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Review: Russian Doll, Season 2 at Strange Horizons

My review of the second season of Russian Doll appears today at Strange Horizons . As I write in the review, Russian Doll is almost more interesting for how it reflects the vicissitudes of the streaming era, and Netflix's wavering fortunes over the last few years, than for the story it tells. Its second season joins several other shows that should by all rights have been one-and-done, but which were brought back due to enthusiastic audience response and platforms desperate for content, only to be met by a resounding shrug from audiences who had already moved on. The season itself, meanwhile, lacks the tight plotting and evocative central McGuffin of the first season, but it still has significant charms, even if these often come down getting to spend more time with the characters, and in the situations, that were so delightful last season. Russian Doll 's first season felt almost like a precision instrument (a precision that contrasted nicely with Nadia's chaotic nature),

Recent Movie: Fire Island

[This post first appeared, in slightly different form, at Lawyers, Guns & Money .] The conversation about the parlous state of the romantic comedy has been going on for so long that it has consumed not only buckets of virtual ink, but the real-world variety too. At this stage, it might be time to admit that the genre's heyday in the 80s and 90s was more of a blip than the long fallow period we've been in ever since. And yet, every few years someone comes up with a new killer app to save the romcom. Remember when (500) Days of Summer was going to revitalize the genre? Remember how, in the wake of the success of How I Met Your Mother , someone coined the term rom-sitcom and declared that from now on, all romcoms would be TV shows? Remember when Hulu crowed about screening the world's first Christmas romcom to focus on a lesbian couple, and then we watched with horrified fascination as Mackenzie Davis treated Kristen Stewart worse than any male romcom lead has ever treat

Elsewhere

A gaggle of shorter pieces of writing published elsewhere on the internet over the last couple of days. First, at the magazine ArtReview , I have a short piece about multiverses and how they're used by franchises like the MCU as well as smaller films like Everything Everywhere All at Once : This kind of appeal to recognition can serve as a pleasant garnish. One of the earliest on-screen multiverse stories, the Crisis on Infinite Earths (2019-2020), took a great deal of pleasure in bringing together previous inhabitants of DC characters from projects old (Burt Ward from the original Batman TV series, 1966-1968), failed (Ashley Scott from the short-lived Birds of Prey , 2002-2003) and wildly successful (Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman from the beloved animated series, 1992-1995). At its worst, however, it feels like a kind of anti-story. As Tony Soprano once put it, "remember when" is the lowest form of conversation. When John Krasinski appears in the latest Doctor Str

Everything Everywhere All at Once

There's a problem I've talked about before on this blog, of trying to review something really good and not knowing what to say about it beyond "it's really good, guys". When a work is bad, or even just flawed, you have an access point. When something works on all levels, though, it can be hard to tease out the threads that makes that success happen, to find the specific selling point that might attract an audience to it. That problem is compounded in the case of A24's sci-fi extravaganza Everything Everywhere All at Once —a film that, in my reckoning, is currently in the running for the best movie of 2022. True to its name, this is a film that is doing, and about, so much at any given moment that to focus on any specific aspect of it runs the risk of getting pulled down a rabbit hole, bogged down in specifics while losing sight of the whole. See, for example, how much there is to say just in summing up the film's plot. Michelle Yeoh plays Evelyn, a harried

Recent Movie: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

There's a moment early in the new Doctor Strange movie that seems to promise something genuinely dark. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is attending the wedding of his ex-girlfriend Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). He ends up seated next to Nic (Michael Stuhlbarg), a former colleague from his days as a surgeon, who informs Strange that during the five year interregnum when they were both reduced to dust by Thanos, his brother died. Was there, Nic asks, really no other way to defat Thanos than the one Strange chose? And for a moment, you feel it. The sheer existential terror, the crippling despair, of existing in a universe in which the very fabric of your reality is subject to the whims—or even the considered decisions—of not just cosmic beings like Thanos, but ordinary people like Strange. The sort of people you might end up chatting to at a wedding, while having to swallow the knowledge that they have determined the course of your life—often without even knowing that you

Recent Reading: The Actual Star by Monica Byrne

By a total coincidence, Byrne's second novel resonates with both of this year's previous Recent Reading reviews. Like Matt Bell's Appleseed , it's a climate novel that proceeds in three timelines, past, present, and future, connecting to and echoing one another. And like Benjamin Rosenbaum's The Unravelling , it depicts a far-future, anti-capitalist society where post-human people can sculpt their bodies and choose their social milieu with incredible freedom, but which turns out to be more repressive, and in need of revolution, than it first seems. Obviously,  Byrne strikes her own path, and among her most distinctive choices is the one to construct the novel around the culture and worldview of the ancient Maya, who are depicted here, in all the complexity of their rituals and beliefs, with an acceptance and lack of judgment that can take a while to get used to. In the past storyline, set in 1012 South America, twins Ajul and Ixul are preparing to accede to the thro

Review: She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan, at Strange Horizons

My review of Shelley Parker-Chan's debut novel She Who Became the Sun —recently nominated for a Hugo award (the first time ever, apparently, for an Australian author), with Parker-Chan also appearing on the Astounding ballot—appears today at Strange Horizons . I enjoyed this novel a great deal, and particularly the way in which it combined a non-Western historical fantasy of the type we've seen so much of in the last decade or so with some really interesting ideas about gender. It's a story about how societies are weakened by rigid gender roles, and about how specific individuals, by queering those roles, can achieve power. Right at the beginning, then, Parker-Chan establishes that the rigid gender roles that govern the novel's society aren't simply a matter of one gender having more power and freedom than the other, but of separate spheres of knowledge—and that the men in the novel, by convincing themselves that women's knowledge is both useless and out of rea