Total Pageviews

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Coming Soon

Real life may get in the way shortly and the established schedules on this, and the other two blogs I maintain, may fall apart slightly until I get into a new rhythm, so I thought that I would give a rundown this week of my planned viewing schedule, so even if I don't post you can have a bit of an idea of what I'm watching.

Hahahahaha, as if any of you care, hahahaha. Shut up, I'm deluding myself that I have an audience. Leave me alone.

With the exception of Once Upon A Time; which I talked about recently; and The Vampire Diaries; which I may or may not do a S3 post on, to tie in with my discussion of the second series of novels on the book blog; there really isn't a lot happening on TV right now that's Quest worthy, so lets concentrate on DVD.

As I type this post, my current series on DVD is Game of Thrones S1. I've watched it, am now re-watching with commentaries, and should be through with it within a couple of days. Perhaps even by the time this post goes live, who knows? Beyond that I have a small but eclectic group of shows lined up.

First things first, I'll be finishing off the 70's version of The Tomorrow People, which I set aside in favour of GoT. With only 3 seasons left, and those relatively short compared to the earlier ones, it shouldn't take long to knock them off.

I'll be sad when this series is over. As I mentioned in this post, I have a huge amount of affection for the commentaries these discs provide but aside from that, the show itself has an odd charm that I can't quite put my finger on.

After that, a complete change of pace with Jekyll; the Steven Moffat scripted horror/thriller from 2007. I never saw the end of this when it was on TV, for reasons which I can't remember, and with his work on Doctor Who and Sherlock meaning we haven't exactly been short of Moffat stuff in recent years I guess I just never got around to tracking it down. I is a bad fanboy, I know.

At only 6 episodes, 2 commentaries and a documentary of indeterminate length, Jekyll hardly constitutes a massive investment of time, so it will be a quick jump from that to a bit of a blast from my childhood. This one, I'm really looking forward to...

DangerMouse! Yes! A complete run of every episode, in; and this is important; the correct running order. (The 25th anniversary box set had them in the wrong order. It was an OUTRAGE!) If you are reading this, and are of a certain age, you will understand just how excited I am to be digging into this show. If you are of any other age, well, I pity you quite frankly. You don't know you're born!

Finally, I have something which, technically speaking, doesn't qualify for the Quest, seeing as how it was a movie serial and not a TV show but what the Hell, right? I mean, how could you not watch something called Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe? Amirite? Eh? Yeah.

Beyond that, I don't know what'll happen, but I should be earning by then (new job; YAY),  so I suspect that Supernatural S6 won't be far behind, and possibly American Horror Story S1. That's to be decided though; plenty to keep me going with the stuff above.

So there you have it. My DVD viewing schedule for the near future. I won't be writing about only them, or all of them necessarily, or in any particular order, or... Yeah, this whole post is essentially meaningless, really. Still, you've read it now, so I don't care. Bye.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Harsh Realm

I've watched S1 of Game of Thrones. It took me a while, because of the frankly ridiculous wait they made us endure for the DVD release, but I've seen it it. Since I've yet to get through the commentaries though, I'm going to hold off discussing it on here. So I need to find something else to waffle about.

Remember the 90's? Sure you do, the 90's. It seemed that the age of the celebrity showrunner was truly upon us for a little while, there; or at least, celebrity on a niche level. Yes, we sci-fi nerds were lining up to sing the praises of Joe Straczynski, Chris Carter, Shaun Cassidy (whose shows were never as successful, but nevertheless just as good) and toward the end of the decade a young buck by the name of Joss Whedon. Those were the days, eh? These days, aside from JJ Abrams and even he's debatable at this point, the celebrity showrunner seems to be a thing of the past. So what happened to them?

Joe Straczynski followed up his masterwork Babylon 5 with swiftly canceled spin off Crusade and a bunch of variable TV Movies before launching Jeremiah, which received some good reviews and was a decent show, but never really set the world on fire. Then he went off to be a comic book writer, and now seems to spend his time missing deadlines, burning bridges and pissing off fans. Oh well.

After Roar, American Gothic, Hollyweird and Invasion all failed to hit big, Shaun Cassidy abandoned genre stuff and went off to write episodes for a bunch of cop shows (you know the ones) before creating a semi-autobiographical sit-com based on his families career in the music industry. It was quickly canceled. Oh well.

Joss Whedon, when removed from the comforts of the Buffy-Verse, also managed to fail miserably to have another hit show. Firefly, as awesome as it is and as big as it became on DVD, was a swiftly canceled failure on television, while Dollhouse barely scraped a second season before also getting the chop. It remains to be seen whether his increased influence following a success with The Avengers (and it is going to be a success, that much seems clear) will see him try to launch another show, or whether he'll stick with movies. If he does steer clear of the small screen, we could hardly blame him.

Which leaves Chris Carter. The man who gave us mega hit The X-Files never really managed to reach those dizzy heights again. The recent attempt to revive that show as a movie franchise seems to have been a failure; I confess I've yet to make the effort to see it; and his post X attempts on television tell a depressing story of fast dwindling one-hit-wonder-ism. Millennium lasted three seasons, with Carter only really helming it for one of those (and not the best one), The Lone Gunmen didn't manage one full season and Harsh Realm, well...

Harsh Realm is an odd duck, to be fair. Loosely adapted; very loosely, apparently, though I've not read the source material to be sure; from a comic book of the same name, Carter's version sees a soldier sent into a virtual reality simulation of America known as Harsh Realm, which was created as a training program for the US military, to deal with another soldier who has gone rogue inside the simulation. Once he's in, he can't get back out until his mission is accomplished.

The land of Harsh Realm is essentially a kind of post apocalyptic warzone, with the perfect replica of the US having been taken over almost entirely by General Santiago, the aforementioned rogue. His military dictatorship over a fake world would, you would think, be easy enough to shrug off, but there's a whole storyline about how Santiago can come and go from the game as he pleases and how he has plans to destroy the real world so the fake world he controls is all that's left. It's pretty far-fetched, to be fair.

Santiago is played by Terry O'Quinn, so you know he's value for money, but in a wise, and probably necessary move, the character is not seen in several episodes, despite O'Quinn being listed as a regular. As with any show with a regular villain, the risk is that familiarity breeds contempt; better to let the threat hang in the background than to diminish him with defeat on a weekly basis. I understand this, because it's common sense, but the scarcity of O'Quinn still rankles.

The lead character on the show is called Hobbes, or as he prefers to be called; BlandoLead. He's played, in a bold choice by Scott Bairstow, as a mobile coma patient. I say it's a bold choice, but it does leave some of his more emotive scenes to come across as somewhat underwhelming. Which leaves us with the sidekick. The wonderful wonderful sidekick. His name is Pinnochio, and he's great.

Pinnochio, played by the criminally under appreciated D.B Sweeney, is everything that BlandoLead is not. He's a true action anti-hero, always ready with a witty quip, a cocky grin, and a gun full of bullets that he isn't afraid to blast indiscriminately when the pace lets up. Above all, though, he doesn't spend every waking moment bitching and moaning about being in Harsh Realm, which is refreshing to say the least; especially after listening to yet another ridiculously self pitying and melodramatic droning voice over from Blando. Shut UP! (We will learn that there is a very good reason Pinnochio has no great desire to leave the game)

The biggest problem with this show (and by biggest I mean a tiny, pedantic point that once realised can never be set aside) is the nature of death within the game. We are told that Harsh realm was devised as a training program for the military, to help train troops for every, worst case, scenario. now, correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't dealing with the after-effects of a nuke or even, for the sake of argument, a prolonged period of conventional warfare, involve dealing with a good number of corpses? Right? Yet, when a Virtual Character dies, they blink out of existence in a kind of staticy, glitch effect. It's obviously meant as a reminder that we are in a computer world, but it completely undermines the reality of the situation; without corpses the simulation is flawed so what's the point? I never got over that, from the pilot onwards. Sloppy, Chris Carter. Very sloppy!

So, yeah, Harsh Realm isn't very good. There is a burgeoning mythology at play, with characters in the real world being all mysterious and shit, but it's not really interesting enough to grip, and it isn't helped by the main 'real world' protagonist, played by Samantha Mathis, accomplishing the astonishing feat of almost being as dull as BlandoLead. Appropriate, I suppose, since they are apparently soul-mates. Even with a better actress in the role though, I doubt to much of worth would have come from this. Audiences agreed and it was pulled, after spectacularly low ratings, just 3 weeks into airing. 9 episodes had been produced, and they are all available on DVD. I'd advise you not buy it.Seriously, don't make my mistake.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Serial Goodness

A top 5, this week, because I have little else with which to regale you.

I can understand why strict episodic formats are so popular with the TV powers that be; they allow new viewers to jump onboard any time without worrying about what they've missed and they make scheduling random repeats that much easier; but to my mind there is nothing more satisfying than settling down to watch a pilot, having no idea what's going on, and then spending the next 3, 4, 5, 6, or however many years, unearthing and unravelling a bunch of mysteries along with the characters.

I mean, it's the ultimate sign of respect for the viewer, is it not, that you not only expect them to, but believe them capable of, following events over the course of weks, months, or years? Certainly, it's a sign of disrespect to say they can't.

The middle ground, of course, is the episodic serial. Like the show that has a new case/mission/adventure every week but also soap opera-ises it's characters personal lives; or there's the recurring nemesis, who pops up two or 3 times a season (premiere, mid season sweeps and finale) and maybe gets a mention or two in passing elsewhere; The Mentalist's Red John being a prime current example of that one.

The realist in me says that the best format, for building, and keeping, an audience, is the episodic that morphs into a serial down the line. You do a bunch of stand alones, with a little background soap opera, maybe drop in a few hints here and there as to a bigger picture but nothing that's going to alienate any newcomers, then once you've built your audience and have them hooked, you allow the threads to come together and become gradually more serialised. The best examples of this, to my mind, being Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and of course the now legendary Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

That's the realistic view though. The idealistic view, is that the show designed from day one as a serial, the show that asks questions from the outset and makes you work for every answer, the show that has you drawing flow charts and venn diagrams almost from the moment you switch on the pilot; that is the show I love. That is the show I want to watch. The history of television, or at least the recent history of television, is littered with shows that tried this method and failed, but when it hits, it hits big.

Either way, though, the need in my heart for a nice meaty epic is always going to make these shows the ones I gravitate toward the most, in terms of favourites. I watch the other stuff, because I watch everything, but I don't love it. These shows I love.

I make no apologies, by the way, for the fact that some of these shows, including those in the top spots, are household names. I could have tried to pull a bunch of obscure stuff out, but the fact is I aint no hipster; if it's good, it's good, regardless of it's popularity, and these shows are good.


What? I know, I know, it's only on it's 2nd season, and it's barely gotten going; in fact, at time of writing this I have only actually seen 7 episodes of S1. And those 7 are more than enough for me to say you should all be watching. Not that I need to say it of course, since you're all watching anyway. Right? Right?

If I'm honest, I might have held off on it's inclusion on this list if I hadn't read the books. After all, lots of shows can start off good and trail away. However, knowing the excellence that is to come; assuming they remain as faithfull as these early episodes have been, and there's no reason to suppose they won't; gives me shivers, and I'm genuinely a little bit jealous of those who come to this through the show. You have no idea what lies ahead.


Like Buffy, Farscape,
DS:9, and countless others Babylon 5 is a show which began in a very episodic fashion, built it's world, and then gradually became a serialised story as it went along. Unlike those shows, though, it's a show that intended from day one to do that, rather than gradually evolving toward it.

Let's be honest. Given show creator J. Michael Straczunski's explicitly stated aim to write a show that told a finite story with a set beginning, middle and end, over a predetermined number of seasons, the show is the quintessential serial. Those early hours may have appeared standalone, but that was just because we didn't yet know just how they connected. If the episodes didn't end on cliffhangers and pick up immediately were the previous ones left off, that was only because that level of urgency wasn't needed. Yet.

Once the storyline(s) really kicked into high gear, the show gave us some of the most intense waits between episodes that TV had ever provided, up until that point, and if it's been bettered since it's only as a result of it's own success; others recognised it's greatness, emulated it, and refined it's principles. Sci-Fi TV as we recognise it today would not exist without Babylon 5. Fact!


This is an odd show, in that it started off heavily serialised, switched to episodics, and then reverted to serialised, all over the course of one season. One season, I might add, that was the only season the show ever got. Which is, not to be too blunt, a fucking outrage.

Focussing on Sheriff Lucas Buck; still Gary Cole's greatest role, and he was on The West Wing; the show charts the attempts of a small group of naysayers to break the stranglehold that Buck has on the people he polices. He's charming, manipulative, and utterly ruthless; they don't stand a chance.

There's a stellar cast involved in this show. Aside from Cole, there's Paige Turco, Jake Weber, Sarah Paulson and of course a very young Lucas Black showing the world what he was made of.

This show doesn't pull any punches. Over the course of it's 22 episodes it goes to some very dark places; the efforts of the local school teacher to exert her influence over young Caleb (Black) are incredibly creepy, and the gradual disintegration of one heroes sanity is a little hard to watch as well. There's a nasty (albeit mostly implied) rape scene, and the final run of episodes, in which virtually every character is corrupted in some way is just gutting. You really will not see that ending coming.

A word of warning; if you do decide to watch this show, do a little research first (while being careful to avoid spoilers of course). As with all of creator Shaun Cassidy's shows; he's also responsible for William Fichtner starring Invasion, and the show that kick started Heath Ledger's career, Roar; it's heavily dependant on a building atmosphere and intricately plotted, slow burn storylines. So the fact that the network screened the episodes in the wrong order and missed 4 out altogether doesn't do it any favours. The DVD release has the 18 aired episodes in their incorrect order, and then the other 4 tacked on the end; serving to ensure that the show doesn't make any sense. At all. Find out the right order before watching. You'll be glad you did.


I debated the running order of these last 2. Both huge critical successes, I was hard pressed to choose between them in terms of quality, so I didn't. Instead, I chose based on enjoyment.

You see, as much as I love Battlestar Galactica, and I do, it's not a show you can really say is 'enjoyable' to watch. It's bleak. Unremittingly bleak. This is a show that has the human race all but wiped out in an almost succesfull genocidal attack in the first episode, and just gets more depressing from there. Not a single character is safe, be it from physical injury, psychological harm, or death, and as the 4 season run rolls on you can't help but come to the conclusion that these writers had some very twisted childhoods.

Lest I put you off, I'll tell you that a happy ending of sorts does arrive, but it's all relative. It's an ending that is only happy as opposed to everything these people have been through up until that point, and it's an ending that has been paid for in blood. A lot of blood; far far fewer characters arrive at the destination than started the journey.

As downright depressing as the show is to watch though, it's also immensely addictive. Writing, direction, and above all the acting; Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Aaron Douglas, Lucy Lawless, James Callis and Nicki Clyne are the names I would singe out for especial praise; are pretty much flawless throughout. You will need to know what happens next, even as you dread it.


You all know what Lost was about. Even if you never saw an episode, you couldn't have avoided all the hype surrounding it's launch, all the praise heaped on it's early seasons, all the grouching during the middle years, and all the dissapointment and scorn directed at the finale.

Well here's the thing. The launch deserved the hype; it was awesome. The early seasons deserved the praise; they were some of the most addictive and engrossing hours of television I've ever seen. But that's where I partways with the masses, because I had zero problem with the 'difficult' middle years, and I absolutely adored the finale. So nyah!

Of course, your mileage may vary, as they apparently say, so the only way to find out where you stand on the issue is to watch it for yourself. One opinion is as valid as any other, after all, what with taste being subjective. One thing that will make me hurt you, though, is if you trot out the 'unanswered questions' argument. The number of people I heard bemoaning the fact that they kept piling on the mysteries without ever resolving them, and then listing a bunch of plotlines that had already been resolved, at least implicitly, if you were actually bothering to pay attention... enough to make my blood boil. Hate the show if you want to, but at least hate it for crimes it actually committed!

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Once Upon A Time

I wouldn't normally discuss a show on here having only seen one episode, but I want to use Once Upon A Time as an opportunity to make a wider point, so I thought I might as well do a little run down of my initial thoughts on the show too.

When I first heard of this show, I was a little worried (although not to the extent of crying plagiarism, as some were) that the premise was a little too close for comfort to that of comic book series Fables; I talked on my book blog about the first volume, Legends In Exile; and I fully expected to be slagging it off, once I got around to watching it.

However, the more I thought about it, the more inclined I was to, not only give it the benefit of the doubt, but also to get very excited. It has a hell of a cast attached; I remember Lana Parrilla well from her stint on criminally under-rated show Boomtown from Justified showrunner Graham Yost, Jennifer Morrison of course was the best thing about early House, and Robert Carlyle, well, he's Robert Carlyle. Not only that though; it was created by writers (Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz) with years of experience as staffers on Lost, and had Jane (if you think Miracle Day was bad, just imagine how bad it would have been without me holding RTD's hand) Espenson on board to work her magic. What could go wrong?

SO, was my initial gut instinct to hate it right? Or was my more considered response the right one? Was it shit or not? Well, if you read my twitter feed; and if you don't, why the hell not; then you'll know that no, of course it wasn't shit. I loved it, and so,it seems, did most everyone else who saw it.

The only characters we get any real focus on in the pilot are Snow White

Prince Charming The Evil Queen and prophesied saviour Emma Swan

and as they are the leads, (for now at least; could we see other characters take centre stage for future arcs?) that's entirely appropriate, but Kitsis and Horowitz skilfully weave any number of other characters into the background of events, ready to make their presence felt when the story kicks off proper.

Robert Carlysle as Rumpelstiltskin is the one that got everyone talking; and what a creepy little bastard he is, in both versions of reality; but Red Riding Hood and Grandma are also on hand, as are Geppetto, Jiminy Cricket and others. Precisely who all those others are we don't yet know of course; unless I missed something, we don't yet know who the Sheriff is, with my money being on the woodsman from Red Riding Hood, but that's pure guesswork at this stage.

The scenes set in the Enchanted Forest do give me pause. It's a concern, albeit a slight one, that they are apparently set to continue past the pilot. They are slickly produced, far from the embarrassing dross inflicted on us in similarly themed Witches Of Oz, and on a completely shallow level I could look at Ginnifer Goodwinn in those frocks all day, but I do worry how soon it will be until they start to get a little samey. After all, we've already seen the final battle and the curse that sent the fairy tale characters to our world; by definition the biggest event ever to happen there; so where do you go from there? Time will tell, but I choose to have faith in Kitsis & Horowitz; and Espenson of course.

All of that being said, I'll return to my initial point. I wouldn't normally write about a show having seen only the pilot, but I had a reason this time, and the reason is that I am putting rather a lot of my hopes on the shoulders of this show. It's going out in the UK on Channel 5, a channel widely mocked; if slightly less now than in previous years, for it's low brow content and over reliance on US imports. (Ironically enough, a complaint that was often leveled at Ch4 when I was younger and the cause, when CH4 addressed it and tried to become more respectable, of my watching them a lot less. I likes my US imports damn it!)

When CH 5 launched, relatively recently in television terms, it did so with a flurry of Sci-fi and Fantasy shows. The big hitters were Hercules and Xena, but in the first few years of the channel we got Poltergeist:The Legacy, Two, Strange Luck, The Others, First Wave, Earth:Final Conflict, Cleopatra 2525 and of course Charmed, among others. It was a veritable feast of culty goodness.

Sadly, as the years rolled on, that emphasis moved. Thanks to success with the Law and Order and CSI franchises, the channel began to devote it's energies to buying up glossy US cop/crime shows, rather than Sci-Fi.

I'm not going to lie, some great shows have made it over here as a result of this policy; aforementioned classic Boomtown, NCIS, Prison Break, and The Shield amongst others, with The Mentalist, Castle and (frankly not in their league) Body of Proof having arrived more recently. I watch these shows, and in most cases (where Dana Delaney and Sonja Sohn aren't around to mess things up) I enjoy them, but I can't help feeling sad that we lost our biggest terrestrially broadcast outlet for imported genre shows.

The truth is, if you don't have a satellite dish, a loose approach to download laws or the patience of a saint/large DVD budget, you're pretty much stuffed in the UK right now for US genre shows. The few that do make it onto terrestrial channels do so long after initial broadcast, meaning we've probably had them spoiled a hundred different ways, and scheduled either in ridiculous graveyard slots, or cut to ribbons for weekend wallpaper. It's enough to make you weep.

Last year though, Ch5 did something I wasn't expecting, They bought The Walking Dead. Now, to be fair, they had to wait ages to screen it, because of course a Satellite channel had first run rights, but when they could show it they made the best of the situation. Far from the treatment CH4 have inflicted on True Blood, which rarely appears before 11pm and even then only if you're looking for it, cos God forbid they advertise it, Ch5 trailed the living hell out of TWD for months ahead of it's launch and gave it a sweet prime slot. They gave it a chance to succeed and succeed it did. And I think someone at the channel was paying attention.

Once Upon A Time was trailed like a motherfunter for ages ahead of it's launch, the channel even redesigning it's idents in the style of the shows graphics, and when the time came to launch it they gave it a prime slot. (I queried the decision to go pre-watershed, fearing it would reinforce any 'juvenile' worries people might have, but when I realised the competition it would have faced an hour later, I conceded the wisdom of the choice.) Then they sat back and waited for a hit.

Did they get a hit? Reactions seems pretty much universally positive, but it's the numbers that matter, and sustaining them over the long term. I for one am praying that it hits big, because if it does, and if looked at in conjunction with The Walking Dead success, I think (hope) it could be a sign to the powers that be at CH5 that they can do something other than endless CSI clones, and still make the numbers.

Terrestrial sci-fi fans in the UK have long needed a consistent provider, and one that respects the shows in question. Channel 5 used to be that, in it's youth, and I think it could be again, if we send them the message that we're willing to watch.