Monday, May 16, 2016

I've Been Catching Up On Recent Genre Shows

I've been such a slacker this year as regards blogging that I don't even consider myself a blogger these days.  My output at this particular blog has always been scattershot at best, of course, so if you only know me from here, you're already aware of my deficiencies in the area of consistency and timeliness.  But hey, it is what it is; I'm here today, so let's go with that.
  
Part of what I've been doing the past half a year or so is devoting time to getting caught up on a bunch of television shows that I foolishly tried to skip.
  
Here's the thing: I've been a fan of sci-fi television for literally as long as I can remember.  I can't remember becoming a Star Trek fan, which leads me to believe that it must have happened so early that my memory-formation skills hadn't even fully kicked in yet.  So yeah, I'm that guy, and have been ever since.
  
With that in mind, what sort of circumstance would enable to to justifiably skip watching ALL the new sci-fi shows that premiered last year?  What short-sightedness, what abandonment of purpose, what temporary lack of self-understanding would permit for this to happen?
  
I don't have an answer.  However, I will say this: I became cognizant toward the end of last year -- possibly spurred to action by The Force Awakens -- that it was a situation that could not stand.  In this instance, as regards this matter, the Dude could not abide.  So I decided to take on several of the shows I will be talking about here, and then my efforts expanded to encompass some of the others.  Having now gotten close to finishing, the time seems right to blog about the shows a bit.  So let's dive right in:
  
  
  
  

The oldest of the "new" shows considered here, Black Mirror aired its first episodes in late 2011 on the British network Channel 4.  I'd been aware of it for a while, having seen and heard reverent -- and (happily) non-specific -- mentions of it in various places.  I knew next to nothing when I sat down to watch the first episode, however.
  

I wouldn't have it any other way, and as a result of that, you're getting no specifics from me.  I'll settle for saying these things:  
  
  • It's an anthology series, in the vein of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits.
  • There are seven episodes (two three-episode seasons from 2011 and 2013, as well as a one-off Christmas special in 2014), so your time investment is minimal.  Twelve more episodes are going to debut on Netflix at some point, however, so rejoice before you even know of the need for rejoicing!
  • There are some terrific cast-members in most of the episodes.  I will mostly refrain from mentioning them by name, but I will tell you that one episode stars Agent Carter and General Hux.

All seven extant episodes -- as well, I believe, as the upcoming dozen -- were written by Charlie Brooker, a former political satirist who created the well-reviewed zombie miniseries Dead Seat.  It is almost certainly his voice which helps to give Black Mirror its specificity of focus, and which helps it stand out somewhat from some other anthology shows.  Brooker's thesis with Black Mirror thus far seems to have been something along the lines of, "To what extent do changes in technology change human nature?"  His answer mostly seems to be "not at all," and the results of this in a dramatic/science-fictional sense are invigorating.  
  
There are occasional plot contrivances that might be difficult to swallow, but when the series hits -- and it hits frequently over the course of these seven hours -- it hits hard.  There are moments in each episode that haunt me, not merely for their implications, but also frequently for how incredibly well they are filmed and performed.  
  
All things considered, this is genuinely exceptional filmmaking; and as far as science-fiction television goes, it's a new classic.
  
  

  
  
Syfy, as a channel, has only rarely lived up to its potential.  Battlestar Galactica, sure; Farscape before it, certainly.  A lot of people would probably argue for the various Stargate shows (although the original began its life on Showtime), too, and maybe there are other gems I'm forgetting.
  
Mostly, though, it's kind of been a joke, even back when it was known not as Syfy but as the Sci-Fi Channel.
  
The name-change certainly didn't help.  Neither did the Saturday-night-schlock emphasis on stuff like Mansquito and Sharknado.  (I had an idea for one myself years ago: Brobot, which would have been the heartwarming tale of a stereotypical seventies-era pimp who gets turned into a cyborg and goes on what I can only hope would be a justifiable anti-honky killing spree.  I remain too lazy -- and too white -- to write such a thing, but if somebody else wants to do it and make a gajillion dollars, I'll more than happily settle out of court for my cut of the proceeds.)
  
There have been efforts -- including major executive-structure shakeups -- at Syfy to revitalize their brand over the past year or so, however.  Part of that strategy involves getting back to doing the sorts of things that you'd expect a sci-fi channel (even one named, ludicrously, "Syfy") to do.
  
One of the big elements of that effort was Childhood's End, a three-night/six-hour miniseries based on Arthur C. Clarke's classic 1953 novel.  The novel itself is one of the cornerstones of alien-invasion literature, although it approaches the topic from a decidedly different angle than, say, H.G. Wells did (to say nothing of the post-war sci-fi flicks that were the novel's contemporaries).
  
The setup goes like this: one day, out of the clear blue sky, alien spaceships appear above numerous major cities around the world.  The ships do not attack; they merely sit there, and eventually their occupants make contact telepathically.  Thus begins a period of utopian existence for humanity, and the true intent of the aliens is eventually made clear.
  
Telling you any more than that would be doing you a disservice, I think, so we will leave it there.
  
The miniseries is relatively faithful to the novel.  It makes a lot of changes, and updates a lot of things, but mostly in a way that seems designed to retain the essence of Clarke's novel.  It stars Mike Vogel (WAY better here than he was in Under the Dome), Charles Dance, Julian McMahon, Colm Meaney, and a lot of people you've probably never heard of, almost all of whom are very good.  The effects are terrific, there's a good musical score, and there's a LOT of the sort of big-ticket philosophizing that isn't always to be found in filmed science fiction.
  
Is it perfect?  No.  It's probably a bit too long, and there are times when it strains for effect.  but it ends satisfyingly, and it's stuck with me since I watched it a few months ago.  For a network that might plausibly produce a movie called Volcagnomes (copyright 2016 Bryant Burnette), it's a major step in the right direction.
  
  
  
  
Speaking of alien invasions, Colony might be.  There's been an invasion of some sort on this show, for sure.  The ten-episode first season begins some point in time a few years (?) after there's been a major occupation on Earth by forces that are never quite explained.  The hints are strong that it's an alien force -- whoever they are, they've got a base on the moon that's visible with a good telescope -- but the fact that the show's writers haven't come right out and said so makes me wonder if they aren't involved in a long con of some sort.
  
The question is, do I care?
  
The answer is, yeah, I kind of do.
  
The series is produced by Carlton Cuse (of Lost fame) and relative newcomer Ryan Condal, and it stars Josh Holloway (also of Lost) and Sarah Wayne Callies (of The Walking Dead, specifically of many of the worst episodes) among others.  
  
Holloway is eminently watchable, and while his character isn't as much fan as Sawyer was on Lost, he's got enough star power to make up for it.  Callies, meanwhile, seems to be on a make-or-break mission to prove that the demerits of The Walking Dead (and her character, Lori) should not be considered her fault.  Indeed they should not.  Lori was perhaps the most inconsistently-written character in television this millennium, but Callies did her best; here, playing a much more interesting and consistent character, she does quite well.
  
There are surprises I'm reluctant to reveal, so I'll give you a bare-bones series setup: in this occupation (be it alien or otherwise), the occupiers have put into place a government run by human collaborators.  There are seemingly a great many of these local governments: Los Angeles itself is broken into various zones, and the show takes place almost entirely within only one of them.  Is this a budgetary consideration?  Maybe, but it works pretty well: everyone is cut off from everyone everywhere else in a way that works to the show's advantage.  Anyways, there is (naturally) a resistance force aligned against the collaborationist government; the friction that results is what powers the series, which only occasionally dips into sci-fi devices.
  
By no means is it perfect, but it's a good show.  It co-stars Carl Weathers as a crusty grump of a collaborator cop, so there's that.  House alumnus Peter Jacobson plays a slimy mayor-figure, too, so there's that as well.
  
What intrigues me as I'm writing this is how very different Colony is from Childhood's End.  Both (let's assume) involve alien invasion and occupation, but they come at the topic from hugely different angles.  It's always worth reminding people that a single genre can contain very different takes on similar ideas; know-nothings tend to assume that "sci-fi" means one thing and one thing only, but genre is merely a vehicle: that vehicle can transport occupants of all sorts.
  
  
  
  
Dark Matter is one of the small handful of shows that got me started on this catching-up-on-the-things-I-love movement.  I'd read some good things about the show, and decided that if I wasn't watching the new folks-on-a-spaceship series(es), what was worth living about life anymore anyways?
  
It's a Syfy show, albeit produced in conjunction with the Canadian network Space.  Or vice-versa, perhaps, depending on your perspective.
  
The series was created by Joseph Mallozzie and Paul Mullie, both of whom had worked in the Stargate for years previously.  The pair actually did Dark Matter as a four-issue comic-book miniseries back in 2012, though I know nothing about it and cannot say whether the television series bears any significant similarity.
  
The setup: a dude wakes up from cryogenic sleep onboard a spaceship when emergency strikes.  He's dashing around trying to figure out what to do, which is made complicated via the fact that he has no memory of who he is or where he is, or what he is doing there.  Before long, a second occupant wakes up: she doesn't remember anything, either, except how to fly the ship and how to beat a skinny dude's ass.  She does both immediately.
  
Four more people wake up in the course of resolving the ship's emergency.  They're all got amnesia, too, and to find a way of referring to one another they refer to each by the names One, Two, Three, and so forth (in terms of the order in which they woke up).  Before long, they are attacked by an android who is attempting to defend the ship from them.  They subdue her/it, and the damage the android incurs results in a sort of amnesia for it/her.  Kind of convenient, that, but hey, so be it.
  
If you assume that the resultant series will be about these six people (seven?) trying to find out who they are and what they are supposed to be doing, you'd be correct.  Not AS correct as you'd expect, but correct nonetheless.  Are there plot twists?  There are, although they aren't the driving focus of the show.  At some point relatively quick, you sort of realize that some of these folks might be fairly okay with not finding out who they used to be; they are perhaps more focused on who they ARE, which is not exactly the same thing.
  
If something like Battlestar Galactica is your awards-season Oscar-bait sort of sci-fi tv, then Dark Matter is more like your summer-b-movie popcorn flick.  I'm here to tell you that there is nothing wrong with that whatsoever.  I neither need nor want every sci-fi show to be BSG.  Dark Matter feels at times like somebody decided to put Farscape and Firefly in a blender and see what happened, and I'm just fine with that.  I often think of genre the same way I think of jazz: it's okay to use an existing idea as a leaping-off point, and from there it's the changes that matter.
  
Let's have a look at the cast of Dark Matter:
  
  
Marc Bendavid as One.  Bendavid is a solid enough actor, but he's a little bland for my tastes.  That works to the show's advantage in some ways, and against it in some ways.

Melissa O'Neil as Two.  Say, you know how every genre show in this decade has to include a badass woman who goes around beating people's asses every episode, so that you know the series is feminist?  Here's this one.  O'Neil is good at it, though, and the fact that her character is more of a type than an actual character -- a "fact" that might or might not remain a fact as the first season progresses -- kind of works in the show's favor.

Adam Baldwin as Jayne Athony Lemkre as Three.  I kid a bit, but Three does indeed seem to be a riff on Jayne.  And while that got on my nerves a bit for maybe the first third of the season, I found myself quite enjoying Lemke's performance by the end of the season.

Alex Mallari Jr. as Four.  Dude is cool.  VERY cool.

Jodelle Ferland as Five.  The show refers to Five as a "kid" frequently, and that works for me, because I first encountered Ferland as a child actor in stuff like the tv remake of Carrie and the miniseries Kingdom Hospital and the Terry Gilliam movie Tideland (in which she is superb).  Ferland has, um, grown up quite a bit, though, and something about her being referred to as a kid put me off at times.  Five is an intriguing character, though, and Ferland is good in the role.

Roger Cross as Six.  I always think of Cross as Curtis from 24, although he's done lots of stuff (including a multi-season run on Continuum, another Space series, and one which I considered watching during this project).  I dig this guy.

Zoie Palmer as The Android.  This publicity shot doesn't do her any favors, but she's my idea of gorgeous.  She's playing a sort of riff on Data, and she does a very good job of it.  The Android is my favorite character on the series, and it's not much of a competition.
  
  
The first episode of the season ends on a big cliffhanger, and so does the season finale.  As a series, it's a little on the cheesy side at times, and rarely swings for the fences the way a truly great show does.  But if you're a fan of the genre, and came up during the era when there was no need for every series that aired to be The Best Thing That Ever Existed (a need that you'd think actually does exist nowadays), I'd say you're likely to enjoy Dark Matter.  I sure did, and I will look forward to the second season beginning this summer.
  
  
  
  
Defiance isn't actually part of this project, but I thought it was worth mentioning anyways.  I've started spending time with a group of friends on Wednesday nights who all enjoy sci-fi shows.  We've each picked a show (mine is Black Mirror) and we're watching an episode per week.  My friend Erich picked Defiance, so I've now seen the first four episodes.
  
I loved the two-hour premiere.  I've only liked the subsequent episodes, which is a shame in comparison; but still translates to a show that I'm enjoying quite a bit.
  
The setup: Earth has fallen victim to some sort of alien invasion, and seemingly a rather violent one, and the series takes place a number of years later.  Defiance is a town built on the bones of old St. Louis; it's a hotspot of activity despite being apparently a bit of a backwater, and you will soon learn that Earth is now home not only to humans but to multiple races of humanoid aliens.  The melting-pot aspects that come from that are reminiscent of both Babylon 5 and Deep Space Nine, and I'd say that if you enjoy those shows, you'd enjoy this one.
  
Let's have a look at a few members of the cast:
  
  
Graham Greene as Rafe McCawley, a miner whose business ventures make him one of the town's most prominent citizens.  At no point (in the episodes I've seen) is Greene's status as a Native American referenced.  You don't see him go on a vision quest, or smoke a peace pipe, or any of that crap, and I really like that.  So much so that you have to wonder why I'm even bringing it up here, since that runs somewhat contrary to the point I'm trying to make.  Fair point; bad me.  Greene is a great presence on the series, though, regardless of any considerations of racial-categorization.

Nathan Fillion as Mal Reynolds Grant Bowler as Joshua Nolan.  Bowler is from New Zealand, but you'd never know it thanks to the quality of his American accent here.  I knew him from smallish roles on Lost and True Blood prior to this, and he's very good here playing a reluctant sheriff.

hot babe as hot alien babe Jaime Murray as Stahma Tarr.  I remember Murray fondly from the second season of Dexter.  Boy, do I.  She's pretty great here, too, playing a duplicitous alien whose vaguely criminal-overlord husband might be just a sort of puppet for her to move about.

Julie Benz as Amanda Rosewater, the mayor of Defiance.  Benz has been great in stuff like Angel and Dexter, and having her here lends instant street cred with a guy like me.  Her character isn't the most interesting on the series by any stretch of the imagination, but hey, Julie Benz.

Stephanie Leonidas as Irisa, Nolan's adopted daughter.  That's an interesting dynamic, because -- much as with "real" father/daughter relationships -- the two characters love each other fiercely without seemingly being able to stand one another at times.  I'm not sure I've ever quite seen this on a sci-fi show.  I was hooked by the series in the pilot episode when Nolan pisses Irisa off and then cajoles her into forgiving him by playing the Johnny Cash / June Carter song "Jackson" in the car and loudly singing.  She can't help join in and sing along.  Boom, baby: sci-fi magic.  Also, charmingly naive in terms of the song's content within the context of a father/daughter relationship.

Tony Curran as Datak Tarr.  Dude looks a lot like Brent Spiner, so much so that I'm calling him Spent Briner.  He's the supposed criminal boss of the show, although how toothy he actually is in that regard compared to his wife remains to be seen.  He and Graham Greene are big-time enemies.  I'm not overly fond of his character so far, but he's alright, I guess.
  
  
There are others, but that's good enough for our purposes.  I'd add a couple of things:
  
  • The series was created/produced by Rockne S. O'Bannon (who created Farscape), Kevin Murphy, and Michael Taylor (a prominent Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Battlestar Galactica 2.0 alumnus).
  • You know how some sci-fi shows feel the need to create their own swear words?  This one substitutes "shit" with "shtako," which rates about a 9 on the Lame Scale.  Unless -- and ONLY unless -- one of the alien races created the word as a result of how disgusting they found fish tacos to be, then I declare that fake word to be a failure.
  

  


The Expanse is the show that made me begin this project, because I figured that if there was a new sci-fi series that starred Thomas Jane, Jonathan Banks, and Jared Harris, I'd have to be a nut-sac to not watch it.  I had some misconceptions in that regard, but we'll get there.
  
The series is based on a multi-volume series of novels by James S.A. Corey, and a friend (friend-of-the-blog Xann Black) had recommended the books to me a while back to no avail.  Not because I didn't want to read 'em, but simply because I increasingly suck at exploring new realms in my reading.  They got onto my radar again thanks to this series, though, and I feel certain I will pick them all up once the tv version concludes, whenever that ends up being.  Syfy obviously wants that to be years and years from now, and if my response to the first season is to be believed, I'm right there with them.
  
The setup: too intricate for me to tackle without turning it into a joke of some sort to mask my apprehension.  Ha ha!  Eh...  Anyways, yeah, it takes place a ways into the future, when space exploration has advanced sufficiently far that things like a colony on Mars and asteroid-belt mining operations exist.  There's a shitload more to it than that, of course, most of it revolving around the significant political tensions that arise between Earth, Mars, and the "belters."  It's so intricate -- and the show's approach is so take-no-prisoners -- that I'm at a loss to explain it.  I'm at that loss because, quite frankly, I don't understand it.
  
AND THAT'S FINE!!!
  
Because, see, here's the thing: I feel quite confident that it all makes sense.  Rewatching the first season will probably clarify a lot of the points of confusion for me, and anyways, I need not be able to write you an off-the-dome summary of the world-building in order to have enjoyed the series.  And enjoy it I certainly did.  It's beautifully-produced, compelling stuff.  A slow-burn, to be sure, but this seems to be a series that returns whatever investment you give it, provided you can meet the minimum required to (as it were) open the account.  This isn't Dark Matter or some show like that, which wants to rope in everyone.  And that's not a knock on Dark Matter, which has different aims than The Expanse; it's simply an acknowledgment that there IS a difference of intent.  The Expanse seems to come more from the Dune mold, where the world-building is so intricate and well-realized that it may take multiple passes to get it all.  If you don't have the patience for it, it's understandable; but let's not be too quick to hold it against the show, either.
  
Let's talk about some of the cast.  Beware of some very mild spoilers.
  
  
Steven Strait as Jim Holden, the de facto captain of, uh, a ship.  His captaincy is not necessarily evident right off the bat, and how he gets to where he is is a big part of the first season's development.  Strait played Warren Peace in the underrated gem Sky High, so he's forever in my good graces.  He's arguably a bit bland here, although (as with Dark Matter, only more so) it works for the show rather than against it.  I gather that the tv version of the character is quite a bit different than the original version in the books; that might be s ticking point for some readers.

Thomas Jane as Miller, a Belter policeman who is arguably a bit molded after Harrison Ford's Blade Runner character in terms of his noir-ishness.  Not so much in terms of his possible-androidness.  There's nothing like that here, so far as I can tell.  This isn't Thomas Jane's first tv show (he was Hung on HBO for several seasons), but still, pretty cool to see him on a series, especially one with spaceships.  He's predictably great here, especially when it comes to some of the nonverbal communication the show brings into play.

Dominique Tipper as Naomi Nagata.  You want to see a gorgeous woman sometimes, you Google Dominique Tipper, who is a class apart, boy.  She's a strong actor, too, and Naomi is one the show's standout characters.

Shohreh Aghdashloo as the Earthbound diplomat Chrisjen Avasarala, who evidently doesn't even appear until the second book in the series.  You get an Oscar-calibre actress like Aghdashloo on a show like this one, you've done something.  I sometimes find her voice to be a difficult slog; it's awfully striking, though, be it good or bad.

Cas Anvar as Alex Kamal, a ship's pilot who wears headphones a lot.  You ever seen a character on a sci-fi show listen to music through headphones all the damn time?  Me neither.  Didn't know I needed it until I had it.  I like Anvar in this role a lot.

Florence Faivre as Julie Mao, with whom we begin the series.  She's our way in to certain aspects of it, and while she's not actually on the show all that much, you shouldn't diminish her importance.

Jared Harris as Anderson Dawes, a sort of mob-type labor leader among the Belters.  Harris -- shame on you if you don't know who he is -- isn't a series regular, but he pops up here and there, and is unfailingly great.

Jonathan Banks as Executive Officer.  Now, here's the thing: he dies in the first episode.  Is that a spoiler?  Yeah, sure, I guess it is.  I mention it as a way in to discuss the fact that most of the commercials I saw for the series leading up to its premiere leaned fairly heavily on the presence of Banks, so much so that I wonder if his sudden departure worked against the show's long-term viability.  Were there people who tuned in for that first hour because they'd become fans of Banks via his Vince Gilligan shows, and who then tuned out for good after his character's death?  Maybe.  For me, though, I kinda liked it as a device.  If you put Banks in a role like this one, you suggest a richness of the universe: you suggest that he was the star of a series for years as that character, only we never got to see any of it.  It makes the world seem more real, somehow.  It also increases the impact of certain events that happen in the first few episodes of the show.  So for me, it's a major win.

Wes Chatham as Amos, who is sort of / kind of like Naomi's right-hand-man.  there's more to it than that, I think, maybe.  Who knows?  I like Amos a lot, and that's good enough for me.  Chatham (who played Castor in the Hunger Games series) is seemingly a very different type than the Amos of the novels, but I'm oblivious to that, and therefore am untroubled.
  
  
One's enjoyment of The Expanse is almost certainly going to be keenly linked to one's patience with its approach, and not all will be onboard with it.  Either way, Syfy is swinging for the fences here, and serves credit for it after years of relative complacency.  A second season will be coming in 2017, and I'll be on it like stank on old bananas.
  
  


Here's the thing: based on a single scene from the season-two premiere, you could -- if you wanted to -- classify Fargo as a science-fiction show.  It'd be a stretch . . . but you could.  And for all I know, the second season has more of that in store (I'm only four episodes in).

I'm not desperate enough to actually do so, but I'll use it as a ruse to be able to briefly mention the series here.  The first season stars Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Allison Tolman, Colin Hanks, and others.  It's pretty good.  I wish I could say I loved it, but I can't.  I loved moments of it for sure, though.  But there are a lot -- a LOT -- of plot contrivances that I had a hard time reconciling, and there's also a tendency for every other scene to go like this: character #1 asks a relatively innocent question; character #2 answers that question in circuitous fashion using a metaphorical story; character #1 reacts with slack-jawed confusion; character #2 implicitly judges character #1 for their lack of insight.  Whereas really, just answer the goddam fuckin' question, you know?

However, if one of the actors playing these characters is Billy Bob Thornton, that can help make things better.

The second season -- which so far I prefer by a large margin -- is a bit less prone to both of the above-mentioned problems.  It stars Patrick Wilson, Ted Danson, Jesse Plemons, Kirstin Dunst, Jean Smart, and others, and may or may not be science fiction depending on your viewpoint.




I really ought to be talking about this at my Stephen King blog, but fuck it, I'll toss it in here, because I have very little to say and it won't take long.  Haven aired its final episodes not too terribly long ago, and I finally got caught up on them.
  
I enjoyed it at times during the course of its years-long run, but it was never exactly a good series, and it certainly did not end as one.  The final season was really rather awful, in fact, and only a chump would believe it had any actual relation to King's novel (The Colorado Kid).  That was a lie Syfy sold you, folks; a lie, pure and simple.
  
The final season is perhaps distinguished somewhat by virtue of -- and this amazes me as I type it -- William Shatner showing up as the Big Bad of the entire series.  What's weird is, it manages not to be as ridiculous as it sounds.  It gets close; and for some viewers, it will leap right over that cliff.  Not for me, though; I thought Shatner actually did a fairly good job of disappearing into the role.  He's a good actor, so it shouldn't be THAT hard to believe.
  
The writers, true to their customary form, did very little of interest, though, so Shatner's efforts end up being for naught.  The series comes to a very lame conclusion, too, and I was left feeling a judgmental sort of pity for the several dozen people in the world who are big-time hardcore Haven fans.  They exist; they are a real thing.  They would be super confused by The Expanse, one suspects, and if that makes me sound like a prick, so be it.
  
  
  
  
Humans is a British (Channel 4) series that also aired -- and may have been co-produced by -- AMC here in the States.  It's set in the future, when humanlike robots are a thing and families routinely purchase them to be household servants.  Sometimes other humans buy them to be sex slaves or whatnot, too.  
  
Well, within that framework, you will come to learn that there are a few robots whose designer instilled them with emotions and with actual sentience.  They are on the run from the police and stuff.
  
If I sound a bit blase about all of this, well, I don't entirely know why I'm doing that.  I enjoyed this show's first season.  By no means is it the best series discussed here, but it's solid enough.  William Hurt co-stars in it (in a bit of harmonization with his role in A.I.), so we're not exactly talking about barrel-bottom stuff here.
  
I don't have a heck of a lot more to say about it than that, though, so let's move on.
  
  

  
Watched half an episode and gave up.  Mentioning it only so as to illustrate my attempts to be thorough as regards recent sci-fi shows.
  
Speaking of which...
  
  
  
  
Killjoys is, I believe, another Space / Syfy co-production.  It aired in conjunction with Dark Matter last summer, and will return this summer for a second season.
  
I figured hey, why not give it a shot, too.
  
If Dark Matter is a b-list series, Killjoys gets close to being on the c-list.  Thing is, I think somebody forgot to tell the people making it, because at some point maybe halfway through the first season, it turns into a pretty good show.  For this very reason, I feel somewhat bad to have written Hunters off without even giving it a full episode.
  
I didn't do that with Killjoys for two reasons: (1) it has spaceships and whatnot in it; and (2) lead actress Hannah John-Kamen, who is not merely gorgeous but ludicrously gorgeous.  She's almost like an Onion parody of beautiful: so dead-on accurate that it ceases to be parody and begins to be sage truth.  I'd tell you to Google her, but truthfully, I have to admit that still images don't do her justice.  This woman has to be seen in motion to be believed.
  
She is, of course, yet another iteration of the so-in-vogue-these-days trope of The Ass-Kicking Woman.  But ye lords and hosts, what an iteration!  Anyways, I'm blogging about sci-fi shows, so tropes are kinda my jam, even if newer ones like this can sometimes aggravate me a bit.  Maybe the trope does, but John-Kamen does not, and her character, Dutch, doesn't either.  She's a bit like Mal Reynolds crossed with James Bond crossed with Sidney Bristow, which is a heady mix.
  
The setup is this: in (I guess) the future, in (I guess) some other star system, human life is spread across several different worlds and is seemingly governed by corporations.  (Dark Matter is somewhat similar in its world-building, so much so that fans have begun petitioning for the two shows to cross over, and the producers of the shows have given everyone the "we-won't-write-it-all-the-way-off" sign.)  The government(s?) have also sanctioned a group called Killjoys to serve as bounty-hunters and lawkeepers, or something like that.  I can't honestly say it all made sense to me, and that's fine, because I primarily saw the series as an excuse for silly action scenes.  
  
Thing is, the further into the first season we got, the more I was reminded of The Expanse in terms of the complexity of setup.  I began to wonder if rewatching would bring rewards; I can't verify it, but I do sort of suspect it.  Killjoys is a long ways off from The Expanse in quality, but it's got a good cast (including Aaron Ashmore and Luke Macfarlane as brothers who are Dutch's sidekicks), and the writing really begins to mine some depths with the characters the further the season progresses.
  
Does it ever become appointment viewing?  Well, no, not really.  But at some point I realized I was anticipating each new episode, and that's praise of a sort; the only kind that really matters, one might argue.
  
  
  
  
Another Syfy series, The Magicians is a fantasy show based on the trilogy of bestselling novels by Lev Grossman.  I know a few people who prize those novels quite highly, and I plan to read them once this Syfy run is finished.
  
The Magicians is similar to Killjoys in that it took me a while to fully warm up to it.  It's a notch above Killjoys at every phase of the storytelling (and most of the actual production), I'd argue, but it's a similar arc: what I initially took to be a b-level series gradually revealed itself to be an a-level affair.
  
I don't think I'm overvaluing it by making that claim.  Maybe I am.  Who knows?  It's how I feel about the series right now, that's what I know for sure.
  
The setup: Quentin Coldwater is a college student who is a bit of a nerd, and whose specific nerdery takes the form of having been a lifelong fan of a series of fantasy novels called Fillory and Further, about the adventures of Jane and Martin Chatwin in the magical land of Fillory.  Within the first episode, Quentin discovers that not only is magic real, but that there is a magical college he can go to called Brakebills.  He's sort of suspected that magic has been real his whole life, but this semi-serious belief has taken the form of him thinking -- and others reinforcing the idea -- that he has mental problems.  Qunetin begins attending Brakebills, make a few friends, makes a few enemies, makes a few frienemies, and a bunch of shit happens, much of it involving his life-long best friend Julia.
  
So if you're thinking that this is kind of like a Narnia fan going to an American version of Hogwarts at the collegiate level, you're not that far off.  Add a somewhat Whedonian gloss to things, and you get closer (although I instinctively sense that that's a bit too far, and a bit too reductive, and a bit too ignorant of Grossman's style).
  
Let's consider the cast:
  
  
Jason Ralph as Quentin.  I didn't know this actor from anything, and it took me about half a season to be able to tolerate him.  Thing is, I think -- and Xann Black (who has read the novels) more or less confirmed for me -- that this is entirely purposeful, and that what I was reacting negatively to was a built-in feature of Quentin himself.  I will be curious to see how I feel about his if and when I watch the first season a second time.  Suffice it to say, though, that by season's end I was enjoying what Ralph was doing.

Stella Maeve as Julia.  She's good, but I wonder if some people won't be put off by what they see as a CW-level stereotypical beauty, particularly in the early episodes.  It wouldn't surprise me, and seeing as how I tend not to be engaged by that sort of attractiveness in my tv shows actresses, I had something like the same reaction.  That said, Julia is unquestionably one of the show's most interesting characters, and Maeve finds depths in her as the season progresses.  As I've said several times in this post, the casting works in the character's/show's favor in this regard; expecting little from Julia is kind of a part of her arc.

Olivia Taylor Dudley as Alice, who might be considered to be the Hermione of The Magicians, but -- and I apologize in advance for this, on so many levels -- with much bigger titties.  Look, it's just a fact, and I feel CERTAIN that it is a fact I am meant to be keenly aware of by this show's producers.  She wears a lot of miniskirts, too.  Curiously, her character is (mostly) one of the least-sexuallly-active on the show; which means there's a sort of teasing element to the way Alice is presented.  I'm not sure how I feel that works.  I suspect that in part, the target audience for this show is twenty-somethings who literally grew up on the Harry Potter books and movies, and I wonder how they would feel about Alice as a sort of passively-hypersexualized Hermione figure.  I have no insights in this regard.

Arjun Gupta as Penny, who is hands-down my favorite character on this show.  He's great.  If Quentin is Jack on Lost, then Penny is 100% Sawyer.  

Hale Appleman as Elliot.  You know how all shows have to have a wise gay character now?  Well, here he is.  And he's pretty great; if Penny is my favorite character, Elliot is probably my second-favorite (possibly behind Penny's girlfriend Kady, not pictured here lest I embarrass myself gushing over actress Jade Tailor).  Elliot has one of the most compelling arcs of all the show's characters, although that might not evident for quite some time.

Summer Bishil as Margo, Elliot's hetero lifemate.  She's the least-developed major character on the show; I suspect subsequent seasons will change that, but only because if not, I can't entirely see why she is on the show at all.  Don't hold this against Bishil; she's fine, it's just the character doesn't amount to much in the writing.
  
  
There are plenty of CW-level reasons that might prevent one from enjoying this show's first season, but I was very glad that I stuck with it.  I'm looking forward to the second season big-time.
  
  


Many people won't think of this series as sci-fi at all, but it -- seemingly (let's not make too many assumptions here) -- takes place in a parallel universe, which certainly qualifies it.
  
It's a very good show.  The Axis powers won World War II in this reality, and much of the series' first season --which, I gather, is a significant departure from the Philip K. Dick novel, in specifics if not in tone and intent -- involves exploring this unfamiliar reality.  Here, you will see what a Nazi version of America looks like on the East Coast, and what a Japanese-occupied West Coast is like, and what a mid-western Neutral Zone is like.
  
I don't have much more to say about it than that.  It's not particularly about plot twists, but I think the less you know about the proceedings, the better.  I will say that the filmmaking is superb, the cast (which includes Alexa Davalos, Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa, and Rufus Sewell) is excellent, and the ideas are compelling.
   
  
  
  
There are, disappointingly (or not, depending on your point of view), no robots on Mr. Robot.  Remember earlier, when I said you could, with singleminded persistence, classify Fargo as science fiction?  Well, to some extent, this is the same deal, except it'd be an even more uphill climb.
  
I'm not inclined to do so.  Again.  But I loved the show, so I thought it was worth a mention here.
  
Rami Malek -- who was spellbinding on The Pacific and is pretty damn good here, too -- plays Elliot, an antisocial hacker who works for a major internet security firm by day and by night gets mixed up with fsociety, an Anonymous-style group whose members are determined to bring down the whole country's banking system.  They are led by Christina Slater, who I hate.
  
Or, at least, used to.  I don't any more.  All of a sudden, Christian Slater makes sense to me.
  
That's how good Mr. Robot is.
  
  
  
  
I'd heard of this show, but didn't really know that it's a sci-fi series until recently, while reading about how Stephen King is a fan.
  
The setup: in the future, there's been a nuclear war that forced humanity to live in spaceships in orbit.  Not many of 'em, either.  Well, enough time has gone by that the descendants of the survivors decide to -- partially to forestall disaster on the failing and overcrowded ships -- send a bunch (100 or so, to be semi-specific) of CW-pretty youths to Earth's surface to scout things out.  The youths immediately divide into Good and Evil camps and begin squabbling with one another.
  
I gave this two episodes and pulled the ripcord.  I just did not care about any of it in any way.  It's in its third season now, and I guess it must have improved based on the amount of buzz it gets.  but this one is not one that I'm going to power through.  I don't have that sort of dedication for a CW show.
  
  
  
  
  
Orphan Black is not a new show to me.  I watched the first season, which I thought was fucking incredible (mostly thanks to star Tatiana Maslany, who gives as good a set of performances as a bunch of clones as I can imagine); and the second, which I thought was a significant step down.
  
I bailed out after the first episode of the third season, but have recently made some efforts to get back into it.  I'm not much into it anymore.  Maslany is still great, but the writing is doing nothing much (at least as of where I am, about halfway through the third of four-so-far seasons) to assist her.
  
I just wanted to mention this in case anyone wondered if I was watching.  I am.  Sort of.
  
  
  
  
So apparently, at some point in 2015, Yahoo! launched an eight-episode sci-fi comedy called Other Space for their Yahoo Screen thingamabob, which I assume is where Community aired.  Not being a fan of Community, I do not know for sure.  I do know that their acquisition of Community was such a stunning failure -- numbers-wise, at least -- that it more or less killed Yahoo! as a content-creator.
  
With that in mind, it is perhaps not all that surprising that even with a big name like Paul Feig attached to it AS CREATOR, Other Space debuted into obscurity.  I only found out about when maintaining/researching a list of sci-fi shows.  In considering this project, though, I figured it was worth my time to try and find the show, which I eventually did.
  
I hated the first episode, but the remaining seven were rather delightful, so much so that I'm very bummed out there won't be any more of them.
  
The setup: a bunch of doofuses on a spaceship get lost in another universe.  Look, setup is irrelevant; this is a sitcom on a spaceship, and that's really about all there is to it.
  
Familiar faces/voices in the cast: Joel Hodgson and Trace Beaulieu of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 fame, Milana Vayntrub (she's the girl in the AT&T commercials), Karan Soni (of Betas and Blunt Talk fame), and at least one cameo I don't want to ruin.

I can imagine Soni annoying some people so much that they give up immediately.  He's not great, at least not initially; he was a stumbling block for me, that's for sure.  But I found other things to enjoy, and by the end, like I said, I was sad to see it go.
  
  
  
  
I was super-duper skeptical when I heard Syfy was doing a series remake of 12 Monkeys.  I figured I'd give it a shot, though, and hey, guess what?  It's okay.
  
Thing is, the movie is one of the pinnacles of nineties sci-fi.  It might not even be necessary to restrict it to the nineties, to be honest; that's a masterpiece in any decade.  So any remake has big boots to fill, and this series has, thus far, not managed to fill them.
  
It's not bad, though.  Do I have more to say about it than that?  I do not.
  
Finally:
  
  
  
  
Newly interested in what Syfy was doing, I gave the first episode of Wynonna Earp about half an hour before I turned it off.  No thanks; not for me.  File in the same place as Hunters.
  
I did at least sample it, though, so my genre-fandom duties were semi-fulfilled.
  
And with that, I declare this post to be at an end.  I hope to never get myself in this position again!  I don't feel the need to stay current on all genre shows -- that would be a fool's errand, and close to impossible -- but there are certainly several shows on the foregoing list that are of the sort that I simply should not allow myself to skip.
  
Here's hoping I can keep myself on the right side of that issue!

4 comments:

  1. My TV-watching has been in disarray for 3 years and counting, but I have managed to watch the first half of the first episode of "Black Mirror." What I saw I loved and am looking forward to seeing the rest. A good anthology show from a showrunner with strong vision for what the show should be is sorely missed.

    I greatly enjoyed the Firefly crossouts, and congratulations sincerely on Spent Briner, a tradition I will co-opt for my own, despite never having seen the show. I'm happy to see that Rockne S. O'Bannon has got an active show in production.

    Dawn has been making her way through '24' (and I have to say, I've been impressed with how swiftly she's knocking them down), and we were just wondering what happened to Curtis. (That Aghdashloo lady, too, who was legit-terrible in one episode of "law and Order: SVU" but I'll put that one on the director.) His presence on "Dark Matter," which a differnet friend has been recommending to me as well, nudges it a few steps higher in queue. Really looking forward to checking out a lot of these but that one in particular.

    I have another different friend who has continually recommended "Fargo." Particularly Season 2. Glad to hear it gets the WNBHGB seal of approval!

    "All of a sudden, Christian Slater makes sense to me" made me laugh. Nice. Go and watch "Dolan's Cadillac" while the getting's good!

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    1. I don't know that even a new-found appreciation/reappraisal of Christian Slater could help me enjoy "Dolan's Cadillac." I'd be more apt to finally give "Kuffs" or "Pump Up the Volume" a shot. Or spring into action on that "Heathers" second viewing I've been putting off for years. Yeah, that one'd be the ticket!

      Curtis from "24" -- a show I love, even though I have to admit that maybe about half of the episodes are mediocre at best -- was also on a sci-fi show called "Continuum." Did I mention that in the post proper? I might have, in which case I'm retreading that now. I should just look. Too lazy! Sorry for the possible retread.

      I'm halfway through the second season of "Fargo" now. Great stuff. Much better than the first season, in my opinion, and the first season was fine.

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  2. Also: all possible praise (and gratitude) for "Brobot" and most particularly "Volcagnomes".

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    1. Thankee-sai! I was very proud of "Volcangnomes."

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