In which I watched The Witcher

When did I watch it? Wecently.

Shut up I get to have my fun.

I’m coming at this show from sort of a weird angle: I had not read any of the source material (but I ordered three of the novels after watching, and am about a fourth of the way through the first one right now) and I have played one of the three video games and didn’t like it very much. So it’s kind of difficult for me to explain why I jumped at watching the show, particularly since I’ve never really been a fan of Henry Cavill either.

tl;dr you should probably watch this if you’re into This Sort of Thing, but don’t pay for a Netflix account for it or anything like that.

Good Stuff:

  • The show mostly dispenses with the rampant sexism and PoC erasure of the game, at least– I don’t recall a single use of the C-word, which is everywhere in the game, and the cast is reasonably diverse;
  • Henry Cavill is having the time of his life playing a man whose only emotion is exasperated— Geralt of Rivia is so over all of this shit, all the time, and it’s hilarious; I never thought I’d use the word “adorable” to describe Cavill but it’s entirely accurate through most of the show;
  • Anya Chalotra as Yennifer of Vengerberg also does a fantastic job in what is probably the show’s best role. Yen is a complicated, meaty role, and she digs deep into this character;
  • The majority of the smaller roles are well-acted as well. I don’t know any actor in this program outside of Cavill himself and I don’t know where they found all these folks but they’re great. Definitely worth singling out are Joey Batey’s Jaskier and Jodhi May’s Queen Calanthe, who I want to get a show all on her own;
  • Fun fact about Jaskier: this is the character who in the games and the English novels is called Dandelion. Turns out jaskier is the Polish word for “buttercup,” and the books and games made the decision to render the character’s name as a slightly less feminine-sounding yellow flower in English, but the show just stuck with Jaskier, which in English scans perfectly well as a fantasy name;
  • Netflix went all out with budget and FX; there’s a suspect mask early in the series but in general the show looks really good, and it’s well-directed across the board, with good action scenes.

The not as good stuff:

  • I’m willing to be patient with Ciri’s story while she becomes the character I know from the third game, but she basically just runs around in the woods uselessly for the entire season. She’s getting Sansa’s character arc from GoT right now without the endless, twisted speculation about when she’s going to get raped, and we’re very much in the “young and whiny and mostly pointless” phase at the moment. Hopefully this gets better quick in the next season;
  • Costuming is generally pretty good, but two exceptions are Henry Cavill’s wigs and the Nilfgaardian’s utterly ridiculous, impractical, please-stab-me armor;
  • The show follows three timelines separated by at least several decades, and wants you to figure that out rather than making it clear, and while I don’t mind TV that rewards the viewer paying attention it’s not at all obvious what the show gains from making all the time-jumping effectively a background detail. They also hurt Yen’s storyline quite a bit with this; she goes from a novice to someone who has spent three decades as a royal advisor between the earliest storyline and the middle one, and those three decades change her character quite a bit– it would have been nice to see some of it;
  • It’s possible that Cavill’s bad wigs are a timeline hint, but even if they are– I think one of them might be blonder than the others– they’re still terrible;
  • Related to the timeline issue, the show isn’t great at explaining things in general, and my wife spent most of the season asking me questions I couldn’t answer with my limited background knowledge. You’re asked to take quite a bit on faith and I think the show works much better for people with deep background knowledge, but it’s hard to say, since I don’t have it. One of the best things about GoT was the opening sequence, which effortlessly laid out the entire map and let you know where everything was without wasting show time on it. This show could have used something along those lines. At least sprinkle some maps into the background somewhere.

So, yeah: if you’re one of the ten Netflix subscribers who hasn’t checked this out yet, you should probably think about it. If you don’t have Netflix and are a big fantasy person, maybe think about it. If you’re neither, give it a pass. I’m in for Season Two and at least the first of the books, but I’m not gonna lose any sleep waiting for it either.

In which all I do is review things now

This week was seven hundred years long and featured hospitals and shingles— the disease, not the roof covering–, neither of which I was directly involved in, but I’m tired and utterly refuse to brain in any significant capacity right now. Luckily I have massive megacorporations providing entertainment to soothe me. So: two brief mini-reviews.

I have watched both episodes of The Mandalorian that have been released, and it’s pretty solid. It’s definitely Star Wars– the series not feeling right was my second biggest fear behind the fact that it was going to secretly be about Boba Fett, which it isn’t– and while I wasn’t sold on the music or the humor after the first episode I was right in suspecting that I just needed to get used to it. My favorite thing about the show so far is that it subtly reinforces the idea that Mandalorians aren’t actually the big tough badasses that Star Wars have been pretending they are for years– Boba Fett got killed by a blind man with a stick and a monster that couldn’t move, and the Mandalorian (who still doesn’t have a name) gets his ass kicked by Jawas in the second episode. I mean, it’s hilarious, but still. I don’t know that this is worth getting Disney+ for all by itself, but if you’re a Star Wars sort of person you probably already have your subscription and have watched the show already.

I have beaten this now, and everything I said in my early impressions post still holds: this is basically a Fallout game, only more Westerny and less post-apocalyptic, and with Mass Effect/Dragon Age-style companions. If you like that sort of thing, you’ll get along with it perfectly well, and unlike the last Dragon Age game I was actually able to finish it without dying of boredom, but I’m starting to think that unless someone does something to radically shake up how this genre works I think I’m going to tap out of it now, because long quest chains and ceaseless fetch quests just aren’t fun for me anymore. I damn near turned the game off when one character literally asked me to go ask another character if a poster he’d ordered had arrived yet, and I accidentally screwed up a quest late in the game involving modeling for an NPC and when I looked up what might have happened had I not messed it up I realized that there were 10,000 more things to do for it and I’d have been howling and throwing shit at the walls by the end of it. It’s mostly well-written and entertaining beyond that, but this game demands a bit more patience than I actually have available to me right now. I might go through it once more to see how some quests might go when I make different choices, but it won’t be happening for a while.

Because capitalism

Yes goddammit of course I have a Disney+ subscription. I may actually have already mentioned ponying up around here; I signed up a few weeks ago and have been waiting impatiently ever since for the damn thing to actually launch. The entertaining bit is that after those several weeks of impatience I actually forgot until an hour or so ago that the thing was launching today, and didn’t get everything signed in and hooked up until just before dinner.

What am I watching first? Captain Marvel, of course, but we will absolutely be watching the first episode of The Mandalorian before bed, especially now that I have confirmed that a certain thing I was worried about does not actually happen in the show. (No spoilers, of course.)

We spent a couple of minutes scrolling through the available offerings and my wife went entertainingly nuts over some of the possibilities, so I think our $6.99 for at least the first month or two are going to be pretty well-spent. For me, the Star Wars and Marvel content is gonna be more than enough to keep me busy for a while, and having all the classic Disney films, many of which my son hasn’t seen, is icing on the cake.

So, yeah. See you in a month. 🙂

In which I saw SEE

So it turns out that if you buy an iPhone nowadays you get a free year’s subscription to Apple TV+, a service I’m not fully certain that I knew existed until discovering that I had a free year’s subscription to it. And it also turns out that if your brother and sister-in-law are spending the night at your house and the boy has been put to bed and you stare at each other long enough, you’ll end up watching that new Jason Momoa show that all of you have vaguely heard of but nobody really knows anything about. Because Jason Momoa is really, really pretty, and it doesn’t matter much what he’s actually in so long as you get to look at him while he’s in it.

(Jason Momoa is one of a very small number of exceptions to my otherwise lifelong heterosexuality. He’s my goddamn imaginary boyfriend and I dare any of you to make a thing out of it.)

Here are some good things about See, which has had four episodes released, and which I have watched two episodes of:

  • It is well-acted. Not only is Jason Momoa in it, but another main character is played by Alfre Woodard, who I would watch reading a phone book. All of the characters are compelling and interesting.
  • It is absolutely god damned gorgeous to watch. Lay aside my Momoasexuality; I don’t know where this show is filmed, but I want to live there, and the people who designed the sets and found the locations deserve whatever the highest awards in their fields are, preferably more than once. This is one of the most beautifully-shot TV series I’ve ever seen, and I don’t know what the budget is for it but I suspect it’s an awful lot.
  • It is well-directed across the board and when it wants to be it is wonderfully spooky. A character called the Shadow is introduced in the second episode and the way the Shadow moves and is filmed is a fucking masterclass in creating suspense out of basically nothing at all; she literally just walks around or stands in a corner and she’s the creepiest damn thing I’ve ever seen.

Here is the less good thing about See:

  • It may have the single most ludicrous premise of any entertainment product I’ve ever encountered, and I am the person whose review of Snowpiercer is literally the number one result on the Internet when you search for the words “Snowpiercer stupid” on Google. It is bone-shakingly, astonishingly, unbelievably, paralyzingly dumb on a huge number of levels, and the fact that it manages to be compelling enough that I’m probably going to watch at least another episode or two is a fucking miracle and a testament to the three items above.

Here’s the premise of the program, which is a distant future post-apocalyptic fantasy show: a virus wiped out all but two million people and blinded literally everyone who was left. All future descendants of those people were also born blind. Now, “centuries” (it doesn’t say how many) later, one man has been born with sight and impregnated a woman with twins, and the twins have also been born able to see.

The show is far enough in the future that there are no remnants of human society left– everything is broad expanses of wilderness, with no ruined buildings or rusted cars or anything like that, although we have seen one (1) pile of tires and there appear to be enough plastic water bottles left that a guy is able to make a point of using three a day to send messages down a river in a scheme that is so stupid that I refuse to describe it here. There is a dam left that appears to provide a small amount of hydroelectric power to the people who live near it, and there is at least one working record player and one copy of Lou Reed’s Perfect Day available on vinyl so that a lady can masturbate to it while she prays.

Yeah, that’s what I said. This woman is supposedly a queen and she “has to pray” twice in two episodes and both of them involve orgasms and one of them is juuuuust a little rapey. Where the show is not stupid it is absolutely batshit nuts. This is one of those places.

It is far enough in the future that the very concept of vision has been reduced to a heretical idea that nobody really believes in any longer, but clothes are still dyed and one weird religious thing features everybody in matching black robes and jesus my worldbuilding questions about clothing alone could take up another thousand words. Needless to say, while I’ve only watched two hours of programming and there is plenty of time to get deeper into worldbuilding later, these folks have no manufacturing, no agriculture, they cannot hunt because no one on Earth can convince me that a society of blind people can capture enough meat to stay alive, and their technology level appears to be firmly set right around Hollywood Viking, except with guide ropes stretched everywhere.

(Writing has evolved into a sort of Aztec quipu thing, with lots of knotted ropes that people “read” with their fingers, and the big religious ritual scene has huge knotted ropes hanging from the wall, which is a cool way to approach scripture, but there are no children anywhere other than the two infants, which makes me wonder about how education works.)

There is a big battle scene between Jason Momoa’s village and the “Witchfinders,” who introduce all sorts of questions on their own, and it’s fascinatingly shot but if you’re already wondering how you tell who is on your side when you’re at war and everyone is blind, you shouldn’t expect great things in the answer. There are also occasional little hints about some characters having what boil down to supernatural senses of hearing and smell, and possibly a touch of magic scattered here and there, but they haven’t gotten into that much.

Oh, and Jason Momoa kills a bear. Just before he kills the bear he is carrying two babies around with him on a tray. That’s not a joke or an exaggeration. He drops the tray when the bear attacks him, but the babies are still on the tray when he finds them again after the bear gets killed.

So, like, if you happen to have Apple TV+, which I suspect not many of you do, I think you should watch this, because I want to have some people I can talk to about it, but get a beer and some popcorn first and be prepared to mock the hell out of it when you’re not in awe at the scenery or the direction. I’m committed to watching the four episodes that are out now, and we’ll see how long I stick to it once episodes are weekly.

On the new newness

After several years where I was reliably getting a new phone every single year and basically coming to terms with the fact that I’d become That Guy, I waited three full cellphone generations– from the iPhone 7+ I’ve been carrying around forever to today– to upgrade my phone, and finally caved and came home with an iPhone 11 Pro Max in the Midnight Green color. I told myself I was going to wait until I could walk into the store and walk out with a phone, and that happened today. What ended up getting me to jump was the massive improvement in the cameras– I’m super psyched about getting to play with the new triple-camera setup, and the damn phone is gorgeous, to the point where for the first time I’m getting a clear case. It’s currently in my bedroom transferring all of my settings and apps and photos from the original phone, a process that was originally projected to take two hours, then 24 minutes, so I figured I had time to come out into the living room and write a blog post before going back and checking on it.

This was a long and interesting week; I was out of my classroom for two days at that rarest of beasts, a really interesting professional development opportunity, and I had parent-teacher conferences Wednesday night, which was the busiest I’ve ever been at PTCs– I had a line out my door for two hours and fifteen minutes– and then I had a parent-teacher conference for my own son on Thursday. Today most the kids actually had a recess as a little reward for surviving the first quarter, and a dozen or so of them organized an honest-to-God, flag-waving-and-chanting impromptu gay pride parade (!!!) on the soccer field. This is the first year of my career where I’ve had more than one or two kids who were conspicuously and un-selfconsciously out of the closet– there are a lot of 8th graders in my building who are somewhere on the QUILTBAG spectrum and don’t seem to give a damn who knows it.

A genuine oddity: they exist alongside the rather large contingent of more typical 8th-grade straight boys who enjoy nothing more than ceaselessly calling each other gay, and yet I have never once— and I’m watching, God damn it– seen any anti-gay bullying of any of the actual gay kids, and there are at least two boys in the 8th grade who are gay at twenty feet, if you know what I mean. I’ve never seen anyone call either of them names, even the kids who are quickest to toss “gay” at any of their straight friends.

So there may be several posts this weekend, is what I’m getting at, depending on whether I decide I want to talk about these things more. The training, at least, will probably get a post tomorrow or Sunday.