Category Archives: TV

Blind Spots and satisfying endings (#SFWApro)

So last week the second season of NBC’s BLIND SPOT wrapped up. I wasn’t a big fan of S1, but this season seemed a marked improvement, making the unsatisfying season finish a disappointment.

The premise of Blind Spot (all rights to image remain with current holder) is that Jane Doe (Jaime Alexander) shows up in Times Square amnesiac and covered with tattoos. All of which turn out to be complex clues to upcoming or ongoing federal crimes. So she winds up working with a special FBI task force run by Kurt Weller (the guy in back) as she’s also a deadly fighter, marksman, martial artist …  Over the course of the season we learn Jane has ties to a terrorist mastermind Shepard; her presence on the FBI is part of Shepard’s master plan; Jane herself signed off on becoming an amnesiac.

This season we learn more. Shepard is the leader of Sandstorm, a conspiracy that believes the American government has become utterly corrupt and must be destroyed. It turns out Weller is a part of Shepard’s plan, which involves something called the Truman Protocols and COGS. In the next to last S2 episode we learn (as do the cast) that COGS is the Continuity Of Government Subcommittee. Under the Truman Protocol, in the event of a major threat to the government, the COGS — deputy heads of various government agencies — are relocated to an underground bunker so that if the government takes a hit, they’re ready to rebuild. Weller realizes this is Shepard’s plan — an attack on Washington followed by this entirely new cadre of leaders (some of whom are, of course Sandstorm) taking over. Shepard has used the tattoos to manipulate the FBI and the government all along to activate the protocols.

Needless to say, in the following episode Shepard’s attack is averted, she goes down (Jane’s brother Roman escapes) and Jane and Weller finally act on their burning passion. Cut to two years later: Jane has left the FBI for undisclosed reason, but then Weller shows up to tell her that most of the team has been kidnapped — he needs her to find them. Oh, and he has a mysterious McGuffin that makes her tattoos glow … Cue S3 (which I imagine will be past/present alternating timelines a la Lost, Once Upon a Time, Arrow, Quantico).

After a solid season, I found the finish disappointing. Ratings were right on the edge for cancellation and it felt very much like they’d wrapped it up fast so that if the axe fell there would be no leftover issues. Which is good, but …

I think my biggest problem is that I simply can’t buy the entire two seasons were all part of a plan. Maybe with more explanation I could buy it, but like Silva in Skyfall, Shepard would have to be a precog or a time traveler to calculate exactly how this would all play out (I may be wrong but I’m not rewatching the show to find out).

The ending also doesn’t convince me why Shepard worked so hard to look out for Weller. S2 showed she’s been watching over him for years — that seems like an awful lot of work just to fill one slot in COGS. Though that’s easier to explain: maybe she took an interest in him independent of her agenda, and later slotted him into her big plan later. Still, its a flaw.

And last but not least, while the finish is certainly lively (can Patterson the nerd deactivate the doomsday weapon in time?) it seems that it left a lot of the emotional arcs (and there were quite a few of them) unfinished. We did get Weller/Jane but that wasn’t really an arc this season — it felt more like the simplest way to provide a convenient happy ending.

I’ll give S3 a try, but right now, I’m not enthused.

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Westworld: I like the movie more than the series (#SFWApro)

Due to a slightly crazy last weekend (I donated blood and TYG had multiple demands on her time), the only film I caught was WESTWORLD (1973), which is probably Michael Crichton’s most influential work besides Jurassic Park. Influential in the sense that it led to one film sequel (Futureworld), a TV series (Beyond Westworld) and most recently HBO’s Westworld (which I finished up shortly before watching the film.

The movie’s premise is simple. The Delos corporation runs a trio of theme parks (Westworld, Romanworld, Knightworld) where most of the people are automatons. Guests can cosplay to their heart’s content, engage in gunfights in the street, participate in Roman orgies, then go back to their regular life. And the computers regulating the automatons keep everything nice and safe.

Unfortunately, as you might guess from the catchphrase at the bottom of the poster, it doesn’t work like that. We learn early on that a glitch is causing the robots to act outside their programming, and apparently spreading from automaton to automaton (it shows the film’s age that there’s no mention of computer viruses). Westworld vacationer Richard Benjamin sees gunslinger automaton Yul Brynner gun down Benjamin’s buddy James Brolin, then has to flee for his life from the relentless killer (it gets very Terminator). Like Jurassic Park, the people in charge assume they can control everything, but it turns out they can’t. Another way the film shows its age is that the subtext is Computers Cannot Be Trusted; today, we seem to accept similar possibly lethal glitches as a fact of life (the nature of the glitch is never explained). It’s still a neat little thriller. Contrary to what you may read elsewhere, it isn’t based on a Crichton novel — it started life as a screenplay.

Futureworld and Beyond Westworld go in a different direction, with a bad guy using the robots to replace important, powerful people (I covered both in Screen Enemies of the American Way). And then we get the HBO series, which charts a new direction, and clearly aspires to Serious Deep Thoughts. I wasn’t impressed.

Foz Meadows covers everything I disliked about it — gratuitous rape (and an implication that in context, the rapes were a good thing), a whole lot of hookers (though the Westworld staff gives us more female representation than we got in the original film), and catering very much to a white male gaze (we have brothel owner Thandie Newton aggressively hitting on female guests, but no male prostitutes available). I like it much less than Meadows, though. It’s got excellent acting but preens too much on exposing the human id (suffice to say, people are much more vicious to the robot “hosts” than in the film) and offering recycled thoughts about AI and human existence. The ending makes me think the second season won’t be anything but a cliché. So I won’t be back. I’ll pick a light thriller over an ambitious but clunky Serious Series any day.

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Hookers and bridesmaids, a living planet and Woody Allen: Movies viewed (#SFWApro)

TRUCK STOP WOMEN (1974) is a serious sociological study of the lives of women who work at truck stops — okay, no, it’s about the owner of a combination truck stop/brothel/hijacking ring (Lieux Dressler) who find herself at war with the syndicate when a couple of mobsters come out to New Mexico to take over her operation. And will her restless daughter (Claudia Jennings) side with Mom, or with the mob? Like a lot of 1970s drive-in fare, this was nowhere near as interesting as it looked. “These days every waitress along the highway has hinges on her heels.”

BRIDESMAIDS (2011) is the rowdy comedy in which Kirsten Wiig’s personal crises threaten to ruin her best friend’s wedding when Wiig overcompensates for apparently losing her buddy to a newer, cooler bestie. Very, very funny; with Melissa McCarthy as a raunchy bridesmaid (“I’m going to climb that tree.”), Jill Clayburgh as Annie’s mother and Chris O’Dowd as a nice cop (“Missing girl found safe at home — that’s the kind of adrenalin pusher cops live for.”). “At first I didn’t realize it was your journal, I thought it was a sad, handwritten book.”

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL 2 (2017) has a botched mission for an alien race scattering the team, then Star Lord discovering his dad is Ego the Living Planet in his mortal avatar of Kurt Russell). Not as tight as the first film but still a lot of fun. However I don’t really buy that a pre-teen kid abducted from Earth in the late 1980s would be such a big cheers fan (Knight Rider, sure). With Sylvester Stallone in a brief cameo as Starhawk. “Yondu and David Hasselhoff both had crazy kickass adventures and hooked up with hot women.”

TO ROME WITH LOVE (2012)isn’t up to Midnight in Paris but it’s the best of Woody Allen’s other European fantasies. In many ways it harks back to his early sketch-comedy style with a mix of multiple unrelated plot threads some of which — Roberto Benigni becoming the most fascinating man in the world — are cheerfully absurdist (and The Singer Who Can Only Perform In The Shower was a comic shtick back when I was a kid). The only weak story is Alec Baldwin revisiting his youthful romance and his flirtation with intellectu

ain’t up to MIDNIGHT IN PARIS but it’s also a lot better than most of Allen’s European fantasies as Alec Baldwin visits his flashback booth, Roberto Benigni becomes the most fascinating man in the world, hooker Penelope Cruz disrupts a young couple’s trip to Rome and Woody Allen tries to make an opera star out of a man who sings in the shower. Reminiscent of his old sketch comic stuff (The Guy Who Can Only Sing Well In The Shower is, of course, an old, old warhorse), the only weak story is the Baldwin one — Ellen Page plays an intellectual seductress and the character is no more convincing here than the femme fatale in Melinda and Melinda.  “We shall report on his shave from the first to the last stroke.”
Switching to TV, BLANDINGS (2013) adapts PG Wodehouse’s best known series next to Jeeves and Wooster, the stories of Blandings Castle where Lord Emsworth (Timothy Spall) fusses endlessly over his prizewinning pig, his nitwit son keeps getting into trouble (think Bertie with no Jeeves to save him) and Aunt Connie (Jennifer Saunders) scowls on everything. Funny as hell, and with a great cast (better overall than the version Peter O’Toole did for the BBC). “His mustache looks like a maggot crawled onto his upper lip and died.”

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New Screen Rant column: 18 things you didn’t know about the Daleks (#SFWApro)

As my new Screen Rant column explains:

Daleks can climb stairs!

An appearance in Looney Tunes: Back in Action almost kept the Daleks from appearing in the new Doctor Who series.

There’s actually a Christmas song about Daleks.

And more quirky trivia from the nastiest of TV’s aliens. Go read right now or — “Ex-ter-min-ate!”

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Angry Martians, a disappointing black film, TV and a play: reviews (#SFWApro)

THE ANGRY RED PLANET (1960) is by the same creators as the tedious The Time Travelers and equally uninteresting, except for one truly memorable monster, the absurd bat-rat-spider. An expedition to Mars encounters various Martian horrors before the Martians send them home and tell them not to come back, the end. Very, very talky in the drawing-room SF vein (even though most of the talk takes place in labs or on the ship). “Nothing I’ve seen contradicts the theory that basic matter is the same everywhere in the universe.”

A PIECE OF THE ACTION (1976) was Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier’s third and final big-screen team-up (the first being Uptown Saturday Night) and easily the worst. Instead of blue-collar buddies, they’re now master criminals (safe cracker and conman respectively) blackmailed by retired cop James Earl Jones into serving as mentors at a job center for troubled inner-city youth. I loved this the first time I saw it, but now I recognize how many shopworn tropes are in it — this could as easily have been Welcome Back Kotter or one of Warner Brothers’ 1930s dramas about slum kids, coupled with the time-honored plot of Guy Becomes Teacher, Blossoms Into Decent Human Being and lots of stuff about how all the kids need is Confidence and a Good Attitude. Another problem is that there are two main plots, the crime drama (will the vengeful mobsters catch up with them?) and the kid stuff, and the film doesn’t mesh them smoothly. “That’s your first lesson — nobody gives you something for nothing.”

DC LEGENDS OF TOMORROW had a much better season than its first, replacing Vandal Savage with the Legion of Doom (“I got the name from this cartoon I watched as a kid.”), a trio of established villains who very much want to rewrite history to put wrong what once went right. This was just a really fun show and the final episode of the season was spectacular. “Why would a relic from the Crusades turn up in the Galapagos during the Reagan era?”

I recently discovered that the one nonsyndicated episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, The Encounter, was online at YouTube and so thought I’d give it a look. This story of Nisei George Takei and WW II veteran Neville Brand locking horns with each other is superbly acted — given it’s a two-man show, they picked two great guys. Unfortunately the racial overtones are (as they say) problematic, staring with the Big Reveal that Takei’s father was a Japanese spy working with the attackers at Pearl Harbor (there was no Japanese fifth column at Pearl Harbor). The rest of the arc seems to imply that Takei has something to atone for equivalent to Brand murdering a Japanese officer, or that he’s still somehow a threat just because of his sinister Japanese-ness or something, which probably explains why it’s not in syndication or on DVD.THE GRAND DUKE was Gilbert and Sullivan’s last production and I wasn’t optimistic about it given Utopia Limited and Princess Ida (the preceding creations) were hardly their A-game. Surprisingly this was very entertaining: a troupe of actors plotting to take over a small German principality get a lucky break due to an arcane rule of law that allows one of their number to legally assume the Grand Duke’s role. However it turns out that includes the Grand Duke’s responsibilities, such as marriage — or engagements — and it turns out the Duke’s been kind of free with his proposals. Great fun, good looking and well performed; the duke is somewhat modeled on Trump, but that works fine.. “Be a violet — a crushed, despairing violet.”

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A sheriff, a Victorian damsel and a Harlem hero: Movies and TV (#SFWApro)

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF (1969) stars James Garner as a drifter (“Just so you understand, I’m on my way to Australia.”) who becomes the sheriff of a small gold-rush town struggling with local landowner Walter Brennan’s stranglehold on the community (the only way to ship anything in or out is over his property). This is more of a conventional Western than the sequel, Support Your Local Gunfighter — where Garner in the second film is just a conman, here he really is a supremely fast gun — but it’s still very funny. Both films make use of Harry Morgan, Henry Jones and Jack Elam (“He’s the town character.”), plus this one has Joan Hackett as a feisty hoyden and Bruce Dern as a gunslinging bully. Well worth catching.“It’s an Arizona trick, but I’ve seen it as far north as Montana.”
Much as I loved Mia Wasikowska’s Alice in Wonderland, ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS (2016) wastes Wasikowska and my time. After life events take away everything Alice gained at the end of the first film, she’s called back to Wonderland where the Mad Hatter has gone completely mad due to his tragic backstory — can Alice go back in time and change things? I enjoyed the first film reworking Carroll, but this just has too little source material (and for obvious reasons, the time travel aspect was depressingly familiar) and way too much retconning — did we really need the Red Queen and the Mad Hatter to have a single determining incident explaining them? Wasikowka’s still great, but the film is sub-par.  “I need to find her immediately, but there’s no hurry.”
The first season of Netflix’s LUKE CAGE, as one critic said, is remarkable for how much it embraces it’s blackness: overwhelmingly black cast, references to black authors such as Chester Hymes [edited to get the name right], Harlem setting and more. The story has ex-con Cage (previously in Netflix’ Jessica Jones) reluctantly becoming Harlem’s hero in residence to stop a scheming politician, the crimelord Cottonmouth and the even more vicious Diamondback. I liked it all the way through, more than either of its predecessor series, but it seems a lot of people found it wearing out its welcome. So YMMV. “I don’t go past — I go through!”

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Goodbye Jo, Goodbye Jackanapes: Doctor Who, Season Ten (#SFWApro)

As I don’t have enough material for a book-review post this week, how about Doctor Who? Season Ten was noteworthy for writing out Jo Grant and for losing the Master (afterRoger Delgado died in a car accident, nobody wanted to replace such a fan favorite write away).

The season kicks off in high style with The Three Doctors (all rights to image remain with current holder) in which the renegade Time Lord Omega threatens all time and space; when the Third Doctor fails to stop him, the Time Lords send in the Second and the First (though Hartnell’s health issues left him only an image on the TARDIS monitor). This was an outstanding one, though slightly undercut by the low budget — Omega’s monster servants look like they’re spackled with gumdrops. Noteworthy also in that ends with the Doctor regaining his freedom to travel the time stream. “If I exist only by my will, then my will is to destroy!”

In Carnival of Monsters, the TARDIS’ first test flight appears to land the Doctor and Jo on a cruise ship in 1937, only it seems time is repeating over and over … because the ship is actually trapped in a time-space viewer an alien huckster is using to entertain another planet. Oh, and the monsters from some of the other time-space snapshots are breaking out … This gets a bit too crowded — the issue of the aliens overthrowing their despotic leader gets very short shrift — but it’s not bad. “They’ve no sense of responsibility. Give them a hygiene chamber and they store fossil fuel in it.”

In trying to return from that adventure, the TARDIS materializes on a space freighter plying THE FRONTIER IN SPACE. That doesn’t go well as Earth is convinced the alien Draconians are preying upon Earth shipping; the Draconians, conversely, are convinced Earth is responsible. Hmm, could someone be setting the two sides against each other? This starts stiffly with the guest cast clench-jawed in intensity, but it picks up as it goes along. And I really like that Jo gets some great moments, such as blocking the Master’s hypnosis (not easily done). This included the Master, the Ogrons (their last appearance — surprisingly the new series has yet to revive them) and the Daleks; the ending sets up a battle between the Master and the Daleks but Delgado’s death nixed that (as the ending is primarily a segue into Planet of the Daleks it’s a little awkward anyway. “Allow me to congratulate you—you have the most closed mind I have ever encountered.”

PLANET OF THE DALEKS comes off as a remake of the series’ second serial, The Daleks: once again the Doctor and the Thals (the other inhabitants of Skaro) join forces to attack a Dalek citadel (where several thousand Dalek warriors are in suspended animation waiting for reactivation). Of course by this point there were lots of fans who’d never seen the original (I hadn’t) — but by the same token, I wouldn’t have gotten any kick out of the return of the Thals (“Who?”). This does have a great turn by Katy Manning, as Jo’s virtually a solo act for half the first episode. “Earth doesn’t exist — it’s a name out of old legends.”

Last and least we have THE GREEN DEATH, in which Jo gets involved in a protest against a polluting corporation, then discovers (along with the Doctor) that its pollution is breeding Giant Killer Maggots, oh plus there’s an evil computer in charge plotting to take over the world. The elements are there for a good one, but they never pull together — while the idea the maggots result from the computer’s neglect rather than intentional evil is interesting, it never gelled (it’s like The War Machines just happened to be rolling through London at the same time as the Doctor fought WOTAN). Add in heavy-handed ecological preachment (even though I’m sympathetic to the sentiments) and Jo become much more dimwitted so the Professor (whom she goes off with) can demonstrate his braininess makes him worthy to claim her affections from the Doctor. However I do highly recommend Global Conspiracy, a short mockumentary in which a reporter tries digging up the incredible truth of what exactly happened during the serial (or is it just an urban legend, like “stories of lizards in vests attacking seamen?”). It’s pitch-perfect, and hysterical. “A shame we didn’t arrange for an orchestra to play a symphony at my ascension.”

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