tek's rating: ½

Masters of Science Fiction, on ABC
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There were only six episodes of this series, and only four of them aired in the USA, in 2007. I think I must have seen at least a bit of it, maybe all of it. I don't really remember. But I watched all six episodes when I got the series on DVD in 2019. Anyway, the series was narrated by Stephen Hawking, and each episode was loosely adapted from a short story by a different science fiction author (none of which I've read).

Clean Escape
(Based on the 1985 story of the same name, by John Kessel.) Sam Waterston plays a man named Robert Havelman, who has a form of amnesia that resets his memory every 12 hours. He's being treated by a psychiatrist named Deanna Evans (Judy Davis). Throughout the episode, we learn more about Havelman, as well as the current state of the outside world, and his part in making it the way it is. I won't spoil any of that, but it's pretty dramatic.

The Awakening
(Based on the 1970 story "The General Zapped an Angel," by Howard Fast.) Lt. Granger (Elisabeth Rohm) is sent to bring Major Albert Skynner (Terry O'Quinn) out of retirement to head up a study of a mysterious (possibly alien) body found in Iraq by US soldiers. Soon more such bodies are found all around the world, and when a message is delivered from the bodies to every government, the US President (William B. Davis) must decide whether to go along with all other world leaders in complying with the message, which insists they disarm.

Jerry Was a Man
(Based on the 1947 story of the same name, by Robert A. Heinlein.) This is the episode that was most familiar to me, the one I was most sure I saw on TV before I watched it on DVD. A wealthy couple, Martha Von Vogel (Anne Heche) and her husband, visit a company run by Tibor Cargrew (Malcolm McDowell), who creates genetically engineered pets. The company also makes bio-androids called "Joes" to perform labor tasks unfit for humans. Martha decides to acquire one such Joe (named Jerry), and ends up going to court to have him and others like him declared legally human, so that they would be freed from what amounted to slavery. It's interesting enough, I guess, though I daresay the concept was done better in Bicentennial Man.

The Discarded
(Based on the 1959 story of the same name, by Harlan Ellison.) A group of mutants have been exiled from Earth, forced to live on a spaceship that continuously travels throughout the Solar System, hoping to find someplace they'll be allowed to land. Their de facto leader is Bedzyk (Brian Dennehy), who is very cynical. His best friend is Samswope (John Hurt), who likes to make grandiloquent speeches (and who has a tiny second head, which isn't nearly so talkative). Bedzyk has a relationship with a woman named Annie. And... there are various other characters. One day, a representative of Earth named Barney Curran (James Denton) boards their ship to tell them a cure has been found for the disease that caused their mutations, and the mutants will be allowed to return home after donating enough of their blood, to help make more of the cure. Everyone except Bedzyk is eager to help, but he has no faith that the Earthers will keep their promise. Definitely an interesting story.

Little Brother
(Based on the 2001 story of the same name, by Walter Mosley.) A man named Frendon Blythe is a member of an underground society of laborers, where people are only allowed to go to the surface briefly, once a month. On one such excursion, Frendon tries to escape from the compound. He meets a contact named Augustus, who may be able to help. However, a couple of cops show up, chasing a young girl (played by Nicole Muñoz, who I know from Defiance). She ends up being killed by one of the cops, and Frendon kills him and wounds the other. He's then put on trial for murdering both the girl and the cop, with an automated judge, and a jury made up of... I guess sort of simulacra of dead people's memories, or whatever. There are also a couple of (live human) bailiffs named Otis Brill and Tilly Vee (Kimberly Elise). Anyway, Frendon has to try to prove his innocence, in a system that's rigged against anyone who's ever put on trial. It's a fairly interesting story, I guess.

Watchbird
(Based on the 1953 story of the same name, by Robert Sheckley.) A scientist named Charlie Kramer (Sean Astin) invents drones called "Watchbirds," which are deployed in war zones to disable or kill enemy soldiers and destroy weapons and whatnot, thereby reducing the number of our own soldiers who get killed. Later, he's informed by the head of the company he works for, Randolph Ludwin (James Cromwell), that the government wants to use Watchbirds here in America, to stop anyone who intends to commit violent crimes or terrorism. Charlie is reluctant, but goes along with the plan. However, there are some lines he refuses to cross... until a tragedy changes his mind. Beyond that, I don't want to spoil anything. But it's an interesting story, and rather chilling... especially watching it in an era when drones are becoming much more common in real life.


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