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Star Trek returns to TV

Posted November 3, 2015 into Telly by John Birmingham

CBS announced overnight that they'd be airing a new series of Trek in 2017. No deets about storyline or when in the Federation's history it might be set, but with The Expanse going to the small screen, and Star Wars back in the multiplexes, it seems the Space Opera Moment is back with us.

Esquire is offering some free advice to the producers of the new series, about stuff they must absolutely do; not all of which I agree with, eg. "Don't follow the Netflix model". And some of which I do:

Hire real science fiction writers.

What made the original Trek a hit? A perfect cocktail of factors, to be sure. (Some of it was just making the uniforms bright. NBC was owned by RCA at the time and wanted to sell a lot of these newfangled color televisions.) But part of the alchemy was the freshness of the ideas—a sincere strike of bonafide sci-fi on television

Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Bloch, Norman Spinrad and Harlan Ellison (though he contests how much of his work ended up on screen) all contributed teleplays. My hope is that the new Trek show recognizes that the most important thing about this show has always always been the ideas. Finding creative folk who can dream up unpredictable and exciting adventures is more important that getting another bozo who knows how to take a good lunch in Los Angeles.

21 Responses to ‘Star Trek returns to TV’

Murphy_of_Missouri ducks in to say...

Posted November 3, 2015
Is it possible to find a real science fiction writer these days? I mean, you know, one that everyone can agree on?

It seems to me that Star Trek's greatest success was when they found someone who had never watched any Star Trek at all, Nicholas Meyer, to direct Star Trek II, The Wrath of Khan. He threw out a great deal of Roddenberry's bloated Utopia for something a bit more realistic and nautical in nature.

Thus, they may well be better served in finding anyone but a science fiction writer. Or speculative writer, whatever the hell the accepted cadre is called these days, one has a hard time keeping track.


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Blarkon reckons...

Posted November 3, 2015
Most of the "real SF Author" stuff never ended up on screen. It was more a publicity boost used by Roddenberry. There's a recent series of three books that goes through the creation of the series and each episode - down to digging through script revisions, called "These are the Voyages" by Marc Cushman that is a warts and all account of how it all came together. Either the SF authors normally touted as being involved with Star Trek submitted ideas that wouldn't be filmed as written (Ellison) or they didn't get around to submitting (Asimov). Almost all of the most famous episodes were written by people without much of an SF background.
Why new trek may work: The average TV viewer is in their late 50's. They might actually turn up to watch a show on broadcast TV that's been around before. Nostalgia will get people to sit down and look at the first episode.
Won't work for millennials though. Millennials watch on BitTorrent or streaming and their rates of watching traditional broadcast TV are plummeting. This is going to hit The Expanse much harder as millennials will be the primary audience for The Expanse and it doesn't get that nostalgia kick. It may end up like Galactica or Firefly - a series that people are vocally passionate about, but that not many people actually watch.
The big challenge is going to be the amount that Trek costs to make. Expensive TV is almost impossible to make these days because the audience isn't there. Encounter at Farpoint got 27 million people. Today Big Bang Theory, the series rated first or second in the US, gets about 20 million. The top rated series in 87, when Farpoint aired, was getting 35 million people.
Advertising rates are lower. Audience numbers are lower. Sales of BluRays and DVDs died sometime in the last decade.
I'd love for this to work - but whether the entertainment ecosystem can support a big budget show like Star Trek is questionable.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan mutters...

Posted November 3, 2015
Almost all of the most famous episodes were written by people without much of an SF background.

My favorite "who the fuck is that?" person associated with the first series is Gene L. Coon, a guy with no SF background whatsoever who nevertheless is credited with creating Klingons, the Prime Directive, The United Federation of Planets, Star Fleet Command, Zefram Cochrane, Khan Noonien Singh, and he wrote Devil in the Dark, one of the better episodes.

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ChrisB asserts...

Posted November 3, 2015
I wonder if this is the long-rumored 29th Century Star Trek, the 10-years-after NextGen or the follow in footsteps of the new-reboot version of TOS. Either way they go, they gotta get some storytellers...

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Murphy_of_Missouri reckons...

Posted November 3, 2015
Might be Star Trek Renegades.
They were trying really hard to get CBS to buy their project.

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Aaron mutters...

Posted November 3, 2015
Maybe a bit of both is needed. Get scientists to contribute ideas to play with and different writers to make them sing.
I agree about outsiders, they can bring something fresh.

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Blarkon swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted November 3, 2015
The success of Star Trek was that it appealed to people that weren't SF fans.

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Rob would have you know...

Posted November 3, 2015


as someone who didn't really like the Next Generation that much , but really liked Enterprise. I'm actually looking forward to it, I'd watch it. Although a made up on the fly story arc like in Battlestar might annoy me a bit. So I hope they have a plan from the outset.

JB maybe you can write a spec script? ala a time travel episode of old and new technology, that Star Trek loved to do occasionally.

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Rob would have you know...

Posted November 3, 2015
Oh and I don't know if 'on the small screen' is relevant anymore. I always watch TV on my 65" screen, and 5.1 surround sound in my lounge. Sometimes I go to the movies and it sounds terrible, the picture is dim and scratched and the people around have kids with them. I just end up thinking it would be better at home.

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John Birmingham mumbles...

Posted November 3, 2015
I seem to have been outvoted on the sic fi writer thing. Ok. Fuck you all.

Narkor reckons...

Posted November 3, 2015
If it was today's science fiction writers, it would be an endless sermon on the evils of transphobia and the patriarchy. It wouldn't be the USS Enterprise, but something like "The Intersectionality". There wouldn't be anyone incharge of the ship, it would sort of be run by a collective except instead of "make it so" the first season would involve countless arguments about the problematic nature of space exploration and the real need to solve more important issues on the Earth such as the problematic nature of many halloween costumes and the rights of roosters that self identify as chickens.



John Birmingham asserts...

Posted November 4, 2015
Yeah, but not if I wrote it.

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JBtoo would have you know...

Posted November 3, 2015
Bring back Blake's 7

Anthony mumbles...

Posted November 6, 2015
Just Servalan will do...

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Barnesm mutters...

Posted November 3, 2015
I want to see at least a sprinkling of the current crop of Scifi writers have a crack especially those with short story experience, perhaps the well known author of a series of time travel/world war II novels as Rob above suggests.

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tqft puts forth...

Posted November 3, 2015
So this post is jb angling for a ticket to an LA writers room?
Section 31 needs a run.
I also saw greatest American hero is being rebooted.
Why not Blake's 7 as someone else asked above. Apparently not dead but not happening either.

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Sparty (via JB) puts forth...

Posted November 4, 2015
Well they up the quality and that means no more 22-26 episode seasons. And go for more Sci Fi stories – and an eclectic range of writers (Birmo looking at you!). And not dumb down at the very time TV is actually going in the opposite direction. And not get to stuck in their own mythology – that can come later by the third season etc. Oh and they should defiantly have a talking Robot Puppy Dog at the helm position.

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she_jedi has opinions thus...

Posted November 4, 2015
Star Trek coming back to TV is great news, but we'd be better off with new, original content, like an AoT TV series. JB should start writing that one :)

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GhostSwirv swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted November 4, 2015

I like the idea of a Star Trek series at the tail end of the Third Millennium, I agree that sci-fi writers may not make the best writers for episodic TV, no matter how it's delivered, but I'd like them to contribute ideas and help shape the series.

Maybe there can be nods to the previous Trek adventures by using the idea that all of the Captain's Log's from Archer & Kirk through to Picard and Janeway have been uploaded to the ship's computer and every now and then an old Captain of the Enterprise wants to offer advice on how to solve an alien situation.

I also agree JB with the galactic will of the Burgers and strongly suggest you get cracking on a spec specky script ... nothing too flash, just a new propulsion system, fire-control & weapons system, new bad-guys and oh what about an Shark Alien with lasers for eyes?

John Birmingham mumbles...

Posted November 4, 2015
It's like you're looking over my shoulder.

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Rhino is gonna tell you...

Posted November 7, 2015
What's funny is that CBS is going to use this to bolster it's paid online service. The first one will be on the (free but not free cable) TV box ... but after that, you gots to pay the cheddar to get it online.

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X Files trailer!

Posted November 2, 2015 into Telly by John Birmingham

SO looking forward to this.

7 Responses to ‘X Files trailer!’

Surtac has opinions thus...

Posted November 2, 2015

Looks good. And GA still looks good, too. :)


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Duce mumbles...

Posted November 2, 2015
I'm sceptical, because boy did that last movie suck hard. And, you know what, from re-watching most of the original series lately, I've been struck by just how hit and miss the original X Files was. I mean I'll watch this regardless, but I'm not expecting brilliance.

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Sparty puts forth...

Posted November 2, 2015
A revolving stage and front row seats meant she took a shower in underware right infront of me during her production of streetcar in London last year. So I can happily confirm Surtacs observation....

Surtac puts forth...

Posted November 3, 2015

I am soooooo jealous now ...


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Wolfcat has opinions thus...

Posted November 2, 2015
OMG.... OMG... OMG... Breath... nope still OMG

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Murphy_of_Missouri is gonna tell you...

Posted November 3, 2015
God, why? Of all of the possible remakes, why this?

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Rhino mumbles...

Posted November 7, 2015
Nope. Somebody needed a paycheck.

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Daredevil and the New Television

Posted September 11, 2015 into Telly by John Birmingham

Been meaning to write something about this series for a while, having finished watching it a few weeks ago. I still haven't sorted my thoughts out though, beyond my initial and sustained impression that Daredevil is an exemplar of everything that is good about TV as a medium right now. Perhaps that's why I haven't sorted out my thinking yet. It may not be possible to appraise the series without considering it within context.

This is not a show that could have been made before the advent of subscription TV, and specifically before the arrival of premium content makers who don't care for aggregating mass audiences with product for the lowest common denominator.

If you haven't watched Marvel's best TV adaptation yet (it is much superior to Agents of Shield) that's probably because you don't have a Netflix subscription. Netflix, like HBO, can afford to invest in original series like Daredevil, Narcos, House of Cards and Orange is the New Black because its business model is so different from the free to air networks and even the cable aggregators like Foxtel – although with reboots like The X-Files you can see Fox catching onto the game (and HBO's model is not perfectly aligned with that of Netflix. Not yet, anyway).

It's not just the sex and violence and grown-up concepts, it's the narrative space afforded to a 'narrowcaster'. You can see this in the establishing episodes of Sense8, which I wrote about a while back. You need to take a few hours to fill in back story and build character? Sure. You got 'em. You're not going to lose huge swathes of your audience after the second commercial break airs and the A-story is still no closer to exposition, let alone resolution.

I neither binge-watched nor eked out Daredevil. I watched a couple of episodes back to back, and at times went for weeks without watching any, usually when work and life got too busy. This is a crucial advantage for content-on-demand providers. Their program directors don't have to schedule an hour-by-hour line up, night after night to lock in millions of viewers. They effectively narrowcast to a time-shifting audience of one. Each subscriber is his or her own market, a single cell demographic. You don't have to lock them in with the six o'clock news and keep them locked in until they switch off the set and go to bed. If the viewer wants to drop out for a while, the next episode is always there, always waiting for immediate replay and already paid for by monthly subscription.

More than once I watched only a single episode of Daredevil because the intensity was so great that to watch any more invited overload. It is famously grittier than the movies that have made Marvel Studios a modern cultural power centre, and although it references the wider Marvel universe, the smaller more intimate story is not held in thrall to the demands of that meta narrative. Ask Joss Whedon about how frustrating and constraining those demands can be.

So, the synopsis. Daredevil tells the story of Matt Murdock, Roman-Catholic son of Hells Kitchen and only child of 'Battling' Jack Murdock a local boxer who couldabeen a contender, if only a local guy could get an even break. Which of course they can't.

Young Matt is blinded. Old Jack is done in by the perfidy of lesser men. And Thor's evil brother Loki opens a crack between the worlds above Manhattan unleashing Hell. The destruction in New York which occupied the final reel of Whedon's first Avengers outing, preoccupies the concerns of all the little people without spandex or superpowers in the opener of Daredevil. Matt and his college bud Foggy Nelson have opened a boutique law firm in their old stomping ground of Hell's Kitchen but it is boutique only in the sense of being very small and obscure. There are no polished floorboards, no Swedish furniture, and no epic narrative. At least not to begin with. A small case leads to one, however, in the doings and a-goings on of one Wilson Fisk, a towering villain played with the full range of Shakespearean flaws by Vincent D'Onofrio. Fisk is a very Manhattan super villain though. He doesn't want to destroy the world, he wants to redevelop its disgracefully undervalued waterfront property. It's the smallness of the story, the base criminality, which foregrounds so well against the Homeric scale of the greater Marvel universe. The violence is intimate but it hurts more for that.

People die in this show, and it hurts. When they get hurt, they carry the bruises and scars for weeks, even months, just like you would. Sometimes for years in the case of the two main protagonists. Murdock is a traditional comic book hero in needing to maintain his secret identity. Tony Stark he is not. There are emotional consequences for everything he hides and all that is revealed and it's a mark of the storytelling craft that went into this series that you can never quite be sure, right up until the end, how those consequences will play out.

The biff is excellent. Again, it all happens at such a human scale, the opposite of say Ironman vs the Hulk in A2. Matt Murdock, who resists his embiggening into Daredevil, is gifted with heightened senses by the loss of his sight and, it's implied, by the way he lost it – in a chemical spill. But he is not possessed of superhuman strength or speed or the ability to stretch his hand out all the way across across the room to grab a beer from the fridge. He just trains really hard at a bunch of martial arts and mostly fights in the dark, where he is at home. He still takes more than a few beat downs.

The kinetic exchanges are choreographed and performed with painful and violent authenticity, but also with real nuance. If you watch closely you can see Murdock alter his fighting style depending on the nature of his opponent, especially when he is forced by circumstance to take on somebody with whom he has no actual disagreement. It is the emotional exchanges, however, which power the series. Daredevil is driven by relationships, not action. Even Fisk's humanity is afforded sympathetic treatment and his friendships and the love he finds as he seeks dominion over the city are no less genuine than our heroes'. In the way of all great dramas it is sometimes hard to watch because human beings are hard to watch when they decide to destroy themselves.

Season 2 of Daredevil has been confirmed and started shooting in July. A pilot season of The Punisher is due and will reportedly tie in with Murdock's story arc like Arrow's with The Flash. I've never read the comics so I can't speak to future storylines, but as the best TV shows improve with every season (up to and including season 4, after which it's usually all down hill), I'm very much looking forward to getting back to Hell's Kitchen.

33 Responses to ‘Daredevil and the New Television’

Barnesm is gonna tell you...

Posted September 11, 2015

I agree with everything you say, and certainly a topic worthy of discussion about how the new model Netflix is pioneering allows for this sort of TV. I am impressed with all the casting but its Vincent D'Onofrio Wilson Fisk's character I was most engaged with, he was complemented in his portrayal of person on 'the spectrum'.

Another thing I liked, in the episode where a woman was taken hostage and threatened with violence the writers didn't choose to go the lazy trope of threat of sexual assault. Still visceral, still terrifying but obviously made the considered choice not to go the lazy writing path.

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ChrisB asserts...

Posted September 11, 2015
Agreed, JB. Tried to binge watch, only got through two back-to-back. Very intense and real, in a way none of the Marvel movies have gotten to. Even Tony's PTSD or Cap's 'old timey' conflict w/modern warfare and the loss of Bucky don't ring as true as Matt's past and present. And those fights - especially the hallway scene...wow.

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Mordwa reckons...

Posted September 11, 2015
<font face="verdana">Matt "Murphy" in para 7? Uhh, John, I think you two are spending too much time together-!</font>

John Birmingham puts forth...

Posted September 11, 2015
Ha. Sorted. Ta.

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NBlob swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted September 11, 2015
To date I have not seen Daredevil, so won't comment on that. SWMBO has the Tom tits that our current rental is sans ariel, so has forked over for Netflix subscription. So that eases some of my guilt about stealing IP. But I'm still praying for a business model that will get me back into video production.

NBlob mumbles...

Posted September 12, 2015
By the way, we've just found that NetFlix has The Princess Bride. I've just introduced my Godson & his little brother to it. Gold, served on gold platter, dusted with gold with a side of gold.

NBlob swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted September 13, 2015
Only because you wanted Prince Humperdinck to prevail. All that scheming, for nothing.

Darth Greybeard mumbles...

Posted September 13, 2015
Has anyone ever counted NBlob's fingers? I counted mine after we shook hands but didn't notice his.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan has opinions thus...

Posted September 13, 2015
I've never even thought about his fingers until now.

Thanks for that.

NBlob is gonna tell you...

Posted September 13, 2015
It's the webbing between my fingers that seems to put people off.

Rob would have you know...

Posted September 14, 2015
I've been thinking about the 'getting back into video production' thing too. But so far I think it would mean shutting down my YouTube channel and starting again with no copyrighted material on it and filling it with pugs and bands I film. Been doing stuff with my Canon DSLR, those things are a pain to hold up for longer than 3 minutes, (mainly cos I'm so old and crusty now)

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tqft would have you know...

Posted September 11, 2015
Netflix will be a reality here soon.The nbn fibre optic cable has been routed from the street to our house. Just need to decide a plan and make it happen.
Couldn't get adsl2 before.
Also we are running out of space for DVDs

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Rhino ducks in to say...

Posted September 12, 2015
Daredevil is pretty freakin' awesome.
Part of me was kind of hoping that Fisk would succeed.

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alexvdl mutters...

Posted September 12, 2015
Great article! I'm a huge fan of what Netflix is doing with their content, and I think that Amazon and Hulu building on that should lead to some great television coming out in the future.

A minor quibble, but the next Marvel Netflix show will be Jessica Jones
(http://marvel.com/news/tv/25069/marvel_netflix_announce_release_date_for_marvels_jessica_jones)
and Punisher is showing up in season 2 of Daredevil, not getting his own show (yet)

http://www.ign.com/articles/2015/07/28/netflix-on-marvel-series-release-plan-and-if-punisher-could-get-a-spinoff

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Rhino asserts...

Posted September 12, 2015
#TheDave would be great on Netflix.
Just sayin'

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Darth Greybeard swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted September 12, 2015
Yep. A great series and looking forward to the second season. Fisk was the best realised, most human and fleshed out (sorry) villain I've seen in years. Re Barnes above, the suits were a fascinating and un-commented light on Fisk's nature. Still working my way through Sense8 and finally reached the point where their ability seems to be more than an absolute nuisance. Another one I can't binge watch, unlike The Glitch.

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Grant ducks in to say...

Posted September 12, 2015
I need to read more comic books! Daredevil was more interesting, better directed and better acted than almost anything in the mainstream Marvel or DC movies (although I have a very soft spot for 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier'). If the superhero genre starts to stagnate, as Spielberg has predicted, maybe we'll get to see the likes of Batman and Thor with their own gritty TV adaptations.

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Rhino mumbles...

Posted September 12, 2015
Started watching the Netflix series Narcos with the wife tonight.
A little heavy on the voice over exposition but pretty good.
What's funny is that it is set in the same time/place as the story I'm working on. Crazy.

John Birmingham reckons...

Posted September 12, 2015
Yeah I'm about four eps in and loving it.

Rhino would have you know...

Posted September 13, 2015
It gets even better.

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Paul_Nicholas_Boylan ducks in to say...

Posted September 13, 2015
I fucking loved this series - from the opening credits that so elegantly and quietly point out that the urban jungle becomes visible only when covered with blood. The way Matt Murdock sees the City.

I binge watched the whole thing.

One of the coolest aspects of the show is that they found an actor to play Foggy Nelson who looks like the comic book character. How the hell did they do that?

If this is an example of the new television then I want more. I cannot wait for Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and The Defenders - all, like Daredevil, throw away Marvel properties with fantastic narrative possibilities.

NBlob mutters...

Posted September 13, 2015
And you say I'm lacking gravitas.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan ducks in to say...

Posted September 13, 2015
I never said that. Ever. Stop spreading disparaging rumours.

NBlob reckons...

Posted September 13, 2015
Ok, so you didn't actually say "Blob my man, you are well short on Gravitas." It was more inference, implication. When one repeatedly has one's attention drawn to mighty figures of history; remarkable artists, historic jurists, purveyors of precious stones with bearings such as if hewn from basalt, one can't help but feel a point is being made. A comparison drawn through which I am found somewhat lacking in the gravitas stakes.

NBlob ducks in to say...

Posted September 13, 2015
At least I don't read comic books.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan has opinions thus...

Posted September 14, 2015
"I don't read comic books."

Neither do I. Comic books are a childish, low class affectation designed for those who lack the intellectual capacity to distinguish cartoons from literature.

If I am anything, I am cultured and educated. That is why I do not read cheap comic books: I read Graphic Novels. Fucking expensive Graphic Novels.

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Aaron has opinions thus...

Posted September 14, 2015
I went from not having any interest to loving daredevil and want to see the joss wed on epic movie of it.
If anything Fisk is the best character.
If anyone on the fence I promise it's worth it. It's a great crime drama first and superhero story second.

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Rob puts forth...

Posted September 14, 2015

I think the new Netflix model is very interesting. It puts the consumer directly in the decisions over competition law issues (pricing collusion, restriction of competition via IP and licencing arrangements, bigger players killing off smaller players) previously competition law arguments ignore the consumer in favour of advertisers and media buyers, This arrangement now means the consumer (who pays directly for the service) must be taken into account when deciding which way the company responds to issues. About time too I say.

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Aaron puts forth...

Posted September 14, 2015
And very much agree with the new format making it possible. Imagine the alternative universe where firefly came out now on netflix, we would be reading announcements for season 2 etc. oh the joy

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pi mutters...

Posted September 17, 2015
I was asked the other day what I thought of A2 from a guy that I recommended Daredevil to. I thought Daredevil was the best adaptation of a comicbook there has been in TV, and the re-invention of the characters in a modern context was second-to-none. Up until it was released, I started believing that this was a DC/Marvel thing. With the reboot of batman a few years back, and the re-invention in a modern setting, I didn't see a lot of the same thing happening with Marvel. Now that has changed.

But the effect of this was my opinion of A2. After Daredevil, it just looked too fantastical. I mean seriously... the suits were just over-the-top, and ultron was really just a caricature of a bad guy. Fisk had real depth to his character, and you were torn with his vision of how he wanted to change the world.

I think what is happening, is that the marvel universe is being split between the PG and the M markets. I have a kid, and I love watching the avengers universe with my pre-teen boy. But there is NO FRIGGIN WAY you can watch Daredevil with a child. The violence is so personal, and so affecting, it would give any balanced kid nightmares.

The long and short of it is that I want to see more of Daredevil, and less of the Avengers these days.

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Boscolamb mumbles...

Posted September 18, 2015
I've been on the fence for a longtime about getting Netflix, but the arguments about how good Daredevil is has pushed me into signing up. Thanks folks!

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Sense8: Renewed and Reviewed

Posted August 10, 2015 into Telly by John Birmingham

Netflix has renewed Sense8 for a second season, and this is a great thing. S1 encompassed a comprehensive origin story with a satisfying climax and denouement, but as with all great stories peopled with interesting characters, it left me wanting to know What Happened Next.

For those who haven't watched the series, a very brief, hopefully spoiler-free recap; eight people, four men and four women, scattered around the world, experience an unusually intense vision of a woman's death. Intense enough to perhaps be a moment of psychosis, especially given what follows, more visions and waking dreams of a seemingly shared consciousness between all eight. Oh, and pursuit by a well resourced cabal of government and corporate villains intent on exterminating them all. Huzzah!

But why? Why would well resourced cabal of government and corporate villains be intent on exterminating them all? Well, they are sensates. An evolutionary throwback to a period when human beings were connected to each other with close psychic bonds. In the mythology of the series, Homo sapiens proved a more ruthlessly effective and efficient successor population because, lacking any sense of shared empathy with their fellow creatures, they were much better at killing them. And we can’t have the world being taken over buy a lot of feely, squishy nonlethal sensate types now, can we? So, lets kill ‘em all. It’s a bit like X-Men, without the lycra.

Sensates exist in clusters, which can number anywhere from 2 to 12 individuals. The eight characters we meet in series one are a diverse crew of mixed race, gender, even transgender, sexuality and skill set. In narrative terms, it's probably the skill sets which are most important. A cop, an actor, a criminal, a scientist, a hacker, a female banker turned cage fighter, and so on. They eventually have a full suite of Matrix style awesome to call on.

But a lot of the critical reception to Sense8, and a lot of the hand wringing over its apparent lack of popularity, focused on the diversity of the cast. It's not just white males and their quirky/sexy female offsiders. If you search up critiques of the series you'll read a lot of essays about identity politics and how the decisions of the producers – the Wachowski siblings and Babylon 5's J. Michael Straczynski – alienated the mass audience by focusing in on minority characters. The transgender woman. The gay South American actor. The African bus driver. The Indian bride.

Nope.

I don't think so.

We getting into subjective territory now, but I didn't come to love this series because of or in spite of the diverse cast. I grew to love Sense8 because it’s fantastic story telling. The cast were great, and their stories do grow on you. But they take at least three or four episodes to connect. The producers have even been quoted as describing the first couple of eps as 'preludes'. For a series which races through its later story arcs with bursts of violent kinetic energy, not much happens in the first couple of hours of Sense8. Or rather, not much seems to happen. Understandably a lot of the cast sit around wondering, "What’s happening to me?"

Instead of getting straight to the car chases and violence we do a deep dive into the emotional lives of our eight psychics. The struggles of Capheus in Nigeria to secure drugs to help treat his mother's AIDS infection. The unexplained bereavement of Riley Blue, a DJ from Iceland living in London and apparently trying to forget some personal trauma. The tragicomic shenanigans of Lito Rodriguez a deeply closeted Mexican actor trying to maintain a secret relationship with his gay lover while living a public life as a macho action movie hero.

These are stories which can take a while to get into, but the payoff is that once character development gives way to narrative acceleration and that whole secret gov-corp anti-Sense8 conspiracy thing, we care more deeply about these individuals than would otherwise be the case.

I truly believe that Sense8’s problems stem not from difficult issues of identity, but simple pacing in those opening episodes.

Perhaps with Series 2, having dispensed with the origin story and the emotional architecture, the producers will carry the show forward at a much greater speed, but without sacrificing empathy and depth.

It’s worth a Netflix subscription just to binge this one.

13 Responses to ‘Sense8: Renewed and Reviewed’

BrianC asserts...

Posted August 10, 2015
Some minor spoilers here within.

Look.

I loved this cast and the concept. But I have to disagree in terms of the story. I found it lacking and in search of cohesion. Especially for the first 5 or so episodes. There where some massive plot holes. Like why didnt the multinational super powerful government agency think to look in her apartment for her? Why didn't her parents. How does the guy living in mexico not get that the girls ex is a f'ing gangster?

There are some wonderful moments that i wont spoil and over all this is definitely a show worth watching, i just hope we get more story and less concept next time.

John Birmingham ducks in to say...

Posted August 10, 2015
I don't think it lacked cohesion as such. It was more of a pointillist canvas than a straight line narrative.

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Anthony mumbles...

Posted August 10, 2015
Agree with BrianC. It needs to move along a bit with the actual story line but worth watching.
And on another note - anyone else found this?
<font size="2">

http://www.history.co.uk/shows/the-great-martian-war

Beautifully put together from WWI footage, CGI and some re-enactment it's commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Martian invasion of 1914.


http://vimeo.com/107454954

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Murphy_of_Missouri is gonna tell you...

Posted August 10, 2015
Why not just get to the point and trickle feed the season one material as backstory?

We writers do that all the time.

I don't know how many times I've been hammered by editors who pretty much say, "For fuck's sakes, Murphy! Get the fuck on with it."

That said, if it fails, it'll be chalked up to the usual laundry list of ists, isms, and phobias to which the rest of us are perpetually privileged to be guilty of from the moment we left the womb.

Good times.

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Blarkon reckons...

Posted August 10, 2015
This sort of thing wouldn't happen if they attended the John Birmingham Academy of FKN AWSM writing and plot development where if there isn't an explosion in the first few paragraphs, it's because there is a tension build up to the explosion that's going to narrativley upper cut you in the next few paragraphs.


John Birmingham mutters...

Posted August 10, 2015
You're right, of course. But it seemed churlish to say so.

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Barnesm mumbles...

Posted August 10, 2015
Damn, in the middle of cooking dinner prior to the_weapons training so I don't have enough time to talk about why I thought Sense8 was awesome. But I watched it twice and on the second viewing realised my 'problem' with the early episode narrative was exactly that My Problem, due to what I expected in a series instead of watching it without that expectation.
Brilliant stuff and very pleased it got a second series.

John Birmingham mumbles...

Posted August 10, 2015
yeah, having written this today I've been thinking a second viewing might be in order too. I rarely do that but expect to get even more out of it the second time around.

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Gethbox puts forth...

Posted August 10, 2015
Largely agree that it was great, but I suspect a fair number of detractors quit early on because the first episode was such tiresome hackneyed tripe.It's kinda interesting, given how much praise was heaped on the series for normalising "otherness" (gender, race, sexuality, etc) that is usually so exoticised in mass-consumption screen stuff, that the first episode played like a showcase of cliche and stereotyping.Still, it came good pretty quickly. I'll be back for season 2...

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GhostSwirv has opinions thus...

Posted August 11, 2015

I've seen some of the criticism of Sense8, wondered what the fuss was about - both good and bad, Netflix is on the list of things to connect to.

This thread has piqued my interest in giving the story a go and its great that a second series has been greenlit.

Sad though that in an age where we're able to access any content across any platform real storytelling isn't allowed time to breath and develop ... would our Seinfeld's and other shows that took a few seasons to find their groove be given a go now?

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Maudy swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted August 11, 2015
I will be all over Series 2. I didn't think I loved it when I was watching it, but afterward, I was all "oh, I wonder what happened next". That only happens when I really did love a show. The diversity was cool, ok - some of the tropes were a bit obvious, but the characters were interesting and their back stories were cool as well, even if nothing seemed to really be happening!

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Rhino swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted August 12, 2015
Damn ... now I have to binge watch this too.
There is too much media ... don't have time for all of this. I need to focus on the priority faffing.

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w from brisbane is gonna tell you...

Posted September 2, 2015
Wow! I just finished this first series. I tend to lose interest with TV serials, but this appealed to me very much. It really pushed my buttons. Great story telling and depth of character and alarm and delight.

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I do not approve of this Star Trek Shania Twain mash up

Posted August 3, 2015 into Telly by John Birmingham

I have not approved of it the seven times I've watched it.

5 Responses to ‘I do not approve of this Star Trek Shania Twain mash up’

FormerlyKnownAsSimon is gonna tell you...

Posted August 3, 2015
Gah! what is this abomination to all things holy? The only star trek mashup worth mentioning was that one on youboob with Bill Shatner doing Pulp's Common People masterfully put to ST footage. Was it on here i saw that? either way, a link to it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zI3UfxyIdgs

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TheWah asserts...

Posted August 3, 2015
Shania and Star Trek... never the twain shall meet...
In all honesty I found it really well done

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Sparty ducks in to say...

Posted August 3, 2015
its a depressing Monday Morning at work- and THAT brought a smile to my face.

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ChrisB asserts...

Posted August 4, 2015
At least I have the remaining 6 episodes of ST:Voyager to cleanse my brain...

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Barnesm mutters...

Posted August 4, 2015
and in other TOS news actor Nichelle Nichols will fly on a NASA mission on SOFIA. Yes I realize its just outreach, but for those who say that don't realize how much science has to struggle constantly for funding, despite all the evidence that it provides a return.

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Firefly/Serenity

Posted June 30, 2015 into Telly by John Birmingham

A couple years ago – to be truthful, probably a whole passle o' years ago now – I bought me the DVD of Joss Whedon’s Firefly. There was only one series made before it was shit-canned by Fox and I’d wanted to watch it when it first went to air. Whedon’s first outing post Buffy/Angel and spaced based sci-fi western to boot. What’s not to love?

The ratings, apparently.

That disc sat in my pile o’ shame for years, however, and it sits there still. Unopened. I was waiting for Jane to watch it with me, but gave up and caught the whole series on Netflix recently, finishing up with Serenity on the weekend. The step up in production values from TV to cinema was obvious, and very obviously established by Whedon in a cheeky tracking shot early in the film which flows through the entire body of the ship. Not a point of view you ever saw on the television show which made do with much more modest sets.

Bottom line. I came to love this series and would have happily paid good folding money to watch more. I enjoyed the transference of the Old West myths to an interplanetary canvas and did’t have to work too hard to suspend my disbelief at the idea that frontier cultural forms would reappear on this new frontier.

The framing of the wider narrative promised an expansive story world to explore over years, rather than the fourteen episodes Lord Rupert left us with. On the upside, the film was a fitting send off to a great concept. iO9 ran a long extract from a bio of Whedon, which devoted a chapter to Firefly. The extract came with some interesting background deets I didn’t know of. The series was apparently inspired by a Pulitzer Prize winning historical novel of the American Civil War, The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara. Whedon read it while on holiday in London and was taken by the minutiae of detail Shaara crammed into the work.

The director said he "wanted to play with that classic notion of the frontier. Not the people who made history, but the people history stepped on—the people for whom every act is the creation of civilization.” Firefly/Serenity is not the story of Jedi Council or the Federation’s celebrity starship captains, he said. It’s the story of the guys who cleaned out the trash compactor on the Death Star. Or the redshirts who jumped ship to escape their inevitable and anonymous fate as Klingon disruptor fodder.

There’s been a lot written about the debt it owes to John Ford’s Stage Coach, with some characters making the hyper space jump from old West to new almost intact. They’re archetypes too. however, with familiar character traits from Buffy, and possibly even the Avengers, finding fresh purchase here.


From i09:

Firefly's cast of characters is filled with the archetypes that pop up in much of Joss's work: the loner with a distinct sense of justice, although his sense of right and wrong may not mesh with society's; the stalwart and dependable comrade, who may question the hero but will always have his back; the stuffy, book-learned one who finds that real life often does not adhere to the facts he was taught; the one with faith, who has left an organized group but still works to apply its tenets for the benefit of those around him; the mercenary who's always up for a fight; the confident one who is often just trying to get through the day in the most pleasant way possible; the well-trained one whose strength is not fully understood until she is pushed; and, of course, the young woman coming to terms with her new power and the responsibility that it entails.

The movie, Serenity, could be enjoyed without investing a dozen or so hours in the TV series, but you’d find it a much richer experience for that first investment. I don’t know whether Whedon was always heading towards the resolution he laid out on the big screen, especially as regards the origin of the Reavers, who do sterling narrative duty as space zombies. Fast space zombies. Given the lack of telegraphing I doubt it.


I won’t give away any spoilers in case there are other slackers, like me, who’ve gone the better part of decade without catching this series. But if you haven’t, and you’re inclined to sample Netflix’s free trial period, you could do worse than spend a wet weekend on the High Frontier with Captain Mal Reynolds.

33 Responses to ‘Firefly/Serenity’

Spanner is gonna tell you...

Posted June 30, 2015
I loved Firefly. I've watched the series several times. It's one I can go back to over an over again. The crew of the Serenity are a bit like Easy company from Band of Brothers or crew of the rebooted Galactica in that I care about them. Yeah I get that in Serenity and even Galactica there are tropes and that Easy was real people.
Do the characters carry the narative?
In Firefly and Galactica they certainly do.
*puts on thinking hat and goes to think some more.

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Paul_Nicholas_Boylan reckons...

Posted June 30, 2015
Serenity is high in my top ten bet films of all time.

NBlob asserts...

Posted June 30, 2015
I don't remember a bet?

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted June 30, 2015
Bet = best

Fucking jet lag.

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beeso is gonna tell you...

Posted June 30, 2015
Pretty sure the Netflix listing is the TV one which is out of order. So watch them in this order if you do use the streamSerenity (parts 1 & 2)

beeso asserts...

Posted June 30, 2015
I will modify that. If you might be an early adopter and using the US version of Netflix you will get this problem. Oz has the DVD version it seems.

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Murphy would have you know...

Posted June 30, 2015
Unfortunately, if you actually know anything about the American Civil War then trying to watch Firefly is akin to a brigade of cats clawing away at a chalkboard.

It is the show I wanted to like, but man, I just can't. In fact, Whedon's only offerings to date that I have been able to sort of buy has been his Avengers outings.

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Aaron mutters...

Posted June 30, 2015
I watched serenity first having heard about firefly. Great stand alone flick and better when paired with the show. I wish they would open up the universe as it had so much more light and shade to offer. The current trend of dark and even darker we seeIn game if thrones and walking dead is getting too much. Theoriginal cast was great but why not relaunch with new faces the right age.

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Peter Bradley swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted June 30, 2015
Not having a historical perspective to it I just watched it for what it was when it came out. Engaging and at times a little bit thinky but like Buffy there were some great one liners;
Kaylee - "ain't nothin' touched my nethers for a year that weren't battery run
Jayne - "I'll be in my bunk"
Wash - " I am a leaf on the wind, watch how I soar"

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Bondiboy66 reckons...

Posted June 30, 2015
I was late to the series, having finally watched it last year, and loved it! I have Serenity sitting on my hard drive half watched...I got interrupted and haven't finished it. That was definitely a show with promise, and a great shame it got canned by bean counters. My wife was quite a fan of Castle there for a while...they managed to toss the odd Firefly reference into that show too!

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TheWah ducks in to say...

Posted June 30, 2015
Has anybody watched the new series "Dark Matter"? I get the feeling they are trying to capture the Firefly vibe. Firefly mixed with Farscape.Not as good as either, imo

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted June 30, 2015
Thanks ComicBook Guy.

TheWah puts forth...

Posted June 30, 2015
We can't all have your "Ten years past the zeitgeist" level of cool. :)

John Birmingham has opinions thus...

Posted June 30, 2015
No. No you cannot.

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coriolisdave swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted June 30, 2015
I've also heard not-great things about Dark Matter, but a similar show that's just kicked off is "Killjoys" - I get a similar firefly vibe from it, remains to be seen if they can keep it up

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Barnesm ducks in to say...

Posted June 30, 2015

Watched it often, and even to this day if I turn on the TV and Serenity is on I'll watch it again.

In one of the pieces I read Whedon said TV is about questions where as movies are about answers. Never was that more clear than that the differences in the stories between the series and the movie particularly regarding the Reavers.

Zoe's "She's torn up plenty, but she'll fly true" still brings a tear to my eye.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan mumbles...

Posted June 30, 2015
I really do love this film. There are many really great lines and bits of dialogue. But for me the best is what Joss Whedon describes as Mal's “St Crispin's Day speech”:

"Y'all got on this boat for different reasons, but y'all come to the same place. So now I'm asking more of you than I have before. Maybe all. Sure as I know anything, I know this - they will try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground swept clean. A year from now, ten? They'll swing back to the belief that they can make people... better. And I do not hold to that. So no more runnin'. I aim to misbehave."

Barnesm swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted July 1, 2015

and the delivery. Nathan Fillion either has a natural rhythm or he was directed by Whedon but that speech.

swing back to the belief that they can make people... better.

that beat between people and better, conveyed so much


Paul_Nicholas_Boylan swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted July 2, 2015
My wife and I discuss that kind of thing all the time. A good actor makes good choices. A great actor makes the perfect choice. I think the pause you describe was a perfect choice.

GhostSwirv would have you know...

Posted July 2, 2015

Nathan Fillion is a fine actor and his range of dramatic delivery is typical of many North American actors.

Writing and direction is key ... the clearest difference between entertainment media content of the USA, UK and Oz is how the Americans deliver the dramatic world of the story, particularly in TV, it might be overly melodramatic at times - but more often than not it serves the dramatic intent and heart of the story, ... mostly a considered beat is all it takes.


Paul_Nicholas_Boylan mumbles...

Posted July 2, 2015
Thank you for recognizing that. The world loves to slam American media by focusing in on its worst examples. Much of it is excellent by any standard.

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Surtac mumbles...

Posted June 30, 2015

Yeah. Have to admit that Serenity is definitely one of my all-time favourite movies and I rewatch it often -- it has got to the point where I've found myself quoting its' dialogue in seemingly (to me) appropriate situations both at work and home.

So it goes.

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nhamilton@iinet.net.au ducks in to say...

Posted June 30, 2015
Watched it years ago with my daughter. It now comes out every school holidays along with Lord of the Rings trilogy and Veronica Mars series when she wants to lie around and watch movies. High praise indeed.

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GhostSwirv mutters...

Posted June 30, 2015
I love Firefly and Serenity ... I've owned and watched the DVDs since they were first released, over and over again.

Captain Mal is up there in my opinion almost on the same level with Captain Kirk, and like PNB I feel that ... "I aim to misbehave" is one of the best inspirational speeches I've ever heard, I'd sign on in a heartbeat.

It's as good as ... "I swear by my pretty floral bonnet I will end you".

If ever a show needed a rebirth, reboot its Firefly - plenty would have happened to the crew of Serenity since we last flew with them and I'd love to journey with Mal once more.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan mumbles...

Posted July 1, 2015
I am informed by confidential sources that part of the discussions surrounding the film involved the original cast's concerns about the film inspiring a reboot of the series - something many of the original cast wanted to avoid. If the series comes back - which I personally would welcome - it would be with different cast set in the same universe.

Blake asserts...

Posted July 1, 2015
I am not much of a twitter user, but i do follow Nathan Fillion - the interplay between he and William Shatner is pretty cool. The fictional likeness you mentioned crosses over into a real life one with the way in which the communities sprung up around them, and their canadian heritage etc

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David Bofinger reckons...

Posted June 30, 2015
I know fans scream at George RR Martin when he does anything other than finish their series. I guess John Birmingham needs to have a similar work ethic. But leaving Firefly on the shelf for ten years is amazingly dedicated and I salute you for it.

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Steve mutters...

Posted June 30, 2015
Fun fact: Serenity makes an appearance in the first episode of Galactica. There's a scene where Laura Roslin is in an office building, and you see the reflection of Serenity in the building across the road.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan has opinions thus...

Posted July 1, 2015
I am so going to the first episode to check this out. I so want it to be true.

Murphy asserts...

Posted July 1, 2015
The AN/UGC-74A makes an appearance as well in Galactica's CIC, but no one cares.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan reckons...

Posted July 1, 2015
Very cool. The Galactica was supposed to be low tech, and the AN/UGC-74A is certainly low tech for that civilization.

GhostSwirv mutters...

Posted July 3, 2015

Its cool too how they've incorporated obsolete Westinghouse military tech into the art direction - if I'm not mistaken, just to the right is of the AN/UGS-74A is a WTO1010B/W.

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Sweet Jane Says swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted July 3, 2015
Um... Yeah... I saw both series and film, each a few times, in their respective decades.

This is a report on why I like dinosaurs.

J.

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