SciFi Weekend: Arrow; The Flash; The Americans; Community; Two SHIELDs; Victorian Sherlock; X-Files Closer To Returning; Sleepy Hollow Renewed; True Detective Hires Porn Stars

The-Flash-Harrison-Wells-Kills-Cisco

Arrow and The Flash returned on CW (now the leading genre network), along with the premiere of iZombie. We don’t know all that much more about where they are heading with Ra’s al Ghul‘s offer to Oliver other than it will be difficult to refuse. The big surprise of the episode was of the apparent appearance of Shado in the flashback. If this is really her, maybe she dies again because of Oliver, giving Slade a better reason for blaming Oliver for her death than what we saw before.

The Flash did more to advance their storyline this week than Arrow in showing that, as has already been hinted, Barry can travel in time. We also learned the actual identity of Harrison Wells–a time traveler named Eobard Thawne. Major events of the episode included  Wells/Thawne killing Cisco plus Barry kissing Iris and revealing his secret identity to her. However, as we also saw that Barry went back in time to events earlier in the episode, either or both events could wind up being changed–especially likely as Cisco does appear in trailers for future episodes.

Screen Rant looked at events of the episode and how they related to the Flash’s powers in the comics.

The-Flash-Barry-Time-Travel-Discussion

The Hollywood Reporter  reported on a press screening in which  executive producer Andrew Kreisberg, Tom Cavanagh(Wells/Thawne)  and Candice Patton (Iris) answered questions:

How much will Barry fix?

Kreisberg teased that “the fun” of next week is seeing the ramifications of Barry’s actions and how they will change what viewers have already seen. Not everything will be undone by the time travel (though it’s safe to assume Cisco will be saved, as he’s been shown in previews for future episodes).

“This episode allowed us to sort of give people a tease and a taste and make some big reveals,” said Kreisberg.

Who is Eobard Thawne?

Wells confessed to Cisco that his real name was Eobard Thawne, and that he’d been stuck in the past for fifteen years. He called Iris’ boyfriend Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett) a “distant” relative, which Kreisberg confirms was not a lie.

“There’s some great scenes coming up between Tom and Rick, that starts to become a storyline,” said Kreisberg.

The revelation puts to rest a fan theory that Eddie might actually be Eobard Thawne (AKA Reverse-Flash and Professor Zoom), who in comic book lore is a man from the 25th century who gets stuck in our era.

What does Wells want?

Wells killed Barry’s mother, but as he told Cisco, he actually wanted to kill Barry that night 15 years ago. Viewers do not know why Wells wanted to kill Barry, but at this point, all he cares about his getting home, though if he can kill Barry in the process that’s a bonus.

“Imagine if one of us was transported back into the past with no antibiotics and no internet and no indoor plumbing,’ said Kreisberg. “Every day in this time is an assault on him.”

Is Wells evil?

Kreisberg said Wells is not an “evil man” and that he even has reason to see “himself as a hero.”

“There’s nothing he says in that scene with Cisco that isn’t the truth,” said Kreisberg. “He’s sorry he found out. He’s sorry it has to happen, but it does have to happen and there’s a scene in episode 16 which kind of mirrors this scene, that I think really speaks to that.”

Cavanagh sees Wells as a man is just “trying to get home.” He has genuine affection for the STAR Labs team and their mission — at least while it serves his own purposes.

“As we see in this episode, it makes it a little more heartbreaking when the next phase of the plan starts to happen,” said Cavanaugh.

Will Iris uncover Wells’ secret?

Iris’ journalism mentor Mason (Roger Howarth) is poised to publish an expose on Wells, connecting him to a number of murders around town.

“For Barry, the wheels are turning for him, as far as what’s going on with Dr. Wells. Iris is going to continue to go after that story because Mason has piqued her interest,” said Patton. “For Barry, he wants to keep her out of harm’s way and this is directly putting her back into harm’s way by going into a situation with Dr. Wells that he’s not even quite clear about.”

What’s next?

Wells had future knowledge about these characters, and will start to share some of that knowledge. Episode 17 will also flashback to the beginning of the series, and show it from different perspectives, including Wells’.

“Toward the ends of the season, a whole bunch of new questions will pop up and that will drive the series forward. Most of the questions that we proffered at the beginning of the season will be paid off,” said Kreisberg.

If Thawne was really trying to kill Barry, was it young Barry or the Barry in our present?

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More at TV Line:

BREAKING THE TIME-SPACE CONTINUUM | Now that Barry has gone back in time, next week’s episode will deal with “how much of [what took place in Episode 15] still happens and how much of it might possibly change,” Kreisberg previews. As Dr. Wells pointed out previously, “there’s different versions of time travel. There’s the fixed loop and then there’s the version where time is more plastic and mutable. One of the fun things is discovering, like on Doctor Who, what’s a fixed point in time and what can’t be changed, what things always have to happen, and then what things are changeable and mutable. It’s a mixture of both.” That could spell bad news for Cisco — or good, if you look at it from the point of view of “Yay! He gets to live!” — because the episode explores “how certain events occur that prevent Cisco from following along the same trajectory” in his suspicions about Dr. Wells. Then there’s this question: Is there now a parallel universe with no Flash? “Is there?” Kreisberg replies coyly.

The Americans Divestment

While CW has become the leading broadcast network in terms of quantity of genre shows, FX leads as best non-premium cable channel with regards to quality shows. The Americans once again balanced several distinct plot lines going. While I would be perfectly happy watching any episode with Nina, there has been come complaints that her storyline back in the Soviet Union is no longer connected to any of the show’s other characters (other than for the indirect involvement with Arkady due to his family’s connections.) Fans of The Americans should realize by now that plot threads from past episodes can be picked up at anytime, with Nina suddenly involved with two characters from past episodes. Not only is she assigned to spy on Anton Baklanov, a scientist who was sent back to the Soviet Union in a previous episode, but she is working under Vasili, her former superior who she once framed. Best lines of the episode: “He’s the Minister of Railways.” “So next time I’m home I won’t be able to ride the train?”

The storyline involving apartheid in South Africa led to the third unforgettable scene of the series (after packing up Annelise’s body in a suitcase and home dental work on Elizabeth). However, while The 100, which also doesn’t hesitate to show death, would have killed off every character they could have plausibly kill off, outcomes on The Americans are less predictable, with Todd being spared. The possible recruitment of Paige moved ahead slowly, with Elizabeth explaining that activism is not as simple as being a criminal or not after Paige questioned Gregory’s history. The same complexity could apply to her profession.

Philip’s use of Martha has been a long-running storyline, but it has suddenly become much more interesting. In recent episodes there has finally been payoff on an event from the first season. Phillip, pretending to be Clark, tricked Martha into planting a bug in Gaad’s office. Now the bug has been found and Martha learns sees Walter Taffet, the actual person from the Office of Professional Responsibility who Clark is pretending to be. She has started asking questions, but Philip was prepared, such as with an apartment to take her to when Martha asked to see it. In this week’s episode, Divestment, Phillip was ready with a line about their relationship being real. At the moment this might be all Martha has to cling to, as opposed to prison or a death sentence for treason if it is discovered she placed the bug. If she is not careful she could wind up like Annelise, but she does present a real risk to Phillip. There probably was a reason for those scenes of her learning to use a gun earlier in the season.

Community Yahoo Premiere

Community returned with the first two episodes released on Yahoo Screen. As they were used to introduce two new characters, the stories were not among the best in the show’s history, but there were enough elements of the shows genius coming through. Abed went meta and assumed that Shirley was gone because of moving to a spin-off show. As NBC no longer does comedy, it is a crime show, and in a way he was right as we saw a glimpse of The Butcher and the Baker at the end of the episode. While it is a shame to lose another member of the original cast, the loss of Shirley, and earlier Pierce, is far less of a loss than the previous loss of Troy. Other highlights of the episode include the speakeasy and a rip off trailer of Gremlins, Knee-High Mischief from “Martelo Estrada Filme..”

In other major genre events of the week, things got even more complicated for Cole and Ramse on 12 Monkeys now that Ramse wants to preserve the timeline after finding he has a son. Tom Keene returned to The Blacklist. It was revealed that there are two SHIELDs. Is this for real, or a HYDRA trick? The other SHIELD is led by Edward James Olmos. Are Tony Stark and/or Maria Hill also involved? Perhaps they are real SHIELD agents, but Colson was chosen by Nick Fury himself.

Sherlock Victorian England

Teaser pictures of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in 19th century clothes have been floating around for a while. Steven Moffat has confirmed that a stand-alone Christmas special of Sherlock will take place in Victorian England.

Fox is getting closer to going ahead with a limited run of The X-Files to tie up the threads left open. Making sense of that series by the end will be a huge challenge.

Sleepy Hollow was renewed for a third season, with a new show runner, Clifton Campbell. No word as to how many episodes.

True Detective has brought in a couple of porn stars, Amia Miley and Peta Jensen, for a major orgy scene. HBO already learned the benefits of using porn stars on Game of Thrones.

SciFi Weekend: Leonard Nimoy, Who Lived Long And Prospered 1931-2015; Parks and Recreation Finale; Sleepy Hollow; Agent Carter; How To Get Away With Murder; Broadchurch; Arrow; 12 Monkeys

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News of the death of Leonard Nimoy dominated the news and blogosphere since Friday. I had previous posts on Friday and Saturday, including  tweets from those who worked with him, those at NASA who were inspired by him, and even from President Obama. Obama also issued this longer statement:

Long before being nerdy was cool, there was Leonard Nimoy. Leonard was a lifelong lover of the arts and humanities, a supporter of the sciences, generous with his talent and his time. And of course, Leonard was Spock. Cool, logical, big-eared and level-headed, the center of Star Trek’s optimistic, inclusive vision of humanity’s future.

I loved Spock.

In 2007, I had the chance to meet Leonard in person. It was only logical to greet him with the Vulcan salute, the universal sign for “Live long and prosper.” And after 83 years on this planet – and on his visits to many others – it’s clear Leonard Nimoy did just that. Michelle and I join his family, friends, and countless fans who miss him so dearly today.

As Vulture pointed out, it is fitting that Obama had such a personal statement considering how often there have been comparisons of Obama to Spock.

Parks and Recreation Finale

The week also featured the series finale of Parks and Recreation along with several season finales. The series started with a weak first season. Probably as a combination of this, initially just seeing it as a spin-off of The Office, and not being excited by the premise of a small town in Indiana, it did make it on my DVR every week, but for a while it was often put off until I finished the other Thursday sit-coms. Then at some point I realized that the show which had me laughing the most was usually Parks and Recreation.

Part of the success of Parks and Recreation was the manner in which over the years many cast members were developed, allowing the show to go in many different directions. The heart of the show was the dichotomy between Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) and Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), but there was so much more going on. Both Chris Pratt and Aubrey Plaza were excellent supporting characters, and their roles become even more terrific with their romance and eventual marriage. Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe followed a similar trajectory. Adam Scott started as a semi-straight man to Rob Lowe, and then fulfilled a similar role, in a way replacing her best friend Ann Perkins, with Amy Poehler after Lowe and Jones left the show. Cast members including Aziz Ansari, Retta, Jim O’Heir, and others further fleshed out the people Pawnee far more than is seen in a typical sit-com. I think the show which came closest in this regard was not a half hour sit-com but was Northern Exposure.

With this diverse cast there was a wide variety of types of humor, not the repeated jokes which are rapidly recycled for laughs on many other sit-coms. Being a blog about politics and often genre, I would point out that both were included on Parks and Recreation. There was Leslie Knope, who was always optimistic about what government could do, even when facing obstacles, contrasted with the libertarian Ron Swanson, who was in government to try to make sure it didn’t do too much. Genre sometimes did sneak in, such as when Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) once said told Leslie,I went back to season one of Fringe to check for plot holes. As suspected, it’s airtight.

The finale, like the finale of Parenthood, followed the Six Feet Under precedent of showing how the characters wind up. They did an excellent job. Instead of putting this at the end, the fate of each major, and some minor characters, were interspersed into a story in which the former employees of the Parks Department got back together for one last task. Although they thought it would be their last time together, their futures did include getting back together at key moments in their lives.

The Hollywood Reporter interviewed showrunner Mike Schur. He left it to our imaginations as to whether in one future scene we are seeing President Leslie Knope with Secret Service protection.

Sleepy Hollow Season 2 Finale

It is not known yet whether Monday’s episode of Sleepy Hollow will be a season or series finale, but after a weak season the show had an excellent episode which would work well as either. Abby’s trip into the past paralleled the series premiere, but this time Abby was in Ichabod’s role. Rather than having cliff hangers like last season, the episode tied up past plot threads, leaving only a vague mention of future battles should there be a future season. The episode ended with the core characters back together, and despite a weak second season I would be quite willing to give them another chance if the writers have figured out what to do with them for a third season.

Agent Carter Finale

Agent Carter concluded a self-contained story, and due to relatively poor ratings it is questionable if it will return. The season ended with Howard Stark exonerated, his inventions rescued, and the prevention of a disaster. Peggy had a moment of closure regarding the loss of Captain America. If the series returns, Dotty did survive to be a formidable ongoing enemy with her Black Widow training. Being Marvel, of course there was also a final scene, tying this into the rest of the Marvel universe. E! News spoke with the show runners:

E! News: Walk me through the decision to bring Dr. Zola onto the show, because as a fan of the Captain America movies, that was such a fun treat to find out what happened to him in between the first and second movie!
Tara Butters: We really wanted to connect Agent Carter to the greater MCU, and when we pitched the series to Marvel, they had brought up using Fenhoff as a way to connect to the Winter Soldier program. We had this idea of how great it would be to bring Toby Jones on for a scene—
Michele Fazekas: But we never thought that would actually happen. We thought we’d have to figure out a different way to make that happen. But then he was available and he was interested! That was really nice since a lot of different things could have gone wrong but it worked out.

The similarities between Peggy talking to Howard as he flies to his certain death and Peggy talking to Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) as he flew to his death were so striking. Did you shape the finale to mirror that final scene in Captain America: The First Avenger, or did that happen organically?
TB: When we broke out the season, we knew that that’s where we wanted to end, a version of that scene, a version of her talking down Howard. There’s been different iterations of it, though. At one point, it was Jarvis [James D’Arcy] talking him down and then Peggy, and then we flew Jarvis in the plane. But it was really lovely how ABC and Marvel gave us a lot of time to break out the eight episodes, so it felt like we really knew where we were going and it was really nice to see all of it pay off in the final episode.

How To Get Away With Murder Finale

How To Get Away With Murder ended its first season by tying up one murder and ending with another. It did seem anticlimactic to go an entire season to only find that the most likely suspect was guilty, even if he called on someone else to do the actual killing. For a while the format of having a season-long mystery on shows such as Veronica Mars, along with a mystery of the week, seemed like something new and refreshing. Now it has been done so many times that the US shows doing this seem much weaker than shows which don’t try to stretch things out for a whole season, or longer, and deal with a single storyline over a shorter season.

Executive producer Pete Nowalk discussed the season finale with E!

Broadchurch funeral

Several British shows have been successful with the more compact formula of a single story instead of interspersing a crime of the week, with season one of Broadchurch being among the best. The second season just concluded in the U.K. and a third season is planned. While not anywhere as good as the first season, the second season did turn out to be worth watching.

The second season of Broadchurch starts on BBC America on March 4 and there are major spoilers in the rest of this section for those planning to watch. The second season dealt with two story lines. The major story line is that Joe Miller recanted his confession to the killing of Daniel Latimer and the case wentto trial. This is the show which could have been named How To Get Away With Murder, as the person the viewer knows to be guilty was found not guilty in court in the season finale. The show has always concentrated on how the people of Broadchurch reacted to the murder, and for a moment it looked like they were going to respond to the faulty verdict with a lynch mob. Fortunately they did not go that far.

The show has a more powerful lesson about the limitations of the justice system with the erroneous acquittal of Joe Miller. It had me thinking that, if it also extended the story this long, how Gracepoint could have been a more significant show than it was by nearly copying everything from Broadchurch. The high profile cases in which the legal system has failed in handling whites who have killed blacks in this country could have provided a more topical influence, while still retaining aspects of Broadchurch.

The B storyline from Broadchurch involving the killings of two girls years ago was by far the weaker, and was tied up very quickly following the more interesting aspects involving Joe Miller. The season might have been better if it was shorter and this was left out.

Arrow Oliver and Ra’s al Ghul

Arrow was not a finale but, going on hiatus for a month, there was yet another cliff hanger on Nanda Parbat. How does Oliver respond to Ra’s al Ghul’s offer and also save both Diggle and Malcolm Merlyn? Marc Guggenheim answered some fan questions, including questions about Felicity sleeping with Ray Palmer, but no clues as to how the cliff hanger will be  resolved.

There are also reports of yet another planned spin-off. It will star Brandon Routh (Ray Palmer/The Atom), Victor Garber (Martin Stein, one-half of Firestorm on “The Flash”), Wentworth Miller (Captain Cold) and Caity Lotz (The first Black Canary). This raises at least two question. If Victor Garber is present, what about Robbie Amell, who plays the other half of Firestorm? As the Black Canary was killed, does this mean that the Canary will return to life, or that she will play a different character?

The other planned show in the same universe, Supergirl, has added a former Superman and Supergirl to the cast,  Dean Cain, who played Clark Kent in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, and Helen Slater, who stared in the 1984 Supergirl movie. Calista Flockhart has also been added to the cast.

12 Monkeys 2

12 Monkeys had another strong episode in which time travel, along with the relationship between Cole and Cassie, played a big part. There was also a sort of role reversal here like on Sleepy Hollow. With his time jumping, there was a period in which Cassie was ahead of Cole, and realized he could be going to his death but could not warn him. There is no doubt that Cole will return, as was verified by executive producer Natalie Chaidez, but with time travel it is possible that he will not return in the same timeline to the point after this episode concluded for Cassie. He is certainly going to make it back to 1987 at some point. The episode also included an evil version of Edward Snowden, but the CIA was far more evil in unleashing a virus to try to kill him without taking the blame.

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.”

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.

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.

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?

Youre-The-Worst-690

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.

SciFi Weekend: Sleepy Hollow; Better Call Saul; Jessica Jones; Star Trek; Star Wars; Peter Pan Live; Into The Woods

Sleepy Hollow Irving

The networks have avoided new episodes around the holidays for a while, but they seem to be more formally dividing the seasons in recent years, including making the midseason finales a major event. Sleepy Hollow ended the fall season with major changes. This included the death of Frank Irving and Henry killing Moloch. This leads to questions as to whether we will see Irving again in some form and whether this suggests redemption for Henry, or will he now become the major big bad?

Variety interviewed executive producer Len Wiseman:

So, you just killed the show’s Big Bad halfway through the second season, which is a pretty bold move. Talk me through what went into that decision.
We were always leading up to wanting to [see how] Henry comes into his own. Henry has devoted his life to Moloch; he has served Moloch; and then to find out that he is just a servant, that another will take his place, and to see that he doesn’t have an importance to Moloch, is a big deal. We were always leading up to that fight within Henry. So where do we go from there, what happens? We also really wanted to present the idea that it’s not all about Moloch, and that’s why we decided that Moloch doesn’t die at the very end of the season, he dies at the midseason finale, because he’s not the endgame.

Obviously Ichabod (Tom Mison) and Katrina both want Henry to be redeemed, and killing Moloch seems like a step in the right direction, but is it as simple as that for Henry, or are there other motivations at play?
To your point, “is it?” That’s really the question: who is he doing that for, who is he trying to protect? Is he trying to protect his mother? Maybe. Is he trying to save himself? Maybe. What is the reason why he killed Moloch, ultimately? That’s what we’ll find out in terms of Henry in the rest of the season. And [that’s] what our characters are going to question. It’s not going to be clear to them why that move was made and how he benefits from killing Moloch.

The episode also said farewell to Frank Irving — what was the impetus behind that decision from a storytelling standpoint?
That decision, in terms of an ultimate sacrifice… He is controlled and he had sold his soul to evil, so that’s the one last power that he has — the fact that his soul is already taken — in having the power to wield the Sword of Methuselah. It gives him a strength and a power because he’s spent so much time regretting that choice that he made when he was tricked into selling his soul. He wants to be able to use that trick on Henry.

Since Henry was holding Frank’s soul, now that he’s dead, does that mean he can be raised by Henry in some way, or is he actually free?
It’s a pure sacrifice, it’s a soul for a soul, so it is a real sacrifice. He’s free, and where his soul goes may be something that we will find out and our characters will search out, but it’s definitely a sacrifice and he knows it is — it’s not a trick.

How does the second half of the season differ from the first 11 episodes, now that Moloch is gone?
What really takes a different turn is between Katrina and Crane, as well. There’s a lot of curiosity about why Katrina is struggling with her powers and her place in this war, and I’ve heard people say is her character underutilized — I would say there’s a difference between underutilized and not realized. When she discovers her full potential, things really get out of control.

Other fall finales coming up include Skye meeting her father on Agents of SHIELD and The Flash meeting Reverse Flash (will it be Harrison Wells?)

When we last saw Deathstroke on Arrow, he was locked up in Oliver’s island prison. He will be returning later this season.

Sneak peak of Better Call Saul,  in which Saul meets Mike in the video above. The Breaking Bad spin-off starts February 8.

Krysten Ritter, who also appeared in Breaking Bad, has been cast to star in Jessica Jones:

The Jessica Jones drama is one of four shows centering on Marvel heroes that Netflix has picked up straight to series. The streaming service has committed to a minimum of four 13-episode series, which will begin rolling out in 2015 and are slated to culminate in a miniseries about The Defenders, comprised of a dream team of heroic characters.

Ritter will play Jessica Jones, the cynical, sardonic and tough-as-nails, but innately cool and sexy, title character. Jones is described as a superhero suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder that leads to her hanging up her costume and opening up her own detective agency, where she ends up helping people and assisting other superheroes.

Jessica Jones Kristen Ritter

Netflix has also  announced that the third season of House of Cards will become available February 27.

The final season of Parks and Recreation will start on January 13 and the series will conclude on February 24.

January Jones has already landed a post-Mad Men role in The Last Man On Earth, a post-apocalyptic comedy on Fox.

Benedict Cumberbatch, already having major genre roles in Star Trek Into Darkness and Sherlock, now enters the Marvel universe as Doctor Strange. The looks like a good move. Doctor Strange does not have as large a following as many of the other Marvel characters, and with the large number of comics-based movies being planned, a big star such as Cumberbatch will help to keep this from getting lost among bigger name movies.

Robert Orci was called in to direct the upcoming Star Trek movie after J.J. Abrams left for Star Wars. It has been announced that Orci is no longer directing. Edgar Wright’s name is coming up the most often as probable replacement but some fans are pushing for Jonathan Frakes. Frakes might be a great choice as someone who (as opposed to Abrams) understands Gene Roddenberry’s vision for Star Trek.

The second season of Broadchurch doesn’t start until next month but it is rumored that a third season is already planned.

Stephen Colbert explains why the new style lightsabers in the next Star Wars movie are a good idea in the video above. It might take you two weeks to understand.

Allison Williams said we could not hate-watch Peter Pan Live, but what about snark-watching? The play was so much more fun to watch while following on Twitter. Some reviewers have said that NBC should have used actors more accustomed to acting in plays. Both these critics and Allison Williams missed the point. Sure we made fun of her at times, but that does not mean we wanted a better stage actress in the role or like Allison Williams any less even though she wasn’t perfect in the role. The point was the fun of the evening, including watching Allison Williams live out her childhood dream of playing Peter Pan, not to see a top notch Broadway-quality play on television.

There is only one actress I would have wanted to play Peter Pan other than Allison Williams, Jane Krakowski. Here is her leaked audition tape:

The highlight of the play was when Peter began to fight the pirates and declared himself to be an Avenger. I hope that most people did not turn off the show before the credits were over and miss the scene with Peter and Tony Stark going out for schwarma. My only complaint about the play was that, in order to be more topical, the “dead maid” in the closet should have shouted out, “I can’t breathe.” I also don’t understand how Wendy grew up to be Minnie Driver and didn’t look a day older.

Anna Kendrick was among the most prolific, and amusing, celebrities tweeting during Peter Pan Live. There is symmetry here as the play began with Wendy reading Cinderella to her younger brothers and Anna Kendrick is playing Cinderella in the movie version of the Broadway play,  Into The Woods. The movie doesn’t come out until December 25 but Disney has released the audio below of Anna Kendrick singing a modified version of the Broadway version of On the Steps of the Palace. Audio below:

SciFi Weekend: The Flash; Arrow; Gotham; Sleepy Hollow; Agents of SHIELD; Person of Interest; Doctor Who; Selfie; 12 Monkeys; Renewed Shows; Utopia; Gracechurch; Red States & Pornography

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 The Flash was off to an excellent start last week. It looks like it will be a lighter version of Arrow but has started to set up an interesting back story. There’s the death of Barry’s mother in the past and the episode ended with a look into the future which raises the question if they plan their own version of the Crisis on Infinite Earths. We don’t know for certain that the future will play out as suggested:

“Time travel is going to play a big part in the overall series, but one of the things that we will discover is that time is mutable,” executive producer Andrew Kreisberg says. “As the good Doctor says, time can be rewritten, so not everything you see on the show is necessarily what’s going to come to pass and not necessarily everything that’s happened is fixed.” In other words, that newspaper’s headline could change.

Presumably their version will not include the death of Barry Allen. The final scene also revealed that Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) can walk, contrary to what was previously suggested. Is his name supposed to bring H.G. Wells and time travel to mind? With Tom Cavanagh’s character able to walk, this also leaves open the possibility of returning to his bowling alley (Ed).

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Returning genre shows such as Arrow, Sleepy Hollow, Agents of SHIELD, and Person of Interest have all returned to strong starts. Arrow returned with a very brief romance between Oliver and Felicity along with  (major spoiler ahead)  an unexpected death, which I bet will ultimately lead to Laurel taking over as Black Canary. Thanks to flashbacks, this won’t be the last we see of Sara. The episode also introduced Ray Palmer, who has now taken control of Queen Consolidated. While Gotham has premiered, Arrow remains by far the best television adaption of Batman ever aired.

While still early, Gotham does look  promising. It essentially feels like a comic book world without the superhero. Jim Gordon serves as the superhero, even if lacking either superpowers of the special abilities of characters such as Batman or Green Arrow. In a city where virtually everyone else appears corrupt, just fighting for justice and being the rare good guy is enough. Hopefully the can continue to work in a storyline with young Bruce Wayne without it appearing too contrived.

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What makes Sleepy Hollow so much fun is how theye can have both a conspiracy linking Judas, Benedict Arnold, and events in the current episode, mixed with such humorous scenes as last week with Ichabod learning about how our banks work and getting confused about men wearing hats indoors (but not gays).

Ichabod : Is that considered acceptable now?
Abbie : Oh, lots of attitudes have changed since your days, not everyone’s but supreme court has upheld the constitutional right of same sex couples, and more and more states are even legalizing gay marriage
Ichabod : I meant gentleman wearing hats indoors, I know about homosexuals thank you, I trained under Baron von Steuben. His affections for his own sex were well known. Also, I watches the finale of Glee.

Even when in the midst of the big conspiracy they still don’t take things too seriously, such as with Nick Hawley not getting too worried about the apocalypse they were trying to prevent. After all, every civilization has their own apocalypse story.

Last week had another strong episode of Agents of SHIELD with a new role for Simmons. They are making far better use of both Fitz and Simmons than last year. Presumably the real Simmons, as opposed to the one in Fitz’s head, will appear intermittently while undercover at HYDRA. It would probably appear too contrived if they run into her every episode.

Person of Interest is also off to a great start after a semi-reboot, placing the major characters in new situations. I am hoping they do more with the big issues of surveillance and artificial intelligence as the season progresses, rather than number of the week shows.  There is the danger that the reboot won’t matter as they have quickly made things similar to before with the establishment of a means to communicate, a new base, and a new source of money.

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Steven Moffat had a line in The Big Bang with a call about an escaped Egyptian goddess on the Orient Express in space. With the substitution of a mummy for the Egyptian goddess, this premise turned into this week’s episode of Doctor Who, Mummy On The Orient Express. Perhaps some of the plot holes and unanswered questions from Moffat’s stories will ultimately be answered if we wait long enough.

We don’t know who Gus, who masterminded the situation, really is, but perhaps this will be answered at a later date. I also wonder if there is more to Perkins, and if he will be seen again. I am also curious as to whether this episode was planned at the time of The Big Bang. I suspect that it might have just been an idea in Moffat’s mind, which he later altered because he could not resist the line, “Are you my Mummy?”

The episode also included themes from previous episodes, including jelly bellies and the Doctor talking to his previous regenerations. In keeping with themes from this season, the mummy was a soldier. There was progression in the Capaldi Doctor’s attitude. He still had no qualms about watching people he considered to already be doomed die in order to gain information, (“Old ladies die all the time.It’s practically in their job description.”). However, he also substituted himself for a potential victim. In the end, he used the TARDIS to save everyone.

The Clara storyline was handled in a strange manner. Last week it looked like she was done with the Doctor, leading to speculation that this might have been done to set up a solo adventure. Instead Clara was present, yet they teased that this might be their last trip together. If Clara was planning to leave the Doctor, why did she go with him on the Orient Express? After so much teasing that she would no longer travel with the Doctor, she changed her mind quite quickly at the end. I also continue to wonder what type of cell service the Doctor and his companions have which allows them to communicate not only with each other regardless of where they are, but back with earth in the present. Personally I can lose cell service if I wander too far from the cell extender I found necessary to purchase to set up a cellular hot spot in my own house.

The Doctor Who Extra is below:

I had mixed opinions from the pilot of Selfie but obviously I was going to give any show staring Karen Gillian and John Cho a second chance. I’m glad I did as the second episode was much better. Pilots can be a poor way to judge a series as the pilot has the burden of setting up the situations. In addition, changes for the better are sometimes made in shows between the time a pilot is shot and the show goes into regular production.

While there are some excellent genre shows in the fall, summer was weaker on broadcast television. CBS has shown a commitment to mediocre summer science fiction, renewing both Under the Dome and Extant.

Still no word from Showcase regarding Continuum.

ABC has given a full season pick up to two of their better new shows of the season, How to Get Away With Murder and Blackish.

12Monkeys

IO9 reports that Syfy’s television version of 12 Monkeys, which begins in January, will be different from the movie, taking the aspects they like and changing others, like their previous reboot of Battlestar Galactica. It sounds like it might be an intelligent time travel series based upon their review of the pilot:

What the pilot really proved was that this is a show not afraid of the complications of time travel. It does not slow down and explain to the audience its fractured timeline, save for a few title cards in the beginning. Ivanek gives a speech at the end of the episode that wholly relies on the audience being quicker on the uptake about time travel tropes than the characters.

The pilot also builds in a lot of space in the characters’ backstories to fill in later. And you actually want to know about them. you want to know how Stanford got to be in a position where he was picked for his mission. You wonder endlessly about how Railly can get from where we meet her to where she ends up. There’s more than enough to carry more episodes.

An old CBS science fiction series us returning. Legendary TV is working on a rebooted series of Lost in Space. Hopefully they can improve upon the original with the reboot as Battlestar Galactica did.

Utopia Jessica Hyde

Channel 4 has canceled Utopia after its second season, which was one of the better genre shows over the past summer. HBO is planning a remake with David Fincher directing. He is again working with Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl), who has written the scripts for the new series. While I often question making US remakes of recently aired British shows, such as with Broadchurch,I am curious to see Flynn’s take on this story.

As a consequence of lacking the time for all the genre and quality television shows now on (a welcome problem and change from the past), I have not watched Gracepoint, having already seen Broadchurch. For the benefit of others in this situation who are debating whether to watch, I have found that most reviewers are saying that the early episodes of Gracepoint are very similar to Broadchurch, and where they differed Broadchurch did it much better. Both version star David Tennant. Reviewers are also saying Gracepoint begins to diverge from Broadchurch in the seventh episode. The producers have teased that the ending might be different, so at this point the reviewers I have read (who have not seen beyond this point) do not know how significant the difference from the seventh episode will be.

And, finally, yet another study shows that people in red states are more likely to search for porn:

A new study published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, produced by researchers from Canadian Universities, found American states that identify as more religious and conservative are also more apt to search for sex online. Of course, the study makes a point of separating the religiously conservative from the politically conservative. The latter is more likely to look for sex specific terms, such as “gay sex, free porn and xxx,” whereas those that consider themselves religious were looking for generalized sex terms that could’ve theoretically fallen under the “health and wellness” category.

In heavily religious states, abstinence is often pushed as the only safe sex, with very little to offer in the way of sexual education. Unfortunately, that leaves a growing number of people with questions about sex but no answers. Enter Google: the best way to find an answer to personal, possibly embarrassing questions without calling attention to yourself. So of course the study finds that religious communities have a higher percentage of sex-related searches. That’s what happens when you can’t find it elsewhere.

SciFi Weekend: Tuesday Shows Go Dark (SHIELD and Person of Interest); Sleepy Hollow; Under The Dome (“Nothing But A Giant Suck Hole”); Doctor Who; Outlander; Arrow; Gotham; Shatner Star Trek Rumors; If Ayn Rand Wrote Buffy

Shield Go Dark

Tuesday night featured the return of two television shows which have both changed for the post-Snowden era, Agents of SHIELD and Person of Interest. On each show the heroes are now working in secret, or even greater secrecy than they had operated in the past.

The premiere of Agents of SHIELD was not as good as the final episodes of the first season following Captain America: The Winter Soldier but did show promise of setting up a far better second season than the first was.  A couple problems from the first season are now solved. No longer can the team theoretically call upon the vast resources of SHIELD. This group is also easier to root for in the post-Snowden era. There is no doubt that the old SHIELD would have been listening in on our phone calls, reading our email, and have no problem with extraordinary rendition or even torture. That SHIELD no longer exists. We can dislike General Talbot as the nominally good protagonist (wondering if Bruce Banner is also in the neighborhood) and root for SHIELD in opposing him.

The episode started with a flashback of Agent Carter, including a glimpse of a green being in a box, suggesting the alien which was used to save Coulson, and later Skye (who works far better as an agent rather than the outsider) along with connecting to Guardians of the Galaxy.The show now makes mention of multiple Marvel characters, and included a super-villain, which gives the show much more the feel of being in the Marvel universe than seen in the first season. Lucy Lawless made her appearance as Isabelle  Hartley and lost her arm if not her life. There is certainly the possibility of her return on a show where two characters have returned from death or near-death, and now we have Dr. Whitehall, who hasn’t aged since seen in 1945.

While we don’t know whether Lucy Lawless will return, there is news that Adrianne Palecki of Friday Night Lights (and who almost became Wonder Woman) will be guest starring as Mockingbird later this season.

There were additional consequences to the events of last season beyond the breakup of SHIELD. Fitz is more interesting than last season now that we found that he did not recover from the lack of oxygen to his brain, and is imagining that Simmons is with him after she left. I would anticipate some recovery on his part and probably a Fitzsimmons reunion down the road. Agent Ward is also a bit nuts compared to last season, and may or may not really know anything about Skye’s father. I suspect he really does, and we might be in store for some Hannibal/Clarice type scenes between Ward and Skye this season.

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Go Dark was the strategic order from Director Coulson on Agents of SHIELD, and also describes the strategy Root devised with the Machine to keep everyone alive and hidden from Samaritan on Person of Interest.  The increased concern over the dangers of the surveillance state has been fortuitous for the show. Initially the Machine’s surveillance was primarily a gimmick to get the heroes into the story of the week, but last season the show transitioned far more into a series about the dangers of government surveillance and artificial intelligence in the wrong hands. The show has largely been rebooted this season, and shows promise of being even better than previous seasons.

Series co-creator Greg Plageman compared artificial intelligence to the creation of the atomic bomb at San Diego Comic-Con:

I think when we started out this show we were answering a lot of questions about the Orwellian surveillance state and people asking us if that was science fiction and now, in a post-Snowden era, no one’s asking those questions anymore. So what does the show become now?

I think the most interesting question in terms of our show and technology that is emerging is artificial intelligence. We’re living in a world now where not just nation states—Israel, United States, the Russians, whoever—are trying to build an artificial intelligent. The thing closest to this was the Manhattan Project, the greatest existential risk the world has ever faced: the development of the atomic bomb, and the race to get it, and who was going to get it first and what that meant in terms of ending World War II.

We are now at a similar crossroads with artificial intelligence. The only difference is it’s not just DARPA. It’s not just nation states. It’s a bunch of billionaires in their 30s up in Silicon Valley who are buying up all the artificial intelligence companies. It’s fascinating. Look up ‘Deep Mind,’ see what’s going on. No one really knows.

Harold Finch built a machine, an artificial intelligence, that he supposed was sympathetic to humankind. But what if someone built one that didn’t take that into consideration at all? And I think we’re dealing with the next great existential risk to the world and I think that’s something our show can deal with in a really cool way.

The Blacklist was among other shows which returned, once again turning what would otherwise be a mediocre show into a hit due to the presence of James Spader. Mary Louise Parker makes an excellent addition as his ex-wife.

Sleepy Hollow also returned with a strong season premiere. This is a series which I am reluctant to write much about as any description of the show sounds absurd. They manage to pull off its absurdities very well (far better than Under the Dome does). It is always fun to see what they come up with to tie early American history into their mythology, such as revealing that they key used on Benjamin Franklin’s kite is used to unlock Purgatory. As I said, it sounds like it makes no sense, but the show is so much fun.

Under the Dome Season 2 Finale

Under the Dome ended and the series could be summed up by what Noreen said: “It’s nothing but a giant killer suck hole!” The giant suck hole appeared the previous week after Melanie, a character who came back from the dead, was apparently killed a second time. In other recent episodes there was a tunnel under the school in which people could jump off a cliff and appear in another city, until Big Jim messed that up. Recently it became cold and nobody in town had any warm clothes to put on. The Dome started contracting, and when they began to time the contractions I wondered if next they were going to say the Dome was pregnant.

In the second season, and hopefully series, finale, everyone in town who could make it went through a tunnel where the giant suck hole had appeared. The final moment showed Melanie once again back from the dead, saying “Follow me, we’re going home.”But isn’t Chester’s Mill their home? If the show returns next summer, we will presumably see where Melanie leads them. I wouldn’t be surprised if they follow her, perhaps to an intermediate destination, and they ultimately wind up back in Chester’s Mill, like Patrick McGoohan trying to leave The Village. I imagine that if it doesn’t return, we can just assume that they escape, possibly coming back to rescue those who didn’t make it.

Doctor Who The Caretaker

On Doctor Who, The Caretaker returned to its 1963 roots at Coal Hill School, and Gareth Roberts, writer of episodes such as The Lodger, once again showed the Doctor attempting to blend in with humans. The killer alien story was weak, and primarily existed as a vehicle to have the Doctor finally meet Danny Pink. Along the way the Doctor got mislead when seeing Clara speaking with a fellow school teacher wearing a bow tie, thinking that she had fallen for someone who looks like his previous regeneration. While we had long been led to believe we will have another couple in the TARDIS, with Clara and Danny replacing Amy and Rory, it now looks like there once again might be two schoolteachers and a student, with Courtney joining along, at least temporarily, despite being a disturbance:

Clara: “I would say, yes, I’m afraid Courtney is a disruptive influence.”

Response: “Yeah, but last year you said she was a very disruptive influence. So I suppose that counts as an improvement.”

Courtney discovered the TARDIS after ignoring the Doctor’s sign to keep out, or more precisely, “Go Away Humans.”

The meeting between the Doctor and Danny Pink didn’t go very well. The Doctor continues to object to soldiers, apparently forgetting all the time he spent with UNIT, along with many other individual soldiers over the centuries. Danny sees the Doctor as an arrogant aristocrat, concentrating on the Lord part of Time Lord. He also wondered about about Clara (“Are you a space woman?”).

The episode also introduced another gadget for the Doctor, an invisibility watch. This raises the question of why this was never used on many occasions when it could have come in handy in the past, and whether it will be used again. Another plot hole which we will just have to ignore.

Among other top lines of the episode:  “You’re running out of time.” “For what?” “Everything! Human beings have incredibly short lifespans. Frankly, you should all be in a constant state of panic. Tick tock, tick tock.”

After not seeing this in recent episodes, The Caretaker also showed a character who died in the episode wind up in the Nethersphere, or perhaps Heaven.

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Saturday night’s other time travel series, Outlander, got deeper into time travel in the mid-season finale. Frank heard of the possibility of time travel at Craig na Dun, and by the end of the  episode was willing to accept it as a possibility. In addition to seeing a poster with a reward for information related to Claire, there was another poster in Frank’s era seeking information about someone who sure looks like Jaime, suggesting that he might also wind up traveling in time.

It was surprising that a spy like Frank would fall into such an obvious trap when seeking information about Claire, but he was quite well prepared to take care of himself. He seemed to enjoy beating up his attackers too much, perhaps intending to show a comparison between the violence of his evil ancestor and Frank. Are we to question which husband Claire is really best off with?

The episode had a tease that Claire might return home. At very least she did hear Frank calling out to her through time, but it was intentionally left ambiguous as to whether Frank could hear Claire calling back. Just before getting a chance to return, she fell into the hands of Black Jack once again, with her attempts to deceive him failing. We don’t know  how Jaime managed to get into his window, but he came to attempt to save Claire just before she might have received an involuntary mastectomy. We will see what happens next when Outlander returns in April.

Arrow Oliver and Felicity

Arrow returns October 8 and Marc Guggenheim has discussed the upcoming season:

“He is going to get some new toys to play with,” Guggenheim said. “One of them is a new bow that looks identical to the old bow, but it does something that you’ve never seen before.” Guggenheim disclosed that the explanation behind Oliver’s new equipment will be detailed in DC Comics‘ currently unfolding digital-first series “Arrow: Season 2.5,” taking place between the second and third seasons.

While “Arrow” has traditionally been more grounded, the show’s second season embraced superpowers a bit more, both in laying the groundwork for spinoff “The Flash” and in Slade Wilson and his Mirakuru-fueld army that served as primary antagonists. With “The Flash” now its own series on The CW, Guggenheim stated that “Arrow” will return to a more realistic direction.

“We’re not really planning on revisiting superpowers or enhanced abilities during season three,” Guggenheim told Weiland. “We are really returning to the show’s roots of a very grounded world where it’s very realistic. We may take occasional artistic license with things, but for the most part, everything is pretty well and truly grounded in real-life things and real-life science.”

Another DC comic-based series began with the premiere of Gotham. I think we will need to see more to determine if is worth watching a show with Bruce Wayne before he became Batman. While it includes the origins of several villains, I think we will have to view this as another version of the legend, not connected chronologically with other Batman stories. While we think of the murder of Bruce’s parents as occurring years ago, Gotham appears to take place in the present (or a parallel universe were cell phones have been around a lot longer).

Syfy has renewed both Defiance and Dominion.

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There have been a number of rumors, denials, and perhaps an admission that J.J. Abrams has spoken to William Shatner about doing a cameo for his third Star Trek movie. I have my doubts as to whether it is a good idea, but it is more plausible now than in the first Abrams movie in which Spock from the original time line went back in time. Kirk could not do that because in that time line he was dead. However this doesn’t prevent a future Kirk from being seen from the Abrams time line.

There is yet another rumor that the next Avengers movie will be split into two parts.

If Ayn Rand wrote Buffy The Vampire Slayer

SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who; Sleepy Hollow; Outlander; Star Trek TOS In Wide Screen; You’re The Worst; Married; An Honourable Woman; Gilmore Girls; SHIELD; Agent Carter; The Hulk; Supergirl; Teen Titans; The Leftovers

Doctor Who Listen

Listen was an ambitious episode of Doctor Who, even if it does fall short of Blink, which it has been compared to. The episode deals with the character and origin of the Doctor, the further importance of the impossible girl in the development of the Doctor, along with Danny Pink’s (and presumably Clara’s) family tree. The episode begins with the Doctor writing on his chalk board (chalk boards are cool) and seeming to be talking directly to the audience about an idea he has come up with:

Listen! Question, why do we talk out loud when we know we’re alone? Conjecture: because we know we’re not. Evolution perfects survival skills. There are perfect hunters There is perfect defense. Question,  why is there no such thing as perfect hiding? Answer: how would you know? Logically, if evolution were to perfect a creature whose primary skill were to hide from view, how would you know it existed? It could be with us every second and we would never know. How would you detect it? Even sense it? Except in those moments when for no clear reason, you choose to speak aloud. What would such a creature want? What would it do? Well? What would you do?

In many ways this is a repeat of previous Moffat ideas. The Weeping Angels, introduced in Blink, are a terror which can be hidden in plain site, only moving when you aren’t looking at them. The Silence took this further, with people losing all memory of seeing them. Now the Doctor postulates a creature which cannot be detected at all. However, while we learned about the nature of the Weeping Angels and the Silence, at the end of the episode it is not clear whether these beings even exist.

If the exist, they could mean that a common nightmare is really about something which has actually occurred:

I think everybody at some point in their lives has the exact same nightmare. You wake up, or you think you do, and there’s someone in the dark, someone close. Or you think there might be. So you sit up, turn on the light, and the room looks different at night. It ticks, creaks, and breathes. And you tell yourself there’s nobody there. Nobody watching, nobody listening, nobody there, naturally. And you very nearly believe it. You really, really try.

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For the Doctor it was real, but instead of being a creature whose existence was unknown, it turned out to be Clara, back in time to the Doctor’s childhood on Gallifrey.  Seeing the Doctor’s childhood in the barn does provide a connection to The Day of the Doctor, providing a reason as to why the War Doctor chose this place to decide whether to detonate the Moment. The scene also provides background to the Doctor’s antipathy towards soldiers (at this season, ignoring his past work with UNIT) and reused a line from 1963: “Fear makes companions of us all.”

It is questionable whether Clara could really control the TARDIS at all (even putting aside Sexy’s dislike of Clara, as revealed in The Doctor’s Wife), and even more questionable whether she it could have gone to Gallifrey, which was time locked, but whose status is no longer clear after the events of The Time of The Doctor. However these minor questions of continuity are outweighed by the manner in which Moffat ties in the entire history of the Doctor and the show.

Besides Gallifrey, the TARDIS traveled along Danny Pink’s timeline, presumably due to the importance to Clara’s. This included a visit to him as a young child, then called Rupert, to literally the end of the universe where a time-traveling descendant was stranded. If the implications are correct that Orson Pink is a descendant of both Danny and Clara, it looks like time travel is the Pink/Oswald family business on Doctor Who just as it is for Alec’s family on Continuum. Clara also has both influenced Danny’s decision to be a soldier and has made Dan the Soldier Man not only an important part of Danny’s life, but a family heirloom. Clearly, “A soldier so brave, he doesn’t need a gun” also refers to the Doctor.

Listen isn’t limited to other times ranging from the Doctor’s childhood on Gallifrey to the end of the universe. Moffat also took advantage of his experience from Coupling to present Clara and Danny’s first date. Things did not work out very well, but Clara ultimately figured out that she had to make it right.

One of the scenes of the date included an astronaut walking through the restaurant to get Clara. Using the astronaut suit made no sense, but this, along with the minor questions of continuity, can easily be overlooked. A more serious problem with the episode is that the initial question as to whether the creature which the Doctor speculated about does exist is never answered. Learning that Clara was the creature under the Doctor’s bed suggested that there was no need for such a complicated explanation for the nightmare. The noises in Orson’s ship could have been these creatures, or perhaps just noises from the ship. It is harder to explain what wrote on the Doctor’s chalkboard, and what was under Rupert’s sheets.

Above is the Doctor Who Extra for Listen.

Last week I posted the synopsis for the first episode of season two of Sleepy Hollow. Fox has released the synopsis for the second:

ICHABOD AND ABBIE TRY TO GET A “HEAD” OF THE COMPETITION ON AN ALL-NEW “SLEEPY HOLLOW” MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, ON FOX

Ichabod Crane and Lt. Abbie Mills concoct a daring plan to try to rescue Ichabod’s wife, Katrina, from the Headless Horseman by resurrecting a Frankenstein-like monster created by Benjamin Franklin. Meanwhile, Frank Irving faces new trouble after revealing the true details of his encounter with a demon, and Jenny Mills finds herself at odds with the new sheriff in town in the all-new “The Kindred” episode of SLEEPY HOLLOW airing Monday, Sept. 29 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (SLH-202) (TV-14 L, V)

OUTLANDER Garisson Commander

While sometimes Outlander seems to move too slowly, The Garrison Commander does advance the plot considerably. It seems to be a safe prediction that Jack Randall does not just forget about Claire following her marriage. The Hollywood Reporter interviewed Tobias Menzies, who plays both Jack Randall and, back in the 20th century, Clarie’s husband Frank. The interview does have some major spoilers as to future events from the novels:

Because Outlander is primarily Claire’s story, we don’t get to see Frank’s internal monologue while she’s in 1743 Scotland. Have you filled in the blanks in terms of Frank’s state of mind and what he’s dealing with back in England?

We see Frank still struggling to come to terms with what happened, and be at loggerheads with the authorities and the police. Basically, they tell him to go home and that his wife has eloped with someone else. He won’t believe it. Through the episodes, we see him coming to accept the version of events that people are saying to him. I suppose he does know Claire better than the others, and in a way, he’s right. She isn’t a woman who would run off with someone else, and he’s forced to give up. I think it’s a good episode.

At the end of the episode, Dougal proposes that Claire marry Jamie. How do you think Frank would react to that?

I think he would be pretty understanding. My understanding is that Claire, later on in the novels, reappears and is taken back by Frank, even though she’s pregnant and she tells this story of time travel. And for whatever reason, he chooses to accept it and raise a child together, which I think is a pretty big gesture on his part. What’s interesting about Frank is that he’s thoughtful. It’s not the great, most ostentatious of loves. In that respect, he’s overshadowed by Jamie and Claire. But I think [Frank and Claire’s relationship is] deep and meaningful and speaks volumes.

This was a big episode for Black Jack and Claire. Let’s talk about the interrogation scene.

It’s only a page and half in the book. It was a great decision on the part of the writers to explode that moment. In the book, there’s a lot of Jack being referred to and not a lot of him being there. You need him onscreen. I’m really happy with where it ended up. It gave us the time to go back and understand where the backstory with Jamie and Jack began and also to understand the emotions that are driving Jack, so he isn’t just a two-dimensional thug. Compared to the rest of the season, it’s a change of gear. It’d be interesting to see how people find it.

Star Trek Wide Screen.

Star Trek Wide Screen 2

Here are some great examples of what Star Trek, the original show, could have looked if filmed in wide screen. Here is creator Nick Acosta’s description of this project:

Forty eight years ago this week Star Trek debuted its first episode on NBC. The show, like all other shows at the time, was broadcast in the old style 4×3 aspect ratio. Using HD screen caps from my friends at Trekcore.com, I created this project of what the show would have looked like in Cinerama widescreen. As a kid the show always felt bigger and more epic than it appears to me as an adult. I was able to create these shots by waiting for the camera to pan and then I stitched the separate shots together. The result is pretty epic. It reminds me of the classic science fiction movies of the 50’s and 60’s. Suddenly the show has a “Forbidden Planet” vibe. Other shots remind me of how director Robert Wise would use a camera technique to keep the foreground and background elements in focus.

Youre The Worst

Major television events of the upcoming week include the season finale of the best new sit-com to come around in a long time, You’re The Worst. Gretchen and Jimmy might be “the worst” but that is what makes them so fun to watch. If the season is a ten episode version of a warped romantic comedy movie, the eighth episode was the required portion in which the couple temporarily break up based upon a misunderstanding. Last week was somewhat of an origin episode with flash backs to before they met, as shown in the pilot. Hopefully this Thursday will end the season with the two back together, and ready for many seasons to come. The other summer sit-com from FX, Married, also ends this week. If it returns I will probably watch it, but it is You’re The Worst which I will really miss if it does not return.

You’re the Worst would also be a great show to binge watch if you haven’t seen it, with only ten episodes for the season and all highly entertaining. Another show to binge watch if  you missed it (as I did until binging over the past week) is An Hounorable Woman. Certainly there are unrealistic aspects, but watching it for eight hours was like reading a highly entertaining novel, and the portions which might not be realistic in the real world can easily be ignored while following the events surrounding Nessa Stein and her family.

Binge watchers are also getting excited to hear that the full seven seasons of The Gilmore Girls will be available on Netflix starting October 1. In 2006 I posted some of the political lines from the show. USA Today has listed five top episodes to watch once they are available.

If you want to stick with science fiction, Vulture has listed the best science fiction movies on Netflix.

Nurse Jackie is to end after the upcoming seventh season. It is probably the right decision. We can’t keep going through cycles of Jackie getting off drugs and then relapsing year after year.

Community, on the other hand, deserves at least one more year and a movie–preferably far more. I am glad to hear that Dan Harmon is denying the rumors that Alison Brie is not returning.

Hayley Atwell, star of the upcoming series Agent Carter, will appear on the second season premiere of Agents of SHIELD. I don’t know if this will be a flash-back or Agent Carter at an older age. In other Marvel news, there is talk that the Hulk might return both for a television series and movie. New DC projects being considered include Supergirl and Teen Titans.

While the show has had its ups and downs, The Leftovers did end with a satisfying season finale (far more than I can say for True Blood). While the show will probably never really explain what happened, at least we have the view of some characters as for the reason only some disappeared, along with finally learning what The Guilty Remnant was up to. The show has now caught up with the end of the novel, making next season even more of an unknown.