Unsolicited thoughts after Doctor Who's season 11 premiere by Jerald Pierce

Let’s start here: This premiere speaks to every aspect of scifi that I enjoy. It feels real. Like it could happen in my backyard, with people I know and dangers I feel. I read a criticism the other day that said, essentially, that this new feel for Doctor Who felt too much like any other scifi. I’m here to say that’s not a bad thing.

What I loved about this was the fact that it did feel like any other scifi, but instead of some random hero coming to save the day, the Doctor drops out of the sky. And that’s amazing. Give me any scifi movie or tv show and tell me that instead of whoever the real hero is, the Doctor will save the day instead? Sign. Me. Up.

On top of that, Jodie Whittaker is already great. It’s going to take a bit for her to really settle in to being the Doctor, that’s been true of every Doctor. (And it’s less her as an actor and more the writers getting a feel of how to best write for this iteration.) But already she has an innate sense of compassion that is unbelievably perfect for the Doctor. It’s been there in every regeneration, sometimes buried under anger or despair, but the Doctor always fundamentally cares so freaking much. Whittaker, standing over the first dead body of her regeneration, can do nothing but apologize. Apologize that these new friends of hers were dragged into this. Apologize that they had to see this dead body. Apologize that she hadn’t figured things out yet. 

She wants the best for those around her. It’s that simple. 

One thing I look forward to seeing moving forward is the return of the Doctor out-clever-ing the enemy. A lot of times it felt like Moffat felt the need to explain things so much that he got tripped up in trying to logic how the Doctor wins. While on the other side, RTD was always ok saying “well, the Doctor is clever, he did a clever thing and won, duh.” The moment that comes to mind—because I just watched it the other day—is Tennant in “Family of Blood” when he pretends he’s flailing around and knocking into random things in the alien ship. Then, surprise! He actually did a clever thing that means the ship will now blow up. That’s just how the Doctor worked. He was more clever. 

While 11 and 12 felt smarter than everyone around, they really didn’t feel more clever. It seemed like Amy or River or Clara always had to come up with something that put the Doctor in the right direction. 10 had the continual wonderful moments where he was legitimately surprised when he came across someone in the universe that could say/do something he found clever.

(One caveat, I do think, especially with 12, Moffat intentionally stopped the Doctor from flaunting his cleverness. He was more interested in 12 helping people help themselves, or helping Clara help people.)

But anyway, 13 feels clever again. The “don’t blink, bad guy, cause the Doctor is already 3 steps ahead” kind of clever. What’s hard about that is keeping the suspense in the show. Giving us, as an audience, enough to know the Doctor can succeed while letting enough go wrong that it feels like she won’t. Chibnall balances that so well. 

Really, the only issue I have with Chibnall’s script is the end with the villain. It still feels wrong for the Doctor to murder—at least the way this went down. Yes, I say that as a full member of the “NewWho Doctors have always been murderers” club. And really, her turning the tables on this guy and implanting the DNA bombs and letting the guy kill himself after how grotesque and merciless he was, is fine for me. But then her saying that the guy who was seconds from being murdered had no right to kick the guy off the crane…felt insincere.

What gave you the right, Doctor? You, defender of humankind? Timelord victorious? Lives were in danger which gave you the right to out-clever the bad guy and sentence him to death (and yes, she sentenced him to death, knowing full well he’d try to detonate those bombs). But when a human does it, it’s wrong? 

It might just be a mindset thing for 13 that will become clearer as the show moves forward (similar to 12’s insistence that there are some choices that he couldn’t make and he served at the pleasure of humankind). But for now, it feels weird for a murderer to say to a victim “how dare you try to kill the guy I’m trying to kill.”

Anyway, looking forward: I’m excited to see where the TARDIS has ended up. I’m excited to see these 3 friends grow and travel with the Doctor. (Side note: are these the first reluctant travelers since Donna’s first episode?) The Doctor is clever again and it feels nice to trust the writer—I didn’t question for a second that 13 could just casually build a sonic screwdriver. Plus Whittaker is fun and funny and seems like someone who, once she has her TARDIS back, will just want to go experience the universe. See what’s out there. I love that.

I’d be remiss to not mention that the new cameras that they’re using to shoot this season look fantastic, the whole thing feels very cinematic. The absence of a title sequence helped with that. It definitely helped set a tone.

One of the low-key great things that I love about this run has nothing to do with this episode. It’s the secrecy. No idea what the TARDIS will look like. Very little idea what even happens beyond the next episode. Hell, we don’t even have episode titles or who wrote what past episode 2. Something about the mystery just makes me excited. 

Panel Discussion: Race and Culture in Contemporary Casting, Blood Knot and Beyond by Jerald Pierce

On Aug. 12, I had the honor of moderating a panel discussion at American Players Theatre. Their production (and the subsequent review of it from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and petition made mentioning it) sparked a national conversation. It also led to me writing my article "A Casting Controversy Tangled Up in ‘Blood Knot’" for American Theatre magazine.

As a result of the clear desire from the public to talk about the concerns surrounding the casting of "Blood Knot," APT organized a talkback panel following one of their performances. I was brought in as the moderator. Panelists included journalist and critic Kelundra Smith, scholar Khalid Yaya Long, and award-winning actor Stephen McKinley Henderson.

The full panel discussion was recorded by APT and can be viewed on Youtube.

JCS/Hamilton parallels, AKA Why it's Burr's story by Jerald Pierce

Let me clarify something: structurally, Hamilton is as much Aaron Burr’s story as it is Hamiton’s. There’s a Vulture article that lists 20 inspirations for Hamilton and Jesus Christ Superstar is number 4. That might even be too low. The beauty of Hamilton is how well crafted the parallels are between the title character and his friend/rival Burr.

The first thing that is important to realize is how Hamilton and Burr’s stories intentionally mirror each other. Both are orphans (creating an immediate bond between the two), both fight for their country, both are interested in moving up Washington’s ranks to become war heroes, and both eventually get into law and politics after the war. The aspirations for the two men never differ.

The differences come in how they pursue these goals. Burr follows the rules while Hamilton breaks them. Every step of the way sees Hamilton a hair in front of Burr or above Burr because of his willingness to take a chance. While the interest in Hamilton’s plot comes from how he’s willing to do whatever it takes to succeed, Burr’s equally interesting story thrives on the budding jealousy within Burr. This is where an article like Adam Gopnik’s New Yorker article starts to bother me. The plot, or any analysis around the plot, of Hamilton cannot be discussed without Burr. He’s essential. Burr and Hamilton are foils to each other and their successes and failures mean more because of each other.

If Hamilton’s life is the equivalent of the American (or Immigrant) Dream, Burr’s life is the American Nightmare and a much more condemning look at society. Burr is well educated, hard working, and ambitious, but seeing the brash Hamilton consistently surpass him drives him insane. The song “The Room Where It Happened,” while being the most manic of Burr’s songs, indicates a major shift in his goals. He’s tired of following the rules when Hamilton doesn’t. He hates seeing Hamilton getting to be the one who makes major decisions. This eventually drives him to kill Hamilton.

With this, Lin-Manuel Miranda manages to simultaneously throw shade on those who feel entitled simply because of their background and upbringing while shining an overlooked light on the other end of the minorities-in-the-workforce spectrum. Hamilton represents the immigrant (in terms of the musical, a POC) who works hard and shows how great minorities and immigrants are for the country. Burr, on the other hand, represents the minorities still being slighted by the system. Burr is the black kid who does everything right, works hard in school, never gets in trouble, who is still passed over for a job because of the color of his skin or the sound of his name. Aaron Burr represents the frustrations felt by minorities when they feel like they just can’t win. He takes that frustration out in the form of a bullet.

Which, finally, brings me to the JCS parallels. Judas didn’t have to hate Jesus to lead him to his death, just like Burr didn’t have to hate Hamilton to pull that trigger. In both cases the men were friends and trusted allies at least at some point in their histories. In both musicals, the ‘killer’ (Judas and Burr) is the first voice heard by the audience (an intentional parallel by Miranda) and their thoughts/insights are used as framing devices throughout the shows. They double as characters and narrators. In both cases the popularity of their counterpart is both concerning and a bit bewildering. Both Judas and Burr see themselves as doing the right thing. Judas is just frustrated in Jesus’s hoopla and Burr is frustrated in his own lack of success compared to his counterpart. Both men, in impulsive, emotional moments, make a choice that directly leads to the death of their friend. Judas can’t live with himself afterwards while Burr spends the rest of his life trying to live with his choice.

But the most interesting parallel between the two musicals is found in answering Hamilton’s final question: “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” I’ll entertain arguments that the answer (and potential protagonist) is Hamilton’s wife Eliza. Considering how much of the show she’s not in during major events, it’s hard to actually agree, but there are valid arguments that after she decides to “put myself back in the narrative” she does actively make it her life’s mission to talk about and spread the legacy of her husband. I get that. But structurally, the answer is Burr.

Maybe it’s just because I listened to the album on repeat too much when the music came out, but hearing the soft, unison, full-cast line of “who lives, who dies, who tells your story” right before the sharp, punctuated hits of the top of the show and Burr’s boisterous voice starting to tell the tale of a “bastard, orphan, son of a whore” it’s easy to see that Burr is the one who is telling the story.

Miranda’s question to end the show becomes a reflection on Judas. Judas, one of Jesus’s closest friends, kills himself rather than live with what he did. Judas dies. Burr, on the other hand lives. In looking at Burr as the one who lives and who goes on to tell the story of Alexander Hamilton, it becomes clear that the entire musical is actually Burr’s reflection on his relationship with Hamilton. It’s Burr’s guiding hand that leads the audience through the historical events and (now here’s a real tell) shows Hamilton’s faults. Burr’s story shows how Hamilton’s impulsiveness both gave him great success, but also led to angering a lot of people, indirectly causing his son’s death, and having an affair. Sure, it’s possible that Eliza would have kept Hamilton’s flaws in her telling of the story, but Burr paints a picture that is much more critical of Hamilton, while showing himself as someone who just couldn’t catch a break—just as Judas paints a picture of Jesus that showed the fanaticism of Jesus’s followers as Judas saw them while Judas paints himself as someone who just didn’t know how to love Jesus.

All of that is to say that you can’t talk about Hamilton without Burr the same way that you can’t talk about Jesus Christ Superstar without Judas. They are both crucial to their respective plots and their perspectives give each story extra depth that’s missing from a simple view of Hamilton and Jesus as the protagonists of their respective musicals.

"Jesus Christ Superstar" reaction by Jerald Pierce

Originally submitted as part of an assignment for Matt Zoller Seitz's Literature of Criticism class at Newhouse.

For better and worse, the live version of Jesus Christ Superstar has changed live musical broadcasts forever. It’s easy to take that statement and turn it into “because it was just sooo marvelous that nothing will ever top it.” It’s really a double edged swoard, especially when considering what’s next. When television execs from all of the major networks sit down to think about what show to do next, I’m interested in what they will choose.

First, I do want to say that JCS was very good and the theatre nerd in me felt so much joy seeing stagecraft executed so well on television (seriously, bless everyone involved in Jesus dying on the cross and rising into heaven—what a weird thing to type). The set was beautifully crafted with its classic JCS/any rock musical scaffolding—though not giving Jesus tables to flip seems like a waste. Then again, I can’t really see John Legend flipping a table. Maybe giving it a light shove, but not flipping it. The point is, the entire musical was incredibly put together, the acting was mostly top notch, the singing was basically flawless, it was visually spectacular, and, thanks to a live audience, it felt electric. It’s obvious why people loved it and are saying that it has raised the bar for future televised musicals.

But here’s the problem: most musicals aren’t like JCS. JCS is a rock musical that naturally lends itself to screaming fans, dramatic staging, and a celebrity like Legend coming in and simply existing as the famous person he is. JCS lends itself to the vibrant concert feel that the creators of this live staging achieved, most musicals do not. Sure, JCS deserves credit for showing the televised musical audience that some shows can be cool and not just the overproduced, cutesy nonsense that was Grease, Hairspray, and Peter Pan when they were televised live. Most musicals (at least the good ones that deserve to be broadcast) are somewhere in the middle.

First, a quick look at the six musicals that make up what can be seen as a new love of televising musicals. Of Grease, Peter Pan, The Wiz, Hairspray, The Sound of Music, and JCS, only Hairspray (2002) had its Broadway premiere after 1975. But even Hairspray is a throwback to the 60s. Televised musicals of modern musicals just aren’t being done. I bring that up because if JCS has set a new bar for televised musicals, only a modern musical will be able to come close to recreating its fervor. I’m talking about having to stage Wicked or Book of Mormon. Julie Taymor directing a staged version of her design for The Lion King could be a smash.

But even these wildly popular musicals don’t bring the electricity that JCS’s rock vibe has. I’ve seen Rent batted around as a possibility for a follow up. The issue is that people forget how much down time there is in Rent. Sure, it’s the quintessential rock musical, but it’s extremely subdued and not something that you’re going to get that same kind of audience interaction with. Even Rent will send audiences back to the politely clapping, barely present audiences of Sound of Music.

At some points off and on over the years Netflix has hosted the musical version of Shrek, Raul Esparza starring in John Doyle’s innovative production of Company, and John Mulaney and Nick Kroll’s Oh Hello filmed on Broadway. These were all filmed versions of the musical (or play) on a stage as would be performed on Broadway or the like. This is where the future of these live musicals should be. A combination of JCS’s ability to create a spectacle on stage with its design and star power with Company’s ability to simply put theater into people’s homes. (This probably means eliminating the excessive commercial breaks.)

So here’s my thing, we shouldn’t look at JCS as a new benchmark for future live musicals. It’s going to be borderline impossible for someone else to hit (again, I think Taymor has a chance if someone gives her a go). JCS is the perfect storm of wall to wall music, in your face rock vibes, and audience excitement matched with star power and talent. It perfectly lends itself to dominate a medium like this in a way nothing besides perhaps Hamilton can. I think the best lesson studios should take from JCS is that audiences don’t need full, built out studio sets. Just film the musicals. Stage them well, set up your camera crews, and let the performers do their job.

“Annihilation” reaction by Jerald Pierce

Originally submitted as part of an assignment for Matt Zoller Seitz's Literature of Criticism class at Newhouse.

I’m going to spend this assignment again writing about two reviews of the same work. There’s an interesting divide between Brian Tallerico’s review for RogerEbert.com and Christopher Orr’s review for The Atlantic of “Annihilation.” Tallerico heaped praise on the film, giving it three and a half stars while saying that “in this recent wave of sci-fi films, it’s one of the best.” Orr, on the other hand, seemed annoyed at every turn of the movie aside from stints of suspense and visual intrigue in the middle of the film.

I find myself somewhere in between and reminded of two instances of criticism I’ve witnessed. The first I addressed in my last assignment, the idea that two reviewers can notice the same flaw but one may find it easy to get past while the other may have his experience significantly ruined by the fault. The same happens here. Tallerico notices the ambiguity and even says the structure frustrated him a bit and notes the movie may provide different meanings for different people. For Orr, that lack of a clear meaning also meant there was a lack of clear content.

The other moment I was reminded of while reading these two articles was a review of a play I was stage managing a few years ago. A reviewer came to opening night and heaped insane amounts of praise on the show, complimenting how complex the show was and saying people would need to see it twice just to understand all of the sophisticated inner workings. He came back. I saw his face after the second viewing and could feel how much he regretted what he said. The show (I know from watching it daily for months) wasn’t complex. It was just confusing.

I get the same feeling here. Tallerico representing the opening night mindset of the reviewer with Orr standing in for the regretful second view. This is why I find myself on the fence about the movie. The elements of suspense, basically everything that happens from the moment they step inside the Shimmer to the moment Natalie Portman’s character is on her own, is beautifully crafted to feel like they’ve traveled to another planet. The constant feeling of impending doom begs me to think that aliens are after them, even though they aren’t. In reality, there’s nothing more dangerous around them than if they had been there pre-Shimmer. Gators and bears still exist, they’re just slightly more terrifying now.

Which, for me--and I guess for Orr, too--makes the ending all that more disappointing. I find myself siding with Orr when looking at everything that happens once Portman gets to the lighthouse. As much as I actually love the mirror aspect (because I a huge fan of sci-fi movies showing aliens learning--which probably stems from the brilliant Doctor Who episode “Midnight”), Portman tricking and killing the alien feels hollow. I have to attribute that to what Orr said: the complete lack of any indication of motive. So far, nothing inside the Shimmer has looked to be done maliciously. Even the mutated intestines that result in the soldier’s body being pulled apart feels like more of an alien “oh, sorry, we didn’t realize your human bodies suck and can’t handle this stuff” than them trying to kill.

So maybe I’m just an alien apologist, but when Portman kills the alien and burns everything to the ground, it feels like a massive waste. This whole movie has built up to this lighthouse that for some unexplained reason has dismembered skeletons as tributes(?) outside. All the buildup for very little payoff and without any indication that the audience should regard Portman’s character as the wrongdoer.

(A quick aside about the skeletons. Are they supposed to represent the other people who were sent on expeditions? Or people who were originally around? Either way, where are their duplicates? If they were duplicated, why didn’t the duplicates make it out? Or did they? Speaking of, why did Kane’s duplicate have so much trouble living outside of the Shimmer? If I was presented this script in my playwriting workshop, I’d have to be thrown out because I’d just keep asking questions.)

Anyway, as creepy and beautiful as the movie was up to arriving at the lighthouse, the climax shed very little light on the rest of the movie. I love puzzle sci-fi movies that work to confuse as much as possible. I enjoy trying to piece together what was going on. But here there seem to be missing pieces, as Orr points out. But still part of me leans toward Tallerico’s conclusion that it was still a massively enjoyable movie and one that other sci-fi movies should aspire to be like. There’s darkness matched with beauty and one of my favorite Natalie Portman performances to date. I think both things can be true: 1. The movie’s ending is confusing and leaves the film without a solid point. 2. The movie is great sci-fi that should be admired for what it does.

"Call Me By Your Name" reaction by Jerald Pierce

Originally submitted as part of an assignment for Matt Zoller Seitz's Literature of Criticism class at Newhouse.

By Jerald Raymond Pierce

It’s an unpopular opinion not to put Call Me By Your Name somewhere in my top 5, 3, 2 or 1 movies of the year it seems. Really, it’s not that I didn’t like the movie, it’s that I couldn’t quite like it as much as everyone else seems to. In Ann Hornaday’s review of the movie, she touches on two of areas I think point to the reasons I have trouble falling as head over heels as everyone else has.

Hornaday points out “the plot of ‘Call Me by Your Name’ isn’t particularly novel.” She goes on to say it’s fine because the greatness of the movie isn’t about the plot being new or unique, it’s about how well the story is told. I get that, I really do. But when looking at this movie in the context of the Best Picture nominees, it’s hard to put it over other movies offering me something new. A new take on a monster movie or a new look at horror movies and racial issues. A different composition of a war-time story or a revitalized coming of age story. Even Three Billboards challenges me to care about some very complex, sometimes downright awful people.

So I want Call Me By Your Name to be more. Perhaps, as Hornaday and others point out, this movie’s skill is in the way it captures the lazy summer days in Italy. The beauty is in the fact that it feels familiar. Despite the fact that I (and many others) didn’t have a truly comparable experience to Elio’s, we feel his aches every step of the way. Still, the plot moved too predictably for me. Of course they struggle to show their feelings. Of course they eventually get together. Of course it eventually falls apart. Of course there’s an uplifting moment from Elio’s incredibly understanding father. From the minute the movie said it was 1989 and showed me two attractive men in that environment, the plot was obvious.

Which still isn’t the most distracting element of the movie for me. Hornaday alluded to the issue after stating that Elio and Oliver are seven years apart in age: “Before readers look up the Italian word for ‘problematic,’...” That may have been easy for some (many) to look past, especially when getting swept up in the beautiful filmmaking, but it became a major distraction for me. Especially in today’s climate, I couldn’t help but wonder if this movie would be received the same way if, say, it was any other combination of genders. An older man and a 17-year-old girl stands out as something that would be particularly thrashed by today’s masses. But here we are, praising the love between a 24-year-old man and a 17-year-old boy simply because, as Hornaday put it, “it is Elio, not Oliver, who is the pursuer.”


I wondered for the duration why we’re so ok with Elio and Oliver’s relationship. And I have to wonder if there isn’t a bit of fetishization (or perhaps just romanticizing) of homosexual relationships that has led to us feeling that this isn’t as disturbing as we otherwise should.

This is one thing I wish had been addressed somewhere in the movie to eliminate it as a distraction. So much of Elio’s experience, his desires and his confusion, were beautifully done, especially the scene between him and his father toward the end of the movie. Not to mention the absolute perfection of the power shifts that happened right after Elio and Oliver had sex for the first time and, to get power over Elio back, Oliver goes down on him for a brief second before closing the door in his face. The ebb and flow of Elio and Oliver’s relationship was so well done that it shouldn’t have mattered the age, the fact that they were two men who had feelings for each other should have been enough.

I can’t help but ask: what if it was a different combination? Would this movie still work?

But again, much like with the idea of a familiar plot, maybe it doesn’t matter because that’s not what the movie wanted to do.

“Next to Normal” @ Syracuse Stage reaction by Jerald Pierce

Originally submitted as part of an assignment for Matt Zoller Seitz's Literature of Criticism class at Newhouse.

by Jerald Raymond Pierce

I saw closing night of “Next to Normal” at Syracuse Stage. I provide that as a caveat in defense of the reviews who, in the case of any live performance, potentially saw something completely different from what I saw. I read both the Syracuse.com review (by Linda Lowen) and the Syracuse New Times review (by James MacKillop). The most glaring issue for both was how they addressed the plot. (I was going to only focus on one, but the New Times review had some glaring misunderstandings about simple plot points and the Syracuse.com one was pretty barebones.)

Both reviews worked incredibly hard to not talk about the fact that the son, Gabe, is dead and a figment of the mother’s, Diana’s, imagination. Hundreds of words were spent dancing around what is really the equivalent of the twist at the end of the first third of a movie—potentially crucial, but not the major twist that the creators giggle about when they write. Gabe’s (non-)existence is merely to set up a more interesting, more devastating unexpected ending. How Diana deals with seeing him is the crux of the entire show, so not addressing it like it’s some big secret (especially almost a decade after it premiered on Broadway), is a waste of time.

Which leads to another aspect of both reviews: a lot of time is spent relaying playbill information. It’s really something I never thought about until recently after some of the readings, but theatre is a visual medium. So, why aren’t they talking about what’s on stage? Yes, it’s interesting that there’s some surprisingly credible star power in the acting pool of this show and yes, it’s interesting that Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey have notable musical theatre careers. But that doesn’t mean the mentions of actors in a review should be boiled down to their credits plus one sentence saying they “dazzle, spark and stun” (Lowen).

Again, not something I really thought of until recent classes, but that descriptor really means nothing. What did they DO that dazzled, sparked, or stunned? I saw the show, and in the case of Glen Seven Allen (the husband, Dan), it was nothing. Judy McLane (Diana, who’s credits are worth noting, because she was in “Mama Mia” for something like a decade) was great, on the other hand, because her performance was so desperate and clawing in a whirlwind of people who just wanted to help, but just couldn’t figure out how.

I don’t understand (well, I do, I’m sure I’ve done it numerous times) how a reviewer can write “At various times on opening night, I witnessed hands brush away tears, heard suppressed sobs and sniffles, felt tension stiffen some theatergoers around me” without once giving imagery of what could potentially drive that reaction.

No mention of a mother dumping pills down the drain at the request of a non-existent son. No mention of a husband and wife getting into a musical screaming match as she asks why he stays if dealing with her is such a pain. No mention of a daughter (Sara Masterson as Natalie, who has the most heartbreaking performance in the show—and whose name is misspelled in Syracuse.com's coverage as of writing this) tearing her own life apart because of the fear that she’ll become just as “crazy” as her mother. No mention of Dan pleading for Diana to talk to him while she stares into the eyes of her dead son. There’s no shortage of devastating imagery to get across what this show does and is capable of emotionally. It’s just not used.

Finally, perhaps unsurprisingly, barely any time was given in either review to the designers beyond basic credits. Which, in my opinion, is both infuriating and the most glaring indication of what these reviewers focused on. At the top of the set, lit as the audience came in and periodically throughout, was a pristine baby’s room. It loomed over everything, unexplained for a long while. It places a lot of questions and amplifies the text in an eerie way since it’s the only “room” we never see entered and no babies are in the show.

On a more “my own review of the show” note, I think director Bob Hupp missed the mark tonally at the beginning. It’s encapsulated in MacKillop’s incorrect thought that Dan drives Diana to “meet psychiatrist Dr. Madden” because he’s “recognizing the seriousness” of Diana making sandwiches on the floor. Both MacKillop and Hupp are missing the fact that this family has been dealing with this for years (16 years, to be precise). This is a family struggling to live a normal life in abnormal circumstances. I think MacKillop misunderstands this because Hupp directs the early moments to be more jovial than the script is capable of. This mostly comes up when Dan is hamming it, almost cartoonishly, for laughs.

A teacher of mine always said to never play the ending—start as far away as possible. I think that’s what Hupp tried to do. He tried to play the opposite of the devastation and wreckage to come. But he missed an obvious opposite of that. It doesn’t have to be light and flippant. I can’t even call what I saw denial, it was closer to a blatant lack of acknowledgement. The opposite of failure—and that’s, in the end what this is, a family failing to be normal—can, and in this case probably should be, hope. Hope the next treatment will be the last, hope things are going to be better.

Book Review: In 'Artemis,' Andy Weir creates new problems by Jerald Pierce

Andy Weir follows his best-selling debut novel The Martian with Artemis, a crime-filled moon adventure. In Artemis, one woman tries to escape her lower class economic position through petty smuggling until she’s offered the chance to change everything by committing one big crime. In this new novel, Weir doubles down on his strengths, which opens the door to new flaws.

Weir has a knack for clever and intriguing first person narrative. His protagonist is once again snarky and foul-mouthed. However, unlike Mark Watney in The Martian, Jazz’s motives for telling this story are unclear. A first-person perspective doesn’t always necessitate a reason for being told, but Weir’s narrator confusingly passes judgement on the readers. “Get your mind out of the gutter” or “What? I like puppies,” the narrator, Jazz, says to no one in particular. Weir gave himself an easy out in The Martian by having Watney recording mission logs. Watney speaking to someone makes sense. Here, that sort of direct address is so sporadic and unfocussed it becomes distracting.

More problematic, though, are the constant comments by other characters about Jazz’s sex life. The city of Artemis is a small town on the moon. Weir clearly establishes of the idea that around any corner is someone familiar. This novel isn’t about interpersonal relationships and the neighborhood mentality on the moon, though. It’s about crime. It’s about Jazz, the 26-year-old woman born in Saudi Arabia who has lived on the moon since she was a child. Jazz is a low level smuggler who gets baited into committing a much larger crime, a crime that unwittingly put the lives of everyone in Artemis at risk. Still, somehow the first conversation she has with almost every person in the book seems to land on the topic of her sex life. It’s odd and feels awkward every time it comes up. If he’s attempting to make a commentary, his point doesn’t land.

This novel, much like his debut, thrives on the danger of living in space. What bogged him down in The Martian was all of the intricate scientific explanation he used to ground the novel in a tangible reality. Here, he backs off the explanation and focuses on the experience. There are still a few occurrences of obsessively specific scientific details where eyes may glaze over, but for the most part he’s content to let Jazz say it doesn’t matter how it works, it just does. He is also helped by his choice to remove the burden of exposition from his characters’ conversations. Instead, most chapters end with expository pen pal letters between Jazz and a friend on Earth.

Despite those occasional snags, Weir’s novel is genuinely fun and unpredictable. He continually puts morality on a sliding scale forcing his audience to decide if doing the wrong thing can ever be right. Weir also delves into economics, theorizing what those in power are willing to do to control the status quo. There are a few instances where Weir’s dedication to the deep themes and the intricate plot lead to Jazz coming across as a stereotypical 20-something plucked from a television show. The story is still gripping thanks to the environment and circumstances Weir provides.

Andy Weir’s new novel isn’t easy to walk away from, nor does it leave the mind quickly. It lingers, positing not only “what will happen next” but also “should it happen at all?” He takes the trials and tribulations of life on Earth and ratchets them up by putting them in the terrifying vacuum of space. Weir once again creates a world almost too specific to be fiction.