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.

 

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.