‘Hard Sun’ Episodes 1 & 2 – BBC1

After the mauling that The Guardian gave BBC1’s new cop show/ sci-fi drama you’d be forgiven for thinking the BBC were presenting a badly-written festive pantomime like A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong . This was the tone of the preview published at 11am yesterday. The actual 4 star review landed a few hours later calling it gutsy and ambitious. Same newspaper, very different opinion. Great work guys – don’t make up your mind about something, teach the controversy.

So safe to say this end-of-the-world drama written by Neil Cross of Luther fame is polarising opinions. Twitter seemed suitably impressed and a lot of people were very happy to realise the series was all set ready to binge on iPlayer. We put the second episode on straight away but now I’m not sure how much more of it I want to see.

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‘The Grand Tour’

So this is it. The moment we’ve all been waiting for. Amazon picked up the wayward Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond and threw a considerable sum of money at The Grand Tour aka Top Gear on the road. Episode one starts with Jeremy leaving the BBC and rainy grey old England behind in a made-up back story to romanticise the end of the old show. No he wasn’t sacked!, they’re desperate to remind us, it was just his contract wasn’t renewed! Haha! Because Jeremy Clarkson hit someone who worked for him. He got wound up for an incredibly pathetic reason and took it out on an underling. Haha! Because bullying in the workplace is fine. Hahaha he’s such a lad! Top bantz.

Anyway, with the past glossed over, his co-presenters appearing from nowhere and an insipid version of ‘I Can See Clearly Now’ playing in the background we arrive in the Californian high desert at Burning Man Festival. They then spend a few minutes making the whole festival look and sound utterly boring. It seems to be chock full of podgy pasty white people, who no doubt leave a violent shade of lobster red. On stage we can swiftly tell that these guys are many things, but they are not rock stars or even stand-up comics. They’re at great pains to introduce each other as motoring journalists. So why do they have to do it so awkwardly on a big stage?

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‘Westworld’ – On the Box

Big things were expected for Westworld, the telly reboot of the 1973 sci-fi film, and big things were achieved. It was HBO’s biggest series debut in three years. And it looks magnificent!

Westworld is a theme park – the newcomers are the players, the high-paying guests who get to live out their cowboy frontier town fantasy. Sex and violence is the top two reasons people seem to play, and sexy violence is probably competing for third place. The innocent townspeople who populate the game are extremely advanced androids (incredibly beautiful and faces full of character), who live in a Groundhog day-dream state, to please the guests and keep them entertained.

Through wholesome Delores (Evan Rachel Wood) and her cowboy lover Teddy (James Marsden) we briefly glimpse a clichéd romance fantasy before life quickly turns sour. It’s horrific to watch, and worse still she wakes in blissful ignorance the next day to be preyed upon all over again. Despite how real these androids seem these are just toys programmed for paying customers pleasure. We know this and yet our sympathies lie squarely with the machines from the opening moments.

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Couch Potato Digest – jerks, shirts and shows in the works

Some seriousness to start your digest this once. Don’t fret – I won’t make a habit of it.

Amy Schumer is in a sort of rolling non-story of the week. She’s on her book launch publicity junket but this has been derailed by controversy surrounding Kurt Metzger, a writer on her Comedy Central show. This guy has a self-admitted history of violence against women and an “alarmingly vicious tendency to defend men accused of rape”. She sort of distanced him with a stock PR phrase, then she says he’s not working on her show Inside Amy Schumer any more, but he’s not fired – this is just because it’s on hiatus. Much confusion…

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‘Outlander’ – On the Box

Outlander has been winning fans on Amazon since March 2015, but it’s all new to me, so allow me a recap. This is a historical romance with sci-fi time travel elements based on novels by Diana Gabaldon and set in the highlands of Scotland in 1743. Safe to say this is absolutely not my usual fare. I tend to run a mile at the word ‘romance’ but I’d heard great things about this show, and props to them; they’re clearly not afraid to chart their own course. Mr H reminds me frequently that I’d do a better job of blogging about telly if I nudge myself out of my comfort zone more often. So I don my silky negligee, pink fluffy kitten-heel slippers – which I understand is the uniform for all women who love romance – and armed only with a padded box of soft-center chocolates (the customary accessory) here I go.

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‘The Man In The High Castle’ – Seeing the Future

“The entire first season of The Man In The High Castle will be released on Amazon Video on Friday 20 November”

The entire first season?! People – welcome to the future!

Not only are we able to watch a new US tv show at the same time as American viewers (unthinkable 20 years ago) but we can sit and binge-watch the entire first series in a day if we want to. Wow!

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Being a Human

I never used to get sci-fi. Our relationship didn’t start out well. I was one of those kids who have never seen Star Wars (this was rectified at the age of 21) and the guff that my brother used to watch on the BBC (in what became The Simpsons time-slot) was just awful. He loved Stargate (this is a fact, but he tells me that wasn’t on tv when we were kids – I mean Farscape. This is proof of how much attention I paid). I thought it was toss. He’d watch re-runs of Star Trek: The Next Generation until the galactic space-cows came home, I was sick to death of it. Every week it was the same old crud – distress call! aliens! they’re so strange and mysterious! they’re evil! or are they?! are they in fact… JUST LIKE US?!!1!! The moral message was always writ large in heavy-handed caps lock because this was MEANINGFUL and IMPORTANT and despite trudging through tired old tropes every week, watching the programme made you a BETTER PERSON. (You may be wondering why I suffered through this week after week – why didn’t I just watch something else? Readers, we were a one tv household until well after I left for university, and the internet didn’t exist. What was I supposed to do – go outside and get some healthful exercise?!)

Maybe the problem was that I came to sci-fi in the ’90s when the shiny chrome spaceships had tarnished. There wasn’t even the Doctor to save the world – my fondness for Ace’s leather jacket and Sylvester McCoy’s umbrella wasn’t enough to hold my attention or even keep the show on the air. The genre was ripe for satire and that’s where I got my fix. I adored Red Dwarf in all its glory – rude, gritty, sentimental, ridiculous, hilarious – and really enjoyed Gerry Anderson’s Space Precinct with its friendly bug-eyed alien police officers and flying cop cars.

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So with these prejudices still shadowing me all these years later I saw the trailer for Humans on Channel 4 earlier this summer and yawned. Androids. Sentient androids. Making a heavy-handed and laboured point about our essential humanity. Bound to be a cheesy American import. YAWN. But I saw the cast had some great actors in it, and it was a British show. I was intrigued. I put the first episode on and quickly powered through the whole series. It was proper sci-fi, and it was great!

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It was a series about what makes us human, but the message was subtle, intelligent and never dumbed down. It was a dark drama about love and fear and family. The plots were slow, but that made the action, when it came, all the more shocking. The characters had depth and were terrifically well cast, especially Katherine Parkinson as the struggling Mum and Emily Berrington and Gemma Chan as two very different androids from the same family. It was as if it could all happen tomorrow; a freakishly strange and yet entirely possible future for our tech-obsessed humanity. If I’d known that Channel 4 had pulled an ad stunt for the show with actors in London playing ‘real’ androids ready and available for you to purchase from a fake shopfront for Persona Synthetics backed up with a goose-pimple inducing advert I wouldn’t have been so negative about it initially. I like it when things get a little weird.

This year I made a conscious decision to branch out and find sci-fi worth reading (A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness) because it turns out, it isn’t all the same. There’s freshness and variety out there if you know where to look. I still prefer swords to laser blasters and castles to spaceships but after having my preconceptions crushed by Humans I’m happy to timidly peek at what else is on offer on Netflix or SyFy. I’m not sure that I’ll ever boldly go.

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