Generally when I’m talking about stuff I liked it’s with the goal of bringing novelty to the attention of you, the imagined Sometimes I Write Things reader. Given that as far as I can tell, the actual readership of this blog is limited almost entirely to “guys I played D&D with, fifteen to five years ago,” that means I’ve avoided certain topics. If you’re interested in the new edition of Exalted or whatever, you already know about it, I figure. On the other hand, I was impressed enough by Dreamhounds of Paris that I broke that rule, and someone found out about Salvador & Man Ray Go To Unknown Kadath via this space, so maybe I shouldn’t.
With that in mind: a brief roundup of some television I’ve seen recently.
Orphan Black. Right before the second season of Orphan Black was released, my wife and I watched the first season and liked it. ‘We’ll have to watch the second season when it’s out,’ we said. Then a few years went by. Recently the third season concluded; reading about that reminded me we hadn’t seen the second season, either. It had been a while, so we went back and watched the first season again before moving on to the second.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one, because it is after all a trite premise for a television show: Tatiana Maslany stars in this Canadian-British co-production as Allison, Beth, Cosima, Sarah, Rachel, Helena, Krystal, Nadia, and I’m probably forgetting at least one other. They’re clones! They live, they laugh, they learn, mostly in Toronto. There’s a complex plot of intrigue and wheels within wheels and Irish terrorists, but the appeal of the show is watching the lead actor play radically different characters, conveying identity through mannerism and a lot of help from the costume and makeup people. When you start to get one clone masquerading as another — Sarah-as-Beth, Allison-as-Sarah, Cosima-as-Allison, Helena-as-Cosima… it’s a lot of fun. Occasionally one of the characters will be absent for an episode or two, and I’ll speculate that perhaps that actress was unavailable, before I remember. And though the show has been extremely reluctant to kill any characters off, it absolutely could drop (say) Cosima; the showrunners don’t have to deal with the question of losing the actor or not.
The third season is a step down from the first two, as the series suffers under the X-Files and Twin Peaks and Lost problem: setting up mysteries is way more fun and engaging than resolving them, and some of the resolutions are nonsensical on their face, either because they’d written themselves into a corner or because they felt they needed to be one step more clever than the obvious answers that everyone had guessed. But nevertheless, I liked it.
True Detective (Season One). You’ve probably heard about this and everyone who’s going to see it has seen it. But I hadn’t, so, you never know. It’s a miniseries from HBO: two police detectives in Louisiana investigate a couple of ritualistic murders that lead, eventually, to broader cult activity. It’s a version of Louisiana where most women are prostitutes and the cult has explicit Cthulhu Mythos elements (specifically Carcosa, the King in Yellow, and the Yellow Sign). From all that I’d heard about this, I figured I should wait until my wife was out of town before watching it. After all, our television can’t take many more heavy objects hurled at it. I sent her an email the night I started watching it:
Subject: I think I made the right call
True Detective, episode one, list of female speaking parts:
- Prostitute 1
- Prostitute 2
- Detective’s Wife
- Court clerk (Detective’s Mistress)
- Detective’s eight-year-old daughter
- Sister/caretaker of man with severe stroke/palsy symptoms
- Also two dead naked women, but they don’t have any lines.
List of male speaking parts:
- Detective 1
- Detective 2
- Detective 3
- Detective 4
- Detective 5
- Detective 6
- Detective 7
- Detective 8
- Medical Examiner
- Man with severe stroke/palsy symptoms
So that’s a thing. The central relationship on the show is between two detectives, both men; the women are presented either in service to that relationship or for T&A. Most women are topless, prostitutes, corpses, or two or more of the three.
But on the other hand, I can’t really dislike the first season of True Detective. What’s presented is, basically, a Trail of Cthulhu scenario in which a pair of investigators uncover a child-murdering Hastur cult who brand themselves with the Yellow Sign and speak rapturously of Carcosa. The show’s version of the Yellow Sign is a spiral, not the design Kevin Ross came up with in 1989 for Chaosium, but its position in the narrative makes it clear it’s the Yellow Sign.
On reflection, what impresses me about it is that the supernaturalism is never overt: you could watch True Detective with no knowledge of the Mythos and come away thinking it was a peculiarly unpleasant serial-killer story. In the final episode they go to Carcosa and they confront the King in Yellow, but that can be explained away as the bowels of ruined plantation house and one detective’s acid flashbacks. One episode, guy shoots a cultist and the cultist explodes, which mmmmaybe was because of the cultist stepping on a land mine just as he got shot but I went back and watched that sequence multiple times and man, I don’t see any landmines. No earthly explanation for that explosion. Had to have been fell magic.
Anyway, I admit I feel a certain guilty thrill just hearing ‘have you seen the [Yellow] Sign?’ and ‘Carcosa’ and ‘Yellow King’ repeated on a major HBO prestige show. That particular “tracery of evil” as Robert M. Price called it has always been my favorite part of the Mythos.
I’m told season two has twice the implicit misogyny, half the mood, and none of the Mythos undertones, so I’ve skipped it. But I liked the first season.
Veep (season one). Veep won the Best Comedy Emmy the other day so I won’t waste your time pretending you aren’t already familiar with it. It’s the HBO office sitcom with Julia Louis-Dreyfuss as the Vice President, and her staff. I saw the first two seasons back around the time that season two was airing, but didn’t follow up on it, so it’s largely fresh to me (and completely fresh to Emily).
Season one at least is a pretty good show that’d be a slightly better show if the main cast didn’t dislike one another quite so much and weren’t quite so error-prone. I liked it enough to watch the second season, which I vaguely recollect as being slightly better than the first. As my wife observed, it kind of strains credulity that Mike keeps his job, and the first thing we see Amy do is sign the wrong name on a condolence card. But on the other hand, it warms the heart how they all rally around hating Jonah. Like Cyril on Archer, in a cast full of self-centered asses, somehow Jonah manages to be the worst.
And I’m already over on word count, so I’ll leave it at that.