Category Archives: TV

New Screen Rant out

About terrible fantasy shows you forgot ever aired.  G vs. E below is probably the most obscure — even my editor didn’t know it existed.

I will admit to watching Secrets of Isis as a teen purely because I crushed on Joanna Cameron (I got crushes like I breathed). But I found the show as boring as Shazam!

And then there’s Heath Ledger’s Roar, which other than bringing the Spear of Destiny to TV has nothing to recommend it.

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Alice in Wonderland, mutants and a visitor: movies, TV and a couple of graphic novels.

ALICE OF WONDERLAND IN PARIS (1966) is very marginally an Alice film, being primarily an anthology of children’s stories: the mouse protagonist of Anatole invites Alice to Paris to try different classic cheeses; she agrees because she wants to meet Ludwig Bemelman’s Madeline (who gets a couple more stories). One I’ve been curious about, though I can’t say satisfying my curiosity has enriched my life in any other way. “I have figured out the difference between the horns of a dilemma.”

A few months back I mentioned how uninteresting I found Fox’s X-spinoff THE GIFTED, focusing on the mutant underground in a world where both the Brotherhood and the X-Men have disappeared. To my surprise, as I kept watching it actually improved. Garrett Dillahunt is enjoyably creepy (as he usually is) as a sinister anti-mutant scientist, and Skyler Samuels makes a good mutant villain as the hive-mind Frost Sisters (a riff on the comics’ Stepford Cuckoos) — having one sister start talking and the other finish the sentence comes off much more unsettling with a real person than it would on a comics page.  I’m still not sold, but I will be watching when S2 returns. “If your eyes turn blue you’re a dead woman.”

To avoid stretching tomorrow’s books post to excessive length, I’ll add some extra entries here—

HENCHGIRL by Kristen Gudsnuk is one of those books where the bits are more than the sum of the parts. The story of Mary Posa, half-hearted member of a supervillain’s gang, works in small doses but the doses don’t add up to a satisfying story. Part of it is that Mary’s turn to evil midway through doesn’t quite work for me, another problem is that I can’t tell a lot of the supporting characters apart. Good enough I’d have loved for it to be better.

THE VISITOR: How and Why He Stayed by Mike Mignola, Chris Roberson and Paul Grist spotlights an alien who appeared in Conqueror Worm and revealed he’d been watching Hellboy for years. This story shows what he was doing all that time, including falling in love with a human and fighting the Oghdru Hem on his own. I enjoyed it, but definitely not something to read if you’re a Hellboy newbie.

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Sixties spies and families, teen runaways and the Doctor: TV seasons viewed

Due to attending Illogicon, I didn’t watch any movies last weekend, but I’ve wrapped up a few TV seasons recently, so—

GET SMART was easily the best of the many Bond parodies that appeared in film and TV during the 1960s (the first season launched in 1965). Don Adams (left) plays Maxwell Smart, agent for CONTROL working to defeat KAOS, “the international organization of evil” (neither name is an acronym) with the help of Barbara Feldon (right) as Agent 99. The biggest challenge, though, is that Max is an utter and complete idiot. Funny scripts and deft performances (including Ed Platt as CONTROL’s Chief) makes this one a winner, though like a lot of 1960s material it sometimes shows its age (like one involving stereotypical comic Native Americans going on the warpath again). Amusingly the very first gag in the show involves Smart’s shoephone (seen above) going off in the middle of a concert audience — as co-creators Mel Brooks and Buck Henry note in the commentary track, what’s now routine was outrageously ridiculous at the time. “What you’re saying is that there could have been 50 people in this room with the victim, but only two of them smoked!”

The second season of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW improves on the first: it’s funnier, and there are fewer variety-show episodes where everyone’s doing a musical number. As always the cast is top notch, like one episode in which a game of charades turns extremely personal. And like Anatomy of a Murder, it’s a hand visual guide for writers, in this case what an upper-middle class suburban lifestyle was supposed to look like in the mid-1960s (within limits: most couples didn’t sleep in twin beds). “How did you get On The Street Where You Live from that?”

RUNAWAYS‘ first season makes a number changes to the Marvel comic, some of them typical (much the same way Asgardians are ETs in the MCU, the Minoru Staff of One is explained as nanotech), some of them presumably because the characters are people rather than drawing — the parents get more screen time and they’re not as openly evil. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the story of a group of LA teens who discover their wealthy parents are actually members of a sinister cult known as the Pride, organized around sinister Julian McMahon. The only change that really didn’t work for me was that Molly’s not old enough to really stand out from the other kids. “After twenty years, your cheese jokes still never fail to amuse me.”

The latest season of DOCTOR WHO (tenth season of the new era) as y’all may know, is Peter Capaldi’s last, and I think he went out on a win. He has a new companion (black lesbian Bill), another new companion (the ET Nardol) and finds himself dealing with Ice Warriors, the original Cybermen, Missy and the Master’s previous incarnation in various stories. One or two yarns were weak (Eaters of the Light didn’t do much for me) but overall a solid season. “You can’t possibly set a trap without painting a self-portrait of your own weaknesses.”

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My new Screen Rant on movie stars who flopped on TV is out (#SFWApro)

More precisely, stars who flopped in series TV — Roddy McDowell did quite a bit of voice-over work and TV movies, for instance, but his three gigs as a series regular (Planet of the Apes, Fantastic Journey, Tales of the Gold Monkey) were all over in one season or less. And that’s not even counting his unsuccessful pilot Topper Returns or getting replaced as the voice of Niddler in Dark Water. None of which, as I note in the piece, reflects on his talent.

Below, McDowell as Galen from Planet of the Apes. All rights to image remain with current holder.

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Thor, aliens, racists and elderly Japanese: movies viewed (#SFWApro)

THOR RAGNAROK (2017) has Thor no sooner expose Loki as having taken Dad’s place (at the end of Thor: The Dark World) than all of Asgard falls to the Odinsons’ elder sister Hela (Cate Blanchett), which results in Thor getting trapped into gladiatorial games on the world of the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). There’s some good stuff (the handling of Hulk, Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie) and Karl Urban makes a great Skurge (the character is so lightly scripted it’s entirely to Urban’s credit his dramatic arc is plausible), but there’s way, way too much comic relief (Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner is played purely for laughs). And I don’t see any real excuse for the Dr. Strange scene other than to remind us they’re in the same universe. Art by Walt Simonson, all rights remain with current holder“Open communication has never been our family’s forte.”

ARRIVAL (2016) is the First Contact film in which linguist Amy Adams and physicist Jeremy Renner try to figure out how communicate with the recently arrived “heptapods” before someone panics and starts a shooting war. The stock opening reminded me too much of V but things picked up as it went along, enough I can forgive the weaknesses of the linguistics (I could spot some even before reading this article). Overall I’m glad I saw it, but I don’t regret waiting for streaming. “Sheena Easton had a hit song in all twelve cities in 1980.”

GET OUT (2017) probably shouldn’t have worked as it’s in many ways a conventional reworking of old horror tropes. However, the story of a young black man discovering meeting his new girlfriend’s family was a bad life decision is very well acted and raising black/white issues gives it a distinctive feel (no, they’re not targeting black victims for racist reasons, just because — oh look, a chicken!). It gets weaker at the gory end (and I can’t see how the protagonist pulled off his escape) but I’d much sooner have seen this in a theater than Arrival. Catherine Keener plays a sinister hypnotist. All rights to image remain with current holder. “I don’t think they’re a kinky sex family.”

TOKYO STORY (1953) shows that the problem of aging parents is apparently universal: A Japanese couple visit Tokyo to see their assorted children, only to have the kid fob the parents off on each other as much as possible and as cheaply as possible, with only their widowed daughter-in-law (who clings to her husband’s memory to an unhealthy degree) showing them genuine kindness. Slow-moving but no less effective for all that; I’m inclined to suggest I Never Sang For My Father as a movie tackling similar issues, though with a much less sympathetic older generation. “You see, even you are dissatisfied.”

Moving to TV, MARVEL’S INHUMANS wrapped up its eight-episode run earlier this week. While not as awful as some reviews paint it , it is very underwhelming: scheming Inhuman Maximus takes over the city of Attilan, sending the rest of the Inhuman royal family on the run (and presumably to slash costs, they shave Medusa so her living hair is off the table). After various adventures, they reunite to fight back against the usurper. Which certainly could work as a set-up but this just limps listlessly along. While not formally cancelled, it doesn’t seem anyone’s eager to give it a second chance. “That will always be my story — ‘he did so well, considering what he’s less than.’”

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The dream of an outsider (#SFWApro)

There is a running theme in pop culture that running the country is really simple — it’s the politicians who make it complicated. And yes, this obviously reflects real life memes (We should run government like a business! This politician is awesome because he’s a “Washington outsider.”), but in fiction we can actually make it happen.

(All rights to image remain with current holder)

Part of the appeal is the perennial fantasy of the ordinary Joe or Jane suddenly elevated into a fantastic life — superhero, monarch, movie star, leader. But I think it’s also drawn on an underlying belief about politics: government is simple but politicians make it complicated. They’re corrupt, act out of self-interest, too partisan to do what’s right. If we could get that out the way and convince them to knock off the bullshit, finding solutions to our problems would be a cakewalk.

So by putting someone in office who’s not a politician — a real American, a plainspoken guy (almost always a guy) who has no dog in the hunt, we can fantasize about how easy it would be for him/us to make this country work the way it’s supposed to.

Dave is a perfect example. Kevin Kline [edited to correct name] as the eponymous protagonist becomes the president’s double; when the president has a stroke, Dave steps in (part of a scheme by political insiders to keep the upright Veep from stepping in and thwarting their plan). Miraculously, he’s able to set the country on the right track because he actually cares about people more than politics. In Gabriel Over the White House (admittedly not a regular guy — the protagonist is possessed by an angel), Walter Huston creates a New Deal-like jobs program to end the depression, ends Prohibition and declares martial law so he can take down organized crime. Then he builds the world’s mightiest navy, so just the hint the US might use it will keep the nations of the world at peace.

Over on TV, Mr. Sterling was a TV series starring Josh Brolin as the son of a Democratic senator appointed to fill his late father’s position. Only instead of being a Democrat as everyone assumes, he’s an independent — OMG, he can vote principle over party! Or Kiefer Sutherland as the Designated Survivor forced into the presidency.

It’s no surprise there are many more examples. Distaste for politics has been around since the Founding Fathers, literally. That generation gave us our first political parties, but it also looked on parties as “faction,” a decision to act based on political agenda rather than principle. But the solution we get in movies like this is a fantasy.

Sure, lots of people think they know what America needs (I certainly do) but we don’t all “know” the same thing. I could see a Christian movie in this vein where knocking off the bullshit means a big speech about how we all know abortion is murder, now let’s get to work and ban it nationwide. That might make perfect sense to right-to-lifers but to me it would be a step towards The Handmaid’s Tale.

Even if we agree on the goal, the fantasy skips the ugly steps that Dave or Mr. Sterling might have to take to achieve it: FDR got Social Security passed by exempting field hands and servants. As most Southern blacks worked in domestic service or agriculture, Southern Democrats supported Social Security knowing blacks in their states wouldn’t benefit.

I know political bloggers who really loathe the movies for presenting a fantasy about how politics works; I’m not one of them. I liked Dave (a starring team of Costner and Sigourney Weaver doesn’t help). But I thought it was worth mentioning that politics doesn’t work like that.

 

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New Screen Rant is live: 20 Terrible SF Shows You Forgot (#SFWApro)

The godawful alien invasion series First Wave. Alcatraz. The TV Timecop spinoff. And of course Baywatch Nights! Take a look.

Below is a photo of Judson Scott (Khan’s son in Wrath of Khan) as that God From Outer Space, The Phoenix. Suffice to say, if you’re making the incredibly stiff Scott the center of your series, you’re doomed.

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