So I saw Altered Carbon on Netflix. I'm going to try to avoid any serious spoilers....
The story and characters don't move too much beyond gritty action movie types played reasonably well, but the sci-fi is all pretty decent. Like, there are a few rules of the universe you just accept going in - like no matter what the time scale, we're going to ignore the idea of technological progress and assume the society presented has always been pretty much as it is, and some of the core bits of tech just work the way they say they do so just go with it etc. It's also refreshingly not a didactic dystopia with a lot of one-sided philosophical arguments or one of those dumb dystopia movies that expect to topple the evil empire / exploitative global scheme / secret oligarchic cabal / homicidal super-AI by the end of the runtime. Altered Carbon is a little too big in scope by the end to call a personal story, but it sets up a murder mystery (or rather two) as the hook and that's exactly what it delivers on by the end.
The last post-cyberpunk series I'd seen was Dollhouse (good sci-fi and characters, effing terrible plot) and I still have a bad taste in my mouth a decade after Battlestar Galactica's nonsensical handling of AI, synthetic bodies, and backup minds. Compared to either, AC has a lot more trappings of Blade Runner, Johnny Mnemonic, and, thanks to a couple of katana fights, possibly Shadowrun. It's dripping with noir, centered on a character who could be described as a private detective with a second lease on life and his interactions with his wealthy patron and the police force, with an awful lot of gangs and often-murdered sex workers in between.
But mostly I'm just surprised by what entirely decent sci-fi it is. All of its central devices are simplified and follow precise video game rules, but are analogous to roughly realish things that could exist. Equally importantly, no one ever invents something offhand in an afternoon that breaks all the rules. The social implications of those technologies are explored from a variety of perspectives through characters for whom they mean different things. When characters have philosophical opinions, they're largely derived from the backgrounds and contexts those characters come from, not ours in the present, and technologies aren't all good or all evil but have complicated social impacts that don't hinge on any one person's good or bad intentions for them. It's very ... just mature in its approach to technology and science speculation in a way that I don't see in sci-fi on TV ever. (There is some contrived BS with how VR is handled in a technical sense, which results in it not quite adding up that it's used the way we see it used knowing what we know about it and seeming a little Power of Heart, but even then, I have to give them some credit - the part that's broken is at least consistent every time it comes up and not a big reveal.)
I really enjoyed this series. It's suspenseful, the characters are engaging enough, and it doesn't blow up in a contrived mess of make-something-up at the end. The action is good, the tech is handled well, the various layers of who's playing who for what reason and with what leverage from where all feel mostly coherent and in-character most of the time, and somehow manage not to feel insultingly telegraphed or hard to follow. I had a lot of fun.
I did have some nags about how some incidental things were shot or presented that felt less smart than the rest of the show. There's a bloodsport fight scene at one stage that's shot to make it look both dopey and brutal so long as we're supposed to be aghast that the characters are being forced to fight, which is ... a little hard to take seriously in a series that's up to 15% or more brutal fight scenes played for power fantasy. There's also some needless sexualization of one of the female leads early on that feels like HBO nipple quotas in action. That would be meaninglessly annoying anywhere else, but in this series, sexy and very often female bodies, and sometimes the people inside them, are a literal actual commodity that people pay lots of exploitative moneys for in this society, so 1) I'm pretty sure that any and all hypothetical quotas were duly met within twenty minutes in any given episode, and 2) slickly presented and soullessly objectifying sexualization has, like, these very specific meanings in this show, precisely in connection with the highest and lowest tiers of society, tied to sex as currency as well as bodies for hire or designer-made, so having our middle-class, all-natural heroine shot in exactly the same way in a private moment was just ... yeah, lacking in self-awareness.
One spoiler comment for anyone who has on the off chance already seen it, which is a small thing about the ending that itches me about the presentation rather than the characters or plot, but I can't comment on without ruining everything.
Edited by Copper Bezel, 31 August 2019 - 02:32 PM.