The last week or so has been mostly dominated by science-fiction based thoughts about Philip K Dick (as evidenced by my two posts on Lawrence Sutin’s Divine Invasions and Dick’s Nick and the Glimmung) and the arrival of the new Doctor Who. However, I also managed to finish off watching Sword Art Online II, the latest season of Better Call Saul and Maniac on Netflix, and I’ve been out a couple of times with Her Royal Signess to see some stand up shows at Loughborough Town Hall.

Sword Art Online II was a game of two halves with the first portion of the season based within the very un-swordy virtual reality world of Gun Gale Online where someone called Death Gun is supposedly killing of players for real and Kirito is sent in to investigate. He ends up using a lightsaber (although they never use that term) to deflect incoming bullets and befriends female sniper Sinon along the way.

The second half of the season is based back in the more familiar territory of ALO where the usual gang plus new member (Sinon) embark on a quest to find legendary sword Calibur and save a level of the game (and perhaps the whole game) from dark forces in a mash-up of Nordic and British myth and folklore. Finally in the ‘Mother’s Rosario’ arc there’s the story of Asuna befriending powerful sword-wielder Yuuki and joining her gang to get onto the highscore tablet of the game. Yuuki is actually dying from AIDS in the real world and this part of the show is perhaps the most touching being a departure from the usual hack-and-slash action and somewhat like the ‘San Junipero’ episode of Black Mirror Season 3.

Better Call Saul mostly deals with the aftermath of Jimmy’s brother’s suicide and Jimmy’s struggle to be reinstated as a lawyer, and in the drug-dealer’s side story Mike overseeing the building of the secret meth lab under the laundry complex which was a key locale in latter episodes of Breaking Bad (e.g. ‘The Fly’). The season was as entertaining as ever but I still feel it’s a far cry from the dizzy edge-of-your-seat heights of Breaking Bad.

Sci-fi comedy drama Maniac appealed to me in so many ways, not least because it’s portrayal of mental health issues mashed up with emotional AI and virtual realities is so so PKD. Superbad buddies Emma Stone and Jonah Hill are great as the main characters who enter into a drug trial to try and fix their brains. The supporting cast in the form of Sonoya Mizuno (Ex Machina), Justin Theroux (who had a cameo as the master code-breaker in The Last Jedi) and Sally Field (Forrest Gump) are also excellent.

Based on a Norwegian series of the same name, Maniac is a 10 episode gem mixing science fiction tropes with personal moral issues, coping with loss of loved ones, identity and a good helping of comedy. The penultimate episode ‘Utangatta’ in which Hill plays an Icelandic official accused of accidentally killing an alien life-form and triggering an intergalactic war is one of the funniest things I’ve seen on TV in a long time mixing the Cold War vibe of Dr Strangelove with the kind of thing Kurt Vonnegut might dream up.

Stylishly filmed by the new ‘next Bond director’ Cary Joji Fukunaga, I can’t recommend the show more highly. Will there be a sequel? Well there is one loose end ‘a private matter’ which faceless lab-boss Yoda alludes to in the final episode, so maybe…

Henning Wehn‘s show Get On With It at Loughborough Town Hall was also a game of two halves. First half was a kind of ‘best bits’ session revisiting some of his observations as a German living in London for more than a decade. His spot on Live at the Apollo includes some of the material:

The second half was all about Brexit. Wehn trod a fine line along a tightrope over a minefield of potential racism and in the same way that Al Murray’s Pub Landlord character might appeal to stupid racists who don’t get the irony, the same could be said for Wehn. His observations on what it might be like living next to a family of Turkish people were surely there as a set-up to test those in the crowd who may have voted for Brexit and make then question their voting decisions.

He also had some choice things to say about British politics in general and of course Donald Trump. What wasn’t made clear enough at times in my opinion (unlike in the work of chief preconception- tester Stewart Lee) is that Wehn doesn’t agree with what he is saying. What made me chuckle the most I think is his observation that England winning the World Cup this year would have had more of an effect on his life than Brexit will.

Ross Noble‘s show El Hablador (translated as ‘chatterbox’ I’m reliably informed) was an entirely different kettle of fish. The first thing that was obvious is that Noble is a showman who knows how to put on a show. For £5 more on the ticket price, compare what we were presented with when we walked in:

Henning Wehn had a handheld mic on a stand and some blue uplighting. Ross Noble on the otherhand had a projected ‘logo’ as shown which became an animated video with theme song and comedy subtitles plus a short video explaining the outcome of messing about with your phone while the show was on (death by killer bees and heat-seeking missiles among other things).

Sure, Henning also had a walk-on tune, but from Ross we got multi-coloured illuminated skulls staring like death masks from behind the curtain that then dropped before he emerged from the central giant inflatable skull with his head-mic allowing for his usual mode of phrenetic physical comedy (including demonstrating on all-fours fighting the need to vomit and then how puking and shitting diarrhoea stopped him getting whiplash).

The scene at the intermission after an hour of pretty much non-stop laughter, or as Ross likes to call it – the ‘piss break’.

It’s the third time I’ve seen Ross in action live on stage and he did not disappoint. Some of his pet subjects such as Stephen Hawking, pigs and monkeys made appearances (he’s progressed from greasing up pigs to shaving monkeys since we last saw him) but as usual we got a bespoke one-off show based I would say 50% of the time on conversation and observation of certain audience members.

These included ‘the woman who can speak French’, ‘the woman with the broken foot’, ‘the chemical couple’, ‘weak bladder man’ and ‘the man who knows how far it is from anywhere to Melton Mowbray’ all of whom were name checked and proved with applause at the end of the show. I’m sure Ross could ramble on for hours on his own mental creations but what sets him apart from other comedians is his stunning ability to weave the stories of audience members into his material.

Take for instance a little bit of tomfoolery about one of the ‘chemical couple’s’ jobs in despatch in a chemical company, to mean that he went around with a spatula undoing the work of the ‘spatches’. He used this later when describing how he had put Deep Heat on his thighs after participating in the Great Northern Run and had to pull his pants on fast to answer a knock on the door. He accidentally got Deep Heat on his chaffed right testicle – the legs of his pants acting as a spatula and directing the cream onto his nut sack. You had to be there I guess, but trust me, it was comedy gold.