Springtime for Genre TV 2013

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted, but I blame that on the fact that I’ve been watching a lot of new shows on TV. While mid-season (i.e. a couple of months ago) was kind of a letdown in terms of getting cool new shows (though I have been watching The Following. More on that later.) it seems like the networks (mostly U.S. cable nets) have decided to debut a lot of genre shows in March and April (which makes it the Spring TV season in my book). For some reason, the spring is now heavy with sci-fi, fantasy, horror shows. I guess they figure that the mainstream is enjoying reality shows like The Voice, etc. and we geeks need somewhere to turn our dials. Whatever the reason, I love this glimmer of programming hope, and I think it’s only going to get better.

The New Horror

The ongoing legacy of American Horror Story appears to be that horror-tinged suspense is a genre in its own right. In January, we got The Following, where Kevin Bacon plays the beleaguered FBI investigator chasing after a charismatic serial killer (played by James Purefoy) with his own cult of psycho-killer followers. At first I thought the show was too gritty and dark to interest me, but after a co-worker recommended it to me, I’m quite enjoying it. It doesn’t focus so much on gory violence as it does on action and plot twists. It’s a lot like 24 if Jack Bauer were chasing killers rather than terrorists. It also has a touch of Lost (though not in the good way, just by virtue of its many flashbacks).

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The spring has brought us two new series that are both prequels to two of cinema’s most infamous psycho-killers: Norman Bates and Hannibal Lecter. Bates Motel visits Norman (played by Freddie Highmore) and his mom (played by Vera Farmiga) as they rebuild their lives by opening up a motel (dun, dun, dunhhhh). The show is oddly given a present-day setting (with iPods) but there’s still a stuffy, black-and-white era feel to a lot of the sets and clothing. Unfortunately I haven’t given this show much of a chance. I watched the pilot episode from iTunes and decided that I didn’t really want to watch week after week as the mother-son relationship got more and more twisted, and as they made Norman more and more comfortable with killing (someone dies in the first episode — though he’s a giant a–hole who clearly deserves it.) I don’t see how this show can be sustained when we know where it’s heading (and it’s not a very comfortable place).

hannibal

Hannibal suffers from a bit of the same problem, where we know perhaps even more about the fate of the titular psychopath. The show gets a stylish boost from creator Bryan Fuller (who I would have much preferred if he had been able to continue creating episodes of Pushing Daisies). What surprises me a bit (but perhaps this is the solution that Fuller has found to that prequel problem) is that Hannibal Lecter is not the main character in the show (at least not in the first 1.5 episodes that I’ve watched). Instead, the focus appears to be on Special Agent Will Graham (played by Hugh Dancy) as he tries to solve various serial killer cases. There are a number of cool effects on the show including one where Graham walks onto a crime scene and mentally edits away the elements (bodies, blood, etc.) to restore the scene to when the crime was occurring. He gets inside the mind of the killer and knows exactly what he/she is thinking. It’s a bit deus ex machina and it’s never about giving the audience clues to solve the cases ourselves. Where Lecter comes in so far is to act as another consulting psychologist (and Graham’s quasi-therapist) on many of the cases and procedures. I don’t know how the story is going to evolve to bring him further into the spotlight, but I expect that has to happen. So far I have found the episodes pretty confusing, actually. Between Graham’s own psychological issues, Lecter’s potential mind games (Is he a good guy at this point, or a bad guy? And why do they keep showing him chopping meat? Is it human flesh?), and the other serial killers-of-the-week, I feel a little lost.

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Speaking of which, I don’t know if Lost Girl can be considered horror either, but I’ve been watching and enjoying this (very disjointed) season since midseason. I like that they added new character Tamsin (though I don’t love the character herself), but the story line has been all over the place. First it was all about whether Bo was turning dark and killing humans; then it was about The Dawning (a previously unmentioned rite of passage for all fae that seemed surprisingly mysterious considering its ubiquity) and now apparently it’s about some human, anti-fae conspiracy that may be linked to the Morrigan’s duplicitous machinations to seize power from the Light? Add to that the romantic complication of whether Bo and Lauren are over, and Dyson regaining his love for Bo only to do nothing about it. I hope that as they lead up to the end of the season (I don’t really know how many episodes to expect, so I don’t know where we are in the season) that things come together into a compelling story arc.

Revisiting History

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Another new quasi-prequel is the brand new series Da Vinci’s Demons, which not only has an odd title given that there are definitely no actual demons on the show and the character of a young Leonardo Da Vinci (played by British actor, Tom Riley) seems less-than-tormented (in fact he’s kind of a charming rogue). This show has no thoughts of doing a contemporary reboot — they leave Da Vinci back in Medieval Florence — but it’s a bit messy what kind of show this is. At first I thought it was going to be something of a 15th century MacGyver where Da Vinci would use his ahead-of-his-time technological genius to get out of action-adventure predicaments. However, there’s also a lot of the politics of the day (though I’m willing to bet they play fast and loose with historical accuracy) as well as some The Da Vinci Code style revisionist mysticism and secret-society stuff. On top of all that, this being a Starz network show in the US, there some requisite sex: plenty of bare breasts and raciness, along with every high-ranking old man in Italy being portrayed as lovers of young male flesh (I take it that’s the short-hand way of expressing decadence on American TV these days). After one episode I am not very clear on where this show is heading and what the main story is supposed to be about, but I guess it has enough for me to keep watching. I especially enjoyed one scene where Da Vinci’s assistant released a cage full of birds for him to observe their flight mechanics. We viewers get to watch not only the slow motion flight, but the birds visually transformed into anatomical and mechanical sketches in Da Vinci’s notebooks in a spectacular bit of TV effects.

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Another show that I unfortunately gave up on was The Vikings, which is a fictional series on the History Channel which tells the story of an adventurous viking (played by Travis Fimmel) and his brother as they defy their local king and set sail for the west. At first I was pretty intrigued by this show, but as I watched it, I found the premise to be a bit thin and I don’t have much love for the more brutish people of history. Viking culture was not too fascinating for me – I don’t enjoy any male-dominated, chest-thumping, semi-tribal cultures. I had hoped that there would be a depiction of the Vikings who were actually great explorers, travelling as far as North America long before the age of sea-faring. Perhaps the series has gone there in more recent episodes, but unfortunately I didn’t stick around to watch.

Sci-fi and Fantasy are back

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Science fiction (which has all but disappeared from the TV schedule) is gradually coming back with new series like the upcoming Defiance, and the new show Orphan Black. Alas, the latter is only mildly science fiction so far. After two episodes, it’s got a lot more in common with the dead-but-not-missed CW series Ringer (starring the still-missed Sarah Michelle Gellar) than anything hard-core like Battlestar Galactica. Tatiana Masalny stars as Sarah, an urban chick (not quite sure what she does for a living) who witnesses the subway suicide of a woman who looks exactly like herself. As she uses the dead woman’s identity to try to escape from problems in her own life, she learns that things are a whole lot more complicated than she originally imagined. She meets other lookalikes and begins piecing together clues about a conspiracy who appears to want all of them dead. I am looking forward to the show moving away from some of the issues in Sarah’s life so we can get to the more outlandish aspects of the story and answer questions about whether these women are all clones (I assume it’s not as easy as just looking to see if they have belly buttons, eh?); who created them; and who wants them dead.

doctor and clara

Doctor Who is also back (to bolster the meager sci-fi supply) and brings with him a new companion with her own little mystery. Clara (Oswin) Oswald has already appeared in two other episodes prior to her debut in the second half of this season, but The Doctor is still very puzzled about who she is. Nevertheless, she (played by Jenna-Louise Coleman) is possibly the cutest-looking companion so far (though my personal fave in the looks department is still Martha Jones, hands down). Plus, she and the Doctor already have a comfortable repartee (possibly because he’s known her already as a Dalek persona, and as a Victorian governess). I love that there’s a mystery for The Doctor to solve right in front of him even as he shows her around the universe. It’s a fun little twist on the formula (similar to how it was fun to have a married couple as his companions before).

game of thrones s3

While I’m overjoyed to have Game of Thrones back with new episodes, I am nervously anticipating all the bloodshed that I know is coming (damn me for reading ahead!). They ended last season with a look at the undead army of white-walkers coming towards Westeros, but that is frankly my least favourite of the various plot threads. I am not a zombie fan even when they are set in this fantastical context. Much more exciting for me is the story of Daenerys and her dragons. I’m looking forward to the scenes of her building her army and using her dragons to secure power. Having read A Storm of Swords, I know much of what is going to happen, but I wish I didn’t. I’m not feeling as much excitement about what’s to come as I should. Nevertheless, I still love the show and savour each episode.

As odd as it is to have so many new shows debut so late in the season, I’m happy for the kinds of shows that I’m seeing (despite the fact that only a few have been added to my regular viewing list). The last thing we want is for TV to become stagnant (which it really looked like it was doing for the last while).

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