On July 25, 2019, a new science fiction television series, Another Life, was released on the Netflix streaming video service. As Netflix often does with their own productions, the entire series was released at once, as opposed to one episode per week as on broadcast television. I get most of my news about events in science fiction from Twitter, where I follow a collection of independent science fiction authors and fans whose opinions I have come to respect. There have been relatively few comments about the new series, but they have been curiously bimodal: some people like it and others hate it, with very few in the middle. A couple of nights ago I had a pile of tedious system administration tasks to do which took a lot of time but relatively little concentration, so I put it on to have a look for myself. I was astonished by what I saw…or rather heard.
The story is, from what I’ve seen, banal, and although they seem to have science advisors on tap which keep them from tripping over pesky things like confusing planetary systems with galaxies and the like, there are other inanities such as instantaneous communication over light-year distances and the need for suspended animation on a faster than light ship. Almost every male (including a computer-emulated hologram) with the exception of one political twit seems to have a dumbeard™, and nobody on this ship sent for first contact with mysterious aliens seems to have a rank or title.
But that isn’t what struck me—it’s the language. I grew up when there were three television networks and programming at all hours was suitable for the whole family. I actually used to watch Howdy Doody on Saturday mornings. I had already abandoned watching television series by the time it started to become gritty and racy in the 1970s, with the mid-70s controvery over the Family Viewing Hour. Before long, independent cable programming started to appear (Home Box Office started operation in 1972), and it was established that content regulation that applied to broadcast stations did not apply to pay cable channels.
Still, the fare remained reasonably wholesome. Even Breaking Bad, which ran from 2008 through 2013, and was known for its violence and mature themes, imposed a quota of one F-bomb per season (although fans say this wasn’t strictly adhered to).
Another Life is another thing entirely. When I watched the first episode, the F-bombs seemed to be dropping like the closing scene in Doctor Strangelove. I decided to count them when I watched the second episode, just to see if the first one might have been an outlier. It wasn’t. In the first two minutes of the second episode, there are ten, or an average of one every twelve seconds. The pace slows down as the episode progresses, with “only” 24 in the 42 minute episode, or more than one every two minutes. This is sustained in the third episode, which will probably be the last one I watch, which squeezes 27 into its 45 minutes, or an average of one every 100 seconds.
Now, I can understand that in, say, a war movie, in the interest of authenticity there’s an argument that soldiers and sailors speak like they do in real life. But here, the expletives are not reserved for moments of great stress—they are everywhere. In episode 2, one character is rummaging through the ship’s pantry looking for a tasty snack when she is startled by sound from another crew member she didn’t see when walking into the room. This elicits the following timeless dialogue:
Michelle: Like, f***ing Jesus f***ing Christ! F***. What the f***?
Sasha: Well, it’s great to see you too.
Sasha: Why can’t I breathe?
Michelle: Why can’t I find any triple chocolate f***in’ protein bars? Bernie, that greedy f***, I bet he’s had all the good s***.
I’m not sure what they’re trying to accomplish here. It is just to show that on streaming they can? Is to be edgy (which the plot seems not to be)? Is it because that’s how their target audience speaks today and they assume this will appeal to them?
It all reminds me of the passage in Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons where the narrator dilates at length on the many applications of the F-bomb in the vocabulary of the students of Dupont University.
For this viewer, it is an absorbing state. I’m done.