I'm a great and long-time admirer of Philip K. Dick's work, but I recognized early on that he was not a 'great' writer, at least not technically. Some writers are. Their prose has a lapidary, inevitable quality to it- F.Scott Fitzgerald, Cormac McCarthy, David Mitchell and many others. Dick was a workman-like writer; he delivered competent, efficient prose. But it wasn't the quality of his words or how he could turn a phrase that made him important and the reason I've read most of his work: it was his imagination. If you haven't read 'Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep', 'A Scanner Darkly' or 'The Man In The High Castle'. Queue those up at your local library and treat yourself.
Amazon's frontrunner in their latest pilot season 'The Man In The High Castle' has an instantly gripping premise. What if the Allies had lost World War II. Now, 'The Man in the High Castle' is as good as any television show I've seen lately. No, It's better. Spoiler- there is a moment, halfway during the pilot. Joe's tire's blown, and a guard stops. It is just your regular highway cop. Friendly, cheerful, helps him with his tire, gives him directions and a sandwich. Was a war veteran, but now is cop. Everything would be neat and cozy if it weren't for the swastika on his armband. Then it suddenly starts snowing, only there is something wrong with it, it is cold, yet not enough to start snowing, and that snow has a disturbing shade of dark in it, and then you realize it is not snow, it is ash. And then the cop dismisses it, completely natural, says it's Tuesday. It's Tuesday and the nearby hospital is burning terminals and cripples. He says that state-of-fact, just a regular routine, thank you very much. That, that sense of disturbed normalcy, one of greatest feats of the book. In that moment I fell in love with this show.
Rufus Sewell as the resident big bad Nazi is the only famous(?) face, but the cast of semi-unknowns is uniformly good. The minor touches are fantastic - beginning with the Eidelweiss theme song (American as apple pie, penned by Rogers & Hammerstein), Nazi game shows, awful schmaltzy songs on the radio (the kind of music you get with no diversity around - brrr), a sickly green tone suffusing everything as though fascism has a signature color - this is sci-fi world building at its best.
Also, I found the change of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy's format from a novel to a newsreel a particular point of brilliance. In the book it is a book what makes the characters question their reality; in the movie, it is a movie. After all, Dick intended to use Abendsen's novel as a meta-instrument, a piece to make his own readers to question his own reality the same way it did with the grimy dystopia's denizens: The Grasshopper Lies Heavy it's that reality's 'The Man in the High Castle,' and vice versa. If the book is adapted to an audiovisual format, what destroys the character's (and the audience) perception of the reality has to be audiovisual material.
The pilot was written by Frank Spotnitz ('The X-Files,'Hunted') and directed by David Semel ('American Dreams,' 'House'), the 60-minute episode looks fantastic and sets up a serialized, ongoing story, but it is all setup; how the show might deliver on its promise in the future remains to be seen. It is RATED TV- MA (mature). There is some adult language. Some blood, no sex. I would say it's more of a PG13. The year has just started, and this show is already my everything. Definitely binge-worthy when the first season gets made.
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