Category: Television



The latest show I’ve binge watched is Knights of Sidonia, the anime based on the manga by Tsutomu Nihei (which I’ve not read). It’s a “Netflix Original” in that Netflix produced and has exclusive distribution rights to the English language version, but is actually a production of Polygon Pictures. As for the show itself, it’s a mecha anime with a relatively hard-SF bent and a distinctive CGI animation style. The premise is that humanity scattered after the Earth was destroyed by giant mysterious space monsters. Hundreds of years later the generation ship Sidonia is alone in space, training mecha pilots to fight off monsters, when a mysterious, uniquely skilled, biologically unusual boy is discovered who quickly becomes the key to the ship’s survival.

There is, frankly, almost nothing in it that I haven’t seen somewhere before, and often done better. (The Left Hand of Darkness-esque androgynes, in particular, are criminally under-used.) There’s a ton of Gunbuster in here, some heaping spoonfuls of Evangelion, and a steady stream of familiar beats and thematic gestures from both anime and written science fiction. But for all that it doesn’t feel particularly original, the mix is pleasing, the pacing tight, and the willingness to kill off established characters admirable. And while it has the usual, eye rolling, fan service-y cliches that make watching so much anime feel like a mildly guilty pleasure, it at least goes to some effort to justify their inclusion in the show. All the women are drawn to the main character because he’s a biological oddity who is constantly saving all their lives. (And one of them isn’t a woman, it’s an androgyne, but so far that only functionally means “shy, flatter-chested character who corrects people when they say ‘you’re a cute girl.'”) The gratuitous nudity is because all of these people photosynthesize for most of their nutrition, and need to disrobe and expose their skin to the light frequently. So the show feels like it’s at least trying to meet me halfway in not being a total embarrassment, which makes it palatable enough for me to stick around for the high velocity space battle goodness.

My biggest problem with the show, really, is that it’s a mecha anime at all. The ubiquity of the genre convention that the right tool for any hard job is a giant robot shaped like a human body is mystifying. The better the rest of the science fiction world building gets, the more the mecha stand out as simply odd. No reason is ever given why intricate mecha are a superior option to, say, space fighter planes. It’s not like those huge mechanical wrist joints actually get used in battle very often. In space, no one can feel you throw an elbow. One of the many, many things I loved about Cowboy Bebop was that I was finally getting space opera without all the damn mecha. I was supremely disappointed when Attack on Titan turned out not to be about orbital sorties above the moons of Saturn. Anime seems the perfect medium to tell big, crunchy, engineering-heavy, interstellar science fiction stories, if only these series could get past spending 30% of their time on teaching space warrior to bend their hydraulic knees.

Hannibal: Network Television Strikes Back

NBC-Hannibal-About-Cast-1920x1080I’m now finished binge-watching the two extant seasons of Hannibal, and I’m astounded. For one thing it’s very good, very dark TV.1 But I’ve seen good, dark TV before. It’s become widely accepted that we’re in a golden age of television drama ushered in by the original programming on HBO and other cable channels beginning about a decade and a half ago. Starting with shows like The Wire and The Sopranos, through Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Game of Thrones, TV narrative is darker and more complex than it’s ever been before. But the unifying element of all of these gilded programs has been that they are on subscription services, whether traditional ones like HBO and Showtime, or extended cable channels like AMC, or even streaming services like Netflix (House of Cards, Orange is the New Black). Subscription channels have been getting all the attention, all the acclaim, while network television contented itself with sitcoms and reality shows.

No longer. Hannibal is clearly one of the new crop of dramas: complex, visually striking, and as dark as any program I’ve ever seen. What’s most astonishing about it, though, is that it’s broadcast on NBC. It’s a network television program that could easily be on HBO. It’s certainly as bloody as anything that’s been shown on a subscription channel. About the only thing that gives away its network roots is the occasional elbow carefully placed to occlude a nipple. But aside from that, it’s every bit as engrossing and disturbing as the cable critical darlings. It’s like an alternate universe version of Dexter that wasn’t an insipid gore cartoon.2 This is the counterpunch; the networks are finally ready to compete on narrative. If The Corner and Oz and The Sopranos represented the start of a new kind of long-form storytelling on television, then Hanibal represents the point at which it became the new normal.

  1. I wish there were more meaningful women on the show, but that’s my only complaint about it 

  2. Although, to be fair, I only watched the first season of Dexter. Maybe that show eventually developed a recognizably human character or two? 

HANNIBAL and DEATH NOTE: Comparative Synopses

HannibalDeathNoteDeath Note (the manga): A brilliant man with the effortless power to kill targets those who offend his ethical or aesthetic sensibilities, but his work attracts the attention of an equally brilliant though eccentric detective. The detective gets close to the killer, even becoming friends with him and letting him “assist” the investigation, and the two engage in a protracted exchange of diabolical traps and stratagems to try and discover/eliminate each other. Eventually the killer triumphs over the brilliant detective and causes his downfall. The killer takes the detective’s place within the criminal justice organization. But the friends and colleagues of the detective continue to pursue him, and eventually back him into a corner. All throughout, the body count rises steadily.

Hannibal (the television show, through the first 1.5 seasons): A brilliant man with the seemingly effortless power to kill targets those who offend his ethical or aesthetic sensibilities, but his work attracts the attention of an equally brilliant though eccentric detective. The killer gets close to the detective, even becoming friends with him and “assisting” the investigation, and the two engage in a protracted exchange of diabolical traps and stratagems to try and discover/eliminate each other. Eventually the killer triumphs over the brilliant detective and causes his downfall. The killer takes the detective’s place within the criminal justice organization. But the friends and colleagues of the detective continue to pursue him. All throughout, the body count rises steadily.

The more Hannibal I watch, the more convinced I become that it and Death Note are different cultural lenses pointed at the same story.

Dr. House is a Wuss

For the last few days I’ve been playing DVDs of House M.D. as background noise while I work, and just heard the following, from the season 3 episode “Top Secret.”

HOUSE: I haven’t peed in three days!

WILSON:  You’d be dead.

HOUSE: I’m not counting intermittent drips.

WILSON: You’d be in agony.

HOUSE: I passed agony yesterday around 4:00.

In 2003, September through November, I experienced a frequently misdiagnosed condition that eventually turned out to be Strattera shutting down my parasympathetic nervous system.  As a result, I went about 45 days without peeing, except what came out due to over-pressure.  And I wasn’t taking a dozen Vicodin every day.  So I probably have a little less sympathy for House than the writers intended.

Unorganized Battlestar Ranting

Still too focused on my short story to put any mental energy into structuring these thoughts.

  • The decision to give up all technology and live in a state of grace with nature was completely unmotivated and nonsensical.  It is impossible to believe that 38,000 people all agreed, after years of struggling to maintain their way of life, to abandon the products and practices of civilization.  And that little scene between Lee and Bill Adama where Lee says, “It’s amazing everyone agreed to this!” and Bill says, “Never underestimate the appeal of wiping the slate clean” does nothing to address this.  That is what the Turkey City Lexicon calls “You Can’t Fire Me, I Quit” writing:  “An attempt to diffuse the reader’s incredulity with a pre-emptive strike, as if by anticipating the reader’s objections, the author had somehow answered them.”
  • If Hera is mitochondrial Eve, this has some awfully dark implications for the survivors of the 12 colonies.  Specifically, it means that every single one of them failed to have any progeny that survived and procreated.  That map of the world the Adamas said they would scatter the population of the fleet across?  All of those colonization attempts, except for one of them in Africa, utterly failed.  They all died, and if they had any children, those children died too.  Additionally, if we have any sentimental feelings for the humans already on the planet, then we should hope that one of the natives is y-chromosome Adam, because Hera being mitochondrial Eve means that the fleet arrives before the human population bottleneck.  Somewhere between Hera wandering the savanna and Ron Moore in Times Square, the entire human population drops to around 2000 individuals.  So unless one of Hera’s hardiest offspring (or, conceivably, Hera herself) got it on with one of the natives, then we must also conclude that the arrival of the fleet meant the eventual extinction of the indiginous humans.
  • Every episode for who-can-remember-how-long has started with Kara Thrace specifically reminding the audience that we should be wondering what the hell she was.  This, apparently, did not actually prefigure any intention on the part of the creators to answer that question.  So they completely failed to make good on what has been, for the last season and a half, the most strongly emphasized narrative promise.  This is highly unsatisfying.  (Although, if you actually think through the implications of Hera being mitochondrial Eve, I suppose they did make good on that whole “harbinger of death” thing.  Not that I have any faith that the writers actually realized this.)
  • In what I’m certain was intended to be a touching moment of connection, Saul Tigh tells Galen Tyrol that if Tory had done to Ellen what she did to Cally, he (Saul) would have killed her (Tory), too. What Tory did to Cally was murder her, motivated by self-preservation and race loyalty.  As opposed to what Saul did to Ellen on New Caprica, which was murder her, motivated by self-preservation and race loyalty.  Way to be self aware about your male bonding there, Saul.
  • Head Six and Head Baltar being angels, and there actually being a higher power (which may or may not be god) influencing events I personally find extremely unsatisfying.  I can’t strongly argue that the narrative didn’t earn this revelation, though.  There has been plenty to support this being the answer.  It’s just that “They really were a couple of deus ex machina all along” isn’t very interesting.
  • This show has treated in-group/out-group dynamics and dealt with issues ranging from the propriety of torture to the ethics of military occupation with such subtlety that I was tremendously disappointed by the hollow moralizing of the dancing robots ending.  As far as parallelism between the show’s story and the real world goes, they could have gone with a “will we repeat the mistakes of the past?” ending in a hundred different ways that would have been better than the slapstick literalism of “robots will turn on us if we aren’t careful.”

Immediate Post-Battlestar Reaction

Oh my gods, that was such a train wreck.  What the frak was Ron Moore thinking?

Decree: there is no last hour of Battlestar Galactica, in much the same way that there is only one season of Heroes.  Battlestar Galactica ends with the ship getting destroyed at the colony when they attempt to jump away.  The last hour is an insane fantasy that goes through the mind Kara Thrace (who is NOT a fucking angel pigeon) right before she turns the jump key.