Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Man's World of Spacecraft Commentary

If there's one thing I learned from the 2008 Doctor Who audio play "Max Warp" it's that its writer, Jonathan Morris, really hates Geoffrey Vantage. Who's Geoffrey Vantage? A fictional character made up for this 54 minute Eighth Doctor audio play who constantly makes sexist comments about the Doctor's companion, Lucie, complains about foreigners, and gripes about political correctness. There's a plot about a diplomat being murdered and a president named Varlon who finds herself in a tricky situation, clearly more in need of nuanced thought than Vantage's two dimensional perspective could accommodate. But by the time my brain was even registering that a murder had occurred, the Doctor was already explaining the solution and the programme was over. There are some entertaining moments and I particularly liked Lucie getting impatient with the Doctor's sudden enthusiasm for different kinds of space craft. But mostly the show just left me puzzled as to why writer Jonathan Morris hates Geoffrey Vantage so much.

Of course, it turns out that Vantage is based on Jeremy Clarkson who, at the time of the audio play's release, was still host of Top Gear. I'd never seen Top Gear and knew practically nothing about Jeremy Clarkson. That's the peril for a writer making cultural references. I didn't think anyone could be really like the caricature Morris presents but I started looking for clips and articles about Clarkson and, as I suspected, though expressing some extremely right wing opinions about the military and women (though he is surprisingly against Brexit) he's also genuinely funny unlike the dull hate receptacle who hosts Max Warp, the futuristic television show about space craft. "We can't have a woman presenting. We'll be looking at the latest in atmospheric re-entry shielding and she'll be wanting to talk about her emotional problems. Before you know it the show will be all about shoes!"

The general impression I get is that while Clarkson really has strong opinions about women and international relations he deliberately exaggerates his attitude in the interest of showmanship.

It can be tricky to parody a self-parody. You have to make a certain point about underlying intention behind a broad exterior with a broad medium. Clarkson reminds me of Donald Trump a little bit--minus the ambition, which makes Clarkson a better man, to my mind. But although the comedian Graeme Garden does a decent enough impression in "Max Warp", he just can't carry the intention of the caricature.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

An Inconvenient Crais

Farscape returned with a second season première that was already an improvement on what came before. Tension between Crais, Aeryn, and Crichton is reconfigured with Moya's warship baby Talyn in the middle.

Season 2, Episode 1: Mind the Baby

We last left Crichton (Ben Browder) and D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe) helplessly EVA, orbiting a burning planet. We meet up with them recovering amid some anonymous ruins on an asteroid with new suntans.

It's quickly established that Aeryn (Claudia Black) rescued them in her Prowler and has been secretly working with Crais (Lani Tupu) to protect and supply her two friends with food and water.

When D'Argo complains about Talyn's name, Aeryn mentions again that she named the ship after her father. This isn't necessarily a crucial plot element so the fact that it's reintroduced draws thematic attention to it. Now Crais, Aeryn's former captain and essentially a father figure, is a father figure for an entity Aeryn has basically been a surrogate mother for. Just a few episodes earlier, Aeryn had left Crais to be tortured by Scorpius (Wayne Pygram). Now She has to work with him for the good of someone they both care about. And although Crais is an asshole on certain points, Aeryn and eventually Crichton are both forced to discover Crais can actually be relied on.

The crew are much more suspicious of Crais than they'd been in the first season finale--really, as suspicious as they ought to have been all along but there were a lot of details for the writers to handle at that point. Having some breathing room obviously benefited thinking on how to utilise the character. This is highlighted in a scene where Crais finds himself back in a cell on Moya, talking to D'Argo. Crais expresses some respect and even regret while still candidly acknowledging that the idea of a relationship between a Luxan and a Sebacean, D'Argo's late wife, disgusts him. But he also says that, having walked away from other aspects of Peacekeeper society, perhaps it's time to re-examine the notion of Sebaceans being "contaminated" merely by exposure to other species. It becomes increasingly clear there's more to Crais than the hot headed madman.

We get a few hints of an adventure that Zhaan (Virginia Hey), Chiana (Gigi Edgley), and Rygel had while separated from Crichton, D'Argo, and Aeryn that we'll actually get the full details on later in the season. But Zhaan is an especially vivid example now of someone lost in her own madness, having confined herself to quarters to commune with a crystal and a shrine. It seems like Chiana has basically been in charge for a while. I only wish we could've seen more of what that was like.

. . .

This entry is part of a series I'm writing on Farscape for the show's 20th anniversary. My previous reviews can be found here (episodes are in the order intended by the show's creators rather than the broadcast order):

Season One:

Episode 1: Pilot
Episode 2: I, E.T.
Episode 3: Exodus from Genesis
Episode 4: Throne for a Loss
Episode 5: Back and Back and Back to the Future
Episode 6: Thank God It's Friday Again
Episode 7: PK Tech Girl
Episode 8: That Old Black Magic
Episode 9: DNA Mad Scientist
Episode 10: They've Got a Secret
Episode 11: Till the Blood Runs Clear
Episode 12: Rhapsody in Blue
Episode 13: The Flax
Episode 14: Jeremiah Crichton
Episode 15: Durka Returns
Episode 16: A Human Reaction
Episode 17: Through the Looking Glass
Episode 18: A Bug's Life
Episode 19: Nerve
Episode 20: The Hidden Memory
Episode 21: Bone to be Wild
Episode 22: Family Ties

Friday, June 28, 2019

The Guitar and the Gangster

A troubled young man drifts into a seaside town and almost immediately is offered a cushy position in the local organised crime outfit. In 1959's The Rambling Guitarist, (ギターを持った渡り鳥), Akira "Mighty Guy" Kobayashi stars as the handsome, vulnerable lad with a tough exterior. This is one of the many formulaic yakuza movies pumped out by Nikkatsu in the late 50s and 60s but it's a particularly good one. Kobayashi's musical numbers justify putting the guitar in the title and exciting location shots fill the film with energy, particularly several scenes shot on a cargo boat in genuinely rough waters.

Watching Kobayashi and Joe Shishido maintain cheeky gangster poise in their meticulous suits and coats on deck while the whole world bobs up and down behind them is enough to make the film worth watching.

Both of those actors have fantastic entrances in the film. Especially Shishido because I didn't know he was in the movie. Taki (Kobayashi) is in his boss's office when suddenly a rumpled coat on the couch starts to laugh. The man beneath it, George (Shishido), throws it off to reveal he'd been there the whole time. "Ah, you're awake," says Akitsu (Nobuo Kaneko), the boss.

Kobayashi of course makes an entrance at the beginning of the film, waking up in the back of a farm truck, but he has a better one later in the film when another gangster walks on stage, terrifying everyone, including the sexy mambo dancer who impulsively stops to stare in horror. Then a whistled tune presages Taki as it's revealed the other mobster has a fatal knife in the back.

Things get less interesting toward the end of the film but there're plenty of great moments to make up for it. The Rambling Guitarist is available on Amazon Prime.

Twitter Sonnet #1250

A sketch of glowing eyes observed the school.
The marching trees divert from castle grounds.
The planet curled in massive heaps of wool.
The gathered dreams've paused to hear the sounds.
Discussions spread from bourbon bottle glass.
A yellow car's obtained amidst the crowds.
A thousand souls traverse the metal pass.
A millions shows project on canvas clouds.
A garden's planted late for sandwich needs.
The fleet of marks upon the wall were snails.
A mark of time was writ by counting beads.
Among the columns swam a pod of whales.
A paper flutters round the fingertips.
Ideas became a scattershot of clips.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Ghosts and Fossils

Here are some fossils I saw in a science building at San Diego State University to-day. A Phorusrhacos skull and a little Archaeopteryx. Along with the strange feeling of seeing physical evidence of a creature long extinct, seeing fossils up close makes me think about how incredible it is that these things exist at all, imagining these shapes in soil and stone over such a long, long period. Shapes that have significance to us because of how we think about life and death but are just more stuff as far as all the dirt and rocks are concerned. There's no motivation to preserve these shapes for millions of years, and yet they're preserved.

I felt like reading a short story to-day so I grabbed a collection by Harlan Ellison before I left the apartment this morning. On the trolley I read a story from 1972 called "On the Downhill Side", the first story in the collection, about a couple of ghosts in New Orleans. It kind of reminds me of the first story in another collection I often pick up when I'm randomly in the mood for short stories, "White Nights" by Dostoevksy, also about two lost souls, also a man and woman, who meet by chance in the street and who talk about relationships. But Ellison's story has a unicorn and some kind of demoniac fog entities with firefly eyes. It's also about people with some kind of mixture of personality and luck who are kept perpetually alone.

Usually when people talk about great Science Fiction authors they talk about concepts, the ideas that prompt the stories--the outer space locations, the manifestation of AI, etc. But with Ellison, as with other greats, its plain and simple great writing that makes those ideas take hold. "Lizette and I were the two sides of the same coin; devalued and impossible to spend," the narrator says at one point. These imagery ideas come up in Ellison so quickly and sometimes they're figurative, sometimes they seem figurative at first and then turn out to be literal, sometimes they exist in some borderline place. The story places grave significance on the potential of a relationship between its leads--the unicorn and the woman's virginity give the story clear sexual overtones that are plainly vulgar and wistfully operatic. I would love to see this story filmed with a heavy metal soundtrack.

But the fantastic imagery doesn't merely express the physical urge, it ties it to a broader human need and the torment in the ambiguity of cause in relationships, the constant nagging thoughts about whether one pushed too hard or not hard enough. A fitting state of mind for the two ghosts who are the story's subject; what more appropriate state of mind to reflect the doom of eternally wandering a city alone?

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

A Growing Horse

A boy named Jiro bonds with a horse he raised from a foal in 1955's The Phantom Horse (幻の馬). The mild melodrama in the foreground is overshadowed by the beautiful Eastmancolor cinematography; the film's best quality is its footage of rural Japan in the changing seasons.

The story begins in winter with the foal's birth. Jiro (Yukihiro Iwatare) and his friends are excited and we see the group of boys running around a lot throughout the film. An amusing and cinematically impressive scene sees the boys running after Jiro across the countryside after Jiro merely says, enigmatically, "Trouble!"

Along the way, an old man asks a boy in the rear why they're running to which the boy can only repeat the single word. The old man is asked by another adult and then a policeman until a whole group of concerned adults catch up to Jiro in the stable only to find out "trouble" meant Jiro had forgotten to feed the horse that day. Jiro names the horse Takeru, meaning "wild".

The seasons pass, Takeru grows up and eventually goes to Tokyo to compete in the races. The beautiful Ayako Wakao stars as Jiro's elder sister who's in charge of the family after the death of their father but the film primarily centres on Jiro. The story never becomes especially complex and it's hard to believe it was submitted to Cannes five years after Rashomon caused a sensation. But Phantom Horse isn't a bad experience; it's very pleasant. It's available on The Criterion Channel.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Watching Carefully

How nice to know I have so much Brad Dourif yet to look forward to since I'm only two episodes in to Deadwood. I watched the second episode of the first season last night, "Deep Water", and found his Doc Cochran has gone from being the man eerily speculating about a bullet wound to being the man fiercely protecting a wounded child. I'm starting to think a mark of good writing on a show these days may simply be the ability to show multiple sides to characters. That's what made Game of Thrones great, it's one of the distinguishing aspects of Twin Peaks. Then again, Star Trek was fine without it. I guess it depends on what kind of story is being told.

I also really loved a scene where Calamity Jane (Robin Weigert) falls apart at the mere appearance of Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) when she'd vowed not to budge from guarding that injured child. One of the things that make Westerns great is their tendency to focus on small nuances of body language and the general impressions made by voice, costume, and demeanour. Something about the way Ian McShane simply walks in the room and calmly looks at the child absolutely unnerves the resolute woman even though she knows nothing about him at this point.

A later conversation between Al Swearengen and Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) highlights how much depends on other ways of reading people and establishing trust in a town with no law. "In a camp like this, Sol, no law or enforceable contract," Swearengen explains to Seth's partner, Sol (John Hawkes), "you gotta watch a man a while before you see what his word counts for." That's the kind of thing that makes a place great to hear stories about but you'd never want to live there. Though, of course, it also kind of describes the reality we do live in.

All this time and I'm only two episodes in. I don't binge, I honestly wish I could comfortably sit down and spend that much time watching a great series. But at the same time, it's nice to know I'll have this show to resort to nights for a long time.

Twitter Sonnet #1249

She used to know a metal dog and cat.
In picture halls a cherry coat was seen.
Her little steps the tiles gently pat.
The castle's walls repel a mirror beam.
A clever thread and fid could bolt a door.
Across a model lane the killers stray.
Deceptive pokers raise the furnace core.
The night's repast is sweeter in the day.
The printed likeness held her arms apart.
The rolling hills provide a moving frame.
The land and all the birds for now depart.
A morning cycle writ in wicker chain.
The mountain ridge was stained with breakfast tea.
Her lunch awaits beside a tannin sea.

Monday, June 24, 2019

A Tangled Ball of Motive

Everyone wanted to kill Archer Coe but it's up to Philo Vance to figure out who did. 1933's The Kennel Murder Case, based on one volume in the popular series of Philo Vance detective novels, is a vibrantly executed puzzle directed with palpable energy by Michael Curtiz and featuring a good performance by William Powell in the lead.

The dead man is discovered in his chair in his bedroom, a bullet hole in his head and a revolver in his hand, the door bolted. Naturally, this was no suicide. Only Philo seems to know at first, the rest of the authorities are happy to accept what seems obvious. Playing this story's Lestrade is Eugene Palette--his Detective Heath is as consistently wrong as he is delightful with his trademark bullfrog voice and affably irritable manner.

Mary Astor plays the dead man's niece but her role is pretty small--there's no hint of romance between her and Philo. She admits frankly she wanted her uncle dead because he controlled her inheritance; her fiance also wanted him dead for a similar reason as did her spurned lover. Also on the list of suspects is another uncle, a butler with a hidden past, and a Chinese cook (James Lee) in Coe's household who's disgusted by his employer's plan to sell his collection of Chinese artefacts.

Powell plays Philo cool and casual. This character could've easily been very boring in other hands but Powell has enough natural life in his performance to captivate the viewer. But mostly it's Curtiz that makes it work and his use of frequent cuts between shot angles in dialogue scenes. These are always organic, they never give the film a too-busy feeling and they keep things from feeling like a filmed play. The Kennel Murder Case is available on Amazon Prime.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Blue Screen Cocteau

Crossing from an alternate universe back into ours, the Fourth Doctor and his companions find themselves caught in a strange middle-zone in the Doctor Who serial Warrior's Gate. The last serial to feature my favourite companion, the second incarnation of Romana, it's a visually and thematically ambitious story that sometimes hits its mark.

Stuck in a strange white void where people can get out and walk around are the TARDIS, a spacecraft belonging to some humans, and what seems to be the disconnected entrance of a mediaeval castle.

Along with Romana (Lalla Ward), the Doctor (Tom Baker) is accompanied by Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) and K9 (John Leeson). This is also K9's last regular episode--he was not to be seen again on the main show (there was a failed spin-off or two) until the Tenth Doctor era. The poor fellow's components are frazzled by the strange place and I feel really bad for the guy when he tries to follow the Doctor through a mirror in the castle to avoid capture.

Travelling to a separate dimension via the mirrors is one element director Paul Joyce took from a Cocteau movie (Orphee), another being the strange lion-people called the Tharil, who look slightly like Jean Marais in Bele et la Bete.

This was another troubled production--disagreements led to Joyce being temporarily replaced as director by Graeme Harper, one of the bones of contention being that the cinematic look Joyce was trying to achieve took quite a lot of time and produced mixed results. It's worth noting how much better Cocteau's movies from the 40s look using practical effects than the cheaper blue screen shots used in the episode. The Doctor wandering through black and white still images of castle grounds was likely meant to look artificial but in more of a dream-like way than a distinctly TV way.

The main conflict is built on the concept of an enslaver society one day becoming the slaves--the humans enslave the time-sensitive Tharil's as living navigational aides while through a nicely weird time sequence the Doctor, attending a feast with ancient Tharils, discovers they're waited on by a human slave.

"The Weak enslave themselves," a Tharil replies to the Doctor's indignation, a dismissive justification which takes on another meaning later in the story. There's no strong attempt to moralise on the topic but slavery is presented simply as evidence of tragic, recurring sentient behaviour.

Romana investigates the ship while the Doctor investigates the very Hammer-ish castle interior. It's nice that in her final episode she gets to be sassy with the crew as she diverts them from discovering Adric in the TARDIS. She's fun to watch in this episode, I love how she pops her head out of the TARDIS while the humans are trying to break it open with a machine. It recalls some of her wonderfully flippant moments in City of Death.

It occurred to me her staying in another dimension, particularly with all the Cocteau references, may have been meant as a metaphorical death. She does come back in the novels and audio plays but she's never quite the same.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

A Rare Life, a Rarer Good

A young man in the wilderness, at the point of death, is found and rescued by the first man who'd ever been good to him. 1956's Jubal shows how difficult such a seemingly simple relationship can be in the proximity of dissatisfied people, spurred by passionate compulsions. A Delmer Daves western with stunning location shots and a fantastic cast, parts of this film don't really work yet it's hard to say exactly what you could take out without breaking what does work.

It's a story with shades of Othello and a number of great, sweaty love triangle movies of the '50s (A Streetcar Named Desire, Baby Doll). Jubal (Glenn Ford), the young man, gets a job as a cowhand at his benefactor's ranch, a gregarious and simple hearted man named Shep (Ernest Borgnine).

Trouble begins almost immediately when a cowhand named Pinky (Rod Steiger) shows an intense dislike for Jubal. It's hard to explain why Pinky feels so strongly--he derides Jubal for being willing to accept work as a sheephand but the hatred feels more personal than professional disgust. Much of the plot is driven by Pinky's inexplicable hatred. It's a good thing method actor Rod Steiger is in the role to give it reality of some kind with his bizarre but credibly loud and scenery-chewing performance. Instead of being a flat villain whose existence is entirely about being a foil, Steiger creates someone who seems like he has real psychological issues the film simply never explores or hints at.

The other thorn in everyone's side is Mae (Valerie French), Shep's wife. Her attempts to seduce Jubal make a lot more sense; just try to imagine what life must be like, staying at home on a remote ranch, sleeping with a big dope night after night. One can understand her boredom even if one doesn't approve of her betrayal of Shep who really is a nice guy.

Ford's performance is the film's acting centrepiece as he struggles to keep ahold of the solid, simple thing he has going with his new friends for the first time in a hard life. He admits he is attracted to Mae but he tells her there's a difference between that and being in love with her. He doesn't have to sleep with her to find out this truth unlike so many other film protagonists. He just desperately hopes his insight is enough to save things. But the best intentions make no account for maliciously propagated misunderstandings when Pinky imposes a likely interpretation on Jubal being late from escorting Mae home one night.

With some good supporting performances from Charles Bronson and Jack Elam, this is a lovely western and tragedy. Jubal is available on The Criterion Channel.

Twitter Sonnet #1248

A team of cars created wheels to roll.
Contented ziti baked in all the sauce.
A time delivered food to feed the whole.
For ev'ry meal the human burns a loss.
The wheels of circ'ling bikes converge apace.
A flicker draws nocturnal eyes above.
A morning mist creates an ev'ning trace.
The growth of fingers stretched the pliant glove.
The horses trot in threes across the creek.
A swinging block adorns the empty frame.
Against projectors minds'll always seek.
A million faces never look the same.
The shorter arms ascend the paper rock.
The dullest scissors cut the thickest sock.

Friday, June 21, 2019

With Hynerians Like These . . .

The first season of Farscape concludes with an episode that reflects on the state of connexions made between its misfit characters over the course of the preceding episodes. Some of them find they've come to mean a lot to each other, while others still seem to be ready to sell everyone out for the right price.

Season 1: Episode 22: Family Ties

Still hiding in the asteroid field from a Peacekeeper command carrier, we join the crew of Moya panicking because someone's stolen a transport and is heading for the enemy ship. It is, of course, Rygel (Jonathan Hardy) who plans on trading his crewmates for his freedom.

Or so he thinks. When Scorpius (Wayne Pygram) questions Rygel, the strange Peacekeeper insists the Dominar is lying on that point. Scorpius seems to have an instinct for detecting deception--there's still no explanation as to how he spotted Crichton (Ben Browder) as an imposter. This is the first episode where reference is made to the fact that Scorpius is half Scarran though we won't be properly introduced to that species until season 2. At this point, we're left to wonder how this half alien rose to such a high position in an organisation committed to racial purity.

Only one off-hand mention is made of M'Lee, by the way, the bone-eating woman from the previous episode--Crais (Lani Tupu) mentions that Scorpus has had her shipped off like a pet to an undisclosed location. Sadly, I think this is the last we ever hear of this character.

The ultimate outcome of Rygel's plan is the Hynerian returning to Moya with Crais, who asks for asylum. After the revelations of his unprofessional behaviour and outright refusal to follow orders he's on the outs with the Peacekeepers. It's strange seeing him with the crew of Moya--he's almost friendly. He even eats at the final meal Chiana (Gigi Edgley) prepares before the crew execute a dangerous plan involving some bombs created by Zhaan (Virginia Hey). At least Crais says he no longer blames Crichton for his brother's death in a conversation where Ben Browder's performance really communicates a sense of the trauma Crichton's experienced. A tear rolls down his cheek as he talks about what it's like to be hunted.

There are some good conversations between Aeryn (Claudia Black) and Crais, too, especially on the bridge of Moya's offspring, whom Aeryn names Talyn in this episode, after her father.

It's kind of abrupt, though, the two of them being so civil to each other after she'd left him for torment in Scorpius' Aurora Chair. If it weren't for the wormhole technology in Crichton's head that Scorpius wants, it seems likely the crew of Moya would be left alone by the Peacekeepers now since it's been established that Crais was directly defying orders by pursuing them. So it seems like Aeryn should hate Crais a lot more than the Peacekeepers.

The end of the episode, like many good season finales, leaves things precarious and uncertain with Crichton and D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe) floating in orbit of Scorpius' base. But this is not the end; in fact, the show gets even better in season 2 . . .

. . .

This entry is part of a series I'm writing on Farscape for the show's 20th anniversary. My previous reviews can be found here (episodes are in the order intended by the show's creators rather than the broadcast order):

Episode 1: Pilot
Episode 2: I, E.T.
Episode 3: Exodus from Genesis
Episode 4: Throne for a Loss
Episode 5: Back and Back and Back to the Future
Episode 6: Thank God It's Friday Again
Episode 7: PK Tech Girl
Episode 8: That Old Black Magic
Episode 9: DNA Mad Scientist
Episode 10: They've Got a Secret
Episode 11: Till the Blood Runs Clear
Episode 12: Rhapsody in Blue
Episode 13: The Flax
Episode 14: Jeremiah Crichton
Episode 15: Durka Returns
Episode 16: A Human Reaction
Episode 17: Through the Looking Glass
Episode 18: A Bug's Life
Episode 19: Nerve
Episode 20: The Hidden Memory
Episode 21: Bone to be Wild

Thursday, June 20, 2019

With Prophecies Like These . . .

Poor humanity, pitted between the competing, shallow boards of directors called Heaven and Hell. It falls to Aziraphale and Crowley, a reluctantly independent minded angel and demon, respectively, to avert apocalypse in Good Omens, a new-ish Amazon Prime series based on the 1990 novel by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. The six episode series, while no masterpiece, is entertaining. I like it about exactly as much as I like the novel.

I discovered Neil Gaiman's work in the late 90s. I remember routinely buying collected volumes of Sandman at the mall when it still had a bookstore and sitting down on a bench then and there, reading each cover to cover. These rightly revered comics left me wanting more so I sought out Gaiman's prose works which were at that time limited to Stardust, Neverwhere, and Good Omens.

I liked them but none of them came close to Sandman. My favourite of the three was easily the edition of Stardust illustrated by Charles Vess, though I quite enjoyed Neverwhere, an adaptation of a television series written by Gaiman. I liked Good Omens, too, but as someone who'd seen the Monty Python movies and read Douglas Adams, it seemed like a more modest exercise in the ballpark of those greater works of satire. Though I don't think it's exactly fair to say it is simply that. My exposure to the works of Terry Pratchett is more limited--I've read one other of his novels and listened to an audio play--but I can see why he appeals to a very particular niche. He's about 60% tongue-in-cheek and 40% sincerity and you need to have a particular taste in order for those two elements not to cancel each other out. Sometimes it works for me and I can see Pratchett was a really clever author but his style was never as satisfying for me as it is for many other readers.

The new television series very much has that Pratchett tone but it's more fascinating for what an anachronism it is. This kind of humour based on religion felt so brilliant and transgressive in the 80s and 90s. Now as I watch it I find myself hoping viewers will care and suspecting many will just feel impatient. It used to be you could rely on the charming rogue to be the fan favourite but now in this world where young people seem to strongly prefer Luke over Han, I suspect everyone will much prefer Aziraphale to Crowley and many will be frustrated by the very idea that a Good Person would have a chummy relationship with a Bad Person. I do hope such viewers find their perspective shifted maybe just a little. Certainly Michael Sheen and David Tennant are well cast and have great chemistry. Tennant's particularly good, particularly in moments where he shows subtle emotional wounds when Aziraphale finally threatens to break off their secret alliance.

For myself, I don't find the best bits of Good Omens' satire quite as enduring as Life of Brian's. When Crowley remarks at the beginning, when Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden, that it's a bit harsh, I remembered being amused at the gentle tone used to show up a significant flaw in the basic worldview of western religion. But now, after a few years studying Milton, it's not nearly as exciting as Satan in Paradise Lost:

One fatal tree there stands, of knowledge called,
Forbidden them to taste: Knowledge forbidden
Suspicious, reasonless. Why should their Lord
Envy them that? Can it be sin to know?
Can it be death? And do they only stand
By ignorance? Is that their happy state,
The proof of their obedience and their faith?

This is so much better because it engages with the idea of forbidden knowledge and the reader is compelled to weigh the value of such a policy. The gentle nudge of humour in Good Omens suggests it's funny because it's outdated and silly while Satan's question in Paradise Lost remains terribly relevant. But, of course, it's not fair, really, to complain, "Good Omens isn't as good as Paradise Lost!" though maybe it's worth saying since there is a substantial push to see the classics as irrelevant and worthless.

The supporting cast on the series is wonderful except for Frances McDormand as God, the narrator. She might have been fine if she'd put on a British accent--so many of the casually absurd phrases she drops go down like lead with an American accent. Michael McKean, fresh from his brilliant role on Better Call Saul, puts on a Scottish accent as Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell and even though the accent isn't perfect he's still great in the role. He and Miranda Richardson are wonderfully sweet and funny.

Jack Whitehall and Adria Arjona are also very sweet and funny, Arjona in particular striking some pleasantly surprising notes with her dialogue. I do kind of wish the show's sex scene had been more convincing.

I loved Crowley berating his plants and expressing love for his car. The music from Queen was well deployed in the soundtrack. I really liked how the wardrobe for people from heaven wasn't limited to white and included powder blue shirts and caramel coloured shoes. Good Omens is available on Amazon Prime.