I haven’t done my Top 10 TV shows yet so there will be some overlap, but I wanted to focus just in on Netflix because there are so many Netflix original shows out there now that are good that I think it’s worth talking about …
By now you know that I like so many shows with a fantasy and modern element to them. Ragnarok was a new one that showed up on Netflix that falls into that genre, so I knew I needed to check it out. Plus the show is a Norwegian show, and having Norwegian heritage, I was very interested in that aspect as well. So was it up there with other urban fantasy shows that I’ve watched?
In Ragnorak, Magne, a large but not always the most confident boy due to dyslexia, moves back to Edda, Norway where he was born with his mother, Turid and brother Laurits. It’s a sleepy town with one big industry, Jutul Industries that has most of the jobs. Magne and Laurits are dropped into a new school where Laurits fits in very quickly but Magne has trouble making friends, except for one other loner, a girl named Isolde. But there’s more going on in this town than meets the eye. Magne has an odd encounter with a shopkeeper right away when they come to town and he starts to notice things changing around him. From there the story takes some fantastical turns.
Let’s talk first about how I watched this show. Fairly often when watching shows from other countries I’ll watch it subtitled, this one I did not. I watched it dubbed in English. And I will say compared to some others I’ve seen dubbed, it works well. Yes, the mouths are off because of speaking another language, but overall I felt like it worked. What really works is t hat the voice actors are the same people who did the original voices, this means that you still get the same tone to match their facial expressions since they knew how they said it in the first place. So even if the moths don’t like up with what is being said, you don’t lose the feel. And I think the fact that they are going to carry a Norwegian accent into their English works as well. Growing up in Minnesota surrounded by a bunch of second a third generation Norwegians, there are a lot of mannerisms and speech patterns that carry over into the show. If you’re not as familiar with English/Norwegian speech patterns, I think it’ll still work fine, but might be easier subtitled.
I won’t go too much more into the story than I did in my little introduction, but I really liked it. It definitely has some young adult elements to it, but it isn’t completely young adult. The fact that they are high school students is always going to lend itself a little bit to that, but it does a good job of not dumbing it down to that level. I really enjoy how it delves into Norse Mythology in some ways. There are definite nods to things in the mythology that I didn’t notice right away but eventually became clearer and more interesting. The story is not extremely complex, but it doesn’t need to be, it has enough layers without feeling like it’s overly dramatic or overly convoluted. And they do a good job of developing character in a short time because the season is very short and the episodes aren’t all that long, the final episode is just over thirty minutes.
The look of the show is just beautiful. Now some of that is because Norway has amazing landscapes, because when it comes to special effects those do struggle at times. They clearly don’t have a massive budget for them, but for the most part there aren’t many in an episode. The rest of the filming, that of more standard school or house shots work for the most part. The inside and outside of the Jutul household always seems a bit disconnected because we never get to see a good transition between inside and out, but otherwise everything flows well and builds out the town of Edda.
Overall, this is a very fun show. I think that they do a good job with their blending of the mythology into a modern setting. It is a quick watch at only 6 episodes but still manages to pack a lot into those episodes. If you like that sort of mythology and real world blend, this is definitely one to checkout. And if the concept of Norse Mythology is interesting, I think it’s so fast that it’s probably worth it, even if you don’t love the idea of that fantasy real world blend. One that I’m looking forward to the second season of.
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As part of my Sci-Fi binging, I’ve checked out the first season of Another Life on Netflix. What drew my attention to it was the that it’s another first contact type of show, so kind of like Nightflyers that way, but with less in terms of the horror element, but let’s get to the story.
In Another Life, a mysterious alien artifact has flown to and then landed on Earth with no warning and no contact. No matter what people are doing, they haven’t been able to make contact with it, including the lead scientist, Erik Wallace. His wife, Niko Breckenridge, has been a spaceship commander but hasn’t been one for a while. Instead, after a series of unfortunate events in her life, she found Erik and they had a kid together. But when they figure out where the artifact is sending information to, she’s called back into her role as a commander on the Salvare to lead an expedition to where the signal is being sent. Meanwhile, Erik takes their daughter and continues to try and find a way to communicate with the artifact on Earth, but in neither case, do things go as they’d hope.
There’s a couple of interesting things about this show, first, I’ll say that the acting is solid on the show. Katee Sackhoff, possibly best known for playing Starbuck on Battlestar Galactica does a good job in this show and the crew of the ship is endearing and frustrating all at the same time. Justin Chatwin as Erik Wallace does a good job as well, in fact, probably the highlight for the show for me. I think that he gets down the role of a caring father but also the scientist who gets too wrapped up in his work at times really well, but he’s always a gentle soul, which is a juxtaposition to Sackhoff’s Breckenridge who is much of a harder person because of what she’s seen. There are other characters who are interesting as well and there is a good amount of character development that happens as well.
Another thing that is interesting, and another juxtaposition, is the two stories that are happening at the same time. On Earth with Erik Wallace, it’s about the frustration that can happen when things aren’t going well, about how you can get too wrapped up in science or in work and lose sight of the important things around you. And while you get some of that from Niko Breckenridge on the Salvare storyline as well, it’s definitely less of that, and more focused in on things going wrong and crew tensions on the spaceship. They both have their own tensions, but on Earth it’s more the question of when they will figure out what the artifact does and how to interact with it, more of an exploration tension versus a survival tension. It blends well and breaks what would basically just be stress from the Salvare storyline with what is happening on Earth. As I said, Erik is such a gentle soul that it just feels more relaxed throughout.
I will say that I think the Salvare storyline has some rough spots in it. While on Earth the story is fairly straight forward as you’re wondering about how they are going to create first contact with the artifact, the Salvare storyline can get into a lot of melodrama, and has parts of the story that feel rushed. Not going to spoil who ends up dying in the show, no surprise that some characters will, but some of those deaths seem a little bit rushed in the Salvare storyline, like they could have done some more character development to get you to the point where you really care. I think that you care a little bit for some of those characters who die, but not all that much, and it kind of retreads some story elements as well. When it’s done in parallel with what’s happening on Earth, it’s much more interesting, when it covers some of the same ground that they already did on the Salvare, it seems like they are trying to fill out stuff after having rushed other elements of the story.
In terms of the Sci-Fi elements to the show, I think that it does well. It offers some bigger questions about the universe, humanity, and what makes humans human, and I think that Sci-Fi at it’s best can ask those questions because they feel different than real life, so it’s easier to dig into them that way. That said, I don’t think that this is groundbreaking Sci-Fi by any means. It’s simply looking at a lot of concepts and ideas we’ve already seen in it’s own way. In some ways it’s like Nightflyers like that, where the Sci-Fi elements aren’t highly unique, but they aren’t done poorly either.
Overall, I think that this is a solid show. I think that both storylines can be a bit predictable, Earth and Salvare, and while there are meant to be some shocking or surprising moments, I don’t think that there are that many that are extremely well pulled off, again, because it’s fairly predictable. All of that said, it is a good show, the acting is good, and there are some interesting characters. One that I didn’t mention yet that I really like is William both he and Erik are probably the best parts of the show and areas where you can get some slightly less standard Sci-Fi, though, just slightly. If you’re a Sci-Fi, one to checkout, and I think it’s a solid introductory Sci-Fi show if you aren’t.
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It might be kind of the wrong time to talk about this, we’re in the middle of the Covid-19 Pandemic, however, I think with that, for some, comes more time to delve into more story, including that of the Apocalypse/Post-Apocalyptic in nature. This is one of those genres that can tell a lot of interesting things because you can look at the struggle of man to overcome, the in ability of humanity to stop their own doom, or the breakdown of society and how it could fall apart and rebuild.
This is building off of my articles on where to start in comics and the article on zombies in pop culture. The format is going to continue to be a little bit different every time, mainly because it can be, but I want to talk about some things that have worked well and some that don’t work as well.
I think that we can all think of a lot of apocalyptic or post apocalyptic stories out there. About 5 years ago we had a lot of them being taken on in the Young Adult style with books series like The Hunger Games, Divergent, and Maze Runner. Some of these worked better and some were disappointments, at least for myself. Since then, the genre hasn’t really died off, we have Netflix putting out shows like Daybreak and The Rain where things are going horribly wrong or have gone horribly wrong in the world. The genre as a whole has kind of been all over the map though with a lot of goofy stories as well as many very serious takes on the genre as well.
Now, I’m not sure that any particular take is going to be always the right one. Some that take themselves too seriously become overwrought and melodramatic, while others can try and do a humorous take on it that just ends up being hit or miss. And there’s also an element where some authors are trying too hard to be profound on a topic that is going to lend itself to a lot of speculation.
Just to talk about speculation, I feel like there are two that I can kind of compare as to how one does it decently and the other does it poorly. In The Hunger Games, we have this idea of spectacle, and that humans, even when things are going poorly are going to want spectacle and probably even want more and greater spectacle, especially if they are at the top of the food chain. This is something that we can see already in our society where people love things like Survivor, or even before our time with the shows in the Roman Colosseum, so The Hunger Games has a feeling of something that is grounded and truthful to it. Compare that to Divergent. The issue with Divergent, besides that the story just takes a left turn that everyone saw coming is that they split up humanity and society in a way that doesn’t make any sense. At no point in time before has society split itself along those lines in such a way or tested people so that they would be split that way. It feels like an illogical jump for a society to make and one that doesn’t really aid the society in the long run. So even though, I would say, there is some overlap, the speculation and the ability for a post apocalyptic story to have a ring of truth to it makes a big difference.
Now, I feel like I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about how it’s moved into other mediums. It’s easy to think of books, films and TV shows, but in many ways it’s just as easy to think of video games. The Last of Us is a prime example of a post-apocalyptic game, and the Resident Evil games take place during or after the apocalypse. But probably less known to some, though obviously something I like, is how it’s made it’s way into board games. Pandemic Legacy Season 1 and Season 2 are basically board games about the apocalypse and the fallout from that. And it gives you an interestingly written story. Even a game like Dead of Winter, which I’ve mentioned in the zombie article, is definitely about survival after the apocalypse. While I don’t have a ton of post-apocalyptic games on my shelf, I have a lot that are about thwarting that great disaster from happening, basically all of the Lovecraft Mythos investigative games from Fantasy Flight fall into that category. In those games, Arkham Horror, Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition, Eldritch Horror, Elder Signs, you’re always trying to stop a great old one from coming through, or something along those lines. Even fantasy games like Gloomhaven, Sword & Sorcery, and Aeon’s End: War Eternal, while maybe not as heavily apocalyptic as some, have bits and pieces of that thrown in, especially if you fail the campaign.
Finally, there are RPG’s, and I think when it comes to a medium that is built for the apocalypse, RPG’s are that medium. Even if it hasn’t happened, the fact that you’re going on an adventure to do something, it’s going to be to stop something bad, and generally that’s some form the of the apocalypse for at least part of the world. And if you make it up to level 20, it’s probably for the whole world. In fact, one of the campaign books for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition is Princes of the Apocalypse. There’s just something about the story of an malevolent god trying to destroy humanity and the player characters becoming humanities champions that just works well for a story. It’s one of those things where you can joke that it’s a story as old as time, but it works for so many reasons as it gives you that heroes journey and that final thing for them to overcome.
Well, that was kind of rambling, I had a lot that I wanted to talk about what I like from apocalyptic stories and why some of them don’t work as well if they ring a little hollow. Plus, I couldn’t go an article without talking about how it has flowed into the RPG and Board Game mediums. What are some of your favorite apocalyptic stories from whatever medium it might be?
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