Tag Archives: Science Fiction

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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Season Premiere: Dollhouse – “Vows”

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“Vows”

September 25th, 2009

“I am all of them, but none of them is me.”

I never thought I’d be writing this post.

No one gave Dollhouse a chance of succeeding when its first season debuted to pretty abysmal numbers at midseason, and when it showed little signs of life on the ratings board when it concluded. It was a show that never found an audience, on a network that had done Joss Whedon wrong before with Firefly, setting everyone up for the inevitable letter writing campaigns when the show was canceled. Not only that, but to some degree people weren’t convinced the show deserved a second chance: it only late in the season discovered anything close to an identity, and even then some believed the show would be let down by some miscasting or the battle between procedural and serial proving too much for the show to handle.

So when the show got a second season against every oddsmaker, it was kind of surreal. On the one hand, as someone who liked what the show did at the end of the season, I was excited to see that Joss Whedon and Co. would have an entire summer to figure things out and put themselves in a position to really deliver some great television. However, on the other hand, I wondered if the end of the season was just a fluke, and that its premise and its star were just never meant to carry this show forward.

And then I saw “Epitaph One.” And then, in that moment, I realized that the premise was not going to be the problem, and that the show’s real challenge was how it will get from Point A (its rather auspicious start) to Point B (a science fiction thematic goldmine). “Vows,” of course, doesn’t entirely answer that question, but what it does indicate is that the ramifications from the end of last season haven’t ended, and that this is still a show capable of delivering an hour of television which treats this subject matter with the right balance of philosophical investigation and narrative procession. It is not a perfect premiere, by any means, but it confirms what I think we were all hoping when we heard the show got a second season: the growing pains are over, and a new life has truly begun for Dollhouse.

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Series Premiere: FlashForward – “No More Good Days”

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“No More Good Days”

September 24th, 2009

ABC is pretty much cursed.

See, anytime they create a new show that emphasizes mystery, or features science fiction elements, or has a large ensemble cast, or evokes more questions than it does answers, it’s going to be compared to Lost. And, for almost all of those shows (The Nine, Invasion, etc.) they truly are shows that come in the wake of ABC’s monster hit, shows that attempt to use the sort of serialized storytelling at Lost’s core in order to bring in more audiences.

However, they are almost always what one would consider a failure, if only because Lost works for reasons which go far beyond its buzzwords or its structure. What makes it work is a focus on character over plot (something that sustains the show when the plot takes a back seat), and a sense of execution that comes from having strong people behind the wheel and (perhaps more importantly) a cast and crew who are willing to learn lessons as they go along.

So, if ABC wants us to proclaim FlashForward the next Lost, they’re going to have to do a lot more than an action-packed clip montage at episode’s end and a pilot with an emphasis on secrets, mysteries and a large ensemble cast. This isn’t to say that I don’t find FlashForward fascinating, or that its pilot was unenjoyable. However, trapped in the hype about being the new Lost, the show fails to feel as if it has a clear grasp on what kind of show it wants to be beyond “a show like Lost,” a definition that might get its foot in the door but needs to be followed through on.

And the only people who know about that are those who blacked out for two minutes and seventeen seconds and saw a future where the show is either a huge success or a crippling disappointment. And, you know, the show’s producers. In the meantime, we just have to take their word for it with “No More Good Days,” a pilot which sells a premise but doesn’t necessarily prove it’s capable of delivering on its promise.

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Premiere: Virtuality – “Pilot”

VirtualityTitle

“Pilot”

June 26th, 2009

After watching the two-hour event that is the Virtuality pilot, I think I can understand why FOX was resistent to picking the show up to series.

It isn’t that FOX is allergic to science fiction: it goes into next season with the genre’s two biggest television properties, Fringe and Dollhouse, in its lineup. Rather, there’s a particular way that it likes its science fiction, a preference that both Dollhouse and Fringe fit into comfortable. Both shows, although expanding heavily on their serialized elements and genre transmorgifications later in their freshman seasons, started out as genrified takes on the procedural mystery model, combining a high concept with what is arguably a more accesible and thus lower form of weekly episodic television. For FOX executives worried about selling the show to advertisers and viewers alike, it was the ace up their sleeve, the caveat that allowed them to both give the appearance of openness to genre programming and satisfy their desire to eat away at CBS’ dominance in the field.

The reason Virtuality wasn’t ordered to series is because it is one giant, enormous middle finger to such ludicrous practices of watering down science fiction upon its arrival so as to pretend as if the people who don’t like science fiction are going to stick around once things get weird. What makes good science fiction is the balls out willingness to question reality, and to break away from any and all conventions, all qualities that both Fringe and Dollhouse are capable of and yet never got to reach until FOX was satisfied that the show was really just CSI with insane science or The Unit with personality implants. Virtuality, however, wastes no time in crafting a world where nothing where we question everything, and is thus a world that any science fiction fan in their right mind wants to explore further.

All but dead in the water despite the strange lead-up to this airing, Virtuality is a fascinating pilot, a god awful standalone television movie considering how it ends, and, should it truly find itself on the wrong end of FOX’s idiocy, another sign that high science fiction may be a thing of the past on network television.

But, for now, excuse me if I spend a bit of time talking about how awesome it was.

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Cultural Alert: Ronald D. Moore’s Virtuality airs tonight at 8/7c on FOX

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“It is not a f***ing movie.” – Michael Taylor, co-creator of Virtuality

This quote, coming from an interview with former Battlestar Galactica writer Michael Taylor by Dan Fienberg over at HitFix, is probably confusing considering that FOX is promoting Virtuality, from the mind of Ronald D. Moore and with a pilot directed by Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights), as a one-time event. Or, at least they’re scheduling it as one. Or, at least they were scheduling it as one.

Now, I legitimately don’t know what to think. Conceived as a pilot for this past development season, the project fell on deaf ears with FOX executives who asked for extensive editing and didn’t order the show to series. However, as an expensive sci-fi pilot, the network wants to recoup its money, so a two-hour television event was scheduled…for Saturday, July 4th. Even we Canadians know that people don’t watch television on a national holiday in the middle of summer, so it seemed like the project was being tossed onto the pile.

And then, something strange happened: FOX moved the airdate to tonight, June 26th. And then they scheduled numerous conference calls so that press could talk to the show’s producers. And they even organized a premiere for the project, going against nearly every logical process one would expect from a summer burn-off.

There are two basic possibilities here. The first is that FOX knows the cultural cache of Ronald D. Moore in the world of science fiction, and figured that it could better recoup sales through potential advertising and DVD revenue if it worked the hype machine ahead of time, knowing that fans of Battlestar and science fiction in general would do much of the work for them. This seems the more likely option, considering that FOX already has a low-rated prestige science fiction show on its 2009-2010 lineup (Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse).

However, the way they’re promoting the broadcast theoretically leaves the door open for them to take the show to series down the road, a possibility that FOX has left open for reasons that I can’t quite understand. Perhaps it is just so that people will tune in even though it may seem like a dead end, or a waste of their time, buoyed by the faint hope FOX is providing. Or, perhaps FOX is actually willing to give the show a shot if the ratings surprise them.

Regardless, I have unfortunately not been able to screen Virtuality ahead of time, and have been trying to stay spoiler free in order to approach it with a fresh perspective. However, here’s the “official” synopsis so you have some sense of what the show’s about:

As the crew of the Phaeton approaches the go/no-go point of their epic 10-year journey through outer space, the fate of Earth rests in their hands. The pressure is intense, and the best bet for helping the crew members maintain their sanity is the cutting-edge virtual reality technology installed on the ship. It’s the perfect stress-reliever until a glitch in the system unleashes a virus onto the ship. Tensions mount as the crew decides how to contain the virus and complete their mission. Meanwhile, every step of the journey and every minute of the crew members’ lives are being taped for a reality show back on Earth.

I’ll be back either late tonight or tomorrow afternoon with my own thoughts, but in the meantime you can check out Alan Sepinwall, Dan Fienberg and Maureen Ryan’s thoughts on the film…I mean, pilot. Or whatever it bloody well is.

Virtuality, as mentioned, airs at 8/7c on FOX.

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BSG: The Long Goodbye – Live Series Finale Discussion

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Live Series Finale Discussion

March 24th, 2009

[I figure I’ve done plenty of writing in regards to the Series Finale, but there’s always a place for some diversification: as we continue The Long Goodbye, we have a special edition of the best darn movie podcast on the internet devoted to the subject at hand.]

While the first episode of the McNuttCast took on the series as a whole in a shortened time period, there’s always been room for a more detailed and lengthy discussion of the epic finale itself. As a result, I’m as always honoured to be joining the /Filmcast for another discussion about Battlestar Galactica – I always love being on the show, but discussing BSG is often my favourite part, primarily because it gives me a chance to pick on Dave and Adam for not having yet caught up with Devindra Hardawar and the rest of the self-respecting viewing public in watching the show. I’m always glad to be able to help facilitate these discussions with Devindra, and now with Dave and Adam banished until they finish the series we’ve got plenty of time to dig into what was an epic two-hour finale without worrying about spoiling them.

We’re going to be joined by Meredith Woerner from io9.com, and I will warn you now: I’m not sure on Meredith’s thoughts, but Devindra and I loved the finale to death, so this could well be a lovefest. The joy of live streams, though, is that some of the contrarians can come out in the chat room, so perhaps we’ll be able to get some devil’s advocates after all.

I’ll post the link to the entire show once it’s posted, or you can subcribe to the /Filmcast on iTunes, but tonight at 9 EDT you’ll be able to hear the discussion live at /Film’s Live page. And, just in case you didn’t figure this out, there will be MASSIVE spoilers for the finale and everything that came before it.

Live BSG Finale Discussion Tonight @ 9pm!

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BSG: The Long Goodbye – Introduction

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Introduction

March 23rd, 2009

I have written a lot about Battlestar Galactica over the past two years of this blog. One of my very first posts, in fact, was about how Battlestar Galactica was more or less taking over my life, leading me to see parallels in literature, in every day life, and expecting in some way that it would slowly meld with my own life. And, on Friday night, it pretty well did: after watching the finale, I shut myself into my room and turned out an epic, sprawling and rather indulgent review that was part catharsis and part exorcism. It was not, however, a goodbye.

I don’t think I’ll ever say “goodbye” to the show, what with the DVDs I could watch, or the academic papers I might eventually write, but at the same time I felt after writing that review that I need some more time, and some more posts, to really come to terms with this ending. And so, throughout the week I’ll be posting a myriad of thoughts on the show, whether it’s some links to the views of other critics, or an extended analysis of Season Four’s narrative structure, or potentially even something I’ve been resisting for a while but may have found its ideal time frame in the wake of the finale. I’m also considering the rather insane task of confronting the issue of the finale’s religious elements, but perhaps I’ll come to my senses before wading into that particular conflict.

Regardless, it’s one last chance to get some of this off my chest before I know I’ll have to put it on the backburner in favour of academic pursuits.

Monday:

The Critical Response to “Daybreak” – A collection of various critical analyses of the finale, with some of my own insight sprinkled in for good measure.

Tuesday:

Finale Discussion – A two-hour discussion of the series finale done with Devindra Hardawar and Meredith Woerner, recorded as a special edition of the /Filmcast, is now available for download at the above link.

Wednesday:

The Trouble with Twenty – As ironic as it sounds, an analysis of how the problems of feeling like the season needed more time could have been solved by shortening its season to tighten the show’s narrative.

Thursday:

The Real Higher Power – With all this talk of God and religion, let’s realize who really holds the most control in the BSG universe: Bear McCreary, composer of the Gods, controls our emotions and reactions more than any writer, producer, or higher power ever could.

Friday:

Romancing the Cylon, Revisited – My obsession with BSG is perhaps best represented by my undergraduate thesis about the series’ connection with Medieval Romance, so what better way to finish this cathartic week than spreading it to the world?

[Come back daily for another dose of The Long Goodbye.]

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