If I were to try to keep up with all the TV shows I watched regularly last season as well as the new ones, I’d never get anything done. So I’ve dropped a few from last season and added a few — at least temporarily — this season. (I say “temporarily” because, like hockey prospects, the new shows have to prove to me they have staying power.) Some, like Supernatural, I’ve stuck with through thick and thin, and even I don’t exactly know why; sometimes it’s the actors, sometimes the characters — sometimes you can’t separate the two — and sometimes it’s the writing. (Even when the characters aren’t appealing, you can usually count on snappy writing in a Joss Whedon show, for example.) So this column will talk a bit about a few shows I am enjoying and a couple I’m giving up on. You know my biases if you’ve been following my writing; if not, I’ll throw in a few words of explanation here and there. And since a few of our favourite shows (the aforementioned Supernatural, plus Preacher and The Walking Dead, for example) haven’t begun their new season yet, I will probably revisit all this in a future column.
Let’s begin: I have one terrible show to review, and a few good ones, too. As I‘ve said before, I’ve been a fan of “end of the world” stories since the late ‘fifties (favourite theme anthology, see Figure 1); I think that’s the reason I’m still watching The Walking Dead. (Maybe not, as I continuously rail against the bone-deep stupidity shown by most of the characters. Maybe I’m just fascinated by that.) Submitted for your approval, a new, possibly stupider, set of characters in the new series Aftermath. Before I talk about the show and characters, I must mention that I’m generally not fond of cross-genre shows that mix SF and fantasy, but up with them I will put if they’re well done (okay, I watched whichever movie had Jason on a space station, but that was so ridiculous I had to see it. Or was that Michael Myers?) This is the reason I haven’t been able to continue watching Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. after they introduced Ghost Rider. They make it very clear he’s supernatural, not “inhuman,” and I don’t believe he belongs in this part of Marvel’s Movie/TV universe — after all, when DC brought The Flash into Supergirl, he came from an alternate universe. Why couldn’t Marvel do the same? But I digress.
As the poster says, this show contains apocalyptic, end-of-the-world scenarios including earthquakes, major storms, solar flares, plagues and meteor showers…but then they sweeten the pot with “skinwalkers” (demons possessing humans), Maori gods and goddesses, and even more supernatural stuff. Sheesh! Pick one side or the other, dang it! Anyway, real-life couple Anne Heche and James Tupper, play Karen and Joshua Copeland, who live in Eastern Washington, somewhere near Yakima (which is southeast of Ellensburg — I’ll show the relevance shortly). They have three children: Matt (Levi Meaden), who appears to be about 18 and who wants to join the Peace Corps; and the fraternal twins Brianna (Taylor Hickson) who is a twit (IMO), and Dana (Julia Sara Stone), who is — according to her sister — a “genius.” The twins are almost 17. The mother is ex-US Air Force and the father a teacher, who studies “religion, archaeology, and myth”; she’s the hard-edged one and he’s kind of soft, but not a wimp.
As the first episode opens, Brianna is telling her sister she’s going to Seattle with a guy because her life sucks and is boring, and the parents are doing random parenting stuff to fill in the time until the episode actually starts, just to establish their characters. They’ve “had storms for a week, and there’s no phones, no internet and no power,” according to Dana. The county sheriff, played by Jason Gray-Stanford (who played Lt. Randy Disher on Monk), drives up to tell the family that a few young people have disappeared on a camping trip — I’m not sure, and don’t want to watch it again to find out, but I think one of them is the guy Brianna was going to run away with) — and to keep a lookout for the SUV they were driving. The power is apparently out everywhere, but for some reason their cell phones keep working on and off no matter where they are. (Nobody’s ever explained to the writers, apparently, about relay towers, signal strength and all that other stuff that makes cell phones work, because these work on and off all through the first 3 episodes, which is all I’ve seen so far.) You’ll have to forgive me if I get a few details wrong; there is so much “off” in this show it’s hard to keep it all straight.
**CAUTION: Some SPOILERS ahead!**
Things that happen in episodes 1-3: There is a category 5 hurricane that hits the area; Dana tries to tell her dad that this is impossible, because hurricanes need warm water to form, and “the Pacific is cold.” “Look at the sky, Bill Nye,” he tells her, and sure enough, there’s a giant hurricane headed their way; they all go inside and, incredibly, all sit near a picture window with the drapes open! They don`t get showered with broken glass, and the storm eventually passes and leaves a bunch of dead fish on the lawn, as well as a few pulled-off window screens. (Later, they drive to Yakima in a giant RV, and there are no branches or other storm damage apparent anywhere!) None of the characters, by the way, knows how to pronounce “Yakima”; they all say “YAK-im-uh,” when it’s actually “YAK-im-ah” or “YAK-im-aw” — because the series is filmed here in the Vancouver area, which is obvious when various characters pull into a rest stop on the way to Ellensburg, I think — but there is a rest stop sign clearly visible to the right of the characters (Brianna and another woman) which says “Aldergrove.” Aldergrove is east of Vancouver; there isn’t one in Washington. In other words, no care is taken by anyone connected with the series to bring any kind of reality to it. No research on where anything is, how anything looks, and so on.
That bugs me. What also bugs me is that no character has any real reaction to a) earthquakes in an area that has hardly ever had any; b) power being out everywhere (though “the government is working to restore power across the United States”); c) meteors hitting the earth (one wipes out the east side of Yakima); d) demons called “skinwalkers” that are — according to the teacher husband — released by the earthquakes; e) a plague that makes people crazy and homicidal; f) solar flares that blanket the earth and are powerful enough to create static that can “blow up explosive charges,” yet leave cars and RVs running, let alone cell phones; g) need I go on? Oh, yeah, h) DRAGONS! Dragons big enough to carry off full-grown horses and cows in episodes 2 & 3. Also, no character thinks, for the most part, far ahead enough to take weapons or ammunition from people who have attacked them and have died; the family is running around exposing themselves to whomever in a giant RV; they stand no watches when they camp at night; they drive from Ellensburg to Seattle without going through Snoqualmie Pass — the road from Eastern Washington to Western Washington is one I have driven literally a hundred times, and their roads look nothing like it. I can’t possibly take the rest of this column to tell you of all the stupidity and bad writing/acting in the three episodes of this show. I can’t — in all honesty — award this even one of those thingies. You know, the star thingies. Rating: 0 ¤s.
I talked about this last week; the new Marvel series Luke Cage, starring Mike Colter as a character who first appeared in comics in the 1970s, if memory serves. Like the series that introduced this character last year, Jessica Jones, this show is relatively low-key when it comes to special effects and character development. Rather than, as a movie generally does, introducing the character and backstory all at once, these two series develop the character and background slowly throughout the season, so that by the end of the first season you generally have a good idea of who they are, who they were and where they came from. It`s a bit disconcerting at first to see Luke Cage washing dishes and sweeping floors in this series, because when we last saw him in Jessica Jones, he owned a bar; maybe it “blowed up” and I forgot it. Never mind. Here he has two jobs: in one, he cleans up at ”Pop’s Barbershop”; Pop has been a mentor to Luke (and other young men in Harlem) since Luke got out of prison. We eventually find out that Luke was framed for a crime he didn’t commit (Gee, where have we heard that before?) and something happened while he was in prison. He became the character we know about, with “steel-hard skin” (only, for this series, it’s been “retconned” to “titanium-hard skin”) and superhuman strength. But Luke didn’t get out of prison legitimately; he escaped, and for that reason, he’s keeping a low profile, and not the “Hero For Hire” that was one of his Marvel tags (the other one, which like this gets referenced a few times in the show, was “Power Man).
His antagonists in this first season include Mahershala Ali as Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes; Erik LaRay Harvey as Willis “Diamondback” Stryker; and Alfre Woodard as “Councilperson” Mariah Willard. Rosario Dawson reprises her role as nurse Claire Temple (and perhaps a bit more, eh?) from both Daredevil and Jessica Jones — interestingly, Claire decides in this show (not really a spoiler) that her “calling” might be patching up superheroes. Secondary characters, including Simone Missick as Misty Knight, Theo Rossi as “Shades” Alvarez and Frank Whaley as Det. Scarfe are all excellently done — there are few “throwaway” characters. I know that Misty Knight was a character in the comics, but since I haven’t seen a Luke Cage book in years, I can’t recall who else is from the comics and who is original to the series. Some commenters on IMDB seem to feel that Colter is a bit low-key as Cage; I disagree. I think the writers/producers of this series took the season to develop the characters and the situations properly, and I look forward to seeing what happens in the second season. This season is about Cottonmouth and Diamonback’s attempts to own Harlem — Mariah wants to revitalize it, but is not averse to using illegal methods to do so. (Look for lots of little nods not only to various Marvel shows, but also to the actors’ other roles — Frank Whaley for one. If you can’t figure it out, email or PM me and I’ll tell you that one.) And to answer Steven Barnes, who feels that American TV isn’t ready for, and won’t allow, a fully-functioning Black male as a protagonist and a sexual being, perhaps this show will be a good start. I rate this as a solid 3 1/2 ¤s (¤¤¤1/2) and will be watching next season with interest.
One of the more interesting new offerings this season is a time-travel show, also filmed here in Vancouver (and area), called Timeless. The setup sounds extremely clichéd: a “bad guy” steals a secretly-built time machine and goes back in time, presumably to change history to suit himself. A prototype exists, and three unlikely characters are recruited to try to stop him. Can you say Time After Time and many other movies and shows based on H.G. Wells? The villain is Goran Visjnic as Garcia Flynn; our unwilling “heroes” are Abigail Spencer as Lucy Preston; Matt Lanter as Wyatt Logan; and Malcolm Barrett as Rufus Carlin (if these character names sound somewhat familiar, think back to a little film called Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure). They are, in order, an historian forced/given the opportunity to visit history; an ex-military person as the muscle of the outfit; and a project coder sent because he can operate the prototype (and also as an unwilling spy on the other two). All are given the standard warning — well, if you see/read much time-travel shows or fiction, it’s pretty standard — that if you make any changes at all to the past you could negatively affect, or even eliminate, the present that you’re familiar with. (Movies to that effect include The Butterfly Effect and The Sound of Thunder.) It’s unclear what Flynn is up to in the past; in episode 1 they go back to Lakehurst, NJ and the day the Hindenburg blew up in 1937.
**SPOILER ALERT** They fail in the effort to stop Flynn, he keeps the zeppelin from blowing up on arrival, although it does blow up while it’s attempting to leave. This changes history, and Lucy’s sister is erased from time, and her mother is no longer dying from cancer.**END SPOILER ALERT**
Flynn escapes and continues to try to change history. In episode two, he attempts to change history at President Lincoln’s assassination. The changes that occur due to not only Flynn’s attempts at changes but also our intrepid time voyagers’ changes—each one of them either has an effect or tries to effect something in the past—do make changes to the “present,” but since our voyagers exist in some kind of time bubble, they are the only ones aware that changes have occurred. Much more realistic, in my opinion, than many other time-travel movies and/or TV series, where the present seems to be unaffected by past meddling. And Rufus, before he actually enters the time machine, says something like “You do know that there is almost no time in the past that’s good for a Black man, don’t you?” A wry acknowledgement that, despite its faults, the present is actually beginning to improve the lot of people of colour. (We’ve got a long way to go, but that’s a chat for a different forum.) I also liked the cameo by Matt Frewer, and REALLY appreciate that he didn’t do one of his unbelievably terrible accents. He’s a favourite character actor, but he is an awful imitator of accents. There’s nothing really new about this series, except for a small increment of improvements; some of them I’ve mentioned, some I’ll let you discover for yourselves if you want to watch it. I’d give it a solid 3¤s (¤¤¤).
I wanted to touch on Supergirl’s new season: for the first couple of episodes, they’ve added her cousin, Superman. We knew it had to happen sooner or later. Tyler Hoechlin plays Kal-El/Clark Kent, visiting Central City either on assignment or on vacation; can’t really remember why — it might have something to do with Lex Luthor’s sister, Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath), wanting to rebrand Luthorcorp to disassociate the company from her jailbird brother. Also, in a nod to Superman the movie — the Christopher Reeve one—Cat Grant’s (Calista Flockheart) new personal assistant is named Eve Teschmacher (Andrea Brooks). I still like Melissa Benoist as Supergirl, but I’m afraid the writing is still not advanced over the standard DC TV writing, as in Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash and Smallville, which is one reason I no longer watch the first two series. I hope I don’t have to drop this one too, as I find Benoist quite appealing. The writing is more soap-opera-ish than comic-bookish, in my opinion. Incidentally, Hoechlin’s Clark Kent is a klutz, as have been most TV/move Kents. You know one reason, hokey as it was, that I really enjoyed the original TV Superman series with George Reeves? That reason is that his Kent was never a wimp or a klutz. Reeves was a very grown-up Kent, and a very masculine one as well. He never played the weakling or the klutz to differentiate himself from Superman, his alter ego. I liked that. I’d give Supergirl a 3¤s (¤¤¤) rating, but I sure hope the writing picks up.
I’m afraid I won’t get to my last TV pick for this week, so we’ll pick up where we left off somewhat later. I do, however, want to mention Westworld. If it continues as it has, I’m gonna throw four ¤s (¤¤¤¤), at it.
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