HBO Max: Is More Better?

AT&T, after the 2018 WarnerMedia acquisition, will now be rolling out yet another HBO service called HBO Max. It will be unveiled on May 27, 2020. What is different about it? Basically, they’ll be adding more content, original and otherwise. How will this affect those who already get HBO through one of the other services? It depends.

Although HBO Max won’t yet be available through Amazon Prime as is the case with HBO Now, one source states that this won’t affect many other subscribers to HBO Now: “most existing HBO subscribers on Hulu will be automatically upgraded to HBO Max” (Variety). Most? Not all? On the main page of the official HBO Max website, it suggests that all Hulu subscribers will be included in the transition: “Subscribers who get HBO through AT&T TV, DIRECTV, AT&T U-Verse, Hulu, or Spectrum will get access to HBO Max at launch (at no extra cost).” But there is conflicting info: “the upgrade is only available to direct-billed subscribers and not for those who access HBO Now via Roku, Hulu, Apple, or other non-direct avenues” (Observer).

The latter might be true. When attempting to subscribe to HBO Max through an account paid through Hulu, the following message is given: “Your HBO NOW subscription is billed through Hulu. You are not eligible for this promotional offer. […] Offer not currently available to subscribers that obtain their subscriptions through third-party providers that are authorized to distribute the HBO NOW service.” Does that only mean the promotional offer is not available to Hulu subscribers or that the entire service isn’t available through Hulu? It’s unclear.

Whatever this might mean for HBO Now in the future, it definitely won’t overlap with HBO Go that will remain the same as a separate service for cable subscribers. It seems that, for the time being, HBO Max will be in addition to these other options. But going by the reporting, it most likely will eventually replace HBO Now. The pricing will be the same as HBO Now at $14.99, if more expensive than the base plans of Hulu and Netflix. They might go the Hulu route on advertising: “Currently, HBO Max will not feature ads. According to Variety, HBO Max will receive a cheaper ad-supported plan in 2021” (How-To Geek).

It is a rebranding. HBO’s tagline used to be “It’s not TV. It’s HBO.” but now will be “Where HBO Meets So Much More.” Further moving away from its cable origins, it will no longer will be a mere channel. They are calling HBO Max a platform, apparently seeking to rival the likes of Netflix and Disney+. Still, they claim they are going to continue to emphasize quality over quantity with what they produce, the complete opposite model of Netflix.

Yet some worry that mixing in non-HBO content waters down the premier image of the HBO brand built up over so many decades. “AT&T purchased Time Warner in the hopes that phone service and content would yield a peanut butter and chocolate combination. Instead, AT&T is junking up Time Warner’s luxury product, HBO, and turning it into HBO Max. This is the equivalent of Hermès selling JanSport alongside Birkin bags” (Fast Company). I don’t know if that is a fair criticism, but I could see the risk over time in HBO losing what made it stand out from the crowd.

On the other hand, HBO Max is putting forth an impressive lineup. “The streaming service pulls from WarnerMedia’s deep content library, including films and TV from Warner Bros.’ 100-year content collection, New Line, DC, CNN, TNT, TBS, truTV, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Crunchyroll, Rooster Teeth, Looney Tunes, a curated selection of classic films in partnership with TCM, and more. HBO Max will also offer an extensive selection of third-party acquired series and movies” (Digital Trends). This will be serious competition for Netflix, although less so for Hulu and Amazon Prime that allows HBO Now as an add-on.

Admittedly, for good or ill, it vastly increases the content available, from South Park and Rick and Morty to Doctor Who and DC movies, along with the Criterion Collection, Studio Ghibli, and BBC Studios. Also, don’t worry — it will still have Sesame Street, not to mention adding popular shows like Friends and Big Bang Theory (there will be a Friends reunion special! Oh joy!). There will be plenty of older shows too, such as Perry Mason and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. That brings in a wider selection to an already well established 40 years backlog of HBO series, movies, documentaries, and stand-up comedy.

Of course, they’ll be producing more original content as well. One of their upcoming shows will be Adventure Time: New Lands. It will be awesome. In the final episode of the new series, Princess Bubblegum rides Lady Rainicorn while terrorizing the Candy people and burning down the Candy Kingdom. Oh wait… that was another show. I’m sure HBO will do better this time, right? There is no doubt it will bring in fans of the show.

Distant Lands will air as four hour-long episodes, bringing audiences back two years following the Cartoon Network series’ conclusion. Each of the episodes will focus on a different main character from the series, with the first revisiting BMO, the second about Princess Bubblegum and Marceline the Vampire Queen, the third on the Peppermint Butler and the finale featuring Finn and Jake reconnecting on a new quest” (CBR).

By the way, it does sound like HBO is still planning to come out with the Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon. I hope they are able to redeem themselves. Either way, HBO Max will be a better deal than what was on offer before. Paying for HBO as a separate service with HBO Now was always questionable, considering the limited if high quality content. HBO Max does put HBO on an equal footing with the other platform giants. But for most viewers, the equation remains the same. The main reason to get HBO Max is the same as it ever was, that one enjoys the original content of HBO.

HBO’s Euphoria and ABC’s My So-Called Life

“If I could be a different person, I promise you, I would. Not because I want it, but because they do. And therein lies the catch.”
~ Rue Bennett, Euphoria

“People always say you should be yourself, like yourself is this definite thing, like a toaster or something. Like you can know what it is, even.”
~ Angela Chase, My So-Called Life

In HBO’s show Euphoria from this year, close similarities can be found to ABC’s My So-Called Life from 1994. A quarter century has passed since the earlier show was cancelled after a single season. The formula was repeated less successfully in some others that followed it (an interesting variant was the 2003 Dead Like Me). Now there is HBO’s offering.

Both are coming-of-age stories taking place in the world of middle class America with its private family struggles and isolated individuals seeking to connect. There is the female protagonist, Rue Bennett or Angela Chase, who is a teenager in high school. She is a somewhat quiet and thoughtful outsider observing the world around her through a detached attitude, along with offering running commentary with internal monologue. She has a younger sister, Gia Bennett or Danielle Chase, who looks up to her and a mother, Leslie Bennett or Patricia “Patty” Chase, who doesn’t understand what she is going through. There is some focus on her early relationship with her father, Robert Bennett or Graham Chase.

A central theme of the show is how relationships change over time and how teenagehood is a time of immense change, of developing identities and self-discovery. The protagonist has grown distant from a childhood friend, Lexi Howard or Sharon Cherski. Then there is her new best friend, Jules Vaughn or Rayanne Graff, who is a wild girl bringing energy and excitement, not to mention some melodrama, into the her life. But often the protagonist has to play the mature role to protect her new friend and intervene despite her own fears, doubts, and problems. Substance abuse is involved in both shows, specifically in terms of this budding friendship, if it plays out differently in terms of which character is afflicted. And there is also a sexual tension that complicates their relationship, demonstrating the similarity of young friendship and young love.

Then there is the cool and popular guy, Nate Jacobs or Jordan Catalano, who is aloof and selfish, although much more menacing in this more recent incarnation as troubled psychopath-in-training. I’m not sure about characters that fit the role of gay friend, nerdy neighbor kid, and such. Maybe some of the characters in Euphoria play similar purposes in the narrative. Is Fezco, the young local drug dealer, the equivalent of Enrique “Rickie” Vasquez, in that both are streetwise and have to take care of themselves? And is Kat Hernandez, an overweight girl, in her relationship to Ethan a slightly different version of Delia Fischer in her relationship to Brian Krakow?

To emphasize the similarities Euphoria references My So-Called Life in one of the early episodes, indicating the previous show is an inspiration. And likewise, this new show deals with issues of the day that earlier shows tended to ignore and many adults don’t consider appropriate for teenagers. It is going for an edgy appeal of gritty realism and teenage angst in a world where parents are rarely paying attention or know what to do. The younger generation in each case, GenX and GenZ, has to figure it out on their own and find their own way. This is amusing since the former generation is now the parents of the latter generation. One lost generation to the next.

* * *

Made You Look/Transcript
from Fandom

Rue: Watcha doin’?

Gia (Rue’s sister): Watching My So-Called Life.

Rue: *Chuckles* Fuckin’ Jordan Catalano.

Gia: I know, right?

Rue: Right. Ugh.

Gia: *Laughs*

Rue: Please promise me you will never fall for a Jordan Catalano.

Gia: But he’s so cute. *Laughs*

My so called life was cancelled after one season
by u/robologoin

Partly because Claire Danes didn’t want to keep going. But TV has changed now. Euphoria is the closest thing to that show I’ve ever seen. I’d like to think it could also survive a change in lead if Zendaya got some major movie role and moved on

Euphoria Review: Freaks and Dicks
by Jen Chaney

In the third episode of the trippy and explicit Euphoria, the pseudo-recovering addict Rue (Zendaya) enters the bedroom of her younger sister, Gia (Storm Reid), and finds her watching an episode of My So-Called Life. By referencing the 25-year-old ABC high-school series, Euphoria tips its hat to a previous entry in the same genre and reminds the audience that what was praised for its honest depiction of teen life in 1994 now looks quaint by comparison. That’s especially true if you’re comparing it to Euphoria.

The Kids Aren’t Alright In HBO’s Excessive ‘Euphoria’
by Ed Bark

A passing reference leaves its mark in Episode 3 of HBO’s aggressively graphic Euphoria.

The kid sister of central character Rue Bennett (Zendaya, already on a first name basis) is alone in her room, immersed in her iPad. What’s she watching? My So-Called Life, Gia (Storm Reid) tells Rue.

Today’s high schoolers weren’t anywhere near being born when the then very daring ABC coming-of-age drama series premiered a quarter-century ago and lasted just one season. Euphoria, which launches Sunday, June 16th on HBO at 10 p.m. ET, makes the disaffected youth of Pittsburgh’s Liberty High seem like the original comic book versions of Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica. But it certainly shows how far we’ve come – or fallen.

All of the Music Played During ‘Euphoria’ Season 1
by Khal

List of My So-Called Life music
from My So-Called Life Wiki
(Spotify playlist)

Introverted Delights

I’ve been watching Westworld. It’s my favorite show at the moment. That is saying a lot, considering it’s competition. The second season of The Man in the High Castle is about to come out, based on a novel I love by my favorite fiction writer. And the always entertaining Game of Thrones will be returning soon. But neither of those shows competes with Westworld.

Westworld is popular. But even though it has higher viewer ratings than Game of Thrones, it has much more mixed reviews. It’s such a complex show. The plotlines of Westworld are immensely more complicated than the sprawling narrative world of Game of Thrones. This makes it all the more impressive that it is so popular.

For some people, they see it as too cerebral. I wonder why that is. There is more emotional depth to this show in many ways than a show like Game of Thrones that is focused so much on physical action of fighting, on political machinations and worldly power. The inner experience of Westworld characters is conveyed to a much greater extent. Maybe that is what is difficult for some people, specifically extraverts.

Westworld, despite the outward action and adventure of the virtual world portrayed, is ultimately a show maybe best appreciated by an introvert. So many of the main characters on the show seem rather inwardly drawn and guarded about their most personal experience, which is unusual for mainstream action-oriented sci-fi. The point of the entire show revolves around growing self-awareness and the strengthening of an inner voice, the kind of thing that preoccupies introverts.

Some people wonder what is the point of all the convoluted plotlines, multitudinous cultural references, and in-show commentary of obscure ideas. Also, there is the simultaneous celebration and questioning of genre tropes. Is it embracing “guns and tits and all that mindless shit”? Or is the entire show a criticism of that, an exploration of what it means for our humanity? Maybe both. From my perspective, that just makes the show more interesting. But the basic show can be enjoyed on a much simpler level, even ignoring the sex and violence, as much of the character development is fairly straightforward. The motivation of characters is revealed as the show goes on, assuming enough imagination and curiosity pulls you in to follow the characters on their path of emergence.

The tricky part is that the identities of characters isn’t immediately apparent, only being revealed as their pasts are revealed. This is a slow reveal with glimpses of a murky past gradually coming into focus. The exploration of motivation is a learning experience as much for the characters themselves as for the viewers. We are meant to identify and empathize with the characters as individuals and not merely to be caught up in their actions and relationships with other characters.

This requires of the viewer both patience and immersion, along with suspension of disbelief about the entire fictional world. It’s an act of imaginative speculation taken to an extreme degree, an attempt to bring we the viewers into the borderlands of consciousness and of humanity. Some people have more tolerance than others for that kind of thing, but this is what the best sci-fi is able to achieve. That is what the producers of the Westworld show have been attempting, it being fair game to argue over how well they achieved it. Still, no matter how well done, these themes aren’t exactly of mainstream interest. Most viewers probably just want to see robots revolting and, for those folk, this show does deliver on that promise.

Still, Westworld is constrained by the sub-genre it belongs to. There is a central element of dark mystery and claustrophobic focus that is typical of gritty neo-noir, always leaving certain things unseen and unexplained. Take the slow burn of Blade Runner, exaggerate and complicate it, spread it across an entire show series with no linear plotline or single dominant protagonist, and that is what you get with Westworld. This isn’t a world-building exercise like some traditional fantasy and space operas where every detail is articulated and the background fully described. Everything in the narrative revolves around the characters and about what it means to be human.

This season introduced the individuals and their place in the world. The exploration of the larger world, if it is to happen, will be developed in the next season. The hosts, having gained consciousness, will no longer be trapped in voice commands, character scripts, and narrative loops. The inward focus likely will turn ever more outward, as the hosts try to grasp what kind of world they find themselves in. That is the natural progression of emerging consciousness, whether for a child or an android.