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…

 

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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

Outlander, a Couples Show

Outlander is a show that’s not really meant for me.  Based on a series of Romance novels by author Diana Galbaldon, the Starz Network show premieres its third season this Sunday night and Hurricane Irma permitting, I’ll be sitting down to watch it along with some millions of cat ladies.

And I’m not ashamed.                                 

 

OK well I guess I’m ashamed a little.  As I said, this is not a show meant for a guy; it’s based on a romance series summarized by IMDB as:

…the story of Claire Randall, a married combat nurse from 1945 who is mysteriously swept back in time to 1743, where she is immediately thrown into an unknown world in which her life is threatened. When she is forced to marry Jamie Fraser, a chivalrous and romantic young Scottish warrior, a passionate relationship is ignited that tears Claire’s heart between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

And it does have all of the usual romantic tropes. Claire travels through time (through some ancient magical means) from a post-World War II belated honeymoon to 1743 Scotland, where she is forced into a marriage with a young good looking Scottish bandit who, wait for it, isn’t really a bandit after all, but a Scottish lord (Laird) on the run from the English. So he’s both a bad boy bandit, and somewhat rich landowner.  All he’s missing is the eye patch and pirate ship.  Naturally he loves her from first sight, and many other men are interested in her.  What’s a girl to do with so many suitors?

So with a show that tries to cram nearly all of the romance novel tropes into one couple, why am I interested in it?

Three things:

Scottish Stuff.  The show really digs deep into Scottish culture and the show actually gives you a taste of the life of both the Scottish landed class and the peasantry.  I found myself fascinated with the customs and culture of that time and place.

Duh, Time Travel.  The show does have time travel, and I admit I’m sucker for a good time travel story, and in this case, there actually is a time travel angle beyond it being used as a device to get our heroine from 1945 to 1743.  It turns out the sneering English villain of 1743 is actually the ancestor of Claire’s 1945 husband.  Kill him (and this guy needs killing) and will it wipe out the existence of her future husband?  And if it did, wouldn’t that solve a lot of problems since she is far more in love with her 18th Century lover than her boring 20th Century one?

A Show we can watch together.  This is a show my wife and I watch together and there are not a lot of those, since she tends to think of the type of shows I watch as garbage, and I worry that the type of shows she likes (true crime shows in which a woman kills her husband or lover) as a how to guide.  So the less time she spends learning how to beat CSI analysis of a crime scene and more time ogling over true love, the better.

The Carmichael Show Cancelled

I was disappointed to hear that The Carmichael Show was being cancelled after the completion of its third season.   A Google search to try to find an explanation on the show’s cancellation pulled up articles called NBC Execs Open Up About ‘Carmichael Show’ Cancellation which… do not really answer the question as to why the show was cancelled.

“I think the collective decision was maybe [that] it’s best to let the show end,” NBC entertainment president Jennifer Salke told reporters. “I have to say personally for all of us, it’s a really hard decision that wasn’t just made on one side of things. It was one of those difficult decisions that kind of live with you for a while that you don’t feel great about because you wish it had done better. … This was the situation we found ourselves in.”  

OK yhat tells me nothing, although the very next paragraph does add a little bit of context.

The beloved series, which wraps its run later this month on the network, was one of NBC’s rare co-productions with an outside studio, 20th Century Television Fox. That, combined with the tepid ratings for the show, led to the cancellation.

Tepid rating I can understand, although I find it odd that it would happen to this show. If there is any show that qualifies as a worthy successor to Norman Lear’s All in the Family, it’s this one.  The show has tackled some pretty controversial topics, such as gun control, religion, infidelity, Bill Cosby,  gentrification, Muslims, depression, gender roles, gun violence, pornography, and of course Donald Trump.  Yet the show has received zero buzz.  Black-ish, a show I trashed pretty severely when it first came out is a critical and ratings success. The Carmichael Show is a critical success…and that’s it. So the lesson here is that I’m the last person you should come to when it comes to evaluating black TV shows.

As a comedian Jerrod Carmichael, is dark and depressing.  Watching his HBO Special “8” really demonstrates just how dark.  After watching that show, I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had heard that Carmichael had walked off set and hung himself in his dressing room.  That’s a viewpoint that isn’t exactly reflected in his sitcom, but then, I’ve no idea what happens during production.

The show’s season finale airs August 9th, but I would still recommend the show in whatever streaming platform it lands on.  It’s a sitcom with real issues and laughs, and it’s damn near impossible to find that combination.

 

 

 

Yet Another Alt-History Show, but PC Approved

On the heels of the pearl clutching involved with the proposed HBO series, Confederate, comes yet another alternate history take; this time meant to be the reverse image of Confederate, Amazon’s Black America.

It envisions an alternate history where newly freed African Americans have secured the Southern states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama post-Reconstruction as reparations for slavery, and with that land, the freedom to shape their own destiny. The sovereign nation they formed, New Colonia, has had a tumultuous and sometimes violent relationship with its looming “Big Neighbor,” both ally and foe, the United States. The past 150 years have been witness to military incursions, assassinations, regime change, coups, etc. Today, after two decades of peace with the U.S. and unprecedented growth, an ascendant New Colonia joins the ranks of major industrialized nations on the world stage as America slides into rapid decline. 

My first thought is that this actually would be a show I would watch.  This isn’t Amazon’s first foray into Alternate History.  They are currently producing The Man in the High Castle, an alt-history in which the US lost World War II and the country is partitioned between the victorious Japanese and Germans.  Of course, that was a show that I actually thought I would want to watch too, but the execution just seemed boring.  Maybe it’s the source material.  I read Phillip K. Dick’s novel years ago, and of the many alternate history Germans-win-world-war-two books I’ve come across, it was a nine on the dull meter.

Still who knew I would live to see an age when there could possibly be three (counting Confederate) alternate history TV shows?  What an age we live in…

Unlike the backlash (or is it blacklash?) to Confederate, black twitter loves the idea of this show. So this tells me that now Amazon is committed to producing at least one episode for Amazon pilot season, or forever face the wrath of SJW social media. So since I’ll have at least one episode to view, I admit I’m wondering what they’ll do with it, but one thing I’m sure of, New Colonia won’t look like its real universe counterpart, Liberia.  Liberia was supposed to be a promised land for freed slaves, and instead, after a brutal civil war is just one more African semi failed state.

But as the description of the show indicates, New Colonia will be a major industrialized nation, leaving the pasty United States in the dust.  One hopes the producers will at least put some effort into putting together a timeline of the show to explain how that would happen, since currently Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama are not exactly industrial powerhouses.  Here’s an idea producers: After World War II, the New Colonia Armed Forces capture a lot of Nazi scientists and factories and ship them back home, forming the basis of the New Colonia space program.

Well now I’m getting excited about the show, and if it’s successful, how about a crossover special?  My pitch: In the same way that Netflix took several Marvel properties to lead up to a combined series (The Defenders), maybe Confederate and Black America can have a massive crossover event in which The CSA and New Colonia find a way to cross dimensions and discover each other and immediately go to war.  That certainly takes race war to a new, science fiction level.  And which side do you root for?

Hah!

‘Confederate’ TV Show: Commence the Triggering

This just in:

The end of “Game of Thrones” is on the horizon, but creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have already mapped out their next plan at HBO for when they officially depart Westeros.

HBO has given a series order to “Confederate,” a new drama that hails from Benioff and Weiss, Variety has learned. The show has no ties to “Game of Thrones” and is not one of the many potential prequels in development at the network.

“Confederate” chronicles the events leading to the Third American Civil War. The series takes place in an alternate timeline, where the southern states have successfully seceded from the Union, giving rise to a nation in which slavery remains legal and has evolved into a modern institution. The story follows a broad swath of characters on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Demilitarized Zone – freedom fighters, slave hunters, politicians, abolitionists, journalists, the executives of a slave-holding conglomerate and the families of people in their thrall.

Production on “Confederate” will begin after the final season of “Game of Thrones.”

One the one hand, as a big fan of alternate history literature, I would like to see a show that takes on the South winning the Civil War.  It’s an issue that’s been done many times in books.  Writer and historian Harry Turtledove has written an entire series of books, the “Southern Victory” series that goes from the end of a southern victory in the Civil War to the end of an alternate World War II. So it could be fascinating.

But on the other hand…

There has been an incredible backlash on social media.

Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss say they were prepared for the backlash that greeted Wednesday’s announcement of their next TV project, HBO’s alternate-timeline drama Confederate, which imagines slavery as a modern-day institution.

I don’t believe that for a second.  I think they were genuinely caught by surprise.  Because of course, no matter how good a Social Justice Warrior you are, there is always someone further to the left who will be more than happy to institute a pogrom.  After all, we live in the era of #Dunkirksowhite.

So I don’t think the same premium network that took a medieval fantasy like Game of Thrones and made it into a girl power story of breaking the dragonglass ceiling and thinks Lena Dunham nudity is empowering is going to push ahead with a show that their peers oppose as a concept.  Sure, if the Duck Dynasty guys came out in opposition to this show, that might turn things around, but I think the desire to stay on the left side of the twitterverse will strangle this show in the cradle.

And that’s a shame, because this show could have, as they say, started a conversation.  Not a good one maybe, but since plenty on the left want to kick the South out of the union right now, it might be interesting to see what the world would have looked like if they had gotten their wish.

 

 

With 12 Monkeys, Cable tries to Binge

When Netflix started to do original programming and released the entire season at once, I thought, “What an original idea!  But how are you going to keep up the excitement of a show if you release it one shot and you’re done?”  Although it does limit the time frame of “buzz” it turned out to be a successful business model.  People can move at their own pace, which could be anywhere from watching the show on the traditional once a week schedule to all at once, bleary eyes and lost weekend included.

But I was surprised when the Syfy Channel decided to do the same thing for returning show 12 Monkeys. Airing season three over three nights, the network is trying something different.

It’s an odd choice for a cable network.  They have airtime to fill, so why blow an expensive season of an original show over a weekend?  And before you say it, no; this is not like showing successive Twilight Zone episodes over New Years. That’s simply to fill airtime during a period when viewing will be exceptionally low.  But dropping an original show is a streaming service move, which Syfy definitely is not.  So what’s up?

Well after watching Friday night’s initial 4 episode blast, I have to say I agree with both the TV Guide and TV Line reviews: This show was meant to be watched in a binge format.  Having watched Season’s 1 & 2 in the traditional once a week format, you often forget where you left off.  After all, this show is complicated.  Each episode takes place in more than one time period, sometimes with the same characters at different points in their lives. Sometimes, death comes first, as for the character of Dr. Cassandra Railly (Amanda Schull), who’s skeleton was discovered in the very first episode way back in season one.  Sometimes it’s in the middle, like for former asylum patient Jennifer Goines (Emily Hampshire), who’s death was shown last season.  Not to worry though Jennifer fans, her younger self is featured pretty prominently this season.

And a good thing too.  The character steals every single scene she’s in, adding humor in otherwise grim situations without detracting from the grimness of the situations because…well she’s crazy.  So far my favorite episode of the season is episode 2, which is a Jennifer-centric episode.  Jennifer trapped in the past tries to figure out ways to catch the attention of the future so she can be rescued.  It’s entertaining and still moves the plot along.  So more Jennifer.

 

One character that I like, but has been degraded somewhat is Deacon (Todd Stashwick), the formerly ruthless leader of a violent gang in the future.  In earlier seasons, Deacon made a great foil as a villain more interested in looting the time travel facility than saving the human race. Unfortunately, the violent, evil, but witty bad guy has been tamed somewhat by his attraction to Dr. Railly. It’s not the first time on TV and movies an alpha male bad guy has been tamed by love, but it isn’t very realistic.  Hopefully Deacon gets his evil mojo back.

So maybe binge watching cable isn’t a bad idea after all.  Particularly if it encourages the production of more complicated dramas that may be digested better in very large bites, rather than doled out bit by bit on a weekly basis.