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The Prisoner (Roku Channel)
Listen: Have I always been a little obsessed with this 1967 single-season nightmare about a spy who gets abducted to a strange Village following his resignation? Yes.
Have I actually ever made it through the entire thing? No, because Patrick McGoohan only wanted there to be seven episodes, and the network said “America will never watch that” and made another ten that could generously be called “also technically episodes of The Prisoner“.
Would Elliott Kalan and John Hodgman, two enormous influences on my entire personality, doing a watch-through podcast of the show actually convince me to finally sit through every episode, even the one where Number Six stages a rebellion among the pieces of a human chessboard? Fuckin’–I guess?
The through-line, repeated in every title sequence by the main antagonist(?) Number 2, who is played by a different actor every episode, is that the people(?) running the Village want information that they believe the unnamed protagonist designated Number 6 possesses, and are willing to do anything to get it, although ‘anything’ seems to mostly consist of things like randomly drugging him, dying his hair and giving him a fake mustache, and then making up another guy to look how he usually looks, and trying to convince him that he’s actually been their agent impersonating that guy the whole time. It’s that kind of show, and if parts of it are sounding familiar, it’s very possible that your first exposure to it was the Simpsons episode that included a loving parody of it, featuring a good-sport cameo from Patrick McGoohan himself:
The Prisoner is a profoundly strange show in every way, intentionally and otherwise, and while I find that it works more often than it doesn’t the clunkers do sink straight to the bottom. Fortunately, when we hit one of those I know I just have to wait a little while and the terrifying, never-explained man-eating orb known as the Rover will devour another hapless inmate trying to escape the Village.
I cannot get over how much I love and fear the Rover.
Every episode is long and slow and often kind of boring, but in a really pleasant way that modern television-artistry, for its many virtues, has forgotten; I can work on this list while watching one and be confident I won’t miss much, or if I do I can rely on it being repeated two more times, which is nice. In this way, I imagine it’s not unlike reading one of my articles, for then, too, you never know when a horrifying void-globe will appear and consume bystanders.
[UPDATE: we have now finished it and LET US JUST SAY THIS: if TVTropes had been around in 1968, the Gainax Ending would’ve been called the Prisoner Ending. It was incredible, and we’ve been arguing about it for days. THE HEAD-BONE’S CONNECTED TO THE NECK-BONE, NOW HEAR THE WORD OF THE LORD.]
Planescape: Torment (Nintendo Switch)
I got too frustrated with Baldur’s Gate so I booted up Planescape: Torment instead, which I understood to be Baldur’s Gate For Nasty Little Weirdos, and I IMMEDIATELY love love loved it, even the mostly identical control scheme is articulated better, the information flow is less overwhelming, the whole thing is oozing with Sick Little Freak charm and personality, it RULES.
The only thing I don’t like about it, and I do hate it with the nuclear fury of a thousand Dragonforce records, is the UI aesthetic, which is PURE late-90’s Edgy AOL Kidz Zone media-player:
You start the game in a mortuary staffed by animated corpses (how…Harrowing?), and they’re harmless but they move in this completely bonkers high-speed flailing shamble that absolutely cracks my ass up:
I’ll be honest, I’m struggling to effectively articulate why this works for me when BG didn’t, and I actually think it’s a sedimentary build-up of small but significant quality of life improvements, like your character moving fuckin’ fast as opposed to BG‘s lackadaisical meander, the text-windows being smaller and more manageable while also offering an option-confirmation-based text progression system instead of throwing friggin’ Hoover Dams of dialogue and text at you. Or me! More likely me, in this case, since between the two of us I’m statistically more likely to be the one writing this article.
PUP (Music ⚡️ Band)
PUP RULZ OK
I encountered PUP during one of the twice-per-episode And Now, Here’s A Song From A Band We Like breaks on Dungeon Punks, the very best D&D podcast about a punk band named Rust Monster, who lead the fight against the return of the Metal Generals, play kick-ass shows in small towns with terrible secrets, and get paid in Bad Whiskey. This isn’t an entry about Dungeon Punks, but I do love them so much I made a meme about them for Twitter:
Listen: people tend to stop exploring new music as they age, but a nifty trick to pull on your brain is to find new stuff that tastes similar to stuff you already love and branch out from there; for example PUP is actually a little hard for my tastes BUT the very first time I heard one of their songs, Free At Last, my first thought was “Oh those vocals remind me a lot of The Black Parade-era MCR” (which is permanently engraved on my soul because it came out the year I graduated high school, I don’t make the rules) and I was instantly hooked.
Resident Evil 2 (PS5)
Holy gee-golly-wow-wow-wubbzy-friggidy-fractals what a game, good LORP. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sequel improve this dramatically over its predecessor, thing’s a fuckin’ mastapiece is what.
Having played the first three in a relatively short span of time I can say without hesitation that this is my favorite; the gameplay is spry and snappy, the player’s desperation-to-power balance is always exactly right, you feel like a genius every time you solve one of the puzzles that the game wants you to solve, and being chased by Mr. X elicits the purest, most instinctive animal panic-response that I’ve gotten from a video game since the first E.M.M.I. hunted Samus down and butchered her like a deer in front of me in Metroid Dread.
In fact, if the gentle reader is intrigued by these Residents Evil but, like I was myself, is overwhelmed and unsure where to begin, I would just say to play this one first; it’ll give you the best taste of what this world is like re: monstros and Umbrella skulduggery, it’s replete with puzzles but they’re not largely abstruse and often frustrating like in the first one, and the action-elements are exciting and player-involved while still feeling extremely dangerous unlike the action-horror power-fantasy that is the third one.
Here, have my notes!
My good moogles and mugwumps, presenting for your consideration: Resident Evil 2.
Resident Evil 3 (PS5)
This one’s fine! I was a little disappointed at first, then realized that what I was counting as a sin against the game was the simple fact that it wasn’t RE2; once I embraced it on its own terms (and turned on goddamned Assist Mode; I’m gonna die one day) it got a lot more enjoyable.
It does mark the beginning of the series’ actionization, which would mature more successfully in RE4, and as a result it’s kind of a weird kludge in a few places, such as giving you a run-button that very nearly does something, and having so few puzzles or riddles or mysterious trinkets that I quickly realized that I didn’t even need to keep a notebook like I very much enjoyed doing for the first two; find below the only notes I felt the need to take:
There are a few places where the actionization does work well, such as the introduction of the dodge/duck/dip/dive/dodge mechanic, which is useful if if you can get the timing down, and a chunk near the end of the game does take place in the Raccoon City Police Department just prior to the events of the second game, which I have mixed feelings about; on the one hand it was the very last thing I was expecting and my grade for the game went up an entire letter because of it, but on the other, like, imagine if the next Avengers just plugged half an hour of footage from Infinity War into the middle of its run-time, right? If you reference a previous work, the present work needs to be strong enough that I don’t just immediately wish I was just back in the previous work.
So yeah, overall a mixed experience with RE3, but we played the whole thing and on the whole I’d say we enjoyed it more than we didn’t, especially once we learned to just play the game in front of us instead of wishing we were playing RE2, even if it did then immediately remind us that we weren’t playing RE2. Of particular noteworthiness to me is the strength of characterization of the ultimate antagonist whom I will not reveal for spoilies; their bad-guy charisma is absolutely undeniable and they were a delight to be taunted by, which was a perfect counterpoint to the thoughtless bloodhound-pursuit of the Nemesis, the new store-brand Mr. X who dogs us throughout the entire game simply because he was created to do that, both in-world and out. The game did make us feel for Nemesis by the end, though, and that took some reeeeeeal doing considering how fucking sick we were of him constantly turning out to not be dead.
The Righteous Gemstones (HBO)
Hoboy, where to start. Okay, so, TRG is about a family of megachurch preachers (the titular Gemstone clan) who are terrible, terrible people…but also just complicated and human enough to keep them from falling into Complete Monster or Unrelatable Cartoon Character territory. Created, written and I think directed a few times by Danny McBride, it has a completely unique, undeniable voice that will either 100% critical-hit or be completely unwatchable, but for my part it’s equal parts incredible comedy, pretty gripping family-drama, and absolutely brutal satire of the kind of religious ecosystem I grew up in and escaped from the second the guards weren’t looking.
Every one of these characters is deeply broken in some way, mostly relating to their family’s work and position and always relating to their relationship with money and the status and material excess that they’re supposed to eschew, for as the Man Jesus said, one cannot serve both money and God. That struggle is central to the show: this is a family of True Believers, but they’ve allowed themselves to be corrupted by power and money to the point where they know that something is wrong but have lost the ability to tell what it is. Every one of them hurts so, so much, and is so desperate to connect with the others, but is unable to do so through the confining layers of greed and pride and materialism they’ve mummified themselves in.
Beyond the sharpness of the writing, the depth of characterization, and the absolutely unbelievable soundtrack, I want to take a moment to highlight one of my favorite things about the show: its complete lack of fear when it comes to giving itself and its characters room and time to breathe and grow. Find below two clips, of the same song, performed (in-world) thirty years apart, by a mother and daughter now separated by the Lonesome Valley into which all souls must one day walk. I can think of very few other shows that would not only give these two characters this much space to connect across that gulf but have enough respect for its cast to recognize that they had to learn this entire goddamn performance; most shows would still have them learn and perform the entire song, then end up giving us maybe 30 seconds of each, which isn’t enough time to appreciate either the work that went into it or the emotional significance of it.
A last note, and then I’ll let you go: TRG is super, super raunchy, mostly in dialogue but with one notable exception: gang, there is so much wang in this show, it’s just ding-dong city, like it’s the friggin’ Oscar Meyer factory floor, but it’s never actually sexualized and is pretty universally played for comedy? The only explanation I can conjure is that Danny McBride came across the Gratuitous Nudity Clause that one can only assume all HBO contracts include and giggled to himself while signing like a Djinn whose master has just made a very poorly-worded wish. So just know that you’re gonna see–and look, I don’t know your life, but–what I’m pretty sure is more dick-per-episode than you get from most programming, but the vast majority of it will be projected onto Danny McBride’s face during a slideshow presentation or sticking out of a The Cell-style sensory-deprivation suit at a Satanist rave.