Television Review: The Tick

TheTickby Michael D. Pederson

 

The Tick
Amazon Video

Amazon Video recently rolled out the pilot episode of it’s latest incarnation of Ben Edlund’s The Tick. As part of their pilot season, they debut three separate shows and let the audience response decide which one will be picked up. I’ve followed the Tick through all of his incarnations—comic, cartoon, and live action sitcom—and, so far, I think that this one could be the best version yet. I say “could” because I’ve only seen the one episode so far, and even though it was missing some key elements (particularly the fellow heroes that the Tick frequently interacts with, who they might be depends on which of the three sources they pull from) the basics were all there and the pilot left me craving a full season binge.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. No, Peter Serafinowicz isn’t a big, burly mancake that looks just like the cartoon version of the Tick. He’s no Patrick Warburton, but damned if he isn’t the Tick. Watching him casually stroll into danger you believe that he’s nigh invulnerable in a way that you never did with Warburton’s Tick. Serafinowicz’s performance channels the goofy confidence of Townsend Coleman’s animated delivery by way of an ultra-upbeat Adam West. It’s nothing short of perfection. Where Warburton brought a charmingly naive innocence to the role, Serafinowicz reminds us that the Tick is mentally deranged (but in a good way).

The pilot episode (bookended by opening and closing narration by the Tick) is primarily an origin story for Arthur. Yes, he gets a requisite tragic back story but it’s served up in a way that manages to be both poignant and mocking of over-the-top cliches at the same time. Since his origin event, Arthur has spent the past twenty years obsessing over the Terror, a criminal mastermind that everyone believes to be dead. Arthur believes otherwise and has a Wall to prove it. We get a brief flashback scene of the Terror in Arthur’s origin story that whets your appetite for more. As played by Jackie Earle Haley (Watchmen), the Terror is both comical and terrifying and it’s this tightrope balance of silly and serious that makes the episode work so well. Edlund clearly learned a thing or two about camp while writing for Gotham. In The Tick, he’s created a serious world, populated by real people that just happens to have some very weird characters in it. And it works.

Making Arthur the POV character rather than just a sidekick makes the show a lot more approachable to the average viewer than some of its past incarnations. Whenever Serafinowicz is on screen though, the screen just explodes. Exuding a contagious enthusiasm while bellowing catchphrases and pontificating about destiny, Serafinowicz makes you believe that he’s an animation come to life.

If you want more (and I sure do) you’ll need to go to Amazon Video and fill out their survey.

 

Television Review: Z Nation

ZNationby Michael D. Pederson

 

Z Nation
Syfy

I love zombies. I love how they’re such metaphorical blank slates; a good writer or director can use them as allegory for all sorts of things. And even when they aren’t being used to convey a deeper point we still have the enjoyment of seeing people driven to new heights of terror, despair, and inhumanity. Zombie movies are fun. Even bad zombie movies are fun because you know that nobody will get out alive, and these actors that are chewing up the scenery will themselves be chewed up in turn. In comics and on television, The Walking Dead has subverted this paradigm by giving us the unending zombie saga.

And now we have Z Nation. Syfy seems to run three types of shows: Critically acclaimed (Battlestar Galactica), fan-friendly (Eureka, Warehouse 13), and cheesy (any of their movies). Z Nation is produced by The Asylum, the same people responsible for Sharknado, Transmorphers, and the Mega Shark movies; want to guess which category Z Nation falls into? That’s right—extra cheesy. If this were a bad movie you would be rooting for everyone to die, but since it’s an ongoing show we’re stuck with characters that we simply don’t care about.

Still, the show has it’s good points… Harold Perrineau (Lost) brings good gravitas to the show’s intro. The concept—our heroes must transport a former prisoner across the country because he was the only person injected with the cure to the zombie virus before the research lab got overrun—is a good open-ended way to keep the show moving and keep things interesting over multiple seasons. And fast zombies.

Unfortunately, all of this potential is buried under disposable characters, bad dialogue, weak performances, generic kills, and (worst of all) the complete lack of self awareness that cheesy zombie shows can be fun. Other weak spots: A zombie baby that really makes no sense (an infant that can suddenly move lightning fast around the room as soon as it becomes a zombie) and D.J. Quall’s NSA communications expert who, for no discernible reason, at the last minute turns into a Ray Ban-wearing DJ who spouts the worst dialogue in the entire show.

Syfy has produced 13 episodes of this. Let’s see how many of them make it to air.

 

Television Review: The Flash

Flashby Michael D. Pederson

 

The Flash
The CW

Yes, be jealous. We did indeed get a very early preview of The Flash, (we saw it in May, almost five months before the debut) and it looks extremely good. But, to be honest, between scenes on Arrow and the extended trailer that was released in May, we had already seen a pretty good chunk of what’s to come.

In the first episode we get full-on backstory: Young Barry Allen witnesses his mother’s murder but in a red and gold flash, suddenly finds himself miles from the scene. His father is blamed for the murder and Barry spends his life trying to prove his father’s innocence and discover what really happened that night. This leads him to a career as a forensic investigator for the Central City Police Department. We then get the full story on the particle accelerator explosion which we had seen previously on Arrow that left Barry in a coma. Barry wakens from the coma, months later, with super speed. Using his newfound powers, Barry starts investigating a series of unusual bank robberies. It’s pretty standard origin story stuff and stays close to the comic book source material.

Now, what’s good? Lots. Grant Gustin is clearly having a blast in the part and his enjoyment is contagious, making him an absolute joy to watch. What else is good? Super powers. Arrow has played it safe so far, keeping superhuman abilities to a minimum. Flash, however, is doubling down on meta abilities. This first episode tells us that there are potentially dozens, if not hundreds, of supers on the loose now. As long as they can steer clear of the “freak of the week” theme that bogged down the early seasons of Smallville, I look forward to seeing how they handle this. More good stuff? The cast is nearly perfect. Veteran actors Jesse L. Martin (Law & Order) and Tom Cavanagh (Ed) lend credibility and serious acting chops to the show. They elevate every scene they’re in. Martin plays Detective Joe West—father of Iris West—and Cavanagh plays Dr. Harrison Wells—the man responsible for the accident with the particle accelerator. Fans of DC Comics will recognize several other names as well: Eddie Thawne, Caitlin Snow, and Cisco Ramon all play major roles in the comic so I’m looking forward to seeing where the show takes them. Oh yeah, and John Wesley Shipp (star of the 1990 Flash series on CBS) has a brilliant cameo. My only disappointment was with the actress playing Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker). Snow and Ramon both work at STAR Labs and will be the show’s tech facilitators (every show seems to have one these days: Felicity, Chloe, Claudia, Abby, etc.). Panabaker does a fine job with her dramatic scenes but seems uncomfortable when she has to spout technobabble; I’m sure she’ll grow into that though.

Best part? There’s a scene that seems to indicate that The Flash is heading into Infinite Crisis territory. Which, if done right, could mean a crossover with the DC movieverse. I can’t wait. The Flash debuts on Tuesday, October 7.

 

Television Review: Under the Dome

UnderTheDomeby Michael D. Pederson

 

Under the Dome
CBS

Oh, look… Another “high-concept” science-fictiony television show. Goody.

I confess that I didn’t read the Stephen King novel when it originally came out. I jokingly said that I’d wait for the inevitable mini-series. Well, here it is and it’s pretty much what you expect it to be. There are a lot of pretty people running around panicking, trying to figure out how to deal with the crisis of the week.

For those of you that have been living under your own dome this summer, this is CBS’s surprise summer hit (based on the Stephen King novel) about a small town in Pennsylvania that gets cut off from the rest of the world when a mysterious energy dome is suddenly dropped over them. I credit CBS with two very smart decisions: 1. Hiring Eisner award-winner Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man) to develop the show. 2. Limiting the run to thirteen episodes. We’ve seen mid-season burnout on high-concept SF shows plenty in the past, but at just thirteen episodes the viewers seem willing to commit, so far.

Is it worth watching all the way thru? Well, it’s summer. What else are you going to watch? I plan on sticking through to the end. The show does have it’s problems though. Like other apocalyptic shows before it (I’m talking about you, Jericho) there’s the problem of everybody in town doing nothing until the next crisis rears it’s ugly head and then once it’s resolved they go back to pretending that life is just fine. The characters are pasteboard cutouts that don’t interest me, and all the best actors have been killed off already. The dome dropped so early in the first episode that we didn’t have time to build interest in any of the characters before their lives became a melodrama. And the worst offense on my laundry list of complaints is the dome itself. I, for one, would be happy to accept the dome as it is but I know that Hollywood insists on having an explanation. And history has taught us (Lost, Battlestar Galactica) that the explanation is never as good as what we imagine ourselves.

 

Television Review: Grimm

Grimmby Michael D. Pederson

 

Grimm
NBC

Could someone please tell me who exactly is watching this show and how I can make them stop? Grimm (although currently on hiatus during the new winter rollouts) has recently been given the green light for a full season of episodes.

Grimm is (in our genre’s language) an urban fantasy; in tv-speak it’s a “procedural with fantasy elements”. In my opinion, it fails miserably as both a cop show and as a fantasy show. The premise: Grimms serve as protectors that keep normal people safe from fairytale monsters that pervade our world. Admittedly, not a bad premise. Sadly, the show completely fails to deliver on the promise of the setup.

Seven episodes in to the season, and I have yet to find something to compliment them on. I do have lots of problems to discuss though. Let’s start with bad police work. In the very first episode the Portland police department fails to investigate a block of woods near where a girl disappeared simply because she told her mom she would stay on the sidewalk. In the same episode our hero goes to great lengths to sneak up on the suspect’s house and then knocks on his door (sneak, sneak, sneak… Here I am!). At this point I’ve lost track of the number of illegal searches our hero has performed. And how come every single case he is assigned has a supernatural twist? What a coincidence! Secondary characters (partner, boss, girlfriend) have all been presented as two-dimensional cliches so far. Stories simply insult the viewers intelligence. And the digitally superimposed effects are clumsy at best. Someone please make this show go away.

 

Television Review: Once Upon A Time

OnceUponATimeby Michael D. Pederson

 

Once Upon a Time
ABC

Fortunately, I’ve held off until mid-season to review ABC’s entry in the fantasy game, Once Upon a Time. When the show debuted I initially wrote it off as cloying Disney sweetness. It’s really grown on me though.

In a nutshell, imagine all the fairytale characters you know and love living in a classic storybook setting. Then transport them all to a small town in Maine via an evil queen’s curse. The queen is now mayor of the town of Storybrooke and none of the residents can remember their mythic pasts (except for the mayor and maybe Rumpelstiltskin). At first, the show seemed simplistic and overly saccharin. Throughout the first half of the season though we’ve been able to explore some of the backstories and seen how we got to where we are. The main focus of the story is on Snow White (adorably played by Ginnifer Goodwin of Big Love) and her rivalry with the Evil Queen (Lana Parilla, gleefully stealing every scene she has).

Two characters are immune to the curse: Emma Swan (the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming) and her son Henry (who she gave up for adoption); both grew up outside of Storybrooke, where time had stopped for 28 years. Yes, this show layers the mythology fairly densely but with a quirky whimsical touch—sort of a cross between Lost and Pushing Daisies.

I’m glad to see that Once Upon a Time has been well received but we have a tragic history of genre shows starting off strong and then losing ratings (and focus) after the holidays (FlashForward, Life on Mars). Keep watching!

 

Television Review: Terra Nova

Printby Michael D. Pederson

 

Terra Nova
Fox

Oh, television—always copying, never learning. Here you go again…

Fox has been really really trying to make their new “science fiction” show work. Bringing in Steven Spielberg to produce sounded like a good idea, although his bright and shiny version of sci-fi seems at odds with the show’s premise. Debuting the pilot in the spring to build buzz over the summer was a good idea, but that didn’t happen because the show still needed overhauling (never a good sign). And they tried promoting the crap out of it but usually all that does is create unreal expectations.

For anyone that may have missed the media blitz of promotion, Terra Nova is a colony established 85 million years in the past (they get there through a “crack in time”) to escape the damage that we’ve done to the planet in the near future. Our POV is the Shannon family—a Cretaceous Swiss Family Robinson—led by Jason O’Mara (Life on Mars, not the good one). Here’s where the show seems to want to place its focus. It seems to want to be a family drama, but the family is nothing but clichés: father and son are in conflict because they have similar personalities, mom is an overachieving doctor, middle sister is smart (we know this because she constantly spouts trivia on every subject imaginable, yeah, that’s what smart people are like), and the youngest daughter is cute. Yawn.

Maybe the show wants to be an adventure story. But that’s not well thought out either. Nobody seems to be interested in exploring, they all seem happy to stay in their fenced-in compound. And when they do go out, half the time they use completely open vehicles. Well, in all fairness, they only use those ATVs when they want to kill a character off to remind the audience how dangerous things are.

They clearly don’t want to be a science fiction show because they’ve shown nothing but contempt for science. When a flock of pterosaurs attacks, they conclude that it’s a mass migration; drawing conclusions from a single data point is not science, it’s guessing. Later in the same episode, the head of the science team names the pterosaurs after himself and everyone has a good laugh at the vain scientist even though any respectable scientist would know that that kind of ego trip is generally unacceptable. But, hey, it’s fun when you can laugh at scientists.

For a brief moment I had a glimpse of hope. When the colonists and the pterosaurs were fighting for the same piece of ground I really thought the subject of simply wiping out the invaders would come up. Argument: They’re going to go extinct eventually. Counter: Any disruption of the ecosystem could have unforeseen repercussions. But no, the characters (and, even worse, the writers) would have to think too much for that to happen.

If all you want is mindless entertainment you could do worse. But not much worse.

 

Television Review: Caprica

capricaby Michael D. Pederson

 

Caprica
Syfy

My complete and utter boredom with Syfy’s Caprica has apparently become so overwhelming that I’m finding it difficult to generate enough venom to crank out one of my patented scathing reviews. [Deep breath.] Okay, here goes…

I originally had high hopes for Caprica, it’s got a great pedigree. Battlestar Galactica still stands as a benchmark for what can be achieved by a science fiction drama. Even when the story went in directions that I didn’t care for I was still enthralled by the great performances and solid scripting. This prequel, however, has given me nothing to get excited about. cliched characters (the grieving parents, the minority trying to make it in a discriminating world, the scientist who goes too far), melodramatic performances, and uninspired plotlines have kept me horrifically bored for six episodes now.

I’ve continued watching in the hope that things will improve. Instead I’m left with a laundry list of complaints: I don’t care for the Tamara as Neo storyline. I don’t care if Zoe was or wasn’t a terrorist. I don’t care if young Admiral Adama skipped school to hang out with his gangster uncle. What I would like to know is why a society that has interplanetary travel, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality seems to be stuck in the technological and fashion equivalent of the 1950s. I’m irritated that the story behind the Cylon revolution (artificially intelligent robots that rise up against their human masters) has been changed—it’s now started by a petulant teenager stuck in a robot’s body. I do not believe Zoe as the troubled teenager/religious cultist/genius computer programmer (I have no criticism of the actress, I just think the writers have tried to hinge way too much on a single character). And I most definitely do not like the fact that the show is scripted and directed as if it were a soap opera. Creator Ron Moore has even bragged about that, going so far as to compare the show to Dallas. This is supposed to be a good thing?!

Hey, look—I found my venom!

Bottom line? I fell asleep watching the latest episode and couldn’t even muster up enough interest to hit replay on the DVR to see what I missed. Delete.

 

Television Review: Warehouse 13/Eureka

Warehouse13by Michael D. Pederson

 

Warehouse 13
Eureka
Syfy

The late-summer season on Syfy is wrapping up now and it’s the first half-season since the name change. How did they do? As usual, it’s a mixed bag.

Warehouse 13 is the first program to debut on the newly re-branded Syfy. If this is the type of programming that we can expect from Siffy, then I’m pretty darned disappointed. Based on the trailers, I was expecting a cute, fluffy, whimsical SF-lite program along the lines of Eureka. I did not expect the mind-numbingly redundant tedium that the show actually is.

EurekaThe premise is almost the same as the old Friday the 13th TV series: agents Myka and Pete are recruited by the mysterious Artie to track down supernatural items. Whereas Friday the 13th seemed to revel in its cheesiness, Warehouse 13 stumbles along rehashing the same formula every week. A formula that goes something like this… 1. Humorous scene between Myka and Pete to build audience interest. 2. Artie sends them to investigate strange circumstances that might be caused by an artifact. 3. They arrive at a small town and encounter resistance from local law enforcement/authorities. 4. They think they’ve found the artifact but have also found a red herring. 5. They figure out which item is the correct one but Myka or Pete get captured or affected. 6. Myka or Pete is rescued and the artifact is recovered. 7. Repeat ad infinitum.

The scenes actually set at the warehouse do show promise though. That’s due entirely to the talents of Saul Rubinek as Artie Nielsen, the man in charge of the warehouse. Rubinek reprises the eccentric scientist character that he has perfected over the years on shows such as Star Trek: The Next Generation and Eureka. Also, the recent addition of Allison Scagliotti as Artie’s assistant, Claudia, has done wonders for breaking up the monotony of the show.

Warehouse 13 could learn a thing or two from Eureka. Now that Battlestar Galactica is gone and there currently aren’t any Stargate shows, Eureka is Siffy’s highest rated program. When Eureka first debuted it had many of the same problems as Warehouse 13—overly simplistic stories, two-dimensional characters, and little respect for science (look what a mess those wacky scientists have made this week!). However, over the course of its three-season run the show has become more serious (only a little, but enough) and taken the time to fully develop their supporting characters. The overly dramatic story arc about Allison’s autistic child in the first season has given way to more subtle and poignant character stories. Eureka’s saccharine tone when it first debuted would never had led you to believe that the town could be home to so many tragic love stories: Nathan sacrifices himself to save the world on the day he’s supposed to marry Allison, Carter travels back in time to fix the timeline and ends up erasing his own marriage to Allison, and poor Henry has had to watch Kim die three times now!

So until W13 starts giving more time to their supporting cast and gets away from the same old storylines, I’ll be watching Eureka.