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.

 

 

Quickie Fall Reviews: Sleepy Hollow

sleepy hollow

Last Monday night was the season two premiere of Sleepy Hollow.  Considering where the show left off at the end of Season one, Ichabod Crane was trapped in a coffin, put there by his son, revealed as the Horseman of War and  his wife Katrina retrieved from Purgatory, was kidnapped by the Headless Horseman (True love don’t ya know).  Meanwhile Abbie Mills was stranded in Purgatory.  All in all, a lot of dangling plots.  So I was really annoyed that the first ten minutes of the show picked up as if a year had gone by.  Sometimes these shows are too clever by half.

And although I’ve enjoyed the show it’s annoyed me almost as much.  It’s sort of a supernatural Castle, which isn’t a bad thing. However regardless of whether it’s good or not  I’m stuck with it since this is one of those shows that my wife and I watch together, so there is no easy way to bail out of watching.  So since I’m in for the long haul, let me get a few things off my chest:

First, I don’t like how densely packed the mythology is.  There is a lot of worldview that you are given to swallow, and I’m not sure it all makes sense when you are combining an old American fairy tale with Biblical themes.  The Headless Horseman is one of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and Ichabod and Abbie are the two witnesses mentioned in the Book of Revelations.  They could have eased us into all this.

Secondly, yes, Ichabod Crane is brilliant and educated, but come on, he’s adapted to the 21st Century a little too well.  They could have gotten a lot more play out of his fumbling with light switches and car door handles,  He’s confused about filling up the memory on his cell phone with video, but not with the concept of the phone itself?  But as well as he fits into the 21st Century, he’s still wearing the same 18th Century wardrobe.  Some Dockers and a polo might be a nice change of pace.

The elephant in the room, which is almost never mentioned, is race. The show as much as sleeps through race as Ichabod Crane slept through the centuries.  On TV, when you have such a diverse cast racial issues are either the star of the show or are totally ignored.  How many shows have had the one black friend, who hangs around with a bunch of white guys but has no black friends?  That’s not a really an example of the real world.  Of course, the world of Sleepy Hollow isn’t of course the real world, but the Headless Horseman seems more realistic than the casual way the show ignores race.

And it’s surprising too considering the diverse cast.  It’s probably one of the most diverse casts of a show when it didn’t need to be.  The show is set in upstate New York, and if the cast had wound up all white, no one would have batted an eye.  But the producers specifically went for a rainbow of colors in casting.  Why waste it?

When Ichabod and Abbie first meet, he asks her if she’s been emancipated.  Naturally she’s a bit incensed at this but humors him about being from the 18th Century and explains that slaves were freed.  Crane of course quickly explains that he’s always been an abolitionist with all of the quick earnestness of a white liberal meeting a black person and saying that they so respect Martin Luther King and think soul food is the best food ever.

And that’s it.  They’re partners and work together as equals in 21st Century fashion and race never comes up again.  The thing is, race would come up every day for Crane.  Skipping over the past two centuries leaves quite a gap in the racial history of the United States.  Crane should be constantly full of questions about racial manners and mores.

Well, it’s a wasted opportunity not to explore race, particularly when the set up of the show gives you the perfect opportunity.  Oh well, back to chasing monsters.