Family vac[cin]ations, the cat vs. the Horrible Strangers, reactions to Black Widow, Loki, Check Please!, Leverage: Redemption

Stuff about stuff that’s been up.

Family vac[cin]ations

My parents and brother came to town, making it the first time we’ve all been in one place for almost 2 years. (Parents have been vaccinated for a while, and they visited earlier in 2021. Brother is (a) young, (b) low-risk, and (c) not in a customer-facing position, so he only skated over the “2 weeks since second dose” theshhold just in time to get here.)

We visited a bunch of the local relatives. On one side, the grandparents who flatly refused to entertain unvaccinated visitors (so everyone’s had their shots). On the other, the grandparents who got their own shots as soon as possible, but were having unmasked indoor visits with my virulently antivaxxer aunt and her kids right up until they — the grandparents — tested positive.

Grandfather, who’d only had his first shot, got pretty sick and was hospitalized, but pulled through. Grandmother, who’d had both shots, barely got the sniffles, wouldn’t even have thought of getting tested if she didn’t live in the same house as a seriously-ill person. Aunt has only doubled down on how these fraudulent vaccines don’t even do anything, you guys.

I, uh, timed my part of the visit to not encounter the antivaxxer aunt.

Banging and drilling

A few relatives came over to my apartment to do some handiwork projects. Which meant the Fluff had his space invaded by Horrible Strangers, who talked and hammered and drilled and vacuumed and generally made Horrible Noises.

This cat was not a happy camper.

Normally he hides under the daybed, crouched on top of the boxes I keep under there. This time, he managed to shove one of the boxes away from the wall, so he could squeeze himself in behind it. Note, these are the boxes with the Leif & Thorn books in them — they’re heavy.

It took a solid 2 hours after the Horrible Strangers left before the fluff poked his nose out of his hiding spot. And then he went back under. It was a few more hours, and a few more exploratory peeks, before he was walking around the place like normal again.

Poor guy. He’s had such a nice year, and now this.

Black Widow (no specific spoilers)

Family had a bunch of Potential Outings planned, but the only one we actually did was seeing Black Widow on the big screen.

The building had small groups of other patrons; our theater was flat-out empty except for us. (So if you tentatively want to catch a movie but are worried about large groups in enclosed spaces…give it a shot.)

The movie was good! Mostly takes place during the period when Natasha was on the run after Civil War, gives her a solo adventure that fleshes out her backstory — both parts we knew about, and parts that are new. Funny, heartwarming when it wanted to be, makes good use of that Disney “sure, blow up all the cars you want” money.

I’m usually more into the magic and sci-fi sides of the MCU, and this was a Cap-style action-spy-thriller, no super-science beyond what you can use for “excuses to do cooler stunts.” So it wasn’t an instant favorite the way Captain Marvel was.

But it was good at what it wanted to be. It wasn’t a perfunctory “I want to support the general idea of more female superheroes getting their own solo movies” thing. It was fun, and I liked it. Marvel did good.

Speaking of Marvel:

Loki (also no specific spoilers)

The whole 6-episode series is out now, and I…

…didn’t…like it?

Which is wild, because it has all the ingredients for a thing I should like. Magic! Sci-fi! Time travel nonsense! Alternate versions of the same character having to deal with each other! Significant chunks of action on alien planets! Major queer and/or female characters! Shapeshifters! Quippy banter! Sassy, petty villain getting dragged kicking and screaming into a redemption arc!

The first episode sure felt like it was going to deliver on all those things in a way I enjoyed. And then every subsequent cliffhanger was like “okay…there were a couple specific scenes that are fun, but…is this going anywhere? This big moment should’ve been good, but why didn’t it have buildup? That dramatic setup we did get, why hasn’t it had any payoff? This weird bit, I can think of some in-universe reasons why it was weird, so is it setting up one of those, or is it just sloppy writing?”

And the answer was always “it’s just sloppy writing.”

…to be fair, I think sometimes the answer was COVID. There were scenes where you could see “none of the actors except the 2 leads are getting within 6 feet of each other, and it’s really restricting what the narrative can do.”

But that doesn’t explain all of it.

Feels like it should’ve been a full-length season. Make it a procedural, have Loki and company facing a Time Shenanigans case-of-the-week, and have the characters/relationships develop slowly over each case. Then at the end we get a multi-episode arc where the plot is all interconnected, the developments all come to a head, the status quo gets flipped over.

Instead we got pieces of that arc without any connective tissue. You get prickly suspicious characters skipping from “tense, mistrustful opponents” to “tentative admissions of Friendship” when they’ve only known each other for, what, a few days? With no tangible reason for their feelings to change. It’s just “this is the part of the story where that happens, so it’s happened.”

Ugh. It could’ve been so good! And it just…wasn’t.

…and speaking of “things I just finished that didn’t have connective tissue”:

Check, Please!

The famous, award-winning, funding-record-making, m/m webcomic? That I didn’t read during the whole length of its run. Finally picked up the print volumes when I saw them at the library, and that’s how I got through the whole thing.

It was really thin. Cute and fluffy and disjointed. Kept setting up potential conflicts, but then skimming right over them.

I flipped back through some fail_fandomanon threads from when the updates were being released live, and it was a recurring theme for new readers to go “wait, was this just…resolved offscreen? Or did I accidentally skip a page?” (I was reading a physical book and would occasionally wonder if it skipped a page. It never did.)

…unsurprisingly, the author was in Hockey RPF fandom, and a lot of fans were bringing their interests from Hockey RPF fandom. So you would have character show up in the background, and readers would be like “aha, I can tell this is an expy of Real Player X, I enjoy him because I’m transferring my fannish feelings about Real Player X onto him.” Then they’d still be invested even if he only appeared 2-3 times and never did anything significant in-universe.

Reading it over the course of a couple afternoons — and with zero personal background in who these IRL hockey players are — was a breezy experience.

But, wow, I totally get why it was so intense and frustrating for so many people reading it in realtime. It would’ve been a constant cycle of “sets you up for something interesting, keeps you on the hook for a week or a month or several months for the next update, dashes your hopes when the setup gets deflated or sidestepped or offscreen-resolved, but hey, now there’s setup for another something interesting, maybe if I just wait for the next update in a week or a month or–“

It did work well enough for enough readers to bring the author buckets of money, though. And she delivered a complete series by the end — everyone who backed a Kickstarter to get a book, got a book — which is more than you can say for a lot of webcomickers who’ve taken people’s money. As many faults as I could pick apart in the writing: you go rake in that cash, girl.

Okay, to end this on a brighter note:

Leverage: Redemption

Sequel to the original TV series. Not a reboot, a retcon, or a reimagining — just “it’s been a decade in-universe, let’s pick back up with these characters and see how they’re doing now.”

And, wow. It’s the rare follow-up that’s so well-done, and so worth it.

The first 8 episodes are streaming free (at least in the US). The cases-of-the-week have the same “yeah, we didn’t fix the system, but we gave a complicated and satisfying comeuppance to this one exploitative scumbag” vibe of Leverage Classic. There are bits that make it clear it’s set in the 2020s — a Big Pharma creep who took CARES Act money, a reference to a politician who sounds like an AOC expy, that kind of thing — but it’s not “chasing the trending headline” in a way that’ll make it feel dated and irrelevant too fast.

They killed off Nate (his actor has sexual-assault accusations, makes sense not to employ the guy), and the other characters miss him in a way that’s present without taking over the show. Brought Sophie/Parker/Eliot back together. I assume Hardison’s actor has a job with a better-paying show, because he guest-starred briefly to establish that he’s still around, then brought in his also-genius-hacker kid-sister replacement on the team.

They also picked up a not-quite-Nate-replacement — he’s a newbie but learning the ropes fast, and he can fill the role any time they need a clean-cut business-savvy white guy.

After Elliot’s actor did a stint on the crew in The Librarians, it’s delightful to me that Flynn’s actor is the new guy on the Leverage crew. Please let the creators find an excuse to cameo Eve, Exekiel, and Cassandra in the next half of the series. That would be crossover catnip.

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