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Station Eleven 👍

It was a brave move, to release a TV show/limited series set in the aftermath of a world-ending respiratory virus pandemic right at the tail end of covid. Good thing that the execution was flawless, from the dream-like cinematography,1 through casting, to Satoshi Kon-like editing. Notes of Watchmen, too, in how the source material is to be taken seriously but not literally when converting a book into something else.

Importantly, Station Eleven is set in, but is not about, a post-apocalyptic Earth, in much the same way Titanic was set in, but was not about, a sinking ship. Less romantic love and more parent/guardian/child love/hate relationships here, which is why it takes 9+ hours instead of 3+ to tell the story; but a full, rich, meaningful story is told, and told well. Kudos.

  1. Almost every shot reminded me of the dream sequences from The Leftovers, which were in fact its best part. And it is here that I realize with horror that I never wrote about The Leftovers, which is in my all-time top 5. A rewatch and a writeup are due. 

The Mysterious Benedict Society 👍

A Disney+ TV show that WoG followers would like. Villains are IYI vegans who live in modernist buildings and make children live by absurd and contradictory rules that only give an appearance of freedom (“You are free to go wherever you like, as long as you stay on the path”, to paraphrase one). Our heroes, both children and adults, are messy but resourceful, at home in both a Georgian mansion and the wilderness of (I assume, though it’s never specified) the Pacific Northwest.

It starts in a picturesque costal town right off of Townscaper. By the third episodes the children are stuck in a nightmareish brutalist school that is all acute angles and ‘70s orange-white plastic furniture — not nearly as pretty to look at, but the puzzle-of-the-day aspect makes every episode worthwhile. It ends with most of the loose ends tied up but with promises of more to come. And Tony Hale is in almost evey scene. What’s not to love?

The Mare of Easttown 👍

The Mare of Easttown is the best dead-girl-in-a-sad-town TV show to come out of the US since Twin Peaks. To be clear, the 30-some years that separate them still have many good shows of the genre, but none were American. When they weren’t busy churning out the millionth iteration of CSI, Americans could only muster pale copies of what came out of Britain and Scandinavia, with characters and plots lifted wholesale and Northern European sentiments crammed oddly into New England toponyms.

The Mare takes its setting more seriously, and not just with flannel shirts, odd accents, and dozens of bottles of Yuengling and Rolling Rock drunk per episode. You quickly learn that the town is not all that bad: it has decent homes, an upscale college and high school, and a pretty good sense of community. It’s the people who are sad, each in their own way and for their own reasons, with the titular Marianne the saddest of them all, and the show mostly dedicated to exploring how and why this happened.

There is also a murder or two, some kidnappings, and an action scene that brought back some of the best moments of The Silence of the Lambs. A few of the cliffhangers were the murder mystery equivalent of a jump scare, but that can be forgotten because the show manages to pull off a successful double-twist ending that is both reasonable and unexpected.

Ultimately, if a show is good enough for Kate Winslet to be in, it’s more than good enough for me to watch.

The Undoing 👎

A mini-series is usually the better format for a book adaptation than a movie. Not so with HBO’s The Undoing. The stretched-out plot and meaningless flashbacks just barely fill out the six hours allotted. Twenty years ago it would have been an enjoyable 100-minute psycho-drama, also staring Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant, and Donald Sutherland. With less Upper East Side lifestyle porn, perhaps, but also with fewer unnecessary scenes of violence.

It is difficult to understand why things didn’t work out, because the first episode — easily the best one of the show — had such promise. Squeeze the other five into Acts II and III, and you would get a much more engaging story. Sadly, it is only the three hundred million dollar flops that get do-overs these days.

Chernobyl 👍

Chernobyl became a last-minute entrant for the best show on TV of the 2010s, but it is apparent now that the 2020s are its decade. From governmental incompetence to criminal cover-ups to the bravery of regular humans, the parallels between a 1980s nuclear meltdown and a 2020s societal meltdown draw themselves. Being an 80s baby, I can only count my blessings that nuclear fallout isn’t self-replicating.

But I do hope I’m still around when Wuhan comes out.

The Mandalorian, Season 2 👍

The Mandalorian is still a series of fantastic action pieces connected by enough plot to make it interesting without requiring you to build your own crazy wall. It’s the good kind of mindless, now with some old favorites.

The Mandalorian, Season 1 👍

There is a place in everyone’s life for mindless entertainment: things with which to amuse and delight your brain when it can’t handle anything more mentally taxing. But whereas mindfulness is always the same: complex, developing characters, plot twists, emotional range (yawn), there are many different ways to achieve mindlessness. Most shows take the easy route: if there is no “there” there, there is nothing to worry your mind about — just react to what’s in front of your eyes without worrying what came before or what will come after, football in the groin-style.

As you could have guessed from the thumbs up emoji in the title, The Mandalorian does it the hard way. It counts on the viewers’ familiarity with Star Wars and western movie tropes to do the mental work in the background without taxing the frontal cortex. There is a before and an after, but you’ve seen the before and can guess the after so you can focus on the here and the now of blasters firing away and villains monologuing themselves into a stalemate. Familiar but fresh, just what the brain needs after dealing with the stale strangeness of the last year.

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