Philip K. Dick’s Electric dreams (Season 1, Part 1, 2017)

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En español a continuación.

Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, Season 1, Part 1 (Channel 4, 2017).

Score: pulpy magic coming out of your TV.

Electric dreams is composed of ten standalone adaptations of Philip K. Dick short stories, written and directed by nineteen different people. Channel 4 has already aired six of the episodes, while the other four will have to wait until 2018; I’m so excited about this that I wanted to tell you all about the six episodes that are available as of now, even if the season is not over yet. In general, the episodes remain faithful to the spirit of the original, while they expand on characters’ backgrounds and motivations in order to fill the hour-long footage. While the central themes of K. Dick’s work are explored, reflected upon and made closer to a modern audience, many details of the short stories have been changed, which has enraged some very purist viewers. Oh! One more thing. This is airing on the slot of Black Mirror and they are both science-fiction but that’s pretty much the only similarity; the biggest difference is that Electric dreams isn’t rubbish that could have been thought up by a thirteen-year-old edgelord.

In “The hood maker”, a government division of telepaths is used to predict and punish crime before it happens. Agent Ross (Richard Madden) and Honor (Holliday Grainger) must team up to round up the Hood Maker, who manufactures hoods that block said telepaths. In “Impossible planet”, an old lady (Geraldine Chaplin) pays two space sightseeing pilots (Benedict Wong and Jack Reynor) to take her to the long lost Earth of her ancestors. In “The commuter”, a railroad employee (Timothy Spall) gets asked for a ticket to a station that doesn’t exist, which brings him on an adventure to a place that is not all that it seems. In “Crazy diamond” (adapted from “Sales pitch”), a worker in an artificial human factory (Steve Buscemi) is approached by one of these simulacra (Sidse Babett Knudsen) for his cooperation with a heist. In “Real life” (adapted from “Exhibit piece”), a depressed policewoman (Anna Paquin) decides to take a vacation on a virtual reality where she is John (Terrence Howard); she soon starts doubting which is real life and which is a simulation. Finally, in “Human is”, the wife of a violent and abusive soldier (Essie Davis) finds out that her husband (Bryan Cranston) has deeply changed after a skirmish with an alien species.

I really like the art design for the show; it manages to capture the zeerust and still look good to an audience that doesn’t have that context. It’s retro and futuristic and still eldritch at the same time. The colour palette for “Crazy diamond” is a great choice: the saturated blues and greens make everything look strange and alien and also Sidse Babett Knudsen’s red hair and outfits pop out. Episodes like “The commuter” look pretty much mundane, while others like “Human is” include greatly detailed backgrounds, props and costumes.

Some fifty years have passed since these stories were first published. These appeared in pulp magazines, cheap and popular, but mostly unheard of these days. What the average person spends their spare time on today is, you guessed it, TV shows. If you want this adaptation to be at least mildly interesting, you need to make it closer to its intended audience and, to do that, you need to make changes. It is my personal opinion that the reviews have been tepid because they changed too little to appeal to audiences who have never read K. Dick and too much for people who wanted a word-for-word translation, however absurd that is.

Let me get this out of the way now: Philip K. Dick is a one of a kind writer, not always in the good sense. He has zero regard for three-act structures. He starts at the beginning, finishes at the end and whatever happens in the middle, happens. He starts interesting arcs and then seems to forget about them, characters appear out of nowhere and start having conversations that don’t have anything to do with anything. That’s just how he wrote and it can be annoying at times but it’s also part of what made him so groundbreaking. Some of these adaptations try to sanitize that aspect (except for “Crazy diamond”, which embraces it) but you will still notice it if you’re not used to that kind of storytelling or don’t like it. I feel I have to say this: you will probably not like this show if you don’t like Philip K. Dick.

As for the individual episodes and how well they were adapted, “The hood maker” is a bit the odd one out. It tries much harder to emulate Blade Runner than a Philip K. Dick story and deviates a lot from the original, much more political and convoluted in comparison. The topic of mass surveillance is already in the original but the episode barely exploits it, steering soon into a story about trust between people, which isn’t really an issue as far as mass surveillance is concerned. “Impossible planet” and “The commuter” stay quite close to the originals but develop the characters further and make the themes more apparent. “Human is” goes a bit further and makes more changes but also stays pretty much within the original short story. I find them to be quite good adaptations.

On the other hand, “Real life” keeps the general idea of “Exhibit piece” but changes many details of the plot. As for “Crazy diamond”, I triple-checked that it was actually based on “Sales pitch” because I can’t find the similarities. “Sales pitch” is delicious satire of aggressive marketing strategies and the ubiquity of ads in modern life, while “Crazy diamond” follows a Coen-esque cowardly everyman protagonist as he can’t figure out whether he wants to rebel against his own life or stay subservient. It could have been written by Philip K. Dick any day of the week, mind you. It has the undeveloped subplot of the food that rots immediately and how they try to dig on the lawn to find steel sheets, as well as the motivation to leave and live on a boat far from the mainland, which could be an artifact from the original story. It has a weird structure and behaves anticlimaticly, like many things K. Dick penned. It was the episode I enjoyed the least but it still reflects the spirit of the author effectively.

A lot of characters have been changed into women because, let’s admit it, the originals are quite a sausage fest. Arcs have been added and characters who only had a few lines in the stories were given backgrounds and motivations in order to adjust the content and pacing for hour-long episodes. Themes and topics haven’t changed that much because the things that concerned K. Dick are still a matter of concern today. What every writer managed to do is sublimate K. Dick’s lifelong obsession, and that only is enough to make Electric dreams worth the time: reality versus dreams, what is versus what might have been, humans versus simulacra, truths that make us unhappy versus lies that make us happy. It’s all there, appropriated, distilled and perpetuated.

So, all in all, highly recommended.


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Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, Temporada 1, Parte 1 (Channel 4, 2017).

Puntuación: magia pulp directa a tu televisor.

Electric dreams se compone de diez adaptaciones independientes de relatos cortos de Philip K. Dick, escritas y dirigidas por diecinueve personas diferentes. Channel 4 ya ha emitido seis de ellos, mientras que los otros cuatro tendrán que esperar a 2018; me han gustado tanto que quería hablaros de los seis episodios que han salido, aunque la temporada no haya terminado. En general, los episodios son fieles al espíritu de los originales, a la vez que expanden los contextos de los personajes y sus motivaciones para llenar la hora de metraje. Si bien los temas centrales del trabajo de K. Dick se exploran, examinan y se aproximan al público actual, muchos detalles de los relatos se han cambiado, lo que ha enfurecido a algunos espectadores muy puristas. ¡Ah! Una cosa más. La serie se emite en el espacio de Black Mirror y ambas son ciencia-ficción pero ésa es mayormente la única similitud; la mayor diferencia es que Electric dreams no es una basura que podría habérsele ocurrido a un adolescente intensito.

En “The hood maker”, una división gubernamental de telépatas se usa para predecir y castigar los delitos antes de que ocurran. El Agente Ross (Richard Madden) y Honor (Holliday Grainger) deben colaborar para capturar al Fabricante de Capuchas, que fabrica capuchas para bloquear a dichos telépatas. En “Impossible planet”, una anciana (Geraldine Chaplin) paga a dos agentes de turismo espacial (Benedict Wong and Jack Reynor) para que la lleven a la Tierra perdida de sus ancestros. En “The commuter”, un taquillero de ferrocarriles (Timothy Spall) tiene un cliente que quiere un billete a una estación que no existe, lo que lo lleva en una aventura a un lugar que no es todo lo que parece. En “Crazy diamond” (adaptada de “Sales pitch”), un trabajador de una fábrica de humanos artificiales (Steve Buscemi) recibe la visita de uno de estos simulacros (Sidse Babett Knudsen) para que la ayude a dar un golpe. En “Real life” (adaptada de “Exhibit piece”), una agente de policía deprimida (Anna Paquin) decide tomarse unas vacaciones en una realidad virtual en la que es John (Terrence Howard); pronto comienza a dudar cuál es su vida y cuál es la simulación. Finalmente, en “Human is”, la esposa de un soldado violento y abusivo (Essie Davis) descubre que su marido (Bryan Cranston) ha cambiado drásticamente tras una escaramuza con una especie alienígena.

Me encanta el diseño artístico de la serie; consigue capturar el zeerust y a la vez tener buen aspecto para un público que no tenga ese contexto. Es retro y futurista y espeluznante a la vez. La paleta de color de “Crazy diamond” es una muy buena decisión: los azules y verdes saturados hacen que todo parezca extraño y ajeno y destacan el cabello y la ropa de Sidse Babett Knudsen. Episodios como “The commuter” parecen bastante mundanos, mientras que otros como “Human is” incluyen decorados, atrezzo y trajes muy detallados.

Han pasado unos cincuenta años desde que se publicaron estos relatos. Aparecieron en revistas pulp, baratas y populares, que ya casi no se hacen hoy en día. Con lo que pasa el rato el ser humano medio hoy es, lo adivinasteis, las series de televisión. Si quieres que esta adaptación sea un poco interesante, necesitas acercarla a su público objetivo y para hacer eso necesitas hacer cambios. En mi opinión personal, las críticas han sido tibias porque cambiaron demasiado poco para atraer al público que nunca ha leído a K. Dick y demasiado para la gente que quería una traducción palabra por palabra, por absurdo que sea.

Voy a quitarme esto de encima: Philip K. Dick es un autor único, no siempre en el buen sentido. Tiene cero respeto por las estructuras en tres actos. Empieza por el principio, termina por el final y lo que pasa en medio, pasa. Empieza arcos interesantes y luego parece olvidarse de ellos, hay personajes que aparecen de la nada y empiezan a tener conversaciones que no tienen que ver con nada. Él escribía así y a veces es muy cargante, pero también es parte de lo que lo hizo tan revolucionario. Algunas de estas adaptaciones tratan de disimular este aspecto (excepto “Crazy diamond”, que lo abraza), pero se nota igualmente si no estás acostumbrado a ese tipo de narrativa o no te gusta. Siento que tengo que decirlo: seguramente no te guste la serie si no te gusta Philip K. Dick.

En cuanto a los episodios individuales y cómo están adaptados, “The hood maker” es un poco el caso aparte. Se esfuerza mucho más por emular Blade Runner que un relato de Philip K. Dick y se desvía mucho del original, mucho más político y convulso en comparación. El tema de la vigilancia masiva ya está en el original, pero el episodio apenas lo explota, sino que vira pronto hacia una historia acerca de la confianza entre personas, lo cual realmente no está relacionado con la vigilancia masiva. “Impossible planet” y “The commuter” se mantienen bastante cercanos a los originales pero desarrollan los personajes y hacen que los temas sean más obvios. “Human is” va un poco más lejos y hace más cambios, pero por lo demás se mantiene dentro del relato original. Me parecen adaptaciones bastante buenas.

Por otro lado, “Real life” mantiene la idea general de “Exhibit piece”, pero cambia la mayoría de detalles de la trama. En cuanto a “Crazy diamond”, comprobé tres veces que de verdad está basada en “Sales pitch”, porque no le encuentro el parecido. “Sales pitch” es una sátira deliciosa del márketing agresivo y la ubicuidad de los anuncios en la vida moderna, mientras que “Crazy diamond” sigue a un protagonista ordinario, cobarde y coenesco, que no consigue decidir si rebelarse contra su propia vida o mantenerse sumiso. Lo podría haber escrito Philip K. Dick perfectamente, que no se diga. Tiene esa subtrama sin desarrollar de la comida que se pudre al instante y la escena en la que intentan excavar en el césped y solo encuentran planchas de metal, así como la motivación para marcharse a vivir en un barco en alta mar, que podría ser un artefacto del relato original. Tiene una estructura extraña y un comportamiento anticlimático, como muchas cosas escritas por K. Dick. Es el episodio que menos me gusta pero aun así refleja bien el espíritu del autor.

Muchos personajes ahora son mujeres porque, admitámoslo, los relatos originales son un campo de nabos. Se han añadido arcos y personajes que solo decían algunas frases ahora tienen un pasado y unas motivaciones para ajustar el contenido y el ritmo a episodios de una hora. Los temas y asuntos no han cambiado mucho porque lo que le preocupaba a K. Dick sigue siendo preocupante a día de hoy. Lo que ha conseguido cada guionista ha sido sublimar la obsesión de toda una vida de K. Dick y ya solo por eso merece la pena ver Electric dreams: realidad versus sueños, lo que es versus lo que podría haber sido, humanos versus simulacros, verdades que nos hacen infelices versus mentiras que nos hacen felices. Está todo ahí, apropiado, destilado y perpetuado.

Así que, en resumen, muy recomendada.

The newsroom (Season 1, 2012)

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En español a continuación.

The newsroom, Season 1, created by Aaron Sorkin (HBO, 2012).

Score: mongrel-like.

I decided to give this a watch because I had heard it praised by journalists I personally know and after a long talk with a dear friend about the virtues of Aaron Sorkin as a writer. I have to say that, while I still respect my friend’s opinion a great deal, I rather dislike Sorkin’s style and, expecting something along the lines of Spotlight, I was quite disappointed in the show.

Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) is a cable channel news anchor known for not bothering anyone: the Jay Leno of news anchors; one day, he snaps during a panel and goes into a diatribe that some may consider anti-American. The channel hires a new producer, MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), actually Will’s ex, and they all embark on the Quixotic task of actually informing American voters of what is going on in the country, regardless of their affiliation. There is also a major arc that bothers with a love polyhedron between journalists Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski), Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill) and Jim Harper (John Gallagher, Jr.) and Maggie’s roommate Lisa Lambert(Kelen Coleman).

The whole thing looks quite true-to-life: that was the exactitude that journalists praised in it. There are some interesting reflections on the nature of journalism, truth and manipulation, though nothing groundbreaking. But that is only about half of the runtime. The other half is spent building unresolved sexual tension between Will and Mac and having Maggie and Jim run around in sentimental goose chases I couldn’t care less about. It feels like the show wanted to cater both to people interested in investigative journalism and people who are not and will be distracted by a half-assed attempt at melodrama. Also, the awkward comedy. The way I see it, The newsroom has a serious tone problem: it’s not a drama about journalism and moral integrity, it’s not a romance and it’s not a comedy either. It’s everything in-between and it doesn’t work.

I was bored to death by The social network (and spent two hours wondering how I had wasted my college years so egregiously) and I still have a problem with Sorkin’s style: his screenplays are much too wordy. It’s just yak, yak, yak. Yakking down a corridor, down the street, over lunch. Everywhere you look, there’s exposition. Is the audiovisual medium really suitable for such an idea? Maybe it would work better in written form.

Still, it manages to be engaging. I do want to know what happens next. It’s not a mentally stimulating work, but on the other hand is perfect for munching on a TV dinner when I come home exhausted from work. No effort needed to follow.


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The newsroom, Temporada 1, creada por Aaron Sorkin (HBO, 2012).

Puntuación: mestiza.

Decidí echarle un vistazo a esto porque había oído a periodistas que conozco personalmente alabarla y tras una larga charla con un querido amigo acerca de las virtudes de Aaron Sorkin como escritor. Debo decir que, mientras aún respeto la opinión de mi amigo en gran medida, me disgusta bastante el estilo de Sorkin y, dado que esperaba algo en la línea de Spotlight, la serie me ha decepcionado bastante.

Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) es un presentador de noticias de un canal por cable conocido por no molestar a nadie: el Jay Leno de los presentadores de noticias; un día, pierde los papeles durante una conferencia y se embarca en una diatriba que algunos considerarían antiametricana. El canal contrata a una nueva productora, MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), de hecho la ex de Will, y se embarcan todos en una misión quijotesca para informar a los votantes estadounidenses de lo que ocurre en el país, independientemente de su afiliación. También hay un arco principal que se molesta con un poliedro amoroso entre los periodistas Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski), Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill) y Jim Harper (John Gallagher, Jr.) y Lisa Lambert (Kelen Coleman), la compañera de piso de Maggie.

En general parece bastante realista: ese era el rigor que le alababan los periodistas. Hay algunas reflexiones interesantes acerca de la naturaleza del periodismo, la verdad y la manipulación, aunque nada revolucionario. Pero eso es solo como la mitad del metraje. La otra mitad se la pasan construyendo tensión sexual no resuelta entre Will y Mac y metiendo a Maggie y Jim en un montón de enredos sentimentales que no me importaban en absoluto. Parece que la serie quería dirigirse tanto a gente interesada en el periodismo de investigación como a gente a la que no le interesa pero se distraerá con un intento cutre de melodrama. Y además, la comedia inoportuna. Tal y como yo lo veo, The newsroom tiene un serio problema de tono: no es un drama acerca del periodismo y la integridad moral, no es un romance ni tampoco una comedia. Es de todo un poco y no funciona.

Me aburrí a muerte con La red social (y me pasé dos horas preguntándome cómo pude malgastar mis años de universidad tan descaradamente) y todavía tengo un problema con el estilo de Sorkin: sus guiones son demasiado locuaces. Es todo bla, bla, bla. Gente rajando por un pasillo, por la calle, mientras come. Mires donde mires, hay exposición. ¿Es el medio audiovisual el más adecuado para una idea así? Quizás funcionaría mejor en forma escrita.

Y aun así, consigue ser entretenida. Quiero saber qué pasa a continuación. No es un trabajo mentalmente estimulante, pero por otro lado es perfecto para mascar el contenido de un tupper cuando llego a casa agotada del trabajo. No se requiere esfuerzo para seguirla.

The leftovers (Season 1, 2014)

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En español a continuación.

The leftovers, Season 1, created by Damon Lindelof, based on a novel by Tom Perrotta (HBO, 2014).

Score: insightful.

On October the 11th, 2011, 2% of the world’s population vanishes. They just poof into thin air. The leftovers shows some insight into the lives of the small community of Mapleton, just outside New York City, three years after the Sudden Departure. Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) is the Chief Officer of the local police, keen on maintaining peace and trying to help out his teenage daughter Jill (Margaret Qualley) after his father (Scott Glenn) was commited to a mental institution, his son Tom (Chris Zylka) ran away and joined a cult and his wife and he became estranged. Mapleton, just like the rest of the country, is being slowly taken over by the Guilty Remnant, a cult with a vow of silence and chainsmoking, led by Patti Levin (Ann Dowd) and intent on making everyone remember (and obsess over, if possible) the Sudden Departure. Other important characters are Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston), an Episcopalian priest hell-bent on proving that the Sudden Departure was not the Rapture by digging around the morally reproachable things that the Departed did; his sister Nora Durst (Carrie Coon), whose husband and two children were Departed and now works for the government, and Holy Wayne (Paterson Joseph), a cult leader who claims can take grief away by hugging people.

Even though the setting is similar to shows like Flashforward, The leftovers takes on a very different course: the goal is not to find out why all those people disappeared. It is not about solving the mystery, not even about taking a rational approach to it. Something painful happened with no explanation, and the different characters are seen coping with grief, reflecting on their own spirituality, looking up to an absent god for answers or preying on those who can’t find relief. The tone is successfully set within the first two episodes, through extensive use of religious imagery, from the Christian fresco-inspired opening credits to the repeated apparition of a deer, and by quickly establishing what the conflicts are.

The cinematography is more functional than elegant, the score abuses (not always appropriate) preexistent songs, and the dialogue can be silly at times, but the show is, in general, excellently written, especially on episodes that flesh out a particular character, such as “Two boats and a helicopter” and “Guest”. Probably because it deals with sensitive and powerful topics such as faith, grief and loss, from multiple perspectives. It works very well as an allegory for loss and trauma: the Sudden Departure is what you get when you add up sudden absence, an inability to rationalize what happened and a lack of closure. It works for natural deaths of loved ones, massive accidents, terrorist attacks, even broken homes. This allows the show to explore a different aspect of the topic with each character. Events and causality are not really overexplained, so it can be a demanding show; Kevin’s arc in particular requires piecing together and some patience.

All in all, probably not what you’re looking for if you want mystery and adventure, even though the plot trigger promises both. Once that it is out of the way, I recommend this show for its insight and the psychological depth of its characters.

Under the spoiler tag, I would like to analyse the characters in more depth, since there are some very juicy details.

***SPOILERS***

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Black Mirror (Season 3, 2016)

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En español a continuación.

Black Mirror, Season 3, created by Charlie Brooker (Netflix, 2016).

Score: guilt-tripping and fearmongering.

People have a weird relationship with science and technology: they trust them but they don’t bother to try and understand them. People complain about things their phones do or won’t do without realising some of those are for their own safety, or that they aren’t using the phone correctly. I worked for three years in tech support and you’d be surprised at how many people assume the manufacturer is obliged to back up all their personal data without even asking for permission and at the same time defend that 1234 is a perfectly good password. Bothering to understand the most basic things about computers and handheld devices is for nerds and millennials, and that really is a shame because technology is an incredibly powerful tool.

So, what do you do if you want to warn society about misusing such a mighty instrument? Wave your arms around, wail that the end is nigh and point fingers at everyone, of course. Black Mirror’s villains are unbelievable and boring because they’re all the lovechildren of Dr. Evil and Nolan’s Joker. Its allegories are ham-fisted, short-sighted and unoriginal. Even when it criticises technology directly, it’s really misguided.

What if phones, but too much, indeed.

But, for some reason I can’t start to wrap my head around, there is one episode in this season that it’s actually good, and not only for Black Mirror standards: “San Junipero”. Probably because it drops the edgelord act and actually examines an issue, with its good and bad aspects. Also, it bothers to create characters who actually have human, understandable motivations, which one would think would happen more frequently.

Here are my six rants for the six separate episodes:

***SPOILERS***

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The Handmaid’s tale (Season 1, 2017)

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The Handmaid’s tale, Season 1, created by Bruce Miller (Hulu, 2017).

Score: must-watch.

I first read The Handmaid’s tale back in December of 2013, over three feverish days. I recall myself gawking at my e-reader at the tram platform after a long day of work. I remember deep discomfort and gradual coping towards what was coming out of those pages.

In the wake of an infertility epidemic, a martial coup turns the United States into a totalitarian theocracy. Fertile women, dubbed Handmaids, are gathered, assigned as property to the regime’s elite and forced to conceive children for the Commanders. Failure to comply with the rules of the new order results in physical punishment, mutilation or leaving the house in a black van and never being seen again. The Handmaid’s tale follows the life of a woman formerly known as June (Elisabeth Moss), now forced to take the patronym Offred after the Commander she’s been assigned to, Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes). June is decided to be reunited with her husband Luke (O-T Fagbenle) and young daughter, who went missing when they were trying to flee the country to Canada and she was captured.

Let’s go over the science-fiction mantra one more time: science-fiction is about the world right now and right here, not trying to guess the future or to issue warnings (except for warning about things that are actually happening). Publicity of the show has focused too much, for my taste, on reassuring people that the Free World will not become Gilead tomorrow, don’t be silly. Everyone’s like, oh my god, do you think this could happen to us? No way, we’re above that. It seems we’ve got our heads too deep inside our own butts to realize all this is happening, has happened and will happen again. Maybe not near our homes, but definitely somewhere out there, to other human beings. Is it so extremely distressing to entertain the idea that we may be complete barbarians? Even more important, is it completely unfounded?

***SPOILERS***

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Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Seasons 2 and 3 (2014-2016)

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Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Seasons 2 and 3 (Fox, 2014-2016).

Score: stumbled and fell but later recovered.

Remember what I said about Brooklyn Nine-Nine being a show with a fair and witty sense of humour? Well, that stopped being true with the beginning of Season 2.

The sense of humour got blunt. Characters started to behave in ways they would never have before. It was painful to watch Jake mock Terry for wanting to get a vasectomy, make an awkward racial remark to him, as well as bet on Rosa’s friend’s phone number like it was a trophy. Boyle stopped being lovable and became downright ridiculous; Gina lost all her social skills and became mean in a way that made me wonder why the other characters kept her around at all.

Fortunately, around episode 15 of Season 2 things got back on track and the show slowly turned into what it used to be again. There are no really big changes to the kind of episodes and the dynamics between the characters; every year we get the customary Halloween episode, all of them delicious, and the Pontiac Bandit keeps paying us visits.

The beginning of Season 3 saw some changes to the Captain of the Precinct that were foreseeably temporary, a new romantic relationship and, halfway through, the introduction of hilarious Adrian Pimento (Jason Mantzoukas), a paranoid former undercover agent Rosa is instantly hot for.

All in all, it’s not up to the level of quality set by Season 1, but still worth watching.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Season 1 (2013)

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Brooklyn Nine-Nine, season 1 (Fox, 2013).

Score: hilarious.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine follows everyday life in the 99th Precinct of Brooklyn. Main characters are Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg), a childish but brilliant detective; Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero), a perfectionist, insecure and sweet; Charles Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio), an adorkable foodie; black-leather clad tough-as-nails Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz); Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews), a scary-looking mama hen for his subordinates; and petty and narcissistic civil servant Gina Linetti (Chelsea Peretti). In the pilot, a new commanding officer arrives: impassible and strict Captain Ray Holt (Andre Braugher).

What I like the most is this show’s fair play sense of humour. It has a very diverse cast but stereotyping jokes are mostly avoided (there are a couple of lesbian jokes that are really out of place but in general this is well done). Characters are given likable personalities, with virtues and flaws, and those flaws are funny, neutral and not stereotypical or looking to ridicule. For example, Boyle is likable for being loyal, cheerful and helpful, but he also blurts out secrets as soon as he knows them and can be very fastidious about his food. Captain Holt is black and gay and the jokes made about him are about how inexpressive and stoic he is (though it is mentioned several times how hard it was to him to get promoted for being part of a minority).

Gags are mostly based in ridiculous or absurd situations and episodes are fast-paced and varied. I actually laugh out loud at least once in every episode. The show is pretty much choral and follows the format made popular by shows such as The Office and Parks and recreation. The second half of the season adds two romantic arcs and knits the personal relationships tighter, and it’s not an unwelcome change (don’t let people tell you otherwise, I’m nearing thirty and workplaces are still like high-school, and I suspect they will always be).

Highly recommended.

Westworld, Season 1 (2016)

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Westworld, season 1, created by Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan (HBO, 2016).

Score: interesting, though slow.

Loosely based in the homonymous 1973 film starring Yul Brynner,Westworld is set in a futuristic Wild West theme park inhabited by lifelike androids. Wealthy people pay astronomical amounts to spend a holiday in a fictional, scripted setting where everything can be as tame or as exciting as they like while being completely safe for them. Not so much for the poor hosts, the androids, which can be raped, tortured and killed only to be serviced and sent back to the park without any memories of their demise. Everything starts to change when some hosts start remembering past narrative cycles, such as Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood), the sweet farmer’s daughter, or Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton), the madam of the brothel in Sweetwater. In the meantime, Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), founder of the park, is being threatened out of power by a management board who wants a more manageable and profitable version of the park. Two coworkers (Jimmi Simpson and Ben Barnes) come to Westworld to bond and on a voyage of self-discovery. A mysterious man in black (Ed Harris) who has been coming to the park for three decades is looking for a higher stakes game within Westworld, something called the maze.

If you’re going to watch this, you need to be patient because the first five episodes barely give the viewer any new information. Good thing is that the last five give out all the necessary information to wrap up the story with no cliffhangers, so this is something you can get into knowing that even though a second season is confirmed, you only need to commit for ten episodes. After having watched the whole thing, the first episodes do give out information, you just don’t understand it yet, so pay attention and enjoy the ride. Also, given how important circular timelines are in the story, you need to be acquaintanced with scripted events that happen in Westworld every narrative cycle and how they start changing as the plot advances, and that means some repetition in the first episodes.

It’s an adult show in that it has action, violence and copious nudity but also in that it requires some figuring out due to the nature of its storytelling and, being about androids who may or may not be becoming sentient, it also deals with some philosophical and anthropological themes I’ll explore below. As it has been already pointed out it has learned a thing or two from video games and role-playing games, in that it features NPCs, sidequests, a difficulty curve and sandboxing. Red dead redemption is an acknowledged influence and you can tell.

Visual effects are quite good. It doesn’t look like they’re saving the budget for the finale and everything looks in place and believable. I especially liked the effects for showing young Dr. Ford, it looked very convincing. Costumes and sets look gorgeous and any anachronisms and inaccuracies can be excused because you are looking at theme park Wild West from the future. It was probably the idiots at R&D who mistook an African Cape buffalo with an American buffalo, or they couldn’t find an American one and the guests wouldn’t know the difference.

To sum it up, entertaining and worth watching.

***SPOILERS***

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