SciFi Weekend: Mr. Robot; Jessica Jones; Kimmy Schmidt; Person of Interest; Homeland; 24; Heroes; The DC Superhero Shows; Orphan Black; Blacklist

Mr Robot Finale Bar

After Mr. Robot won two Golden Globes for Best TV Drama and Best Supporting Actor (Christian Slater), cast and crew discussed the show at the Television Critics Association press tour. Here are some excerpts via Vulture:

The first-season finale ended with everyone’s favorite hacker confronting his painful delusions. The new season will begin with that struggle. “The whole show has been about Elliot’s emotional journey, and I really wanted to focus on that and less about the plot,” Esmail said. “And so, for me, the headline of season two is: How does Elliot reconcile the fact that he’s aware that he’s been seeing this fantasy?” Even as the first season entertained viewers with several twists and turns, Esmail said he’s not interested in “gotcha moments … Rami brilliantly plays Elliot in a way that he drops you into his psyche. So you’re learning it with him. As long as that is organic and that feels real, then I think the twists will come from there. But it’s not my agenda to keep shocking you. It really isn’t.”

Elliot’s past — and when his delusions began, and whom they involve — will become clearer in the second season. “There will be a lot more backstory that we’re going to show,” Esmail shared. “The timeline is going to get a little clearer. Not 100 percent clearer, because what’s the fun in that? But a little clearer.” Malek said Esmail has shared “enough” with him to help him start preparing for his performance. With this character, I have to prepare for anything at any given moment. I go through every direction as to what possibly happened to someone like this because in his head we never know what has happened. And I think having to trace back the truth and discover the truth ultimately makes him more complex to play — just trying to decipher what he’s actually seen and where he’s actually been. When I think about that, it kind of haunts me as a human being, having to do that. And that’s the place he finds himself in approaching this next season.”

Elliot is an unreliable narrator, and yes, there are other things he’s shown viewers besides the identity of Mr. Robot that we shouldn’t trust. After Esmail revealed that during the panel, Malek asked him, “Do I know? Do we know?” The answer: “No.”

Jessica Jones Luke Cage

Krysten Ritter discussed the sex scenes in Jessica Jones during the press tour. Considering both the highly favorable reception for the show and discussion of season two in several years, I assumed that it was already decided. Apparently a second season was not official at the time, but Netflix has now made it official. Plus elsewhere there is talk about season two of Daredevil, and about  Iron Fist,

Netflix has also announced that Orange is the New Black will return on June 17, 2016 and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt returns for its second season on April 15th, 2016. Kimmy Schmidt has also been renewed for a third season.

Person of Interest season 5 will air this spring, and CBS President Glenn Geller left open the possibility that it could be renewed. Perhaps airing in the spring, when there aren’t as many new episodes of network shows, will result in high ratings to justify renewing it. On the other hand, the show has an extensive back-story and a lot of episodes to catch up on which makes it difficult for new viewers to get involved. It would be interesting if someone could put together the parts of episodes dealing just with the mythology of the show and cut all the number of the week stories.

Homeland will be coming back for a fifth season, taking place in New York. I finally gave in and completed watching the last season over the holidays. It was better than some recent seasons, but still far below the first season. There were also some vague references to Quinn’s fate:

The closest thing to a teaser came in the form of a cryptic update on Quinn, who was not having a good time at the end of last season. “Quinn is very damaged, no question about that,” the network’s president of programming, Gary Levine, said, according to Deadline. “If he should live, he won’t be in the shape and form he was.”

If this (and multiple other shows) don’t give you enough stories on fighting terrorism, Fox plans to reboot 24 with a new case.

Heroes Reborn will not be coming back for a second season, and there is no reason it should.

73rd ANNUAL GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS -- Pictured: (l-r) Melissa Benoist, Grant Gustin, Presenters at the 73rd Annual Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 10, 2016 -- (Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC)

We sort of had a Supergirl/Flash crossover at the Golden Globes when Melissa Benoist and Grant Gustin presented an award together. (I wish they had the two race up the stage to see whether Supergirl or the Flash is faster.) There have been rumors and denials of a crossover on their television series for some time. CBS president Glenn Geller has now left an opening for such an event. I hope Arrow is included as I think that Kara and Felicity would get along very well together. More on the possibility of a crossover here.

The Flash and Arrow will be returning on CW, along with the premiere of DC’S Legends of Tomorrow. The producers have been denying internet rumors that Felicity will become Oracle. (I don’t think anyone really believes she was killed.)  Some news here, including that the remainder of the season on The Flash will deal with Zoom and the show’s multiverse.

The Americans, one of the best dramatic shows on television the last few years, returns on March 16. Some teasers on the upcoming season and future of the show here.

The above teaser has been released for season 4 of Orphan Black.

Blacklist appears to have wrapped up the Lizzie on the run storyline which dominated the first half of the season. The Director turned out to be less powerful that initially suggested as the Cabal literally had him dropped. Reddington has said it was time to “take down the Cabal” but it appears to remain alive and well (even if weaker). Things are much like before except it appears Lizzie will now be working with Reddington as an FBI asset as opposed to an agent. Plus it is not clear if Reddington is now a part of the cabal. If so, does that mean they are still an evil group trying to get us into World War III with Russia? Will Reddington still be helping the FBI capture people involved with the Cabal?Plus is Laurel Hitchen in charge, or just the highest ranking person we see, and how dangerous will she be now that everyone is on to her?

Quote of the Day: Seth Meyers On Clinton’s Lead Shrinking In Iowa

Seth Meyers2

“A new poll shows that in the last month, Hillary Clinton’s lead in Iowa has shrunk from 9 percent to 2 percent. Meanwhile, her fake smile has grown 200 percent.” –Seth Meyers

Quote of the Day: James Corden On Selfies & The Democratic Candidates

James Corden

Hillary Clinton complained about having to take selfies with voters, saying that it takes up too much time at campaign events. Yeah, good one, Hillary. That’s the way to capture the youth vote — directly criticize their favorite thing in the whole world.

Hillary said she doesn’t like selfies because the interaction is very impersonal. She said, “If anything is going to be impersonal on this campaign trail, I prefer it to be me.”

Meanwhile Bernie Sanders announced that he loves selfies. He just hasn’t figured out how to take them on his rotary phone.

–James Corden

SciFi Weekend: New and Returning Shows For 2016, And Other Genre News

There has been a reduced television schedule so far this year, (giving me time to watch the second seasons of Catastrophe, Mozart In the Jungle, and Tranparent), but many shows are starting or coming back soon. Blastr has a list of nine science fiction shows premiering in January. I have already discussed Legends of Tomorrow and the revival of  X-Files several times in the past. The trailer for Legends of Tomorrow,which premieres on CW on Januray 21 is above.  ScreenRant discussed Sara  Lance’s mental state on the new series with Caity Lotz.

As for the three shows I mentioned watching above, Catastrophe‘s second season was broadcast in the U.K. on Channel 4 late last year but is not availably yet on Amazon, while the second seasons of the other two shows recently became available. The first season of Catastrophe, which I ranked as the best new comedy of 2015, is available on Amazon.

Getting back to the science fiction shows premiering this month, I have heard some favorable buzz for The Shannara Chronicles which began on January 5 on MTV. Nerdist interviewed the executive producer, Miles Millar. Other shows on the list which have received the most interest so far have been The Magicians (with Syfy streaming the pilot early) and Colony (with initial reviews being better for the first). Initial buzz has been negative for Second Chance, and there are questions as to whether Lucifer can make it on a major network.

There will be many additional genre shows premiering later in the year, along with the return of other shows. What Culture has a list of original shows appearing on Netflix this year, including Daredevil, which returns on March 18 (trailer above).

Supergirl returned last week, resolving the cliff hanger of Cat figuring out her secret identity just as I predicted last Sunday.

Sherlock returned for a single episode,The Abominable Bride, on New Year’s day. Those of us expecting a self-contained story in Victorian times were surprised by what was actually done with the episode and how it actually played into last  season’s cliffhanger.

ABC has ordered a pilot for the Agents of SHIELD spinoff, Marvel’s Most Wanted. The series will center on Bobbi Morse (Adrianne Palicki) and Lance Hunter (Nick Blood).

Among the shows I’m most interested in seeing, 11.22.63 premiers on Hulu on February 15, with new episodes being released weekly as opposed to all episodes being released at the same time as on Netflix and Amazon. (Trailer above.) There will be some changes from the Stephen King novel. More here and here, plus J.J. Abrams also addressed the controversy over the female lead in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (reviewed here) being left out of the Star Wars themed Monopoly game.

In my review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens I noted how the novelization has filled in some plot holes. Mashable has more from the novelization. In addition, the script has been released which also provides further explanation of some plot points.

"YHWH" -- Finch (Michael Emerson, left) and Root (Amy Acker, right) race to save The Machine, which has been located by the rival AI, Samaritan, while Reese is caught in the middle of the final showdown between rival crime bosses Elias and Dominic, on the fourth season finale of PERSON OF INTEREST, Tuesday, May 5 (10:01-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Giovanni Rufino/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. © 2015 WBEI. All rights reserved.

J.J. Abrams also says that Person of Interest will probably end after this season, which is no surprise considering how it is receiving a reduced thirteen episode run and has not made the schedule for this season yet. As long as it ends well this season, that is fine with me. The show gradually changed over time from primarily a procedural show to a true science fiction show, and it is better to have it end well as a great genre show as opposed to continuing indefinitely as a typical CBS procedural.

Like Person of Interest reinvented itself this year, Blacklist has also been considerably different from how it began. It was also off to an excellent start in this week’s episode. Unfortunately I don’t know  how much longer they can continue this storyline for.

The trailer above shows how the second season of Outlander will be much different from the first when it returns in April.

While not genre, another show of interest, Love, from Judd Apatow and staring Gillian Jacobs of Community will be released by Netflix on February 19.

HBO has renewed Girls for a sixth and final season. The fifth season begins on February 21.

Sundance has renewed Rectify for a fourth and final season.

Better Call Saul returns for its second season on February 15. Trailer above.

12 Monkeys will return on April 18 on Syfy.

Besides all the speculation as to the fate of Felicity, there have been rumors that Stephen Amell would leave Arrow, presumably ending the series, in the next year or two. Amell responded by saying his contract runs through 2019 (which doesn’t guarantee that CW will continue the show that long).

Laura Dern has been added to the cast of Showtime’s revival of Twin Peaks. While her role has not been announced, there have been rumors that she might play Special Agent Dale Cooper’s previously unseen secretary, Diane. The cast also includes Kyle MacLachlan, Sheryl Lee, Sherilyn Fenn,  Jennifer Jason Leigh, Robert Knepper, Balthazar Getty and Amanda Seyfried. The first three were from the original cast.

Coal Hill School

Class, the Doctor Who spinoff from BBC Three taking place at Coal Hill School, will also be available on BBC America sometime in 2016, but no date has been set yet.

Doctor Who has made the short list for the National Television Awards in the Drama category. It is up against Downton Abbey, Broadchurch, and a show I am not familiar with named Casualty. Humans is among the nominees for New Drama. Downton Abbey has completed its run in the U.K. (doing a good job of concluding the series) and has resumed in the United States.

BBC America is also working on a new television adaptation of Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently series.

There is now hope that Parenthood will return in some form, with Jason Katims being inspired by the movie Boyhood to return to the lives of the major characters over time. (Review of the finale here). It is interesting that two of the shows which might return in such a manner both star Lauren Graham, with a revival of Gilmore Girls now being filmed. Katims made it sound unlikely that the rumored follow up of his other show, Friday Night Lights, will return.

Yahoo Screen has been discontinued, making it even less likely that Community will ever return.

Sylvester Stallone discussed running for office and Donald Trump with Variety.

Update: News came in overnight that David Bowie died of cancer. The New York Times reports:

David Bowie, the infinitely changeable, fiercely forward-looking songwriter who taught generations of musicians about the power of drama, images and personas, died on Sunday, two days after his 69th birthday.

Mr. Bowie’s death was confirmed by his publicist, Steve Martin, on Monday morning.

He died after having cancer for 18 months, according to a statement on Mr. Bowie’s social-media accounts.

“David Bowie died peacefully today surrounded by his family,” a post on his Facebook page read.

His last album, “Blackstar,” a collaboration with a jazz quartet that was typically enigmatic and exploratory, was released on Friday — his birthday. He was to be honored with a concert at Carnegie Hall on March 31 featuring the Roots, Cyndi Lauper and the Mountain Goats.

Following is a video of David Bowie’s Space Oddity, recorded by Commander Chris Hadfield on board the International Space Station in 2014:

Bernie Sanders On The Nightly Show

Bernie Sanders was on The Nightly Show last night, coming out right after a brief segment on the skywriting about Donald Trump at the Rose Parade. Above is the extended version of  Larry Wilmore’s interview with Sanders.

Above is the extended video of the panel, with Bernie Sanders included.

The usual serious topics from interviews with Sanders came up on the show, including his views on income inequality, ISIS, climate change, gun control, and social justice. Sanders pointed out how he is taking on the establishment and compared himself to Hillary Clinton on Iraq and foreign policy, also warning of the danger of perpetual warfare in the middle east.

Less serious subjects also came up, such as a mock promise to put a Ben and Jerry’s bar in every household as opposed to a chicken in every pot. Referring to Donald Trump (during the interview) and Ben Carson (during the panel discussion), Larry asked Bernie whether Donald Trump should be “schlonged” and if Bernie every stabbed anyone.

Related Posts:

Late Night Television: Jon Stewart Does Donald Trump Impression & Presidential Candidates Condemn Trump For Proposed Muslim Ban

Stephen Colbert, Larry David, and Bill Maher On Bernie Sanders & The Democratic Race

SciFi Weekend: The Top 20 New Shows of 2015

Once again, as I did last year, I’m concentrating, I’m concentrating on the top new shows of the past year (but will include some comments on returning shows below). This is for a few reasons:

  • Not having the time to devote professional time to television as professional television critics do, there are many shows I have not watched purely due to lack of time. Limiting to a single year reduces the impact of this.
  • Limiting to new shows eliminates the problem in many “best of” lists of including the same shows every year.
  • Talking about new shows could be of greater value. It is more likely that readers know about the top shows which have been on for the last several years, but might not be aware of some of the shows which started more recently.
  • If readers are inspired to catch up on a show from a list such as this, it is far more practical to catch up after one season than several. I know this from personal experience. This is why I cannot say much about the series finale of Justified, which has received great reviews, as I’m years behind. It was much easier to catch up on Manhattan and The 100 after missing the first season, allowing me to say more about them below.

Besides being limited to shows I have watched, this is also biased towards genre shows. Therefore, what might be the year’s biggest hit among new shows, Empire, is excluded from consideration on both counts. Rankings are also quite arbitrary, and some shows could easily be a few spots higher or lower if I were to redo this fifteen minutes later. Still, this gives a general idea of which I consider among the best as compared to those ranked lower. It is a sign of the increased number of good shows coming out, partially due to the increased influence of steaming video along with cable, that I have expanded from a top fifteen list last year to a top 20 list this year.

Top 20 New Shows Of 2015

Last Man On EarthCa

20. Last Man on Earth (ABC)

This would have ranked far higher if it could have maintained the quality of its original premiere, but adding new characters just led to it devolving into a number of more standard sitcom tropes. Still, while many gave up on the show, I continued to have interest in the first season finale and into the second season.

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19. Childhood’s End (Syfy)

Adapting a novel from Arthur C. Clarke seemed like a sure winner, but there were problems I didn’t expect from doing this until I viewed the miniseries. It seemed far more dated in 2015 compared to when I read the novel in the 1960’s now that we have seen so many shows with alien visitation to earth. This story worked out much better as a novel as they could not capture important aspects of the story, including the magnitude of the ending, on television as compared to in prose. The show also failed to make the new world created in the miniseries seem believable, compared to the far better adaptations in a couple of other shows listed below. We heard about all the changes on earth, but rarely saw them, and what we did seem, such as mankind giving up science, didn’t seem believable.

Togetherness

18. Togetherness (HBO)

An excellent sitcom showing how cable and streaming have replaced the “must watch TV” from NBC and the other broadcast networks.

The Expanse

17.The Expanse (Syfy)

Syfy returns to space, with a mystery and quite a bit of world building in the series based upon the novels by James S. A. Corey. I have only seen the first two episodes so far, so my opinion of the show could change once I see more. It was just recently renewed for a second season.

Fresh off the Boat

16. Fresh Off The Boat (ABC)

Both Blackish last year and Fresh Off The Boat this year offer new variations on Modern Family. Constance Wu makes the show.

Casual

15. Casual (Hulu)

Yet another twist on a family sitcom, done far better by Hulu than the networks.

12Monkeys

14. 12 Monkeys (Syfy)

A time travel show which took aspects from the movie, but improved upon them for a weekly series. The series did an excellent job of building on its mythology, providing surprises, and moving in a new direction in the season finale.

Programme Name: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell - TX: n/a - Episode: Ep2 (No. 2) - Picture Shows: Mr Norrell (EDDIE MARSAN) - (C) JSMN Ltd - Photographer: Matt Squire

13. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell (BBC One/BBC America)

An excellent adaptation of Susanna Clarke’s novel, making a world in which magic exists seem real.

Supergirl-TV-Show-Actress-Melissa-Benoist

12. Supergirl (CBS)

Another show from the produces of Arrow and The Flash, with his being much closer to The Flash in style. The show had an excellent pilot, but for a while seemed like a weaker version of The Flash. It started getting more interesting toward the end of the fall season as the show had an opportunity to develop. Spoilers ahead: Major events before the hiatus included the revelation that Hank Henshaw is the Martian Manhunter. Calista Flockhart is excellent as Cat Grant, but considering her profession can she be trusted now that she figured out Supergirl’s secret identity? So far Supergirl doesn’t know about Hank, but it is inevitable that she learns who he is. A shape shifter could be useful to show both Supergirl and Kara in the same place to fool Cat.

Sense8 Will and Riley

11. Sense 8 (Netflix)

A very ambitious show, which took time to develop its story, but well worth the wait. Enjoy the scenery from around the world while trying to figure it out in the early episodes.

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10. Agent Carter (ABC)

This shows how much better a network show can be when limited to a single eight-episode story.  Maybe that is why it is the only network show which cracked the top ten. Of course a network still could not compete with streaming when entering the Marvel universe.

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9. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)

This shows how the networks have surrendered quality sitcoms to streaming and cable. The show was originally produced by Tina Fey for NBC, but they passed on it and it was picked up by Netflix. It will be interesting to see if the show is even better when the second season is produced, knowing it will appear on Netflix rather than NBC.

Daredevil Matt and Karen

8. Daredevil (Netflix)

The first of a series of shows from the Marvel universe. Dardevil was darker, grittier, and more violent than any of the superhero shows before this. The series also took advantage of the streaming medium, often telling a continuous story, but sometimes including a more conventional single episode on a specific topic (which was still part of the greater story for the season).

Master of None

7. Master of None (Netflix)

Aziz Ansari shows how good a comedy could be on what I bet is a low budget if there is excellent writing. Besides comparisons to his character on Parks and Recreation, the show is often compared to Louie. I also see a lot of early Seinfeld in it.

Catastrophe

6. Catastrophe (Channel 4/Amazon)

The British show, also made available in the United States from Amazon Prime, was the best new sitcom of the year. It was this year’s, You’re The Worst, with Sharon Horgan playing what felt like could be an older version of Aya Cash’s chacter, and the nationalities of Jimmy and Gretchen’s nationalities reversed.

Man In The High Castle Poster

5. Man In The High Castle (Amazon)

While changes were made for the new version, Man In The High Castle was an excellent adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel, providing a realistic look at what could have happened if Germany and Japan had won World War II and occupied the United States. Changes were made in some characters, and there were plot differences to turn this into an ongoing series. Hitler remaining alive in the 1960’s provides for a difference in the politics. Instead of a book with an alternate history in which the Allies won, using film reels worked better on television. While the main storyline was tied up, the finale raised new questions, making me very happy that it was renewed. Spoilers ahead: As happened earlier in the book, the finale did show a character crossing over into an alternate universe looking like ours, partially explaining the meaning of those news reels. I still have a lot of questions about them, and if the book gave any further hints, I read it too long ago to remember. The finale did wrap up the major storyline and led to an unexpected character living in a “high castle” who was interested in the news reels. Is he really the title character, and how is he connected to the films?

Humans

4. Humans (Channel 4/AMC)

Yet another British import on this list which was also shown in the United States presented a look at how robots (Synths) could change our society, along with a thriller storyline involving a small group of  Synths which were more than they seemed. I’m not sure if the second season could be as strong as the first now that all the secrets have been revealed, but they definitely left matters open to continue the story.

MR. ROBOT -- "Pilot" Episode 101 -- Pictured: (l-r) Rami Malek as Elliot, Christian Slater as Mr. Robot -- (Photo by: David Giesbrecht/USA Network)

3. Mr. Robot (USA)

A cyber-thriller which is totally different from what anyone would expect from a show on USA. The show gave a lot of hints about one element which was not confirmed until later in the season, but still came up with surprises along the way. The season finale also left room for a lot more.

Better Call Saul

2. Better Call Saul (AMC)

Better Call Saul greatly exceeded expectations, standing on its own in addition to being a prequel series to one of the greatest television series of all time, Breaking Bad.

Jessica Jones

1. Jessica Jones (Netflix)

Netflix exceeded what was accomplished on Daredevil with Jessica Jones, staring Kristin Ritter in the title role. The series, even more than Daredevil, was like a single long movie, with only brief breaks in the narrative to fill in viewers on the back stories of the major characters. This works as a stand alone story, but also has references to The Avengers, a character from Daredevil, and sets up future shows, especially Luke Cage.

Spoilers ahead. The show did so many things well.  While many super hero stories suffer from trying to create yet a bigger danger to the entire world to fight, Jessica Jones was a personal story between Jessica and the villain, with David Tennant doing a fantastic job playing Kilgrave. Without their powers, this is essentially the story of an abused woman who once again confronts the man who abused her. Add on the super powers, and it becomes a story of a man who can have whatever he wants and does not understand why Jessica does not love him when he is nice to her.

Most of the supporting cast was also excellent, including Mike Colter as Luke Cage and Rachel Taylor as Trish Walker. One neighbor initially seemed to be a stereotypical drug addict, but turned into a significant figure. The brother and sister also living in the same building were the weakest characters, but the sister was useful to allow Kilgrave to escape. The length of the story did require a series of  near-captures, captures, and escapes. Plus it was necessary to change the situation so that the ending could take place, when earlier Jessica had reason to not only capture Kilgrave alive, but provide proof of his powers.

Honorable Mention

Grace and Frankie Season 1 netflix handout .... Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in the Netflix Original Series "Grace and Frankie". Photo by Melissa Moseley for Netflix.Ê

Grace and Frankie (Netflix) Any show staring Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Martin Sheen, and Sam Waterston has to be good, even if some of other new sitcoms were more consistent.

Blindspot (NBC) A fascinating premise made the early shows feel like something unique from network drama, but far too often it is just a gimmick to introduce the case of the week. Whether the show becomes a great will depend on whether the underlying mystery of the show remains compelling. Also on NBC, Blacklist almost felt like a new show with Lizzie now on the run, reminiscent of how Person of Interest evolved into more of a genre show last year on CBS.

Limitless (CBS) A lighter genre show which shows potential to be entertaining, but I doubt will rise to greatness.

Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp (Netflix) A prequel to the movie.

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (CBS) and The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore (Comedy Central) were two excellent additions to light night television, a genre which I arbitrarily left out of the rankings. They help make up for the loss of David Letterman and Jon Stewart. I haven’t actually watched much of Larry Wilmore but he has been hilarious when I’ve seen clips. I’m looking forward to seeing him host the White House Correspondents’ dinner.

The Republican Debates have become an amusing reality show, featuring reality television star Donald Trump. His previous reality show had a similar format in gradually eliminating candidates vying for a job.

Besides the above changes on late night television,  this year marked the end of many excellent shows including Mad Men, Parks and Recreation, Hannibal, Parenthood, Continuum, and Justified. Downton Abbey concluded in the UK with the Christmas special, but the final season is just now beginning in the United States. (No spoilers, but the series ended well).

Last year I left out some shows only because I had not had a chance to see them yet. These included The 100 (CW) and Manhattan (WGN). These turned out to both be extremely high quality shows. and both would have made the top five if I had seen them when compiling last year’s list.

Among shows I’ve heard excellent things about, and very well might deserve to be ranked among the top shows but I have not had a chance to see so far are Narcos (Netflix), Wolf Hall (BBC Two/PBS), and The Jinx (HBO). While not as critically acclaimed, I have received a plug for another genre show, Wayward Pines (Fox).

Quote of the Day: Conan on Donald Trump and Nazi Salutes

Conan Photo

At a Donald Trump rally the other night, a supporter shouted out the Nazi salute “Sieg Heil!” Trump immediately responded, “There is no place for that here – save it for my inauguration.” –Conan O’Brien

SciFi Weekend: Star Wars, The Force Awakens; Doctor Who, The Husbands of River Song

Star Wars Force Awkens Rey BB-8

The Force Awakens was the sequel to Star Wars we were looking for after the original trilogy. While J.J. Abrams has never understood Star Trek, he is a perfect fit for a franchise such as Star Wars which centers more on action and mythology than the type of ideas which characterize Star Trek when done well.  Rather than rejecting parts of of the original as with Star Trek, J.J. Abrams made a sequel to Star Wars which was a true homage to Star Wars: A New Hope. The movie has many parallels to the original, but does introduce a new generation of characters and mix things up enough to keep it fresh.  It avoided the mistakes of the second trilogy. There was no Jar Jar Banks, and it presented a cuter version of R2-D2 for a new generation. This review contains major spoilers, along with looking at some of the questions left unanswered in the movie.

In many ways, The Force Awakens was a retelling of the original story for a new generation. Both The Force Awakens and A New Hope have much of the early action on a desert planet with a droid carrying important information playing a major part. Therefore it did not came as a surprise that the escape was on The Millennium Falcon. Having it sitting there unused for years but all fueled up and ready to fly is just one of many plot holes which are easily ignored. Nor was it a surprise that Han Solo showed up. Many of the scenes on The Millennium Falcon felt quite familiar. Rather than repeating one classic scene, Harrison Ford did provide another reference to the original when asking about a garage chute.

The biggest surprise of the movie was that Rey turned out to be the character with the Force. We saw this when Rey found Luke’s lightsaber at Maz’s watering hole (reminiscent of the Cantina scene), with no explanation of why it was there. The producers did an excellent job of keeping this secret, such as showing the rare scenes in which Finn held the lightsaber in previews and posters.The experience would have been quite different if the previews showed the battle between Rey and Kylo Ren, or showed Rey holding out the lightsaber for Luke at the end.

Once we learned that Rey was really the main character with the Force, her path in the movie became clear. She would fight the movie’s villain, be tempted by and resist the dark side, and ultimately find Luke–after this movie’s version of the Death Star was destroyed (including flights through the trenches).

Once we saw the bridge in this part of the universe where hand rails have never been invented, it was also obvious that Han Solo would reprise Obi Wan Kenobe’s death scene. J.J. Abrams explained that this was also done to establish how evil  Kylo Ren was so that he could be at the level of a Darth Vader. Of course moments later in the movie R2-D2 woke up, so that viewers wouldn’t be sad for too long.

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The movie introduced other characters. One of the new characters, Poe, was intended to die but instead he turned up later in the movie. This isn’t the first time that Abrams planned to kill a character who seemed like a major character and later changed his mind. The original plan was to for Jack to be killed on Lost. While it might have been a surprise to see him later in the movie, most genre fans know that if you don’t see the body, the character most likely isn’t dead. I would have preferred it if there were brief scenes of Poe surviving but getting separated, and showing how he escaped from the planet.

Abrams also repeated an error he made in Star Trek in ignoring how big space is. The Enterprise seemed to travel from Vulcan to Earth in minutes, and in the alternate universe it is possible to beam by transwarp onto a starship traveling at many times the speed of light. The hyperlight weapon in The Force Awakens seems implausible, undoubtedly as a result of a desire to have a weapon even more powerful that the Death Star. The weapon was capable of destroying four distant planets as if they were nearby, with the four planets also appearing to be very close to each other.

The politics of the movie was also puzzling. It looked like we had a civil war between the Republic and the First Order. If that was the case, why weren’t the forces under Leia’s command the military for the Republic, as opposed to a rebel group? While I’ve seen explanations on line such as a peace treaty between the Republic and the First Order which made it necessary for the Republic to hide their actions against the First Order, the meta reason is most likely to be reminiscent of the rebel forces in the original trilogy. I suspect that having had its capital and a few other planets destroyed, we won’t see much more of the Republic, except possibly at the conclusion.

If a big moment in the second movie of the first trilogy was Darth Vader telling Luke that he was his father, I wonder if the second movie of this trilogy will be Luke saying the same to Rey. While I think that this is the most likely reason for Rey having the force, there are other possibilities. Maybe Leia is her mother, making Ren her brother, but this would require an explanation for Leia giving no indication of knowing about a daughter. Possibly Rey is descended from Obi Wan Kenobe. This could also explain the connection with the lightsabre as Luke’s lightsaber previously belonged to Obi Wan.

Another theory is that Ren’s parents are not from the characters we know. In The Empire Strikes Back, after Luke completed his training under Yoda, Obi Wan said , “This boy is our last hope.” Yoda replied, “No, there is another.” It was assumed he was referring to Leia, but she was never trained in the Force. Perhaps Yoda was referring to someone else that we do not yet know about.

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There are many other questions raised, some of which will probably be answered in subsequent movies. Others might be plot holes which there is no good reason for, but the movie was so much fun that most viewers won’t care. Some elements of the movie were taken from plot points in the expanded universe which was invented after the movies, which should give fans a lot to speculate on. The novelization for The Force Awakens also fills in some points.

The Daily Dot listed ten things learned from the novelization. Among the most interesting are the description of Kylo Ren’s feelings about killing his father:

In the movie, it isn’t clear what’s going through Kylo’s mind after he stabs his father through the chest with his lightsaber. The scene quickly shifts gears, and Kylo, wounded by a shot from an enraged Chewbacca, snarls up at Finn and Rey from a crouched position before the two heroes flee.

In the novelization, Kylo feels “stunned by his own action.”

“Following through on the act,” the narration says, “ought to have made him stronger, a part of him believed. Instead, he found himself weakened.”

Foster wrote the novelization based on a version of the script that later underwent significant revisions. It’s possible that the discrepancy between page and screen here is not a casual inconsistency but a deliberate choice—that J.J. Abrams and company didn’t want to suggest that Kylo felt conflicted after the fact. Of course, given how difficult it is to visually convey an internal monologue, it’s also possible that this moment wasn’t so much deliberate struck as overlooked for simplicity’s sake.

Rey’s battle with the dark side was more obvious in the novelization than the movie:

Rey’s triumph over Kylo in their lightsaber duel is widely considered one of the film’s greatest moments. But what you don’t fully see on-screen is that, standing over a defeated Kylo, Rey faces a final challenge. The novelization portrays it thusly:

Kill him, a voice inside her head said. It was amorphous, unidentifiable, raw. Pure vengeful emotion. So easy, she told herself. So quick.
Instead of killing Kylo, Rey “recoil[s]” from the feeling, which the narration describes as the pull of the dark side.

This is a very significant moment. Every Force-strong Star Wars hero faces this kind of challenge. When the narration refers to “pure vengeful emotion,” it’s important to remember that part of what drove Rey was seeing Kylo brutally defeat her new friend Finn. She had just seen Kylo deal Finn what might have been a killing blow. She was no doubt furious in that moment—the perfect target for the lure of the dark side.

This is, in essence, the dark side’s modus operandi. It’s how Anakin Skywalker began his fall in Attack of the Clones, when he slaughtered a village full of Tusken Raiders after they kidnapped his mother, who died in his arms.

But Rey, like Luke, is stronger than Anakin. She resists the urge to deliver her own killing blow. In the movie, a chasm quickly opens up between her and her vanquished foe, appearing to foreclose the possibility of her killing him. In the novelization, she makes her choice before that happens. She runs to Finn, to her friend, instead of yielding to her rage. In refusing the dark side, she has just taken the biggest step of her life.

I will be looking forward to seeing where they go with the next installment. It might be difficult to top the Starkiller base, and I hope they are not tempted to come up with a more implausible threat.  The answer might be to concentrate more on the characters now that The Force Awakens has made them important to the viewers. Will Luke have a more significant role? Presumably we will learn more about Ren’s back story, and possibly more about Snoke, assuming he remains a factor.

Doctor Who Husbands of River Song

Christmas also meant the annual specials from British television. This year’s specials included Doctor Who, Call the Midwife, and Downton Abbey. The Downton Abbey special was also the series finale, and therefore I will not give any spoilers for those who are waiting for the US showing of the final season. I wills say that they ended the series quite well.

The Doctor Who Christmas Special, the Husbands of River Song, was a very fun episode. The actual story hardly mattered. What was important was that it set up the situation where the Doctor met River Song with a different face that she knew, with River not recognizing the Doctor at first. This provided the Doctor a chance to act like those who see the inside of the TARDIS for the first time, and Peter Capaldi really hammed it up:

River: Oh, before you come in, you’d better prepare yourself for a shock. It’s not as… snug as it looks.
The Doctor:Finally… It’s my go. Oh… my… God! It’s bigger!

River: Well, yes.

The Doctor: On the inside!
River: We need to concentrate.
The Doctor: Than it is!
River: I know where you’re going with this, but I need you to calm down.
The Doctor: On the outside!
River: You’ve certainly grasped the essentials.
The Doctor: My entire understanding of physical space has been transformed! Three-dimensional Euclidean geometry has been torn up, thrown in the air and snogged to death! My grasp of the universal constants of physical reality has been changed… forever. Sorry. I’ve always wanted to see that done properly.
River: Would you like a drink? Aldebaran brandy. Help yourself, but don’t tell Dad.
This also allowed River to describe her relationship with the Doctor, more than once. First, someone looking for the Doctor questioned River, having identified her as “the woman who loves the Doctor.”
River: Yes, I am. I’ve never denied it. But whoever said he loved me back? He’s the Doctor, he doesn’t go around falling in love with people. And if you think he’s anything that small or that ordinary, then you haven’t the first idea of what you’re dealing with.
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River discussed their relationship once again, when they were in danger, just before the Doctor revealed his identity:
River: When you love the Doctor, it’s like loving the stars themselves. You don’t expect a sunset to admire you back. And if I happen to find myself in danger, let me tell you, the Doctor is not stupid enough, or sentimental enough, and he is certainly not in love enough to find himself standing in it with me!
The Doctor: Hello, sweetie.
Another of my favorite exchanges between the two when in danger:
River: Does sarcasm help?
The Doctor: Wouldn’t it be a great universe if it did?
The dangers in this episode were handled, but we know there are other dangers ahead for River Song. She had a feeling for this when she saw how little room was left in her diary and noted, “The man who gave me this was the sort of man who would know exactly how long a diary you were going to need.”

The Singing Towers of Darillium was established as the location for their last night together when in 2008 in Forest of the Dead. However things were not as bad as they looked, even if this is truly their last night together before River met a younger Doctor in the library:

River: So… assuming tonight is all we have left…
The Doctor: I didn’t say that.
River: .. how long… is a night on Darillium?
The Doctor: 24 years.
River: ( gasps ) I hate you.
The Doctor: No, you don’t.

Doctor Who Extra videos can be seen here.

Quote of the Day: Conan on Why Donald Trump Canceled Trip To Israel

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Donald Trump has canceled a planned trip to Israel. When asked why, Trump said, “They already have a wall and a fear of Muslims. My work there is done.” –Conan O’Brien

Quote of the Day: Conan On How Fox Covers The Obamas

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For Christmas, The First Lady Michelle Obama said both her daughters asked for money. Or, as Fox News reported it, “Obama Gives More Handouts to the Unemployed.”  –Conan O’Brien