Shakespeare and the Spaceman

 

I’m not sure if how long it’s been since I’ve seen something as funky as HBO’s miniseries Station 11. I couldn’t really say with confidence that I liked it, and describing it would be an even more challenging endeavor. But the overwhelming critical praise it’s received isn’t something I’ll debate now. At Rotten Tomatoes, the paradoxically titled “Critics Consensus” runs as follows: “Station 11 rewards patient viewers with an insightful and thematically rich assertion that–even in the post-apocalypse–the show must go on.” In this instance, I can live with a product of the Tomatometer.

In a very confined nutshell, the show concentrates on a group of touring Shakespearean actors who ritually circle the Great Lakes… in the immediate and intermediate years after a swine flu pandemic effectively wipes out the world as we know it. The show also includes, among other things, a large cluster of survivors isolating in the fictional “Severn City” regional airport; a creepy prophet dude in overalls who’s manipulating children into suicide bombings; a former movie star, who, even after a relatively unrelated death, manages to be central to the whole story; and a graphic novel, the eponymous Station 11, about an astronaut trapped on a broken space station.

Yeah, it’s weird. And that’s about as much as I can expand on without getting lost in the weeds of unnecessary, and bespoiling, explication.

The show opens during a production of King Lear, on what we’ll discover is Day One of the (practical) end of the world. We meet our incidentally conjoined protagonists: a down-and-out tabloid journalist named Jeevan, whose single talent is an instinctual urge to stand up; and a young actress named Kirsten, who we’ll find is able to play the roles put in front of her. Almost all is lost quickly: broadcasts, cell service, electricity… even Wikipedia! Most everything is gone; except Hamlet.

The series utilizes tonal shifts that are downright stupefying; moving almost seamlessly from the horrifying to endearing cutesiness. In other words, it’s fitting for the age of Twitter and Instagram. And when we move into the future–roughly 2040–Station 11 stands out from the otherwise cliched dystopian genre by revolving around people who lived in, and through the dreary end, of what could be called a fairly pitiful era: The age hominem hermitus. And yet, despite the frank portrayal of mostly enfeebled adults, the show finds something worth rescuing.

Production started in January 2020, meaning the series was well into development before Covid-19 came on the scene, and production was at least as hampered by our mild pandemic as it likely benefited from its supposed ‘timeliness’. To their credit, they seem to have added little to capitalize on the developments that they could have. They even handled the now typical diversity quotas with enough skill that, even on life support, she feels like America the Extraordinary rather than America the Try-Hard.

As far as whether I’d recommend it, that’s a little complicated too. The piece of pop culture that comes to mind is Paul Anderson’s unevenly accepted Magnolia. Like the perpetual Oscar nominee’s San Fernando Valley epic, Station 11 is messy and meandering while simultaneously trying to connect a few too many dots. Whether the haphazard ploys with scattered timelines is an adherence to, or a deviation from, novelist Emily St. John Mandel’s novel of the same name, I couldn’t say. One suspects sequences could’ve been handled with better care, or occasionally cut altogether. But… like the secular Anderson’s three hours of pondering God–or, for that matter, the works Station 11 keeps alive– there’s something to be said for contemporary fiction that succeeds in finding beauty amid a heap of tragedy. It identifies something marvelous in the desire to create, along with the indispensability (and the adjacent folly) of preservation.

Yes, civilized humanity survives the quasi-apocalypse! That alone might make the show worth a look.

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  1. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    I’ve seen other networks offering this kind of thing as well. It’s usually either a pandemic or “Climate Change” that has wiped out all humans except the cast members, and I always think they’re trying to gin up panic.

    • #1
  2. Samuel Block Support
    Samuel Block
    @SamuelBlock

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    I’ve seen other networks offering this kind of thing as well. It’s usually either a pandemic or “Climate Change” that has wiped out all humans except the cast members, and I always think they’re trying to gin up panic.

    Yeah. It’s never been a favorite genre of mine. Part of what this show had going for it is that it isn’t scolding. One review noted that to the “post-pan” kids, iPhones and the internet are like magical totems. The kind of mockery of the modern world that these movies and shows normally present was virtually absent.

    The couple reviews I read usually had a note that Covid worrywarts should give it a chance because it was ultimately hopeful.  

    • #2
  3. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    Samuel Block (View Comment):

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    I’ve seen other networks offering this kind of thing as well. It’s usually either a pandemic or “Climate Change” that has wiped out all humans except the cast members, and I always think they’re trying to gin up panic.

    Yeah. It’s never been a favorite genre of mine. Part of what this show had going for it is that it isn’t scolding. One review noted that to the “post-pan” kids, iPhones and the internet are like magical totems. The kind of mockery of the modern world that these movies and shows normally present was virtually absent.

    The couple reviews I read usually had a note that Covid worrywarts should give it a chance because it was ultimately hopeful.

    You make me wish I hadn’t canceled HBO!

    • #3
  4. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    I read the book when it came out and or reflection I can honestly say that I don’t remember much about it. 

    • #4
  5. Pagodan Member
    Pagodan
    @MatthewBaylot

    Overall, I was dissappointed enough with it to not even bother with the last two episodes. I read the book, which was okay, and thought it could actually make a decent show, but by mid-way it was clear the show creators were very enamoured with a weird community theater aesthetic (exemplified by the eye-rollingly bad Lori Petty). 

    The only moments I really enjoyed were when the Jeevan story line was on, and they even killed the fun of that story-line towards the end. Almost any scene including McKenzie Davis was near unwatchable, and she’s the main character!! 

    While I appreciate the review above, if the dystopian post apocalyptic future means meandering around on a Chicago to Cleveland loop with a bunch of hippy millenials who are really excited about doing bad re-imaginings of Shakespeare scenes at the direction of Tank Girl… that’s not an any way hopeful. 

    • #5
  6. Samuel Block Support
    Samuel Block
    @SamuelBlock

    Pagodan (View Comment):

    Overall, I was dissappointed enough with it to not even bother with the last two episodes. I read the book, which was okay, and thought it could actually make a decent show, but by mid-way it was clear the show creators were very enamoured with a weird community theater aesthetic (exemplified by the eye-rollingly bad Lori Petty).

    The only moments I really enjoyed were when the Jeevan story line was on, and they even killed the fun of that story-line towards the end. Almost any scene including McKenzie Davis was near unwatchable, and she’s the main character!!

    While I appreciate the review above, if the dystopian post apocalyptic future means meandering around on a Chicago to Cleveland loop with a bunch of hippy millenials who are really excited about doing bad re-imaginings of Shakespeare scenes at the direction of Tank Girl… that’s not an any way hopeful.

    😂 Awesome. I was hoping somebody here had seen it.

    FWIW, I stopped after 8 for a bit too, but along with the 1st episode, I thought the last two were the best. Especially because Jeevan and Miranda come back. It definitely slumped in the middle.

    And I know what you mean about Mackenzie Davis. I didn’t find her totally unwatchable, but she was way less interesting than the little girl who played the younger Kirsten. But I thought the traveling actors was part of what made the show unique, even if their performances weren’t stellar.

    • #6
  7. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Samuel Block (View Comment):

    Pagodan (View Comment):

    Overall, I was dissappointed enough with it to not even bother with the last two episodes. I read the book, which was okay, and thought it could actually make a decent show, but by mid-way it was clear the show creators were very enamoured with a weird community theater aesthetic (exemplified by the eye-rollingly bad Lori Petty).

    The only moments I really enjoyed were when the Jeevan story line was on, and they even killed the fun of that story-line towards the end. Almost any scene including McKenzie Davis was near unwatchable, and she’s the main character!!

    While I appreciate the review above, if the dystopian post apocalyptic future means meandering around on a Chicago to Cleveland loop with a bunch of hippy millenials who are really excited about doing bad re-imaginings of Shakespeare scenes at the direction of Tank Girl… that’s not an any way hopeful.

    😂 Awesome. I was hoping somebody here had seen it.

    FWIW, I stopped after 8 for a bit too, but along with the 1st episode, I thought the last two were the best. Especially because Jeevan and Miranda come back. It definitely slumped in the middle.

    And I know what you mean about Mackenzie Davis. I didn’t find her totally unwatchable, but she was way less interesting than the little girl who played the younger Kirsten. But I thought the traveling actors was part of what made the show unique, even if their performances weren’t stellar.

    Shakespeare perfected the play-within-the-play, but a play-within-a-tv-show will be reliably putrid. 

    • #7
  8. Samuel Block Support
    Samuel Block
    @SamuelBlock

    TBA (View Comment):

    Samuel Block (View Comment):

    Pagodan (View Comment):

    Overall, I was dissappointed enough with it to not even bother with the last two episodes. I read the book, which was okay, and thought it could actually make a decent show, but by mid-way it was clear the show creators were very enamoured with a weird community theater aesthetic (exemplified by the eye-rollingly bad Lori Petty).

    The only moments I really enjoyed were when the Jeevan story line was on, and they even killed the fun of that story-line towards the end. Almost any scene including McKenzie Davis was near unwatchable, and she’s the main character!!

    While I appreciate the review above, if the dystopian post apocalyptic future means meandering around on a Chicago to Cleveland loop with a bunch of hippy millenials who are really excited about doing bad re-imaginings of Shakespeare scenes at the direction of Tank Girl… that’s not an any way hopeful.

    😂 Awesome. I was hoping somebody here had seen it.

    FWIW, I stopped after 8 for a bit too, but along with the 1st episode, I thought the last two were the best. Especially because Jeevan and Miranda come back. It definitely slumped in the middle.

    And I know what you mean about Mackenzie Davis. I didn’t find her totally unwatchable, but she was way less interesting than the little girl who played the younger Kirsten. But I thought the traveling actors was part of what made the show unique, even if their performances weren’t stellar.

    Shakespeare perfected the play-within-the-play, but a play-within-a-tv-show will be reliably putrid.

    Especially when the stupid virus doesn’t discriminate between good and bad actors… Thankfully we aren’t subjected to too many plays-within-the-tv-show. 

    And maybe I’m being too generous here, but I think the meh (or bleh!) renderings are by design. Mediocrity can be wondrous in the right, or rather, wrong conditions. There’s something special about children’s drawings. 

    • #8
  9. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Samuel Block (View Comment):

    TBA (View Comment):

    Samuel Block (View Comment):

    Pagodan (View Comment):

    Overall, I was dissappointed enough with it to not even bother with the last two episodes. I read the book, which was okay, and thought it could actually make a decent show, but by mid-way it was clear the show creators were very enamoured with a weird community theater aesthetic (exemplified by the eye-rollingly bad Lori Petty).

    The only moments I really enjoyed were when the Jeevan story line was on, and they even killed the fun of that story-line towards the end. Almost any scene including McKenzie Davis was near unwatchable, and she’s the main character!!

    While I appreciate the review above, if the dystopian post apocalyptic future means meandering around on a Chicago to Cleveland loop with a bunch of hippy millenials who are really excited about doing bad re-imaginings of Shakespeare scenes at the direction of Tank Girl… that’s not an any way hopeful.

    😂 Awesome. I was hoping somebody here had seen it.

    FWIW, I stopped after 8 for a bit too, but along with the 1st episode, I thought the last two were the best. Especially because Jeevan and Miranda come back. It definitely slumped in the middle.

    And I know what you mean about Mackenzie Davis. I didn’t find her totally unwatchable, but she was way less interesting than the little girl who played the younger Kirsten. But I thought the traveling actors was part of what made the show unique, even if their performances weren’t stellar.

    Shakespeare perfected the play-within-the-play, but a play-within-a-tv-show will be reliably putrid.

    Especially when the stupid virus doesn’t discriminate between good and bad actors… Thankfully we aren’t subjected to too many plays-within-the-tv-show.

    And maybe I’m being too generous here, but I think the meh (or bleh!) renderings are by design. Mediocrity can be wondrous in the right, or rather, wrong conditions. There’s something special about children’s drawings.

    Bless their hearts. 

    • #9
  10. Roberto Member
    Roberto
    @Roberto

    It sounds terrible. If you were trying to slyly sell it I’d say you missed the mark but I know you’re not.

    • #10
  11. Samuel Block Support
    Samuel Block
    @SamuelBlock

    Roberto (View Comment):

    It sounds terrible. If you were trying to slyly sell it I’d say you missed the mark but I know you’re not.

    Alas, can’t win ’em all. 

    But, yeah, wasn’t exactly trying to sell it. Just had some extra time on my hands, thought it was interesting enough to write about.

    • #11
  12. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    I might give it a try one of these days. 

    • #12
  13. Pagodan Member
    Pagodan
    @MatthewBaylot

    Samuel Block (View Comment):

    TBA (View Comment):

    Samuel Block (View Comment):

    Pagodan (View Comment):

    Overall, I was dissappointed enough with it to not even bother with the last two episodes. I read the book, which was okay, and thought it could actually make a decent show, but by mid-way it was clear the show creators were very enamoured with a weird community theater aesthetic (exemplified by the eye-rollingly bad Lori Petty).

    The only moments I really enjoyed were when the Jeevan story line was on, and they even killed the fun of that story-line towards the end. Almost any scene including McKenzie Davis was near unwatchable, and she’s the main character!!

    While I appreciate the review above, if the dystopian post apocalyptic future means meandering around on a Chicago to Cleveland loop with a bunch of hippy millenials who are really excited about doing bad re-imaginings of Shakespeare scenes at the direction of Tank Girl… that’s not an any way hopeful.

    😂 Awesome. I was hoping somebody here had seen it.

    FWIW, I stopped after 8 for a bit too, but along with the 1st episode, I thought the last two were the best. Especially because Jeevan and Miranda come back. It definitely slumped in the middle.

    And I know what you mean about Mackenzie Davis. I didn’t find her totally unwatchable, but she was way less interesting than the little girl who played the younger Kirsten. But I thought the traveling actors was part of what made the show unique, even if their performances weren’t stellar.

    Shakespeare perfected the play-within-the-play, but a play-within-a-tv-show will be reliably putrid.

    Especially when the stupid virus doesn’t discriminate between good and bad actors… Thankfully we aren’t subjected to too many plays-within-the-tv-show.

    And maybe I’m being too generous here, but I think the meh (or bleh!) renderings are by design. Mediocrity can be wondrous in the right, or rather, wrong conditions. There’s something special about children’s drawings.

    I think you’re right about the meh renderings being by design. The entire premise of Travelling Symphony seems to be, what if the 3rd string cast at a small town community theater were the only people to survive the plague.

    • #13
  14. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    Pagodan (View Comment):

    I think you’re right about the meh renderings being by design. The entire premise of Travelling Symphony seems to be, what if the 3rd string cast at a small town community theater were the only people to survive the plague.

    That was my takeaway as well.

    • #14
  15. The Girlie Show Member
    The Girlie Show
    @CatIII

    Samuel Block: The piece of pop-culture that comes to mind is Paul Anderson’s unevenly accepted Magnolia.

    I need to see that. Didn’t Anderson himself lament the movie on the basis he was trying too hard to create a masterpiece? Sounds like one of those movies that’s interesting in spite of (and maybe in part due to) its flaws.

    • #15
  16. The Girlie Show Member
    The Girlie Show
    @CatIII

    There’s so much content coming out. I’d never heard of Station 11. Sounds interesting though not enough to seek out and watch.

    I suspect a large reason for the popularity of post-apocalyptic stories is the same for the surge of stories set a few decades ago: people glued to their smart phones and tablets is uncinematic.

    • #16
  17. Samuel Block Support
    Samuel Block
    @SamuelBlock

    The Girlie Show (View Comment):

    Samuel Block: The piece of pop-culture that comes to mind is Paul Anderson’s unevenly accepted Magnolia.

    I need to see that. Didn’t Anderson himself lament the movie on the basis he was trying too hard to create a masterpiece? Sounds like one of those movies that’s interesting in spite of (and maybe in part due to) its flaws.

    That sounds right, it’d be hard to settle for something small after having come off Boogie Nights success

    I think Magnolia is definitely worth a look, and I’d highly recommend Robert Altman’s Short Cuts.

    • #17
  18. The Girlie Show Member
    The Girlie Show
    @CatIII

    Samuel Block (View Comment):

    The Girlie Show (View Comment):

    Samuel Block: The piece of pop-culture that comes to mind is Paul Anderson’s unevenly accepted Magnolia.

    I need to see that. Didn’t Anderson himself lament the movie on the basis he was trying too hard to create a masterpiece? Sounds like one of those movies that’s interesting in spite of (and maybe in part due to) its flaws.

    That sounds right, it’d be hard to settle for something small after having come off Boogie Nights success

    I think Magnolia is definitely worth a look, and I’d highly recommend Robert Altman’s Short Cuts.

    Thanks for the rec. The only Altman I’ve seen is A Prairie Home Companion which I doubt is the best representative of his work. Oh, and Popeye, but I was under ten when I saw that so I don’t think it counts.

    • #18
  19. LC Member
    LC
    @LidensCheng

    I read Station Eleven several years back and liked it enough. I appreciate how understated it was for being a post-apocalyptic story. I’ve read tons of post-apocalyptic stories (some that are much better than this), but the theater troupe element made it different. I haven’t seen the adaptation yet since I don’t currently have HBO, but plan to check it out eventually. I remember Kirsten being the least interesting character to follow in the book too. 

    • #19
  20. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    I was an avid consumer of post-apocalyptic science fiction in the 1970’s.  It has been a stable theme of science fiction and mythology for a long time.   Ragnarok anyone?  And I understand that apocalyptic literature was all the rage in the 1st century AD.   I recognize in this story themes from Star Trek (The Conscience of the King), Lucifer’s Hammer (a lot of the premise including the prophet dude, as I recall) and a Canticle for Leibowitz.  

    I started to wean myself off science fiction when it became truly dystopian, and the characters were stripped of all humanity and all hope.  This one sounds like some of that is brought back, so I will give it a try.  Thanks for the recommendation.  

    • #20
  21. knoxvegasmike Coolidge
    knoxvegasmike
    @knoxvegasmike

    Episode 9 is very weird and completely extraneous to the rest of the story.

    • #21
  22. Gazpacho Grande' Coolidge
    Gazpacho Grande'
    @ChrisCampion

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    I’ve seen other networks offering this kind of thing as well. It’s usually either a pandemic or “Climate Change” that has wiped out all humans except the cast members, and I always think they’re trying to gin up panic.

    That’s a piece of it, but it doesn’t devolve into blame or we’re all evil bastards territory.  Much smaller scale, much more human story and interaction.

    It’s weird, but it’s worth it.  Couldn’t wait to see what was happening in the next episode.

    • #22
  23. Gazpacho Grande' Coolidge
    Gazpacho Grande'
    @ChrisCampion

    Samuel Block (View Comment):

    Pagodan (View Comment):

    Overall, I was dissappointed enough with it to not even bother with the last two episodes. I read the book, which was okay, and thought it could actually make a decent show, but by mid-way it was clear the show creators were very enamoured with a weird community theater aesthetic (exemplified by the eye-rollingly bad Lori Petty).

    The only moments I really enjoyed were when the Jeevan story line was on, and they even killed the fun of that story-line towards the end. Almost any scene including McKenzie Davis was near unwatchable, and she’s the main character!!

    While I appreciate the review above, if the dystopian post apocalyptic future means meandering around on a Chicago to Cleveland loop with a bunch of hippy millenials who are really excited about doing bad re-imaginings of Shakespeare scenes at the direction of Tank Girl… that’s not an any way hopeful.

    😂 Awesome. I was hoping somebody here had seen it.

    FWIW, I stopped after 8 for a bit too, but along with the 1st episode, I thought the last two were the best. Especially because Jeevan and Miranda come back. It definitely slumped in the middle.

    And I know what you mean about Mackenzie Davis. I didn’t find her totally unwatchable, but she was way less interesting than the little girl who played the younger Kirsten. But I thought the traveling actors was part of what made the show unique, even if their performances weren’t stellar.

    I think the ragtag nature of the troupe, hanging on so adamantly to part of history, humanity, was the endearing part.

    Even if the idea was they were circling the drain.  What I liked about it were the smaller interactions between the characters, the weirdness and timing of the storyline (going back and forth to prior events), all of it.

    Was some of it tedious?  Yep.  Was some of it generating “No way these theater folk would survive 8 minutes without electricity” questions in my head?  Yep.  Was it worth watching?

    Yep.  YMMV.

    • #23
  24. Gazpacho Grande' Coolidge
    Gazpacho Grande'
    @ChrisCampion

    The Girlie Show (View Comment):

    Samuel Block (View Comment):

    The Girlie Show (View Comment):

    Samuel Block: The piece of pop-culture that comes to mind is Paul Anderson’s unevenly accepted Magnolia.

    I need to see that. Didn’t Anderson himself lament the movie on the basis he was trying too hard to create a masterpiece? Sounds like one of those movies that’s interesting in spite of (and maybe in part due to) its flaws.

    That sounds right, it’d be hard to settle for something small after having come off Boogie Nights success

    I think Magnolia is definitely worth a look, and I’d highly recommend Robert Altman’s Short Cuts.

    Thanks for the rec. The only Altman I’ve seen is A Prairie Home Companion which I doubt is the best representative of his work. Oh, and Popeye, but I was under ten when I saw that so I don’t think it counts.

    I watched Popeye twice.  In the theater.

    It’s difficult to measure my shame with existing technology.

    • #24
  25. SteveSc Member
    SteveSc
    @SteveSc

    It was fine, a solid 5 out of 10.  The last two episodes were just a hot woke mess.

    • #25
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