SciFi Weekend: Hannibal; The Americans; Arrow; Revolution; Orphan Black; Heroes; Farscape; Firefly; Better Call Saul; Doctor Who; Sherlock; The Crazy Ones; Mixology

Hannibal season 2

With the Olympics over many weekly series have  returned and two of the best shows from last season which aired in the spring or winter have started their second seasons. Hannibal and The Americans both began their second seasons. Hannibal began with an extended fight scene between Hannibal and Jack Crawford which foreshadows what we know must eventually occur before moving backwards twelve weeks in the narrative. The brutality of the fight indicates it is not a simple temporary falling out between friends, such as Watson being angry at Sherlock for pretending to be dead.  Jack must have found out the truth about Hannibal. As the series is part of a seven year plan (should it last that long) to retell the Hannibal novels (with some variations), we know that eventually everyone will know that Hannibal, and not Will, is the serial killer. (More on Bryan Fuller’s seven year plan for Hannibal here.)

After the fight scene we go back to just after the first season ended, with Will in jail for the murders committed by Hannibal. So far only Will, and some of Hannibal’s victims who did not live to tell what they know, really suspected the truth about Hannibal. Now that Will is healthy and no longer suffering from encephalitis, he can begin what will probably be a season-long cat and mouse game with Hannibal to reveal the truth. Hannibal has essentially taken over Will’s role in advising the FBI in serial murder cases, but we know he will not be able to resist Will’s request for Hannibal’s therapeutic help. Hannibal might even realize what Will is up to, but based upon his relationship with Will in the first season, this will be irresistible for Hannibal. We know where everything is leading and have already seen how the season ends. The suspense will be in seeing how we reach that point.

The Americans s02eo1

The Americans returns to 1982 with two Soviet spies living undercover as an American couple. Elizabeth has returned home two months after she was shot in the first season finale, claiming to have been caring for a sick aunt. We immediately see that 1) not everything works out perfectly for spies and 2) even the spy we have been led to root for (even if from an enemy nation) can be a cold blooded killer when there is an innocent witness around. While the first season centered around the relationship between Philip and Elizabeth, the second season will deal more with the entire family.

Elizabeth and Philip have tried to keep their children safe from their activities and we saw how important this is as another undercover couple were killed, along with their daughter. We know Paige is suspicious, but so far instead of learning the truth about her parents she caught them having sex. It is not certain which revelation will ultimately be more shocking.

The Americans did an excellent job of working all of this into the season premiere, along with returning to other subplots. We saw the fake marriage between Martha and Phillip (or Clarke as she knows him) in order to spy on the Americans. Their FBI agent neighbor Stan continues to use Nina, unaware that she is now really using him. The nature of Stan’s relationship with Nina came up as they watched a pirated copy of The French Lieutenant’s Woman before Stan went to see the same movie with his wife and a friend. We also learned that Claudia has remained in the United States and she will have an influence on the season.

Arrow Time of Death

Arrow, yet another excellent genre show in its second season, returned after the Olympic hiatus with Time of Death. With Sara now making out with Oliver in the Arrow-Cave, it was time for Felicity to more firmly establish her importance. (“You’ll always be my girl, Felicity.”) The episode introduced another worthy opponent, The Clock King. It also brought the present day and island stories together further in the final scene where Moira brought Oliver in to introduce her son to the man she was meeting with–Slade. The first photo has also been released of Barry Allen in costume as The Flash in the planned spin off.

Yet another sophomore show, Revolution, is well below the quality of the other shows discussed above. They do try to keep coming up with new things to keep the show fresh, but in the end they just wind up without anything really compelling happening. The supposedly upcoming battle to the death between Monroe and his son sounds guaranteed to disappoint. Having Aaron wake up in an alternative reality in 2014 with the power on after trying tying to upload a virus into his nano-bot children (or are they now Gods?) made for a good final scene, but will anything significant really come from this? At least it sounds it might make for a good episode. In this alternate reality, Giancarlo Esposito will be back in his old life as a sleazy insurance salesman. If they were really creative, the episode would take place in a different alternative universe where instead he runs the Los Pollos Hermanos restaurant chain.

Hannibal, The Americans, and Arrow were all excellent new series which began last year, but the best of all the series to premiere last year was Orphan Black. BBC America has released the above sneak peaks, with the show returning on April 19. More news on season two here.

Aaron Paul has again expressed interest in appearing in the Breaking Bad spin off, Better Call Saul. Bryan Cranston and Jonathan Banks have also expressed interest. Dean Norris is not interested, failing to understand that one episode of anything by Vince Gilligan is far more significant than an entire season of Under the Dome. (The series finale of Breaking Bad was reviewed here.)

Disney has always excelled at their synergy in using each of their holdings to make money for others. ABC will be running a documentary (extended commercial?) March 18 on Marvel Studios: Assembling a Universe.

Heroes is coming back for a thirteen episode miniseries, possibly with some of the original cast “popping back in.”

“The enormous impact ‘Heroes’ had on the television landscape when it first launched in 2006 was eye-opening,” said NBC Entertainment President Jennifer Salke. “Shows with that kind of resonance don’t come around often and we thought it was time for another installment. We’re thrilled that visionary creator Tim Kring was as excited about jumping back into this show as we were and we look forward to all the new textures and layers Tim plans to add to his original concept. Until we get closer to air in 2015, the show will be appropriately shrouded in secrecy, but we won’t rule out the possibility of some of the show’s original cast members popping back in.”

I don’t care either way about Heroes but am happy to see that an American network is getting away from the usual season format. Heroes itself would have been much better as a miniseries rather than continuing it beyond the point where Tim Kring seemed to know what to do with the show. Note that almost all of the shows I mentioned above were aired for short seasons, generally on cable, which I think helps make a better quality show. Fox is also doing something similar with 24.

While I don’t  care whether Heroes returns, I am looking forward to the return of Farscape. A movie is planned:

Set to follow the awesome comics written by our favorite Keith R.A. DeCandido, the film would follow John and Aeryn’s son, D’Argo (or Little D, as we will always refer to him). Because their baby was exhibiting a set of interesting powers that made him a magnet for galactic villains, we find that John and Aeryn hide their son on Earth to grow up. Now the kid is 19 and ready to go into space with his parents.

There has also been recent talk about a limited series reboot of Firefly.

coupling

Last week I questioned making US versions of British shows as opposed to airing the same shows here. Steven Moffat has had experience with cases where that did not work. His excellent sit-com Coupling flopped when an American version was aired, but I would highly recommend watching the original on Netflix. It is sort of a combination of Seinfeld, Friends, and Sex in the City with just a little bit of The Big Bang Theory thrown in. Moffat wisely says it would be insane to make an American version of his current shows, Sherlock and Doctor Who:

Not just popular on a worldwide level, it’s so distinctively local in outlook that a remake of any sort would destroy what makes it work in the first place.

Doctor Who’s everywhere,” he said. “You can bump in to the Doctor anywhere,” adding that the series has, “probably penetrated enough that it’s no longer regarded as an import, it’s just that show.”

Sherlock and Doctor Who are both doing rather well but they couldn’t be more definitively British. They’re obtusely British. They’re about as British as it gets. You shouldn’t be afraid of being British because that’s what you’re selling.”

And of course, if a remake were to be proposed and the Doctor were no longer British in demeanor (albeit British via Gallifrey), would he even be the Doctor?

“If anyone were to ask me, I’d say it’s an absolutely insane idea. You couldn’t have more than one Doctor Who in the world. It would just be dreadful.”

CBS did approach Moffat about making a US version of Sherlock and when turned down developed Elementary.

The.Crazy.Ones.S01E16

This has not been a good season for new sit-coms, especially for NBC but last week’s episode of The Crazy Ones (on CBS) was its best episode of the season. The cast put on both a Bar Mitzvah and a musical. While far from a great series, Robin Williams has kept the show amusing through a lot of otherwise weak scripts. I actually don’t mind that the new NBC sit-coms were flops. It just increases the chances that Community will be renewed.

Mixology premiered last week, showing some promise even if the premise is far-fetched. Personally I’ve always found the prospect of successfully meeting anyone in that type of bar to be less realistic than most of the shows discussed in this post. Besides, if I can spend the entire final season of How I Met Your Mother showing a weekend at the inn where Robin and Barney’s wedding is taking  place, I can try a series taking place all in one night in this bar. It will be interesting to watch to see if the idea works or turns into a flop.

Putin Goes To War

As is often the case, David Remnick provides excellent coverage of the events of the last few days in Ukraine. He shows not only what is going on in the Ukraine, but what good journalism should be. On Putin:

Vladimir Putin, the Russian President and autocrat, had a plan for the winter of 2014: to reassert his country’s power a generation after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He thought that he would achieve this by building an Olympic wonderland on the Black Sea for fifty-one billion dollars and putting on a dazzling television show. It turns out that he will finish the season in a more ruthless fashion, by invading a peninsula on the Black Sea and putting on quite a different show—a demonstration war that could splinter a sovereign country and turn very bloody, very quickly.

There’s more background information than is found in the typical article which concentrates more on up to the minute news than analysis, and then a return to Putin’s motives:

In a recent Letter from Sochi, I tried to describe Putin’s motivations: his resentment of Western triumphalism and American power, after 1991; his paranoia that Washington is somehow behind every event in the world that he finds threatening, including the recent events in Kiev; his confidence that the U.S. and Europe are nonetheless weak, unlikely to respond to his swagger because they need his help in Syria and Iran; his increasingly vivid nationalist-conservative ideology, which relies, not least, on the elevation of the Russian Orthodox Church, which had been so brutally suppressed during most of the Soviet period, as a quasi-state religion supplying the government with its moral force.

And this is how the war is likely to go:

I spoke with Georgy Kasianov, the head of the Academy of Science’s department of contemporary Ukrainian history and politics, in Kiev. “It’s a war,” he said. “The Russian troops are quite openly out on the streets [in Crimea], capturing public buildings and military outposts. And it’s likely all a part of a larger plan for other places: Odessa, Nikolayev, Kherson. And they’ll use the same technique. Some Russian-speaking citizens will appear, put up a Russian flag, and make appeals that they want help and referendums, and so on.” This is already happening in Donetsk and Kharkov.

“They are doing this like it is a commonplace,” Kasianov went on. “I can’t speak for four million people, but clearly everyone in Kiev is against this. But the Ukrainian leadership is absolutely helpless. The Army is not ready for this. And, after the violence in Kiev, the special forces are disoriented.”

In conclusion (but read Remnick’s full article first):

Putin’s reaction exceeded our worst expectations. These next days and weeks in Ukraine are bound to be frightening, and worse. There is not only the threat of widening Russian military force. The new Ukrainian leadership is worse than weak. It is unstable. It faces the burden of legitimacy. Yanukovych was spectacularly corrupt, and he opened fire on his own people. He was also elected to his office and brought low by an uprising, not the ballot; he made that point on Friday, in a press conference in Rostov on Don, in Russia, saying that he had never really been deposed. Ukraine has already experienced revolutionary disappointment. The Orange Revolution, in 2004, failed to establish stable democratic institutions and economic justice. This is one reason that Yulia Tymoshenko, the former Prime Minister, newly released from prison, is not likely the future of Ukraine. How can Ukraine possibly move quickly to national elections, as it must to resolve the issue of legitimacy, while another country has troops on its territory?

Vladimir Ryzhkov, a liberal Russian politician who no longer holds office, said that the events were not only dangerous for Ukraine but ominous for Russia and the man behind them. “It’s quite likely that this will be fatal for the regime and catastrophic for Russia,” he told Slon.ru. “It just looks as if they have taken leave of their senses.”

There are, of course, other views worth reading.  Peter Baker explains why it will not be easy to make Russia pay, despite the rants from Republican politicians such as Marco Rubio who seek to find political advantage in the current international crisis.

Mr. Putin has already demonstrated that the cost to Moscow’s international reputation would not stop him. Having just hosted the Winter Olympics in Sochi, he must have realized he was all but throwing away seven years and $50 billion of effort to polish Russia’s image. He evidently calculated that any diplomatic damage did not outweigh what he sees as a threat to Russia’s historic interest in Ukraine, which was ruled by Moscow until the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Mr. Putin may stop short of outright annexation of Crimea, the largely Russian-speaking peninsula where Moscow still has a major military base, but instead justify a long-term troop presence by saying the troops are there to defend the local population from the new pro-Western government in Kiev. Following a tested Russian playbook, he could create a de facto enclave loyal to Moscow much like the republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia that broke away from Georgia. On the other hand, the White House worries that the crisis could escalate and that all of Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine may try to split off.

Finding powerful levers to influence Mr. Putin’s decision-making will be a challenge for Mr. Obama and the European allies. Mr. Obama has seen repeatedly that warnings often do not discourage autocratic rulers from taking violent action, as when Syria crossed the president’s “red line” by using chemical weapons in its civil war.

Russia is an even tougher country to pressure, too formidable even in the post-Soviet age to rattle with stern lectures or shows of military force, and too rich in resources to squeeze economically in the short term. With a veto on the United Nations Security Council, it need not worry about the world body. And as the primary source of natural gas to much of Europe, it holds a trump card over many American allies.

The longer-term options might be more painful, but they require trade-offs as well. The administration could impose the same sort of banking sanctions that have choked Iran’s economy. And yet Europe, with its more substantial economic ties, could be reluctant to go along, and Mr. Obama may be leery of pulling the trigger on such a potent financial weapon, especially when he needs Russian cooperation on Syria and Iran.

“What can we do?” asked Fiona Hill, a Brookings Institution scholar who was the government’s top intelligence officer on Russia during the Georgia war when Mr. Putin deflected Western agitation. “We’ll talk about sanctions. We’ll talk about red lines. We’ll basically drive ourselves into a frenzy. And he’ll stand back and just watch it. He just knows that none of the rest of us want a war.”

Baker also compared Obama’s options to those which George Bush had when Russia went to war with Georgia in 2008. Bush eventually learned that he was wrong about his initial sense of Putin’s soul from looking into his eyes. If anyone still has any doubts, it is clear that Putin’s soul is that of an autocrat and KGB killer.