It looks like HBO finally awoke from its post-Game Of Thrones slumber and is once again ready to talk about other big-budget sci-fi/fantasy adaptations it has in the works. We just got some very enlightening details on Watchmen a few days ago, and now it has revealed the premiere date for its His Dark Materials show. As announced in a tweet from the show’s official Twitter account, His Dark Materials will be hitting HBO on November 4. That’s about a week before Disney+ and a few days after Apple TV+, so hopefully you’ve already decided by then whether or not HBO still deserves to get your monthly check with all of that new competition. Of course, you could just hold out for HBO Max next April, which is going to be more expensive than those and may or may not even have His Dark Materials, just to make all of this more annoyingly complicated.
Anyway, HBO also released a little teaser that just lists some members of the cast alongside some His Dark Materials imagery (though there is a distinct lack of polar bears). It doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know, but it is always nice to see Lin-Manuel Miranda’s name in any context.
Being one of the most successful and ubiquitous authors ever allows Stephen King a certain amount of freedom to explore just about every corner of the cultural sphere. In addition to writing dozens of novels, 10 short story and novella collections, and five works of nonfiction, he’s collaborated on comics, penned an unproduced libretto, acted, narrated audiobooks, and even played in a band, The Rock Bottom Remainders. His work has similarly spread its tendrils throughout Hollywood, manifesting in everything from films and TV series to miniseries and shorts, and that’s not even including the “dollar babies” that he grants to young, starry-eyed auteurs. Many of those works have taken on lives of their own as well—both Children Of The Corn and The Mangler,neither of which resemble King’s source material, have spawned numerous sequels.
All of this is to say that any definitive ranking of King’s work is fruitless: There are just too many detours. So with It Chapter Two forcing us to reflect on the breadth of King’s dominion, we decided to pinpoint our favorite adaptations across several different mediums. That includes films, TV shows, and miniseries, obviously, but also his anthology contributions and even the derivative titles his work’s directly inspired. (We considered short films, but, once you factor in dollar babies, that’s simply too much content.) Considering how, let’s say, notorious some of these adaptations are, it would be a disservice to not also highlight the weirdest—not worst—of them as well. The distinction is important, lest you be left wondering why Maximum Overdrive is nowhere to be found below.
Stephen King will forever be remembered as the “master of horror,” but there’s a reason a hefty handful of the best adaptations of his work—The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Gerald’s Game—skew more toward drama than genre. Because for every bloodthirsty car or haunted cell phone, there’s a heartfelt ode to innocence and imagination—just look at his most enduring work, It, which remains the most elegant, impactful intertwining of his gruesomeness and sentimentality. King’s horrors have always struggled to translate well on screen, though, and Stand By Me, a coming-of-age story set in the summer of 1960, benefits from not having to engage with that side of the author. Director Rob Reiner zeroes in on two things: character and atmosphere. Four pre-teens, each lacking in healthy role models, take rumors of an unattended dead body as an excuse to walk a rail line and, in doing so, forge a bond that’s as fleeting as it is timeless. Reiner allows these bonds to breathe across moments pure, scary, traumatic, and agonizing, and his young cast are the perfect mix of tender and reckless—River Phoenix and Corey Feldman, specifically, are tremendous. But Reiner’s nostalgia is as rich as King’s—the two are roughly the same age—and his work captures the wonder and danger of being young, unmoored, and reliant on friends whose importance you won’t grasp until you’ve long grown apart. [Randall Colburn]
If you’re in the market for shit blowing up, or dudes getting chopped in half, there’s very little wrong with Paul Michael Glaser’s The Running Man, which—even before you get to the opera-singing, dune buggy-driving supervillain, or a script filled with even-for-Arnie-high levels of Arnold Schwarzenegger quippiness—earns its place in the cheesy action movie pantheon with Richard Dawson’s brilliant heel turn on his own smiling-through-the-anger game show host persona. But Steven E. de Souza’s script is an objectively off-model adaptation of King’s original dystopian novel, which, like all of the books published under his Richard Bachman pseudonym, finds the author at his most bleak and blatantly un-cheesy, bordering on nihilistic. It’s mostly a matter of tone, with King’s prose emphasizing the mundanity of the titular lethal game show and none of the comic book bombast the film so gleefully indulges in. Rather than an Austrian weightlifter, the book’s Ben Richards is a scrawny, scrappy father who willingly signs up for The Running Man in order to secure medicine for his ailing daughter. (Sort of a modern-day GoFundMe campaign, but with guns and a nation-wide manhunt.) Similarly, his main opponents aren’t a squad of costumed Mortal Kombat rejects, but regular citizens and cops hoping to pick up a little cash for themselves by ratting the runner out or gunning him down on America’s pollution-clogged streets. It’s an altogether grimmer, more “realistic” take on an ostensibly similar story, with the most telling difference arriving with the endings: Rather than making out with María Conchita Alonso and kicking a Family Feud host’s ass, Book Richards only manages to eke out a victory so Pyrrhic it barely even qualifies for the name, a far grimmer (and increasingly unfilmable, to modern eyes) conclusion that Arnold never would have stood for. [William Hughes]
To say the 1990 TV miniseries of It looks dated is to undersell it. The overlit sets, clunky editing, and who’s who of ’80s TV actors in the lead roles all mark it as being of a certain era. But what makes it so memorable—and such a successful adaptation of its tricky source material—lies primarily in the casting of its malevolent antagonist. Tim Curry’s Pennywise remains iconic after all these years because the actor captured the warped sadistic spirit of the supernatural clown. He could be genuinely goofy and playful, in a manner that actually went some way toward showing why kids fell for the act—which is what made his heel-turns to menacing and saw-toothed so much more disturbing. In addition to successfully evoking the nostalgic hue of the ’50s-set portion of the novel, this adaptation remains a source of nightmares for every former kid that happily tuned in to be scared shitless. Curry made the clownish evil into a source of fascination—he pulls you in, just like his magnetic alter ego. [Alex McLevy]
Honestly, what isn’t “WTF” about Bag Of Bones? It opens with a scene of a woman being mowed down by a bus to rival Meet Joe Black’s infamous auto accident, and ends with Anika Noni Rose slapping Pierce Brosnan around in the guise of a vengeful tree. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of mind-numbing moments in between. Time moves oddly in Bag Of Bones, which suffers from baggy pacing, a chaotic structure, and strange internal laws of physics that transform all of the jump scares—a fiery truck explosion, a sniper’s bullet flying through a window mid-conversation, a fucking raccoon falling out of a ceiling—into giggle-inducing non sequiturs. Then there’s Brosnan’s performance, full of misplaced intensity that original A.V. Club reviewer Zack Handlen described as “looking like he’s going to burp, fart, and sneeze simultaneously every ten minutes or so.” All this garish goofiness turn relatively minor storytelling tics and narrative crutches from King’s original novel into glaring absurdities, dragging its source material into the waterlogged madness along with it. [Katie Rife]
If there’s a reason Mr. Mercedes has yet to puncture the zeitgeist, it’s probably due to it being relegated to the Audience Network, a portal exclusive to DirectTV. That said, DirectTV’s done well by the show in terms of giving it the chance to breathe across multiple seasons, with the third season premiering next week. David E. Kelley’s smart, surprisingly gruesome adaptation of King’s sorta-supernatural detective trilogy—originally published between 2014 and 2016—improves upon the books in myriad ways, namely via an on-point cast that includes Brendan Gleeson, Harry Treadaway, and rising stars like Jharrel Jerome (When They See Us) and Justine Lupe (Succession). Kelley plays fast and loose with King’s narrative, restructuring the books’ timeline and smartly elaborating on the journeys of compelling, underused supporting players like Breeda Wool’s Lou Linklatter. Toying with King’s template is dangerous, but there’s a thoughtfulness to Kelley’s approach that preserves the book’s hard-boiled spirit while carving out its own narrative. If this thing ever hits streaming, it’s going to gain a whole slew of new fans. [Randall Colburn]
Stephen King’s Under The Dome is about how the big, human problems of a small town get accentuated and twisted by the sudden appearance of a giant dome with extraterrestrial origins that cuts the town off from the outside world. CBS’ Under The Dome, despite sharing a title, some character names, and a giant dome with extraterrestrial origins, might as well be a completely different story. Part of that was by necessity, since the show was a surprisingly big hit and had to fill three whole seasons of plot, but it did that by diving headfirst into needlessly complex sci-fi origins for the dome and a race of aliens with the ability to control people. It had a post-Breaking Bad Dean Norris as the villain and noted comic writer Brian K. Vaughan as showrunner, but it also had a mountain of mythology about alien eggs and mini-domes and underground caves that needlessly complicated a story about the residents of a small town becoming increasingly unhinged and killing each other. At least we’ll always have the cow that got split in half. [Sam Barsanti]
As with all the impish spawn of EC Comics, both the anthology series and the 1990 movie version of Tales From The Darkside have a punchy comic-book sensibility that give their tales of ghastly terror a larger-than-life feel. That proves to be an asset for “The Cat From Hell,” a segment from the film based on King’s 1977 short story of the same name. Sometimes, King adaptations stumble by trying to present his more outlandish ideas—like, say, a cat clawing its way down a human’s throat like a boa constrictor in reverse, grotesquely turning the man into a human puppet as it goes—at face value. Within the heightened universe of Darkside, however, the idea of a black cat with a blood grudge makes total sense, allowing director John Harrison to extract both amusement and disgust from the premise. Casting Academy Award nominee William Hickey alongside New York Dolls frontman David Johansen, and then having Hickey give the more outrageous of the two performances, deepens the interplay between nightmarish horror and comic-book kitsch, for a King cocktail that goes down mighty smooth. [Katie Rife]
WTF: “The Lonesome Death Of Jordy Verrill,” Creepshow (1982)
As far as King adaptations go, this Creepshowvignette is actually pretty faithful; certainly, it hits more story beats from its source material, the author’s 1976 Lovecraft-but-with-plants riff “Weeds,” than most of its cinematic ilk. No, the WTF-ness of “Jordy Verrill” comes almost solely from the man cast as its titular cash-hungry, sense-poor yokel: One Stephen Edwin King. As far as acting goes, King is, well, one of the most successful novelists of the 20th and 21st centuries—which is to say that there is much that should be overtly horrifying about “Jordy,” as a series of dumb, desperate decisions swiftly promise to doom the entire human race beneath a carpet of hostile foliage. But, in practice, there’s nothing a bushel of space seeds can do, Constant Reader, that’s even remotely as horrifying as watching one of America’s most respected authors—equipped with a cornpone accent, wildly rolling eyes, and some make-up effects that must have cost George Romero upwards of $9.95 at a local party supply store—attempt to convey either comedy or horror while screaming about his alien-weed-infested dick. King has continued to cameo in various projects over the years, but “Jordy” is his only starring role. Thank god for that. [William Hughes]
Brett Leonard called his 1992 adaptation of Stephen King’s bite-sized “The Lawnmower Man” one of the most “radical adaptations ever,” but we’re just gonna go ahead and say it’s not an adaptation at all. To be fair, it’s technically not, as King detached himself from the project after suing for the “misleading and deceptive use” of his name. He was right to do so—Leonard’s script, originally titled Cyber God, was retrofitted to the IP with, well, a lawnmower man and little else. But Leonard’s The Lawnmower Man somehow emerged more interesting than the bizarre story it tried to exploit. Its imperfect tale of a scientist’s journey to boost the IQ of a dull gardener via VR still has something compelling to say about virtual worlds and their impact on the human mind and personality. And the movie’s distinctive digital effects, while dated, remain aesthetically interesting in an age where what’s digital often strives only to be more lifelike. The Lawnmower Man’s virtual landscape is silly, sure, but it’s also singular, composed of odd geometric flourishes and religious iconography. It’s almost enough to make up for the weird cyber-fucking. [Randall Colburn]
Fulfilling the dreams of everyone who ever thought, “What Carrie needed was less psychological intrigue and more late ’90s nu-metal,” The Rage: Carrie 2takes everything dark and intense about its progenitor and finds the campiest possible reworking of it. Justifying its narrative logic under the wafer-thin veneer that new protagonist Rachel (Emily Bergl) and the original Carrie White are half-sisters from the same father—thereby granting her what are now officially designated as hereditary powers of telekinesis, we guess—the movie proceeds to deliver the same beats, in hilariously extreme manner. (“This is a Carrie who gets biz-zay—consistently and thoroughly!” the film’s execs presumably uttered at some point.) To wit: Rachel’s only friend (Mena Suvari) dies early on in a manner so over the top, it could be its own Lifetime movie; Rachel snaps after a sex tape of her first time gets broadcast at a party; oh, and the final explosion of her powers? Explaining it with “Home Improvement’s Zachary Ty Bryan gets his dick shot off with a harpoon gun” doesn’t quite do it justice. The title makes more sense if you imaginable someone yelling “Rage!” like they’re in an old Surge commercial. Rarely has the description “stupidly fun” emphasized the stupid quite so much. [Alex McLevy]
So you just finished watching Evangelion on Netflix, and you’re wondering where to go from here. I have a few suggestions.
Although Neon Genesis Evangelion is considered a classic among anime fans, a lot of people are seeing it for the very first time thanks to its availability on Netflix. If you’re one of those people and are looking for similar shows, you’re in luck—this show was so foundational that you can see its DNA in many series that came after it. But it also depends on what you liked about Evangelion, and what you want from the next show you watch. For the sake of convenience, I’m also only including series that you can currently stream legally. No reason to send anyone hunting for a sketchy torrent or expensive imported DVD.
Teens Having A Bad Time
Maybe you’re like me and like watching shows where horrible things happen to children. Anime has no shortage of shows where interesting characters are pushed to their limits for the sake of survival.
The Promised Neverland
This show hooked me in from the first episode. Emma, Norman, and Ray are three child prodigies who live at an orphanage. They live what seems to be an idyllic life, surrounded by other kids and their loving caretaker, called Mom, until they are shipped off to their foster families sometime before they turn 12. Unfortunately for them, they learn that their entire lives are a lie. They don’t get shipped off to foster families—they’re in a farm and are being sold as food to terrifying monsters.
Like The Promised Neverland, Shin Sekai Yori is about absurdly powerful teens—in this case, they’re developing psychics in a world where psychic powers are commonplace. Taking place on Earth in the far future, they seem to live in a peaceful agrarian society that’s sometimes plagued by giant-naked-molerat attacks. This series teases out its backstory in bits and pieces so that each shocking revelation about how our world turned into the one in the series is something you learn alongside the characters. What’s central to this series is that your parents lie to you, and even as they hurt or even betray you, they’ll tell you it’s because they want to keep you safe.
Evangelion was so impactful because it tried to buck preconceived notions of its genre. If you’re interested in the same metatextual analysis, you’ll probably be watching something tonally much different but equally stimulating.
Revolutionary Girl Utena
What Evangelion does for mech anime Utena does for magical girl anime. Taking place in the mysterious Ohtori Academy, this show is about the titular Utena, a girl who wants to grow up to be a prince. After rushing to the defence of Anthy, a fellow student who is being abused by what appears to be her boyfriend, she gets wrapped up in the drama of the Student Council, who also are part of a dueling club that takes orders from The End of the World. Although Utena has its share of gag episodes, it digs into the tropes of the portrayal of women in anime and shows a way to escape them.
This series is on the list mostly in case children in peril isn’t a huge thing you’re into. While the characters of Princess Tutu aren’t exactly having a great time, the spectre of their impending death isn’t hanging over their heads as acutely as in the other shows on this list. Princess Tutu is about Ahiru, a clumsy student at a ballet academy who has a crush on the talented Mythos. Little does Ahiru know she’s actually a duck pretending to be human, and also Princess Tutu, Mythos’s savior. As Ahiru untangles the mysteries of her world, the series takes aim at the unfairness of fairy tales.
Available to stream on Hulu and purchase on A<a rel="nofollow" data-amazonasin="B003B1VIXI" data-amazonsubtag="[t|link[p|1835949601[a|B003B1VIXI[au|5876237249236716579[b|kotaku[lt|text" onclick="window.ga('send', 'event', 'Commerce', 'kotaku – Ten Anime To Watch If You Liked Neon Genesis Evangelion‘, ‘B003B1VIXI’);window.ga(‘unique.send’, ‘event’, ‘Commerce’, ‘kotaku – Ten Anime To Watch If You Liked Neon Genesis Evangelion‘, ‘B003B1VIXI’);” data-amazontag=”kotakuamzn-20″ href=”https://www.amazon.com/Princess-Tutu-Season-01/dp/B003B1VIXI?tag=kotakuamzn-20&ascsubtag=b948ef5383609c16e8767766f51a4587fa3d2a03″>mazon Prime.
There is a lot of blood in Evangelion. These weird shows also take their imagery to the extreme.
This show could easily fit as an example of bad things happening to children and metatextual narratives, but to me what sets Madoka apart is how frank it is in its depiction of violence. Madoka is a plucky young girl that has the chance to make a pact with the cute alien creature Kyubey to become a magical girl and fight witches. Things go poorly. This show uses experimental animation to portray the witches themselves, adding to the often shocking imagery of young girls committing very graphic acts of violence and having it enacted on them as well.
Masaaki Yuasa’s take on the classic Devilman series is weird, sexual, and very bloody. Extremely normal high school student Akira is told by his best friend and child prodigy Ryo that demons are coming back to Earth. After a demon unsuccessfully tries to possess him, Akira gains his powers and is able to turn into Devilman. The show’s exaggerated animation style and wild color pallette underscore the emotional angst and violence of the show. It’s a hard world, Devilman Crybaby says, and you should hold onto those you love before they’re ripped away from you.
Eva’s reputation for weirdness precedes it. The show’s plot ends up less straightforward than you might expect. If you want more of what you saw by the series’ end, I’ve got you covered.
Serial Experiments Lain
Even describing Lain is a challenge. About a young girl named Lain who gets captivated by the internet, this show interrogates the nature of reality, identity, and communication through its 13 trippy episodes. While there is an internal logic underpinning this show, it can be hard to tease out, which makes it as endlessly fun to talk about with friends as the final two episodes of Evangelion.
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JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure
This show is less weird in the sense of being mentally challenging and more weird in the same way that Shonda Rhymes shows are. I once watched a random episode of Scandal which started with a car exploding in the pre-credits sequence. That’s where the tensions started, and there was seemingly no ceiling. JoJo has that same sense of constantly rising tension, where the series’ creator Hirohiko Araki keeps challenging himself to top his own outlandish plots. Come for the Fist of the North Star pastiche with vampires, stay for the psychic teens solving a murder mystery.
Okay, Evangelion aren’t technically mechs, but I get it. You want more giant robots punching things.
A revival of a giant mech show from the early ’90s, Gridman takes the series in a bold new direction. Incorporating elements from the original show and its American dub, which was renamed Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad, SSSS.Gridman is about a group of plucky teens who start seeing giant monsters in their neighborhood, though no one else does. After being sucked into a computer in his friend’s junk shop, Yuta becomes Gridman, a giant mech that can fight these monsters. Of course, all is not as it seems, especially considering that after they defeat the monster, no one in town seems to remember the battle.
This one is a bit of a weird choice, but just as Eva challenges viewers to think about mechs differently, Escaflowne takes an entirely different approach to the genre. Instead of taking place on an Earth overrun by monsters, Escaflowne takes place on the fantasy world of Gaea, which is in the midst of a war against the Zaibach Empire. The show centers around Hitomi, a Japanese schoolgirl that’s been transported to Gaea, and her romantic entanglements with the brash Van Fanel and the charismatic Allen Schezar. This show might seem like a huge departure from Eva given its focus on romance, but Hitomi’s fate is also somehow tied to the titular Escaflowne, the giant medieval mech that Van pilots.
Today, Sony Pictures Television and production company Hivemind Entertainment (the company behind Netflix’s forthcoming adaptation of The Witcher and Amazon’s The Expanse) announced a partnership with Square Enix to develop a live-action Final Fantasy TV series based on the online role-playing game Final Fantasy XIV.
The live-action television series will tell an original story set in Eorzea, the world where Final Fantasy XIV is set. What the series will focus on is still under wraps, but per a press release it will explore “the struggle between magic and technology in a quest to bring peace to a land in conflict.” It’s still in the development stage—which in Hollywood means “writing, but with more meetings”—so there’s no word on who will be cast, nor is there any footage to speak of, and there won’t be for some time. Same goes for what network or streaming service you’ll find the show on, or a premiere date.
Given Hollywood’s long history of optioning and announcing video game adaptations that never actually come to fruition, there’s no guarantee that this ever actually happens, but Netflix did distribute Final Fantasy XIV: Dad of Light, a live-action show about a father and son bonding over the game, in 2017.
Also promised are all the series longtime calling cards: “magitek and beastmen, airships and chocobos” as well as “the live-action debut of Cid.” (Presumably they mean Cid Garlond from the game, although it could very well be just another Cid entirely. Final Fantasy has never been shy about introducing new Cids.)
Early as it may be, a Final Fantasy XIV TV show is a pretty cool idea—Eorzea is a great big world full of classic Final Fantasy trappings and nods to previous games in the series. It could be great! It could also be a disaster. Final Fantasy projects have a habit of being dramatic productions right up until the very end.
A four-man dance squad called Adem Show from the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan put on a breathtaking Mortal Kombat-inspired routine on last night’s episode of America’s Got Talent. The Raiden-like leader manipulating a trio of contortionist ninja is stunning (and often painful) to watch.
Judging from the production and staging of the clip posted last night to the America’s Got Talent YouTube channel, the show’s producers are well aware of how special and unique Adem Show’s performance is. The whole group gets a flashy entrance set against a montage of less interesting performers, and each member gets an intro with a title card describing their character. There’s Elektro (who is clearly inspired by Raiden), Vortex (who is basically Smoke), Inferno (Scorpion) and Vortex (Sub-Zero).
The scripted drama of the intro is a bit much, but once the four start moving, all of that nonsense is forgotten. Elektro acts as the puppet master behind the trio, pretending to manipulate their bodies as each show off their particular talents. Vortex twists and contorts his limbs into poses that look painful (but, for a professional contortionist, are hopefully not). Inferno isolates parts of his body, like his head, keeping them still while the rest of him dances, creating a very cool effect. Finally, there’s Cyclone, who ends the routine in an impossible-looking balanced pose standing on one foot.
Damn. I have no idea how America’s Got Talent works, but at the end of Adem Show’s performance, they got four yes votes and the loud adoration of an incredibly enthusiastic crowd. Even Mortal Kombat co-creator Ed Boon was impressed. Check out the entire routine below, and be impressed for yourself.
Kotaku Editor Natalie Degraffinreid and I watched the second episode of the new season of Black Mirror, which is about two old friends that reconnect through a video game. If that sounds both tame and normal, we would both like to assure you that it is neither. It was so out of control that we had to sit down and talk about it. Charlton Brooker, are you like, okay?
Natalie Degraffinried: This episode is Doing The Most. Sometimes that’s bad, and sometimes that’s great. People are talking about the Miley episode, “Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too,” but there was so much going on in “Striking Vipers,” which, first of all, would you pick up a video game with that title? It sounds very made-up video game in a TV script. Though it also reminds me of Cable saying “Hyper. Viper Beam” in Marvel vs. Capcom 2, so maybe I’m full of shit.
Gita Jackson: I saw some people say that it was a reference to Fighting Vipers, a 32-bit fighting game. But it did feel like a cartoon parody of a video game, honestly. Like, Roxette? Excuse me? Can I find her at 30 Rock?
Natalie: Interesting! The game itself seemed to draw from a lot—Tekken probably, with the polar bear character Tundra, and I also got a little bit of a Killer Instinct vibe from the footage they showed at the beginning? Also Virtua Fighter, so maybe that makes sense given the game it was apparently based on. But then the actual in-game virtual reality footage came, which I dreaded, and it looked like the characters were dressed in cheap, store-bought cosplay, and I was just like, y’all can literally port my mind into a video game and this is what you’d have me wear? Really?
Gita: It was like they plundered a Party City. The actual fighting I liked a lot—it was a bit of an Edgar Wright rip, but that was the kind of dynamism it needed. The special moves and combos were especially well edited, I think. It was fast-paced, kinetic, and the punches really felt like they landed. I know you weren’t as into it though.
Natalie: I was actually going to bring up Edgar Wright! It felt like a cheap Scott Pilgrim scene. It was fine to me. I let it go, though, because there, ah, obviously wasn’t that much fighting going on, and more importantly, I feel like they needed a strong layer of camp to prevent those scenes from feeling too “real” and thus ruin the cognitive dissonance going on with Danny and Karl—is this cheating? Is this gay? Anthony Mackie and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, by the way—outstanding. And Nicole Beharie did that, oh my god, the restraint and control in all her scenes. But yeah, the in-game scenes did what they were supposed to do, I guess, even if they didn’t precisely hit the mark for me, tonally.
Gita: Okay, let’s zoom out a sec and set up the plot a little. This episode establishes that Karl and Danny are two longtime friends that haven’t seen each other in a while. Danny got married and had a kid, while Karl maintained a bachelor lifestyle. Nearing 40, they’re both just bored. They used to play fighting games together, but lost touch. Then Karl gifts Danny a VR version of Striking Vipers, and well, uh. They fuck. In the game. They fuck a lot. My big question for this episode is: Is Charlton Brooker okay? This is an intervention.
Natalie: Actually though, now that you bring that up, that’s one of the most interesting aspects to me. Karl had just gotten out of a 10-year relationship, I think it was?
Gita: Yeah, they implied that they’d been broken up for a year, and we met the ex in the prequel sequence, which takes place 11 years prior. Also just checking—is Karl supposed to be a model? He goes to a fitting at one point and he really doesn’t look 38.
Natalie: Maybe? I was trying to get a bead on that. His apartment did look nice. I know Danny was a banker. I wish we knew a little more about him and his past relationship, and why it didn’t work. We get a tidbit from Danny’s wife Theo that they weren’t good for each other, but I wonder exactly what was going on with Karl. He’s going through the motions just like Danny is.
Gita: They’re both so listless in their lives, and clearly found a sense of newness from being with each other. But also Danny recognizes this as damaging to his marriage, while Karl doesn’t see it as cheating really. The exploration of sex and relationships in this episode was actually…. kinda good?
Natalie: There’s a very clear implication that what Danny is doing is cheating, which I don’t necessarily disagree with. And I felt the same about the sex and relationship aspects! The sexual orientation aspect I was torn on. I wish this weren’t another “living out my gay life in VR” thing like “San Junipero” was, especially because this one very much toes the lines of the “downlow man” trope, but I found myself ultimately feeling pretty OK with how they handled it in the end, even though some of it was so whimsical I couldn’t deal.
There’s a scene of Danny trying to decide if he wants to send a little kissy “x” at the end of his text message to Karl, and for me it was just like, this great moment of wondering about boundaries and feelings and, really, Danny’s whole self-concept. I know we get tired of seeing reluctant gays on TV, or “straight people” doing gay stuff but not actually gaying it up, but there is something to be said about discovering or exploring a new aspect of your sexuality—whether orientation or kinks—later in life. It’s like, they’re feeling this strong urge in a way they hadn’t or hadn’t in a while, and that means something.
Gita: Yeah that’s exactly how I felt! That kind of urge or development of sexuality is very real. It’s entirely possible to have your sexuality continue to grow well past your 20s. I think it was best expressed in that one scene where Karl is trying to explain the female orgasm to Danny. He uses a dumb metaphor, but you can tell through the acting that he is fascinated by the experience of being a woman. He doesn’t necessarily want to transition, and clearly still enjoys sex as a man, but being able to also exist in a space as a woman is something that excites him. And he and Danny just have great chemistry!
Natalie: That was actually super interesting to me—the role-playing aspect, and the aspect of just exploring. It reminds me of what ultimately made me decide that nonbinary was the best way to describe my own gender, which is also fluid. It’s like, what if you just find joy in different things in different ways? What does that take away from you or from the people around you, and does it need to do that? We hang so much of who we are on who other people are—men do this, which means women do this, otherwise there’s a breakdown. It’s exhausting and imposing and doesn’t let people be who they want to be.
While I think there’s real room to criticize how they handled gender—particularly Karl’s very tired desperate-other-woman shtick, the vague way they waved their hands at changing or affirming or exploring gender—I also actually like that they left some room there. I also enjoyed all the cishet man feelings flying around in general. There are a multiple very angry, very sexually charged scenes, both between Danny and Karl and their avatars. It was an interesting way to poke at all that and how it gave them new ways to explore their feelings, underscored by Theo consistently telling them how bad they were at it.
It did some things very right tonally. But like I said before, I felt like the camp was necessary but not executed super well. Some of the scenes seemed kind of, I don’t know, sensationalized? Particularly the video game scenes, but then that was that dinner scene, which had me screaming and sort of reeling. It was very reality TV/soap/Maury—I probably reacted the way they wanted but was sort of cringing, too.
Gita: I’ve been a really big fan of Charlie Brooker’s work for a while—seeing the magazine cover for Sugarape, the fictional Vice magazine-inspired hipster rag from Brooker’s previous show Nathan Barley, in “Jack, Kevin and Ashley Too,” was a real treat. He’s usually quite good at heightened absurdity, as well as moments of abject humiliation, but I’ve always felt he lacked as a writer in like… actually liking or empathizing with his characters. Everyone in Nathan Barley sucks, which is the point of the show, but it means you’re left with a really bleak world where the only nice character is subjected to deadly pranks over and over (really!). So the fumbles here, and elsewhere on Black Mirror, didn’t surprise me but yeah… sometimes it just needs a defter hand.
The conversation about Karl fucking the polar bear, for example, is uhhhh hilarious. “I fucked a polar bear but was thinking of you the whole time!” I was cackling! But that also really needed to be a tender moment between two lovers consumed with guilt, and well, it’s just hard to thread that needle.
Natalie: Right, I yelped at him sexing up Tundra the bear. I definitely appreciated some of the comedic moments. I think that’s part of the problem, though—Brooker relies a little too heavily on comedy as that vehicle to make characters relatable, I think. I do feel like they actually think the guilt thing well, though—the moment with Danny going into a room and closing the door was particularly good for me, because it reminded me less of a traditional affair and more of, say, hiding porn from a loved one. They’re both just so stuck on their masculinity, which I found realistic to some extent since to be frank, it even happens in gay communities. Like there’s something to be said about how these men interact with femmephobia and transphobia and internalized sexism undergirding their whole concepts of themselves. But I think that’s the whole thing, right? Role-playing. Social scripts. What if we got to be, not someone else, just a version of ourselves with more options? Speaking of more options… Theo better get her whole life. Can we talk about the ending?
Gita: Oh hell yeah that ending. I’ve been reading that people see it as pessimistic, but it didn’t feel that way for me at all. By the end, Danny has come clean about his affair, and Theo and him come to an arrangement. On his birthday, he gets to fuck Karl in Striking Vipers, while she gets to go and fuck a dude from the bar, which is something that is repeatedly established as a turn on for her. That actually sounds like an extremely fair deal and is something that other couples that practice non-monogamy have done. What’s there to be sad about!!!! Theo just upgraded her whole ass life, man!!!!!!
Natalie: I’m going to sound judgmental, but I feel like it takes an extremely rigid view of marriage and what you can get out of it to call that ending pessimistic. They made a choice that seems to work for both of them. They love each other and their kids. They have outlets for when they don’t have the spoons for each other after over a decade of marriage. But people are weird about non-monogamy, assuming that it’s always one-sided or lopsided or a sacrifice/compromise. It doesn’t have to be and often isn’t! I finished the episode excited for them!
I do wonder—do you feel like the episode was conflating online and offline sex, though? I didn’t read the terms of them opening their marriage as a tradeoff—i.e., I didn’t think there necessarily had to be an implication that Theo having sex with real people is the same as Danny having sex with someone online. Some people did. I could certainly see that argument given the moments they put parallel in the closing scenes, but to me it was more like, “Oh they just talked about what they wanted and stopped repressing themselves.” You know?
Gita: The ending felt very freeing to me! When Theo cried over a sad anniversary dinner when she suspected something was going on with Danny, I was so sad for her. He got to be sexually fulfilled, but she didn’t. Now, they both do, and they get to keep their marriage and love for each other.
Natalie: Like they showed Danny booting up Striking Vipers, Theo out in a bar. I feel like each couple sets their boundaries on what’s right and wrong, and honesty is more of a factor in what is and isn’t cheating than a concrete/universal set of actions? And understanding your partner’s feelings.
Gita: I completely agree! Cheers to Danny and Theo. And Karl.
I bet you thought tvOS, the operating system running on Apple’s Apple TV devices, wouldn’t be getting any major new features given that it’s primary TV app (seriously Apple can we change up some of these names so they’re easier to talk about?) just got a major refresh weeks ago. But today Apple showed off tvOS and it looks like it’ll be a great base OS for all the new content Apple is hoping we’ll subscribe to.
The company is launching TV+ later this year, to go along with the refreshed app and the recently rolled out Channels. Combined they’re intended to allow you to basically just live in the TV app and get nearly all your major content from it—from HBO and Showtime to TV+ exclusives to the usual suspects from Hulu or your cable subscriber.
The biggest and most visible change is the new home screen, which starts playing video from the home page, when before it was high-quality stills.
Apple’s also finally introducing multi-user support for the Apple TV so you can have your apps and channels and queue and the other people in the household can have their preferred setup.
Switching will be done via a new Control Center that looks similar to the Control Center on iOS devices. It appears that a quick double click on the remote opens the Control Center to allow switching between users.
The final big update to tvOS is support for the Xbox One and PS4 Dual Shock controllers. Apple has been trying to push the Apple TV as a gaming device for a while now, but…it’s kind of lame and having to buy a whole new controller makes it even lamer. Allowing users to use a controller they might already own (or prefer) should make playing Arcade content easier… at least that was Tim Cook’s hope when announcing the support.
In last night’s video game themed episode of Project Runway, the designers were tasked with creating video game characters. Not only did I find it to be a compelling piece of reality TV, I also now want to play games starring all the characters they created.
Project Runway is my favorite competition-based reality television show of all time. It has the right blend of gimmicks and genuine skill, with judges whose opinions I actually trust. Now in its 17th season, the show has been through some ups and downs, but this season is a return to form with an extremely talented group of designers.
Last night, video game designers Mitu Khandakar, Nina Freeman and Robin Hunicke guest starred on an episode where the designers created video game characters, with Hunicke as a guest judge.
Watching the designers talk to Khandakar, Freeman and Hunicke about games was a delight. They were all so engaged with understanding what goes into making a game, especially designer Sebastian Gray, who ended up incorporating code into the design of his moon goddess character. Designer Tessa Clark revealed that she actually used to code her own websites as well.
Throughout the episode, the designers talked a lot about their gamer pasts. Lela Orr grew up playing Mortal Kombat with her male siblings, so she ended up designing a character in a loose fitting pant so she could do high kicks. Unsurprisingly, most of the designers played The Sims growing up, especially Rakan Shams Aldeen, who said he still plays games and has tons of game consoles.
What really struck me while watching this episode was how varied these characters were, and how badly I wanted to play the games that their designers had envisioned they would be in, if they were real. Even the designers who ended up in the bottom had fascinating concepts for games that I wished I could have played. The judges may not have liked the finishing or fabric choice of Aldeen’s red lycra jumpsuit, who ended up going home this episode, but his concept of a Syrian queen fighting for her people piqued my interest. Designer Venny Etienne also ended up in the bottom, but his church-inspired savior of the world had a cool fashion-related gameplay hook—she uses her cape to transport people to Heaven.
The designers who ended up in the top, though, had some excellent designs. Former raver Garo Sparo ended up designing Bayonetta, more or less. His concept was a fashion editor who is also a dominatrix, but when I saw her leather corset and whip, all I saw was the sexy witch we all know and love. My favorite outfit of the bunch was Tessa Clark’s miller’s daughter, who looked straight out of Stardew Valley in her practical brown jumpsuit that rolled down to reveal functional pockets, a coveted and all-too-rare addition for any women’s outfit. Challenge winner Hester Sunshine created a character that uses a jetpack to jump between stars. She looked like she’d come straight out of a 100-hour JRPG.
The real takeaway from the episode for me was how important it is to have people of all backgrounds design video game characters. These designers, who had some familiarity with games but weren’t hardcore gamers, all came up with creative and interesting designs, and all thought about how those designs would influence hypothetical gameplay. Even the worst outfits drew inspiration from places that I don’t often see in games and want to see more games explore. Aldeen may have gone home this episode, but I do want to see a game starring his Syrian queen. He’s available now, so maybe some enterprising development studio will snatch him up.
Bart Simpson is entering the world of esports in an upcoming episode of The Simpsons. The staff behind The Simpsons even talked to Riot Games to help make the episode feel more “authentic.”
In the episode, titled “E My Sports”, Bart becomes addicted to an online game called “Conflict of Enemies.” The fake game seems to be a parody of popular esports games like League of Legends and DOTA 2. Simpsons producer Al Jean tweeted a preview of the episode, revealing the name of the game and how it will look in the episode.
According to tweets from esports consultant Rod Breslau, The Simpsons staff worked with Riot Games to make sure they presented an“accurate representation of video games in the episode.” What does that actually mean? I don’t know and I’m going to guess that accurate representation of video games will most likely mean a few jokes that most folks who are still watching the show won’t get. Prepare for jokes about Bart not jungling properly!
In some promotional art of the episode, we can see that Bart is playing games at a dirty desk and has a mustache. Which I really don’t understand. Bart is supposed to be 10 years old. Do many 10-year-olds grow mustaches? This facial hair isn’t surprising, the show has long treated Bart like a teenager when they need to, even if it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Maybe one day they will let you grow up Bart. One day.
Minecraft’s latest snapshot update, 19w07a, changed the way paintings work which has allowed some crafty players to create in-game TVs. The new update, which also added adorable foxes into the game, breaks paintings into multiple textures. Before this update, paintings in Minecraft were created using a single texture. This new change has allowed modders to create working in-game TVs and computer monitors.
Reddit user Hopeabandoner created a monitor allowing him to watch a pixelated Minecraft YouTube video while playing Minecraft. I believe the kids call this “meta”.
The best looking in-game TV in Minecraft I’ve seen so far belongs to user destruc7i0n. Using multiple painting frames they were able to play a high quality copy of the Gravity Falls intro. One user commented “Better picture quality than my TV.”
While this new trick is cool, it does take up a lot of resources to pull off. One video made up of 30 frames could take up over 100 MB of space. Too many of these bigger files on servers could cause performance issues.
Maybe in the future, if Minecraft has better optimized this feature, we could see some servers or worlds create short in-game videos explaining rules and guidelines to new players.
Or folks will just set up a bunch of TVs playing Bee Movie.