Hardly read any comics at all this week, but watched a lot of TV. And my God, but there was a lot of comics-inspired nerdy TV out there to check out. I’m too lazy to write lengthy reviews of each show we watched, and we didn’t see everything anyway, but I’ll give you short reactions to those we did see. How’s that?
I know the column’s titled “Premiere Week” but really it’s the past month and change. I just can’t help myself, though– Julie and I still think of it as “Premiere Week” even though it lasts more like five weeks and TV has changed so much that the “new season” for networks isn’t even much of a thing any more. I still kind of miss the old September hoorah when all the new stuff landed in one glorious week and there were huge book-sized editions of TV Guide struggling to keep up with it all.
Anyway. Here’s the Hatcher household’s rundown on the new “Damn, How Long Have Comics Been Doing Cool Stuff Like This? We Should Make This A Series!” TV season.
Agents of SHIELD: We like it better than last year. But it still seems like it’s more TV than comics, a sort of NCIS: Superpeople. It trades on being a Marvel concept but everything in its DNA is coming from television: the kind of case-of-the-week stories they’re telling, the way the quirky-misfits-form-a-family cast of characters is designed, the subplot teases, all of it.
The excuse they gave last year for the lukewarm execution was “We didn’t want to spoil what Winter Soldier was going to reveal so we had to bide our time.” To me that excuse sounds about as valid as “The dog ate my homework.” Unpack it and what they’re really saying is, We didn’t do our best because we are only an afterthought to the movies which are actually GOOD and we don’t dare try to reach for that level of entertainment.
I think what was really going on was that someone– Disney, ABC, somebody– was afraid of the material and so they ran away from it and did a standard procedural show instead. This year, with flashbacks to the forties HYDRA and the team fighting the Absorbing Man, it feels a lot more like they’re moving closer to the actual concepts the show is supposed to be built on, they are actually living in the Marvel Universe. So we’re still watching, but it’s on the bubble for us, especially if they can’t let go of a couple of their annoying tics. Honest to God, there are other things to do with Agent Coulson than to hint that he’s secretly damaged. That was the whole “Tahiti” thing last year and the payoff was really not worth the wait. Also, if they’re going to keep insisting that Skye is so special then she ought to do something special once in a while.
On the other hand, the tease for “Agent Carter” in the SHIELD premiere was very promising. It looks like it’s going to be a fun show, especially if the Howling Commandos are in it.
I am hoping that they don’t go all NCIS again in that one. Exploring the late 1940s Marvel universe is kind of an interesting idea, and the founding of SHIELD is a fun hook to hang it on.
Gotham: Pretty much everything I predicted months ago. The idea is not sustainable for a television show. You can’t really build a compelling weekly TV series where everything in it is about the hero’s eventual failure. James Gordon can’t save Gotham City or even un-corrupt the police department, because we all know he needs Batman for that, and the show is helpfully reminding us every week that Bruce Wayne is still only a child, so Batman’s not an option.
In fact, so far every episode seems built on the idea that “Batman is coming,” but since we all know he’s NEVER SHOWING UP, that’s the whole premise, why are they banging that drum so hard? My friend Tom had a great comment– “Everything about this show seems designed to call your attention to the Batman-shaped hole in it.”
It’s a shame, because the cast is terrific and they are really working hard. But the flaw’s in the concept. I keep seeing articles in the comics press about “How To Fix GOTHAM” but you really can’t do it without skipping ahead a decade or so and giving us Batman. Since we know that’s not happening, why bother? Three episodes in and the thing already looks like it’s flailing.
I don’t like writing bad reviews but I confess to enjoying reading them. Here’s a takedown of GOTHAM that was more fun than any episode of the actual show so far.
Constantine: Pilot was… okay.
I’ve read a lot of sites bitching about how it’s not the ‘real’ Constantine and it’s ‘watered down’ because John isn’t a smoker and on and on. Look, it’s on NBC, you’re not getting the Vertigo Hellblazer. What you get is a network television show that is based on the idea. That’s what adaptations do– they adapt. The question with a TV version of a story or character from somewhere else is always this: were they able to keep enough of what fans liked about the original that no one feels cheated?
Me, I think yeah they did– at least, it was recognizably John Constantine in a way the Keanu Reeves movie was not. I liked it okay. My only two caveats were, first, that CGI is not scary. The show worked a lot better when it was subtle and shadowy, the computer-generated pyrotechnics were way over the top. And second, I understand that you have to give John a cast of supporting characters to talk to, but for God’s sake vary them. He shouldn’t have a partner. The episode was a little ambiguous about whether Liv and Chaz are going to be regulars– it sure looked that way, and the bit with Liv and the map was far too gimmicky, it stank of Warehouse 13. Please let’s not do things that way. Recurring, sure, but regular, no.
I did like seeing Dr. Fate’s helmet and all of the other DC Easter Eggs and namechecks going on, and it was nice to see that the Newcastle story’s a big part of the thing. Overall, we enjoyed it well enough and there was enough Hellblazer in it that I was not irritated at being promised something that never showed up. Verdict– not a home run, but certainly promising.
The Flash: We adored it. I really can’t think of much to add to that. We liked it as much as Mark Waid did, which was a lot.
There were fussbudgety things you could pick on (I think this is one time the film industry could have let go of its obsession with putting all superheroes in leather, Grant Gustin’s Flash outfit looks like the most uncomfortable track suit ever devised) but damn, they got so much of it right, and it’s fun. I mean it genuinely has a sense of fun. For me it felt like a delightful mashup of the Mark Waid comics and the bionic 70s TV heroes, all done with the sense of hell-for-leather adventure that we have seen in the recent Marvel movies. The cast is, naturally, overloaded with young pretty people — it is the CW, after all — but I love Grant Gustin’s non-tormented, good-guy portrayal of Barry Allen. And if they actually follow through on Grodd (!!) and all the other hints of things to come, I’m going to be one happy nerd.
Let’s put it this way. It looked like the people behind this show are genuinely interested in bringing the Flash to TV– including the optimistic tone, weird science, goofy villains, and all the rest– and making it work for a television audience. That is to be applauded, especially with the DC movies being so locked into a tone of all Dark Knight, all the time.
Lightning round: We still like Arrow and were sad to see the departure of Caity Lotz as the Black Canary, but are digging the Suicide Squad and the League of Assassins.
Sleepy Hollow is still wonderfully, unrepentantly, batshit insane. It’s a hot mess. We love it. Here’s our friends Tom and Lorenzo if you want a longer explanation why it’s awesome.
Scorpion is basically The Big Bang Theory, but done as an action show. Four eccentric supergeniuses and a hot waitress, only this time they fight crime. All our friends who work in IT were screaming in fury at the pilot, but the next couple of episodes were a little better. When it’s about the nerds interacting with Katharine McPhee and her kid, and not so much about how endearingly eccentric these geniuses are (So far? Not endeared)… it shows mild promise. Okay to kill an hour if nothing else is on, I guess, but Leverage did “the socially-incompetent but technically-savvy folks fight crime” thing a lot better. Weird to see Scorpion-themed bags showing up at my comics shop…. like getting a note reading “PLEASE LOVE US, NERDS!” If they want the nerd audience so bad, though, they better step up their computer research.
Forever is competent and entertaining but so much of it is stolen from other shows — Elementary, Castle, Sleepy Hollow — that saying it’s an entertaining show feels like complimenting a shoplifter on his good taste. We’ll hang in there for a couple more weeks though. Julie likes it better than me but I thought it was all right.
Person of Interest, we were late to the party but we’re totally on board now after binge-watching the first three seasons over the summer. People kept telling me it’s a Batman show without the costumes, and you can make that case. But really what I enjoy about it is that it’s a mashup of Robert Ludlum conspiracy novels and the William Gibson cyberpunk era– seriously, Person of Interest is the love child of The Aquitaine Progression and Neuromancer. And the addition of Sarah Shahi and Amy Acker as regulars has raised the whole thing a couple of notches.
We still don’t watch Doctor Who or The Walking Dead. We are heretics, I know. Sorry. Not our thing. (People have been after me about Doctor Who since the Tom Baker years and I’ve tried it multiple times. It just leaves me cold. Despite all the critical raves for the new version I still don’t get it, so please, don’t even try, okay? Just call it my blind spot and move on.)
Still to come are iZombie, Agent Carter, and The Librarians, the last of which we are in for just because it’s John Rogers. We’ll see. But more hits than misses, so far, which makes us happy.
But my most-anticipated TV rollout this year is actually an amateur production– the fan-made Star Trek Phase II. It’s an adaptation of the story “Mind-Sifter,” one of my favorites from the short story collection Star Trek: The New Voyages. The stills I’ve seen look AWESOME.
Supposed to be out in December. Can’t wait.
Nothing to do with TV at all: Today and tomorrow is The Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair. If you are in town, you should go. Julie and I will be wandering around tomorrow afternoon sighing and taking pictures of all the great stuff we could never afford.
I’ll have those pictures, and anecdotes to go with them… next week. See you then.
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