A series set in Berlin, Germany in the late 1920’s – that can only end well, right?
What’s The Show?Babylon Berlin
What’s It All About, JG? The series is set in Berlin during the dying days of the Weimer Republic, where Inspector Gereon Rath has arrived, fresh-faced and slightly innocent, from Colonge who is sent on assignment. He’s there to try and take apart an extortion ring – it very much doesn’t just so happens to be his father that’s being extorted – aided and abetted by Charlotte Ritter, one of the police clerks trying to make her own way past the inherent sexism of the era in a time when women were finally starting to make progress in the workplace.
Of course, “Tom’s Diner” had a long history before it became a hit, and another altogether different legacy after its release. It was originally written around 1981 or 1982 when Suzanne Vega was a student at Barnard College – the diner is a real place and she really did frequent it, though the physical building is probably better known these days as the exterior location of Monk’s Café in Seinfeld. The song eventually saw release half a decade after it was written, on Vega’s critically acclaimed 1987 album Solitude Standing and it appears on the album twice, once as the a capella opening track and once as an instrumental to close the album out.
A little North-South difference, by way of the rails.
There’s been a bit of a kerfuffle about trains this week. Now while I realise that might not set everyone’s hearts a-flutter – although it should, because trains are awesome – it’s been fairly revealing. And the thing it’s been revealing about is the differences in approach between how Scotland and England are coping with coming out of lockdown and the relative merits of those approaches. Because while England has had its “Freedom Day” on the 19th July – and in the teeth of scientific advice – Scotland isn’t having further unlocking until at least the 9th August, it may end up being later than that, and our social distancing is being reduced to one meter rather than entirely scrapped, as per things down south.
A trickster god, multipe timelines and a Disney budget – what could possibly go wrong?
What’s The Show?Loki
What’s It All About, JG? After (well, during) the events of Endgame, the trickster God Loki manages to escape with the Tesseract and finds himself in an alternate timeline. There he is taken in by the Time Variance Agency, an organisation that exists outside of normal space and time who help to regulate the “one sacred timeline” by ensuring one version of history is always running as it is “meant to”. Since this version of Loki is a time variant, everyone’s favourite troublemaker has a choice – either face being pruned form existence as a variant or assist in fixing the timeline in order to prevent an even bigger threat. That means we get six episodes of various differing amounts of things, during which we learn that the TVA is a bit of a fraud and the Time-Keepers who are meant to run the place are entirely fictional. The whole thing ends with the reveal of He Who Remains, the real power behind the throne and gratuitous set-up for the upcoming slate of Main Range movies. Oh, and the inevitable post-credits thing which makes it clear Loki’s getting a second season.
What could scream “entertainment!” more than the worst nuclear disaster in history?
What’s The Show?Chernobyl
What’s It All About, JG? Whacky, zany adventures down at the old мама и папа power plant! What crazy shenanigans with the crew get up to this week, as they try to prove the superiority of Soviet technology? Uh-oh, that’s a lot of flashing lights, Anatolay! What you done this time?! Alternatively, one of the most bleak, powerful and moving dramas ever put together, as the HBO/Sky miniseries explores exactly what happed before, during and after the nuclear explosion at Chernobyl power plant in 1986.
Episode Nine / Ten – “Et In Arcadia Ego” Pts 1 And 2
So Picard is a Cylon. Huh.
When, at the end of episode eight, I pleaded for the series to fix its basic ability to tell a story I didn’t actually expect that to happen. And lo and behold it didn’t. Episode Nine – which consists of the same old go-not-very-far-slowly that has become Picard‘s storytelling modus operandi – goes through the usual stop-start motions of delivering exposition a lot, followed by small bits of forward plot momentum, followed by more exposition. The small bits of forward plot momentum are often huge bits of forward plot momentum but rarely feel so, even when – to take a far-from-arbitrary example – a Borg cube crash-lands on a planet, our heroes do the same thing, and a vast Romulan fleet zips into orbit.
I couldn’t even be bothered to find an image for this episode
Episode Eight – Shrug
I mean, I did watch it but I’m not motivated to say a lot more than that, really. It was just a bunch of expoisition vomited on screen in the usual structureless way. The Grief World, though? Really? That’s the explanation for the Zhat Vash’s millenia-long problem with AI? And what happened on Mars? I mean, it’s an explanation but it’s really not an especially satisfying one. Though – and this is the real problem – there really wasn’t going to be a satisfying resolution to the “why the Zhat Vash hated AI for so long” question. Because, how can there be? It’s either going to be evilevilfromthedawnoftime, some bullshit Mystical Orbs thing that would be less well than the Orbs Of The Prophets, or Godlike aliens. Turns out it’s basically the first one. Shrug. There’s no sense of this even really functioning as a ta-da! reveal, it’s just another piece of information trotted out. And how many people did they let die just to stop the Federation’s AI development? Does this make even the slightest bit of fucking sense? No. Not it does not.
I really wanted to start this episode with a two-word review – “nothing happens”. But that’s not true. Plenty of things happen, though they’re mostly low-key, character stuff. That’s fine though at episode seven, whether “low-key” is really what Picard should be aiming for is certainly up for debate. But let’s be clear from the outset – this is an episode specifically designed to do one thing, and one thing alone – tickle all those TNG feels. In that it is an undeniable success. The whole raison d’etre of this episode is Picard meeting up with Riker and Troi, hanging out for a while, then getting back to the main plot. And of course it’s delightful to see those three characters on screen together again, because of course it fucking is. It’s Riker! He’s visibly drinking! I mean, what’s not to love?
What, exactly, do people want from Star Trek? There has been a legitimate line of questioning around this ever since Discovery brought Star Trek back from the televisual hinterland of syndication. One of Star Trek‘s strengths has always been its ability to appeal to people beyond a hardcore of fandom – that’s why it’s the biggest science fiction franchise in the world (putting Marvel to one side, of course – that’s a whole different conversation and I don’t want to get bogged down in genre definitions at this point). The movies appeal to people who like sci-fi but aren’t necessarily huge Trekkies. The original show has become part of the cultural landscape, one of science fiction’s defining texts, and watchable by just about anyone. Is there some difficult-to-define over-arching appeal that can embrace TNG and Enterprise? Into Darkness and Picard? And if so, what is it? Over on The AV Club, Zack Handelin wrote, “A friend on Twitter recently pointed out that saying something “isn’t Star Trek” isn’t really an effective criticism”. I strongly disagree with Zack’s friend – I think it cuts to the absolute heart of the issue that people have with both Discovery and Picard, and it is to this we turn our attention.
A lot of the successes of Picard so far have tended to feel a little abstract – a bit more in-theory good and a bit less in-practice good. Stewart is obviously great and we have a series of intriguing mysteries, but one of the frustrations of the show is being able to see a lot of the potential whilst also seeing that the show really isn’t capitalising on it. Complaints that the story has been slow up to this point are certainly valid, yet “slowness” is not in and of itself a problem – take a show like Better Call Saul which moves at a pace which makes continental drift seem snappy and impatient yet also manages to feel achingly tense and riveting. Picard as a show hasn’t managed to get this balance right yet, mistaking slowness for thoughtfulness and number of so-so plot and character beats that just aren’t finding any traction beyond “I intellectually understand why this these choices are being made but this has yet to become compelling television”. It would be too harsh to call Picard boring at this point, but it’s also something that’s been hovering on the horizon ever since the credits rolled on episode one.