For All Mankind, Season 3

For All Mankind, Season 3

Humans have colonized the Moon (not Iron Sky-style) and are about to land on Mars. In the alternate history of For All Mankind, the Soviet Union still exists, Bill Clinton lost the 1992 election to former astronaut, and closeted lesbian, Ellen Wilson (Jodi Balfour), and a private space company joins America and Russia in the race to the Red Planet.

The space-related plot of Season 3, now streaming on Apple TV, is as exciting and real world-referencing as before. The American Mars ship, Sojourner, is named after the first Mars rover. The Soviet ship in the show is inspired by actual designs.

The political plots are becoming less believable, including a gay storyline that starts off credible enough, with a combination of the tragic and the inspiring, but culminates in an over-the-top reveal.

Character-wise, the season is less impressive as well.

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American Spy

American Spy

As ethnic minorities advance through the ranks of the United States government, some have wondered, not unreasonably, why they should owe loyalty to an institution that has oppressed, and in some cases still does oppress, them. Such criticisms were leveled at Barack Obama when he became president.

Conversely, few spy thrillers have dwelled on the interior majority-minority dynamics of the country in question. American Spy, Lauren Wilkinson’s 2019 spy novel, quite uniquely does both at once. (And has been praised by the same Obama for it.)

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Donald Trump’s presidency saw a renewed interest in the rise and fall of Richard Nixon, now almost half a century ago.

In 2017, we got the excellent Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House, starring Liam Neeson as the associate FBI director who fed Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein the story behind the Watergate burglary. They nicknamed him “Deep Throat”.

The four-hour documentary Watergate — Or, How We Learned to Stop an Out-of-Control President was released a year later.

Slate produced a podcast about the Watergate scandal in 2020, called Slow Burn. It was so successful that they continued it with a season about Monica Lewinsky and the impeachment of Bill Clinton.

Gaslit is partly based on that podcast. The makers of Slow Burn restored Martha Mitchell’s role in the history of Watergate. Gaslit puts her front and center with a stellar performance by Julia Roberts.

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Dirty Lines

Dirty Lines

I previewed Dirty Lines as the Netherlands’ answer to Sex Education in my review of Amsterdam Vice, which I compared to The Deuce. Having watched all six episodes of the series (sadly, there are only six), I can confirm it’s just as wholesome.

Sex Education is about teenagers at a modern-day British high school. The main character of Dirty Lines, played by Joy Delima, is a sexology student at the University of Amsterdam in the late 1980s. The Dutch show is a little grittier (it’s 1980s Amsterdam) and a little more mature, but in terms of topics and humor it has a lot in common with Sex Education. Both are on Netflix.

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Monumental Propaganda

Modern Propaganda

Joseph Stalin was synonymous with the Soviet Union until he wasn’t. When Nikita Khrushchev, in 1956, formally denounced the vozhd, the man who had led his country through the nightmare of Barbarossa and emerged victorious, it came as a shock. The red banner flew from Vladivostok to Erfurt, from Murmansk to Tirana. World communism seemed inevitable. But Khrushchev knew Stalin had also hurt the Soviet Union in many ways.

Vladimir Voinovich’s 2000 novel Monumental Propaganda, named after Lenin’s doctrine of monumental art, whose remnants dot the former Soviet Union, addresses that shock. In particular, it revolves around a statue of Stalin in a fictional Russian city that is brought into being by Aglaya Stepanovna Renkina, a local party apparatchik who is intensely devoted to the leader. (She survived Barbarossa) She is stunned when the statue is removed in the wake of de-Stalinization and spends the next several decades trying to cope with that loss. In her nostalgic delirium, she finagles her way into getting the statue established in her living room.

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Midcentury Marvel in Disneyland Paris

Almost a year ago, Disneyland Paris reopened their Hotel New York after a long period of refurbishment. You might won’t why this is even worth mentioning, so let’s just dive right into it. Out of all their on-site resort hotels, the New York was the only one with a dieselpunk theme.

I didn’t take a tour of the hotel on previous visits to Disney, nor did I stay there prior to refurbishment. I did previously visit the main entrance hall and often walked past the hotel to admire its midcentury architecture.

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Paris to Link Suburb by Cable Car

Construction is due to begin later this year on a cable car connecting the Parisian suburb of Villeneuve-Saint-Georges with the French capital’s metro network.

The 4.5-kilometer line was designed by the architects of Atelier Schall. Doppelmayr, which also builds ski lifts, is due to make the cable cars themselves. Each would seat ten passengers, allowing the system to transport up to 1,600 commuters per hour.

It’s not a new idea. As I wrote in Unbuilt Paris, engineer Jean Pomagalski proposed to link the then-new business district La Défense with the city center by a cable car, or téléphérique, in the 1960s.

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The Atom: A Love Affair

The Atom: A Love Affair

Nuclear power is back in fashion as a means to wean Europe off Russian gas.

Not so long ago, the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan convinced Germany to abandon atomic energy. Before that, the disaster in Chernobyl, Ukraine gave Europe pause.

The Atom: A Love Affair shows that such ups and downs are not unusual in our 70-year relationship with this form of energy. We have been falling in and out of love with the atom since the 1950s.

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The Bridges at Toko-Ri

The Bridges at Toko-Ri

Korea was the first slugfest of the Cold War. It was where capitalism and communism had their first conflict on open ground, rather than through covert means such as in Greece and Iran. In America, it is something of a forgotten war, overshadowed by World War II before it and Vietnam after it.

James Michener, known for his epic historical novels, was a journalist during the war (and elsewhere; his experiences in the 1956 Hungarian Revolution were the basis for The Bridge at Andau, reviewed here). He draws on that journalistic skill in his 1953 novella The Bridges at Toko-Ri.

The book is about the toll war takes on people, on servicemen and their families. It revolves around naval aviators based on an aircraft carrier off the coast of the peninsula, tasked with destroying the titular bridges.

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Amsterdam Vice

Amsterdam Vice

I will soon have a review for you of Dirty Lines, the new Dutch Netflix series about the beginning of the phone-sex industry in late 1980s Amsterdam. The first episode looked good. It reminded me of Sex Education.

If you’re looking for something closer to The Deuce, the 2017-19 American series about the sex industry in 1970s and 80s New York starring James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal, I recommend Amsterdam Vice.

The name of both a movie and one-season drama series, which repurposed the movie as pilot, it was released in the Netherlands as Baantjer: Het Begin. It is a prequel to the long-running Dutch police procedural Baantjer, which in turn was based on the novels by former cop Albert Cornelis Baantjer. You don’t need to be familiar with either, though, to enjoy Amsterdam Vice. (I never watched the original Baantjer, nor did I read the books.)

Set in 1980, on the eve of Queen Beatrix’s coronation, the movie introduces Waldemar Torenstra as rookie cop Jurre de Cock and Tygo Gernandt as his hardened partner Tonnie Montijn. The two stumble on what appears to be a plot against the new queen when they discover a corpse floating in Amsterdam’s canals.

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