On Silicon Valley: Season Three

1.
I realise this sounds ridiculous to say this about a 30-minute episode of a comedy episode from the creator of Beavis & Butthead, but watching Silicon Valley can be a grueling experience. I’m now conditioned to the formula — whenever things go well for Richard and Pied Piper, I quickly realise it’ll never last. Of course, this is true of almost every story — there must be an obstacle for the hero to overcome. But Richard’s struggle is near constant. He gets a brief reprieve, perhaps at the end of a season, before everything goes wrong again. Sometimes I watch the show and think, ‘That poor man deserves a break’. Then, when he gets one, my next thought is ‘This won’t last long’

2.
I do wonder how SV will end. Some shows have the capacity to run indefinitely, and some don’t. In Silicon Valley’s world, PP won’t be a moderate company. It’ll either be a huge success or completely flame out (I’ll put my money on flame-out). If its a blazing success, then the team become rich. Mad rich. PP’s team aren’t hugely motivated by money, but if they’re all sitting on billions, will we identify with them as well? Would we care as mich about their personal stakes if those stakes are far less material? There are plenty of shows featuring wealthy characters who we still identify with. But their finances aren’t part of the show, they’re background, part of the character’s lifestyle. By being about the founding members of a startup in an area where, to the outsider, money is seemingly everywhere.

Why am I even thinking about the end of a show that’s only three seasons old?

3.
As of this season, Jared became my favourite character. SV has always been very quotable, but now most of my favourite quotes have come from him. His ‘joke’ about Danesh’s chain that caused Richard to trip up was the comic highlight of the season.

4.
Three was the best season yet. Season two had a number of plot points that seemed to serve no purpose except to fill airtime (like server problems, for example). As I think back on season three, I can only think of Richard’s brief relationship as a similar example. Every main character had interesting, organic plot points. While it’s sad that the show had to move away from Peter Gregory in light of [Christopher Evan Welch’s] death, at least there’s now some space for Laurie to be more of a unique character and less like a female version of him. The sizeable gap left by the disappearance of Russ Hahneman was effortlessly filled.

5.
I remember the first time I heard Peter Thiel speak, and I couldn’t understand why his voice sounded so familiar. Then I realised he was at least part of the inspiration for Peter Gregory. There was a downside to that realisation. As new characters arrived in the show, I’d get distracted, wondering if they were based on a real person. I spent parts of season three wondering if ‘Action’ Jack Barker had a real life counterpart. Then I read that Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey was known for leaving in the middle of a workday to attend yoga and sewing classes. Much like Barker would disappear to, say, watch a terrifying horse penis at work. Outside of that, I don’t know if there are any other similarities. I should probably have researched that before writing about it. Too late now.

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Some film and TV thoughts

Spoilers abound.

The Walking Dead Season 5

1.
The recruitment storyline is one of the daftest things to happen in this show. We’re frequently reminded that the outside world is a dangerous place — full of walkers or untrustworthy people. Yet one man can go wandering around on his own, spying on a group closely enough that he can determine their dynamics? Aaron gives no impression of being handy in combat, yet he’s completely fine traipsing around in the woods to watch Rick etc. Stupid.

2.
Walking Dead is a guilty watch for me. I would’ve given up on it a few seasons ago if my wife didn’t watch it. For the most part I enjoy the action scenes and roll my eyes at any plot or character development. But I was captivated by season five’s finale and, for the first time in years, I’m excited about the show’s return.

3.
I used to have a theory that Walking Dead had a Black Guy Quota. A new black character would arrive on the show and, within a few episodes, another would die. From memory, a black inmate turned up at the prison. Soon after, T-Dog died. Then Tyrese arrived and the prisoner died. I’m sure there were more. Season five kind of ruined my theory by having Tyrese, Bob, Noah, and the priest all co-existing, but maybe I’ll be proven correct in season six

4.
There should be a rule in TV shows where you can’t cast more than one actor from another show. Having Cutty and D’Angelo from The Wire in this show was a distraction, reminding me how good that show was, and that I miss it. And then Carver turned up too. Too much.

5.
Walking Dead continues to make walkers less dangerous, until it suits the show to do otherwise. A few of the characters showed a Spidey-sense instinct for detecting walkers before they arrived. It’s safe to say that instinct will disappear when the show needs it to, and the group will all be surprised by an attack

Mad Max: Fury Road

1.
On paper, Fury Road has no business being as good as it is. It’s basically two long action scenes – a long drive out, and one back (like the design of a bad videogame). Yet it’s tremendous

2.
This film has caused a lot of people like me, with little knowledge of the stage, to struggle to describe it. There’s definitely something operatic, balletic, musical, rhythmic, something to Fury Road. I’ll leave it at that.

3.
A naked woman slides down a rope. That’s got to hurt

The Raid 2

1.
The first Raid film is so good that its sequel can be inferior and still be brilliant . 1 integrated its action scenes into its storytelling. 2 is more a bunch of amazing loosely connected to a story I didn’t really understand. But those scenes are amazing

2.
I still can’t get my head around that long-take fight scene in mud at the prison. It’s one thing to choreograph such a scene, but mud adds such a level of volatility to movement, pulling that scene off is a remarkable achievement

3.
A camera goes in the front window of a moving car, into the back, and out of the opposite window. What?

4.
In the same scene, a man is held by the legs out of the window of a speeding car, and hits his head on the ground. I can’t see how you could film that without the guy actually hitting his head. That doesn’t sound like fun

4.
It was a bold move to bring back Yayan Ruhian (Mad Dog from the first film) in a different role, recognisable as he is. But any screen time he gets is a bonus

Seven Samurai

1.
Seven Samurai is considered by some as one of the best films of all time. I can’t remember the last time I was so bored

2.
There’s so much running in this film, even with people who are only travelling 20 feet. It should’ve been called Farmers Running.

3.
The only redeeming factor was the casting of Takashi Shimura as Kambei, who’s hugely likeable and like a Japanese Morgan Freeman

The Angel’s Share

1.
As a Glaswegian, I’m picky when it comes to films set in Scotland/Glasgow. As soon as Angel’s Share started I looked for a feeling of authenticity. I found little. The film itself is okay, watchable enough, but there’s not much to it that feels genuinely Glaswegian

2.
Scottish films normally have some good banter (#bantz!). But the moments of comedic dialogue were rare. At the start we hear that one character stole a macaw from a pet shop by stuffing it in a plastic bag, the bird’s tail sticking out. So I expected humour. There were further attempts, but few hit the mark

Unrequested Update: November

Reading
The Dice Man by ‘Luke Rhinehart’ (again)
A Year of Living Biblically by AJ Jacobs
The Knowledge by Lewis Dartnell
Continuing to slug away at Alan Moore’s Voice of the Fire.
Have finished (and recommend) The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

Watching
Euroleague basketball as a poor replacement for the NBA
How It’s Made, a show about—incredibly—how things are made. Did you know bus seats are essentially knife-proof?
Brain Games, as I have a man-crush on its host Jason Silva

Playing
Hitman: Absolution, in short sessions (not the ideal way to play a Hitman game)
And still inching through Half-Life 2

Else
Wellness – November is No Chocolate or Fizzy Drinks Six Days a Week Month. Not the catchiest of names, I know. After the first week I felt healthier. Since then I haven’t noticed a difference, and I wonder if what I felt initially was a placebo effect. I’m also doing a bit more mobility work (following the Leopard King’s instructions), which is working to combat the effects of sitting at a desk all day.

I’m intrigued by big idea people at the moment: Elon Musk trying to colonise Mars. Kevin Kelly wants to bring back the mammoth. Tony Robbins is trying to provide 100 million meals for the poor. 100 million.

New Post—On Lost

I’ve wanted to write something for mylostmoment, and finally got around to finishing a post a few days ago. Click here to read it.

A lot of Lost fans are scary. One thing that put me off that site was reading people saying how life-changing the show was and how they cried at every episode and rewatch it every year and go to reunions and dress up as characters for Lost-themed parties. Lost is probably my all-time favourite show, but I can recognise it’s weaknesses. It was great entertainment, but I’m not a different person because of it. I wanted to take that more sensible evaluation of the show into account when writing my post. I still managed to get carried away.

Maybe the site’s enthusiasm is contagious, but my post, in hindsight, is a bit overdramatic. Still, I wanted to write something about Lost that wasn’t just a brief episode recap, and I did.

I am the smoke monster.

The Lost Rewatch: Episode 1.3 – Tabula Rasa

Brief thoughts as I slowly work my way through the show again:

1.
A rather dull episode. I don’t think Evangeline Lilly is a bad actress (as many do) but she isn’t magnetic either, so her flashbacks aren’t particularly interesting.

2.
Kate has a flashback. We come back to the present for about 30 seconds before another flashback begins. Admittedly, the second one was just to show the marshal getting his head cracked before the crash (which we’d already seen in the last episode). That smelled like studio interference, them not trusting us to remember what happened last week

3.
Knowing how the show progresses, it’s surprising how some characters are portrayed. Kate’s a murderer, Sawyer’s unrealistically selfish (which only gets worse as this season continues), Locke’s a potential child molester. The episode’s final shot is a terrifying one of him scowling as he watches his new friend Walt playing with his dog. Creepy.

4.
Why did that farmer have to have a fake arm? Kate trying to help him, and his arm falling off, was funny, which wasn’t the intention

5.
The marshal pulling up beside the vehicle Kate was in and making a gun sign, what’s the deal with that? That was unrealistic (I know Lost is a show with a smoke monster, but humans should still act like humans). And why did both continue driving? Was the marshal just going to escort Kate before arresting her?

6.
The whole crash and escape was stupid too. Kate didn’t steer the car hard enough for it to turn and flip like that. And how far away could the marshal have possibly been that he couldn’t catch Kate while she dragged that farmer guy from the car? Maybe the marshal didn’t know where the truck landed. It was on fire, it should’ve been easy enough to find. The marshal captures Kate and says something like “And you almost got away?”. Really? There was nothing around but hill and fields. Where was she going to hide?

7.
Only the best shows can get away with a sudden, drastic tone change. We get the bleakness of Sawyer failing to kill the marshal and the marshal now dying a slow death. Cut to Hurley saying “Dude” and “Whoa” and other Hurleyish things. Humour immediately after a failed killing setting up an agonising death, yet neither affected by the other. Nice

First episodes: Hannibal

For some reason I’ve decided to watch the first episodes of a number of shows, knowing the chances of me watching any more are slim. Here are very brief thoughts on episode one of Hannibal:

1.
Hugh Dancy overacts. On every single line.

2.
One of the reasons I may never make it past the first episode: I struggle to understand what Mads Mikkelsen (Lector) is saying

3.
For a show about a criminal profiler with emotional issues, Hannibal manages to avoid a number of cliche…potholes (in this episode at least)

4.
I love the show’s look. One reason I never took to Fringe was because of how cold it looked. Hannibal can get away with it, because it’s a show about murder and cannibalism

5.
I loved the time-lapse exterior shots, which create a sense of dread

6.
There was strong imagery: a girl impaled on antlers, Will covered in blood

7.
Will mentioned going to a lecture. The pun lover inside me screamed “Hannibal Lecture” and hoped Will would make such a quip, which would be totally against the tone of the show

Thoughts on Boardwalk Empire Season Four

Spoilers all up in your face and mouth

1.
A phenomenal finale. Eli and Tolliver’s fight was brutal and hilarious (where did all those objects coming from? Who keeps a saw handy?). The twists and turns of Narcisse and Chalky’s sit-down were thrilling. I was so caught up in the daughter trade-off that I forgot Harrow would likely have a role. The scene went from Chalky having the upper-hand, to him losing it to Narcisse, to me practically punching the air when I realised Harrow was going to save the day, to open-mouthed amazement when Maybelle fell. An emotional roller-coaster in the span of two or three minutes.

2.
Narcisse surviving Chalky’s hit was too cliched a plot mechanic. Mr White wouldn’t have those people gunned down and then not step in to check for signs of life. Boardwalk is better than that

3.
Three likeable, if minor, characters gone in the space of a single season. Eddie was at his best this season, and was even more amusing than normal when socialising with Ralph Capone.

And Purnsley too? Goddamit. Another of my favourite minor players taken out. At the time I thought his turn against Chalky came too soon, but on reflection, it had been simmering from the season’s beginning.

Alas poor Harrow. Richard was one of those characters who seemed to escape the reaper again and again, until he didn’t. Now that Harrow had a wife, a ‘son’ and a regular job, his task for Nucky looked like the ‘one last job’ that gets so many fictional criminals killed.

I was surprised by every one of these deaths, though they were clearly imminent (though more so Harrow and Purnsley). But those characters were so likeable that I struggled to accept that they might disappear.

4.
Boardwalk reminds me of The Wire in the bleak way it sets up deaths. Characters find their options narrowing until a desperate move is the only move left. Eli is perhaps the only character to survive such a situation.

5.
I think one reason those deaths were so surprising was that Boardwalk still seems like a fresh, new show, not one with just a single season remaining. It’s the show I watched as I assembled furniture in my new house, which doesn’t seem that long ago. It’s the show that really only hit greatness last season. It seems wrong that Boardwalk should be wrapping up so soon. Simultaneously, the showrunners should be applauded for ending the show on what will likely be a high instead of it running too long like, well, pretty much every other show.

6.
I wasn’t sold on the way Roy caught Gillian out. Was it so obvious that she would tell her murder-tale there and then that the other detectives could just wait nearby? And if she didn’t confess at that time, would they continue to creep around her house hoping she didn’t hear them? I liked that the show told us Roy was up to something and I still couldn’t ascertain his end game (I thought he was trying to con her out of her money from the house sale).

7.
I loved how the show plays with Nucky’s facade — him trying to project an image of someone disinterested in friendship and no sense in loyalty, an image we know to be false. This season he tried to deny his fondness for Chalky, and there was a feeling he was trying to convince himself as much as anyone else. His move to save Chalky started from a good place, but ended up with two people dead.

8.
Dr Narcisse’s lines seems to have been written by the same person responsible for Owen Sleater’s dialogue, in that his total lines: quotables ratio was incredibly high (“An exile does not choose his Babylon”, for example).

9.
On the subject of verbosity, I enjoyed seeing Meyer getting some screen time. Sadly, his wordiness was rarely on display.

10.
I enjoyed Brian Geraghty’s kind-of-dual roles as the FBI’s Tolliver and bumbling probie, Knox. Though I did feel that the more Geraghty played Tolliver, the less convincing he was as Knox.

11.
Loved every Capone/Van Alden scenes, Al looking up into the clouds to intimidate a man who towers above him.

12.
Van Alden was my favourite character in season one, but in subsequent years he had little place in the story and served mostly as comic relief. I loved his arc this season. Regaining his mojo after telling O’Banion his backstory and standing up to Al was a triumphant moment.

13.
I love how Boardwalk will start an episode with something happening to a minor character (Capone’s man collapsing on the stairs, for example) and then show us the important repercussions from that seemingly innocuous event

14.
While Boardwalk is still the Nucky Thompson Show, he really faced little peril in season four. Last year had a clear and brilliant antagonist in Gyp. This time, Narcisse was more Chalky’s problem than Nucky’s, and the threat of Tolliver and Hoover was one of which Nucky was mostly unaware. For most of the season, Thompson’s problems were deciding how to continue his booze-running and then whether to get into heroin dealing. Season three was marginally better than this year, perhaps because of the clear archetypal battle between Nucky and Gyp.