Some bite-sized thoughts and reflections on the items I’ve been reading, listening to, or watching this month.
Also: Did you read, watch, listen to, or play something this month that you particularly enjoyed? Feel free to share in the comments! I’m always looking for recommendations.
Note: The following post contains spoilers for The Neverending Story (both the book and the movies), the podcast Who the Hell is Hamish?, The 100 (TV series), WandaVision, and The Bridge (the HBO Max reality series).
What I’m reading for work/research
What I’m reading for fun
What I’m listening to for fun
What I’m watching for fun
The 100 on Netflix: A few months ago I wrote that I had started watching The 100, a series I was enjoying but didn’t have high hopes for because I’d read a bunch of spoilers and knew how much everyone seemed to hate the final season (and why). I’ve now finished the series, which I never intended to do—I was pretty sure I was going to abandon it somewhere in the middle, assuming the quality took a dive—but I guess it managed to keep me watching through to the end. I would say that I generally liked the series but I also found it seriously frustrating. There are so many good characters on this show and it’s basically a unicorn in the fact that none of the lead female characters are defined by their love interests (or if they are, it doesn’t last very long). I also like that this show had the balls to go where most similar shows won’t: in those other shows, there is constant threat of apocalypse but you know it’s never actually going to happen—that the characters will figure out a way to prevent it. In this show, the apocalypse definitely happens. Twice. Also, the characters commit genocide on more than one occasion and later resort to cannibalism in the name of survival. And, arguably, you’re supposed to like them. Where this show fell down for me was that despite having these great, potentially complicated characters, it wasn’t interested in exploring who these people were beyond how they could serve the plot and/or be used as tools to explore the themes the show was concerned with. Basically, what should have been a very good character-driven show was instead a mostly mediocre plot-driven show. Like, sometimes the characters’ actions made no sense and it was clear that they were only doing what they were doing because of the plot. I’m thinking mostly of Bellamy’s whole storyline in the third season (…and pretty much every season after that). Anyway. I’m glad this show exists. I’m glad I watched it. I just felt like it could have been so much better than it was.
WandaVision on Disney+: When I first heard that the MCU was going to start doing TV series on Disney’s streaming platform, the fact that there was going to be a series about Wanda and Vision barely registered with me. I guess I was too excited about The Falcon and the Winter Soldier to give it much thought(more on that series in next month’s post, probably). Also while I generally liked Wanda and Visions’s scenes in Captain America: Civil War, I didn’t find them to be so hugely compelling in this or any of the other movies that I wanted to watch a whole series about them. But then the series came out and I saw some of the conversation around it was pretty positive, so I tuned in and I liked what I saw a lot more than I expected. Which is to say, you can count me among the viewers who prefer the early episodes which mimic the aesthetics and story beats of classic sitcoms over the later more standard MCU-type episodes. The early ones especially appealed to me because right before watching WandaVision, I had just finished a rewatch of The Dick Van Dyke Show, so it was funny seeing how closely this show had mimicked some of the sets, costumes, and general sensibility of that series. And though it was more Bewitched-oriented, I think my favorite episode was the second one with the magic show. Obviously, that schtick couldn’t last but honestly I could have watched an entire series made up entirely of more episodes like the two black and white ones. Once the shift to color and the more typical MCU stuff kicked in, I was fully on board at first, especially when Darcy from the Thor movies showed up, but eventually I got kind of…I don’t want to say bored, but the last half of the series definitely enchanted me a lot less than the first half. Though I have to say that Vision’s speech about grief being an extension of love in the second to last episode definitely got me. On the whole, I’m probably more interested in Wanda and Vision as characters now than I was before and I would definitely continue watching if they do more episodes or appear in more movies in the future. But I wish the show could have stayed in that comfort television world a little bit longer.
The Bridge on HBO Max: When it comes to reality shows, there are a surprising number of hidden gems on HBO Max, including The Great Pottery Throw Down (which is basically the Great British Bake-Off but with pottery) and this one, another British series that has elements of both Survivor and, weirdly, The Circle. The premise of the show is that a group of strangers are stranded on a remote island with nothing but some basic resources (including shelter and food that must be carefully rationed) to survive on for the next three weeks. The prize at the end is a big bag of money. The twist is that the money is on a separate remote island and in order for anyone to win it, the contestants have to work together to build an 850 foot bridge to that second island, using only the materials that have been made available to them on their island. While a few of the contestants have some relevant building or engineering experience, most of them very much do not. Instead, their job experiences range from “waitress” to “male stripper” to “fashion designer” to “graduate” (?). You would think, then, that the first move here would be to listen to the people with the relevant experience and make those people their designated leaders…but it’s not. And that’s just the first of many seemingly extraordinarily dumb decisions these people make in the six episodes that make up the series.(2) These dumb decisions are both frustrating and, it turns out, the source of most of the show’s suspense because the question of whether this group of people can actually the accomplish the task at hand is not at all a given. In fact, I suspect one “breakthrough” moment they have relatively early on was likely the result of producer interference rather than their own sudden epiphany, even though it’s not portrayed that way on screen. Like, they had to do something to give these people a fighting chance. Anyway, I’m a sucker for a reality show with good or unexpected twists and I can’t say no to the overly intense narration by James McAvoy (<3), so for me this was a good way to spend a quiet weekend.
(1) In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve probably seen the first Neverending Story movie dozens of times and even though it oversimplifies Atreyu’s quest a bit, it’s generally pretty accurate to the first half of the book, within the limits of what was possible with special effects in the 1980s (though I’m still not sure why Falkor the luckdragon ended up looking like a very large, furry dog–maybe they were afraid an actual dragon would scare kids?). Meanwhile, I can’t watch the second movie. Not because of the way it messes with the story but because for some reason it scared the shit out of me as a little kid and the one time I tried to go back to it as an adult, it still gave me the creeps for reasons I can’t explain. So I can’t vouch for the accuracy of my memory of what the movie is about or how it uses or doesn’t use any of the story points from the second half of the book. I’ve never seen the third movie but my understanding is that even though it uses some of the same characters from the book, it tells a completely new story.
(2) To be fair, the one person in the group with somewhat relevant experience at the beginning of the series does not exactly endear himself to anyone early on, though he’s later redeemed.