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

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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.

 

 

 

Almost Star Trek Beyond Caring

Warning: Very spoilery.

As a long time Star Trek Fan, each new Star Trek movie is reason enough to do something special, like take a day off from work so I can enjoy the movie during a normal workday, without the large crowds of evening or weekend showings.  And that is what I did for the latest outing from the Star Trek franchise, Star Trek Beyond.  Like the previous movie, Star Trek into Darkness, the title made no sense and had nothing to do with the actual film.  This is all part of the JJ Abrams school of secrecy that wants to keep as little information about the movie as possible from leaking out.  If 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, had been done by JJ Abrams, it would have simply been titled Star Trek Wrath.  No spoilers on the villain!  Of course Abrams had a lighter touch for this iteration of the film franchise (Justin Lin directed).  He was only a producer, not a director for this one, which probably explains the paucity of lens flares.

star trek beyond

The rebooted Star Trek movies are action movies, so Justin Lin, of the Fast and Furious movies, makes an adequate director for that type of film.  This irritates a lot of old school Star Trek fans, who don’t see Gene Roddenberry’s philosophical vision in the rebooted Star Trek films.  However for me, that’s a feature, not a bug.  Roddenberry’s “vision” was of a communist utopia that even in the realm of science fiction, made no sense.  It was easier to make up the technobabble of transporters, holodecks, and faster than light travel then explain why they don’t need money and no one is drawing a paycheck, but still showing up for work every day.

There is another reason of course.  That kind of film just wouldn’t fly todayMark Wolper, son of the man who brought Roots to life on the small screen in the 1970’s sat his 16 year old son down to watch the original Roots with disappointing results. His son just didn’t get it, it didn’t speak to him, and the production style was just too different.  In other words, much of the movies and television shows that are considered classics now are basically unwatchable to millennials and younger.  I got a taste of this myself when a few months ago I had a hankering to pull up a particular episode from Star Trek, TOS on Netflix.  Although I enjoyed the episode and it was everything I remembered about it, it was also extremely slow moving, and slow paced compared to modern television and movies.  Since I seldom dip back into decades old TV, it was eye-opening for me.  If Star Trek is to survive, it has to be faster paced and more action packed than anything conceived of by Gene Roddenberry.

And that’s what the new movie gets right.  It’s a visually stunning picture with great special effects, fast moving, with great action sequences, and is finally starting to tap into some of the relationships that made Star Trek work in the first place.  Karl Urban’s Doctor McCoy is pitch perfect and the movie highlights some of the old Spock-Bones rivalry that played so well on TOS and the original movies.  Chris Pine seems more like Kirk and I would argue that the entire crew cast finally fits into their roles comfortably. If you knew nothing about Star Trek and were just looking for an outer space shoot-‘em-up while waiting for Rogue One to come out, this movie admirably fits the bill.

If you are a Star Trek fan it might be a different story.

In the tradition of JJ Abrams, it’s a great movie to watch, but as soon as you exit the theater and get hit with the harsh summer sunshine, you suddenly realize that the movie that you just watched and enjoyed made no sense.

starbase yorktown

The first thing that made no sense to me was Starbase Yorktown. It just seemed illogical (with apologies to Mr. Spock) to me that 3 years into a 5 year mission to explore unexplored space, the Federation has a starbase as large as the Death Star on the frontier of known space. Visually it’s stunning, it’s like a giant moon sized snow globe, but it also looks ridiculous; something that no one would build regardless of how much money and technology they had.  If you can build something like that, why bother with planets?

But the silliness of the design of a star base isn’t a large plot point.  Having a ridiculous villain is, and Idris Elba’s character Krall is a ridiculous villain.  The alien Krall looks like he put super glue all over his face and dived headfirst into a box of gravel, but the worst part is that Krall isn’t an alien at all; he’s really a human, from an early Federation starship.

I told you this was going to be spoilery.

So this early starship, the USS Franklin, crash lands on this planet with an abandoned alien mining facility, and yada yada yada, the Captain, Balthazar Edison is transformed into some sort of long lived, energy draining rock face who has a totally inexplicable reason for hating the Federation and decides to use the mining facility as a launching pad to prepare an attack against the Federation.  Again, his motivations are pretty unclear except for some vague Nietzsche-like desire to purge the Federation of weakness. Idris Elba is totally wasted in this role.  Any buff guy who can handle rock make up could have pulled it off.

The USS Franklin is it’s own level of ridiculousness, since even though Krall/Edison was the captain of that ship and crashed on that planet, he somehow managed to forget all about it so thoroughly that one of his escapees Jaylah used it as a refuge and was slowly working to repair it.  Jaylah, played by Sofia Boutella, actually was one of the more interesting characters and had such a good chemistry with Scotty that I wouldn’t mind if she joined the crew for the next movie.  However could she have done such a good job that Chekov could make the more than a century old ship space worthy in a few hours?  It just doesn’t make sense.

Although I had a lot of high hopes when I heard that Simon Pegg was writing the script, I came away underwhelmed.  Parts of the movie seemed like they were patched on from other movies.  Like in 2009’s Star Trek, this movie made heavy use of the Beastie Boys Sabotage. Now kudos for discovering how good Sabotage is for an action scene, and the battle scene with Sabotage playing is actually kind of cool, but we had already seen that used in a Star Trek movie.  They seriously couldn’t find another piece of music that would work?

Nor was I happy that they destroyed the Enterprise again. Somehow, that ship had managed to last the entire original series up till Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.  Now, barely into the 5 year mission and the ship is already toast.  Even some of the destruction scenes seemed like retreads.  Didn’t I see that same saucer section crash scene in Star Trek Generations?  The Enterprise’s destruction in previous movies was because they were simply out of ideas, but if they are already out of ideas on the third movie into a rebooted franchise, what’s the point?  Once you destroy the ship that is as much of a cast member as any of the actors, you lose the ability to keep the crew together in any way that makes sense. If you think this might be your last movie, than go for it, but since there is already a commitment for a fourth movie, why make script writing more difficult for yourself for the next movie?

The movie ends with a montage of the new Enterprise being assembled.  After building a moon sized Star Base, I imagine a starship is child’s play.  My only surprise was that they didn’t play Eye of the Tiger during the rapid fire scenes of the new Enterprise’s assembly, interspersed with shots of Kirk and the crew working out in the snow. Given the limited amount of imagination and originality allotted to this film, I won’t be on the edge of my seat awaiting Star Trek 4: The Revenge of Ivan Drago, or whatever “villain” they determine they need to make the movie work.

So it’s a credit to the people who bring us such movie magic that they actually put together an enjoyable film from such a weak script.  But however disappointed I am in a limited story, they have a chance to make it up to me in January with the new Star Trek TV show, Star Trek Discovery.

Don’t disappoint me, even though I’ll watch it anyway.

 

Winter TV Watching

My whole TV world changed a few weeks ago when my wife came home from work and announced that she was going to drop Cable and go to Direct TV.  I had always been suspicious of Direct TV since I assumed weather would be a factor in viewing far more than was the case with cable.  And I was never sure how much weather would make a difference.  However television service was one of those responsibilities I had delegated to my wife so I had little choice but to go along.

So far, it’s not a disappointment.  In fact, the advantages seem to outweigh the disadvantages by a considerable amount. With an 800 hour capacity DVR, I’m taking advantage of 3 months of free premium channels to pack it with a year’s worth or more of movies.  And the interface and system seem to be far more modern than what I had with cable.  Being able to be in my office and watch something recorded on the DVR is an advantage I didn’t know I needed until I got it.  What a convenience!

And the weather issue?  It is real.  So far on two separate occasion’s bad weather has resulted in a loss of signal, one while watching one show while recording two more.  All things being equal, being able to record 5 shows while watching one at the same time more than makes up for the infrequent weather issues.  At least I think the weather issues are infrequent.  The summer rainy season in Florida may be an issue.  Summer is coming…

With a high capacity DVR, I’m juggling more TV show plates than ever.  Here is a sample of some of the newer shows I’m watching now:
Shannara

MTV, yes, that MTV, has a new fantasy show called The Shannara Chronicles.  It’s based on series of fantasy books which I’ve never read, but it has all of the usual elves, trolls, and so forth, but the hook is that it takes place in a future post apocalyptic Earth, not some other world like Middle-Earth or GoT.  I’ve watched a couple of episodes and I like it. The show is filmed in New Zealand so the scenery is gorgeous. But what is really surprising is how good the digital and costume effects are.  I didn’t expect this kind of quality effort from MTV.  As for the show itself, it strikes me as Lord of the Rings meets the CW; hot elves flirting and dating while demons threaten the world.  Maybe they should have called it Shannara 90210.

Supergirl, yes Supergirl. I find the show enjoyable, despite its flaws.  On the other hand, maybe because of its flaws and let me tell you, this show has them!  Most of the problems of the show can be summed up in a Saturday Night Live parody trailer for a Black Widow movie:

Yes, it’s Supergirl, played as a romantic comedy.  There is the hot guy Supergirl desires, Jimmy (excuse me, James) Olsen, who is dating someone else, and there is the friendzoned work friend, who wallows in his self pity, but he is such a good friend that Supergirl would never want to change what they have.

So yes, you have seen this movie before.  However the show does have its own charms.  Calista Flockhart plays Supergirl’s media mogul boss Cat Grant with a hypercharged, manic gusto.  All words I would never have thought to use in relation to Calista Flockhart.  But the selfish, driven, work-is-all boss with the secret heart of gold probably gives the show its best moments.  Will a Superhero themed romcom attract the woman viewer?  No idea.

The Magicians is a new Syfy show that can best be described as Harry Potter goes to Graduate School, because that’s the setting of the show, a secret, magical grad school hidden away in upstate New York.
Magicians

The magic seems a little less ridiculous, although still magic, and it’s treated like alcohol or drugs; enjoyable but potentially addictive and very dangerous if misused (and it’s misused often apparently). The problems are more adult; or perhaps specifically young adult.  Finding your place in the world and of course relationships seems to drive a lot of the action.  There is even their own version of Voldemort; “The Beast.”  Apparently Brakebills University has a similar policy as Hogwarts; keep every threat and danger secret even when people start dying.  Nothing says school administrator like keeping everyone in the dark.  I give this show two and half wands.

Limitless is not only based on the movie of the same name, but it’s more or less a sequel to it. Bradley Cooper, who was the star of the film, has a recurring role as his movie character, now Senator Eddie Morra.  The new victim/recipient of the brain enhancing drug NZT is Brian Finch, a loser wanna be musician, who comes across NZT, likes it, and stumbles across both the FBI and Senator Morra.  Since the film, Morra has figured out a treatment to prevent the mental and physical decline from prolonged NZT use and offers it to Brian if he will be a mole for him inside the FBI.  The FBI wants Brian because they think his Morra supplied treatments are a natural immunity, so they hire him as a consultant, both to study him to see if they can reverse engineer his immunity to the deleterious effects of NZT and take advantage of his NZT enhanced IQ to solve cases.
Limitless

This show really works because Jake McDorman, who plays Brian, is exceedingly likable.  He plays Brian as basically a good guy who is forced to spy and betray his new FBI friends.  He’s also one of the few regular pot smokers on network TV.  His bong is a prominent accessory of his apartment.  You don’t usually see that in a crime drama.  The show’s breaking of the 4th wall makes this different from most shows on TV and fun to watch.  I ended up liking this show much more than I thought I would.  It’s fun.

If I were to cram every childish, pulpy thing I liked into one show, I couldn’t have done a better job than DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. It has superheroes, it has time travel, and it has a super villain.  I mean, that’s one delicious stew. And it’s all sitting in the same universe as Arrow and The Flash. It’s not surprising since many of the characters are side characters borrowed from those two shows.

The premise is, 150 years from now, an immortal super villain, Vandal Savage, conquers the world, so Rip Hunter, one of the “Time Masters” decides to go back in time to stop him from ever getting that far.  To do that, he goes back to 2016 to assemble a team of heroes and villains from the Arrow/Flash universe to travel in time with him to stop Savage before he gets to conquer the world.

Well, I did say it was childish and pulpy.  But it’s also fun too.

One of my more oddball shows that I’m trying out is You, Me, and the Apocalypse.  Now I love a good Apocalypse, and TV and movies have often tried to put a comic spin to the idea with movies as diverse as Night of the Comet,and  Zombieland to This is the End, and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.  Not to mention TV’s Last Man on Earth. With 34 days to live before an asteroid renders Earth uninhabitable, a diverse group of people worldwide end up following paths that will somehow cross…I’m not sure how but the show is throwing out clues left or right.  With a great cast (Rob Lowe, Jenna Fischer, and Megan Mullally) and a tight, well written script, this show is growing on me. And Megan Mullally as Leanne, an escaped neo Nazi prisoner on the run with housewife and Librarian Rhonda (Jenna Fischer), provides some of the shows funniest moments.  The word for this show is intriguing. I’ve not seen anything quite like this on TV before and I like it.

Another new show I’m kicking the tires on is Second Chance. Just a guess, but I don’t think this show is going to be around too long.  The premise is that a grumpy and disagreeable retired Sheriff is murdered and brought back to life by a Google like company run by twins, one of whom is dying of cancer.  So after conventional treatments fail, just bring someone back from the dead and use their blood as an anti cancer treatment.  Pretty standard medical procedure right?  The entire bringing someone back from the dead angle sounds totally implausible.  And I mean by Science Fiction standards.  People come back from the dead all the time in science fiction and fantasy shows, but it’s either with “magic” or some sort of semi plausible technobabble that sort of, kind of, makes sense.  Not this time; it’s just technobabble. Maybe if I could like the characters more, I could get pass that.  But so far, only the tech genius twins seem likable.

There are those who might think I’ve bitten off more than I can chew in TV watching.  Maybe some critics might think I’ve let the hubris of an 800 hour DVR cloud my thinking on what’s practical to watch.  Only time, and a full DVR can say for sure.

 

 

Syfy Trying Science Fiction this Year

After years of trying everything but science fiction, from nerd reality shows, to Wrestling, it looks like the Syfy channel is coming home.

We’ve missed you.

ascensionWe started to see a few science fiction toes dip in the water with last December’s miniseries event, Ascension,   The 6 hour show, played over three nights, is the story of a secret nuclear powered generational starship, launched in 1963, on its way to Alpha Centauri.  The story is set in the present day as the ship reaches the half way point; there are factions on the ship that want to turn the ship around to head to earth.  Meanwhile on Earth the son of the founder of the Ascension program is doing his best to maintain the earth end of the program and keep it a secret.  There is a very big spoiler involved in all of this which I found absolutely delicious, and definitely defies your conceptions of what this show really is, however it’s nice to see an adult drama in a science fiction setting.  We’ve not really had a space opera like that since Battlestar Galactica.  In fact, that’s probably how the show was pitched; Mad Men meets Battlestar Galactica.  There is definitely a cultural stuck in amber effect since the crew left earth in the early 1960’s, without the benefit of women’s lib or the civil rights movement.  However the ship culture has evolved in interesting ways, and featured some political maneuvering that tops House of Cards in plausible political chess play.  Unfortunately this show wasn’t picked up, but even so, I recommend watching the miniseries when it’s available on DVD or for In Demand and streaming.

And January was the season two premiere of Helix.  This is another show that isn’t exactly what I thought it would be.  BeforeHelix season one, just based on watching the promos and trailers I would have guessed Zombies meet Andromeda Strain.  However after watching the entirety of Season one, I can’t come up with a simple description of the premise, so I really don’t know how it was pitched to the networks.  Maybe they actually did pitch it as Zombies meet Andromeda Strain and then decided to do their own thing. In any case, it worked, and season two seemed to start off as almost an entirely new show, with the same characters but facing some entirely new challenges.  I guess I’m excited about this show because I can’t guess what they’re doing.  It’s nice to be surprised with good writing without resorting to the multitude of common TV tropes.

The TV adaptation of 12 Monkeys also premiered in January.  This time travel episodic TV series is based on the movie, but diverges quite a bit in order to make episodic TV work.  The basic plot is that in the plague decimated year of 2043, a small group of scientists are trying to send someone back in time to stop the virus from killing off 7 billion people in the first place.  12 MonkeysThe show takes it’s time travel seriously and takes its characters seriously.  We don’t know much about the villains yet, but the heroes are flawed and have done some terrible things to save the world, and sometimes, their motives reveal much more personal motives than world saving.  It’s a great show and apparently enough people agree with me so that it’s already been renewed for another season.

 

And there seems to be even more, hard SF in store this year for Syfy.  2015 (sometime this year) should see the introduction of The Expanse, a space opera set within a future colonized solar system in which people living in the asteroid belt are oppressed by Earth and our heroes stumble across some sort of conspiracy.  The show sounded suspiciously like the Space Pirate idea that my son and I came up with last year over pizza.  I was almost on the phone with my attorneys, Dewey, Cheatum, & Howe, when I read that the Expanse is based on a book series by James S. A. Corey.  You may have gotten away with it this time Syfy…

Also in 2015 (again, sometime this year) two more space opera type shows are being produced for Syfy, Dark Matter is about a spaceship crew that come out of suspended animation with no memories of who they are and what they are doing there.  There is a lot of room for mystery there.  Also coming up is Killjoys about, who else, interplanetary bounty hunters. So take that Boba Fett.  That’s a lot of real science fiction on air.  So its good news, but I also hope it’s good science fiction.

 

 

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 exempted).  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.