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Friday, January 20, 2017

Escape with "Firefly"


If you are in serious need of some diversions from the fiasco known as Trump World, here's an escapist suggestion for what you might consider watching.

I like sci fi and westerns, even when you combine them. But as I mentioned in an earlier post, the latest TV combination of sci fi and western-themed series, WestWorld, is too vile and inhuman to be an appealing diversion.  Much like real-life Trump World.

If you are looking for sci-fi with a western feel a better choice than WestWorld is the 2002 TV series Firefly. Or the subsequent movie, Serenity, that wrapped up loose ends left by Firefly’s cancellation.

 If you haven’t seen either series or movie, in a nutshell, five hundred years in the future, the Captain, Mal, (Nathan Fillion) of the Firefly spaceship is sort of Hans Solo-ish before he met Luke Skywalker or Princess Leia. And he has never heard of The Force.


Firefly also is absent most of the high-techy stuff and CGI so at times when the crew lands on a backwards planet, the show has the feel of an old western series. 

In concept, though, this is a space ship of the future. The usual assumptions on people's professions and status are sometimes turned on their heads from what we expect in current times. The first mate is a Black woman warrior, the only other survivor of the Captain's command from the Battle of Serenity. Her husband is a funny guy who cherishes his strong wife, plays with action figures and quite capably pilots the ship. 

A slightly built woman is the skilled mechanic. She harbors a crush on the ship's doctor, a formerly wealthy and well-connected member of the elite. He joined the ship as a passenger under false pretenses because he is on the run. He rescued, and then smuggled onto Firefly, his younger sister, a savant who was kidnapped and experimented upon by the government. 

The highest-status person on Firefly is a prostitute. In the future times of Firefly, high-tone prostitutes are known as Registered Companions and are reminiscent of geisha in that they are trained in certain fine arts. 

These Companions are like ambassadors who can go wherever they wish, choose whom they wish to see and provide respectability, cover, and entrĂ©e for the ship and its crew. 

Nonetheless, Captain Mal, either from jealousy or some vestigial sense of a centuries-old morality, is galled by the professional activities of Morena Baccarin's Companion Inara. The viewer is left wondering if the beautiful Companion Inara will ever leave her profession and she and Mal will end up a futuristic "item". 

 Many episodes involve horses, trains, miners covered in mud; under-handed bad guys often engage in bar brawls with the diverse and engaging crew. as double-crosses, hijinks and encounters or escapes from the Reavers, space-bogeymen who are cannibals and responsible for all manner of not-quite-human cruelty.  

Unfortunately, Firefly lasted less than one season. But fortunately, it’s available on DVD, Amazon Video or Netflix.


Mal, the Captain, who claims to now be apolitical, fought unsuccessfully against the Alliance but named his ship, Serenity, after the bloodiest and last battle of the lost war. The overriding theme of both Firefly and Serenity is that Mal, though a thief and crook at times, in the end demonstrates leadership and a strong sense of loyalty to his crew as well as basic humanity and an overriding concern for those who are suffering. 

If only that were the reality of our leadership in 2017 Trump World. 


Sunday, January 8, 2017

West Wing or WestWorld


No one would blame you if you are binge-watching fantasy worlds.  I admit I am.

 

We’ve found ourselves alternating between the past and the future. On some nights, we binge-watch West Wing, Aaron Sorkin’s creation of a principled, intelligent President, Jeb Bartlett, portrayed by Martin Sheen.

 

West Wing may be every liberal’s dream of how a good, intelligent man struggles to rationally resolve the problems faced in the Oval Office. Something we most likely will not see for at least four years except on TV.

 

On other nights, we watch science fiction. WestWorld also is escapism with a nod to both those good old days in the wild west and a futuristic world where androids have been created to suffer the havoc man inflicts on other men and women in a place where there are no societal rules. I’ll leave it to you whether we will see more of that in real life.

 

The TV series, WestWorld is based on a 1970s Michael Crichton film of the same name. It brings to mind other Crichton creations, such as Jurassic Park. In both cases, man’s hubris in scientific explorations and development is his downfall because he failed to give adequate consideration to the consequences.

 

Crichton’s vision of an android-populated amusement park where men can kill or inflict harm on human-looking creations for no reason other than their own enjoyment, is a good tool for asking why. It’s just not very much fun to watch.

 

I hoped WestWorld would provide some diversion. Instead, it’s only taken a few WestWorld episodes for me to dread seeing men blithely kill and rape others, even knowing the others are androids.

 

We could easily analyze and discuss in detail how both West Wing and WestWorld provide valuable insight into America’s current situation. Without writing a college essay I’ll only mention a few points.

 

For example, how little we’ve considered the consequences of our actions. Have we let our media and unfettered technology run riot on our sacred political system, now tainted beyond recognition, by fake news and Russian hacking? How much has our media been complicit in this debacle because Trump gives good ratings?

 

We are days away from installing a dangerous, former reality show host who is so narcissistic he apparently doesn’t care about the fake news or the Russian influence of our political system, because they benefited him in the election. Who also claims, without explanation, to know more about the hacking than anyone else. Perhaps he does.

 

How this type of illegitimate election can be allowed to stand is beyond belief, as it will result in the installation of a scoundrel and know-nothing as the most powerful man in the free world.

 

But enough about the real world.

 

One series I’m looking forward to in the new season is The Americans. This award-winning series brings to life Russian spies embedded in American society passing as ordinary Americans. I’ve heard tell the 2017 series will open in current time with a Russian plant passing as an anything but an ordinary American. Hold your breath for his next tweet.