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Posts Tagged ‘Television’

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-
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:
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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
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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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Jake Worthington, Josh Kaufman, and Christina Grimmie await their fate on the season six finale of The Voice.

Jake Worthington, Josh Kaufman, and Christina Grimmie await their fate on the season six finale of The Voice.

In my Voice Power Rankings this season, I drew attention to the online popularity of one contestant, Youtube sensation Christina Grimmie.  Throughout the course of the competition, Grimmie’s performance videos have been massively popular, always with 2-3 times the views of her competitors’, and her social media reach has been at least twice that of anyone else on the show.  Her talent was undeniable, and the fact that she would win was inevitable.

But that’s not what happened.

On last night’s finale, Josh “The Soul Man” Kaufman hoisted the trophy for Team Usher, marking two historic firsts for the US version of The Voice franchise. It was the first time a coach not named Adam Levine or Blake Shelton has won the show.  And it was the first time in six season that the show has gotten it right.

joshadorableface

Josh wasn’t my first choice to win the season — I was a proud supporter of Delvin “The Singing Barista” Choice, who didn’t crack the top five.  But of the contestants who reached the competition show’s final stages, Josh clearly possessed the most charisma, style, personality, and – arguably – singing ability.   I liked him.  A lot.   That should have meant he was doomed.

Previous seasons of the Voice have not rewarded talent and experience over image and lowest-common-denominator appeal: thus we have witnessed such travesties as Cassadee Pope over Terry McDermott and Nicholas David, and Danielle Bradbery over Michelle Chamuelle.  Nicholas David, the sasquatch of soul, was my all-time favorite contestant and filled the very same niche as Josh Kaufman — and thus I expected Kaufman to go out much the same way, losing to a straightforward pop singer.

But that pop singer was the first to be eliminated last night (though it took an hour and fifty-five minutes to get to that point).  Grimmie did not look nervous before the results were read, and though she hugged her fellow contestants and acted the gracious loser after hearing her name called, she left the stage with her head hung low; it seemed like she was as surprised with the result as those of us watching at home.

christina grimmie is a loser

 

I can’t blame her — third place?  Third place might be a respectable showing in a middle school science fair, but if you’re one of the Top 200 most subscribed users on Youtube, third place on some dumb television show is a big kick in the nuts.  There were signs, though — Grimmie was actually faced with elimination last week, only carried to the Final Three by the Twitter Instant Save.  There was never any doubt that Grimmie would get that save — she has 585,000 Twitter followers, after all — but I should have been thinking more about what it meant that she was in the bottom of the table at all.

It raises the question for me once again:  who votes for this thing?  I watch the show every week and I admittedly don’t always vote.  This is partly to do with a dislike for the voting system, which allows you to cast multiple votes for multiple contestants, partly out of forgetfulness, and partly because of how I watch the show, which is to skip the Monday show and catch up on all of the performances on Tuesday right before the results show.  After last night’s show, it’s obvious that the voting viewership is not dominated by young viewers who are active on social media — Grimmie would have won handily had that been the case.  I had believed that Grimmie, already an established artists with a broad fanbase, had such a huge advantage in the voting that the competition had become something of a farce.  Clearly I was wrong.

jake worthington mildly retarded

Instead she came in behind Jake Worthington, the Texas boy who cruised to the final three on the strength of a string of dull-as-red-dirt ’90s country ballads.  There was even a minute there when I thought Jake might go home with the trophy.  That would have confirmed my second theory about who votes on the voice: country fans.  That seemd to be how Cassadee Pope and Danielle Bradbury won in previous seasons, and how Audra McLaughlin and Kristen Merlin advanced so far in the competition this year.  But that turned out not to be the case either.

In the end, it was Josh, the most deserving and by far the oldest artist in the competition, who took top honors.  How could this happen?  One thing I didn’t take into account is that Grimmie’s fanbase, while massive, is also global — like most Youtube stars, her high number of followers has a lot to do with her ability to appeal to video watchers all over the world, but Voice voting is limited to the U.S. (and maybe Canada?).   But I think Josh’s win speaks to something happening with the Voice overall.  The Voice wins it’s time slot every Monday, but it’s doing so with only a fraction of the numbers that American Idol put up in its prime.  This will likely be the first season that the Voice loses viewers between the season premiere and the finale.  The Voice has been known for attracting younger viewers that American Idol, but as ratings for the show decline, I believe it’s the older viewers who stick around — and vote for more mature artists like Josh Kaufman.  Hey, it’s just a theory, but how else do you explain what we saw last night?

 

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ARROWFINALE2

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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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Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.LD., “The Beginning of the End” (Season Finale)

That was an incredible episode.  The first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. concluded last night with the most action-packed, emotional, and satisfactory entry into the series so far.  After trailing behind my personal fave, Arrow, for the entire TV season, in the final moments Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. rockets to the top of the table, leaving Arrow with an uphill battle if it has any hope of reclaiming First Place in my totally irrelevant rankings of superhero comic book – to – TV adaptations.   I’ve been watching a lot of English Premier League soccer this year so of course I was reminded of the stunning conclusion to that season:  Liverpool, the team of destiny, leading the title race for most of the season, only to be knocked off in the final weeks by a rising Manchester City*.  

Quick recap:

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Fitz and Simmons are at the bottom of the ocean and the only way for them to escape is to finally admit they have big crushes on each other, which will somehow cause Sam Jackson to appear and save the day — sort of.

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Peter Quinn’s secret headquarters is just some boring suburban office park and the bad guys who have been sending secret messages to Deathlok’s eyeballs this whole time are white collar schlubs who work in cubicles.  That’s called the Banality of Evil and Hannah Arendt wrote about it fifty years ago, except she didn’t think it was as funny as Skye and the S.H.I.E.L.D. team do.  Skye breaks in and rescues Deathlok’s son Ace, which will be important later.

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Bill Paxton took a shot of alien Go Go Juice right in his artificial heart and it is making him go crazy drawing weird diagrams and talking about being able to see the whole universe, or something.  This makes Ward pretty uncomfortable, so he leaves to try to hunt down Skye and May.

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May, who promptly kicks the shit out of Ward (and very nearly slices him in half with a circular saw, which would have been a pretty great twist, if you ask me), which conveniently allows them to work out the emotional tensions in their relationship at they same time they resolve a major plot loop, just like Fitz and Simmons did earlier!  Man, things are really clicking along in this ep…

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Cut to, Sam Jackson gives Agent Coulson a BFG so that he can take out the now super-strong and full blown insane Bill Paxton.  Unfortunately, the gun just isn’t quite big enough.  

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That’s when Skye hands her cellphone to Ace and has him text his dad a secret message, which instantly leads him to turn and shoot a rocket at his old boss.  Good guys win!

So it’s on to next season.  Oh, Coulson got to talk to Nick Fury about how pissed he is about getting resurrected against his will, so Nick Fury makes Coulson the new director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and gives him a little box that includes directions to a new secret base.  Fitz is alive but probably brain damaged, but now that Simmons knows he’s in love with her she’ll probably spend a good chunk of next season trying to fix him.  Either that or the brain damage will make him completely forget everything and not love Simmons anymore, which would allow for another whole season of “will they or won’t they.” Grumble.  

The Girl in the Flower Dress got away and she knows who Skye’s father is — throughout the episode she kept mentioning a next phase of human evolution and that Skye is the key to it.  She also told Paxton that the question she always wanted to ask the Clairvoyant was “what will I become?”  With the further suggestion that the drug that rescued Skye, Coulson and Paxton was of Kree origin, I think all of the clues point to Skye being an Inhuman — so who was the villain we saw at the very end with his back to the camera, seemingly dripping blood?  We heard him talk (I think), so that mean’s it’s probably not Black Bolt.  In last week’s episode, Raina told us Skye’s origin story, how she was the lone survivor when her own parents, some kind of monsters, destroyed an entire Chinese village to try to get to her.  Perhaps it was the monstrous Inhuman Gorgon?  It might not be an Inhuman, or even and existing comic book character, at all.  Finally, in the last last scene of the episode (there were like five endings, seriously), Coulson gets up in the middle of the night to start scrawling the same symbols on the wall of his new base that Paxton was earlier drawing at the Cybertek campus.  

So we’ve got a ton of mysteries and plot lines resolved, one big one (Skye’s complete origin and how she fits into the wider Marvel universe) still picking up steam, and a few new ones tossed in.  It will be a long three to four months waiting for this show to come back — and to think, for most of the season I could barely keep my eyes open through the episodes.  Well played Marvel, well played.

Tomorrow:  Arrow’s three-part season finale has been a snooze so far (except for the parts where Summer Glau kicks people’s ass, that is still always welcome).  But the final episode of the show’s second season promises the return of The Flash and a preview of what we can expect from next season’s new Flash series.  Can the Scarlet Speedster save a sinking ship?  Can Felicity Smoak please please finally get some action on this show?  Watch the episode tonight and then check out my recap tomorrow to find out.

*I could take the ill-fitting metaphor further: Liverpool may have had the heart and the drive to win it all, but at the end of the day they were done in by a combination of their own mistakes** and the other squad’s ability to spend more on talent***.

**In Liverpool’s case, allowing mid-table darlings Crystal Palace to come back from three-nil in the final twelve minutes of a crucial game and force a draw; in Arrow’s case, allowing a promising Deathstroke-Green Arrow rivalry to be spun out far beyond any reasonable person’s level of interest.

***Manchester City was of course one of two teams singled out this year by UEFA for violating the new Financial Fair Play rules that are meant to prevent teams from drastically outspending competitors, and I believe they carry the highest player payroll in all of the Premier League.  S.H.I.E.L.D. has always looked more expensive than Arrow, with its digital effects and daylight shots, but it wasn’t until the end of the year that we got to see how worthwhile it was to spend a ton of money on personnel, in the form of The House of Whedon**** and Bill Paxton.

****What would the House of Whedon’s sigil and house motto be in Westeros?  I’m thinking the sigil would be a Ticking Time Bomb, representing a goofy and obvious plot device, and their motto would be “Everyone Dies.”  Actually, now that I think about it, they would fit into Westeros really, really well.

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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?

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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?

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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.

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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.

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image: fanpop.com

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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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