Sunday!

I’ve spent some time over the past week or so watching two television shows, Person of Interest and Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty.

I mentioned the former here a week ago, and noted then that I found the premise “unintentionally creepy.” I got quite a bit of pushback from others who were further along in the series, but I have to say midway through the third season (there are only four to this point) I stand by my original assessment. Indeed, I think that the entire premise of the show is sort of staple of conservative talk radio talking points: “Living in a surveillance state is terrible and evil, unless those who do the surveillance are the Good Guys, in which case it is totally awesome.”

Every episode of Person of Interest is chock full of the protagonists spying on ordinary citizens throughout every aspect of their lives, including those moments most private and intimate. Further, these protagonists are a small group of men and women who believe strongly that their own personal lives should be shielded from any and all inspection or oversight from anyone else. It may well be that this vibe changes at some point in the last half of Season Three or in Season Four, but so far the show seems to telegraph very loudly the message that we should cheer the illegal actions of the protagonists, and that we should further root for them not to ever have to face outside oversight or accountability, because they are the Good Guys and they are doing these things for the Right Reasons. If there is a big twist coming from the writers that is supposed to make the viewer say, “Good Lord, these protagonists are terrible people doing awful things,” I confess I am not seeing it on the horizon. And so to date, I continue to find the show unintentionally creepy.

It’s also a hoot, and I am loving it.

I am also loving Rick and Morty.

If you have yet to come across it, Rick and Morty is a cartoon about a mad scientist who travels through both space and multiple dimensions with his grandson. Though the premise is very 1970s Saturday morning cartoon, the show is definitely adult and NSFW. Think of it as the surprise lovechild born of a drunken, hedonistic hookup between Futurama and The Venture Bros at an Amarillo, Motel 6. Rick and Morty was created by Dan Harmon, and in the style of Harmon’s Community it treats each episode as an excuse to do a sendup of a classic sci-fi trope.

My favorite thing about Rick and Morty? Like Venture Bros., the show’s cast is full of are twisted pastiches on old and often obscure bad TV and B-movie sci-fi characters. Included in this list of homages are Bizarro-world versions of Hawk from the Gil Gerard version of Buck Rogers, the Thundercats’ Snarf, and Leland Guant from Needful Things. It is also, I believe, the first television show in history to feature a character named Mr. Poopybutthole.

As for reading, I am working my way though the latest volume of Micheal Palin’s published diaries, and for professional reasons rereading Summer for the Gods, Inherit the Wind, and Michael Kazin’s William Jennings Bryan biography, A Godly Hero.

And y’all? What are you watching and reading?


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Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also executive producer and host of the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre. He is  a regular contributor for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast. Follow him on Twitter. ...more →

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50 thoughts on “Sunday!

  1. Well, I won’t talk about the second half of season three just yet and I’m not even going to mention season four.

    Without getting too deep into ethical questions, what do you think about the premise with regards to relevant numbers? That is, the numbers that will be responsible for acts of terror?

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    • Skipping the ethics? I think it’s a silly fantasy used as a plot device. Which, BTW, is not a bad thing in a fantasy story. The TARDIS is a silly fantasy used as a plot device; so too is the island on LOST.

      The idea that you can have a system that only picks up the names of Bad Guys (terrorist or would-be murderer) just in time to stop them from doing evil deeds, and will never, ever point the authorities toward someone who is innocent is, really, an embodiment of the conservative fantasy that gave birth to the Patriot Act. In fact, I think POI is one of those shows that is a Tea Party conservative show down in its bones, and would be embraced by that segment of politicians and pundits if they didn’t require such leaden and non-subtle messages in pre-approved entertainment.

      And for this show, it’s an awesome plot device.

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          • So the HR storyline got resolved? Good. That was a fun storyline.

            I think you’ll enjoy the areas we wander through when exploring Vigilance. There was a moment or three where I said, without getting into spoilers, “the quality of writing on this show got weirdly high at some point…”

            When you get to the end of season 3, imagine having to wait a year to watch season 4.

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            • Well, it’s mostly done. The real head of HR has been taken down, but the Evil Beat-Cop Sidekick is still around and gunning after the heroes.

              I’m looking forward to where they go with the Vigilance thing. And since I”m watching on Netflix, I believe I might have to wait a year before seeing Season 4. They only have the first three.

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              • At the end of Season One, I could have handled waiting for Season Two to show up on Netflix. At the end of Season Two, I could have handled waiting for Season Three.

                At the end of Season Three, Maribou and I yelled at the television and started googling release dates for Season Four.

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  2. I haven’t seen Season 2 of Rick & Morty yet, but it’s also a riff on Dr. Who (with a protagonist who, due to his time/dimension-hopping big-picture perspective, is a little more jaded and cavalier than most about little things like “the death of an entire planet/species/universe”), and, obviously, Back to the Future (in fact, a parody of the latter is what it literally started out as, with Doc Brown being renamed Rick, and Marty just getting a single letter of his name changed).

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    • That’s got me thinking about this archetype, of the sci-fi character who has a Lovecraftian view of the universe as a place of infinite madness, but rather than going mad, has decided to just roll with it. They’ve looked into the Total Perspective Vortex and lived to tell the tale.

      Broadly, it’s the “mad scientist” archetype, of which there are two subtypes.

      The evil mad scientist sees the big, insane picture and wants to use or even foster that chaos to his own ends, to acquire power or respect. He’s usually the story antagonist, obviously (weirdly, it occurs to me that you could even slot someone like The Joker into this spot).

      The good (or at least, chaotic neutral) mad scientists are your Dr. Whos, Doc Browns, Rick Sanchezes, and to a lesser degree your Ford Prefects and Zaphod Beeblebroxes. Each of these requires their “straight/sane man” sidekick (an audience stand-in, who also stands in for a normal human perspective against their godlike one) to bounce off of.

      These types of stories, with their comedic (even if it’s sometimes dark comedy) chaos not only recall Looney Tunes, aptly enough, but also Old Gods – and here I don’t just mean Lovecraft’s, but the Greek and Roman pantheons et al, which posit that the universe is a mess because beings of extreme power and great knowledge and perspective are also blinkered, capricious, prideful, selfish, and lustful. The “good” mad scientist often plays the part of the trickster figure here, snatching something worthwhile from the hands of the gods and returning with it.

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      • There’s also the third archetype, where the scientist starts out as good, but knowledge becomes power and power corrupts. This most famously was introduced by Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein – which also folds back to the old gods (‘the Modern Prometheus’) – but also is heavily influenced by the Christian creation myth and the corruption of humanity. (i.e. the fruit of knowledge).

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        • He’s not “corrupt”, exactly (though he does fail, since it’s his rejection and abandonment of his creature which sets the tragedy in motion), nor does he relish the “power” once he has acquired it (in fact, he bitterly regrets his actions).

          It’s more like he wants to impose order on the madness (one of his impetuses is the senseless scarlet-fever death of his beloved mother; if he can defeat death, then the universe need not be pointless).

          But having done so, he is repulsed by his creation – the creature is hideous, not beautiful, life no more attractive than death. NOW he truly sees the pointless madness of the universe, made all the worse since it is by his own hand.

          Still, if Victor plays the part of a fallible and insufficient God, and the Creature His abandoned, doomed-to-fail Adam, both locked into eternal war with each other, this is still a pretty chaotic-bordering-on-nihilistic interpretation of the universe; its only “order” is failure, loneliness, conflict, death, and destruction.

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          • IOW, the third subtype doesn’t intentionally foster or use chaos because they are inherently evil, nor simply roll with chaos in some sort of comedic Zen acceptance; but seeks to eliminate chaos, often for what seem like sensible reasons on their face.

            This is, of course, a hopelessly-hubristic endeavor that will always bring ruin to them and those they love, so there is always a cloud of tragedy around this subtype. Victor Frankenstein and Walter Bishop are in this category (though Walter still sometimes gets to be a lighthearted Doc Brown).

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  3. Here is my favorite Rick and Morty moment. It does a great job of capturing the weird mix of sentiment and sociopathy that the show explores.

    A while back, we were discussing the JJ Abrams era of television that did a little bit of a dance by promising exploration of alien philosophies but ended up by not really committing to a concept of right/wrong/justice and, as such, were unable to provide an ending.

    This show commits to an alien concept of right/wrong/justice. To the hilt.

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  4. Watching: I worked my way through Show Me a Hero and the first couple seasons of Portlandia over the past couple of days. The former was fascinating for me as someone who knew nothing about the historical events it was based on, and I just love David Simon’s whole oeuvre. Portlandia is one of those shows that I’ve had forever but never gotten around to watching, and I’m glad I finally did: they really perfectly capture everything that is hilariously absurd about that place’s culture.

    Reading: Yet another of Iain M. Banks’ Culture series, Use of Weapons; I’m about 100 pages in and loving it so far. In what may be the lone piece of character continuity between any two stories in that setting, the book’s main character was also the main character in the short story The State of the Art, where a Culture ship covertly visits Earth in 1977 (a very fun story for those who are fans of the Culture books and haven’t read that one yet).

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  5. Finished the first season of the BBC version of House of Cards. It suffers from some of the same flaws as the American one, e,g, Francis Urquhart is apparent the only devious person in politics and even his most convoluted schemes always work, but Ian Richardson is amazing, and overall the acting is superb. And it has the advantage of brevity, four episodes per each of three seasons.

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  6. Watching: Jaybird’s back so we can watch Person of Interest yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay! I’ve been rewatching Glee (hush, it was a hard week) and also watching the very funny Black Books. I also saw the first episode of the new season of iZombie (woot!) and I’m looking forward to watching the first episode of the new season of Jane the Virgin. Who knew that the CW would be the one network I actually made an effort to watch shows on more or less when they come out???

    Reading: Not much, hard week. I finished reading Libriomancer and have started Codex Born. Also read a couple more chapters of Frankenstein and a couple of comics – more Captain Marvel and the very informative and aesthetically pleasing, but not very compelling, Sally Heathcote, Suffragette.

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  7. To my regret, I started the Wheel of Time series (14 books, 4.4 million words). As best I can tell, the soul of Marcel Proust (In Search of Lost Time, 1.2 million words) should be having a chat with the soul of Robert Jordan about editing.

    This is beyond epic. This is just nuts. (and because i’m a little compulsive, there’s no way I’m going to stop until I’m done.)

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    • This is largely the way I felt about the Dark Tower series. I kept reading long after I was enjoying it, thinking, “I need to find out how it ends.” And then at a certain point it hit me that I was no longer interested in how it was going to end.

      I put it down that day, in the middle of whatever look I was reading, and have never once considered picking up where I left off.

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  8. I don’t think Person of Interest is unintentionally creepy. I think that level of knowledge is *supposed* to be creepy. I don’t want to spoil anything, but let’s just say when you learn why the guy in charge of Vigilance is doing what he’s doing, you’ll say ‘Yeah, he sorta has a point.’.

    The hilarious thing is, the system is designed in that is supposed to protect privacy. It doesn’t give any evidence, it doesn’t even say ‘This is a bad person.’…for all anyone knows, that’s the victim. All it says is ‘Check out this person.’.

    It’s sorta showing how scary even the most ideal ‘complete monitoring’ is.

    I don’t quite understand why you’re picking on the protagonists, though. They know some sort of premeditated violent act is about to happen, and really have no other way to stop it, or even if the person they know about is the victim or perpetrator. What exactly would you have them be doing instead? Without spying on the people, how are they going to stop the crime?Has their spying gotten mixed up with your distaste for the *system’s* spying?

    I mean, yes, they’re clearly behaving in a criminal manner…but that’s sorta the premise of *all* vigilante shows. They’re starting at a slight disadvantage compared to Leverage or Burn Notice because they don’t even know who the bad guy is, but their behavior isn’t *that* different, although those other shows mostly just *implied* all the spying, because there was never any sort of mystery to solve WRT it.

    And I find it very baffling you think they should have oversight or accountability. How…does that work on a vigilante TV show? Does the Flash have accountability?(1) And technically speaking, they *do* have oversight. The Machine is smart enough that it could simply stop sending numbers if it wanted.

    1) Person of Interest has actually been described as a comic book TV show. The original premise is basically Batman is split in two parts…the action guy and the billionaire smart guy, along with a computer that can detect crime as it’s happening…or, in this case, before. And, hilariously, we get a Commissioner Gordon-type cop…and a corrupt cop too! And Root fits right into Batman’s rogue gallery.

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      • I assumed, so no worries.

        As to episodes I have yet to see, I will wait till I get there to comment.

        As to the rest, I don’t actually have it in for the protagonists. I like them, and I trust them, because the show is set up so that of course I will. Trust me, I have no beef, or truck, or trucks of beef with Harold, John, Shaw, Lionel, Carter, or — now, anyway — Root.

        But despite that, my point above about this being an extreme version of the conservative fantasy that gave us the Patriot Act stands. I could probably have written a fairly long post on this, if it hadn’t just come up in Sunday! It’s also why I think it’s a Tea Party show in its bones, despite the fact that bad guys use Revolutionary heroes as aliases. The Yay Bush Is Invading Our Privacy Cause He’ll Go After Muslims that quickly transferred into Boo Obama Is Invading Our Privacy He Is Evil pretty much follows that arc of the POI’s story line — or at least is has thus far, where I am.

        And I get the Batman similarities, but for me the closer you get to real life and further from an obvious a fantasy world with this stuff, the more uncomfortable it gets. It’s like that Raiin Wilson movie where Wilson is an ordinary guy who becomes a masked hero similar to Batman. It’s one thing to see Batman fight the Riddler in Gotham, it’s another to watch Wilson hit some guy on the head with a bat on the streets of a street that’s supposed to be the real world.

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        • It’s also why I think it’s a Tea Party show in its bones, despite the fact that bad guys use Revolutionary heroes as aliases.

          It’s easy to assume Vigilence are the bad guys, but they really just the antagonists. They aren’t actually as bad as they seem to be. Remember, we’ve got a near-omniscient computer…that doesn’t treat their actions as relevant *or* irrelevant, and generally just ignores them, because they almost never kill anyone, or at least hardly ever plan to. Granted, in the episodes where they show up, there’s usually someone getting killed somewhere, because that’s sorta the premise of involvement.

          But of all the antagonist groups on the series, they have the lowest ‘innocent body count’ by a factor of ten. (And, yes, I’m including the government itself in there.)

          Hell, they might have a lower ‘innocent body count’ than the *protagonists* do in the series. (And I just mean their time on the show. A few of them killed quite a lot of people *before* the show.)

          The Yay Bush Is Invading Our Privacy Cause He’ll Go After Muslims that quickly transferred into Boo Obama Is Invading Our Privacy He Is Evil pretty much follows that arc of the POI’s story line — or at least is has thus far, where I am.

          …except that every time the *actual* government program crosses paths with our protagonists, the government is doing something bad. Hell, they deliberately caused the ferry bombing to stop Nathan from going public with the program. They killed Shaw’s partner because he discovered they framed and killed one of the engineers that built the Machine’s location! That’s like, murder to cover up murder to cover up a government program. They kill that completely innocent security guard *who already knew about the Machine and was presumably cleared*, at the location where the Machine used to be at the end of season 2.(1)

          They do some bad stuff in season 3, too, not sure if you’re at that point yet.

          Yes, the few glimpses of the *actual relevant number program* we do see show it working okay (When it’s not being fed false information.), but the government repeatedly kills to hide what is going on.

          Also, not sure where you’re getting that story arc of spying starting out good and turning bad. The show started in 2011. In story, the surveillance started in 2010. If it’s really pro-government spying, it’s pro-*Obama* spying. Or, like I said, it’s really anti-Obama spying.

          1) Which incidentally was *really* stupid on their part. ‘Hey, we lost the irreplaceable magic computer because someone faked orders to have it moved. Better kill the only person who saw that happen, so we can’t *possibly* figure out where it went.’

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          • Agree with all of this, with a single clarification:

            With the Bush/Obama thing, I’m not really drilling down as far as you are. POI makes me think of both movement conservatism and the TP in that it relies on a belief that the problem isn’t really an authoritarian state that monitors your entire life, intimate moments included, with no public oversight. All of that is OK, so long as you have Good Guys doing it. Because they will only look at things Bad Guys are doing, because they’re Good Guys, and it’s totally okay if people’s rights are toyed with because those people are Bad Guys and they didn’t deserve those rights anyway. If we allow the other guys to do any of that, that though, it’s Evil Tyranny, because they aren’t the Good Guys.

            And again, it totally works for the show. It’s fun, and I’m loving it.

            I’m just saying that at least through the midway point of season three, the premise seems to hinge on every argument I’ve heard movement conservatives & tea partiers make in regards to things like warrantless phone tapping, email readings, water boarding, etc.

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