Cowboy Bebop and other TV notes

Usually new TV shows I’m interested in are few and far between, which makes the last few weeks unusual, as there’s been an avalanche of stuff that caught my interest. Apparently everyone wants to release their stuff in or near the holiday season. I wonder why they don’t think we need entertainment throughout the rest of the year.

Anyway, first I’ll mention a couple of shows I’ve already posted on, Foundation and Arcane, both of which recently wrapped their seasons. As I’ve noted before, Foundation is radically different from the books, so much so that it’s really more accurate to describe it as a science fiction show inspired by the books rather than a strict adaptation. However, on those terms, I’ve found it to be a captivating series that does capture at least the spirit of Asimov’s original stories, just with a lot of action and adventure mixed in.

Arcane is a show that only got better as its season progressed. Yes, it’s based on a video game, but whoever did this show seems to have been determined to tell a good story. The worldbuilding is rich, the characters and their plights are emotionally raw and compelling, and the combination of the animation and musical score seem like a feast for the senses. Definitely recommend checking this one out if you’re at all open to this type of fiction.

Apparently the Blade Runner franchise is starting to expand. There’s reportedly a new live action TV show in the works. But Blade Runner: Black Lotus is animated and out now on Adult Swim (for the English version) and Crunchyroll (for the Japanese subtitled version). It takes place between the two movies and is about a woman named Elle, who has no memory yet has extremely good fighting abilities. A central question of the show is whether she’s a human or a replicant.

I’m finding this one fairly entertaining. The animation is excellent, and it does a good job of invoking the Blade Runner world. But at the halfway mark, I’m not sure yet whether it tells us much about the world we didn’t already know. I hope it does. Stories that simply marinade in that world are going to have limited appeal to me.

I read the first few books of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series back in the 1990s. I stopped because there didn’t seem to be any indication of when it might finish, and didn’t care to get stuck into a mode of buying hardback editions. As the history of this franchise has unfolded, my decision has often felt validated. I also think by the 1990s, I had also started to become somewhat weary of Tolkien riffs. Which isn’t to say the books didn’t have a lot of originality, but fighting against a dark lord and his minions was starting to feel a bit stale.

At this point I remember very little of what I did read, so the TV show mostly feels like fresh content, with only the vaguest familiarity with some of the story elements. Similar to Black Lotus, I’m finding it fairly entertaining. It’s got potential to be a fun show.

And then there’s Cowboy Bebop, the live actioning. The reviews for this one haven’t been great, but I generally enjoyed it. It does mostly manage to capture the look of the original, really almost too well at times, replicating some looks that just worked better in animation. But there have also been changes, which have upset many of the purists. I was only somewhat captivated by the original, so the changes haven’t really bothered me.

And one change I do like is I understand the characters and their motivations better. One reason I struggled with the original was that both Spike and Faye often came across to me as selfish pricks, and so I didn’t feel a lot of sympathy for them. This version relates their sometimes infuriating behavior to their driving motivations. (Or at least makes the connections more obvious.) And despite these motivations, they manage to express camaraderie with each other and Jet, with the result that this feels more like a team than random individuals who happen to be in each other’s vicinity.

One thing I didn’t like was that my favorite character from the original only shows up in the final scene of the season. Radical Ed, the child hacker, added a lot of levity once she came onboard, and I enjoyed the original show a lot more once she was there. The changes I noted above made her less crucial in this version, but she’s still my favorite character. If there’s a season two, I’ll look forward to seeing a lot more of her.

There’s also a major change to the overall mythology of the show at the end of the season. It’s a change I actually liked, but I’m sure it will upset a lot of people. It’ll be interesting to see if the show can overcome all these comparisons with an original that people are deeply nostalgic about, and succeed enough for another season. I hope it does, but only time will tell.

I suppose I should mention the latest season of Doctor Who. Ever since its relaunch in 2005, this series has often enthralled me with fearless imaginative storytelling. But it’s also just as often evoked exasperation over its frequent and aggressive flaunting of basic logic. (The classic show, like all of TV sci-fi, had its issues with scientific accuracy, but it at least tried to give the impression of making sense.)

The latest season continues this bifurcated tradition, but with an overall story arc that, frankly, started out as a frenetic and fragmented mess. Last week’s show with the Weeping Angels seemed to settle down enough to tell an interesting story, and end on an interesting cliffhanger. But this grab bag season, which seems determined to loop in as many longtime Who villains as possible, has felt more frustrating than enjoyable.

Ok, I think that’s enough. Have you seen any of these shows? If so, what did you think of them?

20 thoughts on “Cowboy Bebop and other TV notes

  1. I really liked the live-action Cowboy Bebop. It was a lot of fun, had a good tone and music, and as you said the characters are a strong point – they’re better in this version than in the anime. I even liked the change to the mythology with Spike, Vicious, and Julia, since it retroactively explained the whole “Why are Vicious and Julia getting so much screen time this season?” thing.

    Wheel of Time was good, although it kind of shocked me how viscerally violent the show is.

    I haven’t watched the new Blade Runner show yet, although I hope it’s good. It’s fascinating to me that we keep trying to make new Blade Runner shows/movies, because the original movie’s big impact wasn’t a big hit movie but rather an aesthetic that became prominent in all cyberpunk media.

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    1. Yeah, I wondered what was going to happen with the Vicious arc being front loaded as much as it was. And I can understand why they did it the way they did. It makes the question of what’s going to happen much more interesting.

      It did seem like the action in the Wheel of Time show started earlier than in the books, although that might be me misremembering. But yeah, much more violent than LOTR movies, which might turn off some fans from that other franchise.

      Good point about the original Blade Runner. It’s easy to forget it wasn’t really successful on its initial release. I know I didn’t care for it that much when I first saw it. As I got older, I came to appreciate the existential questions it raised, but never really found it more than moderately entertaining. (I did love 2049 though.) I think you’re right that the biggest effect of the original was on sci-fi authors and filmmakers, where it had reverberations throughout the entertainment world. All of which led to society growing into an appreciation of the original.

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  2. I think you know how unhappy I am about Doctor Who. This season has been an absolute mess. You know there’s a theory we’ll end up with the Doctor being the child of Bel and Vinder. The whole thing will be kind of a pun. The planet Time, Timeless child, the mind reels. [sigh]

    I don’t have access to Foundation. Maybe someday, although I just haven’t found much reason to get Apple TV.

    I bailed on The Wheel of Time somewhere around book 8 or so (I don’t really remember). I do remember that, in book 6, almost nothing happened. Like you, I was getting weary of the whole sword and sorcerer thing. I may give this a try eventually once I work through my watchlist.

    As you know, I stopped watching the live-action Cowboy Bebop after episode three. I really liked the first episode, but the writing was lame enough that by ep 3 I was squirming and discontent. Man, they nailed the music and look, but, in my view, blew it on the two main characters. But then I’m weird — I don’t seem to have that need for “relatable” characters.

    I intend, now that I’m forewarned, to give the show another try from the top. As I did with the Mission:Impossible movies, I have to decouple the modern remake from the classic original. One review I read suggested taking the show as kids playing dress up of their favorite show and just go with the flow (which, after all, the reviewer points out, is the Cowboy Bebop ethic).

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    1. I actually hadn’t heard that Doctor Who theory. Just googled around on it. Interesting. Very River Songish. Although the River Song reveal was powerful because it was years in the making. Having a couple of lovers who are trying to find each other in the chaos of a few episodes turn out to be the Doctor’s parents would be pretty underwhelming. I don’t think Chibnall would have earned that reveal. Hopefully if he was tempted to go there when writing this season, he understood that.

      Yeah, letting go of the original when watching a remake can be hard. It reminds me of my initial reaction to the Battlestar Galactica reboot pilot. The whole time I was watching it, all I felt was nostalgia for the old 1970s show. It was so powerful that I didn’t initially watch the TV series when it started. It was only when I was home sick and had nothing better to do, and SyFy was doing a marathon of the first season up to that point, that I was able to get into that show on its own terms and not those of the 1978 show. Once I stopped thinking of it as the old show, and its own thing, it made it much easier to just enjoy it for what it was.

      I actually had similar struggles during the pilot of Star Trek TNG. Having McCoy make an unnamed appearance just made it worse. It really took a year or two for me to shake off the “This isn’t really Star Trek” impulse.

      Of course, in the case of Cowboy Bebop, they’ve made it visually so close to the original that it might be very hard for most old time fans to make that move. I think one reviewer called it an “uncanny valley” effect, of being so like the old show but still not it. They might come to regret that visual fidelity.

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      1. That’s one of my (many) complaints about Chibnall. Everything he’s done in his seasons feels to me like something else I’ve seen. I’ve never once found myself impressed with his creativity. He seems little other than a fanboy recycler.

        The Battlestar Galactica stuff (nor the Stargate stuff) somehow never grabbed me, but I can relate what you experienced to other shows (my Mission:Impossible experience seems very similar, for one).

        And our TNG experiences are almost identical. 🙂 The night the premiere aired, when the first commercial ran, I called my SF-loving buddy, and when he answered the first words out of my mouth were, “I hate it!” (And, admittedly, Farside isn’t the best script. The ending is even a little Doctor Who-ish.) In retrospect, I consider it the best series, although I’ll always have fondness for TOS. I still occasionally will watch an episode, and it’s the only Trek series for which that’s true.

        I actually like the visual closeness of the live-action Bebop, but it’s a good point that it may make it harder for serious fans to uncouple. I read that, during production, they were constantly reminding each other, “This is Cowboy Bebop! Don’t fuck it up!” And that’s very apparent in the visuals and music and much else. It makes their character choices all the more inexplicable to me. But I’ve have Doctor Who to remind me just how awful the willful destruction of a great show can be.

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        1. The Stargate show was one I avoided for a long time since I’d found the original movie pretty underwhelming. And the first several episodes don’t help, giving the impression they’ll just be more of the same. But the show eventually moved well beyond the original movie. If you’re ever tempted to try it, I actually recommend checking out a later season first, so you have an idea of where it’s going. Or maybe even starting with Stargate: Atlantis.

          In recent years, my estimation of ST: DS9 has gone up considerably. I actually now think of it as peak Star Trek. It’s a reversal of sorts since I had a certain level of disdain for it during its run due to how much it ripped off from Babylon 5, and the fact that people thought it was the opposite which almost destroyed B5. But for whatever reason, DS9 went places TNG rarely could due to Roddenberry, darker and edgier places that made the stories more interesting.

          I agree with most of the visual closeness being cool. I talked about the clothes in our earlier discussion (although they did relax that a bit in the later episodes). But the other is the hair. Similar to clothes, anime hair helps with character identification. But preserving those shapes and colors is weird in live action. The show even sort of hangs a lantern on it, with one of the characters commenting about Spike’s hair. Not a big deal for me, just felt a little excessive.

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          1. I really disliked the movie Stargate, and wasn’t much interested in the TV versions. After I read Redshirts I read Scalzi talking about working on Stargate Universe, so I gave it a try but didn’t get more than a few episodes into it before I bailed. Just not my cup of tea apparently.

            I do rank DS9 pretty high, although at the time I actually disliked how wasn’t so aligned with Roddenberry’s vision. The world is so filled with dark edgy stuff that I appreciate a more positive outlook once in a while. When it aired I think I stopped watching the later seasons, but when DVD TV seasons became such a thing, I bought all the seasons and finally saw the whole thing.

            I’ve got a few more episodes to watch of Ergo Proxy (2006), which is weird and tonal and very dark visually (I often can’t even tell what I’m seeing on the screen). The story feels very underexplained, but it’s different enough and visually interesting enough (despite all the black) that I’ve stuck with it. One season 26 episodes. Then I’ll give Cowboy Bebop another try.

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          2. I actually almost mentioned Stargate Universe in my last reply as explicitly a place not to start, particularly for you. It’s darker and edgier than the rest of the TV franchise, and the one that effectively ended it. SG-1 and Atlantis were more optimistic and life affirming with a lot more humor.

            I watched Ergo Proxy and mostly enjoyed it, although I did have to go to the internet afterward to understand many aspects. Meant to do a post on it but it kept falling between the cracks. It seemed like a mix between Blade Runner and Logan’s Run, with some Black Mirror mixed in.

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  3. Love Arcane. Looks beautiful, like nothing else (except perhaps a little like the Dishonored game series, by the developer Arkane – no relation). Great writing, acting, animation. When I finished the season I found myself listening to the soundtrack, which is really evocative, diverse and fitting.

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    1. I have to say I was surprised by how good that show turned out to be. It totally wasn’t on my radar screen before Netflix sent one of their “We’ve just added a series you might like” messages.

      I didn’t know the soundtrack was available. I’m going to have to look that up. Thanks for alerting me to it!

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    1. Sorry to hear that. It’s definitely not for everyone.

      Yeah, all this exclusive content on streaming services is really getting annoying. On the one hand, we’re reaching a real golden age of TV, but on the other, it’s becoming far more fragmented than it used to be.

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    2. Me too, I think. I’m trying to figure out if Cowboy Bebop starts off with a big gunfight scene in a space casino? Anyway, if that’s the one, after watching a few seconds of it my husband turned to me with a look of incredulity and said, “We’re not really watching this, are we?”

      In the end we decided to rewatch Better Call Saul.

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      1. I listened to an interview yesterday where an author (Vanessa Veselka) said she always wants to make clear what kind of book the reader is starting, so they can abort quickly if it isn’t their type of story. I have to say that the space casino scene is a probably good indication of the whole series, so if it turned you off, it was probably the right call to bail.

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        1. I actually like the idea of a space casino—kind of interesting in a cool, futuristic retro sort of way—but when a story opens with fighting (and/or a chase scene), I tend to lose interest pretty rapidly. I almost gave up on Breaking Bad for that reason (they tried to make that opening action scene interesting in itself, but to me it just felt cheap.)

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          1. In that case, if you’re ever looking for something to watch, you might consider powering through the first episode to get a better idea of the show. It does have plenty of action, but it is more than that. Or you could check out the original anime, which is also on Netflix right now.

            I never got into Breaking Bad, or its spinoff. By the time I was aware of it, it was already several seasons deep. And I’m not particularly wild about stories of moral ruin anyway. Maybe at some point.

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          2. I know what you mean about powering through the first episode. It seems to be the case with a lot of shows.

            I would recommend Better Call Saul over Breaking Bad. BCS is far less dark and violent. It’s more about two lawyer’s sibling rivalry than drugs, although that’s in there too.

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          3. Thanks for the recommendation! I’ll keep BCS in mind.

            Don’t know if you saw my comment below, but powering through the first Cowboy Bebop episode may not be worth the effort, at least not for the live action version. There won’t be a second season, and the first ends with things very much incomplete.

            But it is interesting how many shows require you to push through the first, or sometimes even the first several episodes before you finally feel the pull. I’ve found that to be particularly true with a lot of anime.

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