Tag: series

Series review: Real Humans and Borgen


Series review: Real Humans and Borgen

A little gem from Sweden and one from Denmark:

-Real Humans (Äkta människor), season 1, is set in the near future, at a time when humanoid robots (hubots) have become ubiquitous, fulfilling every job from caretaker for the aged to construction workers or sex toys. The storyline follows several linked individuals: the children of David Eischer are a group of hubots upgraded to have free will, and on the run from the authorities with plans of their own; the Engman family is the recipient of a new hubot, and its members struggle to adjust their attitude to it, from the mother who insists on treating her like a human being to the son who falls in love with her; and their neighbour Roger who, abandoned by his wife for her hubot lover, joins an anti-hubot movement… 

This was a really interesting character-focused thriller, with a nuanced examination of various characters. There were a few stumbles (near the ending, I thought a few too many new-ish motivations came to the fore a little too quickly), but it’s still masterful. The examination of what people do to hubots, and the questions on the nature of free will, are really great; and I loved that the series, in the end, doesn’t take positions but encourages you, the viewer, to decide where you are standing. Also loved that the two competing groups trying to transform/preserve society–the children of David Eischer and the government officials in pursuit of them–are shown as equally ruthless. And, finally, it’s quite nice to see a balanced cast, where everyone has their own contributions to make (in some series I have the feeling there’s, say, three main characters and everyone is playing second fiddle to them to the point of being almost flattened out of existence); and a cast with very strong female roles (the heart of the Engman family is Inger, the fierce lawyer wife–we never even learn what it is that her husband does). Bonus points for the queer pastor who is just awesome.

As I understand, there is a series 2 that recently aired in Sweden. The DVDs are coming out at the end of the month, and the H is already pestering me to buy them. That should tell you how much we’ve both enjoyed it.

-Borgen: I’d watched Season 1 of Borgen earlier, and was surprised to enjoy it much more than The Killing. I’m probably getting a little bored with crime dramas at the moment… We watched season 2 recently, where State Minister (Danish Prime Minister) Birgitte Nyborg struggles to keep her government together amidst political backstabbing and family crises. It’s still pretty good: I love the theme of the series, the troubled relation between the media and the politicians (not exclusive to Denmark, sadly!); and the necessity to make compromises that may not be the best moral choices in order to achieve one’s goal. In many ways, Birgitte’s trajectory mirrors that of Troels Hartmann in the Killing–an idealistic politician who discovers that she can’t always have what she wants–; though she is more experienced than Troy from the outset, and shown as a fierce negotiator and politician even before she accedes to the post. For all its desire to grapple with complex subjects ranging from depression to war crimes, it’s actually a pretty optimistic series about human nature; probably why I prefer it to The Killing, which comes to pretty much the opposite conclusion… (not sure how to feel about the double-parter about Denmark getting involved in a civil war in a fictitious African country which looks a hell of a lot like Sudan: on the one hand, true to what actually happens today: on the other hand, a few too many easy clichés, and I would have liked a little more examination of this interference and its cost. But minor stuff, altogether). Well worth watching.

(I could also easily have done without the French tag line of “A woman in the Spheres of Power”, which implies there is something special and unique about Birgitte. Am not sure it was the tag line in Denmark, because the series most certainly never treat Birgitte’s gender like it’s something special, and indeed a lot of her fellow politicians are also women).

Brief checking-in


So… still well, still overwhelmed.

Progress was made on the novel (I have about half a plot instead of 2% of it); and words were produced. Will now resume watching The Killing (original Danish version) which has us quite unexpectedly enthralled. Have to admit I didn’t see how they could keep the plot going for over 10 episodes, but so far they seem to be doing swimmingly well at it. Part of the reason, I guess (and part of the reason why it feels so lived-in) is that the storyline takes the time to go over the various characters involved (the parents especially) and to show us the family struggling with grief and dark secrets and truths that repeatedly destroy them, which makes them feel all the more realistic, and is fertile ground for the writers to extend storylines by showing us the cost of crimes  (it’s also interesting to see that the investigation’s attempt to keep the family in the loop end up causing more harm than good). My sis wants to watch The Bridge next; I might steal her DVDs…

Next week I shall be at Eastercon, where I have a nice program shaping up (and will hand out the James White Award as representative of the jury, my first ever award presentation–kind of hoping my nerves won’t show too much 😉 )

Some thoughts on Doctor Who


(somewhat rambling, as we’re still in the midst of watching it).

A while ago, I bought a set of the first four seasons of Doctor Who (the reboot, not the older series), for a couple reasons: first and foremost was our overdose on American TV shows, which have an amazing tendency to sound the same and display the same set of clichés (seriously, if there’s one more attempt to depict Mexico as a lawless place held by cartels, I’ll scream). Second was, well, the embarrassing feeling we might be missing out on something, and that rather more embarrassing feeling of being completely at sea when a group of fans (and there are many of those) started to debate the merits of the various doctors and companions. Third, we’d got a season of Torchwoood as a gift, watched it, and kind of liked it (well, OK. Most of the plots sucked, but who doesn’t love Captain Jack? And there were a few gems there, even though really well-hidden).

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, when we finally cracked those open and started watching them. So…

Well, for starters, it *is* a rather nice change to US TV. It’s got a very camp side, a sense that it’s not entirely taking itself seriously (much like the Doctor). I don’t know if it’s deliberate or not, but having what I presume are old enemies from the show appear again gives it a retro style that contributes to the overall campiness. I’m not necessarily using that in a bad way, but it’s honestly very hard to take seriously an episode such as “Bad Wolf”, which features parodies of all major reality TV shows (Anne-Droid, anyone?), and also hard to be genuinely frightened by the Daleks. Or the one with werewolf Queen Victoria and the kungfu monks…

I don’t know if this is just me getting better as a writer, but this time around I can very clearly see the difference between the various scriptwriters and their episodes–unlike US TV shows, where I can seldom remember who wrote what, and the quality of an episode seems less linked to who wrote it. I don’t know if US shows have a more unified scriptwriting policy? In any case, another major difference to most US shows is that the variance in quality is also striking: there are episodes which really, really suck, and episodes which are really great (“Girl in the Fireplace”, for instance. Like many people, I’m a Moffat fan). It’s interesting to see. Russell Davies, for instance, has a greater liking for the overblown drama, which sits ill with me; I tend to prefer more restraint.

Unlike the H, I already had some idea of the basic principles; and while the show does a great job of explaining things as they come along, the regeneration thing was rather difficult for him to swalllow. Overall, mind you, I’m not entirely sure that we got over it: it’s rather a shock to have got used a particular actor and then see him vanish, and Christopher Eccleston was just plain great. Now I understand where all those intense discussions about the Doctor’s incarnations come from.

It’s still rather desperately all-White (there is Mickey, but so far he hasn’t been a major character), though I do appreciate the variety of social classes on display, and the fact that the show doesn’t restrict itself to London (yay for Cardiff and its temporal rift). At times, it also felt like “companion waits for Doctor to save her”, which I can sort of understand given the show’s setup, but still… still, it’s a woman waiting for a humanoid-shaped man to save the day, which did get annoying after a while. I don’t know if things get better after that (we’re at “Girl in the Fireplace”).

It’s also, well, not profound–purely entertaining, which it does very well, but hardly in the league of shows that ask hard questions (your mileage may vary, but I tend to put shows such as Trigun or Battlestar Galactica here, at least in their first few eps. Stargate, for instance, is also pure entertainment, with awful assumptions made about aliens, Earth and the good old US of A).

So, anyway, that’s how we feel so far. Still two seasons and a half to go (plus the specials, and season 5). We’ll see how it goes.

More Angel snark…


Up to midpoint of season 2. Still a bunch of consistency issues, the worse ones being the ones around breath–if your vampire has no need to breathe to exist, and no way to exercise their lungs, they shouldn’t be able to gasp out; or, when held dangling by way of another vampire’s hand wrapped around their neck, to look as though they’re being strangled. [1]
And Gunn… OK, I’m the first for ethnic and class diversity in series, and the show’s record so far was pretty abysmal (all White apart from the occasional skimpy-clad Chinese demonness who doubles as martial arts specialist *sigh*). But really, did the one Black person on the show need to come from the street, have dodgy connections, and spout off “brother” every two lines? Do the words “bad stereotypes ” even register here?

[1]Also, how are they talking without lungs again? Or, for that matter, bleeding without a beating heart?