Stella Suberman: The Jew Store
A Republic, If We Want It

Stranger Things And A Few Other Current TV Shows

It's odd to call these "TV shows," as they have so little in common with the sort of thing that the term brings to mind. But anyway:

Jim Geraghty of National Review described the fourth and unfortunately not final "season" (see, even that word is not really applicable) of Stranger Things this way, and it's pretty much my own view:

Credit the Duffer brothers and their creative team for being willing to experiment with a popular show: making much longer episodes, darkening the tone and stepping into indisputable horror-movie territory, leaving the main setting of Hawkins for long stretches, and willing to put characters like Max, Eleven, Lucas, and Steve into new emotional territory. The characters remain as likeable, relatable, and fun to watch as ever. But not everything worked, and what was once this charming, ’80s-nostaglia-filled, suspenseful story of a seemingly ordinary small town with a scary monster lurking offscreen now increasingly resembles one of those overstuffed, explosion-filled summer blockbusters at the multiplex. Bigger isn’t always better, but that ominous closing scene suggests the fifth and final season will be the biggest yet.

That last sentence is the reason for my "unfortunately" above. In my opinion the first season was by far the best.

I'll put in another sort-of-good word for the show. My ten- and twelve-year-old grandsons have watched it (all four), and in some ways I wish they hadn't. It really has gone into "indisputable horror-movie territory." And I have other not-insignificant reservations about their exposure to it. Nevertheless, attempting to look on the bright side, as is always my inclination, I think something C.S. Lewis said about fairy tales is relevant:

A far more serious attack on the fairy tale as children's literature comes from those who do not wish children to be frightened.... They may mean (1) that we must not do anything likely to give the child those haunting, disabling, pathological fears against which ordinary courage is helpless: in fact, phobias. His mind must, if possible, be kept clear of things he can't bear to think of. Or they may mean (2) that we must try to keep out of his mind the knowledge that he is born into a world of death, violence, wounds, adventure, heroism and cowardice, good and evil. If they mean the first I agree with them: but not if they mean the second. The second would indeed be to give children a false impression and feed them on escapism in the bad sense. There is something ludicrous in the idea of so educating a generation which is born to the Ogpu and the atomic bomb. Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.

Stranger Things is full of heroism, love, and self-sacrifice. If my grandchildren are going to see horror movies, I can at least say for this one that it gives them examples of real, difficult virtue resisting real evil.

*

I recently signed up for the AMC+ streaming service for the sole purpose of seeing two shows: the final season of Better Call Saul and the first (maybe only) season of Dark Winds, which is based on the novels of Tony Hillerman. These, as you probably know, are detective novels set among the Navajo people and featuring two Navajo policemen, Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. I'm a great fan of those books and was very much looking forward to this series.

I'm sorry to say that I found it disappointing. Not bad, but disappointing. To go into a lot of detail would be of interest only to those who love the books as much as I do. But to sum it up: I didn't think the principal characters were faithful to the book. Leaphorn, for instance, is given a son, though in the book he and his beloved wife Emma are childless. And I didn't care for the fact that the plot, only loosely based on a Hillerman book (Listening Woman), threw together people and situations that develop only over a long period in the fictional world. That's a defensible choice, given that the creators probably have no guarantee that they will get more than one shot. Still, it sacrifices a lot of deep character development. I'm tempted to go on but will leave it that. 

Nevertheless, if there is another season, I'll probably watch it. Though I plan to cancel AMC+ as soon as Better Call Saul is over. 

*

In anticipation of the latter, I watched season 5 of Saul. If you liked Breaking Bad, but haven't been watching Saul, you really, really should. (It's a prequel to BB.) Especially in the first several seasons it doesn't have the sensational and gripping quality of BB, but as not-very-ethical lawyer Jimmy McGill is slowly transformed into drug cartel lawyer Saul Goodman, the two worlds draw closer and closer together. 

The producers have put together this great little ten-minute film in the style of a network TV exposé that gives an excellent overview of the series without revealing anything major.

*

There was a gap of a week or so between the end of Dark Winds and the release of new episodes of Saul. In the meantime, out of curiosity and for lack of anything more promising, my wife and I watched the first episode of a new AMC sci-fi series called Moonhaven.  The title refers to an utterly implausible colony on the moon, which is an earth-like (but better) environment on a large part of the moon, and a near-utopian community established there under the guidance of an AI entity call IO. I'm not going to recommend it, though my wife and I have, as too often happens, gotten hooked enough to want to find out what happens.

This community seems to have leapt through some horrible 1970s California time-warp and is full of the most smug and manipulative post-hippie New Age gurus you can imagine. Back on earth, things are really bad (wars, environmental disaster, the usual). And the community, under the direction of IO, is supposed to be discovering how to solve the human problem and to take the solution back to earth. Their slogan is "The Future Is Better." No. The future is insufferable, if they are it.

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

There was an adaptation of Hillerman's Skinwalkers novel on PBS in 2002. I watched it and I think I liked it, but can't really remember it. Just found it on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5FvKIw6q5eU

I saw that at the time and thought it was pretty good, but lacking something. I was wondering about it recently and looked for it on streaming services but couldn’t find it. Didn’t occur to me to look on YouTube, so thanks for pointing it out. I sorta think there was a second series but may well be mistaken.

I have watched two seasons of Stranger Things now, pushed towards it by this blog and my stepdaughter. At the same time I have also watched the first two seasons of Ozark. One is full of very likable characters that I enjoy with a silly implausible plot that I don't really try to understand. The other is extremely gripping, there are no characters I really like, but I find myself much more "frightened" so to speak. I'll let you all decide which is which. LOL

I would say Ozark is more frightening. I didn't take the Stranger Things monster(s) all that seriously. But the criminals in Ozark are too close to the plausible.

There's one character in Ozark that I ended up really liking and kind of rooting for: Ruth. The actress who plays her is a New Yorker, so her ability to convincingly portray a redneck girl from a family of small-time Southern criminals is remarkable. I thought she was a little shaky in the first season or two, and she got better. As for the others--well, there's a certain point where it looks likely that the protagonist couple are about to be killed, and I was actually a little disappointed that they weren't. And Darlene...she's the stuff of nightmares....

I'm at midpoint of the 3rd season of 'Ozark,' and concur that Ruth is at this point the only character I care much about (although Wendy's newly-arrived brother Ben seems like an okay dude -- so far). Everyone else is in some way or another insufferable. Comparisons with BB are inevitable, but 'Ozark' doesn't have anywhere near the moral depth.

I'm also approaching the end of season one of 'American Rust.' Would not recommend. Jeff Daniels and Maura Tierney are both good as the leads, and the acting on the whole is above average, but the main plot wanders and there are at least two subplots that are fairly sordid, one of which includes some fairly graphic homosexual sex scenes. I watched it mainly because it was filmed in my area, but even the fun of seeing familiar locales doesn't outweigh its overwhelming bleakness.

After I finish 'Ozark' I'll most likely cancel Netflix and just wait to catch the final season of Better Call Saul on DVD. In the meantime I recently bought the complete DVD set of Michael Mann's 80's show 'Crime Story,' so I'll have that to dip into over the coming months. I loved the show when it originally aired -- it will be interesting to see how well it holds up.

You must have a big DVD collection. There are not that many movies or tv shows that I want to watch more than once, very few more than twice, so I've never bought very many.

Agreed that Ozark doesn't have the moral depth of Breaking Bad. Or just in general the quality. Watching Better Call Saul I'm constantly struck by the imaginative cinematography, which was of course very much a feature of BB. And the narrative skill.

Biting my tongue regarding Wendy's brother...yeah he is ok...basically...but.... .:-)

Much as I like BB, this is a little much. Or rather a lot much:

https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2022/jul/12/breaking-bad-statues-new-mexico-albuquerque-walter-white-jesse-pinkman

It's a sizeable collection but not huge -- probably about 75 items. Sometimes if I can't find a DVD I want to watch any other way, I'll just buy a cheap copy online, watch it, then resell it if it's something I don't want to keep. This works better with sets than with solo DVD's though. With the latter I generally don't buy anything that I know that I'm not going to rewatch.

Finished 'American Rust' last night. Will probably watch season 2 if only because season 1 ended with a cliffhanger, albeit one that has an element of the overly coincidental.

It's interesting that Showtime dropped the series, even with the way it ended, which would have been frustrating had not another service picked it up.

I've totally forgotten the specifics now, but there was a series which ended a season on a cliffhanger and then was not renewed. It was maddening for a bit but obviously did not traumatize me too badly since I can't even remember what it was now.

Good point. I may very well have forgotten about American Rust by the time the second season makes the rounds.

I suffered through Moonhaven till the end, because I had just enough interest in finding out what would happen to keep going. Only to find that it stops at a more or less arbitrary point, leaving not just a few threads but the entire plot suspended until the next season appears. Which I won't be watching.

I didn't mention that the music is by Olafur Arnalds. It may damage his reputation.

Meanwhile, I stumbled across a much better series, Night Sky, a combination of sci-fi, family drama, and a bit of action, starring Sissy Spacek and J.K. Simmons. It's quite good--not the greatest thing I've ever seen, but worth watching. And Amazon is not going to renew it. Boo. It didn't end in mid-air, so to speak, like Moonhaven, but it did leave enough unresolved to make me sorry it won't continue.

The Aussie series 'The Kettering Incident' ended after one season and definitely left you hanging, but it wasn't completely unresolved. It's a very good show that combines elements of Twin Peaks and The X-Files, and worth watching if you're prepared for only a partial resolution: you finally find out what is going on, but the larger questions of who? and why? remain unanswered. Too bad, because the premise is fascinating.

Sounds interesting. I think you may have mentioned it before. It's on Prime but costs $23. I hesitate to invest that in a story that leaves so many things unresolved.

Yeah, I think when I watched it it was $11 or $12, which is about the most I've ever paid to watch a series.

I enjoyed The Night Sky also, Mac. Did either of you watch Mare of Easttown on HBO featuring Kate Winslet? I thought it particularly good. Reminded me of that one in England with the two Dr. Who actors and Olivia Colman...in a way at least.

No, I haven't seen that, but that's an appealing comparison.

I do have to give credit to Moonhaven for one thing: they didn't leave out the urination scene, which is so important to movies and tv now. I think they almost forgot it, because it was just sort of thrown in near the end, when one character meets another in the woods at the moment the first one is relieving himself against a tree. Very bold and creative of them, as it has absolutely nothing to do with the scene. Kudos!

Our library has Mare of Easttown on DVD, and I've put in a request for it. I had not heard of it, probably because I don't follow HBO much. Definitely looks interesting though. According to wikipedia some critics have compared it to Happy Valley, which isn't a bad thing.

Purchasable from Amazon Prime, $25. Looks like our library has it on dvd though, so I'll check it out. Happy Valley is very good.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)