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Inside No. 9 and Room 104

These are two television shows with a very similar theme. Presently both are available on HBO, where I watched them.

Inside No. 9 is a BBC anthology series were every episode involves the number nine, usually in the form of a location. Karaoke room nine, hotel floor nine, many buildings with address number nine. For many all of the action takes place on a single set, but some branch out a bit. Multiple rooms in a single building, brief outdoor scenes setting location, that sort of stuff. The creators act in all of the episodes, but sometimes just bit parts, the rest of the cast rotates.

Room 104 is an HBO anthology series were every episode takes place in the same location, that of a motel room numbered 104. The time jumps around, and there's some standard room decoration that will indicate what decade, but a few of them stretch that, eg a campfire on the site of a to-be-built building, a therapy session with dolls in a motel room diorama, etc. This is much stricter about location, a large room with a pair of beds, a small closet, and the adjoining bathroom. For this the entire cast rotates.

Both of them hop around genres a bit. In Room 104 there's a noir-ish one that turns supernatural, a musical sword and sorcery episode, an animated episode that looks like kids TV but deals with rape, a "documentary" about a father-son art collaboration, a Faustian bargain, and a nearly wordless dance. Inside No 9 doesn't stretch the genres as far afield, but still seems more creative with the stories.

Inside No. 9 is billed as a "dark comedy". Most episodes have a twist at the end. Death, fraud, and theft are frequent plot points. One episode is very much like a Shakespearian comedy, with separated at birth twins, love story, and a murder plot (and done in iambic pentameter). Some use well-known stories as jumping off points, there's a monkey's paw gimmick in one, another has an art show has echoes of Christie's And Then There Were None. But the flexibility with location allows creativity you can't get with the same motel room over and over.

Room 104 has four seasons of twelve episodes each, and is finished. I felt season one was the weakest.

Room 104 at imdb

Inside No. 9 has five seasons of six episodes each, and a new season has just started in the UK (not available on HBO). There are weak episodes -- I think s1e1 is not very good -- but not particularly weak seasons.

Inside No. 9 at imdb

There's no continuity between episodes, feel free to jump around. And if you don't like one, that doesn't mean you won't like the next. FWIW, there are some out of season things for No 9. I found the web-only episode on youtube, but I didn't think much of it and didn't save the link.

Solar Opposites (Hulu)

This is a show from Justin Roiland, famous for Rick and Morty. In some ways it's just another way for Roiland to voice his frustration with the dumb things he sees in the world. Rick, the grandfather in Rick and Morty, and Korvo, the father-figure in Solar Opposites, are both science minded characters who rail against the stupidity around them. Neither is very good at empathy, and both have trouble with social conventions.

This story is much more sitcom-esque than Rick and Morty, and feels less radical. There's a basic story line of aliens trying to fit in on Earth with different levels how much they care about fitting in and different priorities. This story doesn't have much in the way to continuity between episodes. But there is a subplot involving Yumyulack's collection of shrunken people he keeps in his ant-farm-like terrarium bedroom wall; called "The Wall" by the people inside it.

(I say "he" for Yumyulack because that's the gender the character choose to emulate on Earth. The aliens, although clearly written to have human genders, are apparently supposed to biologically genderless.)

The Wall makes direct references to Escape from New York, and has a very 1970s or early 1980s future dystopia quality to it. There is a very definite story arc to these segments, and unlike the rest of the episode, seeing them out of order would be confusing.

To me, The Wall is the best part of Solar Opposites and I was very pleased with episode seven being almost entirely Wall story, with the titular story ("Terry and Korvo Steal a Bear") told wordlessly through what can be seen out of the windows of the terrarium prison. The rest of the show for the season is rather hit-or-miss.

Five of eight levels in The Wall.

Solar Opposites at IMDB
Rick and Morty at IMDB
Escape from New York at IMDB

Succession (HBO)

This is the story of a Rupert Murdoch-type media owner and the family of his that wants to take over the business. I've watched Season One of this show, there are two seasons released so far.

Second born son, although first from second marriage, Kendall Roy starts the season in a good place in the company, but is quickly sidelined by his father, Logan Roy, who has reconsiderd the C-level appointment for Ken. Only daughter Siobhan gets engaged, with a marrige ending the season; cousin (nephew to Logan) Greg gets fired from a terrible job at the company and then uses family connections to try to get a better job. First and third born sons Connor and Roman try to find themselves, one from outside the company and one inside. Third wife to Logan, Marcia, tries to establish herself and her son (from a previous marriage) to the discomfort of Logan's children.

The general premise is that Logan is a very shrewd and hardball media businessman who has never had time for his kids yet has high expectations of them. Now, at 80, he is finding that they are neither shrewd nor good at hardball business. Except that the show follows the kids' stories more than the old man's, helping to reenforce the notion that Logan is evil. (Okay, Logan is evil, but if told from his point of view, the kids are just incompetent evil to his masterful evil.)

The kids meanwhile, want to break out and do things on their own, but question their dad's continued competance in his old age. Except Greg. He is largely an outsider to the family drama and oscillates between oblivious and shrewd, with his eye set on the much more reasonable goal of staying in a cushy job.

Logan Roy and Roman Roy are the only two actors in this series I recognize from other roles. Logan is played by Brian Cox, who I most vividly remember as ex-spy Big John from L.I.E. I can almost see Logan and Big John as the same character: forceful characters used to getting their own way and good at reading other people. Roman is played by Kieran Culkin, who I remember (although not well) from Igby Goes Down, about a rich kid dissatisfied with family. The family here is also rich, but the dissatisfaction is much different.

Eight voting board members out of full twelve.

Succession at IMDB

Altered Carbon

I wrote this first part in 2018 after watching season one. I've just finished season two and I'll add my thoughts at the end.

Altered Carbon is a ten episode sci-fi series on Netflix, based on a book by the same name. About all I know of the book is that it is the first of a trilogy.

Altered Carbon at imdb

Overall I liked this, but I had some issues with the puppet-master bad guy in the last two episodes. The motivations were trite and the dialog and actions seemed a bit poorly considered for someone who is supposed to be that powerful.

I felt the series did a great job with the central conceit: a small piece of technology that allows your mind to be moved (and for the rich, backed up). Bodies are called "sleeves" in a bit of language evolution that feels pretty natural. People can easily survive having their body die, even without backups, so long as their "stacks" (a little more awkward) are intact. The backups exist for the case of the stack being destroyed.

People swap bodies with some regularity in this series and yet I never once felt I didn't know who was who unless the story meant for it to be ambiguous. In one episode a guy with very distintive tattoos plays three people: a guy just arrested with a personality to match the ink; a woman's grandmother brought back from the dead for a Day of the Dead party; and an assassin whose regular body had just been destoryed "resleeved" for an interrogation. It was not hard to tell these people apart, and I think even the faceblind could realize it was the same The main character is a terrorist who has been in "jail" for 250 years, pulled out because of his special people reading skills to be a private detective on a case of a very rich man's attempted murder. The guy's stack and head were blown off a couple of minutes before the backup.

Weak point: Jail loses a lot of it's sting if it just means your stack sits on a shelf somewhere for that whole time.

Questionable point: there seem to be a lot of very random bodies about for people to be "resleeved" and a distinct lack of cheap generic clones to use. Only the very rich are shown to have clones.

Weak point: One character has a very powerful cloaking ability / technology. This is severely underused and never clearly explained.

Notable point: it is explicitly set in San Francisco, apparently about five hundred years from now. (Except for the flashbacks to the "before 250 years turned off on a shelf in prison" for the main character.) None of it looks like San Francisco.

If they make a second season out of the book series, I'll watch it. Five clones killed in one fight scene out of eight.

Season two was good, kinda different, probably a little weaker. It's still very violent, but there's hardly any nudity now. That goes along with very little of the body swapping, and almost no use of clones.

This season takes place off-Earth, on the main character's childhood home planet. Someone has a very effective way to kill people, simultaneously destroying the backups, and the "Last Envoy" main character from the first season has a reason to investigate this. He's got a new "sleeve" now, so our hero wears a different face. A couple of characters from season one show up in their same faces, and even the main characters's old face shows up for a while.

The story was entertaining, but not challenging. All the major plot points were well telegraphed and not much new is revealed about the technology of this future. How the backups are destroyed by the mystery "weapon" (as it is called) is never really explained.

Let's call it five out of eigth "meths" fried on screen.