I have suffered for your sins, my readers. I watched the second season of Reign, a show very very loosely based on the life of Mary Queen of Scots, and one of the most gloriously terrible television shows ever to hit our screens.

Here's what you missed:

1. Lola taking a bath. This, as it turned out, was a major plot point. Not making this up.

2. A return to the entire Lola taking a bath plot, as an even MORE major plot point this time, complete with SCANDAL and CHARACTER DECEPTIONS and TERRIBLE COSTUMES.

3. Fraternal twin ghosts who initially seemed OUT FOR BLOOD and later turned out to be OUT FOR A SNOWBALL FIGHT.

4. Characters rather understandably deciding that rather than pay attention to, say, the deadly fights between Catholics and Protestants and various extras constantly dying around them, they should go off and read a sex journal and frolic in a fountain. And then going and doing just this.

5. Catherine d'Medici getting her feet poked at by birds, and later forced to spend an entire scene inside a metal tank sealed around her neck like yes, I am also not making this up.

6. Also, Catherine d'Medici getting oral sex from a ghost. No. Really.

7. The arrival of King Antoine of Navarre (someone the show seemed to occasionally confuse with his son, Henri of Navarre, later Henri IV of France, because this is not really the sort of show that cares about those sorts of differences) who initially, alas, didn't seem to stand out much among all of the other characters, so the show had him throw an orgy and then threaten people which meant that he still didn't stand out that much among all of the other characters.

8. Francis going ahead and becoming king and then being just terrible at kinging.

9. Mary, Queen of Scots becoming a passionate defender of religious tolerance and Protestants.

I know, I know.

THIS SHOW.

10. A character getting sacrificed to cure another character's ear infection, and by "sacrificed," I mean "gently killed with poison and given a nice sad death scene while another person happily noted that this was saving the sacrificed person a lot of grief," like, THIS SHOW.

11. Another character covering her chest with blood and then having sex with a random servant during a siege like you know, everyone has their own ways to celebrate what might be their last moments on the planet, or, in this case, possibly the show.

(This was apparently supposed to be some blood ritual meant to remind us that a) pagans, the people who live in the woods and chant a lot about blood, were on this show back in the first season, and b) give two characters some sort of soul bond which will allow them to feel each other's pain or whatever. I would be kinda interested in where this is going except that I'm pretty sure that, like the ghosts, it's going to end up going to either sex or snowball fights.)

12. The show's first gay couple, who turned out to be easily blackmailed priests. So that was nice.

13. Yet another love triangle for Mary Queen of Scots only less interesting for the most part since new Love Triangle Guy (called by the show Louis, Prince of Conde, something that I'm sure the ghost of the real Louis, Prince of Conde, has his ghost lawyers on top of right now since if ever a television show could be accused of libeling a French aristocrat, this show would be it) was very boring until a knife got brought out and even then.

(Love triangles, done right, can be awesome – as a recent episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. demonstrated, and Reign has managed decent love triangles before. This wasn't one of them, mostly because Mary had a number of other less boring love triangle options available.)

14. A rather unexpected touch of historical accuracy as Mary Queen of Scots kept making terrible decision after terrible decision after terrible decision. Actually this one makes the historical one look rather sensible, restrained, and in complete control of her emotions. Especially because with the historical one, I can at least explain it by "She thought Bothwell was one hot, sexy dude," which if not exactly borne out by the pictures we have of Bothwell, at least offers an explanation, whereas with the TV Mary I usually have no idea why she is doing anything that she's doing.

15. Catherine d'Medici strangling someone and banging said someone on the floor and NOBODY ELSE NOTICING THIS AT ALL. It's good to be queen.

16. A great moment when a brothel madam looked down at the attractive man kneeling before her, earnestly offering honorable marriage, and said, nah, I'm good. Thanks.

17. An amazing insistence by the show that prostitution is a solid road to wealth, success, and excellent champagne. Also, poisoning opportunities.

18. In a related scene, Kenna, celebrating that the three ladies in waiting are all now fallen women in one way or another which means they need to drink up. You go, Kenna, you go!

19. Toby Regbo, who plays Francis, learning to act, if not quite convince us that he is a king until the finale when he went into a SHRIEKING FORCE OF RAGE on a chained up prisoner in a dungeon along with a few other moments which if not exactly strictly kingly did convince me that Francis knows his way around a dungeon, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.

A few of the other actors also leveled up, meaning that this is no longer a show where Megan Follows (Catherine d'Medici) acts, and everyone else is just sorta there. I am as surprised as you are. But for those tuning in for the bad acting: fear not. Leith is still on the show.

20. And, as I hoped, Elizabeth I of England showed up, looking nicely demented, quite possibly because despite a nice attempt to put a collar thing on her, her gown was not exactly like any of the gowns the historical Elizabeth wears in her various portraits, and when I say "not exactly like" I mean "not at all alike." This bodes well for the third season, although not that well – Elizabeth I seems to be interested in the boring Conde guy. Aim higher, Elizabeth! Much higher! Or at least more interesting.

One warning: For some unclear reason, Reign decided to throw a rape plot into all of this, and although I thought the rape itself was handled as well as rapes on television are ever handled (that is, not well), and wasn't, in my opinion, overly graphic, I thought the aftermath was handled rather less well, so if not very well handled rape storylines aren't your thing, I would recommend skipping the middle of the season, or the show altogether.

Reign

Jan. 20th, 2015 07:09 pm
Mostly to prove that I am capable of blogging about something besides recent publications, let's chat about the first season of that gloriously, unrepentantly terrible show Reign, which I just finished watching.

Oh, internet. You warned me, but you didn't prepare me.

For those who have missed the show so far (and I'm not blaming you), here's what you need to know:

1. One of the characters wanders around wearing a burlap sack on her head. Sometimes she hums things.

2. Anne of Green Gables – that is, Megan Follows – is in it, playing a character named Catherine d'Medici, who has to put up with a character called Mary Queen of Scots. And someone called Francis who has a lot of sex. Any resemblance to the actual historical personages with similar names is purely coincidental.

3. Also there is a character called, and I am not making this up, Lola.

4. Most of the acting, except for Megan Follows, who is surprisingly good (surprising mostly because finding anything good on this show is surprising) runs from serviceable to terrible, with Terrance Coombs, playing the completely made up for this show king's bastard son Bash who almost becomes king without anyone thinking "King Bash? Is that really the branding we should be going for?", mostly managing to avoid the "You want me to say this line? Really?" look but often failing and Celina Sinden, who plays the mostly made up for this show Greer, perfecting the "Look, we all have to earn a paycheck" look in most of her scenes, which I appreciate.

5. As far as I can tell, conversations in the writers' room go somewhat like this:

"Ok, in this episode, at least two people need to hook up. No need for a reason, just have them hook up. Also, someone has to be poisoned."

"We did that last week."

"Maybe trying burning someone this time? And then, back to the poison!"

"Got it!"

6. Speaking of which, in the first episode five girls – Mary and her four handmaidens – say very serious and nice things about the importance of keeping their virtue and finding husbands. By episode 10 four of them have had sexy times without the benefit of marriage, generally with more than one person.

The fifth one is dead.

I'm not making that up.

7. Naturally in episode 16 a marriage happens between two of the characters for no particular reason except "Hey, you are getting married" and by episode 17 they are friends and by episode 18 not so much and by episode 20 all happy again except that one of them IS FIGHTING THE DARKNESS which may complicate things.

8. For a show that takes the CW's love for love triangles to new extremes (every episode features at least two, more usually four) it manages to get through an entire season with only one threesome. I am impressed. Not in a good way, but I am impressed.

Two of the people in that threesome end up dead. The other one gets all involved with The Darkness.

I'm also not making that up.

9. As you might be gathering this show likes killing people off.

10. This is the sorta show that when it needs a forger, suddenly for no apparent reason a character with no reason to know how to forge anything, hi, Greer, is an expert forger. I appreciate this.

11. Also, this is the sort of show that happily divides everyone into three religions: Catholic, Protestant, and Pagan. This is how you can tell the difference:

Catholics live in castles and are Catholics and can easily be deceived by actors pretending to be priests who are very very against any type of BDSM play that might involve or refer to crosses. Some Catholics love Mary and want her to take over England. Some Catholics hate Mary and don't seem to be aware that England exists. Some Catholics speak in what the show would like you to think is an Italian accent, to show that they are from "Rome."

Protestants live in castles, are all YAY ELIZABETH OF ENGLAND (who so far hasn't shown up in this show, but I'm expecting it at any point, and before anyone points out that the historical Elizabeth and Mary never met, let me just note that this is not the sort of show that cares about that sort of thing at all) and hate Mary and want her dead.

Pagans do not live in castles. They have Evil Whistles (really); sometimes fall into frozen lakes (also really); believe in the Darkness (also really) and hunting things and hanging people up by their feet. Sometimes they say "gods" which is a total giveaway and they are into foot tattoos.

I hope I have now given you all a deeper appreciation of European religious conflicts in the 16th century.

12. Once this show mentioned Turks. We didn't see their feet (or them; just their wedding gifts) but they love Mary so I assume they are Catholic. At least in this show.

13. The Darkness I've been mentioning? Is very very helpful for a Darkness! It provides things for the side cast to do when the main cast is debating whether or not they should poison someone or attack England. Also, the Darkness helpfully predicts meteor showers and plagues. This is the sort of information I need from my Darkness.

14. Characters on this show are not nearly as excited about heading off to Trinidad for the duration of the show as they really, really should be. (I don't know why Trinidad, but that's where they went.)
I find I don't have that much to say about How to Get Away with Murder, the new vehicle kinda from Shonda Rhimes - she's not writing this one, just producing it, a distinction that a certain reviewer over at the New York Times completely missed. This is perhaps the only mistake in that now-infamous review that is marginally forgiveable, since How to Get Away with Murder does have quite a few traits I associate with Scandal: sharp edits! shocking twists! Lots of sex! (Because of course getting away with murder requires random sex. Did you think it wouldn't?) Betrayal! More sex! Wine! Revealing moments in bathrooms! And, of course, covering up for people who do really really bad things.

And yes, some of the setup is identical to Scandal: Viola Davis plays Professor Keating, who when not terrorizing law students defends murderers. She's also the leader of a group of employees/followers/sycophants, at least one of whom wants to be just like her (shades of Original Quinn back on Scandal), and one of whom seems to have actual - gasp - ethics. (He kinda stands out in the group.) The main plot goes more or less the way it did in Scandal's first two seasons (the pattern that show, thankfully, appears to be returning to): client has problem, said group runs around trying to solve problem, while BETRAYALS and SEX litter the background. The one major difference: How to Get Away with Murder also intersperses this with fairly lengthy flashbacks, something Scandal has generally used sparsely, and only to explain current things: How to Get Away with Murder, more or less borrowing from Revenge, uses these flashbacks to increase the mystery/tension and leave viewers wanting an explanation.

The chief difference, and one that apparently missed The New York Times completely, is that Olivia Pope at least believes she has ethics and believes that she is doing the right thing. She's wrong, of course, and Scandal doesn't flinch from that,* but she is astonishingly good at self-deception here, partly because she's surrounded by a bunch of unethical sociopaths.

The portrayal of Professor Keating is far more ambiguous. It's not at all clear that Keating has any ethics whatsoever, although one scene suggests that she's at least aware of that lack, and another small scene does suggest that she strongly believes that all of her students have the right to learn things. Olivia Pope ives and works in a world of massive deception. Professor Keating - so far, at least - appears to be trying to create a second one.

Anyway, two things became apparent: one, this will probably be another hit, and two, it's going to be another one of those shows that works best either through livetweeting and gasping along with other viewers, or marathoning later. I think I'm going to choose the second option: I am kinda curious to see just how unethical this show can get.

* Although an actually ethical person would have shot Fitz by now and them stomped all over him while he was dying**, Olivia, TAKE NOTE.

**Scandal is going to end with Olivia and Mellie teaming up to kill him, right? Right? REASSURE ME, everyone!

Gotham

Sep. 23rd, 2014 10:58 am
On its own, Gotham is not a bad show. It's got all the setup: corrupt police force, hardworking honest detective with questionable girlfriend, three cute young teens or preteens that we can root for; over the top campy villains, and one not at all over the top bad guy there to remind us of the thin line between good and evil and how many things end up being grey. The acting for the most part is decent to solid; camera work ok; plenty of money has gone into the sets. I can't stand Gordon's partner, but otherwise, lots of potential.

The problem is that this show isn't on its own. And however much it may be calling itself Jim Gordon's origin story, it's also Batman's origin story.

And that is a major limitation that the show was already struggling against just in the pilot.

I live tweeted the show as I often do, being careful to just snark and avoid any major spoilers. About fifteen minutes in, however, I realized that didn't matter – there'd been nothing to spoil in those fifteen minutes other than someone's decision to run a Dracula trailer during the commercial break. (Whoops. I possibly should have put a spoiler warning for that.) It's not just that Batman's origin story is well known: it's that this was at least the third if not fourth time that I have seen this on film. Some of the shots were even identical to the ones in the 1989 Nicholson/Keaton Batman film. I know it's iconic – but in many ways that's the exact problem.

That in turn led to the main issue in the pilot: a general lack of suspense about the fates of any characters. I'm not just talking about Bruce Wayne here, but virtually everyone else on the screen, most of whom were introduced with exactly no subtlety whatsoever: "IT'S A RIDDLE! A RIDDLE! HA HA RIDDLE!" or "Here I am FEEDING A CAT. A CAT. GET IT. A CAT!" It's not even so much that the show decided to introduce three iconic Bat-villains in the first ten minutes, but rather that it does so in a way that telegraphs WOW, THESE ARE IMPORTANT CHARACTERS WHO WILL BE RETURNING LATER HOPE YOU DIDN'T MISS THAT.

And, of course, if you know Batman at all, you know they will be returning later.

Which leads to another problem – the sheer number of Bat characters that popped up in the 42 minute pilot – five major Bat-villains PLUS Alfred PLUS Bruce Wayne PLUS Jim Gordon PLUS Renee Montoya; I'm sure there were others I missed. The only real question was why Ra's Al Ghul and Harvey Dent didn't also just stroll into the bar. Well, I guess Ra's is busy getting ready to hunt down Oliver Queen over on Arrow.

Speaking of Arrow, that was another slight issue. Arrow, granted, not only uses some of the Bat-villains but also extensively ripped off the Nolan Batman films. What's interesting here is that Gotham, in turn, directly ripped off a scene from Arrow's pilot – only considerably less successfully, because Oliver Queen is going to be a superhero, and Jim Gordon is going to be an ordinary guy. That allowed Arrow to put together one major and awesome stunt sequence in its pilot, with a twist end, giving a sense of where the show would be going. Gotham, by nature, had to be more restrained. It's not a bad stunt sequence, but it feels tired, as if we've seen it before.

Speaking of Arrow, there's another contrast here, not in Gotham's favor. Arrow is loosely based on the Green Arrow comics, but very loosely: so loosely that the show has been able to feature completely different takes on various DC characters and play with expectations and even, in a couple of cases, feature different and opposing versions of the characters (Deathstroke and Black Canary). That gives Arrow more freedom. And because Arrow wasn't introducing the entire Bat mythos, it also could focus on just its main characters in the pilot – allowing the DC Easter eggs to pop up later, and (presumably) allowing the upcoming Flash pilot to do something similar since it's jumping into an established universe.

As it is, Gotham felt less fresh than, and I'm sorry to type this, the first season of Smallville - which also suffered under similar constraints, but used its location to play around a bit more with the Superman origin story – and also did not suffer by having to include so many Superman characters in its pilot. And it didn't help that I knew, throughout the entire episode, that main character Jim Gordon is, eventually, going to fail, even as he rises through the police force. Because, Batman.

Which is not to say that Gotham was a bad show. It had its moments, and the last fifteen minutes had some very strong stuff, even if the outcome was inevitable because, again, Batman. I just think I would have liked it more if it was called something else.
So last night, PBS finally got around to broadcasting the episode of Downton Abbey with The Scene.

If you've been keeping up with season four of Downton Abbey at all (and I'll understand if you haven't), you probably heard about this scene months ago since for various not very good reasons Downton Abbey is broadcast months earlier over in Britain, which meant a fairly large part of the U.S. audience had already heard all about it. Related vent: I get why shows were broadcast months or even years later in separate countries back in the 1970s, but since we now live in an age where shows are capable of throwing up Spanish/Portuguese subtitles in time for a simultaneous South American/North American broadcast, and where people can start pirating shows seconds after the initial broadcast, can we end this practice now, please? You want to combat online piracy? Release shows worldwide on the same day. Also, HBO, allow non-cable subscribers to purchase episodes of your show one week after initial broadcast. We want to give you money, HBO. We just don't want or need full cable service. This has been a public service message from your little local writer.

Where was I? Oh, yes. So, I knew that The Scene was coming up. PBS, who also knew about The Scene and the initial reaction to it responded by throwing up a number of Viewer Discretion Is Advised Warnings. I braced myself, although alas not with wine since I was already sporting a glorious and rapidly growing rash from the round of antibiotics that I'm currently on and figured why add to the issues. But I had a cat, and if necessary, a teddy bear. It wasn't necessary since it was a chilly evening by cat standards and he was more than willing to support me through The Scene.

I didn't need him.

Because I have to tell you, my reaction to The Scene was, "That's it?"

That's what's so shocking and controversial?

This was considered graphic?

I was so unshocked I immediately Twittered that I assumed the scene had been edited down for U.S. audiences. Not an unnatural assumption: PBS has frequently tweaked the show, usually for timeline considerations. Not this time, several people who had seen both versions immediately told me.

Am I just that jaded? I asked myself. About television, that is? About violence? About television violence? Has Game of Thrones really had that much of an effect on me?

Part of it, I realized, is that within the past week I'd seen a somewhat similar scene over on Grimm that had been considerably more violent and had shrugged my way through that. Then again, since Grimm is more or less a monster of the week show, so I tend to give a pass to anything that doesn't involve actual eyeballs (scenes in Grimm have occasionally involved actual eyeballs, or props meant to look like actual eyeballs). Then too, that particular scene in Grimm was not filmed to be shocking, or distressing: it was filmed to be a very rare example on Grimm of girl power and girl bonding. That Grimm felt that accomplishing this needed a domestic violence scene is another issue entirely, but to its credit the other rare examples of girl bonding on the show have come from other sources.

So, ok, jaded. Then again, when back in December Scandal had offered what I shall just euphemistically call the "Pulling Teeth" scene where AUUGH I had indeed felt shocked and horrified to the point of going into a coughing fit. Granted a significant part of this came from the fact that I had JUST been watching The Sound of Music which was one hell of a tonal shift, but, still.

So maybe I'm not entirely jaded.

Maybe.

And of course part of the issue for viewers is, I suspect, that when we turn on Grimm, which is more or less a monster of the week/light horror show, we are expecting to be appalled, horrified, grossed-out. When we turn on Scandal we are expecting to be horrified by just how awful nearly every character on that show is, although perhaps NOT THAT HORRIFIED, ABC.

Downton Abbey, however, presents itself as classic escapism, a story of a more mannered, refined period, where the servants are all mostly happy to support the status quo of QUICK GET THOSE ARISTOCRATS THEIR TEA, like NOW, please. (There's an unintentionally hilarious moment early in this season, not played for laughs, where the household goes into a panic because they have no one -- NO ONE -- who can immediately help get her ladyship into a dress, which granted would have been a fairly serious concern in the late 19th century when getting into aristocratic dresses, complete with corsets, was not a joke, and a fairly lengthy process, but a lot less of a concern in 1922 or 1923, wherever we are now in the show). A refined period where violence was less common. You know, like in Jane Austen novel.

Except that this is a pretty serious misreading of Jane Austen.

People tend to forget, what with all the wars of wit and words, but her books have a fairly significant bit of violence: people get whipped in Pride and Prejudice; Sense and Sensibility has sexual predators and a duel; the wealthy people in Persuasion made their money from war. Sexual predators creep around everywhere, and if many people in the novel blame Lydia for running off with Wickham, Austen herself was quite well aware that Wickham was a sexual predator, if a charming sort of sexual predator -- and Elizabeth, Darcy, Jane and Mr. Bennett all take at least part of the blame for what happened.

And what's true for Jane Austen is true for the real world, too. Nothing violent happened to me today -- but I could occasionally hear the sounds of sirens in the background. I can read the news. I can listen to people. I know what's out there.

So I guess, even in my escapist fiction, I expect that.

Now, all that said, was I thrilled with how The Scene was handled? Not at all. Comments that it was exploitative are in the maybe category -- as I said, it was less graphic than other comparable scenes, including a second, different scene in Scandal. Comments that how it was edited was manipulative are also in the maybe category -- the editing explained certain plot points.

What is less in the maybe category is how the show handled the lead up to The Scene, which is to say, not at all well, with its implications of "oooh, if only that character had listened to a GUY," and various bits of misogyny and other unpleasant bits, and how the show handled the aftermath to the scene, in which a character with excellent reasons not to say a word about said scene instead ignores all of those reasons and chooses....some very questionable reasons not to say a word about said scene. Wow, that was difficult to write without spoiling.

And less in the maybe category is the reality that television contains several images of violence, that I have come to expect certain events in my television shows, and that it says something that The Scene in Downton Abbey had corresponding scenes in House of Cards, Scandal, Grimm, Game of Thrones and (implied only; not depicted) Arrow this year alone. I suppose I am more surprised when shows don't go there, but when even Scandal which was not exactly originally pitched as a violent show...

Well.

And what is also less in the maybe category is that when I hear that something is going to be disturbing and violent on a television show my thoughts jump to the Red Wedding. (Which was horrific, no question.)

Not The Scene in Downton Abbey.

So maybe I'm more than a bit jaded after all.

I think I had more of a point when I started off with this and it got lost somewhere along the way. Somewhat the way the day got lost somewhere along the way.
Everyone else is doing a year end television summary, so why not me? Couple of caveats, though: this is heavily weighted to recent fall shows because, well, they are recent, two, I've undoubtedly left stuff out, especially pre-September stuff, and three, this list does not include anything from Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, The Walking Dead, or Reign are not on this list because I haven't seen any of them yet. I plan eventually to catch up on the first three. Reign SCARES ME. So don't ask. I've also left Orphan Black off the list since I've only seen the pilot and I'm not sure when I'll be able to watch the rest.

Anyway, the summary, behind a cut because it got incredibly long: 2013 Television shows. Not particularly spoilery except where I go off on a rant about Once Upon a Time. )
No new episode of Arrow tonight, alas, so instead you get my very belated musings on last week's episode, "Three Ghosts."

Belated discussion of Arrow's most recent episode, Three Ghosts. Also, fridging and writing traps. )
A couple more Tor.com posts, including The First Two Lives of Lukas-Kasha by Lloyd Alexander and Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer.

And yes, I realize that yet again my blogging here seems to be reduced to "hey, the latest Tor.com posts" posts. I just have not felt the blogging bug; I have a few things to say about television, like, Go Team Oliver and Felicity Go! and wow, Scandal may be the only show about government to now go several episodes into its third season without having any character decide that, you know, governing might be an awesome idea (even House of Cards, which is primarily about power plays and scandals, at least had two subplots about actual government work), and I feel that Scandal is trying to say something here about our current thoughts on government, and hey, Once Upon a Time writers, sure, kudos on sorta bouncing back from a really awful second season to an at least watchable third season, but if you want to match your main heroine up with the supposed first love of her life, you might not want to give her a sexy, sexy pirate as an alternative love interest, just saying, and seriously, Ichabod over on Sleepy Hollow, you have the nerve to criticize anyone else for their interpretations of U.S. History after a couple of your statements, or that wow, just as you think that show can't possibly get more ridiculous people start leaving 300 year old secret messages on teeth (YES THAT WAS TOTALLY IN THE SHOW) but I got nothing except Go Team Oliver and Felicity, Go!

I don't think this can be totally blamed on the semideath of Livejournal, either. It's just that the blogging bug appears to have gone into hibernation. We'll see if more profound thoughts poke it to come out, or if I just tell myself to go ahead and write more stuff. After November sweeps. Or if Sleepy Hollow gets a tad bit less ridiculous, although I suppose that would ruin the point.
Enjoyed it, but was left with a definite sense of Meh. Ok, the show gave us the quippy dialogue, the requisite "We are sponsored by Disney, here are some toys," bits, the requisite "We are sponsored by Disney, here are some quotes, along with a quick mention of Harry Potter so we don't sound too self-absorbed here," and a flying car (yay) and a broken newspaper stand (as I noted on Twitter, it's always the poor innocent newspaper stands that end up suffering the most in these things) and some little flying robots (more yay) and admitted at last what we've all been thinking: regardless of Thor's actual divine status, Chris Hemsworth has the arms of a god. (You could almost hear viewers respond with, "So, this means more than one shirtless scene in the upcoming Thor 2 flick, right?" I also liked the way the show admitted that blowing up most of New York is a pretty traumatic event even if Everybody Except the Architecture was mostly saved by a group of Kinda Scary People even if one of them is really Perfectly Chiseled.

Two problems, though: one, what with introducing all of the new characters and S.H.I.E.L.D. and catching us up and hinting at Dire Things and allowing all of the geeks to shout SHEPHERD BOOK AND GUNN ARE BACK and on the same show together, the main storyline felt incredibly rushed and unearned -- not the fault of the actors, but the fault of the timeline. Hopefully, now that the intros and info dumping are sorta over, the show can avoid that.

The real long term problem, however, is with two of the leads: Grant Ward (played by Brett Dalton), who is bland, bland, bland, without a hint of quirkiness or gloom or nobility or anything, really, to make him interesting, and Skye (Chloe Bennett) who is quirky and irritating. The show wants us to think they have instant UST and thus DRAMA but it's just not there.

It's a pilot, so we'll see, and it has a flying car, so I'll tune in again, and hope that either we spend less time with Ward and Skye, or they get more interesting, or both.
Arguably the most ridiculous supernatural drama EVER, and while it's true that category has a lot of competition, I just want to point out that this show has two people following a CGI bird and George Washington's Bible in order to hunt down a Headless Horseman who wields machine guns. Also people lugging around a skull in a Big Scary Jar.

Like, YAY!

BEAT THAT, other ridiculous supernatural shows.

Also, Starbucks jokes. I laughed.

My expectations, they are not high, but if you can turn off your brain and all knowledge of early American history and stop asking yourself why, exactly, does a Headless Horseman need machine guns, you could be entertained.
And speaking of Fringe --

Previous seasons of Fringe have explored the bizarre, the disgusting, the parallel, and the very bad science that happens when you keep a cow in the lab.

This season, Fringe has at least given up on the cow. (Unless it got Ambered, in which case, I don't want to know.) So that's a plus. But Fringe has also given up on something else, and it took me awhile to identify it: Hope.

(Also, "fun," but we'll get there.)

I'm behind this season, so perhaps this eventually did get addressed, but the first few episodes were almost relentlessly grim and depressing. Even the few moments of reunion/joy/happiness were, well, depressing. It probably doesn't help that the set designers, reading the scripts, have gone with, "Ok, well, grey it is then!" and the camera people have followed their lead with nice grey filters everywhere.

The result is a show that I'm just not looking forward to watching any more. It's odd. I'm not against grim and depressing – I mean, I've been reading and watching Game of Thrones. I will probably even end up watching Anna Karenina on DVD eventually, which if I remember correctly did not exactly have a happy ending in the book.

But some place in the third episode of this season I realized the problem. I'm assuming, because this is television, and this is the last season of Fringe and the showrunners know this, that the show is – eventually – going to end up with a happy ending. (As proof I show you the final episode of last season which had the possibility of being the last episode of Fringe ever when it was filmed.) And that's great. I love happy endings.

But they have to feel right. They have to feel justified, not contrived. And they have to fit into the universe of the story that has been written.

I could believe in happy endings in the first four seasons of Fringe: this was a show where people encountered monsters and flipped universes and parallels and fought or learned to work with them; the entire point of the show was, "secure the monsters for everyone's safety." But the part of the point of this season – set in a grim future – is to restore the damn monsters. So not only am I watching a grim, depressing and very grey future, I am watching a future where everyone wants things to go wrong again. (And on a sidenote, I'm watching a future that's suggesting that most of what was done in the first four seasons was completely wasted since they were all running around chasing the wrong monsters.)

I can accept the incredibly depressing ending of Anna Karenina because within the crafted universe of that story it can have no other ending. I have a bad feeling that at the end of Fringe, I'll be thinking of other possible endings. (For instance, not having this season.)

Anyway, thanks to this I haven't been watching as much Fringe as I generally would have, and while flailing to find something to watch that wasn't Fringe, ended up watching the new Upstairs, Downstairs. Oh, dear. Enough for its own separate entry. Which will have to wait a bit since I'm about to head out.
I guess it's about time for an incomplete mid TV season round-up, hmm? Let's see.

The greatest disappointment of the season, so far, has been Revenge. This was my unexpected favorite show of last year, but, alas, this year the show has seriously slid off – more plunged off – the rails, mostly because not enough wealthy people have been thrown off buildings, shot, or boarded exploding planes. Focus, show, focus. Also the show has brought on some new villains called "The Initiative" who are just not using enough Botox or wearing enough designer clothing to have the same sizzle. Admittedly someone fell off a balcony which was nicely dramatic and added more people with English accents which is always a good thing, but, not enough. It's a classic example of the importance of sticking with your original concept.

To counter this, last year's greatest disappointment, Once Upon a Time, has improved somewhat this year, largely because it's given up on its original concept, which was "tell what really happened in fairy tales and story books," which thanks to Network Interference became "tell what really happened in Disney movies," and rarely managed to give new twists on either, despite a generally strong cast. (Lena Parilla in particular has had a lot of fun playing the Evil Queen, mostly, I suspect, because of the fabulous Evil Outfits.) Paired with this was a "real world" storyline that made no sense the more you thought about it (if nobody can come in and out of Storybook, how exactly are they getting gas to drive their cars? That sort of thing) and overall just never hit the potential of the cool concept. I couldn't exactly blame the guy playing the genie for fleeing the show, even if he ended up fleeing to the train wreck that is Revolution.

Anyway, this year the show has more or less said, to hell with the retelling fairy tales concept, and instead just gone with a hodgepodge of various characters from various books who wander around an Enchanted Forest (Motto: With our Enchanted Geography, You, Too, Can Reach the Enchanted Pond and the Enchanted Beanstalk and the Enchanted Towers and the Enchanted Poppies and Anywhere the Plot Needs You To Be Within Hours!) interacting with each other, which is a lot more fun and oddly ends up making more sense – I mean, we've all been waiting to see the Queen of Hearts and Captain Hook join forces. So that's all good. It helps that Captain Hook is really rocking the Sexy Bad Boy vibe. It's probably not a good sign that of the many, many men the show keeps throwing at its main protagonist, Emma, this is the first pairing I've liked. I mean, he's Captain Hook. (That said most of the men thrown at Emma have not exactly been the upstanding hero types.)

Which is not to say that this season hasn't had its bumps. Kudos to the show for finally introducing an Asian character (who in her last scene rather hinted that she's more than willing to, shall we say in a family friendly sort of way, go both ways), minus several hundred points for casting an actress who can so far be most kindly called "wooden" (up until the seriously gay scene, that is). Minus still more points for completely underusing the talented Sarah Bolger and inexplicably forcing her to use an American accent. (The accents are all over the place in this show and make no sense anyway, so why anyone isn't using native accents I can't tell you.) And since people still can't get in and out of Storybook (with the exception of maybe three or four people) I'm still wondering how they are getting gas for their cars. Does the town have an oil refinery we haven't seen? Anyway.

The other fairy tale show, Grimm (aka "the successor to X-Files and Fringe, except instead of aliens and whatever Fringe thinks it's doing this week we're going with shapechangers very loosely based on various fairy tales, frequently not the ones collected and retold by the Grimms"), stuck with "exactly what are we supposed to do with the generally useless girlfriend on this show," went with "love triangle with a suspiciously convenient amnesia angle!" which at least gave the actress something to do, and allowed the show to explore its mythology further. I'm still not loving it, but it's a considerably better thought out show than Once Upon a Time; less ambitious, but usually more satisfying, and not a bad replacement for X-Files and Fringe.
I finally got around to seeing Arrow, which a rather alarming number of you suggested I snark.

And...surprise: I kinda liked it. Oh, this is certainly not a great show, by any means, and some of the more feminist minded among you are not going to be thrilled by some of the plot lines, and [personal profile] aliettedb is going to groan out loud at the Evil Island plot line, and the script has some decidedly weak points, and I think we can all agree, quite kindly, that the acting....varies. But – blame it on dizziness and fatigue, if you like, it was also surprisingly fun on a pure popcorn level.

Nonetheless, I'd been called on to snark. So, as a reader service, the first episode:

Cut to save you from snark! )
....redeemed itself after a lackluster season with a spectacularly improbable season finale with a happy ending. And now that that's been resolved, show, can you return to your silly, mind candy roots and knock off the conspiracy theory stuff? You have no idea how to do it.
Ah, Fringe.

I haven't been writing regularly about Fringe this season because I was usually watching most episodes a week or so late on Hulu, although I made an exception for the last couple of episodes – which in turn reminded me of just why I rarely bother to watch TV live these days. The constant, constant commercials, where you never know just how long a commercial break will be. Oh, you get the commercial breaks on Hulu.com as well, but you can pause the commercials and go do something else if need be, and they are neither so frequent nor so long. But I digress. Anyway.

Spoilery for season four and the finale. )
Did I really just let a television season end more than a month ago without saying anything about it? Yes, yes, I did, an indication of just how much Sekkrit Project, some health concerns and other issues are getting to me. I'll try to make it up this week. So, to get started:

Nikita

Most satisfying season finale: Nikita, apparently because the show understandably if incorrectly assumed it was headed for cancellation, and therefore might as well wrap everything up – which it did, only to find that it wasn't cancelled after all. And now you understand the problems with U.S. television.

Cut for spoilers for the season. )

Borgia

May. 21st, 2012 09:18 am
So, the other day I was poking around Netflix, as you do, and I saw something that said "Borgia," and I remembered that I'd been sorta interested in The Borgias and was in the mood for something full of blood and betrayal, which is sorta a Borgia thing, so I clicked, and about, ten minutes in thought, hmm, Rodrigo Borgia (probably better known to most of you as Pope Alexander VI, but in the first episode he's not pope yet) REALLY sounds off, and about twenty minutes later, thought, wait, where's Jeremy Irons, and then realized, thirty minutes later, that I was watching the wrong show.

Yes, yes, it took that long to click in my head, but in my defense, I've only seen the promo material for the Borgias and had no idea who Jeremy Irons was playing (as it turns out, Rodrigo Borgia), nor was I was aware that two separate production companies had decided to film the lives of the Borgias at about the same time and air it at about the same time.

So. This Borgia piece is called Borgia, not Borgias, and has absolutely nothing to do with the Showtime series. It does, however, have several of the same elements advertised for the Showtime series: blood, violence, sex, nudity, betrayals, rape, that sort of stuff. The Borgia period is really not my field, so I can't tell you if it's historically accurate or not, but I can tell you it's Nicely Dramatic. People are having fun sexy times in bed, and then they are Bleeding Everywhere and Feuds Erupt and people March Naked Through Rome and Whip Themselves all over. So far, so good.

The problem, and it's a big problem, is Rodrigo Borgia/Pope Alexander I. Most of the cast in this production are European, speaking with light to thick accents, which really works for the show -- I realize it goes against the usual belief that all period actors speak in perfect Oxford accents, but I liked hearing the mix of accents here, giving a very cosmopolitan sense of Rome, which pretty much fits in with the multiple languages/dialects that probably would have been heard in Rome in the period (lots of people travelled in and out of the city.)

Rodrigo Borgia, however, is played by an American, speaking in a flat American accent -- not even that cultivated mid-Atlantic accent that some Americans put on when attempting to fake British accents, or when they somehow end up with a hybrid accent. Surrounded by European accents, it REALLY stands out here, and not in a good way. I get that the show is trying to convince us that Rodrigo Borgia is an outsider, blah blah, but the thing is, he's an outsider from SPAIN, so if he's going to have a different accent than the rest of the cast, it should be a Spanish accent. He's also the only character from Spain with an American accent; the others have Italian or Russian accents.

And, bluntly, he's not very good.

So I'm not sure if I'm going to be continuing. Bits of the show are very good indeed, but the narrative is choppy and the main guy is distracting me. I'd feel more encouraged if I could believe he's going to be a sidenote in later episodes, but if my dim memory of the period is at all correct, and the show is even mildly following that dim memory, Alexander VI played a rather large role in what followed. And Netflix does offer other temptations.
Hulu.com planning to change to a system where customers must prove that they are "paying" cable customers in order to stream Hulu.com shows.

I assume this is an attempt to get people to pay for cable TV instead of skipping cable and just watching shows on Hulu.com instead. I also doubt this will work, because:

1) Speaking as a Hulu user, the main thing I watch on Hulu.com? Shows from broadcast TV (Fox, NBC, ABC) or, more rarely, Syfy and the USA Network. Thanks to the scattered way Syfy kinda throws, or doesn't throw, their shows up online, however, I've mostly switched to waiting for the DVDs from the library for those shows, and I'd have no problem doing this with Burn Notice, the only show I'm still watching from the USA Network. (I gave up on White Collar, which kept descending into greater levels of inanity, but this isn't that rant.)

Most of these shows? Do not require cable TV to view in this area. Granted, getting NBC (which apparently has its broadcast tower someplace on Mars) can occasionally require a mystical dance and a lot of beer, but the other stations come in just fine, thanks, from Daytona through Tampa. In fact, the only reason I bother with Hulu.com is --

2) I much, much prefer the experience of viewing television through streaming or DVDs. Fewer or no commercials, the ability to pause a show at any point and return whenever, should, for instance, a cat suddenly have a freak out attack, the ability to rewind a show at any point and see bits I missed thanks to a freaked out cat or if I need to confirm, "She said WHAT?" (ok, that's pretty much just Revenge this year), the ability to watch the show again immediately if it was really really good (ok, pretty much Downton Abbey, and not this season), and most critically, the ability to watch whenever I want. If this season's attempt to watch Fringe live has taught us anything, it is that I am just not good at remembering when particular shows are on. And sometimes I'm just not physically up to watching any given show at any given time.

I can't be the only person avoiding cable television not merely because of the cost (it's a factor, but not the main one) but because it's offering something I really don't want: live access to shows I don't really want to see, with lots of commercials.

Sure, I considered getting cable television with a DVR recording in preparation for the Summer Olympics (something both household members would watch) and for season two of Game of Thrones (which I would watch.) But in the end, I didn't want it. And that's the chief problem with this idea: customers are not leaving cable television because of Hulu.com (or, for that matter, Amazon or iTunes.) They are leaving because they don't want cable television. Will I change my mind later? Well, that depends on cable television, not Hulu.

Revenge

Feb. 16th, 2012 01:39 pm
Grumble. Just found myself typing AND THE )^)&^*(*(&(&&&^# DRILLS WON'T STOP SO THE DRAGON ATE THEM AND SQUASHED THEM! in a story that has absolutely nothing to do with dragons or drills, which I am taking as just one of many signs that this is not going to be the best of days for creative activity. So, let's chat about a television show instead.

Though before I start, two quick notes: James Owen is offering his book Drawing Out the Dragons for free for another few hours, and Jim Hines is starting up an Ask a Goblin advice column.

#

And now, very spoilery blogging about Revenge. )

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