After signing on to HBO Now to get the disappointing last season of Game of Thrones I firmly intended to drop the service. Really. But then they advertised the new His Dark Materials series from studios in Great Britain. I read Philip Pullman’s trilogy almost twenty years ago after catching a review of his middle novel, The Subtle Knife. Like most people I was underwhelmed by plotting failures in the third novel, The Amber Spyglass, but overall Pullman created a fascinating world. The major motion picture version was really OK, but ended strangely and didn’t do well enough in theatres to justify a sequel. The new series is keeping my interest. As Lyra Belacqua, Dafne Keen is a can-do heroine, along the lines of Emma Watson, Maisie Williams and Bella Ramsey. Ruth Wilson is delightful as a can-do villain. I’m not sure if Lin-Manuel Miranda was the best choice to play an alt-universe Texan, but he’s not pissing me off. The Gyptians are all great. I particularly like how race doesn’t seem to matter in this series. Heroes and villains come in all skin tones. But the daemons steal every scene.
Since I have HBO Now, I’ve been watching some of the other offerings. I already knew that Westworld was awfully violent. The Watchmen turned out to be almost as violent. A friend and I took in the first two episodes, but despite the dramatization of the Tulsa Massacre, I haven’t felt like watching any more. My youngest is always after me to watch The Walking Dead, which is a fairly good show except for all the people getting stabbed or shot or clubbed in the head. I can only watch so much of that gratuitous violence. Even though it is supposed to be zombies or robots getting killed, it bothers me.
I also watched two episodes of Divorce, which was not too bad, and one of Euphoria, which was disturbing because it might be accurate. I tried watching Succession, which is well-liked on twitter, but after the first episode, I didn’t like anybody. I also tried watching Mrs Fletcher, also a fav on twitter. I might show Mrs F to my wife and see if she wants to keep watching.
I raced through the season of the Japanese series, Miss Sherlock. I always appreciate a fresh version of the Holmes stories, and besides, Elementary is over, and Sherlock is on semi-permanent hiatus. Yūko Takeuchi plays Sara Shelly Futaba, whom the police refer to as Sherlock. Does that mean the Conan Doyle stories exist in this universe, or does it leave the door open for Benedict Cumberbatch to drop by? Dunno. Futaba-san is joined by Shihori Kanjiya playing Dr Wato Tachibana, recently returned from volunteer medical duty in Syria. So we have Sherlock and Dr Wato-san, and characters roughly equivalent to Mrs Hudson, Inspector Lestrade, and Mycroft Holmes. Takeuchi’s Sherlock is more brusque and socially inept than most Western versions, and that means something in Japan. Her playing a stand up bass instead of a violin is a nice touch, but I do wish they would find some less familiar pieces than The Passing of Time for her to play. I did guess a major plot twist. Can’t wait for the second season.
I then watched Teenage Psychic, which has a bit of a misleading title. Filmed in Taiwan, the heroine, Xie Yazhen, is actually a Temple Maiden: a medium who can communicate with the dead. When she’s not earning her keep consoling bereaved and troubled folk at the Taoist temple she is, however, a typically troubled 16 year old high school girl confounded by social expectations and one boy in particular. Played by Kuo Shuyao, she appears very homespun Chinese in contrast to some of the more Western-looking popular girls.
Finally, as a guilty pleasure, I’ve been watching a series that ran from 2011-2014 called Hung. Like Breaking Bad, Hung features an antihero high school teacher fallen on hard times. Thomas Jane as Ray is a former star athlete, current coach and history teacher, but his wife has left him, his house was damaged in a fire, and he lives in a Detroit long hollowed-out by neoliberal politics. Ray’s worries include paying support to his ex-wife, played by Anne Heche, and staying in the lives of his unhappy teenaged son and daughter (Charlie Saxton and Sianoa Smit-McPhee).
Instead of selling drugs, he decides to sell his well-endowed body, and with the help of two odd women, lines up wealthy clients willing to pay him for sex. If the genders were reversed, this would be entirely believable, but I take it in as a dark comedy.
Ray happens to be an escort with a heart of gold. An Atlantic review praised the show as featuring men who were competent instead of idiots, but I wouldn’t go that far. These men have a lot of blind spots, but they usually want the right things, while many of the women are batshit crazy, particularly his unofficial pimp, Lenore, played by Rebecca Creskoff. His official pimp, Tonya, played by Jane Adams, is a mess, but generally means well. Lenore calls her, “Tea Brain,” and muscles in on her business relationship with Ray at every opportunity.
I think my next attempt will be Catherine the Great, who according to Helen Mirren, was savaged as sexually-obsessed by political rivals like Frederick of Prussia, but who was in fact simply a competent female ruler with a few lovers.