• The Good Stuff

    It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage

    Thirty-eight years ago today saw the debut of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I’ve been on a serious Indiana Jones kick since returning from Walt Disney World a couple of months ago, and after rewatching all of the movies (and starting in on the Young Indiana Jones made-for-tv movies, the Rob MacGregor novels, the Marvel comics, etc., et al.), I realized that character in his various outing and incarnations had a bigger influence on my tastes and interests, both in terms of what kind of stories I like to read and watch and what kinds of stories I like to tell, than any other single piece of media. As much as I loved Star Wars and Star Trek, Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes, Tarzan and Doc Savage, or any one of a hundred other great shows, movies, and comics, there’s probably more Indiana Jones DNA in my makeup than any other fictional character or imaginary world. It probably helped that I was exactly the right age for Raiders when it was released–I was two months away from my eleventh birthday, my mental cement still wet enough that I was very impressionable–but there are elements borrowed from that first movie that crop up in virtually everything that I write, whether consciously or not.

    It’s only been a month or so since I rewatched it last, but I think I might need to pop in the Blu-ray and fire up Raiders again tonight, in honor of the occasion. Or maybe I’ll just queue up the John Williams soundtrack as I put some time into my current work-in-progress, which definitely has more than a little Indiana Jones-inspired elements in the mix…

  • The Good Stuff

    Good Omens

    Good Omens is one of my favorite novels. I bought it the day it was released in the US in hardcover, and have probably read it a half-dozen times in the three decades since. (It’s probably my favorite thing that Neil Gaiman has ever written, and in my top five favorite Terry Pratchett works.) But despite the rumblings about possible film adaptations going back all the way to the beginning, I never had much confidence that it could be successfully adapted into a different medium. Thankfully, I was wrong. Very wrong, as it turns out. Because the six-part miniseries that was released on Amazon Prime the week before last satisfied in every conceivable way. The scripts by Neil Gaiman captured the tone and wit of the novel perfectly, and the direction by Douglas Mackinnon never missed a step. The score by David Arnold was note perfect, and the animated opening titles were fantastic. Everyone in the cast turned in stellar performances, but in particular Michael Sheen and David Tennant as the angel and demon who have hung around on Earth so long that they’ve gone native. I would happily watch another full season of those two characters just hanging out, sharing meals and bottles of wine, reminiscing about the old days.
  • The Good Stuff

    Carmen Sandiego

    I didn’t know that I needed a cartoon reboot of Carmen Sandiego in my life, but it turns out I absolutely do.

    I never came across the early Carmen Sandiego computer games in the 80s, but I was in college when the PBS series Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego? debuted in 1991 and I have vivid memories of watching it in my dorm every day after class. I was only vaguely aware of the various cartoon spinoffs and subsequent computer games that followed throughout the 90s, and never had any great sentimental attachment to the character. So I greeted the news of a new cartoon series on Netflix with mild curiosity at best. The early teasers I saw looked interesting, and I liked the look of the character designs, but I didn’t have terribly high expectations going in.

    This week my kid and I watched all nine episodes of the first season of Carmen Sandiego, and it has quickly shot to the top of our list of Most Awesome Animated Shows. With Gina Rodriguez voicing the titular character and Finn Wolfhard voicing her hacker pal Player, the new series reimagines Carmen Sandiego as a kind of globe-trotting Robin Hood, stealing historical treasures back from the villainous V.I.L.E. and returning them to their rightful owners, all while keeping ahead of the superspies of ACME who are hot on her heels. The character designs by Chromosphere’s Kevin Dart (whose work I raved about on my blog ages ago) are gorgeous, the animation by DHX Media is fluid and lively, and the music by Lorenzo Castelli and Steve D’Angelo is note perfect. It is a jet-setting superspy thriller with great action and genuine laughs, and with a healthy dose of educational content in every episode.

    Since watching the series I’ve acquainted myself with the backstory and lore established through the various game shows, computer games, and cartoon spinoffs, and was surprised to learn just how much the new series draws from the earlier iterations, including the return of Rita Moreno (who voiced the character in the first cartoon adaptation in the early 90s) in a key cameo role. In terms of cartoon reboots, this is on par with the new DuckTales series in terms of creating something that feels fresh, new, and relevant while being constructed almost entirely out of elements that had already been established in earlier versions of the franchise. It’s a fantastic piece of work, and we can’t wait to see the second season!

  • The Good Stuff

    Killing Eve

    I’d heard all of the raves about Killing Eve last year, but only got around to watching the BBC America series this month. Created by Phoebe Waller-Bridge and based on the Codename Villanelle novellas written by Luke Jennings, it stars Sandra Oh as an MI6 operative searching for an assassin played by Jodie Comer. I went in expecting to like it, but was not prepared for just how MUCH I would end up loving the series. It is by turns hilarious and heart-pounding, with amazing performances, sparkling writing, flawless editing, and the most spectacular soundtrack of any TV series I’ve watched in ages. (I stayed up late the night I finished the last episode building a playlist of all of the music from the show in Apple Music, and I’ve had Unloved’s Crash Boom Bang on a constant loop in my head ever since.) The second season is scheduled to begin airing in April, so if you haven’t checked out the first season yet you’ve got more than enough time to catch up and join me in eagerly anticipating what happens next. As for me, I’ll most likely be watching the whole thing again from the beginning in the meantime, because I just can’t get enough of this show.

  • The Good Stuff

    The Frankenstein Chronicles

    I’m late to the party on this one, I think. The first season of ITV’s The Frankenstein Chronicles was recommended to me by Mike Mignola back at the end of 2017, and when both seasons cropped up on Netflix a few months later I added the series to my watch list, but I didn’t get around to watching any of it until the holidays a few weeks ago. I thought I had a pretty good idea what the series would be about, but I was completely wrong. It was so, SO much more than I had expected.

    To avoid spoiling things too much, I’ll just say that The Frankenstein Chronicles is a period-piece horror/mystery story with supernatural/science-fictional elements that makes brilliant use of the era in which it is set, incorporating real historical figures in key roles. (Pointing out just who those historical figures are would spoil the fun so I’ll refrain, though I will say that I kicked myself for not recognizing the pen name of newspaper reporter until after I finished watching the second season finale.) And the story is set in a historical era that I haven’t often seen explored in these sorts of TV shows and movies, late Georgian England (1827 to 1830, specifically) rather than the more familiar Victorian era.

    The second season was scripted by a different team of writers than the first, and there is a slight shift in tone, but I found the way that they explore and expand on the way the first season ends deeply satisfying. There are moments of real horror throughout, so it’s not for the squeamish, but the way that real literary history, politics, science, and philosophy are threaded through the narrative was surprisingly sophisticated and well-done, to my tastes. Both seasons are available now on Netflix, and are well worth checking out.