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A Week Playing Catch-Up

by  in Comic News Comment
A Week Playing Catch-Up

In our household, the long nightmare is over. We finally have real internet back.

It’s a long story and I won’t bore you with it, but the short version is that for the last six months we’ve been without reliable home internet. Our regular provider decided they weren’t going to serve our neighborhood any more and we were flailing around trying to find some alternative that would work. After several false starts we finally found one. And here we are.

The reason this is a big deal for us is that for the last couple of years Julie and I have been ‘cord cutters,’ which is to say we get most of our television through streaming internet. One of Julie’s classmates in her CDP class was rhapsodizing about how you don’t need cable any more if you have a good net connection, and it didn’t take much to sell us on the notion. So we dropped thirty dollars on an HDMI cable and strung a line from the office computer to the TV in the living room, and told Comcast to go pound sand (which I enjoyed far more than I should have, as you may recall from this column.)

Trust me, if you are a nerd household like we are, it’s like finding the promised land. There are all sorts of cool old movies and things just on YouTube, not to mention amazing fan films like Nightwing and Star Trek Continues, and when you add in things like Hulu and the networks’ own web sites, well, there’s just no reason to ever pay a cable company again.

Unfortunately, if you LOSE your internet, it means that you lose most of your TV, too. So we have been wallowing in our restored streaming capability and getting caught up on all sorts of things that we’ve been missing. For Julie, this means countless cooking and CREATE network shows, featuring perky people in wood-paneled rooms making things. For me, it’s binging on the various geek TV shows and movies I’ve missed out on for the last few months.

But now I’m caught up, and I’m going to by God write all my reviews now and I don’t care if they’re late. Here’s the rundown.

*

The Shannara Chronicles. I was really curious about this one, because I was a Shannara reader from the beginning; I was there in the seventies when the fantasy section of the bookstore was about evenly split between barbarians and elves, and Terry Brooks was far and away the best of the guys working the Tolkien side of the street.

Also, in recent years I’d added the early Shannara books to the bookscouting list, and had been amusing myself trying to find nice hardcover firsts of them until I’d acquired the first eight in the series, up to First King of Shannara. That proved to be quite enough– after all, there’s really only so many different ways to tell the story of the Plucky Band of Misfits Setting Out on a Journey to Find The Thing to Defeat the Great Evil, Encountering Many Obstacles, only to finally Find the Thing and Discover That The Thing Requires them to Overcome Their Own Inner Demons in order to Defeat the Evil. Especially since Brooks seemed to be falling into the Tolkien trap of becoming so enamored of the world he was building and working out its fictional history that he forgot to tell the actual story. (This is also why I’m the blasphemer that hates the idea of Extended Edition versions of the Lord of the Rings movies, because the last thing that story needs is to be extended. The great thing Peter Jackson accomplished with filming the original trilogy was to strip it down. By the same token, his subsequent relentless padding of the narrative is why I can’t get through the three Hobbit films. But I digress.)

Anyway, I have some affection for the Shannara books and I was curious to see how they’d end up on film. I was mildly surprised to see that they started with the second book, The Elfstones of Shannara, and not the first one. But Brooks explained this very candidly in an interview– there really aren’t any good female roles in the first novel, and he rectified that in the second one, which is why the producers felt it would be a better starting point.

All of which is the baggage I was bringing to the thing when I finally settled in to watch it. Admittedly, that’s an awful long way to get to the part where I tell you if it’s any good. And was it?

It was…. okay. Slow starter. Well cast for the most part– I’d never in a million years have thought of Manu Bennett for the druid Allanon, but he really works it. And I like that they didn’t just make him a darker Gandalf. Beyond that, I have to admit the relationships between the various young pretty people kind of run together a bit, especially at first, and there are considerable liberties taken with the text. But it’s gorgeous to look at, and though it was filmed in New Zealand it amuses me that there are so many shoutouts to the Pacific Northwest…. Brooks is from here, after all. Call this one the high side of okay. Hardcore Shannara fans will find several things to bother them but on the whole I enjoyed it.

*

Jessica Jones. Short version– yeah, it’s every bit as good as everyone says.

In fact, I thought it was considerably better than the comic, and I liked the original Alias quite a bit. Krysten Ritter was absolutely not on my list of thespians who I thought should be playing Jessica– and I think all of us who knew her from Veronica Mars can be forgiven for assuming this role was out of her range– but Jesus, she’s magnificent. She owns it. And David Tennant as Killgrave is equally awesome.

I wish I’d been able to see the whole thing before we taped the new Radio Vs. The Martians about vigilante justice, because this is a brilliant examination of how that plays out in a world with superpeople that can’t be constrained by the justice system. We did talk about that a little regarding Daredevil and the Punisher, but this was a far more intense look at the idea.

What I admired most about it is how the show took basically one arc from Alias— the Killgrave story– and made it not only the spine of the show, but also used it to fold in other stories of all the different ways people use each other. It’s not just Jessica herself and her relationships with Luke Cage and Trish Walker and everyone else around her. It’s also Jeri Hogarth and her divorce, Trish Walker and Nuke, and even Jessica’s neighbor Malcolm and his support group of other Killgrave victims. There’s always the underlying theme of what’s acceptable in a relationship, and what’s over the line. (I am assured by several female friends of mine, an alarming number of whom have been victims of stalking, that the show is dead-on in how it portrays the creepiness of living with that and the paranoia it engenders.) Speaking strictly as a writer, I was in awe over the layered structure of the thing. If it wasn’t such a hard R I’d use it in class.

Also, I’m calling it– best use of the line “Sweet Christmas!” ever.

*

Daredevil. And speaking of Daredevil and the Punisher, let’s talk about DD’s sophomore outing on Netflix.

I adored the first season, and frankly it was almost impossible to top it. I’m sorry to say, this season is suffering a little by comparison, because the villains are simply not as compelling as the first season’s Kingpin, or even Jessica Jones’ Killgrave. But failure to clear an impossibly high bar isn’t the same thing as out-and-out failure. It’s still compelling television. I’m just not as interested in Elektra and the Punisher as I was in the first season’s duel with the Kingpin. Moreover, the through-line of the television version of Daredevil seems to be what a huge mess Matt Murdock is making of his life, which is a little depressing.

That said, I have been a DD fan since way back in 1970, when I bought Daredevil Annual #3 off the stands at the age of nine, and given my forty-plus years of consuming Daredevil stories I am going to say with authority that the cast of this show is possibly the most perfect realization of Murdock, Nelson, and Page ever.

It’s difficult to quantify, but somehow this show strikes me as a sort of synthesis of the best versions of these characters– an alchemical combination that uses elements of Stan Lee, Frank Miller, and Mark Waid, and adds the considerable talents of the actors themselves. I just love the way the three of them play off each other, it really feels like the comics. Elden Henson as Foggy, in particular, is just brilliant– he steals every scene he’s in and is utterly believable as both Matt’s best friend and as a guy who’s getting really fed up with how dumb his best friend is being. (Speaking as a guy who’s been on both ends of that exchange, it plays as very believable– almost uncomfortably so.) The bottom line for me is that the Netflix corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — seriously, is that what we’re calling it now?– is a remarkable body of sustained quality work, and a wonderful demonstration of how to do gripping superhero stories without destroying entire city blocks. Just, for God’s sake, can we get someone to turn the lights on once in a while?

Dark is fine, but sometimes it’s so murky you literally can’t tell what’s going on. Apart from that, though, despite it suffering from a bit of a sophomore slump we still dug Daredevil season 2 a lot.

*

Legends of Tomorrow. Damn it, I want to love this show, and there is so much good stuff here. But it is often an exercise in frustration.

On the one hand, I really love the idea– Rip Hunter recruits, esssentially, the JSA and a couple of Flash rogues to fight Vandal Savage at various key events throughout history. I love that they are willing to GO THERE and use all the obscure bits of DC lore, including Jonah Hex, Per Degaton, and Connor Hawke.

This was a show I would have killed for when I was a kid. Per Degaton in prime time? I mean, come on!

But on the other hand, it’s an incoherent mess. The motivations rarely make sense, and no one seems terribly invested in working out a logical, internally-consistent theory of time travel. I’m the first guy to say don’t sweat the small stuff when it comes to this sort of thing, but this is actually really goddam HUGE stuff, resulting in needle-scratch wait, what? moments that yank you right out of the story. At least once per episode the team encounters a problem that would be instantly solved if someone remembered, oh yeah, we have a time machine.

All that being said, I kind of love Caity Lotz’s unapologetic badassery, and the way Captain Cold and Heat Wave are both crushing on her a little bit because of it.

Likewise, Victor Garber and Brandon Routh out-nerding each other is always entertaining.

So far that has been barely enough to keep us hanging in there. It’s not quite as maddening as Gotham. But it’s definitely a hot mess that needs some serious work. I can’t in good conscience recommend it.

*

The Librarians. Of all the nerdy TV shows we were watching regularly, this is the one we missed the most, and were the most overjoyed to catch up on.

I am a huge unabashed fan of pretty much everything John Rogers has ever done, ranging from the Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle to Leverage to, yes, The Core. He understands pulp fiction and series fiction and most of all, how to set things up and pay them off, and I have yet to be disappointed by anything he’s ever had a hand in. I’m a little surprised there hasn’t been more fan buzz over The Librarians, because all the things that are wrong with Legends of Tomorrow? They are absolutely right with this show. The show’s mythology is engaging and internally consistent. The stories are about playing for real stakes but at the same time are often fall-down funny. And for a book person, season 2’s duel with “the Fictionals” is a joy. I’m still giggling over the (very well-spoken) Frankenstein monster’s befuddlement at the idea fire should frighten him.

And the reveal of Moriarty, and his efforts to outthink the magical shackles that his Fictional existence has placed on him, is tremendous fun.

‘Fun’ is the word I keep coming back to. The show is just plain entertaining. The casting is wonderful. I always knew John Larroquette had exquisite comedic timing but I certainly wouldn’t have expected the same of Rebecca Romjin. But she is right there with him.

All the other players are clearly having the time of their lives, as well. It’s pretty much everything I want in a TV show. This is the swashbuckling adventure that Legends of Tomorrow wishes it could be, and if you haven’t checked it out yet, you should.

*

And that’s it, for the moment. Now that this column’s wrapped up, I think I’m diving back in. I daresay there’s more good stuff out there I haven’t gotten to yet.

See you next week.

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