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Oh, and a quick note for any fellow DW newbies who didn't read the recent release notes (which is where I found out about it): it turns out that Dreamwidth supports Markdown format! If you start you post with a line that just says:

!markdown

the rest of the post will be interpreted as Markdown.

Obviously, this isn't so important if you don't know or like Markdown. But it's my wiki syntax of preference (Querki's own QText wikitext is a dialect of it), and it's the format I use automatically, so I find it very convenient. It makes things like links easier, and allows you to use the same at-name syntax for referring to accounts that every other social network now uses. If you like this approach, take due notice of its availability...

Bagels

Feb. 16th, 2017 01:24 pm
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On a lighter note: while I don't entirely want it to be "discovered", the good stuff should be publicized.

While Boston isn't New York, we do have ongoing discussions about where to find the best bagels. After six months of patronizing the place, I now have a clear favorite: Bagelsaurus in Porter Square. (I assume the name started as Bagels 'R Us, but that's just a guess.)

Of course, bagelology is a highly subjective field, and not everybody is going to agree. But Bagelsaurus has a lot going for it:

  • A fine variety of flavors, including most of the traditional favorites. (Onion, Pumpernickel, Everything, Salt, etc.)
  • Remarkably generous toppings: when I buy a six-pack of Everythings, I wind up with a considerable puddle of toppings that have fallen off in the bottom of the bag, and they still look utterly covered.
  • Bagels are large -- not insane, but a generous lunch.
  • Bagels are light -- not the horrible white-bread-pretending-to-be-a-bagel that you sometimes see, but not the typical lumps of lead either.
  • Bagels are well-finished, and wonderfully crisp when toasted.

They also make a variety of tasty-sounding bagel sandwiches, but I always get them takeout to make at home, so I can't speak to those.

There are a couple of downsides to note:

  • Their Onion bagels are the onion-on-the-inside variety, not the onion-on-the-outside that I prefer. (This is a matter of taste.)
  • They can get crazy jammed at lunchtime, especially on weekends. Be prepared for a line if you arrive after noon.
  • They start selling out of flavors during the lunch rush, so if you have favorites, get there before noon.

Overall, though, they're the best bagels I know this side of NYC, and better than most New York bagels I know. More or less my platonic ideal. Check it out...

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On the scarier side of things, here's an essay that nicely puts all the pieces together -- essentially arguing that the blizzard of chaos coming from the White House is largely a distraction while they set up far more dangerous plans. Once again, I can't say for certain that this *is* what's happening -- but it's very consistent with what we can see so far.

Read it, and pass it around: seriously, it's important for as many people as possible to be alert to the signs. With any luck, this will be a Y2K moment -- a disaster that never happens. But as with Y2K, I suspect the only reason it might not happen is because enough people know about it, are prepared for it, and are preventing it.

I also concur with the implication here, that the Problem increasingly appears to be Bannon. Trump still appears to be a chaotic moron, but he's likely being manipulated by someone with a far more coherent and dangerous agenda. Getting Trump out of the White House isn't as immediately critical as getting Bannon out. So the question becomes: how do we, the people, get the point across to Trump that he is being *manipulated* by Bannon? That seems like the most effective way to neutralize Bannon -- Trump's ego is a mighty force, and convincing him that he is perceived as *weak* because of Bannon seems like a potentially good tactic...
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For the past week or two, Chrome has become surprisingly unstable -- it's been crashing on me about once a day. Weirdly, it is usually when I'm not using it that it crashes: typically, I wake my computer from idle and find that Chrome has gone splat.

Anybody else seeing anything like this? I'm mystified about where the problem is.

(And man, it is wonderful to know that DW now supports Markdown. Hadn't even occurred to me until they mentioned it in today's update. The custom entry URL thing is pretty neat, too...)

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(Warning: diary ramble ahead.)

Intercon was scheduled a couple of weeks earlier than usual this year -- our experimental hotel last year wasn't great, and by the time we found our new site, the only options were this weekend or Easter.  So this year, I got to spend my birthday (yesterday) in high-intensity LARPing.


Let me say first: the new hotel rocks, and I hope we develop a long and fruitful relationship with it.  My initial reaction on hearing about it wasn't so positive -- the only thing I know about Warwick, RI is that it's the home of a certain Ducal pair of my SCA sibs, so I was basically going, "The Crowne Plaza in Middle of Nowhere, RI?  Oy."  I will state for the record that I was entirely incorrect in this -- Warwick is just far enough from downtown Providence to not be "city", but otherwise close.

And the hotel itself was great.  It's *huge* -- we had plenty of space, and didn't even rent the large Grand Ballroom wing.  It's well-furnished and comfortable, and not terribly expensive.  The service was top-notch: friendly, efficient and businesslike.  Even the concession food didn't entirely suck (which is about the best one can usually ask for in concession food) and had surprisingly excellent cupcakes.  So yeah, it's an hour away, but we should totally stick with this place.


Due to the storm, I missed the Thursday evening programming; I skidded in just before the roundtable I was moderating at noon Friday, "Playing to Enable Others" -- basically a session on how to be a generous player.  It was a bit of a BS session, much of it devoted to discussion of what the parameters of "generosity" were in the context of LARP, but it was a pleasant chat.  And I stuck around for the following discussion of "Plotting by the Seat of Your Pants", which gave me an excuse to relate a good war story or two, before striking out to the nearby shopping mall in search of pale blue sparkly nail polish.  (Give it a minute, and that'll make sense.)

I didn't play any games on Friday evening, opting instead to spend a few hours pulling Ops duty.  I'll have to remember for the future that Friday evening Ops is *fun* -- it's exactly the kind of high-intensity whirlwind that I always enjoy, answering questions, giving directions, checking folks in and all that.  I might have to make a habit of that.


Saturday was All LARP, All the Time -- I started running about 8:30am and didn't finish until about 11pm.  I played in three games, all good.

First up was Librarian and Catalog.  I can't go into *too* much detail without spoilers, but the public blurb sums up the high concept well: "The robot Librarian.  The damaged computer Catalog.  An alien artifact.  A chance to confront yourself -- again, and again, and again -- amid the collapse of parallel universes."  16 players, all playing The Librarian.  My version was "Scornful, Disciplined, Ruthless" (Librarian tR), and it was just the kind of focused, intense, totally-not-me character I was looking for.  Suffice it to say, the game is weird but fun, a bit slow to start but well-paced, and high in player agency.  Recommended if it runs again.

Saturday evening was The Inversion of Me and My Room, which I've been hearing good things about for a couple of years, so when it appeared on the schedule a few weeks ago I transferred to it.  I can say *very* little about this game, but suffice it to say it is *spectacularly* weird, trippy and dark, an iconic All The Feels game.  Recommended, but be prepared to throw yourself wholeheartedly into the emotional wringer, and don't expect things to make too much sense before endgame.  (For those who know the game, I played Helmer (family).)  It did leave me with a desire to finally rewrite my game Shards of Memory, which is in the same general category.


The high point of my weekend came in the middle of the day, though.  I had put Librarian and Catalog as my first-choice game, and therefore missed getting into Cracks in the Orb, the Dragaera game.  I decided to wait-list myself for it, and that finally paid off last Monday, when I got in.  For those who know the Dragaera books, Cracks is set something like 500 years before The Phoenix Guards, and includes younger versions of some of the characters from The Khaavren Chronicles.

For those who don't know the series, suffice it to say that the Khaavren Chronicles are a fantasy pastiche of Dumas, specifically The Three Musketeers.  The game follows that, although it also pulls in pastiches of a variety of novels of that vintage.  (Sadly, I can't say which novel *my* character was a pastiche of without major spoilers.)

Anyway, the game was a complete hoot.  My character, Fotheringil, was a foppish Tiassa (with more than a little Khaavren in him) who is a member of the Empress' personal guard.  ("Foppish" -- hence the nail polish, which is actually mentioned specifically in his character sheet -- light blue and white are the house colors of the Tiassa.)  He proved well-connected, and central to one or two major plots.  It's well-written and deep stuff, although I did wind up feeling for the players of my own games -- Lise (the primary author) is every bit as fond of deep biographical character sheets as I am, and the game is *very* intricate, with all sorts of major bluesheets and mechanics, so I had four days to absorb about 30 pages of fairly dense material.  If I didn't already know the source material, I might have had real difficulty with it.

ETA: for added fun, one of the major mechanics in the game is Social Dance (which allows you to remove the stain of Dishonor, and gain insights into your dance partner) -- which is represented by dancing, in this case the Belle Qui Pavane.  I offered to teach it, and pointed out to the GMs that it would be *totally* in-character for Fotheringil to teach everyone this new, fashionable dance form.  So I wound up teaching the dance in-character, and called it each time it came around.

But it was great fun -- I achieved nearly all of my game goals, including getting the girl.  I got 7/8ths of the way towards achieving my *big* goal, and I take fair pride in that: the goal was genuinely hard, and I only realized late in the game that finishing it would have required playing some fairly specific politics an hour or two earlier.  Suffice it to say, the rest of it involved strategic wargaming, and that's an area that I'm moderately good at.  As it was, I got close enough to support my personal headcanon of making progress towards the goal a bit further down the line.


After Inversion wrapped at 11pm, it was off to party.  Sadly, I'm not well-connected to the Intercon party scene, so I kind of had to crash Nuance's traditional Intercon birthday party.  (Which underscored how nice this hotel is.  Her party was originally right next to my room, so I was a bit concerned about sleep; however, as that grew a tad out of control, they moved it to one of the below-ground game spaces, far away from guest rooms, which was a pretty great choice all around.)  And then an hour at the traditional Intercon Dance Party, which is always one of the highlights of my year -- where else can you find people boogying in an eight-foot-tall inflatable T Rex outfit? -- and finally bedtime much too late.

As for today, I decided to skip Closing Ceremonies -- maybe the first time I've done that in 20 years -- in order to get home before the roads got too bad.  Hope everything finished off well; in general, it was a fine con, and bodes well for the future...
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You know that Fantasia was a major childhood influence when you listen to Dance of the Hours, and realize that you just plain *can't* hear it without envisioning the cartoon -- the connection is hardwired.  I am still in awe at how perfectly the imagery worked with the music...

Dayum

Feb. 5th, 2017 11:23 pm
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I was in the stands for one of the great comebacks by the Red Sox.  (Down by 5 in the ninth, led off by Big Papi, which led to my Sox motto, "It's not over until the fat guy swings".  It *felt* like the moment when the Sox finally started to turn things around.)

I remember the Snow Bowl, with the magic final-second kick, while we were all snowed in at Arisia.

I accidentally turned on Wimbledon for the Nadal/Federer finals in 2008, where you could just *feel* that this was one of the most perfect tennis games ever.

That may have topped all of them.  Holy crap...
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In an upset against perennial favorites Cars and Beer, the runaway lead was claimed by Household Goods, with a surprise touchdown from Tide followed by a fine defensive pay by Febreze.

Specifically, it's amusing how few ads manage to be well-written, appropriate to the setting, *and* actually have something to do with the product; most of the funny ads fail on the third point.

On the plus side, I am encouraged that the companies did not back down from their usual pro-international viewpoint.  Particular points to 84 Lumber, of all people, for coming closest to saying, "Fuck your wall" with a sentimental but well-done pro-immigrant ad; I'm actually tempted to go to their website and check out the rest.

(The football game? Oh, we're losing that. Nice halftime show, though.)
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Lots of people are terribly worried about "Resistance Fatigue", and there's some basis for that -- spending all day, every day for years worrying about the fight is a good way to mess with your head and just fall into eventual despair.  You have to learn your own capacity, and pace yourself accordingly, because this one's going to be a marathon.

But it occurs to me: we do know one person who famously has no patience and precious little discipline, sitting at the top of his gold-plated tower.

Can we help induce Presidency Fatigue in Trump?

Seriously: it's pretty clear that he didn't really understand what he was getting into, and I suspect it's all more of a pain in the ass than he expected.  He's used to being CEO of a company that he *owns*, not working with other people and making sensible compromises.  As far as I can tell, he's a bit overwhelmed and cranky already.  Tiredness and anger cause people to make stupid mistakes.

I'm being a bit flippant here, but only a bit.  I suspect that he isn't mentally prepared for ongoing resistance to everything he does, every day, for years.

So the details of each individual fight aside, the ongoing *act* of resistance may well be helpful.  We need to keep it non-violent, and not play into their damned "all those protesters are destroying the country" narrative.  But keeping up the pressure may well gradually break a man who is, I suspect, really fairly weak to begin with...
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I've been mulling over the "punching Nazis" incident a couple of weeks ago, to understand how I think and feel about it.

Really, it's not a simple one. On the one hand, I can totally understand the visceral satisfaction of pasting one to the smarmy bad guys. OTOH, as many folks have pointed out, that doesn't make it right: the Nazi preaching his subtle hatred on the street is almost the textbook definition of why *really* believing in freedom of speech is challenging. That latter argument is pretty compelling to me.

But as I contemplated the rioting over Milo Yiannopoulos at Berkeley, I realized that there's a much simpler and in some ways more important argument here: at this stage of the game, letting yourself get provoked into violence is incredibly *stupid*, and wildly counter-productive.

Look -- Trump and his cronies are attempting to build a fascist state.  Their *primary* mechanism for doing so is preying upon the fears of Middle America: convincing them that Those Evil Liberals are selling out the country, are out to get them, and are full of Those Awful Terrorist Immigrants.  They have brilliantly built a narrative that Normal White People are *victims*.  Yes, it's bullshit -- but to people who in fear for their jobs, and have spent many years with the news telling them about every awful thing that might happen, it's compelling bullshit.  The Dangerous Other is *always* the go-to tool of the fascist dictator.

And when they can show scenes of terrible violence caused by "the Left", against Trump's talking heads, that is *gold* -- it plays directly into that "we're the victims and must protect ourselves" narrative.  Guaranteed, they'll be spinning that to explain why they just need to crack down a *little* bit.

(Of course, it is *such* gold, and *so* convenient, that I'm deeply suspicious of it -- I'd give better-than-even odds that Trump's own surrogates instigated the Berkeley riot.  But unless proof comes out, that suspicion isn't going to get very far in the news.)

Anyway, it's just an example, but it's a telling one.  This is why non-violent protest is so deathly important in any struggle for hearts and minds -- and make no mistake, so long as the US is still an actual democracy, that's what the struggle is.  We *must* not feed into their narrative -- if we're going to win this thing, we have to be conspicuously better than they are.

That does *not* mean being meek or weak: we should be loud, we should be clear, we should have our message in front of the country every day and every way.  But we should refrain from punching the Nazis, and settle for just telling them off...
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[Slight spoilers for Rogue One]

Kieron Gillen (my current favorite comics writer) has started a rambling blog-like-entity in the form of emails that go out now and then, Kieron Gillen's Word Mail. Today's installment isn't up in the archive yet, and the relevant bit is from the middle anyway, so I'm going to quote from his discussion of Rogue One directly. Hopefully he'll forgive me:
To that end, the ballooning of viewpoint characters becomes the point, those pilots as real as anyone else, the actors commitment to those fragments of time meaningful. And as we pull away from our cast, we come to the final scenes, with those nameless Rebellion troops being cut down by Vader, one by one. Look at the details as Vader looms out the dark. The half-lowering of the gun as each consider just not doing this.. and then raising as they decide they have no choice.

Any of them didn't slow down Vader for a half second, the Death Star survives. Any of them.

Which leaves me aware that's all we can do when facing fascism in the dark. We have no idea if what we do make a difference. But it may. You have to believe it may.
Yes. This.

We live in a society that encourages egotism, wanting to believe that we are going to Matter in some big, important way. That's human nature in general, but modern celebrity culture in particular leads to an internalized belief that everything is either Important in some huge way, or it doesn't matter. I've been seeing this a lot when talking with folks about the rising struggle -- I've hit the comment, "Yeah, but I can't *do* anything" several times, with an implied "I can't do anything Significant".

But I think Gillen is exactly right above. Most of us *aren't* going to be Luke or Leia -- we're not going to be one of the heroes on the marquee. But those heroes only get the critical shot through the help of countless other people, each of them giving that half second of help.

We're facing a rising tide of fascism worldwide, and it's scary as hell. But it is not on any *one* of us to stop that -- it's on all of us, working together, each doing our tiny bit.

Don't worry about hitting the Death Star -- it's not your responsibility. Just look for your own half seconds, and remember that they *do* matter...
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h/t to [personal profile] drwex for pointing out this article.  (tl;dr: when taxi drivers held a strike to protest Trump's policies, Uber went and dropped their prices to fill in the void.)

On the one hand, I wouldn't necessarily condemn Uber if it was *just* this incident, and I'm enough of a businessman to sympathize with the desire to grab market share when there's an opportunity.  That said, Uber has shown an exceptional degree of anti-social bull-headedness even by the standards of corporate America -- they've consistently been assholes at the corporate level -- and their CEO joined one of Trump's advisory boards, which doesn't exactly endear them to me.

And on top of that, Lyft (their biggest competitor) is apparently responding by donating a million bucks to the ACLU.

It's time to start making clear to corporate America that we *are* paying attention, and we *are* going to punish them where it counts -- in the balance sheet.  The right wing has been using this tactic pretty effectively over the years, and we should be playing the game, hard.  So I think I'm likely to join the #deleteuber movement.

Which brings us to the question: I haven't used Lyft.  Is there *any* reason not to just delete the Uber app and switch?

(NB: I actually still use old-fashioned taxis a fair amount, in part because I sympathize with the poor bastards who spent a fortune on a medallion whose value has crashed.  Green/Yellow Cab is doing a fair job of being somewhat competitive, and I commend their app to folks who live in this neck of the woods.  But in some circumstances the modern ride-hailing services are just more convenient, as well as usually cheaper, and I don't really have any principled objection to them...)

Presterity

Jan. 30th, 2017 03:00 pm
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[Yes, I'm a bit distracted by politics today.]

Thanks to a comment in [personal profile] siderea's DW, I call your attention to Presterity, which looks likely to be a very important site for managing the current mess.

The site looks to be a really good shot at something I've been thinking we need: a well-curated site that ingests and organizes information about the Trump administration and what's going on.  There is such a torrent of craziness happening that keeping things straight is hard.  So they've set up a system whereby anyone can submit news as it's happening, and this then gets sent to the volunteer curators to analyze and organize it, so that everyone has to-hand a clear account of each topic.

This is an important project -- if they were accepting money, I'd toss them fifty bucks towards expenses in a heartbeat.  I might well volunteer as a curator, but first I'm going to read into it, and get myself set up to be able to submit articles.  We're in the middle of an information war, and this is an important defense shield.

Check it out...
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Just had the @RoguePOTUSStaff Twitter account pointed out to me.  This has apparently brewed up in the past few days -- it claims to be White House insiders who have had enough and are going to just leak away.  I don't know whether it's real or not, but it's impressively *plausible*, including being just paranoid enough to have the ring of truth.

It's kind of fascinatingly fun, and weirdly encouraging: it paints a White House that is *completely* in disarray, and trying desperately not to fly apart at the seams in factional warfare.  (They've coined the hashtag #UnholyTrinity for the alliance of Pence, Ryan and Priebus, who appear to be more or less at war with Bannon.)  And it links to a whole nest of related "insider" accounts that purport to be at various government agencies.  Check it out.

We'll see if it proves to be real.  But it's a nice reminder that the social-media game cuts both ways, and the good guys can use it just as effectively as the bad...
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I've been pondering Trump's travel ban on Muslims entering the US.  (Which may or may not be wildly unconstitutional, but is at best screamingly inhumane.)

On the one hand, it's straight out of Dictatorship 101: choose a minority who are already distrusted by some of the populace, and systematically "other" them.  Pick up the pitchforks and start leading the mob against them.  It whips up patriotic fervor, and distracts people from the way that you're stripping them of their freedoms.

That said, this *particular* variation is starting to have a specifically familiar theme.  I've mainly been thinking about how Trump has been taking his style from Putin's Russia (in particular, the high-handed abuse of the press), but this one is reminding me of another successful neo-dictatorship: Turkey.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's dictator (yes, he's elected, but by this point I consider that a detail -- so are many dictators), spent several years building up a gigantic boogeyman in the form of the Gulenists, an Islamist movement founded by Fethullah Gulen, a cleric currently living in the US.  Gulen was originally an ally of Erdogan, but after they parted ways a few years ago, Erdogan began to blame the Gulenists for everything wrong with Turkey, making them out to be a terrifying conspiracy out to destroy the country.

Of course, last year there *was* a coup attempt, and Erdogan wasted no time blaming the Gulenists for the whole thing, possibly far moreso than was warranted.  He has spent the time since then purging all areas of the state of all Gulenists *and* anybody else who disagrees with him, on the grounds that there is a massive conspiracy that he must root out.  And having survived the coup, he's doing this with considerable popular support.  Frankly, it's a masterclass in not wasting a good crisis.

The talking heads today are mostly focused on how idiotic the travel ban is -- that it's just going to convince much of the Muslim world that the US really *is* against them, that we *do* want to go to war on them, and that IS is the only group that is going to defend them.  All of which is true, and the obvious (and possibly correct) response is that Trump is simply a moron.

But consider: what if that's the whole point?  The travel ban is likely to cause more terrorist attacks on the US, with a causation that is obvious if you *think* about it, but indirect enough that Trump can claim it isn't his fault.  And when there *are* attacks, Trump has the excuse he's looking for to clamp down on civil liberties and attack his foes in the public sphere as being "weak on security".

Mind, I don't think Trump is anywhere near Machiavellian enough (or at least, disciplined enough) for a scheme like this.  But as far as I can tell, Bannon totally is -- and Bannon's just been placed on the National Security Council, replacing the Director of National Intelligence and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.  (Yes, really -- this happened yesterday.)  Bannon is, quite literally, calling the shots on national security, and this feels like exactly the sort of thing he'd do to interpret "national security" as being his own personal, lifelong job security.

Many of us spent eight years saying that the *main* problem wasn't George W Bush, it was Dick Cheney.  It's looking to me like that is true in *spades* of Steve Bannon.  I increasingly suspect that Trump is mostly a clumsy and bullying loudmouth on his own, but Bannon is malign and smart enough to be even more dangerous.  I dearly hope folks are digging deep for dirt on him -- he needs to become a major embarrassment to Trump, soon, before he has a chance to entirely unwind the United States...
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 Quick question for folks around Somerville: Kate's having some neck issues, and would like to talk to a chiropractor, ideally within walking distance of us.  (In the general range delineated by Davis, Porter, Ball and Magoun Squares.)  Anyone have any current recommendations or disrecommendations?
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I'm gradually watching my way through Stargate: Atlantis (which I hadn't watched in its original run).  Today was the episode where everyone in the city loses their memory, and havoc predictably results.  What is it named?

Tabula Rasa, of course.

Okay, yes, we didn't invent the idea (I originally got it from the ST:TNG episode Conundrum).  And yes, it's probably parallel evolution.  But I strongly suspect this was inspired by the Buffy episode of the same name, and there's still a little part of me that wonders if Joss Whedon heard about our game 20-odd years ago and said, "Hey!  That would make a cool episode"...
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On the flip side, there's the show I *wasn't* expecting to love: The Good Place.

It starts off looking like they've set up basically a weird sitcom.  Our protagonist, Eleanor (Kristin Bell), wakes up one morning to find that she is dead, and is now in The Good Place.  Only the very best people (chosen by a terribly scientific algorithm) get into The Good Place; everybody else goes to The Bad Place, which you wouldn't want.  And The Good Place is so terribly *nice*.  They serve all your favorite flavors of frozen yogurt.  Everybody is there with their assigned (and perfectly selected) soulmate.  It isn't heaven per se, but it's lovely.

There's only one problem: Eleanor doesn't belong here.  She was really a fairly mediocre person in life: not evil per se, but utterly self-absorbed for nearly her entire life.  She's a fish out of water, and things are going wrong as a result.

Like I said, an obvious sitcom, right?

Except that it isn't.  Quite unexpectedly, The Good Place is *also* structured as a novel, and they make no bones about it.  Each episode is numbered, not named, and they follow hard upon one another, often starting seconds after the previous.  To my considerable surprise, it's structured as tightly as any thriller.

Mind, it's *not* a thriller -- it's a comedy, and an unusually funny one for modern network TV.  Bell turns out to have better comic timing than I would have given her credit for, and the cast play off against each other brilliantly.  There isn't a lot of depth here -- the show is painting in broad strokes -- but episode by episode you start to really like all of our characters.

Mostly, though, this is a ride through the unexpected.  It is *so* rare for me to watch a show any more and constantly be going, "I have no forking idea where this is going next", but that's the case throughout the first season.  Every episode is full of jaw-dropping WTFery, while still kind of making sense within the scenario's demented logic.

I won't say that it's at the same level of once-in-a-decade brilliance as Westworld.  But it doesn't cost an HBO subscription, and it is a *heck* of a lot more fun.  Check it out...

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