Two decent French SF series on Netflix:

Transfers” – (sort of) cops from “Spiral” investigate illegal personality transfers in a very near future. Only French can get away with a 12-year-old girl (with a 50 y.o. old smugglers’ mind transfer) offering a blow job and jabbing a needle in a would-be-pedophile scrotum.

Osmosis” – AI-mediated search for a perfect mate and waking people from a coma as an unintended aside. Everybody is unbelievably beautiful including a shaven head person of indeterminate gender. Would have been irritating if it was Hollywood, but they are French.


Film Nano-Review: “Io” (Netflix)

Don’t expect much from an SF movie that starts with ”To prove or disprove that …these bacteria get their oxygen (O2) from ammonia (NH4)”. 

Just when I thought that there’s enough scientists redeployed in Hollywood to prevent this kind of mistakes even in a visibly low budget movie.

Neflix: more of the same ad nauseum?

In the battle between old studio-based media giants that churn endless Transformers remakes and new internet-based ones, I am firmly in the camp of the latter. I can rarely stir myself to go and watch a movie that will cost me at least £10  for what feels like a sterile corporate experience. For the same price, I can have a month access to Netflix with thousands of hours of entertainment from the comfort of my own home.

But the article “Netflix Is Getting Huge. But Can It Get Great?” of an even older media member, the New Your Times critic  James Poznierovski reads as a prophecy.  He writes that Netflix is good in allowing established media figures like Shonda Rimes (of Gray’s Anatomy and The Scandal) to make more of the same content but there’s a lack of maverick breakthroughs that independent movie makers allow.

The recent SF movies and series confirm this. As I wrote before, What happened to Monday is a paler but still watchable copy of  Canadian cable show “Orphan Black“. “The Cloverfield Paradox” is “nothing new but watchable as well”.

Case in point N2. Extinction. They, the aliens, came, they saw, they bombed and shot everybody to smithereens because they could. Reminds the recent Iraq War.

(Spoiler alert)

Case in point N3. The Beyond (so bad it doesn’t have a Wikipedia page).The aliens save the humanity for no reason and moreover, reward Earth destruction by gifting another planet. I find it a pale copy of French micro-series Missions, which at least had a based on real-life Soviet cosmonaut.

Why or why they recycle old tired ideas? Why does it take the Netflix 15 years to read ‘Altered Carbon‘?

TV/Netflix series review: Orphan Black



The five main clone characters all played by Tatiana Maslany (from left to right, top to bottom: Sarah, Alison, Helena, Cosima, and Rachel). Image from Wikipedia, fair use.

When it comes to biology, especially molecular biology,  TV and films usually show nonsense. One of the famous examples is King Kong – a case of 30 feet gorilla (impossible from the biophysics point of view, his bones would have shattered under the weight of the body). And the case of extreme interspecies romance based on very human male interest in buxom blondes. Rare examples of (sort of) plausible scenario include Jurassic Park – I saw an article in Nature about the plausibility of cloning mammoth. Surely, the dinosaurs can follow. NB Outbreak, which shows a few very real “how to”.Orphan Black is a Canadian science fiction television series available on Netflix. I was very skeptical about it – its blurb talks about human cloning. I was surprised to find a very sober approach to the plot: a military program in human cloning in the 70th resulted in several identical women raised in different countries, mostly in the US. Well, it’s a truth universally acknowledged that the US is the center of the world </sarcasm>.

The  10+ clones played by excellent Tatyana Maslyany, who is the main attraction of the series. There are no usual pseudoscience traps such as “cloning of soul” and “mind sharing”. The clones are biologically identical with underlying active character but have very different personalities depending on where and how they were raised – from a mad Ukrainian orphan Helena to a PhD in Experimental Evolutionary Developmental Biology, Cosima. The deadlocked PhD student is also a lesbian, while the rest of the clones are heterosexual.

The underlying science of human cloning is plausible. Even better, the contemporary science that the PhD engages with is good as well. For example, clones suffer from genetic abnormalities that is possible to repair using stem cells. Of course, there’s an inevitable conspiracy centered on biomedical companies but it would be a dull series without whodunit and action.

I liked not only biology and action but especially the post-Soviet connection. The Western science in the 20th century for all its glory also embraced biological explanation to human differences and proposed radical solutions such as eugenics. The racism was postulated, confirmed and reconfirmed.

In the meanwhile, Soviet biological science was a part of a huge experiment of molding a new Soviet person. Conceptually it was based on Pavlov’s experiments on conditioning, not Mendel‘s immutable genes. The Soviet ideology I was raised with believed that humans are products of their environment – you change the environment, you change the person. While the US was engaged in compulsory sterilization programmes for undesirables, the Soviets gave the ignorant free universal education and healthcare. While in the US black people were segregated on the basis of their inborn inferiority, Soviet Union declared the equality of races.

The traces of this eugenic and racist thinking are still there in the 21st century. Time and time again a few scientists, notably,  Nobel Prize winner,  James “DNA” Watson try to dust off racial and/or genetic inferiority theories. There’s also a recent trend to absolve people from responsibility on the basis of their genetic makeup – “my genes made me do it“. So it was very refreshing to see a pop-culture phenomenon that is subtly firmly in the “nurture plus nature” camp.

All five seasons of Orphan Balck are available on Netflix and I recommend to give it a go, it’s one of the best SF series of the decade.


Film Review: “What Happened to Monday”

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,  this Netflix production flatters “Orphan Black”. Like in the Canadian TV series, one actress plays septuplets born in a world with “one family – one child” policy.  It’s thriller as well but considering the rate of siblings demise, I wondered how the authors going to sustain a series, not realising that’s a stand-alone “made for Netflix” movie.

The pace of “What Happened to Monday” is frantic but the story formulaic, nowhere near the depth of characters and ideas explored by “Orphan Black”.

The movie is a perfect illustration of New York Times article that is unsure if Netflix is capable of truly original production or will just copy what’s been done before.