22 episodes, were compulsively watchable— here’s my review— but now it seems two seasons isn’t enough for one crime anymore.  As I was watching the clock run out on Season 4, I kept wondering how the hell they were going to wrap it up by the last episode . . . and the answer is that they didn’t.  Our antiheroes will still be stuck inside the Bank of Spain at the beginning of Season 5, which they haven’t even started to film yet.  I guess I’ll tune in, but I’m beginning to wonder how long they can drag this out.

Ford vs. Ferrari.  Good race movie.  Evokes the era really well.  I don’t know how this ended up as an Oscar nominee, because it just isn’t that kind of film, but if you remember Carroll Shelby tearing up the track back in the day, you’ll enjoy this.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.  Honestly, I liked this Tarentino film a lot more than I thought I would.  As the title should tell you, this is a fable— or, as we SF people might say, alternative history.  It’s too hard-edged to be a “love letter to old Hollywood,” as a great many have said, especially as much of the action has to do with despair and alcoholism.  The characters are involved in a kind of Brownian motion study, in which fictional characters bounce up against people like Sharon Tate or Bruce Lee, then bounce away again.  Robbie steals the best scene, in which Sharon Tate sneaks into the theater to watch herself in The Wrecking Crew, an awful Dean Martin vehicle.  I watched the whole movie dreading the final scene— because this is Tarentino, after all, and Sharon Tate and the Manson Family are in the cast— but fortunately the film is a fable, and the ending, while violent, feels justified, and even hopeful.  (There.  Was that vague enough for you?)

Messages From Elsewhere.  This limited AMC series was a passion project for creator/star Jason Segel, and also starts Richard E. Grant and Sally Field.  Segel plays a sad sack named Peter, who gets involved in what might be an Alternate Reality Game, or possibly a glimpse behind the curtain of reality, or possibly a hunt for a missing girl, or possibly a script written by Jason Segel.  Peter is partnered on his quest with Sally Field, Andre Benjamin, and trans actress Eve Lindley, who is also his love interest.  The series is charming and quirky and often beautiful, though I felt that the payoff at the end lacked a solid punch.  I follow something this involved for this many episodes, I want to feel like the ending socked me in the jaw.

If you get a chance to see this one, you really should.

Has anyone seen Tales From the Loop or Upload?  Ought I bother?

Steinar Bang May 16, 2020 at 4:08 am

I’m pondering throwing some more of my money Bezo’s way and getting Prime so that I can watch “Tales from the loop”, “Star Trek: Picard” and the most reason seasons of “The Expanse”.

And also maybe “Hunters”? (to throw in a non-SF, non-Fantasy alternative)

So far I’ve resisted, but the resistance may be weakening.

I love Stålenhag’s images and I wonder what they will look like in a TV series setting. The reviews I’ve seen of “Tales from the Loop” have been good (or at least: describing something I think I would like to watch).

On what I’ve actually seen: I’ve finished Homeland, and I have two episodes to go on “The Bureau” (ie. spy stuff). And I also just recently finished season three of “Stan Lee’s Lucky Man” (side note: the series has a good looking green eyed actress you might consider for a certain part)

Areteo May 16, 2020 at 8:29 am

I would recommend both. TFTL is mostly about mood, and some find it too slow, especially the first few episodes. But it’s unlike anything else I’ve seen, and I ended up being quite impressed by it. Upload is a lot slicker, but surprisingly quirky for all that, and more engaging than I expected.

Steinar Bang May 16, 2020 at 1:41 pm
Etaoin Shrdlu May 16, 2020 at 7:26 pm

I spent some of my Trumpbucks on . . . The Stickpin, only available in paperback. It was wonderful to see PJ again. I miss him. I’m going to email you a critique when I can get into my email again. I’m also happy to note that Wisconsin is now open for business, even if it is a bit of a drive for me.

Next up, a bunch of historical sailing novels, if I can figure out how to order them without a credit card. Dude, bitcoin?!!!??!!!

Mike just Mike May 16, 2020 at 8:47 pm

I got a kick out of “The Last Kingdom” It seems that Bernard Cornwell writes in a very cinematic (or netflixomatic) way. I wish I could see more Walter Moseley, or James Lee Burke on netflix.

Mike just Mike May 16, 2020 at 8:51 pm

I really want to watch “Messages from Elsewhere.” I always like it when AMC does a good thinky. I just binged “Halt and Catch Fire.” I miss thinky.

Sheila Hartney May 16, 2020 at 10:30 pm

I’ve been watching Upload and I think it’s very good.

wjw May 16, 2020 at 11:56 pm

You’d have to ask Amazon or Apple about the Bitcoin. Though if you’ve got some cash in PayPal, I think they’ll accept that.

I wanted to like “Hunters” more than I did, because in the end it got rather silly. Jordan Peele’s intelligence was all over it, but it just had too many ingredients for it to cohere.

Emily Wagner May 17, 2020 at 8:43 am

Tales from the Loop is amazing!!!! I love it. It is beautiful…. love the themes.

I bought the book and can’t wait to check it out when it arrives.

Ralf T. Dog. May 17, 2020 at 8:47 am

I liked Upload far more than I expected.

Ralf T. Dog. May 17, 2020 at 9:01 am

I will admit that I stayed up all night watching movies. I started with Contagion, then moved on to 28 days later followed by, 28 weeks later. For some reason all three movies have been taken out of the fiction section.

I broke pattern and finished up by watching the first two episodes of West World.

Totally off subject, I was just looking at the New Mexico numbers, stay safe. (I suspect most of the activity is on tribal land. Poverty is the greatest risk factor. Wherever you live, stay safe.)

Etaoin Shrdlu May 17, 2020 at 4:10 pm

PayPal, LOL. I used it once around fifteen or twenty years ago, then my credit card expired. A few years later I tried to use it again for a one-time “donation” to an Indiegogo “campaign”, and they refused me on the grounds that since I’d added my card to their system once before, I was required by their “policy” to link it to PayPal again as a permanent thing, not as a one-time use. I said screw ’em, and they saved me $250 when the Indiegogo “campaign” (TechJect, the robotic hummingbird ornithopter) disappeared with all the money they’d scammed out of people.

The sad thing is, I’m reasonably sure they had a working product, because other people have built the same types of toys.

I guess overall that means PayPal did good things for me both times I (tried to) use it. Still can’t trust ’em, and I don’t have a credit card any more anyway. (Thanks, Taiwanese banks, for treating us icky foreign residents as criminals by default.)

Oh well. I’ll see if my brother will order the stuff for me. SOMEHOW, I’m going to manage to read those books — I want to see if any early iterations of Martinez appear in them. His character development in the first trilogy is beautifully done.

Douglas C Potter May 17, 2020 at 7:38 pm


You might give a look at Devs. It’s a limited series- 8 episodes, the first three of which took me as much time to watch as a weekly network tv show. Then it got my attention.

mearsk May 18, 2020 at 10:25 am

Upload is pretty great. I’m definitely looking forward to season 2. It’s funny and irreverent and more on-point that I thought it would be.

I made it through 4 episodes of Tales from the Loop before I stopped because I was contemplating getting anti-depressants. It’s well produced and thoughtful and horribly depressing. You’ve made it through other depressing shows so it might work for you.

Flo May 20, 2020 at 8:30 pm

Yes, I watched Upload. It’s fun.

Steinar Bang June 2, 2020 at 4:35 pm

Currently watching Deutschland 86, the sequel to Deutschland 83.

Lots of 80-ies nostalgia, and (probably less missed?) cold war action.

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