Weeknotes 2023.2: Looking down on looking down

Weeknotes 2023.2: Looking down on looking down

The weather is still broken (previously.) On my walks and runs this week I’ve seen euphorbias flowering and a massive drift of daffodils in the Olympic Park, at least three weeks ahead of when I’d normally expect to see it. Let’s see what happens if/when the next cold snap comes along.

While I’ve been working on a side project (the first time programming hasn’t felt like work in a long time) I’ve had the Apple TV+ show FOR ALL MANKIND on in the background. I have complex feelings about it: the opening season, while enjoyable, was very pantomime-y, with plot points verging on melodrama. Well-directed and competently acted melodrama, but melodrama nonetheless. The show is at its best when it leans into the silliness, because I found its ultimate conceit quite cynical. I’ll need to write up a full review of at some point.

I do wonder how we’d feel about the show if it was on a lower budget—or, say, a Spanish- or Turkish- or Indonesian-language production. All the hallmarks of a telenovela or a soap opera are there. Implausible character arcs. Redshirts introduced and killed off within around 20 minutes of screen time. Long shots hovering on people having introspective moments in mirrors, in showers, in front of video call monitors. There’s one brief moment in the penultimate episode of season 1 where Wrenn Schmidt, a hard-boiled flight director, eats a Tootsie Roll, and we enter a few seconds of sudden, low-framerate slow-motion with contemplative music as she contemplates a moral dilemma. This is not to say that the show’s bad, nor that soap operas or melodramas are especially bad (even though the latter isn’t really my cup of tea.) It’s to say that there’s a fine line between prestige television that gets lauded and becomes a critical darling in the Western press, and populist drama that we widely consider to be ‘trash’ or a guilty pleasure and which the intelligentsia widely turn up their noses at.

On that topic…

Things I found interesting this week

  • HUGO BOOK CLUB BLOG: The Evil of Choosing Among Lessers makes a compelling point that the world hasn’t really moved on all that much from some of the formulaic dross put out on TV in the 70s—or rather, we’re now seeing studios fall into unchallenging and unexciting house styles. Streaming content becoming significantly more generic and unexciting isn’t exactly surprising—in fact YouTuber Verity Ritchie brought this up in their video WHY QUEER TV IS GETTING WORSE last year (“these shows are products, and if they fail to make money… they’re getting cancelled, sweetheart!”)

    This was what I felt like when watching the HALO TV show last year (which made me so cross I wrote a 20,000 word review/evisceration of it.) It also sums up a lot of what I feel about FOR ALL MANKIND so far, despite the parts of the show I like: it seems like an effort to tick off all the boxes of ‘issues,’ but still devotes the lion’s share of its time and attention to Joel Kinnaman’s Ed Baldwin, and is never too willing to really shake down the geopolitics of the complex alternate history it imagines in rich detail. In this way, at least as far as the first season goes, it feels disappointingly tame. We shall how things go. Season 2 episode 1 already has a bit more bite to it, with the military going to DEFCON 3 during a solar storm under an irrational fear that it could provide cover for the Soviets to launch a first strike. I’m looking forward to watching more.