Batwoman Crashes and Burns

I didn’t know who Ruby Rose was when she was cast as the main lead in Batwoman. She didn’t seem to have the physicality for the role (too thin) and was covered with weird, grotesque tattoos, but I thought, “Eh, I’ve been wrong before in casting choices,” so I was content to see how it played out.

Not that great in my opinion.  I realize official fan reaction was enthusiastic; with “official fan” being defined as the editorial guidance of nerd fan sites.  Greg Berlanti, the father of the CW Arrowverse and gay himself, specifically was looking for an LGBT actress to play the role.  Unfortunately that narrows down the choices available, so I imagine that’s how he ended up with Ruby Rose.

The show itself was so gay that Will & Grace looked straight by comparison.  Almost every subplot was gay related. Kate Kane gets kicked out of military school after being caught in flagrante delicto with her girlfriend, comes back to Gotham years later after training herself up to Bat-standards, runs into her old girlfriend who’s now married to a guy, and proceeds to try to break up her marriage and get her back.  She successfully breaks up her girlfriend’s marriage (but doesn’t get her back), starts a gay bar, romances several other girls, listens to Rachel Maddow… it’s just one rainbow flag after another.

Oh and also fights crime.

Now imagine if there was a show about a Bat crime fighter, only instead of a proud and out lesbian, it’s a straight man (I know, crazy right?  But just pretend for a minute).  This “Bat-Man” tracks down an old flame, tries to break up her marriage, and continually stalks her throughout the season, all the while developing a side business of a hook up bar and listening to Manosphere podcasts.

He would be a Bat-creep right?  But it’s different when she does it…

So with the conclusion of Season 1, Ruby Rose abruptly quits the show for reasons, and Warner Brothers thanks her for service and immediately vow to recast the character:

“…look forward to sharing its new direction, including the casting of a new lead actress and member of the LGBTQ community, in the coming months.”

So they are vowing to repeat their dumb mistake, and limit their choices once again.  Although… I admit I might really look forward to Ellen Degeneres as Batwoman, but it doesn’t seem like the producers would find that as funny as I would.  Hopefully Rue Paul is still in the running…  I don’t think the record on recasting the lead character on television shows is a particularly good one, but this seems to be an ideological imperative.

So I’m very much in the minority on this, but I regard Batwoman Season 1 as a failed experiment.  I wouldn’t recommend recasting your lead and doubling down on the same mistake.  If it were me, I would:

  1. Have another character take on the Batwoman mantle.
  2. Turn the show into a more ensemble show of a team of many Bat-related characters.

Obviously the producers are not going to do that since it would be an admission that season one was in fact a failed experiment, but in both scenarios, there is a rather large Bat-family of characters to draw on, including one already on the show, Camrus Johnson plays Batwoman’s man Friday Luke Fox, who in the comics becomes Batwing.  Both options allow for a long term “whatever happened to Kate Kane?” storyline.  And of course, the show should keep the villain ‘Alice’, played by Rachel Skarsten.  Skarsten’s performance as the crazed Alice was one of the few highlights of the season.

Whatever they decide, we won’t see the finished product until 2021, so they have plenty of time to tweak the concept (which they won’t).  It seems like a lot of trouble to save a show that last saw over a million viewers during the Crisis crossover. But I suppose sometimes it’s about making a statement, even if the statement is a dumb one.

 

 

Quick HBO Reviews: Post Game of Thrones Edition

A year ago, watching the season finale of Game of Thrones with my wife, I watched Jon Snow knife his aunt/lover Daenerys, watch as a dragon flew Aunt Dani’s body to who knows where, watch a council of randos decide the future of the 7 (now 6) Kingdoms, and finally, in a case of Law & Order: King’s Landing Unit, see Jon Snow plead down regicide to exile.

Me: “Well that was nice, time to go to bed…”

Wife: “Noooooooooooo!”

Me: “Be sure and cancel HBO in the morning.”

In spite of the betrayal of my wife and millions of others at the hands of the Game of Thrones showrunners (she read the books, poor thing), she did not in fact, cancel HBO, in spite of my monthly requests for her to do so upon receiving the cable bill. So in the year since GoT went off the air, millions of HBO subscribers have wondered, “With Game of Thrones gone is HBO worth it?”  My response to my wife right after GoT wrapped was clear.

So a year later, we still have HBO. I’ve watched a couple of the shows the network has tossed up just to justify the fact that we’re paying for even more TV in an age in which we’re inundated with content from streaming services and already have more to watch than we have actual free time to do the watching.

Years and Years

From the time I saw a trailer for this BBC/HBO limited series, I knew that the only reason this show existed was because of, who else, Trump.

The show tracks a dysfunctional family in the UK over a series of decades in the future; a future created by Trump engaging in a nuclear attack because, of course he would. The show can be summarized as, in the future everyone is gay and refugees are good, with a few Black Mirror-like touches thrown in.

Rating: Garbage Pail

Euphoria

Compared to Euphoria, Years and Years is good, wholesome family fun.  One almost never finds a reason to use the word “degeneracy” in our degenerate times.  When everything’s degenerate, nothing is, but this show, yeah is degenerate. So naturally it’s renewed for season 2. If you’ve always felt that what television lacks are gym scenes with 20 or so wagging penises, this is the show for you.

Rating: Bleech

His Dark Materials

 

This fantasy show is based on series of books by Philip Pullman, which I admit, I don’t get.  I saw the movie, The Golden Compass; found it boring, and watched this TV treatment, and also found it boring. Verdict?  The show is true to the source material.

Rating: Zzzzzzz

 

Avenue 5

This is supposed to be a SF comedy.  Well, I guess technically It’s sort of science fiction, but the comedy is thin, unless you think a crowd of stupid people yelling at each other is funny. The premise is that in the near future, a space cruise ship, through a series of unfortunate events, goes off course and is not able to return to earth for 6 years.  Since the ship is filled with typical cruise ship passengers, every interaction between crew and passenger is both annoying and stupid. They even managed to stretch the Karen meme (I want to see the manager) for the entire season. Great cast, but they are totally wasted in this pay cable Love Boat in space.

Rating: Loud Screeching

Westworld (Season 3)

After the debacle of season 2, I had no intention on wasting any more time with Westworld.  I should have learned my lesson many JJ Abrams shows ago, but then I saw some of the trailers for season 3 and thought to myself, “man that looks pretty good.”

So they sucked me back in.

Well fool me once, shame on you JJ Abrams, but fool me a couple of times…then I have to own this one.  The first few episodes started off promising, as if the show was really going somewhere substantial, but the closer it got to a payoff, the quicker it degenerated into the typical JJ Abrams no-idea-where-this-is-going, so just have some good special effects.  Ultimately, little of this made sense, just like season 2.

Rating: Cruelly Disappointing

 

The Outsider

If there was one saving grace from the past year of HBO shows, it would be The Outsider.  Based on a Stephen King novel, this show starts in a small Georgia town as a local paragon of the community is accused of a brutal child murder only to have contradictory accounts showing he seemed to be in two places at once.  Great story; great cast, and satisfying conclusion.

But still, it doesn’t justify paying for HBO for an entire year.  So if it’s not obvious by now, this entire post is a passive aggressive plea to my wife to save us some money and cancel this darn thing.  You don’t even watch HBO!

Picard Season One Finale: A Bad Copy

A few weeks ago I posted about the Star Trek: Picard series streaming on CBS All Access. I addressed the usual super fan complaints that accompany any new Star Trek venture, “Is this Star Trek?” and of course, “this sucks.”  I concluded that yes indeed, this was a Star Trek show, and a good one.  I was really enjoying it!

I was wrong. I apologize.

For me everything was going great until the two part season finale, Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 & 2.  So be warned, everything beyond this point is super spoiler territory.

Although I was not on board with every decision along the way to get to the season finale, such as the whitewashing of the murder of Bruce Maddox by Dr Jurati, I assumed that in the finale things would wrap up in a satisfactory way.  Nope.  Instead…

Doctor Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill):  As a cold blooded murderer, I expected either a redemption arc or a justice one.  Instead there was neither.  Jurati killed Maddox, the person that got the crew together to find in the first place, and then after promising to turn herself in, everyone just sort of shrugged and forgot about it.  She goes on to become a full-fledged member of Picard’s Scooby gang with no more mention that she’s a murderer and hey, maybe Maddox, a brilliant scientist, deserved some sort of justice.

Soji (Isa Briones): Soji started out as easily the most sympathetic character, a girl who didn’t understand what was happening to her, and then realizing that all of her memories were false and she wasn’t even human, but a sophisticated android. But then as her memories of her prior robot life return, the Soji that we’ve known through the series became effectively dead.  Soji 2.0 goes from being worried about whether she was human or not, to deciding to initiate galaxy wide Armageddon on biological sentient life by contacting the mysterious synthetic race that wipes out biological species that discriminate against robots.  That was a pretty quick turnaround from, “Am I human?” to “Destroy all humans!” Skynet would be proud.  And now she’s part of Picard’s Scooby gang.  I guess attempted genocide is an easily forgivable crime in the 24th Century.

The Romulans:  Surprisingly the Romulans, in spite of being Romulans, come out looking pretty good.  Having lost their homeworld in the Supernova, the scary Romulan Star Empire is a shadow of its former self.  The “Romulan Free State” is a much weaker version, not even able to enforce the Neutral Zone any more.  For all intents and purposes, there is no longer a Neutral Zone.  And still, they are trying to save the universe from the utter stupidity of Picard and the Federation.  Their super duper secret police, the Zhat Vash, has known about the advanced genocidal synthetics all along, and have worked to suppress advanced AI and robotics anywhere and everywhere to avoid attracting their attention.  This explains the motivation of the Romulan spies Narek, Narissa, and Commodore Oh.  They want to keep the galaxy safe from a far superior race which has exterminated entire biological races before and apparently seem willing to do it again.

And yet they are the “villains.”

The Star Trek Ending:  I’ve complained before about the complete hand waving that seems to go along with closing out the conflicts of a Star Trek storyline by a Starfleet officer giving an impassioned speech, and suddenly the enemy lays down his arms and turns his swords into plowshares.  The power of a self-righteous Starfleet speech is apparently not to be underestimated, as I noted about the Discovery season one finale in which Burnham gives the Klingon Chancellor one and the Chancellor calls off the attack on Earth, even though at this point the Klingons had all but won the war and their fleet was just outside the solar system, ready for orders.  This highlights one of the major flaws of the Star Trek worldview, it loves diversity, but as I noted about the Discovery finale, ultimately doesn’t believe in it.

“…the solution to the war wasn’t found in delivering a decisive military defeat on the enemy, but by adherence to the Federation’s highest principles, and assuming (always correctly) that everyone else in the universe at some deep down level, shares those same principles.”

So Picard gives an impassioned speech to Soji, and she changes her mind about eliminating every biological species in the galaxy, just like that.

I wonder how that would have played out throughout history…

Starfleet vs The American Revolution

Picard:  As an opponent of Brexit, I implore you to lay down your arms and end this senseless conflict.  Think about the lives lost…the waste.

General Washington:  Your words have moved me Admiral.  We started this struggle because we were moved by the writings of enlightenment thinkers, and the very real threat to our right to have representation, but eh, whatever, God Save the King!

Picard:  Actually we’re replacing the monarchy with a Federation Council.

Starfleet vs Hitler

Picard: …and that is why, Herr Hitler, you must lay down your arms, cease this pointless conflict to conquer Europe, and stop killing people based on religion and ethnicity.

Hitler:  You have enlightened me Admiral.  I never realized that Slavs, Jews, and Gypsies shared the same hopes and dreams as Aryans.  I could have saved so many bullets if I had known that!  And yes, my dream of establishing a united Europe, a common market united under a single currency with open borders was a foolish hope.

Picard: Wait, what?  Hold up a second…

Starfleet vs Osama bin Ladin

Picard: …and that’s why, in spite of 9/11, you’ll find that people are pretty forgiving if you pen a sincere apology for your actions and resolve to do better.

Bin Ladin: Admiral you truly bring wisdom surpassing all of our Mullahs.  In fact, you’ve convinced me that not only are you wiser than our best religious thinkers, but that all religion is but primitive superstition and that mankind is ready to evolve into a more enlightened species, ready to achieve utopia on Earth via the mechanisms of advanced AI, automation, and universal basic income.

Picard: #Yanggang2020.

Data (Brent Spiner):  Although the character has been dead since the end of the movie Star Trek: Nemesis, his presence has loomed large on the show as Picard, even years later, still struggled dealing with the grief and guilt of Data sacrificing his “life” to save Picard’s.  So in the finale, Picard meets Data again, or at least a copy of his memories, in a computer simulation.  As a final chat, it’s rather touching, as Data requests that when Picard gets out of the simulation, he deletes the Data memory copy.  As a character who struggled with being human, he wants an ending to his story; “a butterfly that lives forever is really not a butterfly at all.”  It’s a nice speech in which Data makes a point that everything about life has value because it’s temporary, and it really seemed in tune with the entirety of the season, in which Picard is dealing with his own mortality.

Picard (Patrick Stewart):  Getting back to Picard’s impassioned speechmaking, after making his final one to Soji, he collapses and dies, finally succumbing under the stress to his long battle with Irumodic Syndrome.  His companions mourn him, and if the show had just ended there, all the other flaws could have been easily forgiven.  Instead, they copy Picard’s mind, spin it up in a new robot body, and robot Picard lives.  They even made one that looks like an 93 year old man that’s weak and will break down after a decade or two.  How thoughtful.

Not being a series finale like the Lost ending, it’s probably not fair to compare the two. Also the ending of Lost was simply a result of the writers not being half as clever as they thought they were and they simply wrote themselves into a corner.  With Picard, bringing him back to “life” as an android was a deliberate choice, a choice that made Picard’s character arc, as a man coming to terms with his mortality, and Data’s character arc, as a being who wanted to be human so much he was willing to die like one, essentially pointless.  And pointless as it was, Robot Picard had no trouble deleting Data.  Apparently the writers and showrunners saw not a bit of irony in that.

So the show ends with everyone on the bridge of the ship, Soji, the near genocidal monster, Doctor Jurati, a brutal murderer, and robot Picard, all ready to zoom off into the galaxy for more adventures. For a show and season that I had otherwise enjoyed, that was one of the most stunningly bad season finale’s I’d ever seen.  It’s hard to fathom the deliberate choice of making a mockery of Data’s death (or murder at the hands of robot Picard) and the entire premise of the show by having robot Picard plead for more years of existence to his makers.

I wonder if actual human Picard got a funeral, or did they just dump his carcass in the landfill?  With Picard dead, who gets his Chateau?  It’s a cinch that his Romulan housekeepers, Laris and Zhaban, are not going to consider robot Picard as anything but an abomination, a hideous copy of their dear friend. There is no crying in Star Trek but I do have to mourn what started out as great show and turned into merely a synthetic copy of one.

 

 

 

Star Trek Picard: Is it Real Trek?

I’ve really enjoyed the Star Trek Picard show since it dropped on CBS All Access and in the world of Star Trek television (which is surprisingly a going concern) it’s one of the best going; better than Star Trek Discovery.  But some fans are really annoyed, dismissing the show as “not Star Trek” like these two hate watchers.

But what is and isn’t Star Trek goes back to the premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation, back in 1987.  No Kirk? No Star Trek the thinking went.  And that sort of thinking has accompanied every new Star Trek show.  There was at least a good reason to think that when Star Trek Deep Space 9 came out.  That was a show totally different from the previous two shows, featuring a stationary space station on the edges of the Federation where the Federation and Starfleet only had a toe hold, and aliens set the agenda.  But…as the show grew it produced some of the best Star Trek episodes ever.  However that only happened because Gene Roddenberry died in 1991 before Deep Space Nine premiered in 1993, allowing the show to evolve without Roddenberry’s rigid guidance.

A case was also made that Star Trek: Discovery also, wasn’t Star Trek.  Set 10 years before the original series, it looked and acted nothing like the original series and just didn’t even look as if it was set in the same universe.  The “Klingons” were remade to look like…some other kind of alien.

Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, had progressively gone more nutso commie from the time his Original Series came out as a space western until The Next Generation came out, where the Federation was presented as some sort of utopian commie empire in which society, and the people in them, had reached perfection. This cut into a lot of drama since Roddenberry’s script guidance in TNG was that there could be no interpersonal conflict among crew members because hey, in the future, we all get along. That ridiculous script guidance started to fade before TNG ended its run and wasn’t a factor in subsequent Star Trek outings.  That wasn’t the worst of Roddenberry’s delusion.  As I noted while reviewing Star Trek Beyond:

“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.”

One day, I may take up the challenge of designing a Federation economy, and see if I can squeeze Roddenberry’s dumb view of economics into some sort of technobabble shape, but not today.

So Star Trek: Picard takes place in a far less utopian time in Federation history.  Set approximately 20 years after the events of the last TNG movie, Star Trek: Nemesis, the universe, in Picard’s view, has gone to hell in a handbasket.  Fourteen years earlier, the supernova of the Romulan homeworld’s sun (which kicked off the events that lead to the “Kelvin timeline;” the three JJ Abrams Star Trek movies) had the Federation engaged in a massive refugee relief effort to evacuate Romulans from their doomed system.  The effort was aborted by an android terrorist attack on the shipyards of Mars, killing 92,000 people.  The androids, called “synths” were based off Commander Data’s basic design, and were quickly banned throughout the Federation and the refugee evacuation was halted.

Naturally Picard throws a fit and thinking he could pull opinion at Starfleet (“do you know who I am?”) throws his position on the line, and Starfleet, to Picard’s surprise, takes it, effectively forcing him into retirement.  This is the scenario that actor Patrick Stewart likened to our current age:

“[The show] was me responding to the world of Brexit and Trump and feeling, ‘Why hasn’t the Federation changed? Why hasn’t Starfleet changed?’ Maybe they’re not as reliable and trustworthy as we all thought.”

This is, of course ridiculous.  Both Patrick Stewart and his avatar, Jean-Luc Picard are wrong on this.  This isn’t about Brexit or Trump, it’s more about 9/11, and how you respond to a massive terrorist attack when you don’t know the real cause.  Did the Synths just get together and decide to go full Skynet?  Was it some sort of major malfunction?  Did some other nefarious group reprogram the Synths as an attack on the Federation?   Immediately after the attack, nobody would know, so the prudent thing would be to do exactly what the Federation did, ban Synths and halt the Refugee program.  With the Utopia Planitia Shipyards destroyed, you can’t tie up all of your remaining ships on some do-gooder adventure when you have no idea if or when the next attack is coming.

Why the Romulans couldn’t evacuate their own people is never explained.  They ruled a massive star empire covering many worlds.  It would seem they would have plenty of resources to throw at the problem much closer to home.

But to the question, is Star Trek: Picard “Star Trek,” my answer is unequivocally yes.  In fact, I would argue that it is the most “Star Trek” show since Next Generation.  Picard is a nice coda to TNG.  It’s a “where are they now” view of what happened to the Next Generation crew as well as Star Trek: Voyager and answers the question what happened to the galaxy and the universe of Star Trek since those shows ended. Unlike a show that has Easter eggs, the entire show is one big Easter egg. That’s not an answer that will please some Star Trek fans that have never been able to move on from the original series, but almost never does a successful TV show like TNG gets a series that functions as an aftermath.  Fans should enjoy this.

Fear the Walking Dead finishes Better than it Started

Now with spoilers.

Now that the season four finale has concluded, I’ve got a few things to say. I last wrote about Fear the Walking Dead back in April, and didn’t expect to revisit it.  After all, my review was mostly negative, and I didn’t actually expect the show to get better did I?  I’m not alone in that assessment. The website CBR has a pretty good take on what went wrong with FTWD and it matches up roughly with my own thoughts. And with the season four premiere up through the mid-season finale, it seemed like the same old crappy Fear.

It starts off with some time having passed since the season three finale, with Madison and her surviving crew is now occupying a baseball stadium somewhere in Texas.  However Madison is acting totally out of character. Very differently than the way she has previously been portrayed; less Negan and more Rick and she’s not wrecking every situation she stumbles into.  That of course makes no sense since we’re never shown the character arc that took her from a selfish piece of garbage to a savior. But that’s less important than the fact that the entire story, from episode one to the midseason finale in episode 8, makes no sense because of, you guessed it, erratic time jumps, the entire story was played out of order, for what assumedly are “artistic” reasons, but story wise are just a distraction, since you never know from one scene to the next where in the timeline the story sits.  This made this story arc more or less unintelligible.

Long story short, Nick (Frank Dillane) and Madison (Kim Dickens) both wind up dead; with Madison’s pointless death somehow appearing to be heroic.  At that point, I just didn’t care because it seemed so out of character that I really didn’t find anything self-sacrificing about it at all; particularly when their foe was probably the stupidest concept for a roving band ever.  The “Vultures” methodology was to set up outside of an encampment and just tailgate until the people in the camp got so bored with them they would voluntarily open the gates and let the Vultures loot.

Seriously.

Luckily for the show, the second half of the season took a totally different path.  The only surviving member of the Clark family and from the pilot episode was Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey).  The survivors of both the Vultures “attack” and Madison’s immolation of their baseball field compound are scattered with a Hurricane bearing down on them.  The lack of any sort of early warning for the hurricane plays a role in the desperate situation the group finds itself in.

Having a liner timeline, instead of weird artsy time jumps across the story, definitely was an improvement on what came previously.  Killing Madison, as unlikable a lead character as any I’ve come across helped as well. This allowed the producers to rebuild the show with a new, much improved cast.  Basically they’ve fire blasted what came before, and rebuilt a totally new show in its place. That was the sort of major restructuring that was needed if this show was going to survive.  How much that is due to new showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg is anyone’s guess, but they’ll be sure to get the credit if Fear’s ratings improve.

The show was so much improved that I was actually entertained by some of the episodes, particularly episode 10 “Close Your Eyes,” which had Alicia and pre-teen Charlie (the killer of Alicia’s brother Nick) trapped in a house together during the hurricane, while the house is under siege by the dead.  That’s probably the best episode of the entire series.  If Fear can keep cranking out a few episodes like that every season, it might finally shrug off its poor history and become a worthy member of the Walking Dead Universe.

Observations

The Walking Dead Universe used to be more observant of the fact that at this point, approximately 2 years after the Zombie Apocalypse, every car battery that’s actually connected would be dead.  That’s not even counting that the fuel would be going bad, but hopping in a Paramedic vehicle that’s been sitting for two years and just taking off seems like a big ole story telling gap.  That’s not even counting Morgan’s stunt of throwing a body off the roof of a building onto a car and the car alarm starts blaring…come on.

Weirdly, the Walking Dead Universe regards middle aged women as the incredible bad asses who are both greatest asset and greatest danger.  On the Walking Dead, Carol goes from abused housewife to commando killer.   On Fear, new character “Martha,” a former English teacher in her 50’s is the thorn in the side of the group.  Sorry, I’m just not buying it.

Amazon Prime Video-Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan

When I heard that Amazon was coming out with a Jack Ryan series, I was a bit surprised, because I figured that was a character, and a universe, that had run its course.  Don’t get me wrong, I had been a Tom Clancy reader since the 1980’s, and had watched most of the film iterations of Jack Ryan.  But that was a character created in the Cold War and the world now is so different from the one where a young Jack Ryan was on the chase for the Soviet submarine Red October.

But…after seeing a devastating review in Vanity Fair:

How could I say no? So I decided to give the show a chance.

Color me pleasantly surprised.

First off, John Krasinski really pulls it off as Ryan.  I’ve heard some people argue that they just can’t get past his goofy Jim from The Office persona.  However having already seen him take on a tough guy roll in 13 Hours I had no problem suspending my disbelief. In fact, if anything it helps the role of someone who is primarily an academic but is reluctantly thrust into the action role.  Of course, an academic being thrust in action roles does strain the bounds of credulity. That was one of the weaker parts of the show in my opinion, Ryan’s boss James Greer (Wendell Pierce) does have an operator background, yet constantly drags Ryan into dangerous situations, totally out of his skillset.

The other notable on the show is Ali Suliman as the terrorist mastermind, Mousa Bin Suleiman.  As noted in another review of the show, this actor really sells it as a complicated villain.  He could have simply played this as a simple, evil, religious fanatic, but he has a backstory that gives his actions, if not exactly justification, at least reasonable within his mindset, and it shows.  If anything, he has the most difficult role in the series and manages to pull it off beautifully.

One thing I noticed in the pacing of the show, in deference to it appearing on a streaming service, is each episode ends leaving you wanting more.  And although I’m just not a binger, we did end up watching the last three episodes back to back.  I didn’t want to stop.  So yeah, I have to give the show a big thumbs up.

And as for the Vanity Fair reviewer?  She was totally wrong.  This wasn’t any sort of jingoistic right wing Fox News anything.  You would be hard pressed to find any sort of political bias in this show, unless you regard Islamic terrorism as a fiction created by right wing Republican Presidents.  In any case, this show has already been renewed for season 2, so the reviewer (and me) will get a second chance to reconsider when the show’s focus swings around to…Russia!

What Happened to Fear The Walking Dead?

AMC’s Fear The Walking Dead returns on Sunday for its fourth season, and I’m of two minds about it.  First, it provides continuous coverage of delicious Zombie action after The Walking Dead wraps up its season.  Bullets, hatchets, machetes, it uses them all to good effect against the “infected” hordes.

But secondly, this show sucks, and it really had no reason to considering how good The Walking Dead was.  Of course I have to be responsible for my own expectations.  I had high hopes, and an idea of who the characters should be and what they should be doing.  And sure, one’s show-in-your-mind is always better than an actual show, but good lord, did they work hard to make sure every single character was unlikable and every situation ridiculous.

Of course the handwriting was on the wall all the way back in season one.  The show decided to take a slow burn to reveal what was actually going on, so in episode 3 the families think they are on the run from some sort of massive civil disorder, perhaps inflamed by videos showing cops “killing” rioters who are actually undead.  By the very next episode, they are back in their neighborhood being protected by the National Guard, and somehow, and some way, everyone seems to understand that the dead are coming back to life to chow down on the living.

So when did that realization happen?

I thought the entire point of doing a sequel going back to the beginning of the Apocalypse and show how it started, and what happened.  None of that is really done.  The entire realization of omigod the dead are really coming back to life this isn’t a joke what is happening is this the work of god or the devil and are there souls trapped and why oh why….  None of that happens.

And the military…this may just be a pet peeve of mine, but it’s clear that WD creators Greg Nicotero, Robert Kirkman, and Dave Erikson hate the military.  This may be a common attitude among Hollywood creators but it doesn’t usually leech out into the product.  In this case, the military and military personnel are constantly presented in a bad light.

In short, with unlikable characters and uninteresting situations, Fear is a bad show and after coasting on TWD for years, is finally realizing the ratings danger it’s in by providing a bit of stunt casting.  Lennie James, aka “Morgan” will be doing a stint on FTWD.  Since Morgan’s story has (through flashbacks) been fairly well told since the zombie virus, and doesn’t include a trip to Texas, that means they are either going to ignore the actual TWD history and just do their own thing, or have Morgan in the “present” and time jump the show a few years.

Oh time jumps; the gimmick that has more than worn out its welcome in one hour episodic drama.  With all of my complaints, I’m still planning on watching the show.  True, I may be hate watching, but it still counts in the ratings I suppose.  However, with the possibility that there could be further Walking Dead spinoffs in the future, my heart leaps and hope springs eternal.  Maybe this time they will get it right…

 

 

Star Trek Discovery First Season Wrap up

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

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

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

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

But hey, that’s Star Trek.

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

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

The Trouble With Quibbles…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good plan.

Travelers on Netflix

Welcome to the 21st…       

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Crisis on Earth X Crossover

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

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

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

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

Supergirl

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

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

Arrow

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

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

The Flash

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

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow

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

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

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

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

Just some general observations…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inquiring minds…