Looking back in historical perspective 1956 was one of these turning point years in history, when things accelerate, when a lot of related and unrelated events with lasting consequences happen. It was the first such year after WWII, the year of the Khrushchev report that started the de-stalinization process in the Soviet Union, the year of the Hungarian anti-communist revolt in Hungary crushed by the same Soviet Union, the year of the Suez war. While less spectacular things happened in occupied Berlin and Germany, 1956 was a typical year in the middle of the decade that saw Germany recovering from an economic point, while part of its population tried to put the past behind them. Forgetting the past would not work, we know it know, and Germany really recovered only after assuming its past morally and historically, but this was a process that last many years. 1956 was somehow in the middle, and the transition to peace and prosperity was felt and lived differently by different categories of people, by those who were to young to remember, by those who wanted the past forgotten, and by those who could not forget – the survivors of the camps, the former prisoners. Add to all these the occupation and division of Germany and of the city of Berlin (not completed at that time, the Berlin wall was built only in 1961) and the clash of cultures initiated by the beat and rock generation which took specific aspects in Germany. It was a complex landscape, which forms the background for the TV mini-series Ku’damm 56 which was screened on the French version of ARTE TV as ‘Berlin 56′.
The Kurfürstendamm or Ku’damm as Berliners and especially visitors call it, the main commercial street of West Berlin, hosts in the movie the school of dance of Caterina Schöllack (Claudia Michelsen) whose husband did not return from the war, leaving her with the task of raising her three daughters. From many respects she is a symbol of the old Germany, doing her best to survive and adapt, to forget the past and build the future of her daughters the way she believes is best – marrying them well as good German wives into rich families, or at least with solid honorable husbands. This seems to work with the two elder daughters, but not with Monika, the younger one (Sonja Gerhardt) who is different from her sisters from all points of view – a mix of rebel and non-adapted character, with one big passion – dancing. She actually has inherited this skill from her mother, but the tastes are different in a world where jazz and ‘decadent’ rock’n'roll become in Germany as all over the world a symbol of generations clash. The story describes well the evolution of the four women, their relationships, their rebellion and compromises on the social and political background of a country where ruins were not completely cleaned up and wounds of the recent past were still bleeding for many.
Quite different, and actually the opposite of the situation in many scripts of the big or TV screens, while the four women profiles are well built and developed, some of the men characters are reduced to stereotypes. When they are not schematic their evolution is problematic – like the character of Joachim Franck and the troubled relationship to Monika, which starts with a rape to become almost a failed love story. It also seemed to me that the East Berlin scenes lacked a more serious perspective of the differences between the two parts of the Germany. There is a lot of dance and music and the differences in style between the different genres occupy an important role in the series, these could be the subject of another film, or maybe of the continuation of the series, as 1956 is also the point in history when Berlin starts recovering its between-wars shining as a multi-cultural center. As the ending shows Monika walking a Ku’dam that looks like a Dorothy from Oz path to new horizons, the continuation of the series may be in preparation. I am looking forward to it.
Unless I forgot something badly (and in this case it was probably not something good enough to remember) this may be my first TV series from Denmark that I see in the last 20 years or so, and the second after Lars von Trier‘s The Kingdom which amazed me in the mid 1990s. It certainly is not a masterpiece as I consider to be von Trier’s series (and most of his movies) but a very decent detective story and good entertainment.
Aarhus is a place whose name I know about since I was a kind, and so does any kid or former kid who was a passionate of geographical atlases and was looking in the index and dreaming to travel to all those places. It was the first or one of the first in any index, a city too small to ignore on the map of a country it took me about 40 years to get to for the first time. Aarhus is also the place where the first season of Dicte – Crime Reporter happens, with the Big City (Copenhagen) reporter Dicte Svendsen (Iben Hjejle) moving to the local edition of a newspaper together with her teenage daughter, running a failed marriage. Actually almost everybody in this film runs away bad marriages, with the exception of the ones who are single (that includes also the very young ones) – I am wondering if anybody is happily married in Denmark. Dicte is joined by her two good friends who have each her own marital or relationship problems, but the skeleton in her closet (very soon taken out) is much darker, as her past includes a teenage pregnancy and having lost her child sent to adoption. All murder cases that start to appear (it is a detective series, after all, and a good one) are also to some extent related to kids, adoptions, and her own past. Of course, detective Wagner (Lars Brygmann) who is her police counterpart is … divorced.
There is a lot of fuzz about Scandinavian crime novels, films and TV series, about the foggy or snowy landscape. Dicte – Crime Reporter is a little different, maybe it’s the fact that Denmark is at the Southern extremity of Scandinavia that makes this film look a little more sunny and better lit than other Scandinavian series. However, what is missing in landscape is better articulated in the characters. Good acting helps, with Iben Hjejle, Lars Brygmann, Lærke Winther Andersen, Lene Maria Christensen – all giving good performances and the unknown faces (at least for viewers not familiar with Danish TV and cinema) helps making the characters more credible. The important thing I believe is that eventually we get to know them and care about them – this makes for the good quality of this refreshing crime series. I am looking forward for the next two seasons, and I hope that the Israeli cable channel acquired them as well.
Una dintre slăbiciunile mele mărturisite este vizionarea serialelor ştiinţifico-fantastice. Oferta este foarte bogată, oferta de calitate este mult mai puţin numeroasă, cam ca în orice gen artistic. Şi totuşi, odată la câţiva ani apare câte un serial care mă face prizonier şi pe care îl urmăresc săptămână de săptămână, episod după episod, cu a cărui personaje devin familiar, ele încep să mă captiveze şi să mă absoarbă în universul lor. Aşa au fost acum aproape trei decenii aventurile spaţiale ale noilor generaţii din ‘Star Trek’ şi seria clasică a lui ‘V’ despre o invazie extra-terestră nu prea prietenoasă. Ele au fost urmate în anii 90 de ‘Dosarele X’ (‘X-Files’) poate cel mai bun serial al genului în care perechea de detectivi ai FBI-ului Fox Mulder şi Diana Scully care explorau fenomene paranormale şi aveau şi ei parte de întâlnirile lor de gradul trei au devenit subiect pentru nenumărate discuţii şi dispute cu prietenii şi internauţii pasionaţi. Serialul care pentru mine a dominat începutul de mileniu a fost ‘Lost’ care a evoluat de la o poveste de supravieţuire pe o insula izolată în mijlocul oceanului a naufragiaţilor unei catastrofe aeriene spre o confruntare de dimensiuni cosmologice care sfidează legile fizicii şi ale timpului. Cele două sezoane (2012, 2013) ale serialului suedez ‘Real Humans’ care abordează tema relaţiilor între omenire şi noua rasă a roboţilor creaţi după chipul şi asemănarea noastră reprezintă pentru mine un fel de punte de trecere spre ‘Westworld’ despre care scriu astăzi.
Apărut după câţiva ani de ‘seceta’ serialul ‘Westworld’ produs de compania americană de televiziune pe cablu HBO reprezintă candidatul cel mai serios la acapararea interesului meu pentru gen. În concepţia şi realizarea sa se întâlnesc câţiva dintre cei mai importanţi creatori ai genului. Ideea iniţială este inspirată de un film scris şi regizat de Michael Chrichton (1942 – 2008), unul dintre maeştrii science-fiction-ului contemporan. Este cunoscut în primul rând ca scriitor, dar multe dintre romanele sale au fost adaptatate pentru cinematografie şi activitiatea sa de scenarist include în jur de 40 de scenarii de film. Mai puţin cunoscută astăzi este activitatea lui de regizor, deşi a semnat regia a şase filme de lung metraj. ‘Westworld’ din 1973 care împreună cu urmarea (nu prea îmi vine să scriu ‘sechelă’ deşi poate că acesta este cuvântul) sa din 1976 ‘Futureworld’ au stat la baza ideii serialului actual a fost şi primul film din istoria celei de-a 7-a arte care a folosit grafică computerizată bi-dimensională numită în engleză computer-generated imagery (CGI). Între creatorii serialului se află şi prolificul producător (şi regizor, dar nu aici, nu până acum cel puţin) J.J. Abrams al cărui nume aproape că nu lipseşte în ultimul deceniu de pe genericul vreunei producţii importante a genului science-fiction pe micile şi marile ecrane, iar scenariul este creat (împreună cu Lisa Joy) de Jonathan Nolan, cel care alături de fratele său, regizorul Chrostopher Nolan a contribuit la concepţia unor filme ca ‘Memento’, ‘The Prestige’, seria ‘The Dark Knight’ şi ‘Interstellar’.
La prima vedere ‘Westworld’ propune o idee care seamănă cu ‘Jurassic Park’ – un uriaş parc de distracţii ‘cu temă’ în care vizitatorii sunt invitaţi să trăiască pe viu senzaţii dintre cele mai diferite de experienţele de zi cu zi. Din primele minute ale primei serii spectatorii îşi vor da seama că ‘Westworld’ este poate un parc cu temă, dar unul în care consumatorii nu vor merge împreună cu familiile şi cu copiii. Este recreată aici într-un peisaj care aminteşte filmele lui Henry Ford lumea Vestului Sălbatic, populată de roboţi masculini care se angajează în dueluri de pistoale pe care le vor pierde întotdeauna în lupta cu clienţii parcului şi roboţi feminini care vor satisface orice dorinţa şi fantezie sexuală a plătitorilor biletelor de intrare. Roboţii antropomorfi (androizi) sunt dotaţi cu toate dispozitivele care emulează fiziologia umană, iar programele care îi pun în mişcare includ emoţii specific omeneşti, cu o singură limitare – memoria lor este programată să fie ştearsă şi permanent regenerată, în fiecare dimineaţă soarele răsare pe un cer senin şi sunt reluate scenariile şi biografiile fiecăruia dintre roboţi. Peste noapte echipele de întreţinere refac daunele fiziologice ale duelurilor de pistoale sau luptelor cu topoarele indienilor în care roboţii au fost ucişi în ziua trecută sau traumele psihologice ale capriciilor sexuale la care au fost supuse roboţii femei. Asta, desigur, până când programele încep să funcţioneze prost, şi memoriile nu mai sunt perfect şterse de la o zi la alta.
Malfunctionarea (sau în termeni de specialitate ‘bug’-urile) programelor care îi animă pe androizi este una dintre temele preferate ale sub-genului ştiinţifico-fantastic care se ocupă de relaţiile între roboţi şi oameni în viitorul apropriat. Este interesant de examinat însă perspectiva din care sunt abordate aceste probleme de programare. Paralela cu serialul suedez ‘Real Humans’ se impune. Ca şi în creaţia scandinavilor, o greşeală de programare sau poate o porţiune de cod introdusă în mod intenţionat în istoria programului şi ascunsă până la un anumit moment dau roboţilor androizi capabilităţi care erau până atunci categorisite între acele trăsături care îi diferenţiază pe roboţi de oameni. Ele se încadrează în două grupuri – ştergerea imperfectă a memoriei care permite roboţilor să recupereze – fie şi fragmentar – experienţele trecute, sau chiar să urce firul istoriei personale până la momentul genezei; şi capacităţile emoţionale care le acordă independenţa sentimentelor dincolo de scenariile programate a priori. În aceste condiţii apar premizele conflictului între speciile androizilor şi ale oamenilor.
Tehnologiile prezentate în ‘Westworld’ sunt extensii ale elementelor de inteligenţă artificială pe care le-am trecut în revistă în articole precedente ale rubricii CHANGE.WORLD. Vor trece poate 10, 20 sau 50 de ani până când sinteza ţesuturilor organice va reproduce într-un fel atât de perfect materia vie a corpului omenesc, şi programele de control autonom al androizilor vor fi atât de perfecţionate încât diferenţele dintre roboţi şi oameni vor fi imperceptibile, dar aceasta se va întâmpla probabil în decursul secolului în care trăim. Deasupra Lumii Vestului din serial tronează un centru de comandă , de întreţinere şi de reparaţii în care sunt create permanent noi biografii, personalităţi şi personaje care populează universul artificial al parcului de distracţii, sunt aduşi pentru reparaţii şi recuperare roboţii care au suferit răni sau traume în cursul unei zile, pentru a fi repuşi în funcţiune şi a juca rolurile de sclavi obedienţi în ziua următoare. Un fel de pupitru de comandă permite savanţilor şi tehnicienilor să controleze lumea roboţilor, într-o relaţie care aminteşte uneori raporturile de forţe între Olimpul zeilor şi lumea pământenilor, şi alte ori între stăpâni şi sclavi în lumile trecute în care destinul unei părţi din omenire era la cheremul alteia. Dincolo de aspectul de divertisment, ‘Westworld’ pune întrebări despre raporturile sociale dintre oameni şi androizi (sunt ele raporturi stăpâni – sclavi, sau poate Creator – omenire?), şi dilemele morale ale ‘consumatorilor’ (sunt posibile relaţiile emoţionale între speciile umane şi androizi? ce semnificaţie morală au relaţiile cu androizi atât de apropiaţi de chipul şi asemănarea oamenilor?). La aceasta se adaugă întrebarea recurentă în literatură legată de roboţi încă de la prima carte a genului (piesa de teatru ‘R.U.R’ a lui Karel Čapek din 1920) – este conflictul dintre oameni şi roboţi inevitabil?
Pe măsură ce acţiunea avansează (am văzut până acum opt din cele zece episoade ale primului sezon al serialului) lumea lui ‘Westworld’ devine din ce în ce mai complexă, întrebările se înmulţesc, dilemele devin şi mai acute. Câteva dintre personaje mi-au devenit nu numai familiare, dar au început să-mi populeze universul sau poate eu am devenit parte din universul lor. Serialul beneficiază de interpretarea câtorva dintre actorii cunoscuţi ai cinematografiei mondiale. Anthony Hopkins este doctorul Robert Ford, creierul care a conceput această lume, Creatorul care da naştere noilor personaje şi manipulează vieţile şi destinele androizilor deja aflaţi în acţiune. Asistentul sau este Bernard Lowe (interpretat de Jeffrey Wright) care se confruntă cu o drama personală şi o criză de identitate. Ed Harris este Omul în Negru – personaj malefic şi unul dintre ‘consumatorii’ din Westworld. Două personaje feminine – androizii (androidele?) Dolores (ingenua actriţa Evan Rachel Wood) şi Maevie (excepţionala Thandie Newton) – produc un contrapunct emoţional şi ambele – deşi foarte diferite – se angajează într-un proces de descoperire a propriilor identităţi. Idealurile feministe capătă o dimensiune suplimentară, este vorba despre conflictul de autoritate şi relaţii sociale al femeilor secolului 19 combinat cu relaţia de subordonare între roboţi şi oameni.
Nu totul este clar în acţiunea acestui serial, în mod sigur nu până la episodul pe care l-am vizionat. Se pregătesc deja suprize, răstunari, evoluţii. Au fost puse şi vor mai fi puse întrebări acute despre evoluţia tehnologiei, despre pericolele perfecţionării inteligenţei artificiale în carcase atât de asemănătoare fiiintelor umane, şi cu o viaţă emoţională care emulează până la identificare şi pierderea propriilor identităţi comportamentul fiinţelor umane.
‘Westworld’ ne rezervă, sunt sigur multe surprize. ‘Westworld’ este o oglindă a lumii în care trăim.
Once, half a life ago, I stood in front of the Brandenburg Tor on Eastern side of the wall. The year was 1980 and I was visiting East Berlin and the DDR, one my two only trips in ‘friendly socialist’ countries that I was allowed while I lived in Communist Romania. The local guide preached us about being at the border between the ‘new’ socialist world and the capitalist hell that was starting behind the wall. It was maybe 100 meters far away, and a different universe. The same evening, at the hotel, the same guide showed us how to switch the TV set to the West Berlin stations. It was then that I first saw the Rolling Stones in concert, live, they were on tour in West Berlin (‘the hell’). Everybody seemed to know that they were living a lie but the power of the Stasi secret police was too frightening, and most people were afraid to speak up. Now, this interesting TV series brings back some of the aspects of the last decade of the Cold War, in the huge chess board that was divided Germany in the confrontation between the two systems.
Deutschland 83 is a spy story, it could have been written by a Le Carre, it just happens to be seen from the perspective of the other side. The eight episodes of the German series build in quite an interesting manner. At first we become familiar with the methods of recruitment of the East-German service, who were enrolling using a combination of idealism (or what was left) among the naive ones in the young generation and blackmail for such supposed crimes like homosexuality or reading forbidden books. It’s quite well written and succeeds to be in tune with some of the true histories that became public in Germany in the years after the fall of the wall. Although the final is quite well known from the history books, the last two episodes succeeded to reach a level of suspense which eventually caught up with me.
Using documentary footage and period music helps recreate the atmosphere of the decade. The series benefit from the presence of a few wonderful actors. Maria Schrader is a star in Germany and her rendition of a master spy who does not hesitate to use members of her family to reach her goals, but is not free of hidden and dark secrets of herself is just stunning. Young actor Jonas Nay gibes a very credible performance of the rookie spy who learns the tough ways of the profession in parallel with the culture shock encountered when traveling to the west and his own process of awakening as realities slowly disperse the curtain of lies.
It’s a good and entertaining series doubled with a real documentary value for the generations that were lucky enough not to live through the times of divided Germany and Europe.
One of the best series of the last few years comes from a rather unexpected place. I do not remember having seen a French series of such a quality and intensity. With ‘Lost’ and ‘Fringe’ now over, with ‘X-Files’ back away in the remote history, ‘Les Revenants’ is strange and beautiful, discomforting and mysterious, and leaves enough things unexplained for the viewers to enjoy and for the fans to wait for the next season.
The setting immediately reminds David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks’, the American series that dared in the 90s break many taboos of the commercial TV fiction. A French village located between mountain peals and near a picturesque lake and a dam in a remote location in the Alps is faces a phenomenon that is impossible to explain by human logic. Dead come back, some only a few years after their violent deaths, some other many decades later. They do not seem to remember too much of the time spent in-between and are eager to continue their lives from where they left. Are the living ones ready to receive them back? Can the joy of seeing again a child or a lover though to be gone forever overcome the fear of death and unexplained, and the changes in the very own lives of the living?
As in Lars von Trier’s The Kingdom there is an original sin, a terrible story back in history that may be at the root of all that takes place. Do not worry, however – not two much is being rationally explained, and the scene in the final of the season provides a great opening for what is to come. Hopefully the second season will avoid the temptation to go too deep into the zombies genre. Until then I definitely recommend this series for all the fans of fantastic, mystery, science-fiction or horror genres and their combinations. It’s well written, beautifully filmed, the actors are good and expressive building characters that will be hard to forget, and the music will haunt you well after you turned off the TV. Look for the first season if you did not see it yet, watch with me for the next one.
I do not have too much time for TV series, so I watch less than a handful of them each season. J.J.Abrams is one of the producers I follow and I try not to miss the series created by him. For most of the time I was captivated by Lost, and I was disappointed when Alcatraz was discontinued. Now another one comes to its end, and although Fringe was far from Abrams’ best, it had enough reasons for me to follow it weekly during all its five seasons.
I am wondering whether how J.J. Abrams conceives his series. Lost started like a fictional version of reality show Survivor, to slide soon into science-fiction and then expand into cosmological saga, and this is where it started to lose me. Did J.J. plan this from start? To some extent Fringe followed a similar path. It started as a science-fiction and strange events investigation series, it included even political and anti-corporate messages which got lost in time, and many compared it with X-Files. I personally would have considered this the supreme praise, as X-Files is my preferred TV series of all times. It certainly had its oddities, and its funny science, but this was to some point an element of charm. In the second and third season the science fiction threads became more complex, with the alternate worlds and the communication between them succeeding to keep my interest awake. The romantic thread started or was predictable from the beginning, and it only became more complex in time with the addition of the different instances of the characters in other universes. With time travel an ubiquitous technology the last two seasons projected us in the future, and the salvation of mankind became again the goal of the action. Here I got against lost. Beyond the lack of credibility of the story, the thought that characters I became familiar and resonate with have to save mankind makes me slightly uncomfortable.
There are however many good reason I loved and watched this show for five years. First of all the retro atmosphere was fun and I could resonate with. Semi-crazy scientist Walter Bishop (John Noble) exits after almost two decades spent in a mental institution at the beginning of the series, and his retro leanings cover not only science, but also candies and ‘substances’, and the music and the feelings of my younger years. The relation between Walter and his son Peter (Joshua Jackson) is one of the most amazing relationships father-son that I have seen on screen or read in literature ever. The love story between Peter and Olivia (Anna Torv) builds slowly but convincingly, and makes us resonate with them. A few more characters around are well constructed, and even the ‘invaders’ have a dimension of their own (I cannot call it human, can I?). Overall the characters are much better than the stories which are pretty routine action, and the simplicity and straightness of the relations between them balances the pomposity and sometimes the over-morality of the action. It’s one of these shows where I would rather remember the small details than the big picture.
The best series of the season come from an unusual source – Swedish Television, but I should not be that surprised. Scandinavian and specifically Swedish thrillers and political drama series have enjoyed great success in bookshops, on the big screens and more recently on TV. It should have been only a matter of time until the science fiction genre was approached by the Scandinavian producers and directors, the difference is maybe only in the fact that no literary warning arrived sooner (as it was the case with the wave of Scandinavian thrillers), or at least I am not aware about any major writer or book in the genre. And yet Äkta människor (Real Humans) is a very well written, acted and directed series, that throws the viewers in an alternate but possible future of mankind and while telling a compelling story about robots asks questions about humanity, about our relations with the strangers and the different among us, about our values and our feelings.
The biggest writer of robots stories ever, Isaac Asimov introduced in a short story written in 1942 the three laws of robotics, and all his robot stories developed around the logic of these rules and the dangers of breaking them:
A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
Asimov’s laws were written on the assumption that robots will always subordinate to the will of humans. They did not take into consideration that there may be a Law Zero, which conditions the actions of robots by the same entity that drives human actions – the thing we call soul or human conscience. The close future created by Lars Lundstrom is supposed to follow the laws of Asimov, with humanoid robots very close to the shape of humans but still serving the humans in many different ways, from housekeeping and health care to being their sex toys. Then the anomaly happens and a piece of code (what else!) is written by a man who is so desperate not to let his son die that he creates a way to allow the merging of the best in Man and Machine, making the humans more robust and less prone to diseases, aging and physical decay, giving machines the capability to learn human feelings and pain. The human robots (or hubots – expect this new noun to enter quickly many languages) may know better what is good for individuals and for all mankind, the problem is that there is no way to do the good they are programmed for without infringing on Asimov’s laws. To do good they must survive, to survive they must protect their existence, to protect their existence they must sometimes disobey or even harm these humans who are on the side of evil.
The first season of Real Humans follows a handful of independent hubots in their fight for emancipation. They face a group of humans composed of a few more of less dysfunctional families, policemen and government agents with their personal problems, and with their prejudices. The resulting conflict has elements of thriller, horror story, family and judicial dramas, romance and government conspiracies. The relations between men and hubots have multiple dimensions – love and fear, prejudice and ignorance about strangers, faith and sexuality, and none of these is being expedited, and very little is stereotyped in this complex and smartly written story. The characters are each of them distinct and well constructed, the viewers come soon to know, understand, sympathize or fear them. The end of the first season leaves enough paths open and enough characters alive (or not recycled) for us to look in expectation for the coming seasons, and with some apprehension to the remakes that cannot be also to late to come. One thing I am sure – although his laws are challenged or even reversed in the story that these series are based, Isaac Asimov would have loved it!
I saw this week the last episode of Kathmandu. It’s the second TV series launched this year dealing with a phenomenon well-known to Israelis – the trips to the Indian subcontinent, which many Israeli youths take, usually after finishing the Army service. A TV series being what it is in the current commercial TV context I did not expect too deep an introspection into the phenomenon. The result was indeed close to sitcom located in exotic environments and the teams should be recognized for the good job they made in finding the proper locations, I have never been to India and Nepal so I cannot comment on authenticity or to what extent they describe realities, but they do certainly suggest them well.
The stories in the two series say a lot about how we as Israelis deal with other cultures. Ananda is the story of a young woman who finds herself traveling to India without her boyfriend, befriends there two Israelis to discover soon that they are Arab-Israelis and cheaters, to find herself soon in the position to chose between doubts and trust, between the commodity of return to the routine life and the courage to assume love despite the apparently impossible borders. Kathmandu tells about a couple of Chabad envoys opening a Chabad home in Nepal, helping the various Israeli characters solve their personal problems and find the ‘right way’ to their Jewish identity, and eventually facing the question whether they are up to the difficulties of their missions and at what price. The issue of the contact with the local cultures is present (if at all) only as a background and at a level more superficial than of a bad travel show, mostly dealing with weather, smells and hygienic issues. None of the central characters seem to be really interested in the huge treasure of culture and experiences the Indian continent offers to the visitors which is the main reason for most Israelis to travel to that area. No central character is local. If there is any exchange of ideas it’s one-sided, with the Israelis preaching by words and deeds the Jewish values. The central themes in Ananda and Kathmandu are Israeli, the shows could have been filmed as well in Antarctica or Kiriat Malachi.
All these having been said none of the two shows is bad, and within the limits of the scripts there are enough good personal stories, emotions, likeable characters and good acting to make the two series interesting to watch. I liked Kathmandu more than Ananda because I am no big fan of Dana Modan (the author and lead actress in Ananda) who miscasts herself badly, and on the other side Michael Moshonov makes a great role in Kathmandu, a role that allows him now to be a star by himself and not the son of … I also found the range of characters and the complexity of the intertwined threads of action more compelling in Kathmandu. I have no doubt that among the two this is the one that deserves a second season.
The Brits have their institutions that they carry on with for centuries – the monarchy, the Parliament, Shakespeare, fish&chips, etc. Some say that their adherence to tradition is what keeps those alive, I say yes, it is tradition, but combined with the will or at least the recognition that traditions need to be combined with a dose of novelty, and this is to the same extent as the consevative philosophy what maintains institutions alive over centuries. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘Sherlock Holmes’ has become one of these traditions and it includes tens of variants of bringing them to screen. The latest on big screens (starring Robert Downey Jr.) and the BBC (another British institution on its own) series ‘Sherlock’ are I believe one more example. It’s probably the most daring version and an update of the Holmes stories to modern times, and it’s pretty good.
Let me say from the start that it took me time to get used and love this new incarnation of the detective on Baker Street. Fortunately the Israeli Cable TV broadcast the six series of the two first seasons one after the other, so I had not enough time to be discouraged by the first episodes, which I felt were too long and too complex for me to enjoy. I also perceived the adaptation to the 21st century realities to be rather inconsistent, with some of the feminine characters entering and disappearing the plot, and with Sherlock speaking way too fast and too smart for me to understand, not to speak about enjoying. But then, starting with the third episodes things started to come together in the story, and the appearance of this version of Moriarty really made the difference and built up the material of the second season. Andrew Scott’s Moriarty is a real treat, great acting and a typology that balances the triangle of him, Sherlock and dr. Watson.
Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as doctor Watson are fine actor selections for the two characters, which you would expect from any good quality BBC series. What is less expected are the perspectives we get about the two characters relocated in the London of the beginning of the third millennium. Sherlock is a mind too smart for his human peers, and a poor communicator, so poor that it lets us wonder if he really has human feelings or rather belongs to the Mr. Data category. The last episode in the second season provides at least a partial answer. Dr. Watson is nothing less than a medical officer traumatized by what he witnessed in the Afghan war, but a short documentation revealed to me that the original character of Conan Doyle has a similar background, which shows that history had its own loops during the last 150 years. The script is a little bit hesitant on what to do with his character, he does take a more important role than in the novels, but this role seems to go to different directions in different episodes. Sherlock’s brother character keeps a dose of mystery which can be used in the coming season.
Yes, there will be a next season, as the producers announced and after the last and great season finale of the second one I am looking forward to it. I started as a doubter, I am now a converted. The Sherlock Holmes in this series may be using the most advanced technology of the century he lives (as the original character also did), but it’s the human dimensions, the characters and the relationship between themselves, and between themselves and the world around which make the film captivating. With most if not all American series failing us this year, and a couple which were atop the line being discontinued as they failed the American TV rating thresholds, thanks to the BBC for coming to rescue and saving the season.
I like detective or spy stories, but only those with soul and brains, and unfortunately there are not too many. I do not like conspiracy theories but I recognize that they make great thriller and action movies stuff – X-Files (arguably the best science-fiction series in the history of television) included. Rubicon is a combination of the two themes in the right ratio and is the best TV show I have seen in Israel this year. Unfortunately it was produced by a smaller American TV network, and did not enjoy the rating success that would allow it to survive more than one season. It happens unfortunately too often lately with shows I like – definitely my taste is not in tune with the one of the American mainstream viewers.
The detective theme of ‘Rubicon’ centers within a Manhattan based spy agency, one of the many which seem to divide in pieces of puzzle the American spying and counter-terrorism system. It’s employees are not supermen or action people, but smart bureaucrats or analysts as they call them nowadays, they do not call the president on daily (or weekly episode basis) as in ’24′ and if and when they carry a gun they do it with the same tremor as you and me would do it. They are usual people who deal however with the same global terrorism threats as 24′s Jack Bauer did, and they are pray to the same pressures as the CTU, or even larger, fighting not only the enemy out there but also a malefic conspiracy of riches trying to manipulate the whole world. Their position is much worse however, as the corruption seems to have infiltrated to the higher echelons of the reporting line. As in the best novels and movies of the spy genre (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy comes immediately to mind) nobody can trust anybody in the organization, and the corridors of the building as well as its outskirts are permanently infested with surveillance cameras, electronic bugs and suspicious eyes.
The best part lies however in the characters building. If the spy intrigue remains sometimes cloudy and murky we do not care as much because we have real human that build themselves beautifully on the screen. The series starts as the Israeli ‘Special Team’ with a new boss nominated to the team Will Travers (James Badge Dale) who replaces the former team leader who apparently committed suicide, deals with all the conflicts and will pay the price of trying to do the right thing. His boss Kale Ingram (Arlis Howard) happens to be gay, so he may be the good guy (one of the more recent stereotypes in American cinema and TV scripts) but who knows in this suspicion filled atmosphere. Assistant Maggie (Jessica Collins) and smart but drugs addicted analyst Tanya (Lauren Hodges) fight each their own daemons. There are more characters, and each of them is clearly and carefully designed and by the time the series end we care for all and understand their motivations. More than a spy drama ‘Rubicon’ is a psychological thriller and maybe exactly the qualities that I appreciate in the series are not the ones that broader audiences attracted by the more immediate striking emotions in action series are used to. I feel to be in complete divorce with the mainstream taste that dictated ‘Rubicon’ to be terminated.