Zombie TV

Like any other fan of the Walking Dead, I’m looking forward to the Season 5 premiere tonight.

I’m expecting excitement, danger, fear, death, pathos, blood, gore, and lots and lots of zombies.  I’m also expecting big ratings.  Walking Dead has been somewhat of a phenomenon in that regard, as a cable show that is regularly beating network television.

So why has it taken so long for TV to come up with a knock off?  I don’t know but the Syfy Channel finally came up with its own zombie show, Z Nation.  The show premiered last month, and based on the first five episodes, I think I can place the show firmly in the middle of the Zombie-verse.  With Walking Dead at the top, and multiple horrible zombie movies at the bottom, Z Nation is probably a cut above your typical zombie movie; particularly if it’s produced by Syfy or if you find it on Netflix and it’s never had a US theatrical release.

Z NationWalking Dead appeals to a fairly large audience, based on its ratings, and there are plenty of fans of that show who have no interest in horror movies in general and zombie movies in particular.  But Walking Dead has managed to capture the current appeal of dystopian fiction, and adult drama where damaged people deal with loss and hopelessness.  A Walking Dead episode doesn’t end with the whole gang laughing, then freeze frame and credits.  It’s relentlessly hopeless, which for some reason people are attracted to.

Z Nation, in contrast, is fun.  Sure, the apocalypse has hit, civilization is destroyed, and things look bad, but this show has hope.  The premise of the show is that due to an experimental vaccine, there is a cure for the zombie plague in the bloodstream of one ex convict that a group of survivors are trying to get across the country to a government lab.  This is a post zombie America in which there are plenty of survivors and not every human survivor is out to get you.  Some are just trying to get along.  That’s unlike the America that Rick Grimes woke up to from his coma.  That was an almost empty world, where human survivors were often more dangerous than the walkers.

The Z Nation group is under the direction of “Citizen Z,” played by the fantastic genre actor DJ Qualls.  Any show that Qualls is in is worth taking a look (Legit accepted).  Qualls plays the last survivor of an NSA outpost in some unidentified Arctic location. From his base he can control satellites, radio and television, computers, and remote cameras; with or without electricity.  Clearly the post Snowden era has left the public with some unrealistic expectations of the NSA’s capabilities.  The lesson should have been the opposite. But it’s an overall fun show that will appeal to fans of the genre, if not to the larger Walking Dead audience.  It even gave a wink to the Syfy audience with last Friday’s episode, “Home Sweet Zombie,” which included a zombie spewing tornado and a character saying, “well at least it ain’t sharks.”

But AMC is giving another try at the Walking Dead audience with a Walking Dead companion series.  Again, why so late?  They could have started the ball rolling on this show years earlier to capitalize on the Walking Dead popularity.  But work is ongoing and a list of characters has already been released.  Not much is known about the new series other than rumors that it’s to be set at an earlier point than the current Walking Dead show is at and it’s going to be somewhere else other than Georgia.  I for one, welcome a new series set in the Walking Dead universe.  Like any fan, I have my own wish list of what I would like to see.  The character list released seems rather lackluster.  I would have preferred at least one Prepper.  Then he could die early to show the futility of preparations.  I would also like to see an emergency room doctor, since if they start on day one of the Zombie Apocalypse (which I would prefer), they can show the utter confusion and disbelief of not believing what they are seeing, the dead coming back, with an appetite.

So I would love to see a companion series timeline that in the first season runs from day one to a few weeks later when it’s effectively over, about the time Rick wakes up in his hospital bed.  What happens to the world while Rick is in his coma?  I’d like to know. But in the meantime, I do have the original Walking Dead to welcome back and fairly decent copy cat.  That’s more zombies on TV than I’m used to.

Quickie Fall Reviews: Selfie

selfieSelfie:  This ABC show is normally one that it would never occur to me to watch.  But it showed up On Demand from my cable service so I thought why not?  As for the “why” in this case…Karen Gillan.  I figured she would be worth watching if nothing else.  As it turns out, as a comedy this show is terrible, but watching the pilot, it had a few surprises.

First, I’m not sure Karen Gillan can really do an American accent.  It sounds as if she is going over her lines with a dialect coach, taping, then on to the next few lines to practice her Americanese; at least when she’s understandable.  Unfortunately her character speaks in such an argot of social media nonsense that she’s probably mostly unintelligible to all but teenagers.  But an American accent is wasted on her.  Why take a beautiful Scottish actress and force her to talk like an American teenager?  In other words, this is not the role for her.

Second, I was about 12 minutes into the pilot when suddenly it hit me, her character, Eliza Dooley…dang it, this was a retelling of My Fair Lady!  Like the most interesting man in the world, I don’t often recommend a musical, but when I do, it’s My Fair Lady.

So knowing that much, you can probably guess what the show is about.  Self centered Social Media maven goes to the top marketing guy in her company to try change her image and herself into a normal human being.  Antics ensue and you can guess where this will be going for Eliza and Henry, the marketing guru.  The question is, will I watch this?  I don’t know but it’s got two things going for it:  Pond (Karen Gillan of course) and My Fair Lady. But whether I watch it or not, it’s a safe bet that the rest of America won’t.  Already on the list as one of the worst new shows, it’s unlikely this show will get past one season, which is really all for the best.  Karen Gillan deserves better than this and the sooner this goes away the sooner she can get better than this.

Quickie Fall Reviews: Sleepy Hollow

sleepy hollow

Last Monday night was the season two premiere of Sleepy Hollow.  Considering where the show left off at the end of Season one, Ichabod Crane was trapped in a coffin, put there by his son, revealed as the Horseman of War and  his wife Katrina retrieved from Purgatory, was kidnapped by the Headless Horseman (True love don’t ya know).  Meanwhile Abbie Mills was stranded in Purgatory.  All in all, a lot of dangling plots.  So I was really annoyed that the first ten minutes of the show picked up as if a year had gone by.  Sometimes these shows are too clever by half.

And although I’ve enjoyed the show it’s annoyed me almost as much.  It’s sort of a supernatural Castle, which isn’t a bad thing. However regardless of whether it’s good or not  I’m stuck with it since this is one of those shows that my wife and I watch together, so there is no easy way to bail out of watching.  So since I’m in for the long haul, let me get a few things off my chest:

First, I don’t like how densely packed the mythology is.  There is a lot of worldview that you are given to swallow, and I’m not sure it all makes sense when you are combining an old American fairy tale with Biblical themes.  The Headless Horseman is one of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and Ichabod and Abbie are the two witnesses mentioned in the Book of Revelations.  They could have eased us into all this.

Secondly, yes, Ichabod Crane is brilliant and educated, but come on, he’s adapted to the 21st Century a little too well.  They could have gotten a lot more play out of his fumbling with light switches and car door handles,  He’s confused about filling up the memory on his cell phone with video, but not with the concept of the phone itself?  But as well as he fits into the 21st Century, he’s still wearing the same 18th Century wardrobe.  Some Dockers and a polo might be a nice change of pace.

The elephant in the room, which is almost never mentioned, is race. The show as much as sleeps through race as Ichabod Crane slept through the centuries.  On TV, when you have such a diverse cast racial issues are either the star of the show or are totally ignored.  How many shows have had the one black friend, who hangs around with a bunch of white guys but has no black friends?  That’s not a really an example of the real world.  Of course, the world of Sleepy Hollow isn’t of course the real world, but the Headless Horseman seems more realistic than the casual way the show ignores race.

And it’s surprising too considering the diverse cast.  It’s probably one of the most diverse casts of a show when it didn’t need to be.  The show is set in upstate New York, and if the cast had wound up all white, no one would have batted an eye.  But the producers specifically went for a rainbow of colors in casting.  Why waste it?

When Ichabod and Abbie first meet, he asks her if she’s been emancipated.  Naturally she’s a bit incensed at this but humors him about being from the 18th Century and explains that slaves were freed.  Crane of course quickly explains that he’s always been an abolitionist with all of the quick earnestness of a white liberal meeting a black person and saying that they so respect Martin Luther King and think soul food is the best food ever.

And that’s it.  They’re partners and work together as equals in 21st Century fashion and race never comes up again.  The thing is, race would come up every day for Crane.  Skipping over the past two centuries leaves quite a gap in the racial history of the United States.  Crane should be constantly full of questions about racial manners and mores.

Well, it’s a wasted opportunity not to explore race, particularly when the set up of the show gives you the perfect opportunity.  Oh well, back to chasing monsters.

 

Quickie Fall Reviews: Black-ish

Black-ish is the latest attempt to sell an ethnic sitcom to the wider, non ethnic audience.  Unlike the Cosby Show, in which a Black upper middle class family has the same concerns as any non Black upper middle class, and being Black was not a prominent part of the show, Black-ish is about nothing else but being Black.  It’s about upper middle class Black people who are concerned about being Black, ruminating what it means to be Black, embracing Black culture, maintaining Black culture, what is Black Culture… in short, it’s all Black, all the time.

Or at least that’s the case for the main character, Heathcliff Huxtable…err I mean Andre Johnson.  Anthony Anderson plays the Bill Cosby character in this Cosby show with guilt that can’t seem to stop thinking about race and its effect on virtually every aspect of his life.  I literally could not keep track of the number of stereotypes that this show…not skewered like you would think, but embraced. The main character is desperate to get his family playing basketball, eating fried chicken, you name it.

The lesson here is that assimilation to middle class values is bad, and “keeping it real” is good.  But maybe that’s just my white privilege talking.  Could this really be a positive uplifting show that I can’t see because of my privilege?  If so, how do I “check my privilege” in order to understand the true intent?

After typing into Google, “Am I racist for thinking the new show Black-ish is racist?”  I did find there was an actual Change.org petition requesting the show be dropped from the fall schedule because…it’s racist.  So I’m not alone on that.  But being racist isn’t even the worst sin this show commits.

It’s not funny.

Based on the pilot episode, the laughs were pretty sparse, and by sparse, I mean I didn’t laugh once, although maybe I missed something since I was constantly checking the clock.  If the show had been racist and funny, this would have been a totally different review. Some of the stuff that white people like is Black comedians playing up Black stereotypes.  Oh, how white people like that!  But for a show in which the main character wants to base his life on a racist parody of Black life you would think there would be laughs.

So I cannot give this show my much coveted thumbs up. There might be a Black audience for this show, and maybe it could find a second life on BET, but I don’t think that ABC is going to be keeping this.

 

Quickie Fall Reviews: Gotham

Gotham

Like any serious professional middle aged man, I’m a big fan of Batman, but I was skeptical about Fox’s new show Gotham. A Batman show without Batman, set in a crime riddled, corrupt city.  It sounds like New York City in the 1970’s.  In fact, the show sounds like Serpico, minus the villain origin stories.  Anyone expecting superhero antics might be disappointed, at least based on the pilot episode that I watched.

However, knowing all of that going in, I was not disappointed.  Anyone familiar with Batman can guess the broad outlines of the pilot.  New Detective James Gordon finds himself investigating the murders of noted city philanthropists and multimillionaires Thomas and Martha Wayne.  The crime, an armed robbery gone wrong (or was it?) leaves behind an orphaned Bruce who witnesses the murder of his parents.  Hmm, that can’t affect the mental health and psyche of a small child can it?  Future history says yes, but this show isn’t concerned about the future.  Set in the ever present now, it’s dealing with the gritty life in the big city; Law & Order: Gotham.

The Wayne murder case seems to wrap up fairly easily; yep you guessed it, too easy.  There is clearly more going on than a simple street crime, and the show not only sets up the murder as the gateway to an even larger mystery, but lays out several different plot paths to be explored, such as the relationship between Gordon’s fiancée Barbara and Detective Montoya. Of course again, like any serious professional person, I have a pretty good guess what the secret is that Barbara and Montoya are keeping, but no point in dropping spoilers.

So not Batman, but James Gordon, played by earnest looking Ben McKenzie, makes for a pretty good heroic cop.  With a crooked partner in tow, we’ll see what sort of price Gordon may have to pay for being the lone honest cop.  Maybe I ought to re-watch Serpico.

Quickie Fall Reviews: Forever

 

foreverForever falls in a long line of single immortal in the big city television, from the Canadian Forever Knight, about a single immortal vampire in the big city to New Amsterdam, about an Indian cursed single Jamie Lannister in the big city.  Doctor Henry Morgan (Ioan Gruffudd) is a 200 year old New York Medical Examiner who teams up with a New York cop to solve mysteries.  Call it Quincy meets Sherlock Holmes meets Castle meets Lazarus Long.meets…and so on.

The actual reason of why Morgan is immortal is vague and Morgan doesn’t understand it himself.  Thrown off a slave ship centuries ago he “dies” and somehow comes to life again.  Each time he dies, he wakes up in a nearby body of water, totally healed of what’s killed him. Left unanswered, does his body vanishes from the moment of death until he’s reborn or does he just get a new body?  One assumes the latter since in the pilot episode, he dies twice, each time at a crime scene where an extra body would no doubt raise questions.

This sort of mechanism of being reborn in water as a path to immortality leads to a supernatural explanation, rather than some pseudo scientific one.  An odd choice when the doctor in question is wedded to reason and logic.  And, like Sherlock Holmes, he’s annoying in the way he loves to show how smart he is by pointing out all of his little deductions.  People really love to be told their business first thing in the morning, so Dr. Morgan isn’t exactly overloaded with friends. But in this case that’s a good thing.  For the viewer, it makes Morgan likeable and human by being an aggravating know it all.

With new grumpy female cop partner that he has to hide his secret from (will they…?), a close friend who knows his secret and a mysterious phone caller who also knows his secret, and may be immortal like Morgan, the story arc is already built in.  Is this show a copy of a copy of a copy of several current and previous TV shows?  Heck yes, but for all that it seems to have its charm, and given the strength of last night’s pilot episode, I’ll give it a thumbs up.

The Shrinking Need for a Workforce: This Time it’s Different

There’s a YouTube video making the rounds of the internet that I highly recommend.  Go ahead and watch.

I’ll wait.

Done?  Good.

For those who will stubbornly refuse to watch the video, this is the synopsis.  Automation over time has made things easier for us since it’s reduced the demand of physical labor, which we’ve benefitted from.  But automation is not only continuing to reduce the number of boring, repetitious jobs, it’s now going after higher end jobs.  An Oxford Study predicted that 47% of US jobs could be lost to automation in 20 years.  Burger flippers and baristas for sure, but also lawyers and doctors are at risk. There is a lot fewer tax preparers now then there were in the days before tax preparation software.  So it’s not just low end drudge jobs that will be going away, it’s upper end jobs that require education that used to provide a lot of middle class and upper middle class incomes.

Previous automation, since the Industrial Age, has often provided a springboard to new industries and new jobs.  In 1870, between 70 and 80 percent of the US workforce was involved in agriculture.  In 2008, it was less than 2%.  But industrialization created vastly more jobs than were lost.  Automation in agriculture didn’t cause widespread unemployment, it freed up millions to work.  Within my lifetime, there has been an explosion of new jobs that just didn’t exist when I graduated high school.  Web Designer anyone?

There are, as a percentage more professional, high paying jobs than there used to be. That’s part (but only part) of the reason for expanding income inequality; more “good jobs” at the upper end. Professional jobs for people with technical BS degrees or graduate level.  But what about the percentage of new unskilled or semiskilled jobs?  Is the economy creating unskilled jobs paying much better than the minimum wage?

So never mind the video and its predictions. We can just look back over the past 50 years and see that the new jobs that are created are for a more highly educated and highly skilled subset. Automation improvements like cash registers becoming easier to operate as they become oversized calculators, are not creating new jobs, they are making already low skilled jobs even more low skilled.  At least until the jobs are automated away all together.

If these trends continue, with more newer jobs being for the more educated class and few new low skilled jobs created, what are we going to do with people who are just not smart enough to get a Phd in Neurolingustics (as an example)? We are improving automation along the lines of Moore’s Law, but there isn’t a Moore’s Law for human intelligence or ability. That is my concern. Not that we hit the Singularity and every human is unemployed and targeted for termination, but that the gradual change in the economy means few jobs for people on left side of the Bell Curve. We’ll have a growing cadre of people permanently unemployable no matter how great the stock market is doing or how much increase in GDP there is.

After watching this video, I had more questions than answers from it.  Frankly I don’t know what to do about the problem of people being rendered permanently unemployable.  Maybe someone should make an app for that…