Tag Archives: Doctor Who

More Shows to Watch (May 2017)

The network television season has all but ended, and next week we’re going to be talking about the new shows coming in fall 2017, but before we reach that point, there are still a few interesting shows on right now (including a couple from Netflix, so they’re always “on”) that could tide you over until we all go outside for summer play (or movies). And since I’m the one writing this post, there is a definite genre slant to this quick list.

American Gods

This is a high-quality, nicely-visual TV adaptation of hit fantasy author Neil Gaiman’s 2001 novel of the same name. While I was not a big fan of the (audio)book, I am really enjoying this show–definitely more than I thought I would. Essentially, the main character Shadow Moon is an ex-con whose life takes a few unfortunate turns, but then he gets mixed up with the enigmatic Mr. Wednesday, who is organizing a little war of old gods vs new. Gaiman’s premise is that the gods go where their worshippers go, and as a nation of immigrants, America has more than its fair share of old gods. However, as culture and society has changed, so too what we worship; new gods such as Media and Technology have manifested and are busily trying to supplant the influence of the old gods. Even in the book, I loved this concept and now seeing all these characters on screen is pure delight — especially for the mythology nerd in me. The visuals range from bizarre dreamscapes (think buffalos with flaming eyes) to stretches of American inter-city landscape, and all carry that stylish, cinematic flair which is a hallmark of most Bryan Fuller productions. Shadow is played by newcomer Ricky Whittle (who also played the strong, stoic type in The 100) opposite Ian McShane (total smooth-talking scene-stealer!) as Mr. Wednesday. Filling in an incredible cast is Gillian Anderson (one of my faves) as Media, Orlando Jones as Mr. Nancy (whose debut speech was an incredible scene), Kristin Chenowith as Easter, Peter Stormare as Czernobog, and Cloris Leachman as Zorya Vechernyaya. If you’re even mildly intrigued by this summary, you need to check out this unique show.

Doctor Who

Returning for his last season is Peter Capaldi as the 12th incarnation of our favourite Time Lord. This time he’s back with a new companion, having left Clara Oswald behind after her rather convoluted “death”. Now he is posing as a Scottish professor and his new companion is one of his students, Bill Potts, who brings a delightful energy and brash exuberance to the relationship. Everything is new to her (yes, Bill is a woman) and she loves to speak her mind (as most companions do) but she also says a lot of the things that we’re all thinking. There have been a few episodes this season, but they have followed a somewhat typical formula so far. There has been a future city where the robots have been overzealous about their creators’ intentions (much to the detriment of all people who visit); there’s been another visit to Victorian England where another creature is secretly killing people; and there’s been a haunted house where Bill and her new housemates are being disappeared by something creepy. Regardless of the surprisingly complex mythology (which I often can’t follow), this show is always a fun sci-fi adventure — one of the few still around. I’m looking forward to more interactions between Bill and the Doctor (especially since she’s a lesbian and so we should be refreshingly free of the romantic entanglements that the companions all get with the Doctor) and also the anticipation of his next regeneration (which is likely to be the season finale).

The Get Down

This sensational trip back to late 70s Brooklyn, in the waning days of Disco and the infancy of Hip-hop made a splash last summer for its first half-season. Now Netflix has the second half of the tales of Ezekiel Figuero, Mylene Cruz, Shaolin Fantastic, and the Get Down Brothers as they try to live their dreams of musical stardom. The young lovers Zeke and Mylene were both on the rise when we left off. Zeke had the patronage of movers and shakers in local politics, and potentially had a shot at an Ivy League future. Mylene was becoming a disco diva, but her self-serving father was eager to use her fame to promote his church and its own rise. This series has a very refreshing style with a lot of great music and powder-keg energy. So many characters are bursting with desperation to take control of their lives and change their futures, along with the darker undercurrent of the times, filled with drugs and violence, which was chasing them to pull them under. This show takes melodrama in a new direction, and while I really enjoyed the first half-season, the second was not nearly as fresh. The pressure for these characters to compromise their beliefs in pursuit of their dreams was kind of a cliche. The fact that everyone around them was using our heroes for their own ends was another cliche. For some reason (hopefully artistic rather than merely budgetary), the second half-season kept using a lot more animation (meant to represent the comic book artistry of Jaden Smith’s graffiti-artist character Dizzee) and it was both annoying and cheesy. While there was a kind of climax to the storyline, culminating in a war between musical forces old vs new, the second half-season was a let-down from the potential of the first.

13 Reasons Why

This controversial teen drama actually debuted on Netflix at the end of March, so there’s been a bit more time for people to have seen it by now (I know I binge-watched it over most of a weekend). It stars familiar young actor Dylan Minette as Clay Jensen — a high school kid who is trying to cope with the suicide of Hannah Baker, a girl who he was friends with (and possibly loved), when he is given a mysterious set of cassette tapes. On these tapes, Hannah has recounted the backstory of a number of individuals in the school, who she claims as having contributed to her suicide. Based on a popular book, 13 Reasons Why actually adds a lot of dramatic scaffolding around the narration of the tapes along with a lot of depth to Clay’s story. If you are interested in this kind of show, I’m betting that you’ll come for the mystery (Who contributed to Hannah’s suicide and how?) and stay for the characters. Part of the controversy around this show (and book) is about how it really gets into the mind and experience of teenagers. Detractors warn that teenagers are already prone (as depicted in this show) to expand every event so that its significance is too major to avoid or control, and makes it seem that the only way out is suicide. Minette does a great job as Clay. He’s a decent guy, with his awkward moments as well as his confident ones. He seems entirely relatable, even when he becomes frustrated and angry to the extreme. As a middle-age guy with no teenage kids, I can easily just enjoy the drama and well-told story of this show without being overly concerned with its social impact. If I were to take a small step in that direction, I’d say that it encourages a dialogue between teens and their parents by being extremely frank and dramatic. I don’t think any parent should let their kids watch this show without having a good discussion with them about their response and reactions. Nevertheless, I think this kind of provocative television is really good and just the kind of thing that the medium is designed for. Anyway, enough soap-boxing. It’s definitely worth checking out this show, and I challenge you not to be hooked after the first couple of episodes.

Also returning to Netflix are Aziz Ansari’s acclaimed sitcom Master of None (which I loved in parts, but did not watch all the way through to season-end) for a second season; and season 3 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt starring Ellie Kemper. I loved season 1, cooled down to lukewarm about season 2, and only slightly-anticipate season 3. We’ll see.

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Downton and the Doctor: Christmas Specials 2015

As I mentioned previously, I love how my favourite UK shows like to do special Christmas episodes. They’re a nice break in the long wait between seasons. I had even hoped that maybe it would be a “trifecta” this year with Sherlock also having a holiday special, but alas “The Abominable Bride” is not airing until next week. Another sad thing is that this is the last Downton Abbey special, since it’s the last episode of the series (and by “series”, I don’t mean British lingo for “season”, but it’s the last episode of the show … ever!)

DowntonXmas1_3534230b

Downton Abbey

As usual, a lot of things are still left unanswered leading up to the special episode. Since it’s the grand finale, there’s some need to tie up loose ends. First, we get to find out whether Edith gets to be happy — and whether her happiness is as a single mom or if Bertie’s going to come back into the picture. Then there’s Mary and Henry (who just got married in the main season finale) and how they’re doing. There’s the conflict between Violet and Cora over changes to the hospital, and then there’s the whole mess between Isobel, Lord Merton and his family. Downstairs, there’s Anna and her difficult pregnancy, Barrow and his job search, Molesley becoming a teacher, and Carson and Mrs. Hughes’s wedded bliss. This last season has seen a lot of change on a show that already moves through plot-lines at a surprisingly rapid pace. I won’t spoil anyone on how things end, but just say that most things wrap up in pleasing ways that will be satisfying to faithful fans (no purgatory or cuts to black here!). While many characters talk about the topic of change and how times have changed (especially since the beginning of the show), it’s nice to see all our favourite characters — even the ghost of Sibyl makes an appearance! (Just kidding … It’s not that kind of show.) As you might expect, there are a number of “goodbye” scenes which act as proxy for our own farewells from the cast and the show saying goodbye to its audience. Surprisingly, my favourite element of the finale has little to do with the main story but it’s how far Spratt has come from being a character that annoyed me so much, to one I actually enjoy — they could probably do a Spratt-Denker spin-off, where we get to see them try to prank or set-up each other each week — it’s a little bit like the Coyote and the Road Runner. As much as I will miss the show, this was a nice send-off, so it feels like closure. I can imagine that the characters at Downton Abbey will continue to live their lives while we in the real world move on and live ours.

Doctor-Who-Christmas-Promo-2-006-750x400

Doctor Who – The Husbands of River Song

Now, obviously any time River Song makes an appearance on Doctor Who we are in for a treat. Usually the Christmas specials are a crazy romp that’s even more tongue-in-cheek than your regular episode. With the recent death of Clara Oswald, we might have expected to meet (even if it’s just a hint like how we first met Clara) of the new companion, but I didn’t catch whiff of that in this episode. Essentially, the Doctor ends up in a Christmas town — another one of those colonies in the far future which act like “olde tyme” Earth. There’s a mild case of mistaken identity as he responds to a man looking for a “surgeon” and is taken to a flying saucer where he is supposed to save the king in red — a cyborg called the Hydroflax. As the title of the episode gives away, the queen is none other than River herself and there is some humour in the fact that she does not recognize the Doctor (and doesn’t realize that he’s her husband) in his new body. Eventually, what follows is the typical Doctor Who chase scene where they try to get away from the monster, but it’s all for fun and profit as River tries to sell a priceless diamond that is in her husband’s head — I know! As much as I love the attitude inherent in the banter between River and the Doctor (and Alex Kingston is nothing but amazing in the role), I can’t say I really follow what they’re saying all the time. Also, as much as I’ve enjoyed some of Peter Capaldi’s version of the Doctor, I didn’t love the interaction between him and River Song as much as I liked Matt Smith’s. Anyway, the episode is another piece in the River Song mythology that we fans just eat up. River Song is (of course I’m not the first to suggest this) another great spin-off idea for a new series. After a season that was up and down for me, this special was a fun snack but hardly a Christmas feast.

Fall TV 2015 – Week 1 Returning Shows

I love it when the networks premiere their seasons all at once. Previously they have tried spreading out the start of the season over months, but this year I can barely keep up with all the new and returning shows this week! Early reviews have not given Fall 2015 a good grade, but I think there are a few bright spots. Nevertheless, let me start with my old faves before I get to the newbies.

bbt wedding
The Big Bang Theory

Last season ended with some big events in BBT world: Penny and Leonard were on their way to get married, Raj broke up with his girlfriend, and Amy sort of broke up with Sheldon. This season picks up immediately after, with P&L in Vegas, streaming their nuptials to their friends over the Internet (True geek!) and Sheldon dealing with Amy’s rejection. As funny as it was to see Sheldon get a bit stalkery, I don’t like that the writers decided to break ShAmy up (in a somewhat typical sitcom near-miss, too!). He’s come so far and it would have been nice to see him develop further in a serious relationship. They had really mastered that unique dynamic between the two characters and I hope they still get to take things to the next level together.

Castle

I love how this show can go over the top in its craziness (Castle’s dad was a spy!) but this season started with a whole bunch of shake-ups which didn’t all land in the right place. They promoted Beckett to captain (Yay, but I don’t know how they’re going to keep her in the action from behind a desk) but hardly paid the promotion lip service before making her disappear — Why isn’t the entire precinct on high-alert? The captain is missing! Are there really people still going about their days in the office? This reminded me a lot of when Castle was missing, with the mysterious people, the inexplicable clues, etc. so we’ve kind of done this before. It also felt like we were watching something crazy quirky like The Big Liebowski — there was a bag of hairy spiders in this episode! Seriously! I don’t love that they’re trotting out Beckett’s old nemesis, Senator Bracken, again. However, one idea that I’m all for is daughter Alexis running Castle’s detective agency. She’s been secretly closing cases and she’s got the brains for it (she’d make a great Veronica Mars) — maybe Alexis can occasionally join the police investigations as Castle’s sidekick. For that reason, I really don’t think they needed to introduce another PI, Hayley Vargas (maybe so she can become a recurring character). I’m eager for part two of this story, praying that we’ll get back to the Castle way again soon.

rock-tomei-empire-hed-2015_0Empire

If you thought that throwing Lucious into jail at the end of season one was a game-changer, think again. Middle-son Jamal may be running the Empire, but Lucious is still totally in the mix as Cookie and the rest of the clan try to seize control of the company, with a little help from Marissa Tomei as a lesbian megabucks investor (Is it just me or has Tomei dug out her wardrobe from her time on A Different World?) Proving this show can pack in the stars (and miscast them), comedian Chris Rock shows up as Frank Gathers, the bogeyman of last season who Cookie testified against, in-the-flesh. For a character who was supposed to be the scarey villain in their lives, Rock seemed incredibly wimpy and toothless (especially next to the formidable Terence Howard and Taraji P. Henson as Lucious and Cookie). I guess it’s fitting (though anti-climactic) that they easily dispatched him from their lives in the first episode of the season. I wonder what kind of bigger things that will free them up to tackle for the rest of the season.

Doctor Who

When they started the premiere by introducing us to [cue ominous music] Davros (creator of the Daleks), I rolled my eyes so hard — Daleks again?! (With the amount of screen time they get, struggling actors really need to find out what agent negotiated the contract for those tin cans!) The Doctor playing rock guitar in the Middle Ages? Come on! Plus, Missy (aka the Master) returns as the Doctor’s friend rather than nemesis this time (you know what they say about that line between love and hate). Suffice it to say I didn’t love part one of the two-part story, but having now seen part two, I changed my tune. Missy (played by Michelle Gomez) is much more fun to watch than the old, male Master (and the “Is she good or evil now?” ambiguity is enjoyable). It was also interesting to see Clara in a Dalek suit — quite a bit of tension there with her inability to communicate. The ending was a bit bogus (and gross — backed-up Dalek sewers? Really?), with the Doctor fixing things by going back in time, but I am digging the sonic shades! Season 9 is off to a good start.

Downton Abbey

I wasn’t sure how they were going to keep me interested this season. A bit like Game of Thrones, they are eliminating all the good characters! Both Branson and Rose have moved to the States (They have got to finish off the series by bringing the family to the US for vacation, no? They can grab Uncle Paul Giamatti and Granny Shirley Maclaine and all go to Disneyland! Anyway, I digress.) I wasn’t sure who was left that was still interesting. They hobbled Mr. and Mrs. Bates with yet another murder charge — thank God that’s been resolved now. Lady Mary being blackmailed again? Gosh, Ser Jorrah won’t be able to rescue her this time! Carson and Mrs. Hughes? How many shippers are excited for that wedding? Don’t get me wrong … I love both those characters separately, but together I am afraid we might end up with more storylines where Mrs. Patmore has to ask Carson what he intends for his marital sex-life. However, one unexpected surprise was that I actually loved how Spratt set up Denker for a fall! I did not like his character before, but now I’m on Team Spratt. I am excited if they bring Lady Edith out to London a bit more, but that seems like a different show entirely. I’m not sure where the Crawleys are heading for their final season, but this show can change plotlines so rapidly that I’m sure we’re in for a ride!

Fresh Off The Boat

I don’t care if it’s sort of true, enough with the “Chinese people are cheap” storylines! This season starts with a Huang family vacation to Gator World, but of course mom Jessica has to find ways to cheat the hotel and amusement park of its “hidden fees”. I hope this doesn’t set the tone for the season. I’d rather use son Eddie’s plot about having to come up with a great summer story to tell the other kids after having squandered his vacation in front of the TV. The younger sons still seem one-note, but they are adorable, so that’s forgiven. (Grandma continues to be way out there.)

modern-family-01Modern Family

Once again they speed through the summer after eldest daughter Haley misses her chance to tell Andy that she has feelings for him — I do hope those two get together. I really like Andy and his gee-whiz earnestness. One character I have never really liked, however, is Mitchell — though his personality probably resembles my own the most. Read into that what you will [frowny face]. This episode/summer he was unemployed, and discovering himself by trying to become a painter. He himself captured my own feelings about this storyline best when he smashed a canvas against a post. That being said, my favourite moment of the season premiere lasted only a few seconds. Talking about pursuing Andy to the beach where he was going to propose to his girlfriend, Haley said “I know the beach he likes”, to which younger brother Luke quipped, “I thought you were the ‘beach’ he likes!” and he and Lily exchanged a quick, sardonic high-five. The little girl and the younger brother are now the zingers of the family? Awesome!

The Liebster Award

Thanks to YoungCinemaBuffs for the nomination

liebster-award1RULES
• Thank the person who nominated you and link their blog.
• Answer the questions given by the nominator.
• Nominate 11 other bloggers who have less than 200 followers, and link them.
• Notify all the bloggers you nominate.
• Create 11 new questions for your nominees to answer.

I’m not sure who Liebster is or why there’s an award in his honour, but I’m gathering that this is really a way for blogs to promote other blogs who share common interests — that’s great. I would love to pay this honour forward as well, but I just don’t know very many other blogs (especially ones who, according to the Liebster rules, have less than 200 followers). Sorry, blog community. Nevertheless, I thought I would still share my responses to the questions posed to me for my nomination (so y’all can get to know me a little more). So here goes:

1. What is a movie you like that most people hate?

SUCKER PUNCHSucker Punch – I know people think that this movie full of huge CGI set piece fantasies for a group of young women in a creepy asylum is over-the-top ridiculous (and probably pretty sexist and exploitative) but I’m a Zack Snyder fan and I really like his visual style (though I did not love his Man of Steel movie. That was over-the-top.)

2. What is a movie you don’t like that most people love?

citizenkane2As far as classic movies go: Citizen Kane – Of course this is the pinnacle of cinematic classics, but I could not stay awake watching it and I don’t get the appeal. As for something recent, Oscar-winner Birdman did nothing for me. It just seemed like more Hollywood navel-gazing, and the whole superhero-fantasy angle seemed like an unrelated gimmick.

3. If you had to pick a different name for your blog, what would it be?

“Pop goes the world” – I don’t pretend to have delusions that I’m doing anything so important here, but I’m just chatting about pop culture that I enjoy (or don’t enjoy) and I’m able to share my opinions with people all around the globe! Fun.

4. What is your favourite movie and tv villains?

darth vaderMovie villain: Darth Vader from Star Wars – he’s just a classic in my eyes. He’s more of an icon than an actual character, but he was this pure emblem of relentless evil, and then he got redeemed! It’s a great arc.

Sideshow Bob by timshinn73
Sideshow Bob by timshinn73

TV villains: So many! Sideshow Bob from The Simpsons – he’s kind of a loser, but so fun and his diabolical-ness is wonderfully hammy. Plus, Kelsey Grammar’s voice is perfect for the role — and he looks so ironically ridiculous with his huge palm-tree hairdo. Also, Tywin Lannister from Game of Thrones. I definitely like my villains smart, and preferably erudite as well. Honourable mention to two villains both played by the amazing Michael Emerson: Ben Linus from Lost and William Hinks from The Practice

5. What movie has made you feel the most emotional?

JoyLuckClub_490PyxurzThis is going to be an unusual answer, but the movie that got the tears flowing the most is probably The Joy Luck Club. I know it’s obviously a very tear-jerking movie, but it gets me every time.

6. What season do you prefer: summer, autumn, winter or spring?

I like the autumn most. New TV season begins, kids go back to school and everything starts up again. I’m not a summer-party kind of guy so I like it when things get back down to business.

7. What is your favourite actor and actress?

cumberbatchThis is a tough question. For Actor, I used to always say Kenneth Branagh (who is still very amazing) but now I really like Benedict Cumberbatch (if not for his Sherlock alone). For Actress, my “celebrity crush” answer is Michelle Pfeiffer, but for serious, there is no actress that can hold a candle to Meryl Streep for sheer awesomeness. However, if we’re talking someone more recent, I will have to go with either Emma Stone or Carey Mulligan

8. What is you thoughts on debating?

This is an odd question. I admit that while I find arguments thrilling and often they’re my favourite kind of interaction (assuming they are not violent or hostile), but debates seem a bit lame and dull.

9. What are your favourite youtubers and why?

I assume we’re talking about musicians when we say “youtubers”, right? Well, I like Peter Hollens and Sam Tsui. They are both pretty good singers and they help me discover some of the pop music that I am pretty out-of-touch with. This is like the new “easy listening”. (They would probably hate to be characterized that way. Sorry fellas. Hey, I’m middle aged. Give me a break!). Plus, they seem like really nice people. I also like Pentatonix (such a cool group with mad skills) and Walk Off The Earth (another really fun group who impress me with their videos every time).

10. What TV series’ are you into?

game of thrones s3Oh my gosh, where to begin: Game of Thrones (natch!); almost anything sci-fi (but I miss the mega-franchises like Star Trek and Stargate); I’m enjoying The Flash; I can’t wait to watch Castle every week; I love The Good Wife (the last great lawyer show, along with Suits); I am really diggin’ Empire (trashiness brings back fond memories of 80s TV titan, Dynasty). On the comedy front, I’m still really enjoying Modern Family, Big Bang Theory, and Brooklyn Nine-nine. From the UK, Downton Abbey, Doctor Who and Sherlock are unmissable.

spurlockI also want to give special mention to certain shows that don’t get as much love in certain circles: anything by Morgan Spurlock is on the top of my list (recently Inside Man on CNN); also, there are occasionally some great cartoons that I love as well. Recently Avatar: The Legend of Korra came to an epic conclusion, and Disney’s Gravity Falls is one of my favourite shows and should be beloved of any sci-fi fan.

11. What is your most anticipated movie of 2015?

star-wars-force-awakens-trailer-2-description-888x456It’s almost boring to say, but it’s definitely Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Also Pixar’s Inside Out (they are at their best when not creating sequels) and (perhaps surprisingly) Pitch Perfect 2 — but I think it’s not going to be as good as the first one.

2014 TV Characters: Love and Hate

Some say that TV is going through a quality renaissance. That might be true, but unfortunately if you have enjoyed hard-edged shows like True Detective, Broadchurch, American Horror Story, or Breaking Bad for their wonderfully complex and messed-up characters, you won’t find any of those shows on my list. I tend to enjoy the lighter, escapist fare (and really, I’m not much of a character-drama person to begin with). Nevertheless, I offer up my annual “naughty or nice” list of television characters who I have grown to “love” (maybe a bit strong) or “hate” (definitely too strong) in the past year.

Characters I Love

cw-extra-episodes-jane-the-virgin-flashWell, if we’re going for a crowd-pleasing lack of edge, there’s nowhere better to look than The CW for our first two. They both headline new series that have gained a lot of success and popularity. Of course, I am referring to Barry Allen (a.k.a. The Flash), a mild-mannered scientist and police forensics expert who gets struck by lightning on the same night that a particle accelerator accident causes a massive wave of energy to ripple across the city. After the dust settles, he ends up with super-speed and a new nickname. Similarly, Jane Villaneuva was also in the wrong place at the wrong time. When her gynaecologist mixed her up with another patient and artificially inseminated her by accident, she became Jane the Virgin, and her life was never the same again. While both shows are very different (one’s a light-hearted super-hero drama, while the other’s a whimsical telenovela-style dramedy), at the heart of each show is a character who has had a lot of things happen to them (Barry’s mother was murdered in front of him by a yellow blur of super-speed, and his father went to jail for the crime; Jane’s father was out of the picture until he turned out to be latin telenovela star Rogelio de la Vega, who her mother has kept a secret all these years), but they don’t let things get them down. They are upbeat and positive, they care about the people around them, and always try to do the right thing. They are both incredibly likeable and make you want to root for them. (Thank the TV-gods that Barry’s unrequited love for long-time friend (like a sister), Iris, was finally revealed halfway into the season. Those kind of plot-lines can drag on and on just to torture our lead characters.)

Rosa_diazAs part of what’s rapidly becoming my favourite TV comedy ensemble (sorry, Modern Family and Big Bang guys) Detective Rosa Diaz (of Brooklyn Nine-Nine) gets to be my favourite female comedy character this year. Even last year her blend of deadpan semi-meanness caught my eye (but I chose the endearing Boyle over her). She reminds me of April from Parks and Recreation, but with a gun. She takes no guff from anyone but this season proved that she’s more than just a ball-busting tough chick. She also cares about her team (evident when she led a drug task force) and her friendship with fellow detective Jake Peralta. She’s just very selective with her smiling. I also think she’s the perfect antidote for the wacky Gina and the earnest Santiago. I fear she might take a bit of a back seat now that her task force has concluded, but I still look forward to Rosa’s patented “don’t even try it” looks or “don’t mess with me” zingers.

straxAlthough he’s not much of a character, I think my hands-down favourite of the year is Strax, the alien Sontaran who became one of the “Paternoster Gang” stuck in Victorian England on Doctor Who. Originally one of many clones bred to be relentless warriors, Strax fought on behalf of The Doctor, was killed and then revived by Madame Vastra and Jenny to serve as their butler (I know it sounds complicated, so if you’re not a Doctor Who watcher, just hang on a few more seconds). He is hands-down hilarious because he is so clueless about other cultures and species. Plus, he’s constantly talking as if he’s still fighting a war and using the language of battle. The combination of his fish-out-of-water foibles, his physical (potato-like) appearance, and his Sontaran warrior spirit is very humourous and original. (Plus, I know it’s silly, but I laugh every time he calls Jenny “boy”.). He always has the best lines whenever these characters make an appearance (Why they don’t have their own spinoff, I’ll never know) and he doesn’t even do it intentionally.

lady-tyrellA few years ago, I put Violet, Downton Abbey‘s dowager countess on this list because she had such a witty tongue and gracefully took aim at everything and everyone that needed a little trimming. This year, thanks to the betrothal of King Joffrey Baratheon to the widowed Margaery Tyrell, Game of Thrones gained its own dowager countess in Lady Olenna Tyrell. Her words are just as double-edged as Violet’s were but since this is Westeros, her venom is a whole lot deadlier. She may be up in years, but she knows what’s going on. She may be physically frail compared to the younger characters, but she is far from harmless. They don’t call her “Queen of Thorns” because she likes roses. I love that she’s incredibly pleasant at all times, even when she’s throwing down the gauntlet. Plus, her scheming is so subtle that it’s virtually invisible. She shows us all that it takes an experienced old lady to clean up the messes that the young make. After all, sadistic, blonde, little psycho kinglings don’t just poison themselves, right?

agents of shieldBack to the cute characters, Jemma Simmons (one half of “Fitz-Simmons”, the scientific brain-trust on Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD) really broke out on her own this year. In season one, she just seemed like one of those “implausibly smart for someone so attractive” characters; and Fitz-Simmons was really not very interesting as a team (plus their accents made their conversations a bit of a challenge). However, after they were left for dead by the traitorous Agent Ward, Simmons went missing and then turned up right in the viper’s den as a double-agent working for evil world-dominating organization, Hydra. Without the cushion of the rest of the team, Jemma was finally acting more like a SHIELD agent (albeit undercover). Also, with a strained relationship to Fitz (who told her that he was in love with her — poor unrequited Fitz), both of those characters became a little more interesting. In fact, my “Most Improved Ensemble” award goes to the Agents of SHIELD themselves. Last year Agent Melinda May was one of my three butt-kicking-yet-super-dull angels. This year, she really spread her wings (it helps that she’s got more to do now that Coulson is a little batty with the alien symbol carving obsession and all) and really stepped up as the 2nd in command of the team. Ward coming out as evil made him far more intriguing a character as well. It is never clear if he is telling the truth or not, and his character comes alive when being sneaky and clever. Fitz’s brain injury left him with some difficulty communicating, but his struggle gave him a real, humanizing challenge and even allowed him to reach out emotionally to the people around him. Skye, Skye, Skye … everything seems to revolve around her, but at least she became more of a serious spy character instead of last year when she was just a naive newbie who seemed way too eager to sign on to the team (especially given that she had been an underground super-hacker previously). Not that he wasn’t kind of a maverick before, but Coulson is also more interesting now that he has to make it on his own. Bureaucracy and “red tape” are death to a cool, spy-based show.

enlisted-640x420I also really liked the Hill brothers on Enlisted, especially youngest brother Randy. However, that show has been dishonourably discharged from the airwaves, so I guess there’s not much point to talk about him.

Characters I Hate

stu-a-to-z-NBCgilOK, over to the bad side of the fence: this fall there is not only a glut of rom-com sit-coms, but with their formulaic approach, there are also usually a male side-kick to each male lead. I don’t know why it is that he’s always wackier, needier, less-attractive, and generally more annoying — they’re all schlubs! Stu is the buddy to A to Z‘s male lead Andrew and he is frenetic, self-involved, and always getting things messed up. I don’t understand why Andrew and he are friends. I guess there’s that loyalty thing, but the guy is like a scrunched up ball of wire constantly trying to spring out. Less annoying is Gil, the male buddy on Marry Me (I guess side-kicks only get three-letter names these days). He is incredibly needy, bordering on pathetic. Having recently divorced from his wife, he’s a bit of a helpless babe in the world. Plus he always needs his friend Jake to take care of him (in fact that was the theme of the most recent episode). Add to that his quirky interests and personality, and you’ve got a character who I hate to watch (though the writers have given him some pretty fresh lines and ideas, so he’s often pretty funny — OK, I’m torn on Gil).

sarah-buntingSprattOn Downton Abbey, they like to give us good characters and not-so-good ones (and they do it for the upstairs and the downstairs). Butler Spratt (who works for the aforementioned dowager countess) is a bit of a one-dimensional character who represents a very formal, old-fashioned kind of thinking which doesn’t really work in a small household. He’s constantly being a pain to those around him, especially the new maid, Denker, who have been at each other’s throat since they started. As for non-servants, this year, former-driver Tom caught the eye of a local schoolteacher, Sarah Bunting, who was a good influence on Tom (helping him to remember his leftist leanings) but whenever she crossed paths with the Crawleys, she would always get into a heated debate with Lord Grantham (who could not stand her). I don’t have any trouble with her politics or her personality, really, except I don’t see why she couldn’t keep her mouth shut. It’s just being polite. If she can’t be polite to the people who welcomed her to a fancy dinner, she should just stay away and stop making us (including me the viewer) angry.

ScottieSuits is full of great characters, including some formidable women. However, one female character came on the scene who just wasn’t very substantial. I don’t really understand how we were expected to believe that Dana “Scottie” Scott was a good match for legal shark Harvey Specter. They never showed any reason why she was such an amazing lawyer that she was in demand by these top law firms. Nor did they ever justify why Harvey was so in love with her that he was willing to change himself to keep her in his life. With so many other strong women around him, like boss Jessica, or assistant Donna, I don’t think it makes any sense that a designer mannequin like Scottie would have been his soulmate. So any time Scottie made an appearance, I was really taken out of the story. She doesn’t belong!

rachel-berry-profileFinally, another girl character who I have grown to hate is Glee‘s Rachel Berry. I know, many people have probably disliked her for a long time, but this year she really reached those heights for me. Partly I hate it when a character can screw up all kinds of things in her life, make all kinds of poor decisions, but thanks to deus ex machina, she can still end up with all kinds of amazing opportunities and successes. That’s just ridiculous. Well, Rachel moved to New York, somehow moved into an incredible loft, got the lead in a production of Funny Girl (as if things were that easy), then screws up that opportunity of a lifetime to audition for a tv series, screws that up, but then gets offered a tv series of her own! Come bleepin’ on! Besides her totally implausible life (I do realize that they are singing and dancing in New York City, so there is some suspension of disbelief), she’s totally lost that struggle and that spark that she had in the beginning of the series (remember when she would follow a positive-thinking routine every morning on her exercise machine?). It was part of her charm. Everything comes too easily for her (and the other characters on the show as well, frankly) and it’s just ridiculously un-relatable.

So, that’s all for this year’s characters. If you agree with some of my picks, leave me a comment and we can adore or revile them together.

Downton and The Doctor: Christmas Specials 2013

For a TV fan like myself, the Brits have really given us a wonderful (long-running) tradition in the delivering of special Christmas episodes (aired on Christmas day) to both Doctor Who and Downton Abbey. (If you have been waiting for the North American airing of Downton season 4, I will tread lightly on spoilers, but use caution if you want to be completely uninformed.)Time-of-the-Doctor-main

Doctor Who – The Time of the Doctor

I am the first to admit that I have trouble following this show, especially when it gets into its mythology, or when actor Matt Smith talks really fast (which they actually poked fun of in this episode), so I knew it was going to be a bit tricky watching an episode that deals with the end of the Doctor, as we saw in previous episodes. It was clear that he was going to die on the planet Trenzalore, which is unfortunately where most of this episode takes place. As you’d expect from a “special” episode, all the old faves are trotted out, including the Daleks, Cybermen, The Silence, Sontarans along with other familiar elements from the Smith-era Doctor’s episodes (including a touching little cameo). From what I could understand, the story also ties things up nicely in a sci-fi, time-travelling, cause-effect way.

This episode is Matt Smith’s goodbye to the series as well, and he gives his best manic-tender performance even though he’s shackled by age-makeup for much of the time. The other conundrum to be answered is the problem of regeneration — the immortal character of the Doctor regenerates from one form to the other, but he’s run out of his 12 regenerations, so now what? Frankly, I think the resolution was exceedingly pat and unexplained, but I don’t really care. I am looking forward to Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor (though not from the few seconds he had in this episode). So even though the only thing really Christmasy is that the TARDIS chooses to pick up the Doctor’s companion Clara from the moment she’s about to have a disastrous Christmas dinner with her family (she actually called the Doctor to pose as her fake boyfriend — how Three’s Company of her!) and that the town on Trenzalore is inexplicably named Christmas, but it’s got that Christmas sentimentality, and is a nice finale for Smith. (4 out of 5)

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Downton Abbey

Meanwhile, back in 1923, cousin Rose is being presented to the King — it’s an aristocratic debutante thing — and much of the activity of this extended episode revolves around that. The entire household heads down to London for the event (which includes special dinners and balls to be thrown by the Crawleys). Despite their less-than-loving way, you’d think that Rose’s own family could have shown up to take part in this, but whatever (we all know she’s just a Sibyl-replacement). In any case, there are storylines to be had by all: Edith is super-mopey as usual (but with good reason); Mary has at least two suitors (let the battle commence!); Tom is still caught between upstairs and downstairs (with no help from scheming Thomas). With stuff going on for everyone, it seems surprisingly odd that they had to bring in all kind of guest characters to build an episode around. Most notably, Shirley MacLaine makes a wonderful return as Cora’s mom and this time she brings with her Cora’s brother Harold (played wonderfully by Paul Giamatti). A lot of the episode revolves around Harold and his affection for one of Rose’s friends; Harold’s servant brings a little American frankness and cheer (much to Carson’s chagrin) to the downstairs; and the upstairs get wrapped up in a silly bit of intrigue because of some trouble that Rose gets the family into — that Rose, she’s such a scamp! Things wrap up pleasantly enough, but there is not really much of that “season finale” feeling that accompanied past Downton Christmas specials. It seemed very much like a double-episode that could have happened during the main season. There isn’t even any mention of Christmas (since the episode is set in the summer). However, it’s nice to give our happy household some breathing room before the troubles mount up again! (4 out of 5)

Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor – TV Review

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Doctor Who celebrates 50 years of television history this week, though I only joined for the last eight or so (and I’ve probably only really understood about 60% of those eight seasons). Still, it was really exciting to see how The Day of the Doctor would continue the story of this Gallifreyan Time Lord while paying homage to the many stories and the fictional universe that has been created around the character. First off, it was a less-than-surprising mystery how they were going to bring together at least three Doctors: Matt Smith’s current one, David Tennant (the previous one) and John Hurt as a new/old one. No-duh, the answer is “time travel”; but how and when exactly? And how are they going to make a normal Doctor Who plot as the backbone to all the stunt-casting and story shenanigans?

Similar to the finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation, we work with three moments in the timeline. John Hurt’s character as the War Doctor exists at one of the biggest moments in The Doctor’s own history (one which has been mentioned before): when he decided to destroy Gallifrey in order to end the Time War with the Daleks (thus saving the universe). David Tennant comes into play as the version of The Doctor around when some shape-shifting aliens (all raspberry pink and ridiculously named “Zygons”) plant the seed of their future invasion in Elizabethan England. Matt Smith, as the current Doctor, happens to be there when that seed germinates and the big bad Zygons start to implement their plan by breaking into UNIT (the top secret British government task force established to take care of all things alien and Doctor-related) to get their hands on some really bad weapons.

Frankly, the aliens look silly and I can hardly believe that they pose any real threat to the planet (especially with The Doctor around), but I did enjoy how the three Doctors worked together to manipulate time and events in order to foil the Zygons. The interactions between the three was wonderful: hilarious, clever and fun — comparing the sizes of their sonic screwdrivers, the decorating style of their TARDISes, or even their own fashion senses. I wish that they could have spent another hour or more bickering/bantering amongst themselves. Another cool addition was not only Jenna-Louise Coleman returning as current Doctor-companion Clara, but they managed to bring back Billie Piper as some incarnation of previous companion Rose Tyler (I won’t say how — frankly because I don’t think I fully understand). (Also too bad they left out Freema Agyeman as the hottest companion, Martha Jones.) While not-unexpected, the return of these characters/actors (with a few more choice, surprise cameos thrown in), is a perfect way to stage an anniversary episode. (Plus, I’m sure that I missed all kinds of inside gags that a true Whovian would enjoy.)

All in all, I found the episode very satisfying and enjoyable. Rest assured if you (like me) have been a little bit confused along the way, it’s still loads of fun and a surprisingly intricate storyline with some emotional character beats as well. On top of that, the plot seems to make a potentially huge twist to the entire Doctor Who mythology, which I hope will continue to play out in the ongoing series when it returns. (4.5 out of 5)