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Posts Tagged ‘Fall TV’

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-
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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-
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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-
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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:
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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
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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
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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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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!

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TWO

THREE

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After the first episode of ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. aired, I heard a fair amount of grumbling on Twitter regarding the show’s politics.  The Joss Whedon scripted first episode suggested that a secretive, all-powerful government organization like S.H.I.E.L.D., a cardboard stand-in for our all-too-real Department of Homeland Security, was a force for good in the world.  This rubbed many of the weberati the wrong way, ignoring as it did the privacy and liberty concerns inherent in an organization that monitors everyone and loves to act preemptively.  But, that episode also introduced Skye, a self-described ‘hacktivist’ whose organization The Rising Tide is the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s equivalent of WikiLeaks or Anonymous (luckily, Skye is better looking than Julian Assange, but not necessarily better looking than Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Assange in an upcoming film).

Anyone who assumed after that pilot that S.H.I.E.L.D. was going to take a straightforward pro-Homeland Security/Patriot Act political tack was not giving Whedon enough credit.  If there is one thing that Whedon demonstrated over-and-over in his long running Buffy, it’s that he prefers to take potential plotholes head on — in the language of critical theory, Whedon consistently problematizes his own narratives.  In Buffy, if a particular storyline, like Angel and Buffy’s on-again-off again-will-they-won’t-they romance, became overwrought, Whedon wouldn’t ignore it — he would use the scripts to actively make fun of it, just the way his fans did.  The same is true in S.H.I.E.L.D. — Whedon and his team know that having secret government agents as protagonists in the post-Snowden era is problematic, but rather than glossing over that as almost every other cop/spy show in history has, they have taken the question of liberty versus security and made it the central issue of the entire show.  That theme was present in the pilot and sophomore episodes, but it’s brought to the forefront in “The Asset”, the new show’s third episode.

The episode opens with a semi-truck cruising through high desert country.  The truck driver calls to his dispatcher on CB radio and makes some comments about making it through a weigh station undetected.  The implication is that this is a truck full of illicit goods on its way to some nefarious purpose.  Then the vehicle comes under attack and the driver pulls up a holographic HUD on his dash and phones home again — this time identifying himself as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent.  Already, the viewer’s expectations have been subverted — we are shown what to appears to be a bad guy and start speculating as to what he’s up to, only to quickly learn that he’s actually one of the good guys a few moments later.  This same approach was used in the first episode of BBC’s Luther — the show opens with a man running from a shadowy pursuer, implying that he is a defenseless innocent being pursued by a brute, yet it turns out that the man is a child killer and his pursuer is supercop John Luther.   Of course, Luther is not a morally unambiguous character; and S.H.I.E.L.D. is not a morally unambiguous organization.

Dr. Franklin Hall is played by a recognizable character actor (Ian Hart), so I'm thinking he'll be back for more later in the show.

Dr. Franklin Hall is played by a recognizable character actor (Ian Hart), so I’m thinking he’ll be back for more later in the show.

The sensitive cargo in the S.H.I.E.L.D. truck turns out to be a “Priority Red protected asset” in the form of scientist Dr. Frank Hall, a researcher whom S.H.I.E.L.D. considers essentially too smart to risk him falling into enemy hands.  Astute Marvel fans might recognize Dr. Franklin Hall as Graviton, a classic Marvel villain introduced in Avengers #158 (1977).  We don’t actually see Graviton in this episode, but we essentially see his origin story, so it’s safe to say he will return as a villain and a possible Big Bad later in the season.   It doesn’t take long for the S.H.I.E.LD. team to deduce that Hall’s kidnapper is billionaire industrialist Ian Quinn, and they immediately zero in on Quinn’s haven in the tiny nation of Malta, where is exempt from taxes, UN treaties, and (supposedly) the prying eyes of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Quin’s motivation as a villain are explicitly stated.  “You and I have always believed that information should be free,” Quin says to Hall.  Quin is a hardcore libertarian who believes that government institutions actively limit innovation.  This is a commonplace of libertarian rhetoric (and not an entirely uncontroversial claim), but in the Marvel U, at least, Quinn is right in a very literal way — so far all we have seen S.H.I.E.L.D. do in the show is try to put a lid on technologies that they believe are ‘too dangerous’ for the world at large.  And yet, as Quin later points out to Agent Coulson, “S.H.I.E.L.D. is just as guilty of the same thing; your search for an unlimited power source brought an alien invasion!”

"Don't you get it? SHIELD's against everything you stand for.  They're Big Brother!"  Industrialist super villain Ian Quinn (David Conrad) and hacker/S.H.I.E.L.D. trainee Skye (Chloe Bennet) on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

“Don’t you get it? SHIELD’s against everything you stand for. They’re Big Brother!” Industrialist super villain Ian Quinn (David Conrad) and hacker/S.H.I.E.L.D. trainee Skye (Chloe Bennet) on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

When it comes time to take Quinn down, Skye is assigned as the point person.  Since she’s not yet technically a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, she’s allowed on Maltese soil, unlike the rest of the team.  She infiltrates Quin’s compound and is quickly caught snooping around by Quinn himself.  When confronted, she does exactly what Whedon would do and again subverts our expectations — rather than trying to concoct a lie, she just tells Quinn the truth.  Just not the whole truth.  She tells him that S.H.I.E.L.D. is listening in on them and that the global spy organization has been recruiting her (she leaves out the bit where all she needs to do is get into his office to disable his security perimeter).  Quinn counters that she should join his corporation instead.  The two banter back and forth, eventually reaching the conclusion that Quinn Corp and S.H.I.E.L.D. are both big and potentially corrupt institutions.  “Don’t you get it?” Quin asks Skye, who is supposed to be an internet freedom fighter, after all, “S.H.I.E.L.D. is against everything you stand for.  They’re Big Brother.”

“Yeah,” she counters, “But they’re the nice big brother.”  And then she kicks his ass.  So far, Skye seems to have concluded that in a world full of corrupt institutions, the only choice is to play realpolitick and choose the least bad option.  The question now will be, can Skye successfully change the system from the inside? Or will the system change her?  I imagine these questions will be major themes in this first season and for the show as a whole.

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Oh, sorry.  You may have thought the title indicated that I have some knowledge or insight into the new series and seasons starting up this Fall.  That is only barely the case.  But I do have a pretty good idea of what I’ll be watching, as I decided to live out my fantasy of being a network television executive by plotting out my own fantasy TV schedule — programmed for an audience of two humans and two poodles who live an especially sedentary lifestyle.  Here’s the quick rundown of the shows, new and old, that we’ll be watching this fall, at least on the nights when we decide to stay in*:

Monday:  Mondays in our house means The Voice, pretty much the only thing we ever make a big deal about watching live.  Kyle and I always route for the artsy underdogs — Jamar Rogers, Nicholas David, Michelle Chamuel — and are thoroughly disgusted when America votes for the more plain vanilla candidate like Cassadee Pope and Danielle Bradbury.  I’m stoked that my favorite coach, Xtina, will be back this season, but I know that I’ll still be dissatisfied with the winner in the end — I’ve realized that The Voice has smartly bifurcated it’s audience into People That Vote For the Winner (I guess these are probably teenage girls?) and People That Watch For the Underdog, and I’ll just always be in the latter camp.  If the first half hour of The Voice is looking tired, we can always flip over to How I Met Your Mother, which I still watch for everything but Ted Moseby.

Tuesday: The only new show I’ve really heard anything about or am excited about is Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which I will watch even if it is phenomenally bad just to see which Marvel Universe heroes, villains, and side characters (Ben Urich please!) get translated to TV.   We’ll sometimes catch the Voice results show, although I think it’s pointless to watch an hour of bad tv when twitter can just tell me who got kicked off in like half a second.  More likely, we’ll be flipping through half-hour comedies on Hulu: last year we followed New Girl, The Mindy Project, Parks & Rec, Bob’s Burgers and Family Guy.  We’d probably watch Archer and Big Bang Theory, too, but alas, neither has currents seasons stream-able to a living room device so they can go fuck themselves.

Wednesday: I usually work on Wednesdays, I assume Kyle and the boys watch My Little Pony or something.

Thursday: If you saw my long post about potential Season 3 plotlines a few weeks ago, you know I’m completely hooked on Scandal.  It’s pretty trashy, but it also seems like one of the hardest hitting criticisms of the way that Washington is run these days.  While we’re waiting for that to start, we’ll probably be catching up on more short form comedies, with a little Adventure Time thrown in for good measure.

Friday: I’ve decided it’s finally time to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  I feel like it’s this essential part of my geek education, even though paranormal isn’t necessary my sub-sub-genre of choice and it’s a really, really long show.  But beyond just a feeling of obligation, I have an urge toward belonging — Buffy still has one of the most active fandoms, and whether it’s reenacting the musical episode at comic conventions, following the characters through even more absurd stories in the Season 8 and Season 9 comics, or having a full appreciation for Eliza Dushku’s career, I just want to join in, man!  An episode or two of Buffy will provide a nice lead-in to Arrow, which I’m into for much the same reasons as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and also because one issue of Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino’s Green Arrow comic book just isn’t enough Oliver Queen for me right now.

Saturday:  I set this one aside as movie night, I’m always looking for suggestions of good things to watch on Netflix Instant or HBO Go but for the immediate future I’m looking forward to watching Aliens 3, They Live, Submarine, Upstream Color, In the Loop, and Dead Man.  I also have a kind of backup queue of action and martial arts movies that Kyle would never, ever watch with me, which get watched late at night in like ten minute increments, hardly the ideal way to watch violent, subtitled movies.  These include Exiled, Vengeance, 13 Assassins, Hara-kiri, End of Watch and Ronin.

Sunday: It’s not TV, it’s HBO!  Kyle’s never seen The Sopranos.  Neither of us has seen Deadwood.  Both series are relatively short (Sopranos has six seasons, but they’re short seasons), so we could easily finish both in about year averaging one episode a week.  Thus a night of TV viewing was born.

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So, what are you watching that I’m missing?  Think I’m wasting time with Arrow and need to be getting into Once Upon a Time instead?  Let me know in the comments!

 

*J/K we stay in and watch TV every night!  God Bless America.

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