QZ qz thoughts
a blog from Eli the Bearded
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Mr Pickles and Superjail!

After asking for television show suggestions, I got pointed to Superjail! and Mr. Pickles. So I hunted down the pilot episodes of each of them.

Superjail! is a wonderfully surreal romp through a prison even more wild than the chocolate factory Willy Wonka runs. So I continued and I'm at the end of season two now. (It helps that the episodes are 11 to 12 minutes each.)

But Mr. Pickles fell flat for me in that first episode. A lot of the pilot seemed to be wholesome setup - crude denouement, over and over again. It's a one note formula that seemed to be the crux of all the humor. And the wholesomeness in particular bothers me because crude is fine, but crude only as an answer to wholesome is a very lazy way to write a joke, even if the crude denouement part is 100% over-the-top, which it seems to be every time.

Let's just look at the very first joke in the cold start of the pilot.

A guy and a girl are out in the woods. He starts to pressure her for sex and she says "I'm not ready yet". That's the wholesome setup. Then she continues with the crude denouement: "It's only been two hours since the abortion".

There are many similar repeats of this pattern throughout the pilot.

Superjail is not without fault, but doesn't trigger my "lazy writing" alarm.

Philip K Dick's Electric Dreams

Philip K Dick's Electric Dreams is a new series of single episode renditions of PKD short stories. It's being broadcast on Channel 4 (UK) and is/will be available on Amazon video.

There have been four episodes so far, the most recent one being "Crazy Diamond", which I posted about in a newsgroup before the series started. The story that one is based on had been discussed in the group in the past, and it is the PKD short story I have most recently read. (I have read his complete short stories, but most many years ago.)

Let's use that to discuss the series, since it offers a good lens on the differences between the promise and the reality.

PKD's stories are often cynical about technology, question how we can know what is real, and/or question if homo sapiens can or should survive. They are also frequently changed a lot on the way to being filmed.

"We Can Remember it For You Wholesale" is a short story about a service to implant memories. In that story a customer wants a Mars trip implanted, and then the service tech finds that there was an different memory that was activated. In the story it is clear that the different memory is the real one. When the story became Total Recall, it became a lot more difficult to separate real from fiction and introduced mutants who might supplant homo sapiens as the new homo ... species. In that way the story became more PKDish.

In "Sales Pitch", a robot tries to sell it's own services, and makes life increasingly more miserable for the intended customer. The closest model in today's world, might be if 4chan sold "not harassing you online" as a service. Or ransomware.

In "Crazy Diamond", it's not a robot, but a "Jill", which looks like a human, but is more like a replicant from Blade Runner. The Jill is ostensibly selling life insurance, but has sidelines in seduction and black market consciousness seeds for Jills like herself. Seeds that our protagonist has access to at the office. So here we have a of things added and changed, resulting in a much different direction.

The Jills, like replicants, have a shorter life span that limits them. The seeds provide a way to extend that life span. Okay, sort of triggers the new species themes.

There's a subplot with their house possibly going to erode into the sea, and the corporation that supplies everything providing short dated foods, and not letting people grow their own. There's a bit of unstated implication that the corporation could be using the erosion "problem" to sell new houses elsewhere.

The protagonist would like to stick it out until retirement, then sail the world. His wife would like to buy a new house. And the Jill exploits that difference for her seduction routine. There's nothing particularly PKDish about that.

Eventually the protagonist signs on the line for the life insurance, and it doesn't matter either way. Things don't get better or worse for him because of that decision (other decisions, sure, but not that one), which kind of robs this whole thing of the "Sales Pitch" connection.

On the whole, this TV series promised a Black Mirror like dystopian view of the future, but perhaps a future further out than Black Mirror. The chilling hook for Black Mirror is how easy it is to imagine going from today to that future. Some of them are entirely possible with today's tech, and some are just small incremements away.

Instead Dick's Electric Dreams has been delivering sci-fi stories that are not very compelling and exist in a world that is not easily connected to our world. As such they lack they punch of "are we headed there" and the hook of good story telling.

Two days out of a five day egg expiration date.

ObDman: Black Mirror is not unlike a modern Twilight Zone, with each episode a self-contained story, preying on psychological fears of the current times. But Twilight Zone wandered more into fantasy than Black Mirror does.

Final thought: it is, however, fun to be able to talk "dick dreams" and not be referring to porn.

Vanishing Point

At imdb, people who liked Two Lane Blacktop also liked Vanishing Point, so I found it to watch, the 1971 version not the remake.

Scott Dorsey offered to let me watch his print — if I were in the same state as him — and said Clevon Little was worth the price of admission. I've trusted Scott Dorsey's movie recommendations before, but I'm going to have to disagree with his opinion here: Super Soul (Clevon Little) was the most annoying part of the movie. Psychic DJ and just-so disembodied guide voice just isn't my scene.

I'd never watched it before, but I had seen a scene from the film. The snake hunting prospector to faith-healer viper buyer bit. It was another hard to accept (in the suspension of disbelief sense) sequence. Not that those people might not have existed, but that they'd be there where Kowalski has run short of gas.

Amusing trivia: According to imdb, Gilda Texter was the "Nude Rider", but then she went on to a long career in movie costuming. (you can see Gilda has shoes on in one scene, so not completely nude.)


I watched the Michael Crichton written/directed Runaway last week.

Runaway (1984) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088024/

The blurb I read about it promised spider robots. I was disappointed. There were things they called "spiders" in the film, but these were six legged things, about the size of a typical restaurant lobster, with hypodermic acid injectors instead of mandibles.

The story is about a near future when robot servants are commonplace and a police force that deals with rogue robots. Naturally, for a good story, there's someone who wants to rogue-ify robots and Tom Selleck is the cop who can stop that someone (who was played by Gene Simmons, of KISS).

The robots were somewhat reasonably designed. They are not Jetsons Rosy, but most were more like modern warehouse robots: blocky wheeled things with no face, but manipulator arms. Many of the robots do have implausibly good speech control, but not devious intelligence. They are pretty simple minded with less wit than Siri.

There are some interesting details. They use a "floater" to investigate an armed rogue-ified robot in a house. The "floater" is a small flying thing with a remote video feed, very much like consumer drones. But the engineering is all wrong: it's shaped a bit like a book with a single central prop, forgetting why helicopters have tails. The cop's son uses a thing that resembles a tablet computer to watch TV in bed. There are a number of things secured with biometric readings, particularly retinal scans. Robots can be disabled, easily, if you can get close enough to detach their battery cables. Reliability is a significant concern for the characters, and at one point Selleck refuses to let a medic robot perform because he doesn't think that model will be as careful as a human.

It's not a bad story and the vision of future tech holds up okay. Three of five missing computer chip templates.

Final thought: but the simplistic flaw of fear of heights is used in obvious ways.