You can learn a lot about a people’s culture by watching their film and TV. No, I’m not talking about the official narrative—the plot, character development, and so forth. Although that tells us something too.
What is really revealing is what passes by as “taken for granted” norms. By that, I mean things like jokes, the role of women, the standard of living, the aesthetic sense (no matter how much we like or dislike it).
All these things together can give us some picture of what another country is like. It is an imperfect picture, to be sure. The best way to learn about a country is – sorry superficial yuppies – not to take a guided tour and engage in all kinds of phony relationships with people in the tourist industry but rather to actually live there and get to know the ordinary people. By forging real relationships and sharing in other people’s joys and challenges, only then can we begin to get some kind of handle on what life is like there.
So I’ve never been to Russia. My parents went as volunteers, trying to help the hapless post-Soviets learn how to start up legitimate businesses. Seems my parents’ good intentions were thwarted somewhat by the omnipresent reality of crime in Russia. People joke that every country has a mafia whereas Russia is a place that IS the mafia. Something like that. I can’t remember the exact line.
On the other hand, we can say that it’s a shame that Russia has turned out this way. Its history – especially its cultural history – is impressive, to say the least. Even the worst imbecile can probably cite at least one great Russian author, classical composer or chess player.
So with all this behind me, I thought I’d give Better Than Us a chance. It’s the first Netflix/Russia production to be released beyond Russia.
And damn, it’s good!
Irony of ironies.
Compared to the (I think largely UK production of) Humans, Better Than Us is far more human and often sizzles with engaging characters, male and female alike.
A story about robots in the near future, the main bot, Arisa, is simply fantastic. For me, she’s one of those characters whom you feel you “know” somehow. Was it that sweet girl in junior school who called me “Willy?” Or was it someone else? I couldn’t figure it out but Arisa rocks.
But not only her. Most of the stars and supporting cast are quite believable and even with dubs, very fine actors. (Sometimes I turn on the original language and use subtitles just for the authenticity factor).
Right now I’m entering into Episode 12 or 13—I lose track when late-night binge-watching.
Looking forward to seeing more I’m also a bit disappointed that I’ll be finished season one soon. A second season is planned. Let’s hope the success doesn’t go to their heads and this program keeps up the cool, slick production that it now is.
I think Isaac Asimov, who thought up the “Three Laws of Robotics” would be pleased with this essential update for the 21st century.