Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Babylon 5 Re-Watch: Episodes 13-16 Give Us One Important Story Arc Entry, But Then a Lot of Treading Water

The Babylon 5 re-watch is on!  These are my thoughts on the episodes as I work my way through the full five seasons (plus the movies).

I got derailed from this because I end up watching a lot more Fall sci fi TV than I expected.  But I will keep pushing forward and I still get more enjoyment re-watching B5 than tuning in for a lot of the currently airing shows.

S1 Ep 13: “Signs and Portents”

Increased Raider activity starts to threaten the traffic coming in and out of Babylon 5.  Meanwhile, Londo hosts some important guests from his homeworld as the mysterious man named Mr. Morden approaches the ambassadors asking cryptic questions.  You can read the full synopsis at this link.

Essential Viewing: Yes. This episode represents the entry of the Shadows, if just briefly, into the story arc.

Comments:  While the episode itself may not be one of the better B5 entries, “Signs and Portents” definitely starts moving things forward.  We get our first introduction to Mr. Morden who appears much more of a bothersome nuisance here and much less of the sinister presence he will later become.  We also get our first glimpse of the shadows as well as prophecies of the dark times to come. Plus, Sinclair attempts to find out more about what happened during that 24 hours when he blacked out at the Battle of the Line.  All of that is interesting and has important ties to later events.  But the pivotal moment of the episode (and actually a major turning point for the show) comes when Londo finally answers Mr. Morden’s question “what do you want?”  The answer that the Centauri ambassador gives is both moving and chilling, even if we don’t quite understand its significance at this point.  This episode really gets the ball rolling with some major developments and is essential to the overall story.

S1 Ep 14: “TKO”

On old friend of Mr. Garibaldi’s arrives on Babylon 5 with plans of competing in an alien fighting circuit.  Meanwhile, Ivanova receives a visit from her former Rabbi who wants her to make peace with her father’s death.  You can read the full synopsis at this link.

Essential Viewing: No. It has some nice character development, but it’s not a must-watch episode.

Comments:  This is another mostly stand-alone episode, though it focuses on two of the best human characters, Mr. Garibaldi and Susan Ivanova.  With the latter, we get a good look at Susan’s past and why she has issues with her family.  And we get a further look at Mr. Garibaldi’s past as well.  It’s a decent enough episode and doesn’t feel too much like treading water, but you won’t be missing much if you skip it.


S1 Ep 15: “Grail”

A man arrives on Babylon 5 in search of the Holy Grail and is given a special reception by Delenn.  Meanwhile, a down-on-his-luck inhabitant of “Down Below” is being black-mailed to provide information that he knows about the station.  You can read the full synopsis at this link.

Essential Viewing: No. It’s an okay stand-alone episode, but not a must-watch.

Comments:  The best part of this episode is David Warner’s performance as the grail-seeker Aldous Gajic.  So often Warner has had roles as the heavy, so it is nice to see him play a more sympathetic character.  Apart from that, the episode gives us a little bit more background on the previous Babylon stations and we also learn that the Minbarri religious and warrior castes do not get along.  Plus we get a glimpse of the internal workings of the station and some of the seedier sections that it contains.  It’s worth watching the episode mostly for Warner’s performance, but if you skip it you won’t miss much of significance to the ongoing arc.


S1 Ep 16: “Eyes”

The Babylon 5 command staff find themselves under investigation by Earth Force.  You can read the full synopsis at this link.

Essential Viewing:  Not Really.  We learn more about the internal conflicts within the Earth government and it gives some more character development, but it can be skipped.

Comments:  With 22 episodes per season, JMS had the time to really explore some of the background to his story, and this episode pads that out further.  The key work there, though, is padding.  We learn more about Ivanova’s aversion to the Psi Corp and some more about the main human characters, but there is a sense of treading water by this point.  And sadly, the human antagonist--Colonel Ben Zayn--is all too cartoonish once again (like “By Any Means Necessary”, more on that at this link), though the Psi Corp officer is at least played somewhat sympathetic.   You do get some good background from this episode, but it either has been or will be covered better in other episodes, so this one is skippable.


General Thoughts:  None of these four episodes are really standouts, and even though “Signs and Portents” is important to the overall story, that is not fully apparent at this early point in the series.  That episode plays much better on re-watch because you appreciate how well JMS was setting up the story arc to come.  And all of these episodes have some development points, however minor, but not enough to really grab the audience.  The dialog remains stilted (especially among the human characters) which is further hampered by the stiff directing, so I can understand where someone who has watched Babylon 5 up to this point (and does not quite understand what is coming) might not be overly impressed with the show.  But things will start to kick into gear later in the first season and then really start rolling in the show’s second year.  


Interesting Fact: The tentacle used for the Na'ka'leen Feeder was re-used in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer because both shows had the same make-up effects company.

Babylon 5 on DVD from Amazon.com:

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Audiobook Review: Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Book Rating: 3 ½ out of 5 Stars

Audiobook Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Bottom Line: Snarky and satirical, this book offers a deconstruction of America and an interesting philosophical connection between language, religion, and computers.

Snow Crash is a sci fi / cyberpunk novel (also referred to as post-cyberpunk, but I have no idea what the means) by Neal Stephenson.  It takes place in a near-future dystopia where the U.S. government has become mostly ineffectual and the country has descended into a state of anarcho-capitalism with business franchises such as Uncle Enzo’s Pizza, Reverend Wayne’s Pearly Gates, and Mr. Lee’s Greater Hong Kong holding much of the power.  Hiro Protagonist—a hacker/pizza delivery driver—and his skateboard courier friend Y.T. find themselves involved in a plot to use an ancient neuro-linguistic “virus” that has been converted into both a biological and computer virus to control the vast majority of the country’s population.

Snow Crash is an interesting and often acidly-humorous book that mulls on some pretty heady concepts, but I’m not quite sure that I would count it as a great sci fi novel.  A very good one, but maybe not great (and I am sure there are plenty of angry mega-fans jumping on their planks and sharpening their swords to head my way right about now).  The book introduces (to me at least) some interesting ideas linking language, religion, viruses, and computers.  It all sounds quite neat, but I’m not sure I quite buy into it.  It does present some interesting what-if scenarios as far as the way language relates to the mind, even if they may not really play out the way the book suggests.

The book has a very frenetic pace to it which can be relentless at times and makes it not one of the best candidates for an audiobook adaptation.  This is one that would likely work better reading from the printed page because it is easier to go back and read over things you might have missed in the jumble.  But then there are also times when the book slows down and becomes very talky.  Some may feel this throws the pace off, but I particularly liked these parts because this in when the history behind the book’s grander ideas is explained.  As a history buff, I love that sort of stuff, but others may find it too boring.

The book is not strong on character development and seems to do what it wants with its characters at different times.  For example, how exactly did Hiro become such a badass if the majority of his sword-fighting experience came from the virtual world of the metaverse?  But it is still a decent read and I can see where cyberpunk (and Anime) fans see this as a great genre entry.   Its satirical deconstruction of America can be quite biting at times, and there was more than once that I was laughing out loud at some of the book’s better lines.  It also acts as a precursor of sorts to Ready Player One with its metaverse which is a protoversion of that book’s OASIS virtual reality.  And considering that it was written in 1992, it is definitely quite prescient in respect to how computers, the internet, cell phones, and other technology would progress from that point.

As for the audiobook version, Jonathan Davis provides the narration and his Casey Casem-like voice at first does not seem like a good fit for the book’s snarky prose.  But that feeling passes pretty quickly and he does a mostly excellent job with the dialog (even if he does slip in and out of character at times).  The production throws in some additional sound effects, though I would not count this as an enhanced audio.  But that does add some atmosphere to a story that is somewhat challenging to adapt to audiobook.  Overall, Snow Crash is a good book with an audio rendering that is as good as can be expected and it is definitely worth checking out even if it doesn’t necessarily count as a must-read.


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Sci Fi TV Quick Hits: Agents of SHIELD, The Exorcist, Westworld, Channel Zero and More Are Among This Season's Standouts So Far

Before getting to my rundown of the Fall shows I have been watching so far, I have to say something first: I’m calling a time out! There is just too much sci fi to watch on TV these days, and surprisingly a lot of it has gotten really good. Over the past few seasons, I could pass over a lot of shows because of the high levels of mediocrity I was seeing. But I have been much more impressed than usual with what I have seen thus far this season and even find myself going back to shows I had given up on. This is really cutting into my plans for the Babylon 5 re-watch, and I’m not sure how I’m going to fit everything into the week. I’m sure I will slack off on some of these before too long just because of time constraints, but for now here are my thoughts on what I have been watching so far (sorted by those I have enjoyed the most to the least):

Agents of SHIELD (ABC): I tuned in to the first episode of this show’s fourth season just because I was curious what they would do with Ghost Rider, and then found myself hooked on it again. I liked this one when it first started, but then it seemed to start treading water about mid-way through its first season. It went darker in its second year and gave in far too often to copy and paste and I bailed on the show. But its fourth season has been really good so far. The witty dialog that we saw early on with the show has returned and the actors all seem have grown with their roles. There is a particularly good chemistry between Coulson and Mack, and the show could keep most of its focus on those two for my money. Plus they have done a good job with the Ghost Rider character as well even if the CGI is a bit cheesy. For now, this one is on my must-watch list each week.

The Exorcist (FOX): This revival of the infamous 1970’s horror film (which actually acts as a sequel to that movie) is doing everything that A&E’s Damien (a sequel series to 1976’s The Omen) did not.  Whereas that one quickly derailed with a mopey, EMO lead, The Exorcist is creepy and scary and has interesting characters with a decent storyline. Anybody who had doubts about this revival should put those aside and tune in, because this show has exceeded all expectations at this point. I’m hoping that the first year has a resolution to its story arc, though, because the ratings suggest that this one could be gone by as soon as mid-season.

Westworld (HBO): This show has been good so far across its first four episodes and has done an interesting take on the original premise from the movie. Once again, we have androids malfunctioning (I don’t think that counts as much of a spoiler), but it is following a different path as it appears to be related to them developing self-awareness. The only problem is that the story is unfolding at an almost glacial pace and there may be too many storylines going on. But it is sticking to its sci fi elements and could go on to be genre classic if it success in unlocking its potential.

Channel Zero (Syfy): I’m two episodes in on this season-long horror anthology based on the internet "creepy pasta" stories, and I’m really liking it. It is creepy and moody and has an interesting storyline. And it will wrap up after six episodes, so it does not require as large of a commitment (an important factor in the overload of the Too-Much-TV-Era). Some may be hesitant to check this one out because it veers away from Syfy’s return to science fiction, but like the network’s The Magicians, it is a very good genre entry and worth a look.

Aftermath (Syfy): I stumbled upon this supernatural-pocalypse series when I stuck around for its third episode which followed the premiere of Channel Zero (because there wasn’t a new ep of Adam Ruins Everything that night). I went in with low expectations, but found it much better than it had any right to be and went back to catch up on the first two episodes. Consider it a mix of Supernatural and The Walking Dead, but it treads that path without feeling too derivative and with a minimal of copy and paste. It also keeps the expected teen angst from dominating the family dynamic, which is a good thing. This is the type of show that could go south pretty quickly, but for now I am liking it.

Legends of Tomorrow (CW): After two episodes, the soft reboot this show is going through in its second season seems to be correcting many of the issues from the first season. Most importantly, it’s not just straight copy and paste anymore and the storyline they have introduced seems interesting. We will see how it proceeds from here, but I am back onboard for now.

The Flash (CW): I have only seen the premiere episode so far, but it is off to a solid start. This show has been the most fun of The CW’s superhero entries and I’m thinking it is still worth keeping an eye on.

Freakish (Hulu): The first storyline in Hulu’s new season-long anthology series mixes The Walking Dead with teen horror movie, but is proving better at that than I might have thought based on its first two episodes. It has delivered a minimum of teen angst thus far, nor has it digressed into the expected YA soap opera plots. Probably because it is only a half hour per episode, they are keeping it as lean as possible. And while I wouldn’t call this a great show thus far, it has exceeded expectations and only has four more hours to go, so I may stick with it.

Lucifer (FOX): I really want to like this show because Tom Ellis does such a good job as the title character and there’s plenty of potential with the premise. But they insist on keeping the procedural format which I thought they might back away from this season with the new character introductions. But alas, that change is apparently not in the cards. I like Tricia Helfer as Lucifer’s mom and look forward to Michael Imperioli’s intro as his brother, but I will probably only check on this one from time to time throughout the season.

Timeless (NBC): The first episode of this time travel series was pretty good even if it broke its own rules as most time travel shows do. (They are told not to change anything in the past not already changed, but they do it anyway.) This kind of reminds me of the 60’s Time Tunnel series, though better (but not better than the 2006 attempted reboot of that Irwin Allen entry, more on that at this link). And this is the type of show that I would definitely watch if there were not so many other sci fi entries on the air. I might check in on this one from time to time (no pun intended), but I don’t consider it a must-watch show.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (BBC America): I have to admit that I am not a big fan of the Dirk Gently books (though I love Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide series), but I still had high hopes for this show. And Samuel Barnett does a great job in the title role as does Elijah Wood as the unwilling tag-along to the detective’s adventures. But it is a shame that is wasted on a senseless mess of the script that neither draws from the books nor does much to make the show interesting. And it’s definitely not funny. If I hear people saying that this one improves through its first season run, maybe I will check back in. But for now, I am out.

The Good Place (NBC): This sitcom set in the afterworld seemed like a hard sell from the beginning. But the first episode made a stab at some Tim Burton-esque (the good Tim Burton) visuals and could have really run with that. But it fell flat more often than not and seems to be wasting the talents of its leads Ted Danson and Kristen Bell, and it doesn’t help that the concept does not seem designed well enough to sustain an ongoing series. I bailed on this one after the first episode and don’t plan on going back.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Audiobook Review: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and The Long DarkTea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

Book Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

Audiobook Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

Book Rating: 3 ½ out of 5 Stars

Audiobook Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Bottom Line: The Dirk Gently books have their moments, but I wouldn't count them as sci fi classics.

With BBC America’s Dirk Gently series debuting this weekend, it is worth looking at the two books written by Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Creator Douglas Adams that feature that rather odd detective.  When Mr. Gently investigates a case, he works upon the assumption of the “fundamental interconnectedness of all things” rather than just trying to uncover clues like your more typical detective.  In the first book, Gently stumbles upon a case that involves a ghost, four-million year old aliens, an electric monk, and a time traveling house (among other things).  In the second book, Gently finds himself investigating a case that involves the recording industry, Norse gods, a rather irritated eagle, and a malicious refrigerator.  Needless to see, as with Adams’ Hitchhiker books, the plot itself is not important, that just carries the stories from one set of absurdities to the next.

I had previously read all of Adams’ Hitchhiker books, but for some reason never got around to the Dirk Gently tales.  I decided to try them out on audiobook and found them enjoyable enough, but definitely not as good as the best of Hitchhiker series (which is essentially the first two books).  The Dirk Gently novels have the frenetic pace that you expect from Adams and plenty of his witty observations and quirky commentaries thrown in for good measure.  But I consider these very much like the later entries in the Hitchhiker series in that they may induce a smile or a chuckle from time to time, but don’t quite rise up to the classic status of the first two books.  The Dirk Gently series can be entertaining at times, and the detective is an interesting enough Doctor-Who-Meets-New-Age-Sherlock-Homes type of character, but I never felt that Adams got the best out of these stories as he seemed to be trying a bit too hard to be clever at times.  Others absolutely love these stories, though, so perhaps it is just a matter of taste.  Interestingly, Adams’ treatment of the Norse gods in the second book reminded me very much of what Neal Gaiman later did with mythological characters in American Gods.  I don’t believe he has cited Douglas Adams as a definite influence, but you can see the similarities.

BBC America has a television adaptation of the character on the way that bows on Saturday October 22nd, and knowing about that inspired me to finally read the books.  The TV series looks pretty good from the trailers and maybe it will help me appreciate the books more (though I don’t believe it follows them too closely).  Fortunately, both books are a quick read, so if you are not quite as engrossed by them like I was, they still go by pretty quickly.  Douglas Adams fans should definitely check them out, just understand that these are closer to his later Hitchhiker books than his first two.

As for the audiobook versions, I encountered them two different ways.  For the first book I listened to the version narrated by Adams himself.  Now I typically say that writers should stick with their craft and leave the narrating to the professionals, but thought that Adams might be an exception like Harlan Ellison or Neil Gaiman.  However, Adams delivered a rather straightforward reading that failed to highlight the humorous tone of the book.  I found myself longing for the voice of Simon Jones (who played the part of voice of the guide in the Hitchhiker radio series) because I was sure he could bring more life to the material.  For the second book, I elected the full radio dramatization because I thought it would do a better job of the comic tone of the stores.  The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul was definitely the better of the two audio adaptations and improved on the source material in my opinion.  The dramatization is also available for the first book and that is the way I recommend checking it out.  Adams got his start with Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in radio and that has always been the best way to experience his sci fi comedies.


Monday, October 10, 2016

Babylon 5 Re-Watch: Episodes 9-12 Deliver Two Excellent Stand-Alone Entries

The Babylon 5 re-watch is on!  These are my thoughts on the episodes as I work my way through the full five seasons (plus the movies).

I have fallen behind a bit on this because I have been keeping up with beginning of the Fall season and several of the new premieres (here's how to keep up with all the shows currently airing at this link).  But I have made it through four more eps and hope to pick on steam on this next month.


S1 Ep 9: “Deathwalker”

The Dilgar woman known as Deathwalker arrives on Babylon 5, and many of the alien races demand that she be tried for the war crimes she committed thirty years prior.  But several of the larger governments have an interest in protecting her because she may have tapped into the secrets of immortality.  You can read the full synopsis at this link.

Essential Viewing: Yes, but with a caveat. This episode has little significance to the overall story arc, but it is still one of the show’s best episodes.

Comments: Shows like Battlestar: Galactica (the 2003 reboot), The Walking Dead, and Game of Thrones have come to be known for their hard-hitting stories and moral quandaries, but Babylon 5 beat them to that over a decade prior.  This is not only one hell of a good B5 episode, it is a stand out among all sci fi TV shows (though rarely recognized as such).  Deathwalker is obviously a loathsome person, but the politicians quickly look past that because she has something they want.  And if you think that any of the events in this episode are a stretch, go back to the history books and see what happened to many of the Nazi scientists after WWII with Operation Paperclip.  B5 never promised the brighter future that Star Trek delivered and instead revealed the very struggles we would have to overcome if we want to survive as a species.  This episode is one that really drives that message home.  SPOILERS TO FOLLOW (skip to next paragraph to avoid).  How right is Deathwalker when she says that humans will quickly fall upon each other when they learn they must kill one so that another can achieve immortality.  That’s a frightening moment that should make your hairs stand on end and lead to some significant reflection on the human race.   And Kosh’s final comment, “You are not ready for immortality”, is one of the most chilling in all sci fi.

As far as arc significance, we see some of the beginnings of Vorlon intervention in this episode, and we also learn a little more about the Minbari group known as the Windswords.  In addition, we get a better picture of where the League of Non-Aligned worlds stands in the grander scheme (not too prominently it turns out).  Apart from that, this is mostly a stand-alone installment, but one that really makes a mark.  I missed this when I was watching B5 during its original run, and if I had seen it then my opinion of Season 1 would have been more favorable at that time.  So who cares if it doesn’t play an important part in the grander story?  This is one damn fine episode that is definitely worth watching!


S1 Ep 10: “Believers”

Dr. Franklin faces a dilemma with an alien family when the parents will not allow him to operate on their son due to their religious beliefs.  Meanwhile, Commander Ivanova leads a mission to help a ship in deep space threatened by raiders.  You can read the full synopsis at this link.

Essential Viewing: Not necessarily.  It’s a heck of a good stand-alone episode, but not tied to the overall story.

Comments: With this one, B5 delivered two excellent stand-alone episodes in a row.  It throws yet another gut-wrenching moral quandary at us and elects not to take the easy way out as far as resolving the story.  The show is demonstrating early on that it will not follow the typical television conventions and that it will present challenging drama.  Unfortunately, the episode does not quite have the impact it could because stilted directing, acting, and dialog drags it down.  This was quite common in the show’s first season and is in part why the early episodes are looked on as subpar compared to the rest of the series.  But if you can look past that, it is still a hell of a good episode story-wise and one that hinted that B5 was not just another sci fi show.  The writer of the episode was Star Trek veteran David Gerrold who penned the legendary “Trouble with Tribbles” for the original series.  As for the episode’s connection to the larger story, other than some additional character development—primarily for Dr. Franklin—it is mostly just a stand-alone entry.



S1 Ep 11: “Survivor”

Mr. Garibaldi is framed for a sabotage attempt on the station prior to a visit from Earth Alliance President Santiago.  You can read the full synopsis at this link.

Essential Viewing: No. It is a good Garibaldi episode, but not vital to the overall story.

Comments:  This episode gives us a good look at Mr. Garibaldi’s troubled past and also lets us know that he has struggled with alcoholism.  The latter is particularly interesting, because it ventures into territory rarely covered in science fiction television at that time and again shows Babylon 5 breaking away from the expected TV norms.  And importantly, it doesn’t rely on soap opera asides to bring in these elements.  We learn about Garibaldi’s checkered history, which presents him as a flawed character.  But the series doesn’t wallow in these details, just keeps it as additional character development.  He has overcome his past demons, but we also learn that he is still susceptible to them at times.  This will come into play again later, and having seen this episode reinforces what happens down the line.   If you miss it, though, that won’t leave a major gap in knowledge.  But it does represent those nice bits of character development the show was doing early on.  And since Mr. Garibaldi is my favorite of the human characters on the show, I have a particular affinity for all the episodes that focus on him.  


S1 Ep 12: “By Any Means Necessary”

Because of under-staffing and under-funding, a deadly accident occurs on the Babylon 5 docks and the workers go on an illegal strike when they are told that no additional funds will be allocated to deal with the issues.  Meanwhile G’Kar needs a rare flower to perform a religious ritual and Londo is the only one on the station who possesses it.  You can read the full synopsis at this link.

Essential Viewing: No.  Other than some good G’Kar and Londo sparring, this episode is dispensable.

Comments: This is yet another padding episode early in the series’ run, and it is a particularly bad one at times.  The situation with the dock workers presents an interesting story and Sinclair’s resolution is a good snub to the politicians, but it that part of the episode is executed so poorly that it is often cringe-inducing.  The acting from the human actors is once again subpar and Orin Zento is little more than a cartoon villain.  And the main story has little significance to the overall story arc apart from fleshing out Sinclair’s combative relationship with the politicians on Earth (a situation which Captain Sheridan will later inherit).  As mentioned above, the G’Kar / Londo side-story offers a bit of a respite, and we get an early glimpse into the Narn ambassador’s position as a spiritual leader.  If you want to fast-forward through the episode to watch these scenes, it’s worth your time.  But take a pass on the main story.


General Thoughts: Despite one completely dispensable episode, the other three from this bunch are very good to absolutely essential.  The excellent stand-alone episodes would sadly become fewer and far between as the main story kicks into high gear starting with its second season, but “Deathwalker” and “Believers” demonstrate B5 stepping away from its main story arc and delivering first rate sci fi.  We also get some further character development as well as nuggets important to the overall story that show how well planned out the series was.  So even if you are watching more than just the essential episodes, your time is well spent.


Interesting Fact: JMS came up with the idea for “Deathwalker” when wondering what Hitler could have done to avoid execution for war crimes if he had survived WWII. 


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Blockbuster Overload from Summer? Here Are 5 Sci Fi Movies that Offer a Respite from the Mega-Dollar Franchises

So the Summer 2016 Blockbuster season has come and gone and perhaps you find yourself somewhat unsatisfied after gorging on the franchise-serving, mind-numbing, CGI-overload that many of the mega-dollar sci fi & fantasy entries delivered over the last few months. Well the fact is that a mountain of cash and the best sfx teams in the world do not assure a great film. And perhaps now is a good time for a respite from the blockbuster overload and a chance to look at a few offerings from the past ten years or so that might have been overlooked but that delivered good sci fi / fantasy without having to rely on the cash avalanche and high-pressure expectations of the Daddy Warbucks studios. Read the full article at this link.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Fall 2016 Preview: Westworld, Black Mirror, and Luke Cage are Some of the Shows Worth Checking Out This Fall

With over forty shows on the Fall 2016 schedule, that’s a full-time job if you want to keep up with all of them. I don’t believe too many of us have that much extra time for TV watching, so I will point out what I believe are some of the best bets from the upcoming crop of shows. I will be checking in on the ones below and a few others here and there as the season progresses. Note that this is just covering the shows that will be debuting in the Fall months and I will cover the mid-season entries at a later time.  And feel free to chime in with your own suggestions in the comments section.

(Links are to the show pages on our partner site CancelledSciFi.com where you can get more information as well as season to date ratings results and status updates once they are airing.)

Westworld (HBO) – Imagine this: a reboot that actually makes sense and that will work well on its network because it will have the freedom to explore its adult themes. Plus, it has a killer cast. Everything I have been hearing about this one is good so far and I’m definitely pumped for its debut.

The Man in the High Castle (Amazon) – This was an excellently crafted alternate history tale in its first season that emphasized all of the strengths of the Phillip K. Dick book and threw out most of the weaknesses. I’m a little concerned that Frank Spotnitz (The X-Files) stepped back as the showrunner because I credit him for the high quality in the show’s first year. But he is still onboard as executive producer, so hopefully his influence will continue to be a strong guiding force. If you haven’t seen the first season yet, you should binge that one now before the second year gets started.

Black Mirror (Netflix) – Finally, a true anthology series is back on television! This show killed it over in Britain with its first two seasons and the same creative team has carried over to the Netflix version. This one is near the top of my must-watch list for the Fall.

Luke Cage (Netflix) – Netflix has done a hell of a job with the first two entries in its Defenders series (Daredevil and Jessica Jones) and the early previews of Luke Cage look quite promising. Expect another Marvel hit for the streaming service with this series.

Channel Zero (Syfy) – While this show veers away from Syfy’s return to science fiction, it looks truly creepy and could turn into a decent series if it doesn’t lose itself in the weirdness-overload that has made American Horror Story such a mess. It’s definitely worth a look.

Timeless (NBC) – I have no idea why time travel became the trendy theme for new genre shows this year, but this one at least sounds interesting. And the early previews for it look pretty good. Eric Kripke’s last sci fi show for NBC (Revolution) failed to live up its promise, but maybe he will get it right the second time around.

Agents of SHIELD (ABC) – The quality of this show has been wildly uneven through its three season run, but it is going through yet another reboot of sorts and looks to be bringing in more characters from the Marvel stable starting with Ghost Rider. It should be worth a look to see if it finally gets things right in its fourth year.

The Flash (CW) – The CW superhero shows have been frustratingly rife with soap opera side-stories as well as copy-and-paste dialog and scenes. But The Flash was the most fun of the lot last season (even if it has delivered some downright bad episodes from time to time). Plus, it is bringing in the “Flashpoint” storyline from the comics that will shake things up a bit in the Arrow-verse, so it should be worth seeing what they do with that.

The Librarians (TNT) – I’m not going to tell you this is a great series, but it has been a ton of fun through its first two seasons. With all the dark and grim sci fi we have these days, it’s nice when a show doesn’t take itself too seriously and just sets out to give us a fun adventure with sci fi & fantasy elements. Consider this a good guilty pleasure show (and I want Bruce Campbell back as Santa).

Ash vs. Evil Dead (Starz) – And speaking of Mr. Campbell, he was definitely having plenty of scenery chewing fun with AvED in its first season and expect that to continue into its second year. If you were not a fan of the Evil Dead movies, this may not be your thing. But if you like some good cheesy blood and guts and plenty of one-liners, be sure to tune in.

The Walking Dead (AMC) – Yeah, we will get to see the battle between Rick’s people and Negan as well as the introduction of the Empire in Season 7 of this show. The world is definitely getting bigger for TWD and opens up plenty of story possibilities. But AMC did some really unforgivable tinkering with the show last season and that has me very wary going into the current year. Still this one has delivered a high level of quality more often than not and it definitely counts as an important genre entry.  But perhaps I will wait and binge this one after the season is done, spoilers be damned.