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.

 

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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.

 

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!

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.

 

From Dusk till Dawn: The Series

“The film was the short story, the series is the novel.”     Robert Rodriquez

 

That quote from Robert Rodriquez is probably the best answer to the question, why make a TV show from the movie From Dusk till Dawn.  The movie, a combination gangster-vampire-martial arts film, had a great cast and as horror movies go, was pretty entertaining.  But I wouldn’t have thought it was ripe material for a TV series.  And I should say, although making TV from movies is a practice going back almost since the dawn of television, its unusual when the TV series takes the movie plot and stretches it out over 10 to 13 episodes.  It’s a much fuller retelling with more detail, more back story, more characters, in fact, more everything.

I was first clued in on this by a post on another blog promoting the show.  The show runs on the El Rey Network, which I confess I’d never heard of.  I did a little research and found out it was a new cable network started by Robert Rodriguez that intended to focus on the type of films that Robert Rodriquez liked:  Grind house, Kung Fu, and cult horror flicks.  I’m not sure if there is a market for Rodriquez’s personal preferences, but part of the uniqueness of the movie From Dusk till Dawn is that it combined all three, so who knows.

As for the From Dusk till Dawn TV show:

 

Having seen a couple of episodes already, I have to say the show is fulfilling its promises.  This is a high quality production with a great cast and I love the gradual movement from crooks on the run to the supernatural elements, with a much deeper look at the peculiarities of Mayan Vampires.

So if you actually have El Rey on your local cable provider, I would recommend giving this show a look.  They are having a back to back marathon of the show starting with the pilot on April 30th, so it’s not too late to catch up.  Set your DVR and enjoy a Vampire show that pretty much has it all.

 

 

Syfy Needs Show Ideas? I Got ‘em

English: Syfy Logo

English: Syfy Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Syfy Channel is undergoing a change of direction and is going to try a new angle.  Science Fiction TV.  Who would have thunk it?  As the Hollywood Reporter notes:

Almost five years after a rebrand that abandoned the Sci-Fi moniker and enraged fans,

NBC Universal brass is aware that its attempt to lure a broader audience might have lost it some clout in the increasingly lucrative genre that shares its former name. Now Syfy President Dave Howe is trying to rectify the perception problem with changes in the executive ranks that will translate to new programming more familiar to its core audience

“We want to be the best science-fiction channel that we possibly can, and in some respects, that means going back to the more traditional sci-fi/fantasy that fans often say they feel we’ve exited,” Howe tells THR. “We’re going to occupy that space in a way we haven’t for the past few years.”

It’s about time.  I was despairing of seeing much of real science fiction on this channel.  So to help them produce a show that does not include ghost hunting, reality, wrestling, or a ghost, a werewolf, and a vampire, here is an idea I would like to pitch to the network big wigs:

 

The Pitch:  Space Pirates!

My son and I came up with this idea while waiting for pizza, so it didn’t take a lot of time to bounce this around.  I mean, we weren’t writing a novel; this is for TV.

Basic Concept:  This takes place about 150 years in the future.  The asteroid belt is a vast source of wealth in minerals to send to Earth.  The belt is settled by a variety of miners, failed miners, nonconformists, and various religious, ideological, and ethnic groups that live in all sorts of habitats from O’Neil Space Colonies to hollowed out asteroids.  They support themselves by trading minerals for supplies that they need from Earth.  Although they think of themselves as independent, Earth doesn’t recognize them as such.

Pilot:  Earth’s main space elevator is destroyed in a terrorist attack and a previously unknown belt terrorist group takes credit.  The UN agency responsible for trading with the belt enlists a fleet of space warships from the various national space navies to get revenge on the belt and take over the mining operations for Earth.  Even though the belt has no military to speak of, they hastily form a committee to prepare for the military attack from Earth and enlist mining ships and crew as privateers, offering a bounty for each destroyed or captured earth vessel and their crews, who they hope they can ransom back to Earth.

The Characters:  A roguish belt captain who disdains everything of Earth and loves the freedom that his ship gives him.  Think a Malcolm Reynolds type.  His antagonist is a young, newly minted skipper an American warship assigned to the UN fleet.  He is an earnest, all American duty-honor-country type who believes in what he’s doing, which is stopping terrorism.  Think Captain America.  They spend the first season in a cat and mouse game of attack-counterattack.

Subplots:  Yes, the terrorist attack on the space elevator is what else?  A false flag attack by “corporate interests” that don’t want to pay for the minerals they are buying from the belt, and need a reason to wipe out the belt culture so they can grab them instead of paying.

Story Arc:  I prefer stand alone episodes.  That’s the problem with TV today is that you can’t just sit down and watch an episode of a drama cold and know what’s going on.  But I envision one story arc for the first season. The two space captains begin to find clues that the attack on the space elevator was an inside job.  Over the course of the season they discover the conspiracy and realize that they are really on the same side.

Gimmicks:  There should be at least one space battle per episode of the submarine vs destroyer type or the aircraft carriers sending their planes out to destroy each other type.  Not to mention some good old fashioned firing broadsides at each other’s ship.  This will provide variety but at the same time will be familiar enough to be understandable. Of course, the primary weapon should be linear accelerators firing… cannon balls!  I tried to explain this concept to a friend of mine who found nothing remarkable about linear accelerators firing globes of iron as a kinetic energy weapon.  But the point is…Space Pirates!  With Space Cannonballs!

When not using their main drives to move around, the ships unfurl solar sails that both collect electricity and of course provide cheap low speed propulsion from solar radiation.  Again, sailing ships, it’s all about the Space Pirates.

So there you go Syfy.  One series idea for you, and I ask very little in return, merely the enjoyment of watching an entertaining science fiction TV show.

Oh and producer’s credits and a percentage of the gross.

 

 

 

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The Lena Dunham Demographic

Lying in bed watching Saturday Night Live last night, imagine my surprise when Lena Dunham was highlighted as the guest host.  Dunham, really?  I thought to myself.  I was curious if the typical SNL viewer even knew who Lena Dunham was.  Star and head writer of the HBO series Girls, it’s hard to gauge how much pop culture cred she has.  Despite the phenomenon of buzz, of which this show has plenty, it is on HBO, which is a limited universe of viewers.  However ratings have gone up.  The show has improved in its current 3rd season from season 2’s average of 632,000 viewers to 1.1 million for season three.

Why is this important?  I have no idea, and that’s part of the fascination I suppose.  Lena Dunham and her show would normally have been something that would never have come to my attention.  She is a millennial writing a show about millennials for millennials.  As either a tail end baby boomer or post boomer, however you want to count it; I should have no interest in this group.  And I don’t.  That is the Pajama Boy generation.

But when Girls premiered in 2012, my universe of blogs that I read, that generally lean right, blew up about the show.  I could not figure out what the interest was from the right side of the aisle. So I set aside time to watch the first season.

My first observation, which apparently is the same as virtually everyone else’s is, what’s up with all the nudity?  Of course there has been so much written about the nudity on that show it’s pointless for me to rehash it (although that’s a tricky search string if you want to Google it), since I share some of the criticism of the show’s nudity.   But much of that criticism seems to be mean spirited.  As if the criticism is being used as a way to insult Lena Dunham on the sly. I mean, how often do you hear TV critics berate a show and its star because the show has too much nudity?  In fact, in a rather well publicized incident in January, during a panel discussion a TV critic made a comment critical of the amount of nudity on the show.  Of course TV critics are not complaining about the nudity of other premium cable shows, just this one, since Dunham is pudgy and covered with some fairly hideous back and arm tattoos.  When people constantly tell you that they hate seeing you nude, that’s gotta sting.

On last night’s SNL, the over the top nudity was mocked in one of the few funny skits of the episode.

My second and frankly my last observation on the show are the incredible self absorption and narcissism of the characters.  To me, virtually all of the characters are unlikable.  And honestly, I can’t tell if Dunham is writing the characters that way because she is mocking her generation, or if it’s because she is so inculcated into the introspection of her generation she can’t see what horrible human beings they appear to be on the screen.  Then again, to another millennial, these characters may seem perfectly normal.  So after watching the first season of the show, I could judge that I found the show interesting, but totally devoid of entertainment.  I was interested in why the characters were presented the way they were, and why lines were written a certain way, but I could care less about the characters.

The only way these horrible creatures could be redeemed would be if there was a mash up with some other show.  I would like see all of the Girls characters on The Walking Dead.  A one episode special in which they all suddenly had to deal with real survival issues rather than texting on their phones would give me the closure I crave.  None would survive the episode of course.  Now that’s entertainment!

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