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Posts Tagged ‘Arrow’

The most important holiday on the capitalist-utopia calendar, Cyber Monday, has come and gone, and that can only mean one thing:  most of the fall TV shows are either on hiatus, about to be on hiatus, or already cancelled.  That means I finally have chance to catch up on a bunch of hour-long serialized dramas, because that’s definitely how I should be spending my precious few hours between sleep and toil every day.   Here are my very scientific findings:

Constantine
Constantine 
I watched the series premiere of this, and quickly fell asleep trying to watch the second episode.  I am not a die hard fan of the Hellblazer comics (although I have a fat stack of ‘Blazer trade paperbacks I picked up in sort-of anticipation of this program and have yet to read), so I can only evaluate it on its own merits and not on how it stacks up vs. the Vertigo series.  My conclusion: this is a pile of hot garbage!  It does have a lot of pretty awesome special effects, and the pilot had one or two decent ‘scares,’ but hardly enough to sustain my attention.  And I wasn’t alone — as of this writing, NBC has suspended production on the series, which is not quite an outright cancellation but it’s certainly a sign things are on life support. GRADE: D-
 arrowseason3
Arrow
Arrow hit some real peaks last season, with the interwoven story of Oliver’s escape from the island and his confrontation with Deathstroke in Starling City delivering the series’ most satisfying and ambitious arc to date.  By comparison, season three is so far floundering.  ‘Five years ago’ timeline Oliver is now off the island and working for Amanda Waller in Hong Kong, which means there is very little drama left in the flashback sequences.  All we wanted to know for most of seasons one and two was how Ollie would escape the island — now that that has been resolved, it seems like there is no tension left and really no reason to chart the rest of Oliver’s journey back to Starling City.  In the main, present-tense storyline, there are several promising threads unraveling:  Roy Harper has developed into a full-fledged sidekick, even adopting the Arsenal moniker, but continues to struggle with the after effects of the mirakuru experimental drug, which puts Oliver in the position of becoming more and more of a father figure for Roy even as the latter gains even more self-confidence.  Oliver’s sister Thea has returned to the city, ostensibly to reopen her nightclub, but in reality she’s developed ninja techniques and is working in cahoots with Malcolm Merlin, the Big Bad from season one, back (of course) from the dead.  And, in the most delightful but underutilized plot device of all, Queen Consolidated is in the process of being absorbed by billionaire super-genius Ray Palmer (aka, The Atom), played by failed-Superman Brandon Routh.  For existing fans of the show, this season still has the enjoyable characters and relationship dynamics (Oliver-Felicity-The Atom love triangle, anyone?) to obsess over, but plotwise, it really seems to be spinning its wheels.  Of course, with the 20+ episode seasons of all of these comic book inspired shows, it’s no surprise that the first halves of seasons are usually full of filler.  GRADE: B-
flashseason1episode4
The Flash
What do you love about classic Flash comic books?  Is it the affable, nerdy, do-gooder attitude of Barry Allen, one of comics’ most beloved heroes?  Is it the crime-solving and detective work inherent in Allen’s secret identity as a forensic scientist?  Is it the Flash Facts, little bits of science (or pseudo-science) frequently thrown in to explain the Flash and supporting characters’ remarkable powers and gadgets?  Is it the somewhat goofy lineup of rogues such as Captain Cold, Mirror Master, and Gorilla Grodd?  Is the sheer joy of imagining all of the things you could do with superspeed, undoubtedly one of the most excellent of the classic comic book superpowers?  If you answered All of the Above, you should probably just go ahead and watch the Flash because it captures the vibe of the comics upon which it is based better than any comic-to-TV adaptation I can think of.  GRADE: A-
whyisyourpenis
How To Get Away With Murder
Superstar defense attorney Annalise Keating removes her many layers of makeup and her wig, turns to her husband, and utters the phrase that reverberated around the world: “Why is your penis on a dead girl’s phone?”  That was the stinger at the end of one of this show’s early episodes, and it was the moment that solidified the show as yet another obsession-worthy Shonda Rhimes Special.  Just as Kerry Washington’s white hot charisma powers Scandal, much of the joy of HTGAWM comes from simply basking in the intensity of Viola Davis as she rips students to shreds, blows the tops off of courtrooms, and frequently displays heartbreaking vulnerability.  For me, an even bigger pleasure comes from watching the sexcapades of Keating’s very young, very hot, super diverse, and full-on hilarious team of junior associates.  If you like backstabbing, double-speak, network television’s most explicit boy-on-boy action, and this haircut:
lizaweilhair
you will love the hell out of this show.  GRADE: A+
Gotham
I love the comic strip Garfield minus Garfield.  By removing the fat orange cat from the strip entirely, and leaving John Arbuckle alone to contemplate his meager existence, Garfield minus Garfield creates something entirely new through the art of omission.  It takes something mildly funny and recasts it as something profoundly dark.  Gotham, which could just as easily be called Batman minus Batman, does the opposite and recasts something profoundly dark as something *very* mildly funny.  This is a tune-in-every-once-in-awhile-if-the-episode-title-seems-promising kind of show.  Recommended for fans of Batman: Forever.  GRADE: C-
Scandal
This season just makes me want to toss off my all-white winter wardrobe
 Scandal -- Screengrab from exclusive EW.com clip.
curl up on the couch with some fried chicken in my Uggs
smellymellie
sip on a nice, modestly sized glass of wine
 olivia-pope-wine
and watch it over and over and over because there’s a decent chance that this is the best season of Scandal yet.  GRADE: A
marvels-agents-of-shield
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D
This series received an injection of buzz and fresh ideas when Captain America: Winter Soldier came out in the middle of its first season and completely changed the show’s status quo.  Suddenly a show about a lame bunch of do-gooder government flacks became a show about betrayal, secrets, and life on the lam.  As the second series has begun to pick up speed, it seems like Agents is failing to take advantage of the excitement and tension inherent in the Hydra storyline.  Coulson’s crew are already back on the right side of the law, with access to seemingly unlimited resources — not excitedly the underdog scenario that was promised in season one’s final episodes.  The one saving grace of this season has been the action sequences.  The fight choreography and special effects this season have been pristine — too bad you generally have to wade through 30-40 minutes of blah storytelling to get to them.  GRADE: C+
Brooklyn 99
 The funniest traditional sitcom currently on TV — in fact, maybe the only funny traditional sitcom currently on TV.  Immature gross out humor, a cast in which ‘competent white males’ take a backseat to actually competent women and men of color, genuinely lovable and delightfully flawed characters, and this face on a weekly basis:
braugher
GRADE: A-

Saturday Night Live
This has been a season full of lame hosts and totally lacking in breakout stars among the cast.  Michael Che and Leslie Jones have been delightful but underused.  Pete Davidson seems promising but has yet to develop any memorable characters — besides himself on Weekend Update.  It seems like Kate McKinnon and Taran Killam are keeping the show afloat most nights with their broad repertoires, but they’re so overused that it’s just starting to seem like schtick.  The best parts about this season have been Kyle Mooney’s weird little segments and digital shorts — he’s the one writer/player who seems to have a distinct voice at this point – and the last run of musical guests.  Prince, Kendrick Lamar, and Bruno Mars/Mark Ronson/Mystikal brought the house down over the last few weeks.
GRADE: C
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ARROWFINALE2

arrowfinale1actual2

ARROWFINALE3

Arrow concluded a 46-episode, multi-season arc by bringing everything they possibly could full circle.  In the island storyline, we finally get to see how Ollie lost Sarah for the second time and how Ollie defeats Slade and takes his eye.  In present-day story Starling City, it’s Slade that has the upper hand.  His mirakuru fueled goons have taken over the entire city, and Amanda Waller is minutes away from launching a drone strike that will level the city rather than risk the supersoldiers spreading out around the world.  Oliver develops a two-pronged plan, sending Diggle to stop Waller and leading his own team to have the final confrontation with Slade.  In the end, it’s Felicity who saves the day by putting herself in harm’s way in order to get close to Slade and deliver the mirakuru cure.  When faced with the final decision of whether to kill Slade or let him live, Oliver does the right thing, instead choosing to imprison Slade on the same island where the two first met. Tidier than a hospital corner.

But then there was this:

olicity1

And this:

olicity2

How could you play with my emotions like that, Arrow?  Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy….

Okay.  Pulling it together now.  Honest.  Aside from once again not getting to see Felicity and Oliver get together (and the sinking feeling that they never will, or worse, that they will and it will suck!), the biggest disappointment of this episode was not getting to see any of The Flash.  I could have sworn that we were promised more Grant Gustin later in the season, but in the end it looks like we only got the two-episode arc where he helps defeat Cyrus Gold.  The CW was kind enough to put out a teaser video for the series — I could go into a whole ‘nother post about my thoughts on that project, but as it relates to the Arrow finale, I just really thought they were going to find  a way to work him in there.

arrow maybe 3

They had every other character from the entire season, after all!  Nyssa al’Ghul and the League of Assassins showed up, Amanda Waller showed up and then showed up again in the stinger, Deadshot and the Suicide Squad threw a few punches, Black Canary and the new Arsenal/Speedy both suited up, and Diggle’s wife showed up in a helicopter toting an over-the-shoulder rocket launcher!  All that, and you’re telling me there was no way to work in a plucky S.T.A.R. Labs scientist whose superpower just happens to be the most convenient plot device of all time?

Humbug.

arrow maybe 2

So….which show was better this season, Arrow or Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?  And on a related note, what show am I most looking forward to returning in the fall?

S.H.I.E.L.D. had the better season finale, though it was by no means a blowout.  Arrow did have better action sequences. The final brawl with the army of Deathstroke’s goons was a thing of beauty .  And the final scene between Oliver and Slade was one of the best short scenes on TV this year, a refreshing moment of the good guy just winning, which is what we all really want to see after all, isn’t it?  But S.H.I.E.L.D. trumped with better, tighter writing, better acting, and a more infuriating “what’s gonna happen next?” series of stingers.

arrow maybe

But what about the overall course of the season?  I figured the best way to determine which show was consistently better over time was to use the scoring system common to hockey and soccer:  each show would be awarded 3 points for a Win (a Great episode), 1 point for a Draw (a Just Okay episode), and 0 points for a Loss (a Bad episode).  Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was only 22 episodes, while Arrow ran for 23, so to level the playing field I’m awarding S.H.I.E.L.D. one free win — or if you like, you can count Captain America the Winter Soldier as an ‘episode,’ since it turned out to be so integral to the story, so much so that it basically saved the show.

Here are the results:

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D:

12 Wins, 7 Draws, 4 Losses

43 Total Points, out of a possible 69

Arrow:

14 Wins, 7 Draws, 2 Losses

49 Total Points, out of a possible 69

 

I worked long and hard to make this with MS Paint so you're damn right I'm using it twice.

I worked long and hard to make this with MS Paint so you’re damn right I’m using it twice.

Yes, in the end, Arrow is still the best non-animated-comic-book-inspired-show on network television!  All is right with the world!  It ended up being closer than I thought; Arrow was much stronger at the beginning of the season, but faltered a bit in the middle, while SHIELD started out pretty ‘meh’ and then really picked up steam towards the end.  The difference between the shows turned out to be just two episodes.

Which show am I more excited about for next year?  The producers of Arrow have indicated that the show will have a very different feel next season and at least one major character will be missing from the main cast (I’m guessing it’s Felicity, who will move over to the Flash for at least part of the season).  Instead of surviving on the Island, we’ll see young(er) Oliver in Hong Kong and see how he is connected to Argus and Amanda Waller.  In the main storyline, Oliver will be trying to get back Queen Consolidated — but I’m guessing he’ll have to take on a silly day job or (please god not this) start a private detective agency in the meantime.  On S.H.I.E.L.D, Coulson will be the new Director and the season will focus heavily on Skye’s mysterious origins (possibly as an Inhuman!).  The main draw for S.H.I.E.L.D. is that it will continue to tie into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, surely incorporating elements of Guardians of the Galaxy and leading directly into Avengers 2.  That makes it a definite must watch; Arrow still has my favorite cast and characters on TV, but with no clear sense of direction for the show and most major plotlines currently resolved, it’s very possible that they could fuck it up.

Guess what?  I’m watching both.  At least at first.

It was a thin field this year — just two superhero comic shows vying for my attention.  Next year the CW is adding The Flash, Fox is debuting Gotham, and NBC enters the fray with Constantine.  With so many comics on TV, how am I even supposed to find time to read comics?

Woe, the challenges of this modern life!

OLICITY FINAL

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SHIELDVSARROWSLOGO

As we approach the end of the season, once cohesive units begin to unravel and long-simmering plots finally boil over as dominant players are suddenly threatened by underdogs who have already overcome impossible odds.

Obviously, I’m talking about the NBA Eastern Conference where the fast-fading Pacers and the old-looking Heat are wheezing across the finish line while a resurgent Bulls, stripped of both Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, have surged into contention on the backs of Joakim Noah’s defense and DJ Agustin’s three-point shooting.

But I may as well be talking about superhero-comic based television shows.  And I will do so, for the remainder of the column.

When we last checked in, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was steadily picking up steam with a plotline about secrets within secrets within the massive spy organization that protects the Marvel Cinematic Universe from existential threats, be they extraterrestrial, Asgardian, or Robo-Nazi.  Meanwhile, the Arrow Oliver Queen found himself being hunted by Deathstroke the Terminator, finally bringing the Island-Five Years Ago and Starling City-Now plotlines together.  Arrow was still the better TV experience…but that margin was shrinking.  Has the peppy Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. finally caught up to its dark and sexy rival?  Only pitting this week’s episodeshead to head in a series of meaningless categories will tell us!

Agents of S.H.I.E.LD. Season 1 Episode 18

“Providence” 

vs.

Arrow Season 2 Episode 2 Episode 19

“The Man Under the Hood”

Let the battle….begin!

Round 1: I’m a Comics Nerd So Let’s Just Get the Easter Eggs Out of the Way Now

Left, newcomer Carlos Valdes as Cisco Ramon wielding Dr. Light's light-gun; Right, Patton Oswalt as Agent Eric Koenig in one of Nick Fury's Secret Bases

Left, newcomer Carlos Valdes as Cisco Ramon wielding Dr. Light’s light-gun; Right, Patton Oswalt as Agent Eric Koenig in one of Nick Fury’s Secret Bases

 Arrow: A crucial scene takes place in a S.T.A.R. Labs (ding!) secret facility where we are introduced to scientist/warehouse worker Cisco Ramon when he manages to do what Oliver hasn’t all season and knock Deathstroke on his ass.  He does so using a weapon designed by one Doctor Arthur Light (ding!).  You might recognize Cisco Ramon as the secret identity of Vibe (ding!), a character DC has been desperately trying to push to the mainstream since he is one of their very few latino characters.  After the fight, Cisco tips Felicity off to the existence of Iris West (ding!), with whom she will soon have to form a love triangle when Barry Allen finally returns to the show.

S.H.I.E.L.D.: After S.H.I.E.L.D. is compromised, a secret signal embedded in his ID badge leads Agent Coulson and his team to one of Nick Fury’s Secret Bases (ding!) where they encounter Patton Oswalt as Agent Eric Koenig (ding!).  In the comics Koenig is an ex-Nazi who joined up with Nick Fury and his Howling Commandos — and he was last seen in Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Warriors series.  Secret Bases, Agent Koenig, and every cast member constantly calling back the tagline “Agents of Nothing” can only mean one thing, nerds: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is totally doing Secret Warriors now!  On the run from Hydra with no one to trust…double agents everywhere you look…a network of secret bases in exotic locales around the globe…it’s my favorite Marvel storyline of the last five years so you can possibly see why I’m peeing my pants with excitement right now.

Advantage:  Arrow technically had more dings! but I never said I was going with the ding system so this round goes to S.H.I.E.L.D. — now you all go on and do a nice, reverent job with the original comics source material and don’t go trying to appeal to no mass audiences, ya hear?

Round 2: The ladies love bondage boys. Show me the most homoerotic screencap from this episode.

shieldvsarrowsround2

 Advantage:  As psyched as I am about the possibility of S.H.I.E.L.D. somehow morphing into a buddy cop show starring Bill Paxton, I think it’s clear that when it comes to putting nubile flesh in compromising positions with pseudo-religious overtones and a heavy, heavy does of S&M sensibility, Arrow continues to reign supreme.

Round 3:  How about a best dressed award?

shieldvsarrowsround3

Arrow: With this outfit, Thea is saying “I’m mature and businesslike enough for a conservatively cut blue-grey blazer but I’m wild and fun enough for a bare midriff.”  Bold, evocative.

S.H.I.E.L.D.: Agent May’s winter look says “I may be an ice cold ice queen, but even I need to bundle up in this snow covered soundstage.”

Advantage: I value practicality above all else, so despite the versatility on display in Thea’s day-to-night ensemble, I have to give it to the Parka.  S.H.I.E.L.D. 2, Arrow 1.

Round 4:  I watch these shows for the bad writing and the worse acting.  Which show is more over-the-top?

 shieldvsarrowsround4

S.H.I.E.L.D: The dramatic climax off this whole episode comes when Agent Coulson sacrifices life and limb and does the bravest thing he can possibly do, which is — stand out in an open clearing and loudly state his name while striking a very unintimidating pose.  Sometimes this show is like one long, boring G.I. Joe public service announcement: hey kids, sometimes all you need to do is tell the truth!  Telling the truth is great and after you do it, everyone gets invited inside for cookies and ice creams and snuggletime!

Arrow: Right after Thea Queen learns that her mother had an affair with last season’s big bad, Malcolm Merlin, an affair of which she was the unknowing progeny (“I’m the daughter of two mass murderers!”), we discover that the man Thea thought was her father also had an affair — with this season’s assistant Big Bad, played by Summer Glau (“I was your father’s soulmate!”).  That’s the CW for you.  Then there’s Oliver’s secret identity quagmire.  Bro:  everyone knows you are the Arrow.  Your only disguise is pretty much a hoody and that facepaint that Raiders fans put under their eyes.  You don’t even disguise your voice.  And every person who has anything to do with the Arrow just happens to be either employed by your company or a longtime friend of your family.  Even Laurel figured it out!  But the most absurd thing? THE MOST ABSURD THING?  It’s the scene where Thea is unpacking crates of liquor at her nightclub, Verdant, and she just randomly puts bottles of the same brand on different shelves all over the storeroom.  As a food and beverage worker for many years now, I find this cavalier approach to inventory management offensive.  Without the financial might of Queen Consolidated, I predict that Thea’s poorly managed bar will be shut down by the Starling City Liquor Commission any day now.

Advantage: Arrow, a thousand times Arrow, you beautiful disaster.

Round 5:  I know these shows are based on characters that were invented in the post-War era to sell sugar cereal to children, but is there anybody cold-blooded, execution style murder in either of them?

shieldvsarrowsround5

Advantage:  Really?  Both of them?  No shit.  Well I guess that means this is a tie.

Final Count:  S.H.I.E.L.D. 2-2-1, Arrow 2-2-1.

ghostbust219a

For the first time this season, S.H.I.E.L.D. has actually pulled even with the older, wiser (by one season) Arrow.  Can they carry this momentum on to the season finales in a few short weeks?  This is more of a nail biter than the Premier League Table.  Even though I obviously want Arrow to stomp all competition and be renewed forever and ever and for Oliver and Felicity to get married and have one thousand babies….deep breaths fangirl, calm down…I’m glad there’s not just one but two solid superhero comic book based TV shows on air right now.  That probably hasn’t happened since X-Men and Batman: The Animated Series in the early 1990s.  Huzzah, everything I loved as a child is cool now!  The culture is celebrating me and my tastes!  This is what it must feel like to be a Baby Boomer!  I hope this isn’t a sign that I’ve grown old and irrelevant, my mind closed to new ideas!

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Cast chemistry, both on screen and off, is so important to the long term success of a TV show.  One of these women is thinking 'please stop touching my arm.'  One of them is thinking 'What up sluts, I'm going to bone Stephen Amell tonight and you're not so have f writing fanfic about us and then crying into your pillow, kthxbye'

Cast chemistry, both on screen and off, is so important to the long term success of a TV show. One of these women is thinking ‘please stop touching my arm.’ One of them is thinking ‘What up sluts, I’m going to bone Stephen Amell tonight and YOU’RE NOT so have fun writing fanfic about us and then crying into your pillow, kthxbye’

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.LD. has come back from its mid-season hiatus reinvigorated. The first two episodes of this second half, “Magical Place” and “Seeds,” have delivered big revelations about Coulson and Skye, further intertwining their character arcs, and have hinted at the existence of a true Big Bad while continuing to develop Reina and Ian Quin as major obstacles. I don’t want to jump the gun and say the show has found its stride, but it has finally developed some momentum. The first half of the season seems like an extended pilot in comparison.

In more important news, Arrow is back with a soft premiere as well! Despite a villain whose signature move is throwing grenades around like they’re singles at a strip club, “Blast Radius” was a pretty low key episode for a midseason opener. There were no major revelations but it moved the goal posts forward with all of the major plot threads:

  • Roy has definitely developed superpowers and continues to be the worst liar on a show full of terrible, turrrrrrible liars.
  • On the island, Professor Ivo is hunting Oliver and Sarah like wild pigs and Slade may have turned on them as well.
  • Felicity is definitely trying to form a Golden Gate with Green Arrow and the Flash; Godspeed and good luck on your heroic quest Felicity! Truly ye are the hero of this show.
  • Despite his rakish good looks Sebastian Blood is not going to make the leap from rival to ally like Detective Lance did, so please stop trying Ollie!

I’m a hundred times more emotionally invested in Arrow than S.H.I.E.L.D. at this point so ranking or rating them seems kind of silly. Let’s just say Arrow wins every week for the rest of the season and I’ll let you know if anything changes. S.H.I.E.L.D. earns nothing more than the backhanded accolade that it is “surprisingly watchable,” an honor it now shares with Almost Human, which should tell you something.

Some random thoughts on these episodes:

photo 1

  • The underground secret nightclub at “S.H.I.E.L.D. Hogwarts” kind of reminds of Cyberdelia, the nightclub from Hackers. Over in Starling City, Verdant (which weirdly does kind of sound exactly like what the C.E.O. of a high-tech international conglomerate would name his horrible, tacky nightclub) reminds me of the sets from a Schumacher Batman movie (just imagine an unsafe number of smoke machines going in there). Also, who the hell holds a political campaign event in a nightclub? Is Brother Blood’s core constituency 40 year old male coke users and their “dates”, or suburban rich kids with fake IDs?

JackandDavidhaveissues

  • The kid who played Donny Gill AKA Blizzard gave me one of those “where do I recognize him from” headaches. Turns out he was Jack’s distant, bratty sideways universe son in the distant, bratty sideways universe final season of Lost. If you had trouble putting your finger on Mark Sheffer/Shrapnel in Arrow , you can hand in your Browncoats I.D. card on your way out because it’s none other than Sean Maher, Dr. Simon Tam from Firefly!
  • It’s been unclear how the creators S.H.I.E.L.D. come down in the great privacy vs. security debate. When Simmons tells us that S.H.I.E.L.D. is scrubbing our Facebook selfies looking for terrorists in the background, are we supposed to be impressed or scared to death? The viewer is asked to wrestle with this quandary alongside the technocratic Coulson and the libertarian Skye, and “Seeds” suggests that the way to reconcile these two viewpoints is through Transparency. Even though everyone tells Coulson that the only way to keep Skye safe is by concealing the truth from her, he does the opposite, and it works out just fine. Julian Assange would be proud.
  • They’ve really been putting the emphasis back on Oliver Queen’s bow skills. In “Blast Radius” his scarily accurate aim twice gets him out of seemingly impossible situations with ease. This continues to be awesome.

Finally, I’d like to end today’s column with this inspiring photo.  When someone in your life has you upset, just remember that  if Speedy and Malmer can resolve their differences, anyone can.

coltonjohn-24670123194638197

image: fanpop.com

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Waddup, this is the third and final installment of my best of 2013 listings.  If you haven’t figured it out, this encompasses everything from comic books to dance trends, the rankings are super arbitrary, and there may actually be anywhere between 14 and 20 picks on this alleged Top 15 list.  Without further ado, the Final Five:

The Final Five Cylons via EW.COM

The Final Five Cylons via EW.COM.  HA HA SPOILER lolZ

Now, without further further ado, my final five pop culture moments/things/memes of the year that was.  Click for Part 1, click for Part 2

05. Justin Timberlake’s “Mirrors” became ‘our song’

In 2013, I did something I never thought I’d do and occasionally even swore I wouldn’t do: I got engaged.  I pretty much blame Justin Timberlake for this.

Months before I got down on my knees and made a girl cry*, Justin Timberlake put out the worst album of his career** (only to be superceded by a worse worst album a few months later).  Of course, JT is the kind of pop genius who can’t even take a Chipotle shit without splorching out a catchy hook or two, so the carnitas burrito dump that was the 20/20 Experience*** still yielded the rose scented blossom that was “Mirrors.”  It’s just a really straightforward love song, and it’s laid over a baroque beat that was commercially concocted by record executives to play with your emotions and make you open your wallet.  Basically, it’s super trite and predictable but it’s also my favorite JT song of all time on strength of performance alone, and not long after hearing it, Kyle and I somehow came to the conclusion that we could sing this song to each other in place of reading wedding vows one day.  And that’s pretty much how the subject of us finally getting hitched got broached…fast forward a few months, and I was actually shopping engagement rings and gameplanning proposal scenarios.  Curse you Timberlake, you taught me how to love and I’ll never forgive you for it.

04. Shane Carruth’s second film, Upstream Color, was better than Primer

What did I really love about this movie?  Was it the unforgiving, two-steps-ahead-of-you editing; the contemplative (and yes, Malick-esque) visuals; the tight and efficient writing; the haunting ambient soundtrack; or the outstanding performance of the lead actor?  I really loved all of those things and what’s crazy is that director/editor/composer/actor/savant Shane Carruth was responsible for all of them.  He’s obviously proven that Primer wasn’t a fluke.  But, once again I have to ask, what did I really love about this movie?  Probably the two things Carruth had the least to do with: Amy Seimetz and Andrew Sensenig’s performances as the victim and orchestrator of frightening human experimentation, respectively.  Undoubtedly a film that will stick with attentive viewers, and as of this writing my favorite flick of the year.  Honorable Mention for Low Budget Science Fiction Film: Europa Report looks like it was filmed in a high school gym and had a cast of like four people and still managed to be the best space opera in years.  Blink and you’ll miss Sharlto Copley earning a Best Supporting Actor nomination in an alternate universe where good movies are relevant to the Academy.

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03. 2 Chainz made a cookbook (and an album)

As a hip-hop fan , I liked 2 Chainz a lot better when he went by the moniker Tity Boi and his rhymes had a little bit more to do with street life and less to do with rhyming fashion brand names with kinds of lobster.  But as lover of fine cuisine, 2 Chainz’ knowledge of crustaceans and sparkling wines is welcome.  #Meal Time was surely the funniest and most unexpected cross promotion effort of the year, and to prove it I’ll let these selected instructions from the Teriyaki Salmon recipe speak for themselves:

1. Put on your Versace apron
2. Slice fresh salmon, drizzle it with olive oil and season it with salt
3. Marinate salmon in teriyaki sauce and olive oil for 20 to 30 minutes
4. While you wait, feel free to watch Belly on the big screen
5. Before the movie is done, prepare grill or non-stick grill-pan and drizzle olive oil on pan
6. Place marinated salmon slices on the grill (or grill-pan) on medium-high heat
7. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes while blasting “Hit it with a Fork” at an ignorant level
8. Flip and cook another 2 1/2 to 3 minutes, before taking the salmon off the grill
9. Add 1 teaspoon of butter to pan and toss in sliced pepp ers and onions to sauté
10. Plate salmon and garnish with sautéed peppers and onions, using leftover jucies for additional flavoring

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02. Bandette was the year’s best all-ages comic

We asked a lot from comic books in 2013.  Fed up after years of crap, readers of genre comics had a few demands, each of which was thankfully met by a handful of books:

  • We wanted more women in comics, both as creators as characters (hats off to Captain Marvel, Pretty Deadly, Coffin Hill, Rocket Girl, Rat Queens, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Amy Reeder, Gail Simone, Vanesa R del Rey, Emma Rios and many more on this front).
  • We wanted books with an actual design sense, a thoughtful throughline from cover to content to backmatter that tied the whole reading experience together (congratulations to Hawkeye, Young Avengers, Manhattan Projects, East of West, and yes, many more for achieving this in spades)
  • We wanted art that looked slick and modern while fully embracing the visual legacy of the medium (and we thank Chris Samnee, Paolo Rivera, Marcos Martin, Javier Rodriguez, Fiona Staples, Jamie McKelvie, Mike Norton, and Sara Pichelli along with a generation of very talented digital color artists for delivering it)
  • We wanted easy and convenient digital distribution that made reading digital comics something to delight in rather than settle for (something for which Comixology obviously deserves the lion’s share of the credit, although other experiments like the pay-what-you-want Private Eye made big impressions this year as well).

I just named a lot of great creators and comics, but only one comic and its creators embodied everything that discerning readers demanded from comics in 2013:  Bandette, created by Colleen Coover and Paul Tobin.  Their delightful caper story spoke to my childlike sense of wonder and my adult appreciation of fine craftsmanship, leaving me with only one thing to gripe about: there just isn’t enough of it!  Monkey Brain Comics has digitally distributed five issues so far, which means you can get every page of Bandette for less than five bucks.  Seriously, I don’t even know why you’re still reading this paragraph.  Five bucks.

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01. I fell in love with the cast of Arrow

When I watch the best looking cast on television:

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Unfinished Business

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It makes me show my Vinegar Strokes:

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*R. Kelly: if you’re reading this, DM me on twitter @disastercouch and I’ll let you know where to send the royalty checks

**HELL YEAH I count N’Sync albums and HELL YEAH I’m even counting the N’Sync Christmas album because Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays Bitchez

***Marriage Proposal to Scatological Humor in Three Easy Sentences.  They said it couldn’t be done. *drops mic*

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Welcome to Week Five of the showdown between ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and The CW’s Arrow.  Why am I calling this Week Five when it’s only the second time I’ve run the column and S.H.I.E.L.D. is already on it’s sixth episode?  Because we here at disastercouch.com follow the same “no fucks given” numbering policy as all the major comics publishing houses.  Next week is gonna be Week Four point One.  Want to know which one of these shows hits the mark every week and which one is currently crashing its Helicarrier into Canceltown?  Read on, now with low-res charts!

one

TWO

THREE

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DC Comics and Marvel Entertainment battle every week to win the hearts of fans…and this year, the fight comes to the small screen. Who comes out on top when Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode 5 “The Girl in the Flower Dress ” takes on Arrow episode 3 “Broken Dolls”?

That "Girl in the Flower Dress" is out villain this episode...should give you some insight into why this show is kind of boring...real menacing dress pattern, tho. Behind the scenes image via sciencefiction.com

That “Girl in the Flower Dress” is out villain this episode…should give you some insight into why this show is kind of boring…real menacing dress pattern, tho. Behind the scenes image via sciencefiction.com

Ridiculous set-up? Check!

When a protected asset goes missing, the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. look for the source of the leak and find a link to The Rising Tide…y’know, Skye’s (Chloe Bennet) old crew of left-libertarian super-hackers?

One of Oliver Queen’s bitterest rivals last season, Detective Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne), has been busted down to beat cop and he’s ready to help Arrow hunt down a villain from his past.

Advantage: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. — This show is doing a good job keeping its eye on the ball in terms of developing the relationship at the core of the show between the freelancing Skye and the authoritarian Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg).

He's Grows a Beard and Then They Bone: A 21st Century Love Story. Composite via E! Online

He’s Grows a Beard and Then They Bone: A 21st Century Love Story. Composite via E! Online

Eye Candy Factor:

S.H.I.E.L.D. guest star Austin Nichols (One Tree Hill) brings the pain as Miles Lydon, Skye’s former lover. Within minutes of reuniting with Skye, the pair are getting busy, and showing off some previously hidden tattoos — despite the fact that Miles pretty much borked Skye’s whole plan to secretly infiltrate S.H.I.E.L.D.  Their chemistry is probably helped by the fact that the pair are borking in real life, too.

We haven’t seen much of Summer Glau since the season premiere, and it’s a been a whole episode since Stephen Amell has taken his shirt off, so the I guess the Arrow eye candy award in this episode goes to Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) and Roy Harper (Colton Haynes) for just…being there.  We do get a get glimpse of new hottie Sin (Bex Taylor Klaus ), who has some connection to the Black Canary — pixie cuts certainly do it for me, as does anyone who puts the snotty Roy in his place.

Advantage: Surprisingly, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. nabs this one too; what’s happening at CW?  Hormonal sexiness is 100% of your brand guys, lets see some fucking abs.

Ex-Detective Quentin Lance was stripped of his badge and apparently his squad car on the last season of Arrow

Ex-Detective Quentin Lance was stripped of his badge and apparently his squad car on the last season of Arrow

Zoom! Pop! Wow!

It’s becoming increasingly troubling how unnatural and unreal Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. looks; the show purports to jet from locale to locale multiple times in each episode, yet the producers seem to put the bare minimum of effort into making Los Angeles and studio sound stages look like Hong Kong, Malta, or Austin, TX…although one wonders if, even if they did shoot in real locations if you could even tell the difference because so much of the screen is taken over by CGI pop. The CGI fire effects in this episode are medium plus, at best, and the one ‘big’ explosion has all of the impact of a spaceship detonation in Galaga.

Practical effects-based action on nighttime sets with lots of rain, broken glass and police sirens…Arrow at its best looks like Die Hard or 48 Hrs, and at its worst it still looks as good as, say, Leverage.  This episode features a pair of tense abandoned factory fight scenes with plenty of arrows flying and things exploding.  Nothing balances soap operatic personal drama with set-piece action this well besides…really good superhero comic books.

Advantage: Unquestionably, this one goes to Arrow — I’m waiting for S.H.I.E.L.D. to deliver a satisfying fight or action sequence, but as they’ve assembled the least ready-for-action team of secret agents in history (2 oldsters, 2 nerds, a total n00b, and ONE GUY who could maybe take a punch in his pwetty wittle face), I’m not holding my breath.

Black Canary on Arrow

Black Canary on Arrow

Who’s Who in the (insert major publisher here) universe?

When pyrotechnic magician Chan Ho Yin is captured by the mysterious Woman in the Flower Dress, her henchmen’s outfits are a nod to the classic regalia of AIM, a frequent foil for Nick Fury’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Captain America — but I doubt that means we should expect AIM as a major player this season. Lately, Marvel Comics has parodied the interchangeable nature of secret organizations like AIM and Hyrda in titles like Secret Warriors and Daredevil; any network of supervillains on the small screen will likely borrow elements from several comic book sources.

Arrow delivers in an episode dense with fan-service.  New 52! Batman fans may well recognize this version of The Dollmaker from Tony Daniels Detective run.  In the comics, Barton Mathis was instrumental in the Joker’s plans during the “Death of the Family” crossover event when he helped the Joker remove his own face and reattach another one in its place…or something really twisted like that.  In this episode, his modus operandi is to fill women’s throats with a gooey white substance (get your mind out of the gutter!) and he’s played by busy-ass character actor Michael Eklund.  Dollmaker’s not exactly a classic villain, but this episode does see a genuine classic Green Arrow character really come into play when Black Canary (Caity Lotz) makes herself useful in the final battle, and, we get a hint that Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Assassins may be the or a Big Bad for this season.

Advantage: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. seems so desperate to prove that it’s not just a show for comic book nerds that they’re ignoring the vast reservoir of great characters and story points they have to draw from…it’s like, if Fables were so intent on being a “different kind” of fairy tale story that they didn’t use any recognizable fairtytale characters…why would anyone care? Why create a brand new fire-powered character for the Marvel Universe when you could just use Firestar, Pyro, one of several Human Torches, or probably two dozen other characters? Even relying on a fairly weak New 52! creation, Arrow takes home this crown easily by giving fans something fun in a way that honestly detracts nothing for casual viewers of the show.

Hey kids! Don't forget to practice hacking on the library computers at school and never your home computer so it can't be traced directly back to you! Good Crypto Saves Lives!

Hey kids! Don’t forget to practice hacking on the library computers at school and never your home computer so it can’t be traced directly back to you! Good Crypto Saves Lives!

With great power comes…

S.H.I.E.L.D. continues the ping-pong game of privacy versus security. Midway through, the seemingly idealistic Will says of the agency, “These people stand for everything we despise; secrets, censorship. Manning, Snowden, Assange, these are modern day revolutionaries” to which Ming Na responds: “He’s hiding behind platitudes.” Later, we learn that Will has actually been stealing secrets for profit, not because of revolutionary ideals. Skye seems to turn on him when she realizes everything he’s done has been for personal gain…which makes it all the more interesting when it’s revealed that her infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been motivated by a very personal quest, as well.

The big theme of this season on Arrow is Oliver becoming a true hero by fighting crime without killing.  This episode shows his first big moral conundrum: he doesn’t want to send the Dollmaker to jail because he’s already been there and escaped once.  So what does Ollie do?  He doesn’t have to do anything, because Black Canary conveniently puts a knife in Dollmaker’s chest.  Ollie does not seem to have a big problem with this, so maybe he’ll just keep her around as a tidy little conflict resolution device.

Advantage: I’m starting to lose my faith that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will produce any real relevant commentary on the security state, but I still admire the way the show is keeping the conversation going.  The big news headlines this morning were about the American government monitoring the private conversations of world leaders in France and Germany; even if it is itself a form of a propaganda, I feel that a show that dramatizes the government surveillance state is worth watching…remember, in the beginning Judge Dredd seemed to celebrate the very fascist police state that it later came to expose and lampoon so effectively.

 

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The Verdict: It’s a three-two decision in favor of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Despite not having much to offer fans of Marvel comics or the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and being a total snoozefest compared to the action-heavy Arrow, ABC’s show this week proved that stronger writing and one good sex scene can, in fact, win the day.  See you next week when Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode 6, “FZZT” , faces off against Arrow episode 4, “Crucible.”

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