My Netflix Review: End of the F***ing World

Sometimes I get a show recommendation that goes wrong, and I should have guessed something from the recommendation when part of it includes, “the episodes are real short so you’ll finish quickly.”  Well true enough, so I decided to give it a try.  I’ll give you my overall summary of the show quickly: Interesting but not entertaining, until it’s not interesting.                                      

This show had a lot of potential I think, which may explain the totally out of proportion buzz for the show.  The British show revolves around teenagers James and Alyssa, two outcast loner types who find each other.  James is a psychopath who faced a major trauma in his childhood and acts out by burning his hand and killing small animals.  He self-diagnosis’s himself as a psychopath, and with that history, who’s to say no?  Alyssa is a rebel who hates being told what to do and just…well everything.

These two form a relationship and decide to run away from home, for totally different reasons. James wants to graduate from small animals to humans, specifically Alyssa.  Alyssa meanwhile regards James as her boyfriend, although an extremely passive one. This actually sounds like a pretty good premise but the rest of the review has spoilers as I breakdown what goes wrong.

James and Alyssa break into a house with an absent owner and live it up for a while until James discovers some pictures and video of the owner torturing women. Then of course the owner returns.  James hides and the owner spying Alyssa asleep in his bed, proceeds to get rapey.  This actually provides James his long awaited opportunity to kill someone, and to protect Alyssa, he stabs the homeowner.

Naturally, everything goes wrong from this point.  They try to clean up the crime scene while processing the trauma of the murder, which is framed as a defensive act to save Alyssa.  Suddenly the running away from home bit goes from being a lark to a life changing event.  And then what happens?  James deals with the fact that he’s a killer and we, and he, slowly realize that the kid really isn’t the psychopath he thought he was.  So if James isn’t a psychopath but he had a history of killing small animals and was plotting to kill Alyssa on multiple occasions, then he’s just evil.

For me, that sucked the interest out of the show. The kids go on the run being chased by two lesbian police detectives, a totally irrelevant plot point that goes nowhere and does nothing except to point to their current year bonafides.   I think we’re supposed to still sympathize with the kids because the killing was kind of in self-defense and the victim was a terrible person, but I don’t know how self-defense plays in the UK.  In Texas, James would probably get a medal from the local PD for taking someone out who “needs killing.”  But this isn’t Texas, so the police are hot on their trail.

Eventually, after much nonsense, the kids hide out with Alyssa’s estranged father, apparently the Brit version of a redneck.  So naturally he gives up the kids to the police for the reward money, leading to an extremely absurd and trite cliff hanger.

I don’t know why this show has garnered such positive buzz.  Is it the lesbian detectives, or is it because the kids are outsiders?  As if that’s never been done before!  Otherwise I feel the show went downhill from the moment we realize that James, as troubled as he is, isn’t a psychopath.  The fact that he discovers that he really cares for Alyssa when he wanted to kill her mere days before doesn’t ring true.  So this show, as edgy as it’s supposed to be, is edgy in a totally unrealistic way.  But I made a good effort and stuck with it till the end so I won’t feel bad about not sticking around for season 2 to find out how the “cliff hanger” is resolved.

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Star Trek Discovery First Season Wrap up

Spoilers Included.  I’m not going to warn you again.

The Season Finale wrapped up all of the various entangling plotlines (except of course for what really happened to the Prime Universe Lorca, so in that way, it was a satisfying, and within Star Trek TV show parameters, solved the main struggle of the season, the Klingon War, in the most Federation-ie way possible, by appealing to the Klingon’s better selves, and of course, also appealing to the better nature of deposed emperor Georgiou. I’ll admit that struck me as ridiculous. Georgiou held the trigger for the bomb that would have devastated the Klingon home world, and rather than use it, she surrendered it to Burnham instead of killing her.  One doesn’t get to be Emperor of the Terran Empire with that sort of maudlin sentimentality.

And even more unrealistic was the resolution to the Klingon War.  With Klingon ships on the edge of the solar system, Burnham gives the detonator to L’Rell, with the hopes that she will unify the empire and yada yada yada, the Klingons abandon the war?  On the edge of full victory? And that’s exactly what happens.

To me, this was a cop out to resolve the war, in a pretty unrealistic way, but I’ve no doubt, most Star Trek fans loved this finale for the very reasons I found it unrealistic; the solution to the war wasn’t found in delivering a decisive military defeat on the enemy, but by adherence to the Federation’s highest principles, and assuming (always correctly) that everyone else in the universe at some deep down level, shares those same principles.  In unrelated news, the Federation has no money but everyone shows up for work and tries to be the best they can be.

But hey, that’s Star Trek.

Finale aside, this has been without a doubt the best first season story arc (or arcs) of any Star Trek show.  Traditionally Star Trek shows start out not having any idea what direction they were going nor any idea on how to get there, or which characters were going to break out. As a result, they’ve ended up stumbling around for the first three seasons before they get their act together.  But in a media universe of too much content, fans don’t have to be patient, and won’t be. As I mentioned in my review of the first three episodes, the first two episodes were not even a proper pilot, but more of a prequel, with the third episode being the actual pilot that introduces the cast.  I’m not sure if in a general sense that’s a good idea for a television show since it makes it difficult to actually figure out much about the show from the first three episodes.  However in this particular case, that had a high pay off in the last half of the season. So I feel that this time they managed to cram the usual three season shakedown cruise into just a few episodes.

This was a heavily fan service season.  True, you would expect any show like this to be loaded with Easter eggs, but the show moved ahead with a season that had both Harry Mudd and the Mirror Universe. So in an overall sense, this was a show and a season well worth watching. I might have watched even a crap take on Star Trek, but that’s harder to do when you actually have to pay extra to view it.  Luckily I didn’t have that struggle.  I felt I got my money’s worth.

The Trouble With Quibbles…

There were a few things that bugged me though. The reveal that Ash Tyler was a Klingon spy made sense to me and there were certainly enough context clues to figure it out before the reveal; I did. However Lorca being from the mirror universe was, I felt, the proverbial turd in the punch bowl.  Do I think that was planned by the producers all along?  Yes.  In episode 6 Admiral Cornwell and Lorca are sharing a bottle of triple malt scotch and she references a shared event from years ago that Lorca clearly doesn’t remember.  However, Lorca had turned into one of the more interesting characters on the show, based on the appearance that he was a psychopath commanding a Federation starship.  But rather than go with that angle, they decided to comic book it up and make Lorca a Mirror Universe villain.  Sure, it played well on TV and few characters get as great a death as Lorca did, but the idea that if he’s evil, he must be from the mirror universe, is in some ways, a cop out.  There are no bad guys in the Prime Universe?  Starfleet has had no end of various Admirals and Captains that have gone rogue.  The original series did an entire episode around a Starfleet Captain, Garth of Izar, who went criminally insane. And mutinies in the Admiralty were the plot points of at least two Star Trek movies, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and Star Trek: Insurrection.

I’m just saying I would have enjoyed a few more seasons of Lorca the psychopath fooling everyone around him.

The two Harry Mudd episodes were a bit of a disappointment.  Not because of Rainn Wilson’s performance, which was great, but turning Mudd into a many times over mass murderer and traitor seems like a total retooling of the character.  There was nothing comic relief about this Mudd.  True, his murders got wiped out in Discovery’s Groundhog Day episode, but the seizing control of the Discovery and trying to sell it to the Klingons didn’t.  It seems like there were enough real crimes committed both pre and post time loop to send him to Federation jail for a long time.  Instead…they decide being with his wife (Stella!) was a worse punishment and let him go.

The Mirror Universe arc wasn’t a disappointment and was total fan service.  My only quibble on that was again, the Trumpification of the Mirror Universe.  Like the Klingons, the Mirror Universe is retconned so that they just want to make the Galaxy great again^ with a Terra First foreign policy that, to the Prime Universe Discovery crew, is “racist and xenophobic.”  I get it; every TV writer hates Trump and the people who voted for him and wants to squeeze #resist into their work.  But don’t destroy the original idea to do it.  The Terran Empire, as first shown in the original series episode Mirror Mirror, was anything but racist and xenophobic.  Spock was a half Vulcan First Officer serving in a top of the line Imperial warship, with the total trust of his captain, Evil Kirk.  Race based regimes usually hate half breeds more, so the path from son of a rebel Vulcan traitor Sarek (complete with goatee) to his mixed blood son serving the Empire doesn’t make sense on its face.  There is a lot I could write on the Mirror Universe but it would be plunging down a nerd black hole, and no one wants that.

Klingons:  Why Oh why did they go with this total re-do of the Klingons?  If there was an in story reason they didn’t get to it. It seems totally unnecessary after the decade’s long wait to explain why the Star Trek Movie/Next Gen Klingons looked so different from the original series Klingons. There finally had been a canon resolution to the last Klingon re-do in the last season of Enterprise.  It just seemed pointless and irritating to restart that again.

One of my initial complaints about the show was how to access it.  Since the show is shown exclusively on CBS’s streaming service, CBS All Access, I was a bit grumbly about having to pay for a special effects laden show that didn’t have a smart TV app.  Well CBS heard my cries and halfway through the season they added an option to access the app through the Amazon Prime Video service, which does have a smart TV app. So now I can watch the best special effects laden show on television the way it was meant to be seen, on glorious HD big screen TV.  No more hunching over my computer in my home office with my wife asking what I’m doing in there with the door closed.

And speaking of, for some mysterious reason, my wife decided to give the show a try the other day and sat down and binged the first 8 hours of the show with claims that she liked it.  It could be that, or she found a good way to avoid household chores without me bugging her and decided to ride it for all it’s worth.

Good plan.

Travelers on Netflix

Welcome to the 21st…       

When it comes to TV these days, there is just so much content! As it is, I can’t keep up with the shows on regular cable TV.  I’m at the point where I watch almost everything from the DVR and at best,  I’m about a week behind.  That of course doesn’t even count streaming shows, where I may be months behind on.  It’s hard to avoid spoilers for a show that’s dropped on Netflix 8 months ago.  I do my best…

However because there is so much content, some shows get little attention, unlike media hyped shows like Stranger Things, which had a ridiculous amount of promotion, Travelers has barely made a whisper.  In fact the only reason I even heard of the show was because some guy on the radio found it by accident and really got into it.  So on that recommendation, I gave it a try.

Wow, was a blown away!  And it’s not because the premise is particularly clever or ingenious.  In the future, humanity is hanging on by a thread with the Earth largely uninhabitable, so to save themselves, they go back in time to make corrections to history to prevent whatever future disasters have occurred. That idea has launched many science fiction books and stories over the years.  Their method of time travel is only slightly less unoriginal.  Apparently matter can’t travel through time, so they send human consciousness into the “present” to inhabit the bodies of people that history records will die.

The actual results of this may be what make this show uniquely entertaining.  They maintain the cover of the bodies of the people they inhabit.  FBI Special Agent Grant MacLaren (Eric McCormick) is inhabited by a Traveler who continues to pretend to be…Grant MacLaren.  Although he’s briefed on the subject’s life, he’s not really that person, so whether it’s dealing with personal friendships, his computer passwords at work, or his “wife,” he’s faking it until he makes it.  Other members of his team include an engineer who in the future, is the oldest man on Earth, but in the 21st Century, finds himself in the body of a high school jock and bully.  The team’s doctor Marcy finds herself in the body of a mentally disabled girl, immediately raising the suspicions of her social worker David. The teams soldier finds herself as a single mom with an abusive boyfriend (one who was, by history, destined to kill her), and the historian finds himself in the body of a heroin addict.

For most of the team dealing with their new lives, there isn’t the constant scrutiny and observation, but MacLaren is married, and his wife, although used to dealing with an FBI husband who can’t speak about his work, is suspicious of his abrupt change of diet and personality. Team doctor Marcy has social worker David Mailer constantly in her business and finds herself under even more scrutiny.  Of course, she wasn’t expecting to be overwriting the mind of a mentally disabled woman.  David and Marcy’s relationship becomes the closest, and potentially most threatening to the Traveler’s anonymity.

This is Marcy (actress Mackenzie Porter) by the way.   

Well future knowledge isn’t perfect.  A mentally disabled woman and drug addict are not great candidates, but the limits of knowledge include not only official records but social media…so take that Facebook.

Ethically, the body snatching is justified by the fact that all of these people were destined to die within minutes of being taken over, so either way, they would have been dead. I’m sure that philosophers can debate the morality of that, but it has to be weighed by the good of changing the future to prevent multiple catastrophes that threaten the existence of the human race.

The show does a great job of gradually doing reveals, so that each episode you learn a little bit more about the Travelers, their mission, and the future they come from.  That’s a far superior approach than the old JJ Abrams idea of “I promise this will all makes sense in the end!”  And then it doesn’t make sense.  At least this way, I don’t feel cheated because the story gradually becomes clearer without curve balls and purposefully irritating misdirects.

So there are real payoffs on this show.  By the end of the first season, you have a clear idea of the Traveler team’s main mission, and by the end of season two…well I don’t want to spoil it, but it was one of the best season finale’s I’ve seen.  It had a really satisfying payoff, which is what all season finales should have, instead writing them into a corner.

Of course I have quibbles…  Why does Maclaren work so hard to keep his marriage together?  It’s like he’s trying to really make the marriage work, even though he is, by necessity, lying to her every step of the way, and he’s only just met her.  He doesn’t have the years and years invested in a real relationship with his “wife” Kat.

Also, I don’t think they really addressed the issue that the team has abandoned their original bodies in the future for what’s really a one way trip in someone else’s body.  You would think that the psychological trauma of looking at someone else’s hands, and someone else’s face in a mirror would be a trauma that would have to be addressed.  Instead, they seem perfectly comfortable in their new bodies.

I do hope this show gets a third season.  It made the top ten most binge-watched show for 2017, so that certainly gives me hope we’ll see more of Travelers.

 

Crisis on Earth X Crossover

Back in October, I wrote about the upcoming crossover event on the CW, Crisis on Earth-X, and mentioned that it was based on a comic story I read as a kid in the pages of Justice League of America comics.  A pretty good summary of that story can be found here, and hereThe short version of that story is that the Justice League on Earth 1 and the Justice Society on Earth 2 are working on a device that will allow for easy access between the two universes.  A stowaway forces the device to malfunction, stranding both teams on a third Earth, Earth X.  Earth X is a world in which World War II lasted until 1968, with the Nazi’s winning with the creation of a mind control device.  After running into the Earth X super hero resistance, they agree to split up and go after the mind control devices, yada yada yada, and the Nazis are defeated.

Of course the fun part of this story is the yada yada yada part in which mixed groups consisting of teams from all three Earths get together and go on their own separate missions at the same time.  Structurally, it’s probably the best way to handle a storyline that includes a massive number of cast members (Avengers Infinity War take note); split the massive group into easily digestible teams, follow each of their separate missions (which are taking place simultaneously with the other team’s missions), and then all back together for the big finale.

But of course, this is a CW crossover, so other than the basic idea, there isn’t much more to mine from the original source material.  In the Arrowverse (as the CW/DC multiverse is called) the Justice Society is a World War II era superhero team up, and there is no modern equivalent to the Justice League, just Team Arrow and Team Flash on Earth 1 (plus the time traveling Legends of Tomorrow) and Supergirl is from Earth 38 (which Earth holds the movie DCU is anyone’s guess).

I was still anxious to see how the CW would handle this massive story, in the era of “punching Nazi’s,” broken down into 4 TV show sized bits, and so warning, there be spoilers…

Supergirl

There is actually a pretty good plot reason to bring characters from all the shows together; the long awaited wedding of Barry Allen and Iris West. Last year’s crossover started off on Supergirl too, but dragged on and didn’t actually “cross-over” until near the end of the episode.  This time, they went right to Earth-X and started the gathering of heroes right away as they prepared for the wedding.  Even so, there was quite a bit of time wasted over unnecessary drama about Oliver asking Felicity to marry him at the rehearsal dinner and her turning him down.  First, inappropriate time, and second, get with the Nazi’s already! Although…I admit the Sara and Alex hook up with its morning hung over walk of shame was amusing.  Two different Earths, coming together…

But it was worth waiting for the Nazi attack on the wedding.  As super fights go, it was pretty epic, particularly with Green Arrow and Supergirl going up against their parallel Earth counterparts.  I guess Barry and Iris can forget about getting their deposit back for that venue…

Arrow

It’s a half assed, ill thought out plan for the Nazi’s to invade the world (Earth 1 actually) but there is a certain amount of Mirror Universe-like charm in the Nazi Super Friends, consisting of a Harrison Wells look alike Eobard Thawne speedster, Oliver Queen, or as Felicity amusingly referred to him, “Oliver in the High Castle,” and “Overgirl,” the Nazi version of Supergirl.  The fact that this Supergirl and Oliver are not just a couple, but a married couple very much in love; seems to be an inspired choice. What’s apparently so understated that I missed it originally is Oliver Queen is actually the Führer of Earth X. But interestingly Nazi Supergirl seems to be the most nazi-esque of the group of villains.  She’s a true believer and why shouldn’t she be? She actually is demonstrably superior.

Besides the whole taking over the world thing it seems the Nazi power couple have another agenda; Nazi Kara is dying and needs a Kryptonian heart transplant.  Not a lot of places you can get a spare Kryptonian heart. But not only does Supergirl have one, but it’s a dead on tissue match too. So after capturing the good guys they find themselves in a concentration camp on Earth X.

The Flash

After a quickie escape from the concentration camp (while leaving the other prisoners there to rot I noticed) the gang meet The Ray, another Earth 1 refugee with light powers, and are taken to Freedom Fighters HQ where the resistance plans to blow up the dimensional portal while their Führer is off world on Earth 1.  That being the only way home, that’s a plan that doesn’t really work for the Super Friends, but they do have an advantage; Earth 1 Oliver Queen looks just like the dictator of Earth X.  For once, they have a plan that doesn’t seem ridiculously implausible, merely ridiculous.

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow

After The Flash and The Ray stop Red Tornado (!) from blowing up the facility, they heroes transit back to Earth 1 where the Legends were held in the Star Labs containment facility.  Frankly I forgot all about them after they were captured after the wedding debacle.

The death of Professor Martin Stein brought some real consequence to the story line. Although it was known that actor Victor Garber was going to leave Legend this season, I admit I was caught by surprise.  I had gotten so used to the Arrowverse’s hail of gun fire and nobody getting shot, I hadn’t considered that Stein would be critically wounded from Nazi gunfire, but Stein’s death made everyone put on their serious face so they could do battle with Nazi Oliver and Kara and their Nazi unit.

As a battle royale, the final battle in Central City was both spectacular and extremely dumb.  The Nazi Waverider (wait there are two Waveriders?  Huh?) started firing at innocent civilians, but stopped long enough for a wide angle shot of both heroes and villains lined up in a row before resorting to the sort of melee that worked poorly in the season finale of Arrow’s season 4.  This one, however, worked better by concentrating on three main aspects of it, the battle of the two Waveriders, the battle between Overgirl and Supergirl, and Flash versus Reverse Flash.  Flash lets Thawne get away, Overgirl, bereft of her heart transplant, blows up in spectacular fashion and the good Waverider manages to blow up the Nazi one, and Green Arrow puts an arrow in the heart of Dark Arrow.  So surprise!  The good guys win.

All in all, it was a spectacular crossover event, and I mean it really was an event.  The CW has managed to put together the type of world(s) that the movie DCU would love to do and hasn’t yet managed to pull off.  In the Arrowverse, we have multiple super heroes with quite a bit of entangled history with each other.  This is far more the DC Expanded Universe than the movie version.

Just some general observations…

After the battle with the Nazi’s in Central City, President Trump said there were good people on both sides!

Where did the Nazi Waverider come from?  Did Earth X have it’s own version of Legends, and if so, where were they?  What am I missing?

Oliver Queen is Batman.  Well not really, particularly since they name dropped Bruce Wayne a few episodes back in Arrow, but he does have the same sort of several-steps-ahead planning that had him produce a Kryptonite arrow, even though the odds of needing one are not high when there are no Kryptonians on your Earth and the only one you’ve ever met was pretty and nice.  Not nearly as smart as Batman though.  Oliver Queen is strictly a gentleman’s C’s achiever academically.

This crossover was super gay, and I mean even more than the usual CW show. At this point, there are enough gay superheroes to have their own crossover episode.  So stay tuned for next year’s Crisis on Earth-Fabulous!

The special effects for The Ray/Flash/Red Tornado battle were top notch. I realize they are working with a TV budget here, and a CW TV budget at that, but it looks like they went out of their way to make the special effects hold up.  Tip o’ the hat!

This crossover, unlike last year’s Dominator one, was more of a 4 hour movie or mini-series than bits and pieces of different cast members joining other shows for a “very special” episode.  In fact, I thought it was every bit as good as the far more expensive Justice League.  Maybe the CW guys ought to contribute creatively to the movie side of the DC equation.

I get Oliver Queen and Quentin Lance being unshaven on Earth 1, but it’s hard to believe that their Nazi counterparts would be similarly unshaven.  They were in uniform after all.  Don’t the Nazi’s have any uniform regulations?

Eobard Thawne, the speedster villain allied with the Nazi’s makes either a continuity hint or an error.  While prepping Supergirl for her heart donation surgery, Supergirl threatens Thawne with her cousin, Superman.  Thawne replies that he’s fought her cousin before, in the future.  Here is the thing.  Thawne, the main villain of season one of The Flash, is from Earth 1’s future.  Earth 1 doesn’t have either a Superman or Supergirl. Supergirl and her “cousin” Superman are from Earth 38.  So did Thawne fight Earth 38’s Superman?  Some other Earth’s Superman, or has Superman’s pod not yet arrived on Earth 1?  Or…is Clark Kent actually already on Earth 1 and hasn’t taken up the weekend hobby of superheroing yet?

Inquiring minds…

No Paid Days Ahead for Kathy Griffin

Kathy Griffin, famed D-list comedienne and cousin of Family Guy star Peter Griffin is in somewhat of a career rut according to an article in The Daily Wire.  “I just want you guys to know, when I get home, I do not have one single day of paid work in front of me.”

Whaah.

I watched the first two seasons of Griffin’s show, Life on the D-List, in my never ending search for a truly funny female comedian.  That search is an entire post in itself, but the consequences for the purposes of this post is that I’m familiar with Griffin’s work, and her life somewhat.  Or at least as much as “reality” TV actually shows.  She really only had one unique hook, and that was her willingness to talk trash about other Hollywood celebs.  But of course, that has its own limiting ceiling.  You can’t leave the D-list if you keep trashing the A-list.  Still, Griffin hustled for work and made a pretty good living.  But entertainment is a fickle business.  Rape one teenager, or put out one jihadi picture, and suddenly the prudes start attacking your business model.

Still, there might be a little career left for Griffin.  Her famed jihadi picture was what effectively ended her career in the West.  Even those who hate Trump and love pictures of a Trump beheading hate being embarrassed by having their deepest fantasies revealed.  So are there new horizons that Griffin could explore?

Just a modest proposal, but since Kathy Griffin has worked the USO tour circuit before, she’s familiar with the Middle East.  Why not try working the other side of the street?  With the fall of Raqqa, ISIS and its associated groups must be really in the doldrums right now.  Fleeing from bombing, and losing your sex slaves could be a real kick in the teeth for moral.  So maybe…Griffin could find a fresh comedy market among the various jihadi fighter groups that dot the world.  Those guys could probably use a little fresh comedy, and what may seem stale in the US might be fresh as can be in the deserts of Syria.  “Look Ahmed!  The red headed, uncovered whore!  I would kill her but I am laughing so hard!” To me, this sounds like a win/win for everyone.  Griffin gets a refreshed career, and we have something to take the terrorist’s minds off of bombing something.

But Kathy, save the severed Trump head for the encore.

 

My So Called CW Life

In response to an online forum topic a few weeks ago, namely, what TV shows are you currently watching; I dutifully listed the shows that I had been following.  Much to my surprise, about 80% of my current TV show viewing was on The CW.  Considering its reputation for teen dramas, that seemed surprising.  On the other hand, with so many of those teen dramas as either science fiction or superhero genre related, it makes a kind of sense.  The CW seems to go by one rule:  Hot young people making out.  Now; with superpowers.

The New

Valor: A military drama seems an unlikely addition to a schedule of teen superhero soap operas, however the IMDB description puts everything in context.  “The boundaries between military discipline and human desire are tested on a U.S. Army base that houses an elite unit of helicopter pilots trained to perform clandestine international and domestic missions.“  Ha!  I couldn’t have written that better if I were a CW publicist!   So the hot young person making out rule is still applicable, in the unlikely scenario of special operations.  Although it’s too early yet to make a definitive ruling on the show, I’ll have to give props to the military technical advisors.  As a veteran, it’s sometimes agonizing watching most television shows depicting the military, as they manage to get it wrong on the simplest things; particularly uniform wear and military customs and courtesy. This show does a great job at working on getting that right.  Or…at least acknowledging when they are getting it wrong.

Returning Shows

Riverdale:  This show, returning for its second season, was one of my more surprising picks.  My curiosity was initially peaked by the idea of a gang of Saturday morning cartoon characters getting a live action make over.  What I didn’t expect was what the CW would actually do with the opportunity.  I’m not sure what I expected, but I don’t think it was the Twin Peaks meets Dawson’s Creek that Riverdale turned in to.  And they started the show turned up to eleven. One of a set of high school twins is murdered which started off the first season mystery.  Frankly, I didn’t care who the murderer was, and by the time I found out in the season finale, it hardly mattered.  The re-imagined characters was the thing.  Miss Grundy as young music teacher; preying on innocent Archie Andrews?  Hilarious!  Jughead as the hamburger chomping noir narrator? Inspired!  And with the spinoff of Sabrina in the works, I expect less magic teenage hijinks and more grim evil spirits (Goth style not included).

Supergirl: In the realm of the CW superhero shows, they almost always include a heavy brood factor, with the fill-in-the-blank hero on the ledge of some building in the dark of night, brooding about some responsibility that’s his or hers alone.  Supergirl has always seemed the least broody of the CW Superheroes, Supergirl being played as an earnest millennial rather than tortured hero-with-a-past.  But the returning season premiere has Supergirl, brooding over the guilt that’s hers alone.  Welcome to the club Kara Danvers.  Whether she continues to try to out brood the other CW Super Friends remains to be seen, but the charm of this show was she often was just as she appeared to be, a mid-20’s go getter, single gal in the big city… who could fly.

The Flash: In the season premiere, Barry Allen returns to Central City from the Speed Force to find himself being out brooded by his girlfriend, Iris West. With the Flash being trapped in the Speed Force for 6 months, Iris picked up the brooding slack and provided the heavy brooding needed by Team Flash. I assume that with the Flash back, he will be back to full brood mode soon.

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow continues to be the most off the wall of the CW superhero shows.  Their motto seems to be, “no rules.”  Even when they obey rules, it’s just barely.  A particular moment from last season is classic. When seeking the “Spear of Destiny” the gang is told that it requires the blood of Christ to activate it.  So Sara Lance is like, sure, why not?  Judea  and the Crucifixion, here we come!  Rip Hunter freaks out at the idea but it struck me that time travel shows just don’t “go there” in terms of potentially theologically sensitive moments.  Legends actually brought that up, which tells you that no moment in history is safe from their meddling.  This season, Hunter and the Legends are on opposite sides as they grow bored with their 2017 lives and decide to start time traveling again.

Supernatural, entering its 13th season, amazingly still has more stories to tell.  It’s hard to recall the last time a non-animated show went on this many seasons and still had some juice left.  Frankly, I thought that after thwarting the Apocalypse in season 4, it would be difficult to top, but in season 11 they managed save the entire universe, meet God, and get God and his sister together in a divine family reunion.  After that, dealing with Lucifer’s son and getting their mom back from an alternate universe should be child’s play.

Arrow: Oliver Queen, the King of brooding CW heroes, is back with hopefully fewer flashbacks and more Parkour, this time as a single dad. Juggling fatherhood, being mayor, and being a crime fighting vigilante will fill up a desk calendar.  Because of the over the top brooding I almost bailed out of season 6, but the dropping of the flashbacks is a good sign that has made the show more watchable, and with the upcoming crossover, Crisis on Earth-X, I cannot even think of bailing until we get through that.  This really hits home for me.  As a kid, I read the original Justice League comic which actually introduced “Earth-X,” the world in which the Nazi’s won World War II.  I would never have imagined as a kid that there would actually be a series of TV episodes that would actually adapt that very story.

In some ways, the future turned out to be better than I could have ever dreamed.

And none of this even covers the mid-season replacements!  More to come on that I suppose…

 

Streaming Star Trek Discovery

A new Star Trek TV show is an exciting event that only comes around every few years, and you never know when it will be the final Star Trek series.  People will get tired of this, yes?  Enterprise ended after only four seasons, and that seemed to be the death kneel for any future Star Trek show.  But then came the rebooted movies and now, yet another attempt at bringing Star Trek to television.

Sort of.           

Although Star Trek Discovery had its premiere on CBS, the series is being shown exclusively (at least in the US) on the CBS All Access streaming service. As a long time Star Trek fan, I figured the show would have to be an incredible crap fest for me not to sign up for the service.  Although all networks stream their show content online, CBS seems to be unique in thinking it can compete with Hulu and Netflix by creating original content for their service.  It’s already given that a test run with the show, The Good Fight, a spinoff of their long time popular show The Good Wife.

As a strategy, it may not be a bad one.  CBS owns a lot of valuable properties and paying to produce original content, such as a spinoff of a popular network show, or a show with a dedicated fan base, might be a winning option.  Unlike network shows, streaming services have exact data on sign ups and who’s watching, so if a strategy is working, they will know immediately, and in that vein, CBS News reported that it broke the one day record for new sign ups after the Discovery premiere.

So yes, I signed right up.

Let me say this about the CBS All Access streaming service; I find it incredible that a streaming service that intends to complete with Hulu and Netflix does not have an app for Smart TV’s.  That is serious malpractice right there.  Yes, it does have apps for Windows and Apple products, as well as Roku and Xbox, but no Smart TV app?  So a show with a multimillion dollar per episode budget with movie quality special effects can’t be shown on your average Smart TV?

Come on!

That inconvenience aside, another issue with the CBS Streaming Access is that there just isn’t much else there I would want to watch.  I mean, it’s all CBS re-runs other than The Good Fight and Discovery of course.  However CBS did seem to recognize that and added a post-show gabfest for Discovery called After Trek. A post episode discussion show isn’t a bad idea if done right.  AMC’s companion show to the Walking Dead, Talking Dead, is a perfect example of how to do it right.  In the small universe of after show fan service, Talking Dead’s Chris Hardwick is the perfect post show host.  He knows how to keep the conversation flowing, and is knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the source material.  Most importantly, he knows how to guide his show guests into talking about their characters, rather than themselves.  Not an easy job for Hollywood actors.  On the other end of the spectrum, HBO’s After the Thrones was a train wreck.  Apparently hosting skills for these particular types of shows are not common.

Watching the first episode of After Trek, I would definitely give it high marks in comparison to the previously mentioned After the Thrones. The show is not in Talking Dead territory, but host Matt Mira is surprisingly good.   He has some work ahead of him though in order to pull some character backstory from the actors.  When asking actor James Frain, who plays Sarek, about some of Sarek’s motivations, Frain replied that he just says the lines.  I can’t decide if that’s a terrible answer or a great one, but I’m leaning towards great.

As for the show itself (and warning, there be spoilers), there is no doubt the title should have been Star Trek Woke: The Current Year.  Prior to the premiere, there were reports that the producers were recasting the Klingons as MAGA supporters, Make Q’onoS* Great Again and all that.  Well I can report that is the case. Much of the first two episodes have a great deal of Klingon scenes (in Klingon of course) in which the political situation in the empire is one of disarray, and much is made of the mongrelization of the Federation, with all the different Federation races blending in multicultural diversity; something that’s anathema to these red State Klingons.  Luckily, the Discovery cast is there to take a knee to racist Klingons.

Of course this is hardly the first TV show that the Trump election has caused breakdowns in the writer’s rooms.  Homeland, the Showtime spy series had such a breakdown in which they threw out the outline for their last season half way through and it ended in an incoherent mess.  CBS summer replacement show Salvation had a coup d’etat against a female President requiring a counter coup to get rid of that man and put a woman back in charge, all which had nothing to do with a show about an asteroid coming to destroy earth.

As for the plot of the pilot, as one online commenter put it, “Sassy black girl teaches the Federation how to deal with warlike Klingons, gets sent to prison.”

That’s basically it for the two part show opener.  For that, just a few observations:

There is a lot of go grrrl nonsense in this show. In one scene the Captain and First Officer, both female, beam onto a Klingon ship and win a hand to hand tussle (at least initially) with a couple of Klingons. I know this is science fiction but come on!  Of course after several decades of watching 90 pound waifs’ karate chop 250 pound trained male fighters on television, the scene doesn’t look quite as ridiculous as it actually was.  I guess we’re all conditioned to accept that tiny women not only can defeat large men in hand to hand combat, but in almost all circumstances they most certainly will.

In the build up to the show the look of the Klingons is so different from any earlier look of that species that the producers had to explain that Klingons were a very diverse race and there were many types of Klingons depending on which “house” the Klingon belonged to. So in a scene that showed the heads of all the Klingon houses, they all looked the same, the new version. Why not just do a different alien species if you want a new look? Not sure I get that. It definitely breaks canon though.

As far as the characters go, the only really likeable one seems to be Lt. Commander Saru, a weird looking alien ( he’s a “Kelpien”) who manages to do more to inject a little humanity into the show than any of the other characters, including titular star of the show Commander Michael Burnham, played by Walking Dead alum Sonequa Martin-Green. That being said, the unique backstory of the character; orphaned human girl raised by Sarek on Vulcan and graduate of the Vulcan Science Academy, lends itself to being played as a little less human.  In that regard, Martin-Green does have the acting chops to carry the lead for a show like this.  A flashback to the first time she meets her captain on the USS Shenzhou, introduced by Sarek, gives every appearance of a human trying hard to be Vulcan, contrasted to present day when she has a much more relaxed and “human” demeanor, but still with traces of a Vulcan upbringing. So if anything, the show does have a strong lead.

But that’s just my impressions from the first two hours of the show which really isn’t even a proper pilot; it’s more like a prequel to the set up.  The ship Discovery doesn’t even make an appearance.  So the third episode is more the actual pilot, and from viewing that, my impressions are that the episode ought to have been called, “Starfleet is the New Black.”  Prisoner Burnham is the most famous mutineer in Starfleet and responsible for starting the current Klingon war. When her prison shuttle is accidently waylaid to the USS Discovery, she’s drafted into the crew. Or was it an accident?  This was an episode that I actually got into and enjoyed both as a bit of escapist adventure TV and a bit of horror TV as well.

So we’ll see how it goes. As a long time Star Trek fan, I want to see what they do with this and having seen the third episode, feel a bit more hopeful this show will actually be entertaining. Knowing that Discovery will have a Harry Mudd episode and a Mirror Universe episode, the show has the potential to either knock it out of the park or flop. I guess I’ll know by the time we get to the Mirror Universe episode. If they screw that up…

 

*The Klingon home world for all you non nerds