Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Moving into a Higher Genre Bracket: Consistency and Balance in FOX’s Fringe

Moving into a Higher Genre Bracket

April 1st, 2010

There are some shows that I can honestly say I’ve given up on: I stopped watching shows like Desperate Housewives because it was clearly not going in an interesting direction, and it had long gone past the point where the strength of the performances could carry my attention. However, there are other shows that I stop watching where there isn’t that moment of decision, where I don’t consciously make some sort of decree about it. I didn’t give up on The Mentalist or Grey’s Anatomy so much as I gave up on finding the time to watch them, which is a completely different situation and one that is particularly common on Thursday nights.

And so when I stopped watching Fringe, it wasn’t some sort of judgment on the show’s standalone episodes, or any sort of disappointment with its serialized development. Rather, Thursdays are busy, and the NBC comedy block having become four-strong this year (at least in theory) has made Thursdays busier than ever. Sure, it says something that Fringe was the first show I dropped, but I don’t want to make that out to be some sort of judgment when it wasn’t one.

I’ve spend the past few days catching up on Fringe’s second season, which I dropped after the second episode, and it’s been quite an illuminating experience. When you step away from a show like Fringe for so long, and end up watching it in this sort of condensed fashion, you see a lot of things that you might not have seen before: your perception, in other words, becomes more important (or at least more noteworthy) than reality, fitting considering the role that played in the episodes I had a chance to watch this week.

While some may argue that Fringe is “inconsistent,” I would argue that it is our perception which varies as opposed to the show itself: depending on where we place our expectations, Fringe is either a compelling procedural with a (relatively) complex serialized mythology or a blasé procedural with intermittent signs of serialized intrigue. I don’t think either of these perspectives are wrong, or unfair to the show, but I would argue that it has been pretty consistent in its ambitions in its second season.

And while I don’t necessarily perceive the show as one of television’s finest, I had a lot of “fun” catching up on the show…in fact, I had more fun than I had expected.

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Spring Premiere: V – “Welcome to the War”

“Welcome to the War”

March 30th, 2010

I was tweeting earlier this week, in response to some questions from Chris Becker about why we start or stop watching shows, as it relates to what I’d call “Replacement Theory.” For ABC, they are desperately searching for a show to replace their hit Lost, which is still pulling top notch demo numbers that any network would kill for. And so next year, when Lost will be over and ABC won’t have that viewership, they’re looking for a replacement show, something that will pick up those viewers and keep the momentum going.

However, with FlashForward having bottomed out on Thursday nights, V is the last great hope and ABC knows it: they’re airing it after Lost, they heavily promoted its return (including during nearly every second of tonight’s episode of Lost), and they’re doing everything in their power to sell this show as the future of science fiction at ABC. But, for every advantage there is a disadvantage: no show has ever done well after Lost, that heavy promotion pissed off many Lost viewers angry that it was obscuring the screen, and the network has failed to launch a single science fiction series other than Lost successfully, proving that perhaps science fiction doesn’t actually have a place at the network.

Or perhaps the problem is just that “Replacement Theory” requires a certain degree of separation: V might pale in comparison to Lost now, but perhaps judged on its own merits the show could prove a refuge to fans in the post-Lost era. “Welcome to the War” is unable to live down the problems which plagued the series in its opening four episodes, but Scott Rosenbaum does an admirable job of reminding us that this premise is actually compelling and that there is the potential for its characters to become more interesting as time goes on.

We’re just not quite there yet.

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Battlestar Baggage: Why SyFy’s Caprica Deserves to be Judged On its Own Merits

Battlestar Baggage: SyFy’s Caprica

February 23rd, 2010

Early on in a show’s run, there is always room for improvement. Every show will take time to find its feet, and whether it’s a rough pilot or a case of pilot repetition or a character that feels underdeveloped, all freshman series will have points of contention.

This doesn’t mean that, from a critical perspective, we forgive the show these problems, but it also means that we don’t rake a series over the coals for them. The critic’s job becomes almost like a meteorologist’s, analyzing the storm patterns (the cast, the plot’s general direction, the world-building, etc.) that could eventually develop into a great series or fizzle out quickly. It’s still very much a personal analysis of the situation: Starz’ Spartacus: Blood and Sand was written off by many critics (myself included) as something which would never evolve into anything worthwhile, but I’m hearing from a lot of fans that the show (so long as you lowered your expectations based on the quality of the pilot) is surprising them, so this (like meteorology) is not a precise science in the least.

It’s not often that I’ll outright question negative responses to particular series I enjoy, but I’ll come right out and say it: I don’t get the tepid response to SyFy’s Caprica. Judged as a new series, Caprica has overcome a weak pilot with a series of episodes that demonstrate a clear sense of the world being depicted, offer a complicated moral tightrope for the characters to walk, and take their time in order to let the show’s fantastic sense of atmosphere sink in rather than be thrown in our faces. While it is not perfect in any way, it is subtle when it needs to be subtle, and doesn’t allow its more large-scale developments to deliver only large-scale consequences, making significant progress from its pilot even while taking the time to ruminate on key themes and ideas.

In short, it’s in pretty fantastic shape for a new series, so I really wish that everyone would start judging it as one.

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Fall Finale: V – “It’s Only the Beginning”

“It’s Only the Beginning”

November 24th, 2009

“Is this the real life / is this just fantasy … open your eyes / look up to the skies and see”

In addressing the fall finale of ABC’s science fiction series V, I quote Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody for two reasons. The first is an excuse to link to the gleeful and wondrous Muppets version of the song released to YouTube today (if you need a better justification, let’s go with corporate synergy). The second is that the opening lines of this classic song feel like they capture the basic condition of most of V’s characters when these spaceships descended upon them. The very nature of science fiction that is roughly set in our own world is the question of whether the supernatural elements are “for real” in the sense that they should be trusted, which is perhaps what V has been missing since it debuted a mere three weeks ago. For a show about a race of aliens descending on humanity, the show has jettisoned the period of reflection in favour of drawing a line in the sand between skeptics who form a resistance against them and believers who freely choose to walk among them.

The logic behind the relative speed at which this has been accomplished is found within “It’s Only the Beginning,” which lives up to its cheeky title by confirming that, yes, this four-episode premiere event of sorts hasn’t actually managed to accomplish much of anything. In the show’s haste to define the characters quickly in order to bring in enough plot to tide people over until March (when the show is most likely to return), they forgot to show these characters struggling to come to terms with the Vs and the promises they offer to the world, and as such this finale has nothing to fall back on. The plot twists we see are intriguing (as the premise has not been the show’s biggest problem) if we care about the characters, but by separating the interesting individuals from the interesting stories (outside of Morena Baccarin’s Anna) the show has never tapped into the binary between these two cultures and the potential that lies within this premise.

Accordingly, it’s a good thing for the show’s creative future that it is only the beginning, although whether the series’ ratings future will be able to survive a rocky start is yet to be determined.

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V – “There is No Normal Anymore”

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“There is No Normal Anymore”

November 10th, 2009

“You still don’t understand humanity.”

And neither does this show.

After a fairly solid pilot that did a good job of making this premise seem like it could be a good one for a television series if not actually demonstrating much in the way of examples of that potential, “There is No Normal Anymore” is the sort of failure that these types of genre shows (including FlashForward) tend to fall into. What goes wrong is nothing to do with the show’s premise and more to do with the fact that the writers seem unwilling to fully embrace that premise from the get go. There are interesting elements in these stories, but as a whole the writing and for that matter the performances just aren’t living up to that interest.

The episode tries to play up a sense of paranoia, but by ignoring the macro level paranoia in favour of the micro level paranoia the show becomes far less interesting than its premise. And, unfortunately for the show, nothing in the writing or in the episode’s forward momentum has me thinking this will change at any time in the near future.

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Series Premiere: V – “Pilot”

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“Pilot”

November 3rd, 2009

“Where were you this morning?”

From an overall scheduling standpoint, V’s early November debut is problematic. It forces the show into airing only four short episodes this calendar year, and it won’t return until March with the remainder of its first season. However, in terms of its arrival, it comes perhaps at the perfect time in terms of impressive this particular critic. With disillusionment with FlashForward turning into outright disinterest, there’s room for another serialized piece of mystery/science fiction programming in my life.

And while there are some issues with V’s pilot, mostly stemming from issues symptomatic of pilots more than this particular show, it manages to do what FlashForward did not. By not only providing an adrenaline-filled opening that catches the eye with sharp rhetoric and explosive imagery but then following it up by demonstrating that it has long-term social and personal consequences (that the show intends to deal with), the show maintains an expansive scenario without reducing it to a single perspective. While the arrival of the Visitors affects some individuals more than others, that interpersonal conflict is superseded by a broader cultural impact that is as much a part of the show’s identity as is any one individual’s story.

What results is a pilot that manages to be both action-packed and ideologically-driven, and the building blocks of a show which could logically remain both of these things over its run so long as behind the scenes production issues don’t get in the way.

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Review: Stargate Universe (Premiering October 2nd)

SGUMy experience with the Stargate franchise is somewhat limited: I’m fairly certain I’ve seen the movie, likely stumbled upon SG-1 at some point, and saw quite a few random episodes of Atlantis while home during holidays. It is a series that, for me, has always failed to keep my interest largely because of the repetitiveness of its procedural construct, especially with Atlantis. While there were some interesting ideas on that show, and even some interesting performances, I found that the universe being constructed wasn’t interesting enough for me to come back week after week for very similar storylines that would either end quickly or, at the most, develop into a 2 or 3 episode arc.

However, like any show of this nature, by the end of its run Stargate Atlantis had built up a large following based on a cast of characters that audiences related with, characters which would prove capable of sustaining repetitive storylines. It is for this reason that the decision to end Atlantis somewhat prematurely, before fans had felt its time was up, seemed particularly strange: yes, Stargate Universe (which debuts tomorrow night at 9pm on Space in Canada and SyFy in the U.S.) offers many of the same procedural elements, albeit with a twist, but because this cast of characters is completely different it means that audience goodwill starts all over again.

The biggest problem with tonight’s two-hour pilot for Stargate Universe is that I felt absolutely no emotional connection to these characters, or this story, and perhaps most importantly nothing the episode accomplishes makes me feel as if this is going to change in the immediate future. I won’t suggest that over time this group of characters couldn’t be engaging, but in the pilot their actions feel contrived and lifeless with a thin back story and an overbearing sense of helplessness which should bring them closer together but actually just operates as a false tension.

Free from the pressure of establishing a whole host of characters and the show’s premise, it is possible that these kinds of issues will be ironed out. However, even then, there is something about this Universe that feels muddled in a way which seems inherent to creative decisions that have the franchise starting over with a direction both too clear and too unclear.

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