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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Stranger things, season 1 (2013)

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Stranger things, season 1, created by the Duffer Brothers (Netflix, 2016).

Score: a very simple idea, elegantly executed.

It’s the early Eighties in a small town in Indiana and four pre-teen friends are playing Dungeons and Dragons. After their session is over for the night they go back home on their bikes. Will (Noah Schnapp) is snatched by a monster in his backyard, and his disappearance shakes the whole town. His three friends, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), put all their nerdy knowledge in service of finding him. Joyce (Winona Ryder) is convinced that her son Will is alive after some paranormal events in the house and will go to any lengths to bring him back, with or without the help of her elder son Jonathan (Charlie Heaton). The town’s sheriff, Jim Hopper (David Harbour) is going through a hard time after the death of his little daughter and being relocated from the city, but as the mystery of Will’s absence becomes more complicated, he’s reminded of why he became a police agent. Mike’s older sister, Nancy (Natalia Dyer) is busy with school and her boyfriend Steve (Joe Keery), but becomes concerned after her friend Barb (Shannon Purser) goes missing too. Last but not least, the night of Will’s disappearance a strange girl of few words in a hospital gown (Millie Bobby Brown) walks in a diner while being pursued by government agents. After escaping, she ends up being found by the three friends who were looking for Will, and she’s the key to finding the boy.

Stranger things is nothing new. In fact it’s laden with homages to Steven Spielberg’s and Stephen King’s works of the Eighties, along with horror and sci-fi classics. But that doesn’t mean it’s not an excellently written show on its own merit. At only eight episodes of forty minutes each, every episode (except for the second one, which is a bit slow and boring) flows seamlessly. Most scenes either advance the plot or develop character, but character development is not so prevalent that it stalls the action.

Characters are my favourite thing about Stranger things. They are built on archetypes so they are easily recognizable but then they are developed into something else. ***SPOILERS*** Joyce looks like she’s going to be a neglectful, incompetent single mother but turns out to be resourceful and compassionate. Hopper starts out as a depressed, demotivated agent but as the conspiracy unfolds, he proves he really cares about helping people and doing the right thing. He also proves resourceful not only bluffing and negotiating but also punching his way around. Nancy looks like she’s going to be a vain and shallow popular teenager but she’s genuinely concerned about Barb. The fact that she’s the only one who cares that Barb’s gone is the biggest flaw of the show, as it has been repeatedly pointed out by fans. (Like, they only needed to add a couple scenes showing that at least Barb’s family has acknowledged her disappearance… Maybe they shot them but then edited them out?) She also shows sympathy towards Jonathan and can see through Tommy and Carol… and so can Steve. I really liked how both Nancy and Steve are put in a situation where they can relent to peer pressure or make a moral choice and in the end they do. Also, she decides to take revenge on the monster and uses her knowledge and intelligence to design a trap for it with Jonathan. The fact that she stays with Steve instead of dating Jonathan not only avoids a cliché but is also in-character: Nancy knew and loved Steve before all the action started, and given that Steve apologized to both Nancy and Jonathan and helped them, the most natural thing for her would be to stay with him, not run to Jonathan. Like, she even says several times that she’s not romantically attracted to Jonathan. The kids feel very real, not too cute or corny or annoying. They have reasonable conflicts for their age and situation and serve as a suitable comic relief. The characters solve the puzzle not too early, not too late, but only when it makes sense for a reasonably intelligent person to do so.

The ending is not precisely surprising but the finale follows quite closely the rule of “surprising, yet inevitable” that makes for a satisfying resolution. It also provides reasonable closure for the story while at the same time leaves some openings for the confirmed second season. ***END SPOILERS***

I was quite skeptical of Winona Ryder’s performance but she does very well, also the five kids are a highlight. Special effects work well, not showing too little in order to stay in a low budget, but also not showing too much or getting bad results due to budget restraints.

This show everyone is talking about is fun and exciting and worth a watch. Enjoy!