Tag Archive: The Man in the High Castle


luke cage

Ten years!  That’s ten years reviewing TV series in the decade that streaming services began to dominate TV viewing– and binge-watching was born as Netflix began releasing entire seasons at once in 2013.  How do you pick the best series?  As with yesterday’s list of movie recommendations, our theory from the very first day of publishing borg has been reviewing only those things we like, things we think are fun, imaginative, or just plain cool—because if we think they’re cool, maybe you will, too.  What makes a great TV series?  Great writing—great storytelling.  Also we looked to difficulty level and technology innovation—TV productions tend to get a fraction of the budget of big-screen features, so what they do with their time and money is critical, and some television series in the past decade were all-out feats.  The third factor we looked to is re-watchability—we’ll be watching the best series for years to come.  The big difference between ranking movies and TV is the change between seasons, that force that inevitably causes most shows to decline with each season.  So consistency is a factor.  Finally, as with movies the most important factor is the fun—why would you devote so many hours of your valuable time if you’re not going to have a great time?

Manda

One more thing: Ten years is a long time so we narrowed the series we’re including to those recommendations that fall primarily within the ten-year window.  We covered several fantastic, re-watchable series that cemented their status in reruns or syndication, many beginning before borg began publishing and finishing in the years after, including Burn Notice, White Collar, Warehouse 13, Leverage, House, MD, In Plain Sight, and three landmarks among the best pop culture-packed series of all time, Chuck, Psych, and Community.  We were disappointed that some of the best series were canceled and left to only a single season, otherwise they may have gone on to fare better against our top recommendations, shows like Jason Isaacs’ psychological police procedural Awake, Sarah Shahi’s all-for-fun Fairly Legal, Lauren Cohan’s action/spy series Whiskey Cavalier, the Doctor Who spin-off Class, the adaptation of Max Allan Collins’ popular noir novel series Quarry, the slick animated series Tron: Uprising, and the cyborg future-world Almost Human starring Karl Urban, to name a few.

Grimm

So here are the Top 40 series we recommend, spanning 2011 to 2021.  These are our favorites.  How should you use lists like this?  If you like what we talk about at borg, you’re probably going to like these shows.  If you’ve missed any, odds are you have some new series to take a look at.  Let’s start at #40 and move our way to #1.  As with everything borg, we’re stressing genre series.  Title links are to one of our previous borg reviews.

Let’s get started!

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

If you play D&D, love video or board games, if you consider yourself a gamer or you like to compete at all for fun, drop everything and watch The Queen’s Gambit right now, streaming on Netflix.  Chess may not be your game, but it doesn’t matter.  The writer of The Hustler created a heckuva story and character in orphan prodigy Beth Harmon, and the 1960s tale perfectly translates to 2020.  Harmon is a quick-witted, fast-thinking, intense young girl, taking the driver’s seat, she becomes a smart young woman in a parallel type of world to The Hustler’s pool hall, where she competes and wins against Bobby Darin-era boys and middle-aged men in tweeds.  Adapted by one of the best screen writers around, Scott Frank, writer of the movies Logan, The Wolverine, Minority Report, Malice, Dead Again, and the similar-themed Little Man Tate, and also director of the series–don’t skip this because a series about chess may sound boring to you.

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

We’re accustomed to seeing non-fiction tie-in books digging into what makes the big sci-fi franchises so popular.  But it’s only a recent trend that publishers are meeting fan demand by digging into those television series that don’t have the established fan bases and studio support.  Firefly was probably the first series to break out in this way, but publishers are now seeing–thanks to streaming platforms specifically–that fans want more content about their favorite shows.  Following recent books like Jeff Bond’s The World of The Orville (reviewed here at borg) and The Art and Making of the Expanse (reviewed here), the next acclaimed science fiction series has a behind-the-scenes account with Mike Avila’s The Man in the High Castle: Creating the Alt World from Titan Books.

Designed almost identically to the successful The World of The Orville, this look at Amazon Studios’ The Man in the High Castle: Creating the Alt World is both an overview of the series, its characters, its source material, and the creation of its detailed alternate world, and it’s also a visit with the creators behind and in front of the camera that made a complex, highly regarded work of classic sci-fi literature into a compelling benchmark in television storytelling.  As we’ve seen in interviews with Lisa Henson in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance–Inside the Epic Return to Thra and interviews about the Broccoli family in The Many Lives of Bond: How the Creators of 007 Have Decoded the Superspy, this look at the Amazon series provides one of fandom’s first glimpses at Philip K. Dick’s daughter, Dick estate trustee and series executive producer Isa Dick Hackett.  So whether you liked (or not) how the series took portions of the novel, left some behind, and added new bits, Hackett explains the thought process behind the production’s choices.

The book covers the entire series–all four seasons–and is divided into four sections by theater: the Japanese Pacific States, the Neutral Zone, the Greater Nazi Reich, and Alternate Worlds, and these sections further highlight specific components of the series, including characters, locations, design, costumes, props, and music.  There’s even a section on creating the creepy opening title sequence, slightly altered each season.  And stills of the signage, both re-created concepts and alternate history imagery, provide fans the opportunity to at last study them in detail.

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

To understand the scope of celebrated Chinese author Cixin Liu′s 2005 novel Supernova Era, finally available to Western audiences in an English translated edition by Joel Martinsen, it helps to look back to its influences, and those works published since its original publication in China.  At its core, this is a classic science fiction novel of the Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, and Ray Bradbury school.  It’s a work of speculative fiction, at once arguably both optimistic and dystopian that reads almost like an alternate history in the vein of Dick’s The Man in the High Castle.  Disturbing and horrifying at points, philosophical, and filled with global, international, and political intrigue, it’s also squarely a young adult title, featuring almost exclusively middle grade aged kids tasked with surviving an interstellar holocaust–the actual “supernova” of the title–that quickly fries the DNA of anyone older than the age of thirteen.  The solution?  In the face of their imminent deaths, the world’s adult leaders begin to select youth leadership based on the classic “model United Nations” competitions.  It’s a jarring, but ultimately interesting and clever mash-up of some great tropes of science fiction.

Since the initial publication of Supernova Era in China, we’ve seen parts of the story replayed–possibly even inspiring–many other genre works:  Only last year in we saw Jeff Lemire’s Sentient–a comic book series where the adults on a ship are killed in a sabotage leaving kids to run a spaceship.  Here, we follow two small groups of children, the cabinet who must lead China and the cabinet who leads the United States, without the help, advice, education, and other benefits of adults or adulthood, on a global stage.   At first, the children default to letting an Internet-like artificial intelligence computer–the Digital Domain–help keep society in order, something like the robot in last year’s Netflix movie, I Am Mother, where a computer system’s robotic surrogate fulfills all parental duties to children.

When the daily toil of work grinds the kids in the Supernova Era into a state of boredom, they reach out to a massively multi-player online roleplaying game (MMPORG) and begin to build their real lives around it, as we saw in Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel, Ready Player One, where a future society allows itself to give up life in the real world to become lost inside a virtual reality MMPORG.  And the world’s kid leadership ultimately decide they need to compete with other nations, creating a worldwide version of Suzanne Collins’ 2008 novel The Hunger Games (also inspired by Stephen King’s novel, The Running Man) with a society relying on a new world construct with quirky contrived, artificial new rules of survival, battling wars with gameboard rules to the death.  Were these authors aware of Liu’s internationally known and respected work?  Possibly, but it’s the earlier works that served at least in part as influences on Liu’s novel.

Continue reading

This year we found one series that could easily sweep most of the categories–a single television series that had everything: compelling story, a full range of emotions, great characters, tremendous action, a sharp use of humor, all kinds of genre elements that were satisfying and left viewers feeling inspired.  Richly detailed sets and costumes.  An impossible feat to replicate.  No drama came close.  No other visual effects spectacle could touch it.  And its audience is everyone.  A truly epic addition to television viewing, that series is The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, the greatest television series to come along in years.  If you love genre like we do, this was as good as it gets.  And like icing on the cake, along came The Mandalorian at year end.

But we’re not going to ignore the other good things that happened on the small screen this year.

Our borg Best of 2019 list continues today with the best in television.  If you missed it, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2019 here and the best Kick-Ass Heroines of 2019 here.

Without further ado, this year’s Best in Television:

Best Borg SeriesDoom Patrol (DC Universe).  With this year’s series Doom Patrol we got a look at two borgs, DC Comics’ Cyborg, an update to Martin Caidin’s original Bionic Man from the 1970s, and an older borg created before the word was even coined in the 1960s, Robotman.  Both characters revealed a glimpse at what life might be like with significant cybernetic enhancements (when brought together by a modern Dr. Frankenstein).  For 2019, it was the way to get your borg fix on the small screen.

Best TV Series, Best New Limited TV Series, Best TV Fantasy, Best Writing for TV, Best TV Costumes/Makeup, Best TV SoundtrackThe Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (Netflix).  It was worth the wait.  Jim Henson’s seemingly impossible to replicate artistic vision was successfully achieved thanks to his daughters and the company he founded.  The kindest heroes, the darkest evil, a truly epic, legendary story for the ages.  Everybody is cranking out CGI extravaganzas, but how many are creating artistry so fundamentally real, with so many individual artists and artisans contributing and achieving so much?  Even that wouldn’t be enough if not for the layered mythology and epic adventure story.  Add great humor, high stakes, emotional impact, an all-star voice cast, Daniel Pemberton and Samuel Sim’s  imaginative musical score, and those puppets and all that go into them–it adds up to a rare thing–a Henson masterpiece.

Best TV Sci-fi Series, Best TV DramaThe Man in the High Castle (Amazon).  Amazon Studios could not have adapted a series more faithfully, making changes for the medium and the times, than its take on Philip K. Dick’s most celebrated novel.  The use of science fiction to tell a deep and twisty level of subplots and unique setting all came to a perfect conclusion in the series finale.  Exciting, intelligent, frightening, and the most thought-provoking series this year, it was also different from its sci-fi competition.  Honorable mention: The Mandalorian (Disney+)–but only if we allow space fantasy since the series is not true science fiction, The Orville (Fox)–for its two-part epic movie-worthy space story, “Identity.”

Best New Ongoing TV Series, Runner-up: Best TV Soundtrack, Runner-up: Best TV Costumes/Makeup The Mandalorian (Disney+).  Not a lot needs explaining with this series, which in only its first two hours we rated it closer to the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back than anything with the Star Wars label on it since.  The Western motif is still alive, not all that hidden here in space fantasy garb.  And we won’t get started on the impact of The Child (aka Baby Yoda) on the genre-loving world and beyond.  Credit Jon Favreau’s visible enthusiasm and love for the original movies for the success of this surprisingly awesome arrival–the series is proof Star Wars is far from over.

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

How often does a television series stay powerfully compelling for the entirety of its run?  Most series, especially science fiction series, have a freshman and sophomore season full of bad episodes and clunky storylines.  With a fourth season now one for the books, Amazon Studios’ The Man in the High Castle is the exception, and nothing short of cinema magic that the final season of the series didn’t miss a beat in its final ten episodes.  The series has been a slow burn from the first season, but if you enjoy the idea of an alternate universe that doubles as an alternate history story–and nobody made them better than author Philip K. Dick–then this is the series for you, waiting for you to stream its 40 episodes right now.  It all began with a first-rate pilot (first previewed here at borg) set in a gut-wrenching world where the Axis beat the Allies in World War II, created five years ago for Amazon’s first run at a series format.  From the meticulously re-created sets, buildings, landscapes, costumes, props, and vehicles, to a script that may very well reflect the smartest and most tense science fiction ever to hit television sets, The Man in the High Castle proves Amazon Studios can match (and beat) the quality of programming of any of its competitors.

The themes are unfortunately current, grand and weighty like the best science fiction should be, and Santayana’s warning was probably never better illustrated in fiction form, asking the question: Could Nazi leadership of the homegrown American variety be worse than a threat from foreign invaders?  The show also explores other big ideas, like the idea that you may not be the very best possible version of yourself (and what you could do about it).  Most series are top-heavy, relying too much on the lead characters to drive the story.  The writers of The Man in the High Castle took the time to completely flesh out dozens of key supporting characters, each one critical to the story, and all an example of world-building detail that every writer should take notes on.  Every thread they created gets nicely tied up by the final episode.  The very best, most complex and creative character arcs on any series this decade happened here.  And the series’ climactic scene is simply goosebump-inducing.  The pool of candidates for anyone’s best TV actor and actress this year?  They should begin with this series.

Back again is Alexa Davalos as the world-bending, judo teacher-turned resistance strategist.  She was joined by last year’s new suave, rogue soldier, played by Jason O’Mara.  They have the knowledge to potentially save their world and infinite others, but how do they decide what is the right way to do it? Leading the bad guys on the American front again is Rufus Sewell′s Reichsmarshall John Smith, whose performance as the rising Nazi leader is so convincing viewers will never see what’s coming next, and his wife Helen, played by Chelah Horsdal, gets to step into the spotlight in nerve-wracking ways this season.  Joel de la Fuerte, as Japan’s Emperor’s leader in San Francisco, is so versatile he should be the most sought-after actor on the planet.  This year they are joined by new good guys played by Frances Turner and Clé Bennett, who bring a welcome, late-breaking twist to the outcome of the world, plus the return of Quinn Lord as the alt world’s Thomas Smith.  Even the kids playing the daughters–Genea Charpentier and Gracyn Shinyei–are scary good (meriting inclusion on our ever-growing horror film “creepy little girls” list).

Continue reading

We previewed Amazon Prime’s first trailer for the final season of The Man in the High Castle here back in February, and we had a glimpse at an opening scene from the first episode of season four.  Last year’s finale for the season, our pick for last year’s best sci-fi TV here at borg, featured a 1960s sci-fi scene with its own version of Stranger Things.  Another trailer is here, and this one finally confirms Chelah Holsdal′s bigger role as Helen Smith, wife of the new leader of the Nazis and former U.S. soldier, John Smith, played by Rufus Sewell.

With Germany’s move on the Japanese States thwarted, a revolution has gained traction out West, and viewers were left with series lead Alexa Davalos’s heroic leader Juliana seemingly understanding how to phase-travel like Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa′s Tagomi had done.  Helen and her girls have John Smith, and Himmler is taken down in an assassination attempt.  Yes, a lot was resolved, but we’re also set up for a big, brutal finale this next year, especially as Joel de la Fuente′s Inspector Kido gains more influence and power.  Who will win the battle for the World War II outcomes of all dimensions, the U.S., Japan, or Germany?  (Sounds like a game of Axis & Allies to us).

Is Helen Smith finally going to kill her husband John for letting her son die?  It seems likely Philip K. Dick would have approved all the updates and extensions to his novel in this show.  Here is the latest look at the final season of The Man in the High Castle:

Continue reading

We previewed Amazon Prime’s first trailer for the final season of The Man in the High Castle here back in February.  Now we have a peek at an opening scene from the first episode of season four.  Last year’s finale for the season, our pick for last year’s best sci-fi TV here at borg, featured a 1960s sci-fi scene with its own version of “stranger things.”  An experiment led by an alternate history Josef Mengele, who could forever imprint a Nazi-won World War II on any and all timelines led to the Liberty Bell melted down and the Statue of Liberty destroyed, last seen falling into New York Harbor.  With Germany’s move on the Japanese States thwarted, a revolution has gained traction out West, and viewers were left with series lead Alexa Davalos’s heroic leader Juliana seemingly understanding how to phase-travel like Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa’s Tagomi had done.

Luke Kleintank’s Joe Blake and Rupert Evans’ Frank Frink were cast out of the story, as Jason O’Mara’s Wyatt Price stepped in to fill the void.  Helen and her girls have left Rufus Sewell’s John Smith, and Himmler is taken down in an assassination attempt.  Yes, a lot was resolved, but we’re also set up for much more in this coming season.

What is this mysterious relationship in another timeline between Juliana and John Smith?  Check out this first look at an opening scene showcasing these characters in season four, the final season, of The Man in the High Castle:

Continue reading

Amazon Prime released its first trailer for the final season of The Man in the High Castle, our pick for last year’s best sci-fi TV series here at borg.  Last fall’s season three finale, “Jahr Null” (Year Zero), included a set inspired by 1960s sci-fi films where an experiment led by an alternate history Josef Mengele could forever imprint a Nazi-won World War II on any and all timelines.  The Liberty Bell was melted down, and the Statue of Liberty was destroyed, falling into New York Harbor.  Luke Kleintank’s Joe Blake and Rupert Evans’ Frank Frink are now out of the story, as Jason O’Mara’s Wyatt Price steps in to fill the void in the rogue hero department.

Helen and the girls have left Rufus Sewell’s John Smith, and Himmler is taken down in an assassination attempt.  Did he live or die, and does that mean Smith becomes Fuhrer?  With Germany’s move on the Japanese States thwarted, a revolution has gained traction out West, and Alexa Davalos’s heroic leader Juliana has finally figured out how to travel like Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa’s Tagomi.

Yes, a lot was resolved, but we’re also set up for much more in this coming season.  Will Laura Mennell’s Thelma Harris take on a greater role now that Bella Heathcote’s Nicole Dörmer was sent back to Germany for flaunting the law?  And what is the mysterious relationship in another timeline between Juliana and John Smith?

Check out this first look at season four of The Man in the High Castle:

Continue reading

Our borg Best of 2018 list continues today with the best in television.  If you missed it, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2018 here and the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2018 here.

Without further ado, this year’s Best in Television:

Best Borg TV Series, Best TV BorgHumans (AMC).  No other series touches on the ramifications of technology, specifically the perils of an onslaught of real-world cyborg technology, like AMC’s Humans.  This year three characters stood out, including Gemma Chan’s Mia, the cyborg Synth from past seasons, who sacrificed everything for the liberty of cyborgs in the UK.  Then there was Ruth Bradley’s Karen Voss, a Synth who refused to live segregated from the humans, opting instead for a normal life for the cyborg son she assumed care for.  And Katherine Parkinson’s Laura Hawkins, a human lawyer who fought so hard for the cause of the Synths all year, only to throw away all the good she had done, failing the first real challenge that was presented to her.  This year’s best TV borg is shared by Synths Mia and Karen, as each showed the uphill battle any future outsider must overcome when faced with humans.

Best Sci-fi TV SeriesThe Man in the High Castle (Amazon).  What had been a two-season build-up all came together in the series’ third season with the audacity of killing off key characters, wisely adhering to the framework of the source Philip K. Dick novel.  The use of science fiction to tell an often gut-wrenching array of subplots and unique characters has set up a fourth season with plenty to address.  Exciting, smart, scary, and even fun, it is an unusual science fiction show that isn’t merely trigger-happy sci-fi.  Honorable mention: Humans (AMC), Counterpart (Starz).

Best New TV Series, Best Reboot, Best Ensemble CastMagnum PI (CBS).  If you would have told us a year ago our favorite show this year would be a reboot of Magnum, p.i. starring Suicide Squad’s Jay Hernandez and an actress in the iconic role of John Hillerman’s Higgins, we wouldn’t have believed it.  And yet, even as diehard fans of the original, we had to acknowledge that many elements of the reboot series were even better in the new series.  With the dangerous risk of taking on a beloved property, the production maintained loyalty to the original while making it fresh, scoring Magnum PI high marks on all counts.  Every character was smartly written–suave and confident Magnum, energetic Rick and TC, and a savvy Higgins–every actor was perfectly cast, and each show was another round of nostalgic fun for fans of the original.  Best New TV Series Honorable mention for Best New TV Series: Counterpart (Starz), Lodge 49 (AMC).

Best Series, Best Drama, Best ComedyLodge 49 (AMC).  Lodge 49 told two stories: a darkly serious drama of real people dealing with real-life 2018 adversity, and the other a comedy farce like no other.  Hanging over our heads was the idea that this was going to be a fantasy show, complete with secret codes, hidden rooms, and psychic visions.  If you’re looking for all the elements of great fantasy the hint of it all could be found throughout this series.  And yet it wasn’t fantasy at all.  An oddball Cheers?  A southern Twin Peaks without the Lynchian weirdness?  Star Wyatt Russell’s hero Dud could be dismissed as a typical young man with no vision, or maybe he’s that idealist that everyone needs to strive to be.  Maybe we’ll learn more about that next season.  Honorable mention for Best Drama: Counterpart (Starz).  Honorable mention for Best Comedy: Baskets (FX).
Continue reading