Conscience of the Conservative


What happens when a conservative Republican ex-president, who has been out of office for more than two decades, decides he’s completely out of fucks to give, and starts looking at the damage his policies caused?

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This is the premise of Epix’s TV series Graves, which began airing last year. Somehow I’d not heard of it. I’m guessing I was too busy paying attention to real politics. Or perhaps their PR just sucked. But either way, I’m glad to have found it now..

Nick Nolte plays the titular character, who, it is implied, was a two-term Republican president that came along after Reagan but before Clinton. He’s now retired and living in New Mexico, and is becoming very unhappy with his life. After a confrontation with former New Mexican governor Bill Richardson, he starts looking at the way his time in office is being remembered. He starts to realize some of the consequences that were experienced by the American public when he did things like cut cancer research, “get tough” on illegal immigration, or speak out against gay marriage.

He looks at these things with the distance of time and wisdom and doesn’t like what he sees. So he starts acting up and speaking out. As this is going on, his wife is being courted by the Republican establishment to run for the Senate, his daughter is going through a divorce, and his estranged son has returned from service overseas.

To a great extent the series is a liberal wank-fest. We all want to have someone like Bush 41 or W admit that they were wrong in what they believed and fought for. We want to have a moment where they say, “Yeah, I fucked up, and shouldn’t have done X, Y, or Z.”

But the show does this liberal wank-fest in a very entertaining way. Nick Nolte is absolutely magnificent as the main character, and Sela Ward is fantastic as the former First Lady. The rest of the cast is spot-on, as well, and there are many cameos by the likes of Bill Richardson, Rudy Giuliani, Barney Frank, Michael Steele, and others.

If you’ve got a hankering for an enjoyable diversion of a political series, do check this out. It isn’t quite as sharp as Alpha House, but it’s still very good. You can find it through Epix’s channel on Sling, and possibly your cable provider. It’s also available on the various streaming services. Vudu has the first two episodes for free, and the series as a whole is only $20 through them. Not bad!

Some Thoughts on Season One of The Grand Tour


I’m watching the season finale of Amazon’s similar-to-but-legally-distinct-from knock-off of Top Gear known as The Grand Finale. What have I thought of this first season?

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In general, I’ve been very pleased. The formula is basically the same as it was with the BBC, ie: three lads screwing around with cars. On that level there’s no real difference from the old series.

But that’s a good thing. I like that. I liked Top Gear with May, Clarkson and Hammond, and I like what they’ve done here. It’s got the same “feel” and remains vastly entertaining.

There are some things I dislike. The “American” bit isn’t especially original or entertaining. It’s very one-note, really. The “Celebrity Brain Crash” bit has gotten old quickly, too.

But those complains aside,  I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit, and I really look forward to season two! Oh, and to a lesser extent, I look forward to the next series of Top Gear.

Television Review – The Grand Tour – S01E01 – “The Holy Trinity”


Last night Amazon released the first episode of the highly-anticipated, “Not technically Top Gear, but everything you love about that show, without Chris Evans”, new series, The Grand Tour. It has these guys in it.

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Larry, Moe, and the Hamster.

There are many fun moments in the first episode, and many, many references to the way that Clarkson, especially, left Top Gear. But once the initial dust settles, we get to see the boys in all their glory, driving around in a McLaren, a Porsche, and a Ferrari. You can decide for yourself if the titular “holy trinity” is the cars or the men.

The episode did have everything you’d expect from this crowd, and a bit more. We got a genuinely funny bit about the RAF, got to watch some….interesting…moments with three celebrities, and got introduced to the new test track, which includes wildlife, an old woman’s home, and live electricity. Because of course it does.

There really wasn’t much of anything I disliked here. I’m quite sure the show will continue on as the spiritual successor of “proper” Top Gear, and with luck that show will improve itself, and we’ll have two versions of a great program.

In the meantime, go check this out. If you don’t already have Prime, Amazon is doing a limited-time sale where you can get a whole year for only $79. It’s worth it, believe me.

TV Review – Doctor Who – “Last Christmas”


To say that the Doctor Who Christmas specials have been something of a mixed bag is a massive understatement. They’ve generally been mediocre (“The End of Time”), unwatchable (“Voyage of the Dammed” and “A Christmas Carol”), and only occasionally good (“The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe”). Generally they’ve been fairly consistently “meh”. So I went in to last night’s Christmas episode with more than a little trepidation, especially given the business with Santa Claus.

Happily, the episode was very good, and easily one of the best Christmas specials.

The story itself features the Doctor and Clara arriving at a North Pole science base where there are some weird alien facehuggers that are forcing people into dreams and then slowly digesting their brains. As happens. It’s up to the Doctor and Clara to stop all this, with the aid of, yes, Santa. To say more would be to spoil the story.

Here was an episode with everything that I wanted and little I didn’t. It was nice to see a certain character back again. The aliens, who bore more than a little resemblence to something out of Alien (which the show commented on, thank goodness), were interesting and genuinely scary. The show also seems to have figured out the best way for the Doctor and Clara to work together and how the Doctor himself should be written.

Now I was very uneasy about the idea of Santa Claus being thrown in to the Doctor Who universe. He’s a fairy tale character, after all. I didn’t think that Moffat would try to make him “real” within the setting, but who could say? Without giving anything away, I will say that I was pleased with the eventual outcome.

I’m also a little unpleased about Clara continuing on with the Doctor. I don’t hate her character; for her to do that she’d have to have a character. I just find Clara to be consistently uninteresting and kind of a blank slate. That’s changing slowly, but not fast enough.

Aside from all that, the acting was great and the pacing was good, and really, overall, I was just very pleased. It’s good to see the show hit a nice, solid, home run, and I hope that bodes well for season nine.

TV Review – Doctor Who – “Kill the Moon”


I’m occasionally disappointed in an episode of Doctor Who. The series has had some great stories over the decades, but they’ve also had things like “The Twin Dilemma” and “Love and Monsters”. These episodes are annoying, but at least they aren’t generally an insult to my intelligence.

Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to “Kill the Moon”.

It’s hard to put into words how much I disliked this story. The idea of something being “wrong” with the Moon is an interesting one, and the series generally does “base under siege” stories well, which is what I thought this story would be. I was incorrect.

Spoilers from here on out.

Instead of some interesting alien menace (webs? Bring on the Eight Legs, or the Yeti!), we get giant bacteria. We’re told that they’re single-celled organisms, which seems extremely unlikely given what they look like. But, you know, I could just about go with that, because ok. Doctor Who, for all its greatness, has always been more fiction than science.

But then we find out what’s really going on: the moon is, and has always been, a giant egg and there’s a creature inside it that’s about to hatch, and now it’s suddenly gaining a lot of mass, fucking with the tides and the like. I’m not sure exactly how that’s happening, because where is the mass coming from?

Anyhow, the world has sent up the last space shuttle and the last astronauts (also there are apparently no more satellites for some reason?), with 100 nuclear bombs to try and fix this problem. They don’t know the moon is really an egg, but once this is discovered, the bombs are rather conveniently enough to kill the creature inside the egg.

This then leads to a bizarre scene where Clara decides she can’t make up her mind about whether or not they should kill this creature, so she tells the people of Earth to decide by leaving their lights on or turning them off. This means only the people on the night side within her field of vision get a vote, but eh. The lights then turn off in large clusters, because apparently that’s how these things go.

Then after everyone votes to kill it, she overrides the vote at the last minute, the Doctor takes everyone off the moon and they all watch (and hear, somehow), from Earth as the moon hatches and some space thing flies away as the eggshell conveniently disintegrates, leaving no debris to fuck things up further. So now the Earth has no moon, but, hey, seconds later it leaves an egg of equal mass, because that’s how science works.

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As I said, this episode really, seriously is an insult to the intellect. As one of my friends said, there isn’t even any bad science so much as there is no science. Nothing about this story makes any sense.

And the ethical conundrum? Do you kill one (potentially) sentient lifeform in order to almost certainly save billions of certainly sentient lifeforms? Fuck and yes! It’s the only correct and ethical choice to make. It sucks, but there you are. Of course as we learn from the story it would have been the wrong choice to make, since the eggshell disintegrated and the creature laid a new moon that was the same mass as the old one, but, hey, I guess Clara and company should have just known that was going to happen! Or they should have just “trusted in the universe”, but that’s basically religion, and it can go suck a bag of dicks.

I really, really disliked this episode, as you can tell.

What made it truly annoying was the fact that the character stuff in here worked brilliantly! Courtney is now basically a companion (more than one story and a trip in the TARDIS), and her chemistry with Clara is excellent. It’s also nice to see that we have the potential for a situation where the companions are two Coal Hill teachers and one student.

I also really liked Clara having it out with the Doctor at the end. Shades of Tegan telling him it just wasn’t fun anymore. It was a good scene, and it’s always nice to have someone put the Doctor in his place when he needs it.

But nice those moments were, there were different and better ways to bring them about than what happened in this giant misstep of an episode. Hopefully what we get next week will be better. It’s hard to see how it could be worse.

TV Review – Doctor Who – “Robots of Sherwood”


So the Doctor and Clara go back to the year 1190 (give or take), and run into Robin Hood, the Sheriff of Notingham, and various robots. And…that’s about what you need to know for the plot summary. Oh, there’s some strangeness involving an alien spaceship, and thus the robots, and the Sheriff’s mad plan to rule the world!, but all you really need to know is the Doctor, Clara, and Robin Hood.

By rights a story that lame-sounding, and from a writer like Mark Gatiss, whose TV Who episodes have been very hit-or-miss, should fail on every level. That it is more of a success than a fail is a great, but very welcome, surprise.

First, kudos to Gatiss for incorporating a great deal of the Robin Hood mythos. We have the Sheriff, of course, and mention of King John (as well as mention of King Richard, whom the Doctor once met). There’s also lots of stuff about Maid Marion, and even the archery contest; something that was suspiciously absent from a very popular Robin Hood adaptation, though to be fair, that one did at least find a way to shoehorn in a character played by Morgan Freeman, so there’s that. Also, really, the sword-vs-spoon duel was quite great, even if it doesn’t fit into the mythos.

Second, it was nice to see Clara given something to do. She’s really just sort of been “there” as a companion for me, and nothing terribly great. Watching her actually get the chance to try and do something was nice.

And lastly, the casting really makes this story. Tom Riley makes for an excellent Robin, and a great foil for the Doctor (vice versa, of course), and Ben Miller obviously had a great time hamming it up as the evil Sheriff, and really, what actor wouldn’t? It’s a pretty great role.

Now I will say that the story sort of falls apart in the last ten minutes or so, and the revelation about the true nature of Robin Hood was a bit eye-rolling. But still, it was a good episode all around, and that wasn’t something I had expected from an admittedly odd premise.

TV Review – Doctor Who – “Into the Dalek”


Back in the day, Doctor Who could be a fairly trippy little show. There was a Second Doctor story where he and his companions journeyed to the Land of Fiction, where they met Gulliver, and where Jamie temporarily “regenerated” because the Doctor couldn’t remember his face accurately. There was a Fourth Doctor story where the Doctor and Leela were cloned and shrunk down to microscopic size so the Doctor could traipse about inside his own brain. And then there’s today’s episode, which owes a bit to that story, “The Invisible Enemy” and to a First Doctor story, “Planet of Giants” (a story which, ironically, was supposed to be the second in the series before being replaced by “The Daleks).

This episode has the Doctor, by himself, arriving at a spaceship full of soldiers who also have an injured Dalek; a Dalek who believes all Daleks are evil and that their constant war of destruction is pointless, because life will, as was once observed, find a way. The Doctor goes back to Earth and snags Clara, bringing her to the ship so that the two can be shrunk down, along with a few redshirts, and go inside the Dalek to find out what’s making it “good”. Along the way the Doctor is forced to confront his own prejudices and we get to see an army of Daleks doing what Daleks do, instead of screwing around cloning pigs and serving tea to WWII British soldiers.

There was a great deal that I liked about this story. In fact, I liked basically everything about it. It really “felt” quite a lot like an old series episode, and that’s to its credit. There were some amazingly trippy scenes and bizarre camera work that reminded me quite a bit of the stuff that was done back in the day. Further, Capaldi really shines here, showing exactly why he was chosen to be the Doctor, and proving that he very much belongs in the role. The story itself was gripping and intelligent, and is easily the best Dalek story since the Ninth Doctor first met them. In fact I’d go so far as to say it is one of the best new Who episodes to date, and that’s saying something. Oh, and as a special bonus, this is two for two for series eight episodes that aren’t set on contemporary Earth. Next week will bring us up to three for three. I like that trend.

This story also had some great pacing, and did a wonderful job of introducing a new character in the form of Danny Pink. I’m quite keen to see what happens with his character, and if current fan theories about his identity prove to be true.

All in all, as I write this, I realize that I have zero complaints about this story, and that’s saying something. It really was really good, and I hope it bodes well for the rest of the series.