Hugo Awards Extravaganza 2019 – Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

Obviously the companion category to Long Form, Short form here means shorter than 90 minutes.  Unlike its longer cousin, this category often has a diverse range of media beyond tv and short film, and as such is the more interesting non textural category.

Unfortunately this is also the category that, as I predicted at the beginning of the Hugo season, I couldn’t get to all of the entries in.  I liked the pilot of the expanse, and I aspire to watch the rest of it, but unfortunately I don’t have time to watch three seasons of the show to get to Abaddon’s Gate.  Usually I skip voting in categories where I haven’t seen all the entries, but I nominated in this category and have a clear preference in voting.  As such I will follow my usual practice of awarding a gentleman’s B to the Expanse: assuming that it is an average Hugo nominated episode of tv,1 and ranking accordingly.

Doctor Who: “Demons of the Punjab”

From my review of Season 11:

The peak of the season however is Demons of the Punjab.  Here everything that is great about this season coalesces: the story is grounded in a personal relationship between Yaz (our copper) and her Grandmother, and it fuses it to a historical incident (the Partition of India) that is unquestionably relevant to England today.  I was genuinely moved by this episode, as it took something that sounds magical – the first woman married in Pakistan, and shows how politics made the reality anything but.  Even the villains of the episode are more tragic than evil, and rather than relying on a lazy contrivance like fixed points to hamstring the protagonists, we instead have an event so connected to a companion that to change it would change them.

Dirty Computer

A dirty computer is sent to be cleaned…

Dirty Computer is difficult to describe; its a visual framing device for the music videos of the album of the same name.  The plot of Dirty Computer is very straight forward – an oppressive government tries to take the memories of someone it has deemed undesirable, and she attempts to hold on through the power of love.  What is amazing is how effectively it pulls the disparate tracks together.  By sharing a cast2 and visual motifs, it makes the individual music videos feel like stylised memories.   I’m not sure the album itself is quite cohesive enough to be considered a concept album, but it is most definitely a concept music video.

Indeed I don’t really like Monáe’s music, and I’m not sure I would listen to it normally, but combined with the framing device and well made music videos I really enjoyed it.  The low key religous SF aesthetic of the “present” is contrasted with well choreographed contemporary music videos with subtle sf touches.  For example there is a fairly standard start of girls driving along in a classic car, before the frame pulls out and you realise that it is a hovercar.   The music and the film are explicitly political, with Monáe touching issues of race, gender, money and more.  In spite of this, what I really liked is that ultimately the key message of the piece is one about the transcendent power of love.

Music, politics, love, and dystopia, Dirty Computer is quality SF for those open to new experiences.

The Good Place: Janet(s)

From my nominating piece:

Consistently the best show on tv, but no one episode really stood out in the way that The Trolley Problem, Micheal’s Gambit, or Dance Dance Resolution did in previous seasons. The pick of the bunch is Janets, which is a magnificent showcase for D’Arcy Carden to play every member of the cast. In spite of this, I just can’t bring myself to nominate it, though if it finds itself on the ballot I would vote for it.

The Good Place: “Jeremy Bearimy”

The gang are alive, but nothing really matters, nothing really matters at all…

As I discussed above, this is the consistently best show on TV, and Jeremy Bearimy is a very funny episode of TV, looking at what would happen if our characters found out what had happened to them, and as such, condemned themselves to Hell.  Each reacts differently, most notably Chidi who goes completely off the rails as his moral universe collapses.  No show in recent years has done more to bring not just intelligent, but profound comedy to tv, this is a show that makes you a better person watching it.  So why am I a bit down on this episode; the problem are stakes.  This episode happens so early in the season, and the consequences feel so dire, that it is hard to see the consequence sticking, and so it undermines the premise of the episode a little.

A funny episode with good ideas that just needed higher stakes.

Dr Who: “Rosa”

From my review of Season 11:

However I missed these things in the first episode.  It wasn’t until Rosa that this season nailed its colours to the mast.3  Given the finesse shown in recent seasons, I really expected the worst out of Doctor visits historic civil rights event – at best some maudlin triumphalism about how we are better, at worst, having a white hero start the civil rights movement.  Instead we got the Doctor squaring off with a human time traveler who wants to disrupt Rosa on the bus to tip history.  The event is given its due, and the gang is just there to keep the wheels on.  The key to the episode however is that at the end when he’s defeated, the mask slips and we find that it is about race, and even in the future, there will be racists,and they will need to be put in their place.

Hugo Ballot

  1. Doctor Who: Demons of the Punjab
  2. Dirty Computer
  3. The Good Place: Janets
  4. The Expanse: Abaddon’s Gate
  5. Doctor Who: Rosa
  6. The Good Place: Jeremy Bearimy

This was a fairly easy ranking, Demons of the Punjab is the best Doctor Who episode in years, Dirty Computer is exactly the sort of different and new experience I look for in the Hugos, and Janets is a great actor showpiece in a great series that didn’t necessarily have any great episodes this season.

With Abaddon’s Gate getting a nominal ranking,4 Rosa and Jeremy Bearimy are still  very good episodes of TV that don’t quite get to excellent, and certainly aren’t up to best episode in their respective shows.  Having said that, any slate where these two are the bottom of your ballot is a very very good slate, and either would make a fine winner.

  1. ie would be expected to be in the middle of a Hugo ranking in an average year.
  2. And between this and Sorry to Bother You, Tessa Thompson is carving a niche in off kilter political movies, and is killing it.
  3. Episode 3.
  4. Though given how stacked this year is, it really should be at the bottom of the list, however I’ve put it here as the other two shows have already gotten their due.

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