SciFi Weekend: Agents of SHIELD; The 100; Supergirl; Person of Interest; The End of Parenthood and Parks and Recreation & The Decline of NBC; 12 Monkeys; Netflix Marvel Series; The Americans; Sleepy Hollow; The End of The Marvel Universe; The Humor Of Sarah Palin; Mellisa Raunch Sex Scene

Agents of Shield Coulson Skye

Agents of SHIELD has come a long way from the first season. While they always hinted there was something special about Skye, they didn’t have the payoff on this plotline until the midseason finale with her conversion to an Inhuman. This might have major ramifications for her relationship with Coulson:

Executive producer Jeph Loeb says that the current Inhumans plotline has always been the plan for “Agents of SHIELD.” Like they always knew that Grant Ward was going to be HYDRA in Season 1, the seeds of Skye being something other were planned in the pilot.

“Once we started down that road hopefully you were coming along for the adventure, and now that you’ve come along for the adventure one of the things that’s so amazing about what’s happening on that show is so now we know she has gone through a transformation,” he says. “How is everyone going to react to that? And in the same kind of way you’re asking as an audience member, one of the things that I think is really valuable and one of the things that I think Jed [Whedon] and Maurissa [Tancharoen] and Jeff Bell and the writing staff really do have a great feeling for is they are audience members. The writers room sits around and tries to come up with, ‘What is it that you think we’re going to do and how can we then turn that on its ear in a way that makes it feel like it’s fun and valuable?'”

Blood says “SHIELD” has often gone in a different ways from what he expected. He says the latest script he read “just turned another corner,” and that audiences will “be surprised of a lot of stuff that’s coming up.” Because the SHIELD team doesn’t know about the term “Inhumans” like audiences do, Blood says “it’s going to be something that is unraveled.” He has yet to find out where the storyline is going.

The obvious turn would be that Coulson helps Skye — someone Gregg says is the “the person he cares about most” — through her transformation into an Inhuman. But what if he views her as a threat instead of an ally because of her new powers?

“His no. 1 job is to be responsible for SHIELD, which he views as being responsible for the safety of billions of people from things they don’t know about. That’s what SHIELD is. No matter how much he loves Skye — and it’s as much as you can love somebody — it’s the closest thing to a daughter he has. That’s a sacred trust,” Gregg says. “I hope he doesn’t get put in that situation [where she is a threat] because it would mess him up.”

He teases there will be trouble within SHIELD in the aftermath of Trip’s death and Skye’s transformation. “I don’t think the whole team is going to be unified behind what just went on, and it’s hard to blame them. He’s got a couple of people that he’s come to really trust,” Gregg says. “One of my favorite things about this season is that everybody comes up to me on the street really worried about Fitz and these new characters we introduced this year. Coulson also has these new people … he doesn’t have the same type of history with those people. It’s going to be hard to hold the baby brand new, on the run SHIELD together in the wake of what just happened.”

There’s also the question of Bobbi’s secret, which Blood says is as big a mystery in the second half of Season 2 as who the man with no eyes is. “I honestly think people are going to freak when they see some of the stuff we’ve been filming recently,” he says.

The 100
The 100 returned last week and the events of the fall finale continued to have a major impact on the characters. While I originally did not watch this show, thinking it was another CW show putting attractive young people in a sci-fi scenario which has been done before, I found that this was far better done than I anticipated.

Yes, it does have its attractive young cast members, led by Eliza Taylor as Clarke Griffin, who does an excellent job in the role. (Having binged on the first one and one-half seasons over a weekend, I did notice that Eliza Taylor does show less cleavage in the second season, which must have been a conscious decision by the producers considering that the characters couldn’t just run out to clothing stores in this post-apocalyptic world to change their wardrobe). There are also the CW love triangles, but they do not distract from the stories. Both the characterization and plot lines have been strong, even when going where other shows have gone before. Bustle and The Mary Sue both have posts on why you should watch the show.

Supergirl-TV-Show-Actress-Melissa-Benoist

CBS has chosen Melissa Benoist to play the lead role on Supergirl. Previous reports on the show have described it as more of a CBS procedural with Supergirl as a feminist investigating crimes, but with cross overs possible with the CW shows Arrow and The Flash.

CBS is showing success with another mixture between procedural and genre with Person of Interest. The show started out as a procedural show with a science fiction gimmick to propel it, and has evolved to what might be seen in the future as “a modern sci-fi epic that is considered a must-see show along the lines of Firefly or Battlestar Galactica…”

Many blogs and podcasts, along with this thread on Reddit, have looked at the question of how someone could get caught up with the show without watching all the old episodes. The purely procedural episodes of the first two seasons are mostly unnecessary to appreciate the more recent episodes since the show evolved into a more significant science fiction series, but it is hard to say exactly what can be skipped and must be watched as often early episodes would have a few minute segment towards the end to slowly develop the mythology in addition to the number of the week story.

There have been some posts, such as here and here, which might help in listing some of the more essential episodes. It would really be helpful if some of the other mythology segments which are only small parts of other episodes could be accumulated in a video.

Parks and Recreation

Time looked at the politics of Parks and Recreation, which is concluding its run on NBC.

But there’s a big idea in Parks’ small-scale vision. In the frame of today’s politics, it might be a liberal notion, but it’s one that for much of the 20th century was centrist, and even championed by Republicans like park lover Teddy Roosevelt: that we need government to do things the private sector can’t or won’t, like preserving public spaces.

Shockingly, Parks has dared to suggest that while some civil servants might be bumbling–sorry, Jerry!–they can also be well-intentioned and competent. (This too wasn’t considered a liberal notion before the era when Ronald Reagan joked that “the nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”) Leslie is comically tenacious–Poehler plays her as a cheerfully overprepared super-wonk–but she’s good at what she does and is driven by a fierce love for her hometown as well as its famous waffles…

Leslie can’t do it alone, though: she’s assisted by a network of co-workers and friends (played by a comedy-powerhouse cast, many of whom–like Chris Pratt, Aubrey Plaza and Aziz Ansari–have deservingly become stars). Even her former supervisor Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) admires Leslie’s commitment, even though he’s so libertarian, he once illustrated the evils of taxation to a fourth grader by eating 40% of her lunch. Parks argues not only that we need our neighbors’ help but that helping makes us better ourselves; it’s in the small-town, populist tradition of Friday Night Lights and It’s a Wonderful Life.

Parenthood Series Finale

When I recently posted my list of top television shows of the year, I noted how little representation the major broadcast networks had on the list. Perhaps the biggest decline is being seen at NBC. They will soon be without two of their highest quality returning shows. Besides trying to run through Parks and Recreation as quickly as possible,  Parenthood concludes this week, apparently with Lorelei Gilmore marrying Ray Romano. If it ends with Zeke dying, I’m imaging angry mobs storming Rockefeller Center. After these are gone they will still have some shows worth watching, most notably Hannibal, which I’m amazed a network is broadcasting, but the lineup of quality shows will sure be thin. Their announcements of upcoming shows is being greeted with far more snark than interest.

In the past NBC would often be the home of some of the highest quality drama shows on television, such as The West WingFriday Night Lights, I’ll Fly Away, and St. Elsewhere. They probably had better ratings success with some, but not all of their sitcoms, which included shows such as Cheers, Frasier, Friends, Community, 30 Rock, and Will and Grace. Going further back, it was also the home of some classic genre shows such as the original Star Trek and The Man From UNCLE. (We won’t talk about some of their more recent attempts at genre such as Revolution, The Cape and Heroes after the first season.)

So, what happened to NBC? I suspect that that it is a victim of otherwise good changes in television. Writers and producers for many high quality shows are now going to cable and streaming networks, where they can develop an audience without the need for netw0rk-level ratings. (In the case of Community, it is moving directly from NBC following cancellation by NBC, with the first two episodes to be streamed by Yahoo! on March 17.) It will be a challenge for NBC to attract this type of quality show in the future, and it is questionable as to whether they even care considering that lower quality shows will probably deliver higher ratings.

Increasingly cable or smaller networks owned by the major networks are offering higher quality shows than the major networks. FX and FXX are offering some of the best shows on basic cable. CBS has Showtime and CW, with The CW Network  turning into one of the strongest networks, especially for genre, as it attracts a totally different audience than CBS. NBC/Universal have even lagged behind other cable networks which have produced better science fiction than its Syfy Network.

12Monkeys_gallery_102Recap_04

Syfy is finally trying to compete with hard science fiction. 12 Monkeys remains promising after the second episode, which aired Friday and was available for streaming last week. With Leland Goines dead, his daughter Jennifer becomes a major character. Her character in an insane asylum serves as an alternate version of the Brad Pitt character in the movie. As discussed previously, the television show can cover far more ground with changes such as having the ability to change time and with the Army of the 12 Monkeys playing a more significant role.

I saw a posted link here which supposedly allows streaming of the third episode for cable subscribers in the United States but it would not allow viewing through either my Charter or Xfinity account. I’m posting the link in case it works for other cable systems, or if it becomes active later. The first two episodes are available for streaming there.

the_defenders_poster___marvel_netflix_series_by_tchallacbm-d78ic4v

Netflix has released a brief synopsis for their upcoming Marvel shows. While previous reports suggested that we might have to wait a year between shows, it looks like the Jessica Jones show (staring Krysten Ritter) will be out sometime later this year.

Daredevil
“Marvel’s Daredevil” is a live action series that follows the journey of attorney Matt Murdock, who in a tragic accident was blinded as a boy but imbued with extraordinary senses. Murdock sets up practice in his old neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen, New York where he now fights against injustice as a respected lawyer by day and masked vigilante at night. Coming April 10

A.K.A. Jessica Jones
Working as a private investigator in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, a troubled ex-superhero’s past comes back to haunt her in the live-action series, “Marvel’s A.K.A. Jessica Jones.” Coming 2015

Iron Fist
“Marvel’s Iron Fist” follows superhero and martial arts master Danny Rand in the upcoming live-action series. Coming soon

Luke Cage
In this Marvel live-action series, a street-fighting ex-con battles crime in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen as the superhero Luke Cage. Coming soon

The Defenders
“Marvel’s The Defenders” brings together Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and Luke Cage in an epic superhero team-up in New York City. Coming soon

The Americans returns this week. Unreality Primetime has a couple spoilers on upcoming episodes. The season three trailer is above.

Can Henry be redeemed? The cast of Sleepy Hollow answer questions such as this in videos available here.

The Marvel universe ends as we know it in the comics this spring.

Who needs Tina Fey to mock Sarah Palin? Her own words are ridiculous enough. Check out the reaction to her latest speech from Twitter.

bronze

Melissa Raunch of The Big Bang Theory has received a lot of attention at Sundance for her raunchy sex scene in The Bronze.

“The Bronze” kicked off the 2015 edition of the Sundance Film Festival on a foul-mouthed note Thursday, sticking a dagger through the concept of hometown heroes and providing one of the raunchiest sex sequences in movie history.

The scene in question, one that involves pole vaults, cartwheels and pirouettes, was a constant source of amusement during a question and answer period immediately following the film’s premiere at the Eccles Theater.

“Right after this there’s going to be an audition for the sex scene in the sequel,” joked director Bryan Buckley.

Melissa Rauch, the star of the film and its cowriter along with husband Winston Rauch, said, “As for the sex scene, you write what you know.”

Her husband added that it gave the couple a chance to “show you what we do in our bedroom.”

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Quote of the Day: Conan on The Cable News Networks

“A new study has found that watching Fox News can make you more conservative and watching MSNBC can make you more liberal. And watching CNN can make you think that no plane has ever safely reached its destination.” –Conan O’Brien

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SciFi Weekend: 12 Monkeys; Person of Interest; Arrow; The Atom; Gotham; X-Files Reboot; Hannibal; Man In The High Castle; Doctor Who; Torchwood; Selma and LBJ

12 Monkeys

12 Monkeys got off to a great start this week. The second episode is also available for streaming here if you have a cable subscription but I am writing this after only having watched the pilot episode which aired Friday. It was a strange concept which actually works. It began with an idea for a time travel show named Splinters (also the name of the pilot) which was altered to be a re-imagining of the movie 12 Monkeys. It somehow did work, altering many aspects of the movie in ways which will probably work better than the movie did as a weekly series. Considering both the many changes to the movie, and the pilot staring out at the beginning of the story, there is no need to have watched the movie to enjoy the show.

The basic premise is the same as the movie in that a plague has wiped out most of the human race, but in the television movie Cole is trying to actually stop this from happening, and the Army of the 12 Monkeys will be an important aspect rather than a red herring. This means that the entire theory of time travel is different. In the movie, the plague happened, time cannot be altered, and the goal is to go back in time to find information to help develop a cure in the future.

In the television series time can be changed. Not only does Cole believe he can stop the plague, he believes that when he changes time he will cease to exist. This is of no concern to him as he doesn’t see anything about his future worth preserving, with the human race appearing doomed to extinction. There are some aspects of time travel reminiscent of how it worked in Looper, except instead of a character losing body parts, scratching the past version of a watch causes the same scratch to appear on the future version. This gets a bit more confusing when we find that a character saw Cole in his past but Cole has not yet made the trip to 1987 referenced. This might contradict what was shown with the watch, but trying too hard to think about this only leads to”making diagrams with straws.” (That’s another reference to Looper, which seems appropriate considering that Bruce Willis played a time traveler in both Looper and the movie version of 12 Monkeys.)

It is a safe prediction that Cole cannot be successful in changing history, at least until the series finale, so the show must stand on how compelling the ride is. As in the movie, his relationship Dr. Railly is an important aspect. In the television show, she has a different first name and is a virologist instead of a psychiatrist. The show started out with Cole kidnapping Dr. Railly, but their relationship did improve from there. At times their relationship had a feel reminiscent of Ichabod and Abbie on Sleepy Hollow. Both Cole and Ichabod are characters out of their time and on mission which is of vital importance to humanity. Despite the importance of their missions, the little things provide the fun, such as Cole discovering cheese burgers with a reaction similar to Ichabod when discovering the wonders of modern times. Cole also noted that Dr. Railly looks like the women he has only seen in magazines, making her wonder which magazines he was referring to.

12 Monkeys2

The Hollywood Reporter discussed the changes from the movie and plans for the show with showrunner Natalie Chaidez.

In the 1995 film, the Army of the 12 Monkeys served as a red herring. Originally believed to have spread the virus that kills billions of people, the 12 Monkeys in truth were nothing more than an activist group, led by Leland’s son, Jeffrey, who freed zoo animals and locked Leland away in a cage for conducting experiments on animals.

With Leland dead, 12 Monkeys showrunner NatalieChaidez shed light on what the audience can expect from the television adaptation of the Army of the 12 Monkeys and the 2043 timeline.

“Who the 12 Monkeys are, what they are trying to accomplish, how they relate to time travel is the big question of the series,” Chaidez told The Hollywood Reporter. “Unraveling that mystery is our series journey. Knowing where Cole fits in their plan is a big part of it.”

The mysteries, however, are not only related to the 2015 arc. While the movie did not spend much time exploring the future dystopia, Chaidez is set to bring 2043 and the dangers that come with it to the forefront.

“In the series, we have the time to explore what was around those dark corners that we couldn’t peer around in the movie,” she said. “We really get to dig into how people survive in the future and how they are living. We have a group of people called Scavengers. They are the people who have survived but not always with the best morality. They’ve done what they’ve had to do.”

Opening up the world and traveling past the walls of the Temporal Facility also will be a big part of the series. “You will see a little bit of that in episode four, ‘Atari.’ It continues to build in the next few episodes, and we refer to it in a big way at the end of the season,” she noted.

No matter how deep the rabbit hole surrounding the mystery of the virus and the 12 Monkeys goes, Chaidez admits Cole’s struggle will not always be against one force.

“Are there other evil forces at play? Are there other collaborators? Certainly, but the 12 Monkeys are definitely the mysterious force that Cole wrestles with and battles against over the course of the series,” she explained.

Person of Interest Control Alt Delete

Control-Alt-Delete concludes the current trilogy on Person of Interest. It was an unusual ending if truly viewed as a trilogy, but putting aside the trivial matter of the structure of the trilogy, it was another excellent episode in a continuing storyline transforming the show from a procedural to a true genre show. Unlike the previous episodes in the trilogy, it concentrated on the character Control, with very little of Finch, and provided a view of Samaritan from the government’s view which we have not seen before.

I suspect that the key role of this episode isn’t really in completing a trilogy but as starting a transformation for Control. We saw more clearly that Samaritan is both dishonest and evil in its operation, such as with the manner in which it eliminated programers it recruited when they were no longer of value by telling government agents that they were terrorists. One of them asked Control to at least entertain the idea she was being lied to. At the moment she did not and shot the programmer, but she then went to investigate the scene of the shoot out in last week’s episode. She did find evidence that he area was freshly painted, suggesting a cover-up.

We have already seen major changes in which side a character is on in the series, and this has set up a natural progression which I believe will turn Control from an opponent to an ally of Team Machine as she realizes the harm which Samaritan poses to the United States. The currently futile search for Shaw also continued after the events of last week, and the possibility of an alliance with Shaw’s old partner, or at least a cessation of hostilities, was also raised.

There was also the return of the child avatar. I think the idea worked the first time, but now that the goal is to confront the president directly I would find it more realistic for Samaritan to utilize a different manner of communication.

Ray Palmer Felicity

Marc Guggenheim spoke with Nerdist about plans for an Atom spin-off series:

NERDIST: You just mentioned you’ve given some consideration to an Atom spin-off series…

MARC GUGGENHEIM: The thing that we’ve been talking about is just how do we further expand the universe; and we love Brandon and we love having him on Arrow.

N: He brings a new dynamic to the show in his scenes with Emily Bett Rickards’ Felcity, a kind of screwball comedy vibe.

MG: He does. When we met with Brandon, the whole point of Ray Palmer for us — not the whole point but a big piece of Ray Palmer — was… Felicity’s voice is of a different show and we always say that Emily’s playing tennis against herself. [Laughs.] So we wanted to create a character that could vibrate at her frequency. And Ray really brings that and brings that energy and he’s so much fun to write. He’s a joy to write. Brandon’s so terrific and embodies the role so well that when we talk about how to further expand things, he’s a natural person to talk about. It’s like Brandon said on the panel, originally when we met with him we just wanted to bring a great character onto the show and we wanted a great actor to play him. That’s really how it always starts. With the exception of Grant Gustin on Arrow last year, there’s never been a [decision] to bring in a character with the intention to spin them off. It’s always, “What services the show the best?”

X Files

Fox has renewed Gotham for a second season in a move which some will be happy about and others will question. They are also considering even more controversial moves, including a remake bring back 24 without Jack Bauer and  rebooting The X-Files.

Saturday at the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour, Fox confirmed that the network hopes to reboot The X-Files the way it did with 24. The followup would star the original duo David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. So far they’ve just been talking logistics, and trying to match up everyone’s schedules. The actors both have commitments to other shows, with Anderson in a recurring role on NBC’s Hannibal (and likely another season of The Fall) and Duchovny also starring in the peacock network’s show Aquarius.According to Deadline, Carter hinted that the show might return in the summer.

I think that the more important question that must be answered before getting the cast together is whether there is a coherent story they can tell after the mess the series wound up in.

The third season of Hannibal will be adding Will’s wife Molly as a character. She will not appear until the eighth episode, which will have a time jump to allow for the changes in Will’s personal life.

The Seattle Times has a review of Amazon’s television version of Philip K. Dick’s novel, Man In The High Castle. It sounds like the television series should go well beyond the novel in developing this alternate history in which Germany and Japan won World War II. If interested in reading such an alternate history, another novel I’d recommend is Fatherland by Robert Harris. In his novel, instead of being defeated and occupied by Germany and Japan as in Dick’s alternate history, the United States and Germany both developed nuclear weapons and were in a cold war while Germany controlled most of Europe. HBO has also made a movie version.

There was talk earlier in the week that Netflix would be losing BBC shows including Doctor Who. A deal has been reached to renew rights for multiple shows including Doctor Who and Torchwood, however Fawlty Towers, Blackadder, MI-5 and Red Dwarf will no longer be available on Netflix as of February 1.

In related news regarding a couple of these shows, filming has started on season nine of Doctor Who. John Borrowman is working on Torchwood radio plays. He says that Russell T Davies and executive producer Julie Gardner are involved: “It’s the team back together.” Hopefully this is a step towards reviving the television series, without making the same mistakes as in the final season.

Maureen Doud‘s column this weekend is about seeing Selma. She did praise the movie but did object to both the Oscar snubs and to its historical inaccuracies about Lyndon Johnson:

In an interview with Gwen Ifill on P.B.S., DuVernay dismissed the criticism by Joseph Califano Jr. and other L.B.J. loyalists, who said that the president did not resist the Selma march or let J. Edgar Hoover send a sex tape of her husband to Mrs. King. (Bobby Kennedy, as J.F.K’s attorney general, is the one who allowed Hoover to tap Dr. King.)

“This is art; this is a movie; this is a film,” DuVernay said. “I’m not a historian. I’m not a documentarian.”

The “Hey, it’s just a movie” excuse doesn’t wash. Filmmakers love to talk about their artistic license to distort the truth, even as they bank on the authenticity of their films to boost them at awards season.

John Lewis, the Georgia congressman who was badly beaten in Selma, has said that bridge led to the Obama White House. And, on Friday night, the president offset the Oscar dis by screening “Selma” at the White House. Guests included DuVernay, Lewis and Oprah Winfrey, who acts in the film and was one of its producers.

There was no need for DuVernay to diminish L.B.J., given that the Civil Rights Movement would not have advanced without him. Vietnam is enough of a pox on his legacy.

As I have written about “Lincoln,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” and “Argo,” and as The New York Review of Books makes clear about “The Imitation Game,” the truth is dramatic and fascinating enough. Why twist it? On matters of race — America’s original sin — there is an even higher responsibility to be accurate.

DuVernay had plenty of vile white villains — including one who kicks a priest to death in the street — and they were no doubt shocking to the D.C. school kids. There was no need to create a faux one.

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SciFi Weekend: Person of Interest; The Flash and Other CW Shows; Agent Carter; Agents of SHIELD; The Returned; Mad Men; Star Talk; Neil Gaiman; Robert Crumb on Charlie Hedbo

Person of Interest Simulations

Often middle episodes of a trilogy can be weak, containing neither the set up or conclusion, but Person of Interest had no difficulty with the second part of their current trilogy. A show which deals with showing different versions of the same scenario might also be risky, but they certainly pulled that off well with If-Then-Else. Many viewers were aware that the episode might deal with the death of a character and they played with viewers in showing Finch get killed early in the episode. While the series has had one major character get killed in the past, it is a safe bet that Finch and Reese are safe, so it was no surprise that Harold’s death (along with a later sequence showing Reese get killed) were only a computer simulation as the Machine looked at every possible strategy.

I particularly enjoyed one way they kept the showing of different scenarios from seeming redundant or boring–the use of generic responses to speed up the dialog:

Reese: “Coolly delivered sadistic warning.”

Fusco: “Self-deprecating inquiry into the time necessary to infiltrate system.”

Root: “Funny, yet insightful retort.”

Finch: “Mildly agitated declaration of mission completion.”

Once the scenarios were evaluated, we had the “real” version of events, with a couple of  surprises. While one simulation had Root kiss Fusco, as it was just a simulation, the real version showed a progression in the relationship between Shaw and Root. It was not entirely clear to what degree Shaw kissed root out of romantic interest versus to startle her so that she could sacrifice herself to get the elevator rising.

Person of Interest Shaw Kiss Root

It is notable that the when the final shot was heard we did not see Shaw’s body, and we know that in the absence of a dead body we should never assume a character has really been killed. The previews suggest that at very least Team Machine believes Shaw is alive. Interviews with the producers and cast reveal some spoilers as to whether Shaw is really dead. From TV Guide:

While debate rages about whether or not Shaw is actually dead, she certainly won’t be appearing on POI in the near future. In fact, this entire storyline was crafted after Shahi informed the show’s producers she was expecting twins.

“Our fans think we’re sadists who like killing off our characters. In this case, we had no choice,” executive producer Jonathan Nolan tells TVGuide.com. “Our hands were tied. The circumstances of Shaw’s character and what she does — being a lethal operative who goes around the world and exterminates people and often puts her life in peril — kind of makes her irresponsible as a maternal figure on the show. Sarah was the first person to say, “There’s no way we can write this into the character,” and we agreed.”

So, is Shaw really dead? “You have to stay tuned,” executive producer Greg Plageman says. “The great part of doing a serialized show is that you have people waiting to find out what happens. We’d hate to spoil that for the audience, but there is a little bit of ambiguity about what happens after those elevator doors close.” As for how long that ambiguity will last, Nolan quips, “What’s the earliest you can put two twins on an airplane?”

Regardless of Shaw’s fate, the producers did give fans a huge moment between Shaw and Root (Amy Acker), as the much-‘shipped duo finally locked lips before Shaw’s heroics kicked in. “I directed their first scene together on the show, and it was abundantly clear to me that there was a great deal of chemistry between those two characters,” Nolan says. “So from the beginning, for me, that tension has always been there. We felt like the fans were invested in that relationship. You don’t feel like you can walk away from something like that without giving some kind of consummation.”

Person of Interest Root Elevator

Initially stories I read about Sarah Shahi leaving the show reported an expected two year absence, but Shahi left this more open in an interview with Entertainment Weekly where she talked about her pregnancy and the kiss with Root:

How did you break the news to the producers?
I just kept hitting them, like one after another. At first it was, “Guys, I’m pregnant,” and they were like, “Woah, okay, this is great, how far along are you?” And then: “Hey guys, just went to the doctor, I’m having twins.” “Woah! What! Oh shit!” So the whammies just kept coming for them. They’ve been wonderful about it, and they’re all fathers themselves so they understand what blessings children are, but it did take some adjusting. As far as the show goes, I do 99 percent of my own stunts all the time, so it took a little re-wiring in terms of what was safe for me to do, what was not safe for me to do. There are things that on paper didn’t seem like a stunt. When you’re carrying two human beings inside your belly, sometimes just walking or standing is a stunt.

Was there any conversation about writing the pregnancy into the show?
There were. Even through creatively I didn’t have anything to do with how Shaw goes, I just kept stressing that I wanted to honor her in every way that I could, and I didn’t want them to write me behind a desk. I didn’t want them to lessen Shaw’s abilities in any way because of my physical inabilities. I just kept stressing to them, please please please let’s honor her the right way. I still want to go balls out. Don’t hold back just because I’m pregnant.

What is the right way to honor her?
Her going out the way she did is pretty perfect for her. I always viewed this character as somebody who had a death wish on her. She’s such an adrenaline junkie and she’s got an appetite for violence. She will definitely put herself in that situation. It’s fun for her. If she doesn’t do that, she’s not living. She looked death squarely in the eye. She had a hint of a smile in her eyes. And then it just went to black. I think for her, that was the perfect ending. If Shaw could pick anyway to go, that’s the way she would want to go.

Tell me about that big kiss between Root and Shaw. Was that purely for the fans?
It’s funny because that was Amy’s first girl-on-girl kiss, whereas I’m incredibly experienced because of The L Word. I’m a veteran at the girl-on-girl! And Amy was kind of getting kissed all over that episode, between me and Fusco. Although I think she’d rather me than Fusco.

But yeah, to be honest, I felt like it was more for the fans. The one thing that the producers and I did kind of disagree on was they felt like Shaw knew she was going to die. She’s against ten Samaritan operatives, there’s no way she’s getting out of this alive, and that kiss was a goodbye kiss. Whereas I didn’t see it like that. I don’t think Shaw goes into any situation going, okay, I’m going to die today. I feel like the stronger choice is to struggle to live, and so I felt like that kiss was just like, “Oh, shut the f–k up already, Root!” I felt like it was more trying to calm down a pestering child, if anything. “Okay, fine, I’ll give you what you want, now be quiet.” Just one of those moments. But again, I also felt like it was more for the fans than anything….

So, the million dollar question once more: Is Shaw gone for good?
This episode is the second episode in a three-part series, and that is going to be the question moving on. That is what the team is going to have to figure out. Is she alive? Did Samaritan capture her? Where is she? The rule in TV is if you don’t see a body, then they’re not dead.

If hypothetically you did return and Shaw wasn’t dead, do you have an idea of your own timeline?
As far as my own timeline, it’s one of those things where you say that you’re having twins and you automatically see the fear of God in people’s eyes. Most people know what it’s like to handle one baby. There’s not a lot of sleep that involves just one baby. Then you add another baby to that equation and it’s just like doomsday. It’s going to be me for the next, like, two years. So to be honest, I have no idea. I’m trying not to think about stuff like that. But there’s no way—I’ve never had experience in this department before, so I can’t say at all, no clue.

SpoilerTV has a spoiler-free advance look at part three in this trilogy, Control-Alt-Delete, which does include the return of Camryn Manheim as Control.

Flash-TV-Reverse-Flash-Theories

There have been a number of teasers on Arrow and The Flash coming out of the Television Critics Association winter press tour. Among items of interest, it does appear that Tom Cavenagh’s character is the Reverse-Flash, as was suggested before the holiday hiatus, but he might not be the only Reverse-Flash:

Executive producer Andrew Kreisberg hinted that another person may be involved in the Reverse Flash mythology — namely Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett). Fans have speculated that Eddie (whose name resembles Eobard Thawne, one of the aliases of Reverse-Flash in the comic books on which the series is based) will emerge as Reverse Flash in the series.

“His name is not an accident,” Kreisberg said Sunday. “Eddie’s connection to the Reverse Flash lore is going to pay off big time in the back half of the year.”

The DC universe will also be growing on CW. This includes another spin-off based on The Atom and there are plans for an animated series about Vixen taking place in the same universe.

The DC v. Marvel rivalry didn’t interfere with this discussion between writers and producers of both the DC and Marvel based television shows in this interview at The Hollywood Reporter. It was confirmed in this interview that a crossover between Supergirl (on CBS) with the CW shows is a distinct possibility.

CW has announced the renewal of multiple shows including Arrow, The Flash, The 100, and Jane the Virgin.

While the DC cinematic universe will be kept separate from the television universe, there will be overlap in characters between the movies. Viola Davis is rumored to have been offered the part of Amanda Waller in the Suicide Squad movie, with her character to also appear in other DC movies.  There are also rumors (and a denial) that Batman V. Superman will be split into two parts.

Agent Carter Poster

Agent Carter started out much stronger than Agents of SHIELD, hopefully indicating that Marvel has learned its lesson and will be doing a better job with its future television shows. Although set in the 1940’s, there were plenty of references to the Marvel universe. Besides frequently mentioning Captain America and including Tony Stark’s father, there were multiple other references. What Culture provides a list of 10 Easter Eggs.

Edward James Olmos of Battlestar Galactica will be appearing in a major role on Agents of SHIELD. Reportedly his character will have “massive repercussions” for SHIELD.

A date has finally been announced for the next Marvel television show. Netflix will be releasing Daredevil on April 10. The other planned Marvel shows on Netflix will be released approximately one year apart, with Jessica Jones, staring Krysten Ritter,  next in 2016.

Carlton Cuse is busy working with A&E, although not on original ideas.  One of his shows, Bates Motel, starts its third season on March 9. In addition he has a second show premiering with the network on the same day. He is doing an American adaptation of the French series, The Returned. This has the same basic premise as ABC’s Resurrection with people returning from the dead, but it is a totally different story. The American adaptation will also diverge from the French version after the sixth episode, and the second season will be entirely new as the French version only ran for a single season.

When Amazon included a show from Chris Carter, The After, in their pilots, there was mixed reaction. Some were excited, hoping for great things from the creator of The X-Files, while others remain wary of Carter after the way The X-Files deteriorated over the years. We will not find out whether he learned from his past mistakes on this series as Amazon has decided not to pick it up.

Mad Men Bar

AMC announced that the final episodes of Mad Men will start on April 5. Matthew Weiner has discussed the finale saying, “The last seven episodes, I would say each one of them feels like a finale in the show.”

Following an era filled with very polarizing finales, from Lost to How I Met Your Mother, Weiner says he is very cognizant of finding a balance between giving the audience what they want and best serving the overall story. “I’m extremely interested in what the audience thinks, so much so that I’m trying not to confound them, not frustrate and irritate them,” Weiner said. “I don’t want them to walk away angry. But I don’t want to pander to them. This sounds patronizing, but as the person telling the story, sometimes people have to be protected from what they want to see happen and the story has to have its own organic thing. You can’t just give them everything that they want. That said, part of entertainment can be catharsis. Bad things happening are considered a good thing in entertainment.”

Tonight Girls returns and there is the debut of a new comedy on HBO entitled Togetherness. The advance hype for the show has been making a big deal out of Amanda Peet appearing topless considering she is 42 years old. Personally I find seeing Amanda Peet topless, regardless of her age, to be far more desirable than to see more nudity from Lena Dunham.

Neil deGrasse Tyson will be returning to television in a weekly late night talk show entitled Star Talk.

neil-gaiman-trigger-warning

Neil Gaiman has a new book coming out entitled Trigger Warning which includes a Doctor Who short story. It is not clear if this is the same story which was previously only available in an ebook collection for the 50th anniversary.

Speaking of books and ebooks, Time and Financial Times are reporting that ebooks are going “out of fashion” but, even if they are correct, I question how they came to this conclusion. First they cite declining sales for ebook readers like the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook. I see three flaws in using sales of these devices to be a meaningful measure of reading ebooks. First of all, while some might upgrade to the newest versions, many people might still be using an ebook reader which was purchased over a year ago and have no reason to buy a new ebook reader. Secondly, tablets have come down in price so much that many people might be using tablets as opposed to dedicated ebook readers. Thirdly, as screens on cell phones have increased in size and screen resolution has increased, cell phones have become much better for reading ebooks. Personally I find myself using my phone more than ebook readers since upgrading to an LG G3.

Their second argument is an increase in sales of physical books, but increased sales of physical books could just as likely mean more people are getting ebooks as mean less are. It could be a sign of an overall increase in reading and book sales, with different people buying more of one or the other along with some of us who buy both. Generally when I read a book I’ll obtain both a hard cover copy for my library and to read when at home along with an ebook copy to have it available for either when away from home or to read on my phone or tablet in night mode should I awaken in the middle of the night and decide to read for a little while.

American cartoonist Robert Crumb gives a

The New York Observer interviewed American cartoonist Robert Crumb, who moved to France in 1991, about the recent killings at Charlie Hebdo:

Charlie Hebdo, they print so many insulting cartoons about Muslim extremists, you know, geez, they just kept at it, you know…but that wasn’t the only people they insulted, they insulted everybody. The Pope, the President of the country, everybody! They were merciless, to everybody. It was a really funny magazine. They just didn’t hold back towards anybody. You know, they didn’t let anybody off the hook, which was good.

What was your reaction inside when you first heard about it?

I had the same reaction I had when 9/11 happened.  I thought, “Jesus Christ, things are really going to turn ugly now.” That kind of thing, just like 9/11, it gives the government the excuse to crack down, to become very much more, like, you know, “Homeland Security” oriented.  And the right wing gets like this kind of like fodder for its arguments. The right wing here is very down on the Arabs. And France has an Arab population that’s like, 5 Million, something like that – huge population of Muslims in this country, most of whom just want to mind their own business and don’t want to be bothered. Those kinds of extremists are a very small minority. We have friends here who are from that background, you know, Moroccan or Algerian. And they just don’t want any trouble, and their kids are mostly even more moderate than they are.

Is there anything in the US in our history that comes anywhere near this tradition – the Hedbo tradition? If so, what would it be?

Underground comics, back in the 70s.  But today, I don’t think there’s anything like that now in the US. The thing about Charlie Hebdo is that it started in 1969. The gang of guys that worked for that magazine, they just kept at that for decades. Those guys are fairly old, you know, older guys most of them. There wasn’t a whole lot of, you know, 20- somethings or 30-somethings in that group. The cartoonists are mostly older guys. There is lots of critique of the left also. They say the left is hypocritical, bullshitters and opportunists, and all that. But generally I would say there’s a leftish sympathy in Charlie Hebdo. But they just came out with that every week. Every week. And people would just look at it and laugh, “Oh, you know those guys, those crazy guys.  They’re outrageous.”

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SciFi Weekend: Agent Carter;Daredevil; Sleepy Hollow; The Flash; Arrow; Broadchurch; Gotham; 12 Monkeys; Penny Dreadful; The 100; Edward Herrmann; Stuart Scott

Agent Carter is one of the more eagerly awaited new shows to begin this winter. ABC has released another promotional video, in which Haley Atwell discusses her character’s double life.

Entertainment Weekly has more information on the upcoming Daredevil series on Netflix. Here are just some of the points:

1. Daredevil will be a uniquely localized Marvel story. Unlike the globe-trotting Avengers or SHIELD gang, Matt will stick to his hometown. “Within the Marvel universe there are thousands of heroes of all shapes and sizes, but The Avengers are here to save the universe and Daredevil is here to save the neighborhood,” Loeb said. “It’s a very unique look at Hell’s Kitchen in New York, where Matt Murdoch grew up and continues to defend it from people who would harm the people that live there.”

2. Daredevil will feel like a crime story, not a superhero show. “We really wanted to take our cue from [films like] The French Connection, Dog Day Afternoon, Taxi Driver, and make it very, very grounded, very gritty, very real,” DeKnight said. “We always say we would rather lean toward The Wire than what’s considered a classic superhero television show.” Added Loeb: “There aren’t going to be people flying through the sky. There are no magic hammers.”

There are five more points in the full article.

Unreality Primetime has some spoilers as to what happens when Sleepy Hollow returns, including information on Frank Irving and an encounter between Abbie and an avenging angel. Spoilers also available for the return of The FlashThey also have some information on season two of Broadchurch.

Arrow Felicity Ray Palmer

The released synopsis by CW of the next episode of Arrow might also be seen as something of a spoiler:

THE TEAM DEALS WITH OLIVER’S DISAPPEARANCE — In the aftermath of Oliver’s (Stephen Amell) fight with Ra’s al Ghul (Matt Nable), Diggle (David Ramsey) and Arsenal (Colton Haynes) continue to protect the city in the Arrow’s absence. However, after three days without hearing from Oliver, they begin to fear the worst may have happened to their friend. Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) refuses to believe that Oliver could be dead until Merlyn (John Barrowman) pays the team a surprise visit. Thea (Willa Holland) suspects there is something more behind Oliver’s disappearance and asks Merlyn for a favor. Meanwhile, Ray (Brandon Routh) tests a part of his new suit and Laurel (Katie Cassidy) takes up the mantle of the Black Canary. Glen Winter directed the episode written by Marc Guggenheim & Erik Oleson.

Gotham Penguin2

Speakeasy looks at the second half of the season of Gotham and interviewed series developer Bruno Heller:

Heller said we can look forward to a bigger, more complex show as stories start to pay off and others take hold. “A lot of the episodes set up for later story. So, certainly, in that way, the story will become much more engaging and much more operatic and suspenseful. It will drag you in because these are characters you have come to know and perhaps love,” he said.

Because it’s such a big show, Heller said it takes a while to get it right, particularly how to pack all that story, character and sense of place into a network show. Now that the series is grooving along, though, Heller and company plan to deliver something even bigger. “On that level, you will see more production value, more action, more drama — you know, more,” he said with a laugh.

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Entertainment Weekly described some of the differences between the movie and upcoming television version of 12 Monkeys. Among the differences listed, more will be seen of the future and there will be different factions interested in the time machine which pose a threat. Unlike the movie, in which the 12 Monkeys group turned out not to have a rather trivial goal, the group is more important in the television show.

The synopsis for the pilot, which airs January 16, suggests yet another major difference:

27 years after a virus wipes out most of humanity, scientists send a man (James Cole) back to 2015 to stop the plague from ever happening. Cole’s only lead is a virologist (Dr. Cassandra Railly), who knows the dangerous source of the outbreak

In the movie, Cole was seeking information to help the people in the future find a cure for the virus but the past had happened and could not be changed. The pilot synopsis provides a different mission. I suspect that these differences will make for a stronger television show as the more limited premise of the movie would not provide as much material for an ongoing weekly show. There are more potential stories in trying to change things as opposed to getting information, events in the future present a new avenue for stories, and the title of an ongoing television series should refer to something more significant than in the movie.

Showtime has released a trailer for Penny Dreadful’s second season. The season will be ten episodes, two  more than in the first season.

When I gave my list of top new shows last week, I mentioned two shows which I did not rank as I had not seen them, but have heard excellent things about–The 100 and Manhattan. Over the holiday I decided to catch up on The 100 based upon many excellent reviews from both genre bloggers and mainstream television critics. I picked this first since the show is now on hiatus but resumes on January 21, while we have more time until Manhattan returns. I very quickly got hooked on The 100, quickly knocking off the first season this weekend and starting the second season last night. I’ll discuss it more in the future, but wanted to give it a plug while there is still plenty of time for everyone to get caught up.

In order to plan out television binging and viewing for January, Vulture has a list of when television shows are returning.

Io9 has a good list of the top science fiction and fantasy books of 2014.

gilmore-girls-let-games

Edward Herrmann, who played  Richard Gilmore on Gilmore Girls, died last week. Alexis Bledel had this to say:

Bledel, who played the granddaughter of Herrmann’s character in the Gilmore Girls, described him as “a wonderful actor and a kind man”.

“He was endlessly knowledgeable about theatre, TV and film, and would generously share his wisdom or tell stories from a long and rewarding career,” Bledel continued.

“I am grateful to him for that, and will miss him tremendously.

“He loved acting and was the head of our Gilmore family with his strong presence and great sense of humor. May he rest in peace.”

I anticipate hearing his voice for a long time to come as he is also the recorded voice giving announcements on Shepler’s Ferry coming into and leaving the docks going to and from Mackinac Island.

Other deaths this week include Donna Douglas, who played Elly May Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies, and  ESPN anchor Stuart Scott. Think Progress wrote about how Scott changed ESPN:

In a media world largely devoid of both African-American faces and, especially, African-American vernacular, Scott’s iconic catchphrases — “Boo-Yeah!”, “Cool as the other side of the pillow,” and “Can I get a witness?” chief among them — brought a style that had been absent from sports and media programming straight to ESPN’s most-watched program and, by virtue, to the living rooms of white and black families alike.

Scott’s popularity, and the appeal of his brand of style, made him an icon for other aspiring African-American broadcasters who hadn’t seen anything like him on TV before.

“He was a trailblazer not only because he was black — obviously black — but because of his style, his demeanor, his presentation,” ESPN anchor Stan Verrett, also black, told ABC News for Scott’s obituary. “He did not shy away from the fact that he was a black man, and that allowed the rest of us who came along to just be ourselves.”

“Yes, he brought hip-hop into the conversation,” Jay Harris, another SportsCenter anchor who followed in Scott’s footsteps, said. “But I would go further than that. He brought in the barber shop, the church, R&B, soul music. Soul period.”

He changed ESPN too. Scott’s style wasn’t immediately popular with ESPN’s audience or even its top brass. According to the ABC obituary, Scott and ESPN received regular hate mail over his “hip-hop style,” and at times, ESPN officials asked him to consider dialing it back. Scott refused, and over time that unwillingness to relent proved right.

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Quote of the Day: David Letterman On Jeb Bush Running For President

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“I feel like Bush presidencies are like ‘Godfather’ films. You should stop at two.” –David Letterman

Actually I think Bush presidencies are more like The Matrix–they should have stopped after the first. (Except that the first movie was good, the first Bush presidency wasn’t, but the second was far worse like with the movies.)

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SciFi Weekend Part 2: The Best of 2014

Part 1 of SciFi Weekend looked at shows from the past week, including Last Christmas, this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special. Part II lists some of the top and most improved shows of the year. The point is not really to rank them so much as to highlight shows worth watching. Really, how do you compare Cosmos to Penny Dreadful? I am at a disadvantage compared to professional television critics as I have neither the professional obligation nor time to watch nearly everything. Therefore this is limited to the shows I have actually watched, and I will address this after the first list.

Rather than list the overall best shows, as most sites are doing, my first list will be limited to shows which premiered in 2014. Lists of all the best shows drive out most of the new shows, and I’m sure you are aware of Game of Thrones by now. I have limited this to shows available in the United States, including a couple which were primarily British shows but available here on cable or streaming. This list is not limited to genre but is biased by my preferences.Therefore Jane the Virgin (CW), listed by many television critics among the best of the year, did not make the list as, regardless of its quality, I still stopped watching after a few weeks due to the large number of quality shows which I’m more interested in.

Top 15 New Shows Of 2014

About A Boy

15.  About A Boy (NBC)

Family friendly sitcoms (or actually sitcoms of any nature) have not done very well on the networks recently. For that matter, relatively few network shows made this list at all. About A Boy, the second attempt to adapt the Nick Hornby novel, finally gets it right, also being a rare case of the television version being better than the movie version. The shows combines saccharin and snark, and can be highly entertaining in episodes where it gets the right percentage of each. Besides an excellent regular cast, Adrianne Palicki of Friday Night Lights and Agents of SHIELD has had a recurring role.

14. The Knick (Cinemax)
Think of this Steven Soderbergh show as being like ER, except set early in the 20th century. I don’t know if they got all the facts right, but it is an authentic look at medicine of the era.

13. Black-ish (ABC)
Another of the rare successful sitcoms premiering recently. It came along at just the right time, when Bill Cosby is no longer on his pedestal

12. Penny Dreadful (Showtime)
Imagine if the main characters of classic horror novels all lived in the same city and interacted with each other. I am  hopeful of an even better second season now that the main characters and situations were introduced.

11. Silicon Valley (HBO)
Comedy is doing much better on cable than network television these days. Silicon Valley does a great job of mocking the tech industry.

The Honorable Woman

10. The Honorable Woman (BBC Two/Sundance)
The original story has the feeling of what it might be like if John le Carré were to write a spy novel on the middle east directly for television.

9. Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (Fox)
Neil deGrasse Tyson was inspired by Carl Sagan as a student. Now he tries to cure some of the scientific-illiteracy which has become a serious problem in this country.

8. True Detective (HBO)
The story had moments of brilliance, and moments when it dragged, but the performance by Matthew McConaughey earned it a spot on most top ten lists.

Transparent

7. Transparent (Amazon Prime)
Jeffrey Tambor leads an excellent cast in a story about an already dysfunctional Jewish family which now must deal with the father coming out as trans-gender. This is the story which Jill Soloway has been wanting to do since Six Feet Under, and she does an excellent job.

6 .Last Week Tonight (HBO)
This new comedy take on the news came along at the right time, with Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update being awful with the loss of Seth Meyers and Stephen Colbert ending his show. John Oliver has done a better job than many others who have attempted to satirize the news with in-depth segments which are likely influence opinions.

5. The Flash (CW)
The best of this year’s attempts to enter the superhero genre. Lighter than Arrow but so far this season more compelling with its ongoing story line.

4. Happy Valley (BBC One/Netflix)
This British crime mystery does a far better job than most of the American counterparts, being far more successful than most other attempts at combining  the personal story of the main character with the mystery.

3. The Affair (Showtime)
Showing the events before the murder from the perspective of two people involved in an affair is a gimmick which works well for the story. When their stories differ are we seeing failings in memory, one or both characters lying, or even the plot of one of the protagonist’s novels?

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2. You’re The Worst (FX)
The best new comedy in ages, with an often hilarious look at a couple of flawed individuals, frequently skewering millennials. The show is especially impressive in both gradually developing the supporting characters and telling a story over the course of the season. The season can easily be watched in one or two sittings as one of the best romantic comedies to come along in years, even by those who normally don’t like romantic comedies. It might also be worth rewatching this time of the year as a reminder of how good television can also be educational, showing why it is not a good idea to plug a vibrator into a string of Christmas lights. The more you know.

Billy Bob Thornton stars as Lorne Malvo in the Emmy award-winning series Fargo

1. Fargo (FX)
A dark comedy and crime drama which does justice to the movie which inspired it, and easily stands on its own. There is both outstanding writing and an excellent cast led by Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton, Allison Tolman, and Colin Hanks.

Honorable Mention:
Among shows which did not make this list, and which aren’t mentioned elsewhere in this post, there are a some other good shows with a genre element: Gotham (Fox), Outlander (Starz),  How To Get Away With Murder (ABC), The Last Ship (TNT), Leftovers (HBO) (which has made many lists of both best and worst of the year), and Resurrection (ABC).

Some of the new genre shows which were left off this list were intentionally omitted.  Extant (CBS) might have made at least honorable mention if they stuck to the story of the AI child and stayed away from the ludicrous alien plot. Some shows couldn’t be ranked as I have not seen them, but reliable sources have recommended others to me which very well deserve to be highly ranked, and which I will hopefully catch up on later. These include The 100 (CW) and Manhattan (WGN). There are also two limited run shows which I have recorded and have heard excellent things about but have not seen yet: Olive Kitteridge (HBO)  and The Roosevelts: An Intimate History (PBS).

Most Improved Shows Of 2014

Some shows do better in their first year, often due to first raising a situation, but are not able to sustain the quality for a second season. Sleepy Hollow (Fox) has not been able to maintain the quality of the first season, but perhaps it will improve now that they appear ready to move on to a  new storyline. Orphan Black (BBC America) also couldn’t maintain the quality of the first season, when everything was still a mystery, but still remains better than most shows on television. House of Cards (Netflix) also did not have as great a second season as first but remains worth watching.

There are six shows which many consider better in their second season, or at very least did not deteriorate a bit going into their second season, listed in alphabetical order:

Agents of SHIELD (ABC)
The show was mediocre until Captain America: The Winter Soldier was released. It became much better late in the first season as it mirrored the movie developments, and has become even better this season as it is now ahead of planned Marvel releases.

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The Americans (FX)
This was one of the best television shows of 2013 when it premiered, and was even better in its second season. The season was successful for both its season-long mystery and for how it combined the personal and professional lives of the main characters. It did one thing far better than other shows such as Homeland: making good use of a teen-aged daughter.

Arrow (CW)
The second season of Arrow started in 2013 but extended into 2014, allowing the show onto this list.  The second season surpassed the second season. The third season, starting in fall 2014, isn’t as good, but I’m still hoping it will return to the level of the second season.

Hannibal (NBC)
It is just amazing that a show of this quality can be shown on network television.

Masters of Sex (Showtime)
Actually a close call between the first and second season, with both worth watching.

Orange Is The New Black (Netflix)
Another example of a great show becoming even better in its second year, as the show successfully went beyond Piper to tell major stories with other characters.

Once again this list is limited to shows I have actually watched. Based upon recommendations from others, I hear that Rectify (Sundance) was another show with an excellent first season and an even better second season in 2014.

There are a couple shows which might not make a list of the best of the year, but these two shows which improved tremendously from their pilots in 2014:

Selfie Karen Gillan John Cho

Selfie (ABC)
The pilot was awful and the show never recovered, but it has gotten much better over the course of the season. Unfortunately this wasn’t soon enough as the show was canceled. The remaining episodes are being shown on Hulu and, with one left to go, have been worth watching.

Married (FX)
This show initially received more hype than You’re The Worst which followed it, but it was soon apparent that this was by far the weaker of the two. Still Married did manage to improve after a weak pilot and, being on cable during the summer when low ratings were expected, was able to survive to get renewed for a second season.

While I concentrated on second season shows in order to provide more coverage to relatively new shows in the list above, there are a few longer-running shows which have improved this season which are worth noting, also in alphabetical order:

Homeland (Showtime)
The show was at its best with the Brody storyline of the first season and they managed to stretch it out through a second season. The third season was just too much, and they finally let it go. The fourth season was mixed as they tried to reestablish the show with only a cameo from Damian Lewis in a hallucination. Some episodes dragged, including the season finale, but there were also some excellent moments during the season. Homeland not only must contend with the loss of Brody. Now it being criticized by Pakistani officials who are furious about how their country was portrayed.

New Girl (Fox)
I had stopped watching around the time that Nick and Jess were getting together, but heard it is much better with the two broken up but saying dumb things to each other, and I have resumed watching.

Person of Interest (CBS)
This was a good show from the start but every season gets better as the show has successfully transitioned from a procedural mystery of the week with a genre gimmick to a true genre show, which is also topical with current controversies over surveillance.

I added the networks to the show listings after I compiled these lists and find it notable that FX has the top two new shows along with one of the best shows of 2013. As expected, HBO and Showtime are well represented, with CW also doing quite well. Amazon has joined Netflix as a valuable streaming service with original shows. The broadcast networks are represented, partially due to having some successes among the larger quantity of original programing than any other source, but are frequently being beaten in quality by cable and streaming sources, which in some cases are owned by the broadcast networks. Showtime and CW now have better shows than CBS as FX has better shows than Fox.

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SciFi Weekend Part 1: Doctor Who, Downton Abbey, And Call the Midwife Christmas Specials, Plus Homeland and The Affair Season Finales, The Interview

Doctor Who Last Christmas

This year’s Doctor Who Christmas special, Last Christmas is a “dreamy-weamy”combination of a variety of Steven Moffat tropes and old movies. The early scenes combined elements of Doctor Who episodes such as Blink, Listen, the Silent from The Impossible Astronaut with the Alien movie series. Instead of not blinking, or not being able to see or remember the alien, the challenge was to not look at or think about the alien. Suddenly the strategy fell apart and we had an attack out of Alien, only to saved by Santa and a gang of toys reminiscent of the Toy Story movies. We even learned how Santa fits all those toys on his sleigh, and it should have been obvious: It is bigger on the inside.

Santa was played by Nick Frost who, with the possible exception of Nick Blood on Agents of SHIELD, is the actor with the best name to fit their role. At first Santa tried to hide his identity: “Sorry about this, girl, we are just three passing perfectly ordinary roof people, doing some emergency roof things.” One of the elves pointed out to Santa that his attempts to hide his identity were not that effective: “You know how you grew the beard as a bit of a disguise? People have picked up on it.” Incidentally the other elf was played by Dan Starkey, who also plays Strax.

Moffat did not hide the allusions to other movies. He recognized Alien with this line, spoken by the Doctor (who happens to be an alien): “There’s a horror movie called Alien? That’s really offensive. No wonder everyone keeps invading you.” Moffat has also stated in interviews that the tangerine at the conclusion of the movie is like the walking stick at the end of Miracle on 34th Street.

Doctor Who Last Christmas Dreaming

Following the rescue by Santa and the toys, we found that it was all a dream, and ultimately there were dreams withing dreams, with the episode feeling much like Inception. Of course being a Moffat show it was far less structured than Inception. There were certainly many plot holes in this episode, but being a Christmas episode in which Moffat was writing in Santa we need to be more forgiving than in a typical episode. The rules kept changing, but in this case it was often acceptable as we were dealing with changeable logic within dreams. Besides, none of the plot holes were as flagrant as the mass of the moon increasing as an egg comes close to hatching (Kill The Moon), people forgetting the actions of trees to protect the planet (In The Forest Of The Night), or the golden arrow of Robot of Sherwood.

A highlight of the dream sequences was Clara having far better closure with Danny Pink than occurred in Death in Heaven. The scene also used old Moffat tropes again, such as with the chalk board with messages like “Dreaming,” similar to the chalkboard from Listen. The episode also had both Clara admit that she lied about Danny being alive and the Doctor admit that he did not find Gallifrey, leaving them in a better position to go on together from when we last saw them. It also leaves the question open as to whether Gallifrey will play into future episodes.

Unfortunately the BBC had put out a press release immediately after the UK showing announcing that Jenna Coleman was returning, partially spoiling the ending. The scenes in which the Doctor saved an older version of Clara could have worked if Coleman was really leaving the series, and the scenes would have been more convincing before seeing the press releases. I wonder if that might have been the end of the episode if Jenna Coleman was really not returning. Instead, with Jenna Coleman coming back to play opposite Peter Capaldi for at least one more season, that was yet another dream.

Doctor Who Last Christmas Sleigh Ride

While I enjoy Moffat’s work, I also see the point of his critics and do find that his more recent work is not as tightly written as back in the days in which he wrote occasional (and usually excellent) stories under Russell  T. Davies. I do wonder if he does need a good editor to tighten up his plots these days. Some of the plot holes in Last Christmas could have been been handled with some better writing and more concern for details. The storyline would have made more sense if, when the Doctor first explained about the mind crabs, he made a point of saying that their ability to eat their victim’s brain depended upon the victim not realizing it was a dream while being tranquilized, but victims could successfully resist if they realize. The progressive realization that they were having dreams within dreams could then be turned into a battle of wits between the Doctor and the mind crabs. It made little sense that the mind crabs had them dream about being scientists fighting the mind crabs, as opposed to the happier (and individual) dream which Clara had involving Danny. This might have seemed more plausible with an exchange in which Clara specifically asked why the aliens would have themselves present in one layer of the dream. The Doctor could have come up with an explanation such as that at the shallowest levels of the dream their brains did provide them an explanation which was closer to reality.

Of course none of this would have explained why they had the sleigh rid and didn’t just wake up when they figured out that they were having dreams within dreams. The answer to that one is simple. How could you expect Moffat to refrain from doing a scene featuring the Doctor flying Santa’s sleigh over London in the most exciting sleigh scene since Santa flew from Central Park through midtown Manhattan in Elf?

The Doctor Who Extra for Last Christmas follows:

While most television shows in the United States now go on  hiatus around the holiday, networks in the U.K. instead often have some of the major episodes of their top series on Christmas Day. There must be some sociological significance to how each country handles television so differently around Christmas. In addition to Doctor Who, two others were of particular interest, involving shows which also have a following in the United States. As US viewers are behind the UK, I will avoid spoilers on these two shows.

Downton Abbey Christmas Special 2014

Downton Abbey had an excellent Christmas episode which essentially serves as the season finale for the show, wrapping up a few major plot lines from the fifth season and providing a potential hint of what is to come next season. I don’t want to say anything else as none of the fifth season has been on here yet, with any discussion of the topics of the episode likely to spoil events of the season. I’ll just say that the season is more satisfactory with this conclusion added on.

Call_the_Midwife_Christmas_special

The Christmas episode of Call the Midwife was the first since the departure of Jessica Raine. Fortunately the show had developed an excellent ensemble which should allow the show to survive her departure, even if she was a major element. Miranda Hart returned to a major role and instead of young Jenny staring in the main story, Vanessa Redgrave appeared as both narrator and on screen at the start and end of the show. The episode does show include character development for some of the remaining characters. Among the story lines is an aspect of the work of the midwives not seen before–handing pregnancies for young, unmarried women who leave town for the birth of their babies.

Besides the Christmas episodes, there were two new episodes of shows of significance in the past week. Homeland‘s season finale was a real disappointment. They would have been better off ending the season after last week’s episode. The Affair ended its first season with a much stronger finale. They certainly put out enough circumstantial evidence to make Noah’s arrest appear inevitable, and he didn’t help his case by attempting to bribe a witness. As there is still at least another full season to come, it seems a safe bet that Noah really is not guilty, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he is covering up for Alison.

The Interview dominated the news with regards to holiday movie releases. This was more because of the Sony hacking and threats to dissuade them from releasing it, and not due to the quality of the movie. I still might stream it this weekend, but the reviews have not been very good:

“Characterizing it as satire elevates the creative execution of the film’s very silly faux assassination of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un far beyond what it merits,” writes Betsy Sharkey in the Lost Angeles Times.

In the Village Voice, Stephanie Zacharek writes that “The Interview” is “contrived absurdity” and that it has very little payoff for all the trouble it caused.

Slate’s Aisha Harris argues that those looking for a satire of North Korea are better off re-watching “Team America: World Police,” the puppet movie created by the makers of “South Park” more than a decade ago.

While Part 1 of SciFi Weekend concentrates on reviews of the past week, Part 2 will look back on the entire year.

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Captain Picard Sings Let It Snow

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SciFi Weekend: Ascension; Person of Interest; Daredevil; Orphan Black; Hannibal; Fargo; Doctor Who Easter Eggs On Gracepoint; The Newsroom; The Fall; The Interview

Tricia-Helfer-in-Ascension

Ascension was billed as  Syfy’s big attempt to return to outer space based, hard science fiction, including the return of Tricia Helfer of Battlestar Galactica. It didn’t exactly do that, but despite some flaws it was mostly a success. Major spoilers here if you plan to watch this at a later date.

The show was billed as sort of Mad Men in space with the advertised premise being of a multi-generational ship sent from earth in the 1960’s. It would have been a lifeboat for the human race during the height of the cold war. The show took place in current time, half way through the ship’s one hundred year journey, with the mission complicated by their first murder. This allowed them to show a culture which did not move beyond the 1960’s, complete with a beach and stewardesses to provide sexual favors for the upper class. It was never clear why such a class difference developed in such a short period of time, but if did make it feel more like the true 1960’s.

During the first episode there were scenes on earth which did suggest that things were not as they seemed, but the big reveal wasn’t until the end of the first two hours. They never left earth with those on board being part of a huge experiment, unaware that they were still on earth and under constant observation. Nobody on board thought it was odd that they never had any jobs to perform outside of the ship.

If this reveal wasn’t until the end of the series it would feel like a cheap cop out, but coming relatively early it did work to provide additional drama for the remaining four hours. I did actually like this development because it was far more plausible than the billed premise. If a science fiction show is set in our future, I don’t mind if they invent technology which is well beyond us such as artificial gravity. However, as the show claimed to have developed this space ship fifty years in our past, I didn’t find it credible for them to have technology which we do not currently have. I could accept them fooling people on board to accept this when they were actually under earth’s gravity.

This twist also allowed for the earth-bound drama to be as significant as the drama on board Ascension, including the well-developed schemes to not only keep this secret but to control those who suspected the plot, or who knew and wanted to take action. While I did like the twist leading to Samantha’s betrayal, I also would have liked to see them succeed in going full Snowden.

I do have mixed feelings about the ending’s almost paranormal nature. However once they did establish that this was an elaborate trick, they did need a big reason for doing it. An experiment as to how people would react to being on a multi-generational space mission would not justify this, but the eugenics experiments which resulted in the creation of someone with Christa’s powers would provide a more plausible reason. Once we saw Christa teleport Gault to an alien world it all made sense. The ability to transport across the galaxy immediately would provide a far better lifeboat for humanity than to send people out on a one hundred year perilous mission in space, in which those who start out would never see the end of the trip. Unfortunately this all ended much too abruptly, and Ascension works better as the first six hours of a series than a self-contained mini-series. I bet that the plan was never to end the story here and those who believed this was a six-hour miniseries were being fooled, just like the crew of Ascension.

The Cold War

The last episode of Person of Interest was far heavier into the show’s mythology. Zap2it discussed Person of Interest, and the trilogy which began before the midseason hiatus, with Amy Acker. Here are some questions from the beginning and end–check out the full post for the rest of the questions:

Zap2it: I don’t know if you feel the same way, but I have been waiting for Samaritan and the Machine to face off all season.
Amy Acker: It was funny because when we got that script everyone was kind of like, “Wait, this is happening now?” It did feel like that’s what this season was about, that Samaritan and the Machine are going to meet. I think that’s what the writers and Jonah [Nolan] and Greg [Plageman] really continuously do with this show is they bring up these things that would be a great season finale and they put them in the middle of the year. It really makes the whole second half of the season go in a different direction. I thought it was kind of cool that they did that when they did.

That scene was so great, and Oakes Fegley, who played the little boy Gabriel that Samaritan speaks through, was amazing.
Isn’t he so good? I have a 9-year-old, almost 10, that’s like the exact same age as him. I just kept looking at him going, “My son would never memorize some of those lines and then be able to deliver it.” [ laughs] He was very impressive. He was so smart and great, and he was excited about doing the scene and had ideas. The director [Michael Offer] was great with him too. He’s just really a special kid, and he was fantastic — and super creepy — as Samaritan.

There’s a little bit of a break until “Person of Interest” returns, so what can you offer as a tease for the next part in this three-part arc?
This is the second part of this trilogy of episodes which we’ve seen the beginning of. I would say this is the most dangerous of the three episodes. It’s a really unique episode. There’s not been a “Person of Interest” like this. When we all got the episode we were like “this is really cool,” and it was a really, really hard shoot. But as they’ve been putting it together, people have been saying this is their favorite episode that we’ve had. I’m excited to see it all together because it was kind of hard as we were shooting it to imagine how it was going to turn out.

The promo for the next episode makes it look like a lot of characters are in life-or-death situations. The last time “Person of Interest” had a big three-parter Carter died, so can we expect a similar game-changer this year?
Well everyone’s definitely in danger in this episode. With the beginning of the new year and the second half of the season, I think it’s going to really affect everything that happens from this point forward.

“Person of Interest” Season 4 returns on Jan. 6 with “If-Then-Else” on CBS. The synopsis reads: “Samaritan launches a cyber-attack on the stock exchange, leaving the team with no choice but to embark on a possible suicide mission in a desperate attempt to stop a global economic catastrophe.”

DAREDEVIL-NETFLIX

Marvel told Entertainment Weekly that the upcoming Daredevil series will be more about crime fighting than superheroes:

Forget Ben Affleck. Netflix’s Daredevil is ”the exact opposite” of Affleck’s much-maligned 2003 bomb, promises showrunner Steven S. DeKnight. Expect the classic origin story to remain unchanged: Blinded as a child, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) is a lawyer by day who hunts criminals by night (he apparently doesn’t get much sleep). But this new iteration of Daredevil is more influenced by 1970s mean-street films like The French Connection and Taxi Driver than traditional superhero titles. ”There aren’t going to be people flying through the sky; there are no magic hammers,” says Marvel TV chief Jeph Loeb. ”We’ve always approached this as a crime drama first, superhero show second.” There’s also more grown-up content here. ”It’s a little grittier and edgier than Marvel has gone before,” says DeKnight, ”but we’re not looking to push it to extreme violence or gratuitous nudity.” The ‘devil will eventually get his iconic red costume, but first he’ll wear black duds inspired by Frank Miller’s comic Daredevil: The Man Without Fear.

The above trailer for season three of Orphan Black, which returns on April 18, indicates that there will be war. I wonder to what degree it might be between the male and female clones or, probably more likely, between some clones and the groups which try to control them.

 TVOverMind has a round table discussion on season three of Arrow.

Michael Pitt is leaving Hannibal and Joe Anderson will replace him in the role of Mason Verger.

Fargo Season 2

Entertainment Weekly has more information on season two of Fargo:

Fargo is going back in time to 1979 for season two, and EW has a first-look at a page from the season premiere script.

Expect another snow-swept rural crime drama loosely inspired by the Coen brothers’ film, only this time the action is set in Luverne, Minnesota, where humble married couple Peggy and Ed Blomquist (Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons) find themselves caught in an escalating war between a local crime gang and a major Mob syndicate. (A character in season one cryptically described the 1979 case as “savagery, pure and simple,” with a massive pileup of bodies.)

“The scope of the story- telling this season is a lot bigger, it has more of an epic feel to it,” says showrunner Noah Hawley, who adds that the earlier time period and even more rural setting gives the show an almost Western-like quality. “It’s not the ’70s in a Boogie Nights kind of way,” he assures.

Gracepoint Easter Eggs

Gracepoint took advantage of staring David Tennant by including a few Doctor Who Easter eggs. Look at who the messages were from which were left on David Tenant’s desk–D. Noble, Martha Jones, and R. Tyler.

Keifer Sutherland told The Telegraph that he doesn’t see going back to do another season of 24. Obviously this is not the equivalent of a Sherman statement.

The Newsroom ended last week with a mixed series finale. The episode largely contained flashbacks inspired by Charlie’s funeral but the plot did also advance in scenes between flashbacks. Unfortunately much of the plot advancement from this short season came from random events. Previously the storyline with Will in jail for refusing to reveal the identity of a source ended too easily when the source committed suicide. The finale too easily resolved the conflict from the changes made by then owner when scandals, which came out of nowhere, led to MacKenzie being named the new president of ACN. Despite these faults, Sorkin left me wanting to see another season with MacKenzie as ACN president, and even with Jim and Maggie trying to make a long distance relationship work.

The Fall completed its second season with a mixed ending which, like Ascension, ended too abruptly. It did not work completely because of relying on minor characters who have not been seen in recent episodes.  The show would probably work better for those binging on both seasons at once, as opposed to watching the second season over a year later when some key events have been forgotten by most viewers. There is hope of them redeeming themselves as there is talk of a third season. It is not known if Paul Specter survived and whether Jamie Dornan will be returning, but Gillian Anderson has expressed interest.

The top show business story of the week, greatly transcending show business, was North Korea’s hacking of Sony and intimidation resulting in Sony deciding against the release of The Interview. On the one hand, the problems faced by Sony in releasing the movie under the threat of terrorist attacks are obvious, but we hate to such such intimidation succeed. Today on CNN’s  State of the Union, President Obama called this an act of cybervandalism (video above):

President Barack Obama says he doesn’t consider North Korea’s hack of Sony Pictures “an act of war.”

“It was an act of cybervandalism,” Obama said in an interview with CNN’s Candy Crowley that aired Sunday “State of the Union.”

But he stuck by his criticism of Sony’s decision to cancel its plans to release the movie “The Interview,” which includes a cartoonish depiction of the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, after the country threatened attacks against theaters that showed it.

Obama said in a Friday news conference that Sony made “a mistake,” and that he wished the company had called him first. That led Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton to tell CNN that Obama and the public “are mistaken as to what actually happened.” He blamed movie theater companies that opted not to show the film, saying they forced Sony’s hand.

Obama shot back, saying: “I was pretty sympathetic to the fact that they have business considerations that they got to make. Had they talked to me directly about this decision, I might have called the movie theater chains and distributors and asked them what the story was.”

The President told Crowley that his problem wasn’t with Sony specifically, but with the precedent the company’s decision set.

Ideally the movie will be released in some way to ensure that North Korea is not successful in preventing the release of a movie they dislike. Many solutions have been discussed. There are now reports that Sony might release it for free on Crackle. Such a free release, along with all the publicity this has received, would probably lead to The Interview being seen by far more people than it would with a conventional theatrical release.

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