Saturday, July 23, 2016

I Would Rather Be Watching Babylon 5

The last few years I have been putting up a post shortly before the Fall season in which I ponder whether I want to invest my time in the many (many, many) new and returning sci fi / fantasy shows on the upcoming schedule or if I would rather revisit a classic sci fi TV show like Babylon 5 (you can see last year's post at this link). Well this year, I am writing the post early because I have already answered my question: I would rather be watching Babylon 5. Despite the fact that the Too-Much-TV era has given us heading helping of viewing options--and some really good ones at that like Game of Thrones, The Expanse, Daredevil, The Man in the high Castle and more--I find myself increasingly disenchanted with the glut of genre shows across the TV channels and streaming services (you can get a glimpse of that at this link) and with the networks offering them. And rather than invest myself in these many shows that often fail to rise above mediocrity and/or that the networks have little commitment to, I would just prefer to go back and re-watch B5. I’ve seen the show all the way through once, and most of Seasons 1 through 4 twice, and that is a show that stands up to multiple viewings. I loved it the first time around (witch I watched live as it aired in the pre-DVR era) and I know that the re-watch will deliver a return on the time invested. As for many of the new and returning shows? Not so much. And here are four of the primary reasons why:

1. The current glut of original programming: New shows are getting cranked out in what is commonly referred to as the Peak TV era, but how invested are these networks in these offerings? Their spaghetti-against-the-wall strategy in an attempt to score the next Game of Thrones or Walking Dead or Empire has emphasized how many of these are little more than corporate products with a primary mission to grab viewers, not deliver good television. Think about all the shows from just the last few years that have been mediocre to downright bad or that may have shown promise when they started but failed to live up to that. Just a few examples include Falling Skies, Defiance, Under the Dome, Extant, Damien, Beowulf, Minority Report, Heroes Reborn, Revolution. I could go on and on. Then think of the promising shows that were quickly squashed because they didn’t grab an immediate audience based on the overnight ratings (and yes, the networks do still watch those closely): Siberia, Constantine, Limitless, Forever, Almost Human, Dracula, Cult, Witches of East End, and more. The quality we are getting these days amongst the many genre offerings is often mediocre at best and when we do get good shows they are not give much chance. Of course that’s not a new trend, the scale has just been enlarged. But it proves that not much has changed other than the number of shows hitting the schedule each year.

2. Even the shows that stick around are not that good: We’ve had a lot of one or two season and out shows, but several have managed to make it past the three season mark. Unfortunately, many of these just haven’t been worth sticking with. Shows like Agents of SHIELD, Arrow, The Flash, Once Upon A Time, and more got off to good starts but could not sustain momentum. I gave up on both the ABC shows mentioned above by their second seasons and The CW entries have become such copy-and-paste affairs that I have a hard time sitting through them any more (and they completely squandered the promising Legends of Tomorrow premise). I made a decision a couple of seasons ago to drop shows that I was hate-watching, and most of the ones that have been around for several seasons have moved into that category for me. Even one of my favorites, Person of Interest, disappointed a bit with its final season, but I still consider it a stand out show.

3. The networks are still not listening to the viewers: Despite all of the technological advancements and the ability to measure engagement on the social networks and other platforms, the broadcast networks and--to a lesser extent--cable channels continue to remain old school when gauging the success of their product. Shows like Constantine, Agent Carter, Limitless, and Witches of East End have proven to have a very engaged audience and it seems like these are the ones the networks should be holding on to. As far back as the original Star Trek, audience engagement (then demonstrated by letters written to the network) has proven a good indicator of long-term success. But despite the fact that nearly instant information is available now beyond the Nielsen ratings to measure the audience, the networks have shown little interest. Instead, they drop the shows that fail to pull in decent overnight numbers and move to the next entry in the pipeline. I have reached out to the networks multiple times and asked them to tell the viewers how they can work together in the current environment to keep well-liked shows going, but have had no notable response. Massive social network campaigns have been mounted to save shows, but with no success. The audience has proved it is there, but the networks still want those Nielsen numbers. This has become much less of a factor with cable shows as we have seen low-rated shows (according to Nielsen) like The Expanse, 12 Monkeys, The Shannara Chronicles, Scream, and more escape cancellation. But the broadcast networks are definitely still living in the past.

4. AMC turned hostile against fans of The Walking Dead: Everything that I mentioned above has been going on for several years now, but point number four is the tipping point for me. The Walking Dead has been my favorite show on television (at least until the unbelievable Season 6 Game of Thrones just delivered), but the events of its last season soured me on the show and television in general. The manipulative story-telling tricks TWD pulled (which I go into in more detail at this link) were completely unnecessary for the highest rated scripted show on television. But even worse, after leaving fans hanging with a finale that delivered a very unsatisfying ending to an already marred season, the network took a hostile stance against fans trying to predict the outcome of that episode (and I have some very harsh words about that at this link). AMC invited the speculation and then lashed out at the fans that tried to fill in the blanks during the long wait for the show’s seventh season return (and I offer my prediction, lawyers be damned, at this link). I am expecting some backlash from the viewers on that as well as all of the misguided decisions from this past season. And even though this show has been my favorite, I’ve decided to take a break from it this year.

Instead of The Walking Dead, I will be watching Babylon 5. And I plan on watching it on Sunday nights, especially when TWD (and Fear the Walking Dead) will be airing new episodes as part of my protest against that network and the current television environment in general. I know that I will enjoy B5 and I know that I will get something from the re-watch. As for all the current offerings on television? That’s a crap shoot. Sure, I will tune in for some shows. I will check out HBO’s Westworld. I will watch the second season of The Expanse and probably The Magicians as well. The Man in the High Castle is a must-watch (though I’m a bit worried about the departure of Frank Spotnitz as showrunner). And there are a few others I will tune in for as well (can Legends of Tomorrow redeem itself in its second season?). But the Babylon 5 re-watch is on and I’m definitely pumped for that. The Too-Much-TV era may be verging on giving us 100+ sci fi / fantasy shows throughout the year, but I am burnt out on what it has to offer. Time to go back to the classics and enjoy watching sci fi TV once again.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Audiobook Review: Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Book Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 Stars

Audiobook Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars (Highest Rating)

Bottom Line: This book delivers a quintessential piece of 19th Century horror / sci fi that presents some challenging moral quandaries.

In this classic 19th Century tale,  a lawyer--Gabriel John Utterson--finds himself entangled in the affairs of his friend, the upstanding Dr. Henry Jekyll, along with a rather surly dwarf of a man known as Mr. Hyde. The latter, a person of loathsome appearance and demeanor, has been seen around town and was guilty of assaulting a girl, which Dr. Jekyll later paid retribution for. Hyde has an unspecified connection with the doctor and Utterson is particularly dismayed when Jekyll revises his will to include Hyde as a beneficiary. This all comes to a head when a man is violently murdered and Mr. Hyde is linked to the crime, becoming a fugitive from justice. Utterson tries to talk with Jekyll about the situation, but the doctor assures his friend that they beastly man will not return. Later, though, Jekyll withdraws from almost all human contact prompting his butler to seek Utterson’s aid. They eventually break into Jekyll’s quarters and find the dead body of Mr. Hyde, though in the doctor’s clothes. They also find a letter written by Dr. Jekyll that describes his experiments in which he tried to separate his good side from his evil side but which instead produced the alter ego Mr. Hyde. Jekyll could at first control the transformations, but later found that he would morph involuntarily into Hyde. And then he found that he could no longer recreate the potion that prompts the metamorphosis because the key (tainted) ingredient he had previously used no longer exists. Eventually both personalities succumb to death and in his dying words Jekyll writes (as he transforms for the final time into Hyde) “I bring the life of that unhappy Henry Jekyll to an end”.

This infamous novella written by Robert Louis Stevenson was first published in 1886 and has since become an iconic piece of genre fiction and has been retold countless times in film, on television, in comics, on the stage and more. The reason the story has lived on is that Stevenson managed to deliver a powerful tale that resonates with his readers and definitely touches a primal nerve of sorts. The first nine chapters of the book, written from the point of view of Utterson, give us a mystery tale as the lawyer tries to find out the truth about Mr. Hyde and his connection to Dr. Jekyll. But it is the final chapter that propels this book into the realm of literary masterpiece. This chapter unveils the final journal of Dr. Jekyll as he details his experiment and descent into the depths of his own dark side. But instead of simply looking at this from the simplistic point of view of good vs. evil, Stevenson adds another dimension to his tale by acknowledging the fact that both sides co-exist within us all and that we must learn to cope with our own dark sides in order to not be controlled by it. Jekyll tried to control his own licentiousness by devising a means to eradicate his dark side, but instead that created the Mr. Hyde alter ego. And this evil side of him gradually overtook the good side and ultimately destroyed both. Stevenson gets into some pretty heady (and cutting edge for the time) psychological territory in this chapter, and the moral issues he raises still provide subject for debate today.

I have to admit, though, that I found the ending a bit unsatisfying. After the revelations of the final chapter, all written in the words of Jekyll, I wanted to see the reaction of Utterson as well as some additional resolution of earlier plot threads left hanging. But that did not come as the novella ends on Jekyll’s words quoted above. On the plus side, this tale is not overly wordy like other important genre works from the 19th century like Dracula and Frankenstein. The relatively brief length of this book makes it a quick read, unlike the two mentioned above (or the thousand-plus page bloatfests we currently see hitting the shelves these days), but a short chapter wrapping up the loose ends would have been nice.  But then that's just a quibble and who am I to try and perfect a literary masterpiece?

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is often looked at as a horror story, but the fact is that it is also a proto-science fiction tale as well. Jekyll’s experiments that lead to the creation of Mr. Hyde come about through scientific endeavors and have no supernatural links. In this sense, the book is similar to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein which based the creation of that book's monster on scientific knowledge of the time. Stevenson also works in some of the early discoveries of psychology, a field that had established itself as a new scientific discipline at about that same time (separating itself from philosophy where it had previously been relegated). But whether you consider it horror, science fiction or both, it is a must-read for all genre fans.

Since Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is in the public domain, there are many audio adaptations and dramatizations available for this work, but I decided to check out the Librivox version and was pleasantly surprised. For those not familiar with Librivox, they are the Project Gutenberg of audiobooks, offering free audio adaptations of works in the public domain available for download. This is the third work I have reviewed from Librivox and the other two were of varying quality as far as narration goes. Their version of Stevenson’s book gets the first-rate treatment, though, with narrator David Barnes giving us a professional quality reading. Whereas some of the readers for Librivox (all volunteers) provide barely passable narrations, Barnes delivers an excellent vocal performance and makes the story a pleasure to listen to. Why pay good money on a professional adaptation when you can get one just a good for free from Librivox? You can download it as MP3 files at this link and I highly recommend this version whether you are a regular audiobook listener (used to a professional level of quality) or just trying them out for the first time.

Friday, July 1, 2016

SPOILER ALERT!!! Here's Who Died at the End of the Walking Dead Season 6 Finale

WARNING!!! SPOILERS FROM THE WALKING DEAD SEASON 6 FINALE AND POSSIBLY THE SEASON 7 PREMIERE PLUS THE COMICS AND THE REST OF THE SERIES.!!!

You have been warned . . .

So The Walking Dead left us hanging on a huge cliffhanger at the end of the Season 6 finale. The show gave us the long anticipated introduction to comic book villain Negan and he bashed in the head of one of the major characters with his barbed-wire-wrapped bat Lucille. But then we don't know who it was because of the point of view shot they used and the fade out as the episode ended, leaving viewers hanging until October to see which one of their favorite characters died. I've already discussed in detail (at this link) how this sort of manipulative ploy to keep viewers on the hook for seven months is completely unnecessary for the most-watched show on television and actually denigrates what has been a high quality television entry throughout its six seasons (though it slipped some this past year).

Of course the cliffhanger launched endless speculation across the web on who died with people picking apart those last few minutes to find any possible clues. And that led to AMC becoming spoiler-Nazis and going so far as to threaten legal action against sites like The Spoiling Dead claiming copyright infringement. I have some very harsh words about AMC's ill-advised stance at this link.

And that has led me to this point where I am going to throw out my predictions on who I believe was at the wrong end of Negan's bat. Now before I proceed, I just want to say that personally I hate this sort of crap. Picking apart episodes to find spoilers is just a waste of time and there are plenty of better things to do with your hours in the day (like tying to stay caught up with the massive number of sci fi / fantasy shows currently on television). At my Twitter site, I rarely pass along spoiler-filled headlines, and those annoy the crap out of me if I have an episode waiting for me on my DVR and I'm trying to maneuver through the Twitter-verse. But AMC has pissed me off so bad with their hostile stance toward fans, especially after they are the ones who set up the situation in the first place that has so many people speculating (that ending has network-exec-tinkering written all over it).

So spoil I am going to do, because I have a pretty good idea who was Negan's victim.

Now I should point out that I have no inside information and I haven't seen any leaked scripts and I'm not looking at the pictures from the Season 7 production or anything like that. I base my predictions mostly on an analysis of the final sixth season episode along with the trends we have typically seen on the show and from television in general. So if AMC wants to come at me with their lawyers for offering a critical analysis with predictions in a country that supposedly believes in free speech, I'm right here.

Note that I do not have any spoilers in the title of this post and that only those people who freely choose to read past all this rambling will learn my predictions. But one last time in case you missed the multiple instances above: WARNING. SPOILERS. AHEAD!!!!!!

So let's do this as a process of elimination:

Rick is not the one who died. He is the main character in the show and he is still alive in the comics.  Plus. the finale sets up a whole story arc where he must face the consequences of his arrogance, i.e.  thinking he and his people can take on anyone and anything in their zombie-pocalypse world. Also, Negan said that he wouldn't kill Rick.

Daryl is safe too. He's the breakout star of the show, even though he was criminally under-utilized this last season. The fans would also absolutely revolt if Daryl was the one to die, so there's almost no chance the show would go there. But there is one contingent to that. Daryl could be the one to die if Norman Reedus wants off the show. But despite his lack of screen time, I don't believe that is the case. He has opened a restaurant and bought a house in the Georgia area where the show is filmed, so he has settled there for now. And I don't think his restaurant or his bike show are cutting into his time too much. So unless they have completely kept under wraps a desire by Reedus to leave the show that made him internationally famous, I consider him safe.

Next, I'm eliminating all the women from contention. It's a pretty brutal death that the character suffers and I don't think AMC wants to deal with a violence against women controversy. I could be wrong about that, but I just don't see them chancing that. Carl as well, because that invites violence against children claims (though admittedly Carol did execute Lizzie back in Season 4). Plus, Negan's comment about if anybody does anything cut the boy's other eye out and feed it to the dad.

So that leaves us with four possibilities: Aaron, Eugene, Glen, and Abraham. I'm going to toss Aaron out first because he's not a major enough character and that would be far too anti-climactic after seven month's wait (plus, it invites more bury-your-gays controversy). So consider him safe.

Next is Eugene and the episode surely seemed to telegraph that he was destined to meet Lucille up close. There was the (almost too) long goodbye between him and Abraham where they also buried the hatchet on their past issues. There was the scene with him giving the recipe for bullets to Rick upon the assumption that he would not survive the ordeal. And there was his sacrifice of going off in the RV alone as a diversion so that the others could sneak away from the Saviors. But . . . all that was so telegraphed that I think it was used as a diversion from the real victim. Eugene was made to seem like the obvious choice, so I'm betting its not him.

Which leads me to my top pick . . . good ol' Abraham. And here's the case for him being the person who went one-on-one with Lucile: First, he's a pretty tough cookie and Negan made a comment about the person taking the initial hit "like a champ". Two, he's already dead in the comics. He's the one who took the arrow through the eye instead of Denise. Three, Abraham had a pretty defiant stare-down with Negan during that final scene that may have brought him undue attention. Four, and most important, the scene where he and Sasha talked about having a baby. Nobody gets to be happy in The Walking Dead and future plans are almost always a death knell in this show (go back through all the episodes and you will see the trend). This is actually a common trope through many television shows as well. Characters start to make future plans, or they finally hook up after a long time and then one dies shortly thereafter (which means that if I'm wrong about my assumption on the women above, Sasha could be the target).

But then there is one other character still in the running and that one ties to the point-of-view scenes we saw throughout the final episode. There were several quick POV shots from inside the trailer holding the people Dwight had captured, and a theory going around the internet suggests one of that group met their demise because Negan's final attack was also at the POV angle. Among the people I have narrowed it down to, that leaves only Glen. But would they really go there? After the much reviled faux-death earlier this season and teasing his death several other times over the course of the show? He is the one who gets bashed in by Lucille in the comics, so its possible. And his previous non-death could have been trying to throw us off from his ultimate fate. So he could be the one who died, though I believe fans would consider that a very unsatisfying resolution considering the all the baggage the show has around his character.

That keeps my top choice as Abraham, but Glen is a close second. And Eugene is a distant third. But I do strongly believe it is one of those three. Not because I have any inside information, mind you, but based on my critical analysis of the episode along with what I know about the comics (I have not read that far, though, I have just heard the spoilers). I could be completely off-base here, and Negan's victim could be a character I haven't even considered. But I feel pretty confident it is one of those three and would put the most money on Abraham.  (Does Vegas have a line on this one?)

I won't be watching the Season 7 premiere, though, because I have decided to boycott the show (which used to be my favorite) this coming year and start my re-watch of Babylon 5. AMC's actions against their viewers after stringing them along and providing an unsatisfying ending to the Season 6 finale are just inexcusable. I will watch all of the seventh season at some point, though. It's still a great show, despite the ill-advised network tinkering, and I will want to get caught up. But I will likely wait until it comes out on DVD and then buy a used copy just to make sure AMC doesn't get any of my money. And I'll be watching the spoilers from the Season 7 premiere to find out if my predictions were right, because I'm not a spoiler-phobe.

We'll revisit at that time and see if I called it, but in the meantime you have my predictions to chew on and feel free to offer your own. But be warned: the big bad corporate monster AMC may come after you if you speak your mind and try to make a guess on how that ill-conceived cliffhanger from Season 6 turns out.  And if you want to see how to do a season finale right, go watch Game of Thrones, especially all of Season 6.  AMC, that's you I'm talking to.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Must-Watch Sci Fi Movies: Destination Moon

Directed by: Irving Pichel
Produced by: George Pal
Written by: James O'Hanlon, Robert A. Heinlein, Rip Van Ronkel
Starring: John Archer, Warner Anderson, Tom Powers, Dick Wesson
Original Release: 1950

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Synopsis:  The movie begins as an attempt to launch a satellite into orbit fails, possibly as the result of sabotage by foreign interests wanting to beat the United States into space.  Because of the failure, government funding is withdrawn, but rocket scientist Dr. Charles Cargraves (Warner Anderson) along with his collaborator General Thayer (Tom Powers) approach aircraft builder Jim Barnes (John Archer) about continuing the project with corporate sponsorship and possibly expanding its scope to send men to the Moon.  Barnes is reluctant at first, but Thayer sways him to their cause and then this group manages to convince the leaders of several large U.S. corporations to help fund the project.  A rocket is built, but its fate is in jeopardy by a court order that could cancel the launch because of the threat of potential radiation from the rocket’s atomic engine.   To avoid getting shut down, they decide to launch early with Barnes, Thayer, Cargraves, and radio operator Joe Sweeny (Dick Wesson) as the crew.  The rocket has a successful takeoff, but faces several challenges in its quest to get to the moon and back.

Why It’s a Must-Watch Movie:  Though somewhat dated now, Destination Moon delivered an engaging and scientifically accurate (for its time) film about near-space travel, and it’s still great fun to watch over sixty years after it was originally made.

Produced by George Pal who would become the George Lucas/Steven Spielberg of his day, this movie was his first foray into science fiction and it was very much a landmark for its time.  The genre had mostly been relegated horror films, B-Movies, or Saturday afternoon serials, with few attempts at serious science fiction during the first twenty years or so of talking films.  Movies like Frankenstein, King Kong, and Things to Come all make it to that short list, but the first two are more heavily associated with the horror genre and only the latter entry stands out as true science fiction.  After that film, Destination Moon would be the next major science fiction entry and it was actually a pretty big deal when it came out. 

It was produced on a pretty big budget for its day ($500k!) and George Pal had enough film-savvy to turn it into a crowd-pleaser that made it very much an early precursor to the mega-dollar blockbusters that would become the norm thirty or so years later.  Pal and his writers (which included Robert A. Heinlein whose novel Rocket Ship Galileo the movie was loosely based on) approached the material with a serious intent, planning on producing a film that would accurately portray travel to the moon based on the scientific knowledge of the time.  But they did not turn out a stolid, tedious movie nor an exploitive film full of bug-eyed monsters and helpless heroines fleeing in distress.  Destination Moon follows a rather matter-of-fact presentation of its concept, but it still manages to liven it up with things like a Woody Woodpecker cartoon to explain the science and the Joe Sweeny character added for comic relief (though he avoids turning into a buffoon).  And of course the special effects were first rate for the time and many of them still hold up today in a retro-movie sense (with the possible exception of the spacewalk scenes).

And the science is quite solid, especially for a 1950’s science fiction film.  Rocket scientists would later decide that multi-stage ships would be the better way to go for near space travel, but at that time it was believed that a V-2 style rocket (which the ship in the film closely resembles) would be capable of carrying explorers to our nearest cosmic neighbor.  And while the moonscapes are inaccurate, they’re really not that far off and they look really cool and add a bit of visual flair to the film.  The movie does have a some of the cowboy ethic to it as the maverick space travelers jump on their rocketship and take a daring trip into the frontiers of space, but that’s part of what lends to the broad appeal of the film and it doesn’t detract too much from its more serious tone.

The acting is decent enough for a movie of this genre and this period, with Dick Wesson as Joe Sweeny stealing most of the scenes he is in.  There is a dearth of female characters, though, as space travel is portrayed as man’s work with the women left to worry about their husbands from Earth.  But then that’s not too much different than how the U.S. space program unfolded a decade later, so you can’t fault them too much for that.

And interestingly enough, Destination Moon suggests that private industry would be the one to lead the charge on space travel because of a lack of interest on the part of government.  That’s not how the space program actually got started, but that is where it has ended up today.  In that sense, the time is probably ripe for a retro-remake of this film that could act as a call to action on the part of the corporate world to step up and keep space exploration alive (which we are already seeing on a somewhat limited basis).

While the 1950 Destination Moon may look a bit dated to the jaded modern-day audiences expecting an onslaught of eye-popping CGI effects from their sci fi blockbusters, the more discerning fan will be able to look past that and see this for the classic it is.  The movie treated space travel intelligently and managed to deliver a story that is both engaging and scientifically sound (again, for its day).  It’s great fun to watch, and much easier to sit through than many of the B-Movie cheapies that came out around that time or even the more serious genre efforts like Rocketship X-M, This Island Earth, or Pal’s later Conquest of Space.  And Destination Moon only runs about ninety minutes, so it’s a quick watch and well worth the time.

Buy Destination Moon and Other Science Fiction Movies from that Era on DVD from Amazon.com:

Saturday, June 18, 2016

AMC Needs to Back Off from its Irresponsible and Misguided Walking Dead Anti-Spoiler Crusade

AMC, the cable network that airs the most-watched scripted show on television The Walking Dead, has flexed its muscles against fans this week when they threatened legal action against any websites posting spoilers on which character was killed in the Season 6 finale. Their primary target is The Spoiling Dead which has a particular history of making accurate predictions, but AMC indicated that anybody posting spoilers could face litigation, claiming copyright infringement. TSD has backed down from the television juggernaut, but not because they believe they are wrong. They claimed that they would refrain from releasing any spoilers simply because they could not afford the legal costs involved with defending their position.

Now while I understand that AMC is irritated by the many TWD spoilers regularly appearing across the internet (they annoy me too if I haven’t seen the latest episode yet), their hostile stance toward the fans is nothing more than corporate bullying and poor judgement on their part. The cabler would have a case if someone had leaked a whole or partial script from the show or revealed other inside information. But they are threatening sites that are making predictions on who died in the final scene from the show’s sixth season.

Let’s not forget that the network created this situation to begin with. The last episode to air introduced the antagonist Negan who killed off a major character when he first appeared in the comics (trying not to reveal too many spoilers from either the show or the comics here, though). But instead of letting the episode end with us finding out who met their demise, we were left hanging until October for the resolution of that final scene. And it was a pretty major cliffhanger seeing as the majority of the show’s main characters were present and any of them could have been the one to die. It was purely a manipulative move (and likely ordered by network execs) for a show that doesn’t need it because it is known for telling compelling and engaging tales without stooping to such cheap contrivances (I go into that in more detail at this link).

Guess what, AMC? People are going to speculate when you leave an episode hanging on the imminent demise of one of their favorite characters. That’s what they do! Especially after such an unsatisfying ending to an already controversial season (due to other, similar missteps). People are going to try and fill in the blanks to tide them over because the ending strung them along. And then to threaten them with legal action for making guesses? That’s an inexcusable and irresponsible stance from a corporate entity that knows they can get away with it only because they have the deep pockets to press and sustain legal action.

Just how arrogant has AMC become now that they have the top show on television? Have they forgotten how fickle the audience can be and how quickly a hit can spiral to a bottom-feeder in the world of television? Have they forgotten that they already tempted fate by kicking original executive producer Frank Darabont to the curb and then dropping the show’s budget and increasing its episode order for its second season? That could have easily destroyed the show, but apparently the steady guidance from Robert Kirkman as well as the stellar cast and the strength of the source material helped them dodge that potentially disastrous move (though Season 2 is widely considered the show’s weakest). Have they not heard all of the hate directed at the show this past season for its other misfires that came before the season finale?

And now AMC is going to take a hostile stance with fans for speculating on which character dies? Attorney Mitch Stoltz with the Electronic Frontier Foundation has said that “copyright probably doesn't cover revealing a single fictional detail about a show. And copyright doesn't apply to facts that are discovered without having access to the creative work.” And I’m sure AMC wouldn’t have a legal leg to stand on. But as the people running The Spoiling Dead have said, trying to fight Goliath in this case will have too high of a cost.

If AMC wants to throw away money filming eleven different death scenes, that’s their business. If they want to go after people for illegally obtaining and distributing scripts and/or other inside information, they have a right to do so. If they want to respectfully ask that fans refrain from posting spoilers in the immediate public view (i.e., article titles), they might have received some cooperation.  But if they start taking legal action against fans for speculating on how a poorly placed cliffhanger plays out, I believe the backlash will come quick and hard. I’m already seeing a fair amount of hate directed at The Walking Dead from the fan community, and that could spread like wildfire if the network persists with its boorish, anti-spoiler crusade.

It’s time for AMC to BACK OFF on this issue and let people speculate away as they are want to do. That’s not violating any copyrights. If the fans want to take their best guess on who was Negan’s victim (which is not that hard to narrow down as I will go into with an upcoming post), the network needs to just let them do so and get back to minding their own store.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Sci Fi Genre Gems: E-Man (1970’s Comic Book Series)

What Is It?  In this short-lived series from Charlton Comics, we are introduced to the superhero E-Man, a sentient being of pure energy created out of a super-nova.  This being traveled through the galaxy and came in contact with Earth, where he meets the human Nova Kane and decides to take human form himself as a superhero.  The two then set off on action-packed adventures fighting villains that threaten the planet.

Why Does It Stand Out?  This whimsical little series hit the stands at a time before superheroes had gone dark and grim and it delivered a fun set of comic book tales with a sci fi bent.

The Skinny: Co-creator Nicola Cuti had the idea of creating a superhero similar to the whimsical Golden Age character Plastic Man, and artist Joe Staton helped bring to life this modern hero with a sense of fun.  The transformable E-Man would morph into any of a numbers of shapes as needed, not dissimilar from his Golden Age predecessor.  But it was the banter between E-Man and his opponents as well as side kick / partner Nova Kane (she would later become a superhero herself) that made this strip so much fun.  Unlike the revivals of this character that would appear in the 80’s and 90’s, this series was less interested in parody, and more in just telling a good fun tale.

It would also introduce the private eye character Mike Mauser who would later get his own series, plus it also had regular backup stories that highlighted tryout characters for Charlton.  Steve Ditko’s Mr. A-like character Killjoy showed up in two issues and John Byrne’s Rog 2000 also had several appearances.  Unfortunately, E-Man would only last for ten issues in its original run.  The sales for the book were not great and the publisher decided to cancel the series, though the character would have a final appearance from its original creative team in the fourth issue of the Charlton Bullseye fanzine.

E-Man would live on in the decades that followed with several revivals at other publishers, but in my opinion those never quite matched up its original run that was quirky and funny and just trying to tell some good fun comic book tales.  The first ten issues have yet to be collected in a trade paperback, but they recently appeared in eBook format available through Amazon.com and Comixology.  You can also find the back issues pretty easily and you won't have to spend an arm and a leg on them.

Did You Know?  Joe Staton based E-Man’s face on James Bond actor Roger Moore which he described as “charming and heroic looking, but kind of generic”.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Cancelled Sci Fi TV: 1949-2015

Did you know that The Outer Limits was cancelled when its ratings plummeted after getting moved against the popular Jackie Gleason Show on Saturday nights? Did you know that the cast of Lost in Space fully expected to come back for a fourth season before the surprise cancellation announcement? Did you know that one of J. Michael Straczynski’s early television gigs was the short-lived afternoon sci fi show Captain Power and His Soldiers of the Future? Did you know that Alien Nation was cancelled because the fledgling FOX network ran short of money? Did you know about the short-lived fantasy series Roar that starred a young Heath Ledger? Did you know that fans appealed to Congress after Star Trek: Enterprise was cancelled? Do you know the real stories behind the infamous sci fi cancellations like Star Trek: The Original Series, Battlestar: Galactica (1978), Firefly, Jericho, and more?

So many cancelled sci fi shows and so little time. But don’t fret because the ultimate reference for cancelled science fiction and fantasy shows is here. Cancelled Sci Fi TV presents a broad survey of the genre which starts with the very early days of television and moves all the way forward to some of the most recent cancellations. Over two hundred shows are covered from the past sixty plus years, including well-known entries like Space: 1999, Angel, and Farscape as well as many of the blink-and-you-missed-them shows like The Starlost, Beyond Westworld, The Middleman, and more.

This book covers all of those and more, giving show synopses, credits, the years they ran and episode counts, information (and/or speculation) on why they were cancelled, as well as anecdotes and/or bits of trivia. Cancelled Sci Fi TV: 1949-2015 is a must read for sci fi fans and television junkies, a book that you won’t be able to put down once you start it that takes you on a fascinating adventure through the TV Wasteland of cancelled science fiction and fantasy shows.

Read a sample of the book at this link

Available Now on Kindle

(Coming soon in other eBook formats)

Also by John J. Joex:

Why Were They Cancelled? The Plight of Sci Fi TV in the Face of the Unforgiving Nielsens and Networks Kindle  | Other eBook Formats

25 Must-Watch Science Fiction and Fantasy Movies: An Essential Guide to the Best Movies of the Genre Kindle  |  Other eBook Formats

Sci Fi Trifles: Useless but Essential Pop Culture Tidbits and Trivia from the Worlds of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Kindle  |  Other eBook Formats

Sci Fi Genre Gems: Lost, Forgotten, and/or Underappreciated Nuggets from the Worlds of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Kindle  |  Other eBook Formats