We control the horizontal and the vertical

Having no internet did at least allow us to catch up on some TV. We just watched an episode of Bones which featured not only Bill S. Preston Esq. as a sleazy porn magnate but also Stephen Fry, playing himself a psychiatrist. An English psychiatrist with a fondness for tea and esoteric trivia. Very entertaining, although as a TV show it does feel like an extremely friendly but not particularly bright puppy.

The second season of Rome is well underway, and is following the pattern of the first very closely, in that the episodes written by Bruno Heller are character-driven and interesting, and the others… not so much. However they do fling in random sex and violence in the hope of keeping your attention until the next good episode. Overall the good bits more or less outweigh the bad, even if it’s not quite the show it could have been. As a depiction of Ancient Rome in all its squalor and nobility it’s probably a good deal more true to the essence of the era than Richard Burton in a toga.

Heroes continues to dazzle with its momentum, although I occasionally have that second-season Twin Peaks feeling that some characters have outlived their storyline and are casting about for a new one. At times like these I suspect that the writers are not so much planning ahead as frantically paying out train track ahead of the locomotive. Nevertheless there’s a general feeling that they know where the season is going to end up; certainly the first half of the season made overall sense even if the finer details were a bit blurry. I remain optimistic for the rest of the season. An extremely entertaining series. (I think I’m right entirely wrong in saying that Heroes started last night on the UK Sci-Fi Channel. fba notes that it starts next week with a double episode.)

Veronica Mars has so far impressed me greatly this year, striking just the right balance between the complexity of a story arc and the accessibility of weekly storylines. It also keeps the momentum going without sacrificing each episode’s individuality. The writers of Battlestar Galactica could learn a trick or two here. There’ve been a couple of clunkers, sadly, but overall the classic Mars spark is definitely present and I’m enjoying it more than Season 2. The worst I can say is that the supporting characters go AWOL so often that they’ve given up trying to explain their absence.

Spurred into action by a combination of Coalescent and a £15 Amazon deal, I’ve started watching season 1 of Life on Mars for the first time. Three episodes in and I’m enjoying it a lot. It’s an odd mixture of 95% crime show and 5% SF, but somehow it works. At times it reminds me peculiarly of Quantum Leap: on one level it’s an absolutely straightforward (even lightweight) pastiche of a 70’s crime show, but at the same time the time travel conceit adds a post-modern distance. Like Quantum Leap, the often nominal SF elements give you permission to enjoy the drama, and the show is able to highlight and exaggerate the differences between 1973 and the modern world. The constant hints that Sam may or may not be in a coma are becoming slightly wearing already, but again they add a level to the series and the central character that’s definitely interesting. Episode three managed to milk the ambiguity quite nicely for some fairly obvious metaphor in which the struggles in the past are a means to keep Sam fighting in the present. It’s hard to see, even at this early stage, how they can possibly resolve the ambiguity of the premise in any way which is satisfying. My preferred ending at the moment would be for both versions of reality to be true; Sam really is in a coma, but he’s somehow back in time as well, and having a verifiable impact on history. Alternatively they can leave things open, a technique I often enjoy but suspect might be simply infuriating here. Either way, I’m pleased that the second season is the last as it prevents the writers from having to string out the premise too far.

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