Monday, October 17, 2016

TV Musings: Summer Sci-Fi

Recently, there has been a truly massive amount of science fiction and fantasy television to enjoy.  In fact, I believe there are around 100 active (airing, upcoming or returning) genre shows right now.  Put in that context, I feel like my watching habits are fairly modest, though I’d prefer to think I’m just highly selective and generally busy reading books.  Today I want to talk about the shows I have enjoyed in the summer of 2016.  All of the following shows have already been renewed, so there will be more to come next year! Did I miss one of your favorites?  Let me know in the comments!

Orphan Black (Season 4):  
Beware of spoilers for previous seasons in the second paragraph.

For anyone unfamiliar with the show, Orphan Black is the story of Sarah Manning, a con artist and single mother, who learns one day that she is a rogue clone from a clandestine, wide-reaching experiment. Over four seasons, Orphan Black has shown itself to be a show of consistently high quality, and has earned a number of awards that include an Emmy (for main actress Tatiana Maslany) as well as a Hugo Award for short form dramatic presentation.  Next year will bring us the final season, and I really hope the writers have an amazing ending in store.  For this year, I expect I’ll nominate “The Scandal of Altruism”, one of several particularly powerful episodes, for the Hugo award for short form dramatic presentation.

At the start of the fourth season, I was surprised to see the story jump in time to the days before clone Beth’s suicide.  The audience has only ever gotten to know Beth through the memories of others, so I was eager to see her world.  On the other hand, these past segments were emotionally intense, and it was hard to watch her suffer with the knowledge of how it would end.  When we returned to the modern day, things were lightened a bit with humor in the lives of criminal soccer mom Alison, ex-assassin Helena, and cosmetic conspiracy theorist Krystal.  Through the past and present, we learn more about Neolution, including the goals and origins of the movement. One last thing that I especially liked in this season is the continuing consideration of how Sarah’s self-absorption affects the people she loves.  Her relationship with Felix is a prime example, and I appreciated that we were able to see some aspects of his life that don’t revolve around Sarah’s drama.  

12 Monkeys (Season 2):

12 Monkeys is my favorite of Syfy’s latest serious scripted science fiction shows, and I’m happy that a third season has already been confirmed.  In a nutshell, the story is initially that of a small group of people who are trying to use time travel to prevent a plague that has wiped out most of humanity in their present.  By the second season, things have moved into a bit more mystical territory, and the main focus is to prevent the Army of the Twelve Monkeys (architects of the plague) from destroying time itself in order to live in an eternal now.

I was a little skeptical of the mystical turn, but the quality of the show was undiminished.  The plot is even more clever and intricate than the first season, and it continues to push the boundaries of how time travel can be used in storytelling.  I enjoyed seeing how Cole, Ramse, Cassie, Jennifer and Jones changed as they face the painful consequences of their actions in this and the previous season.  I really love this cast and how well they play off of one another. On a side note, I was slightly disappointed that Jennifer’s mental health problems were given a supernatural origin.  At the same time, Jennifer also sought psychiatric help and learned to manage her condition with medication, so the writers kind of took this both ways. I think I’ll probably nominate “Lullaby” for a Hugo this year, a fairly self-contained episode where our time travelers attempt to protect time by traveling backward and killing the inventor of time travel (Katarina Jones) just after the death of her daughter.

Stranger Things (Season 1):

I think I and pretty much everyone else on the internet enjoyed this one.  Netflix is putting out some really quality original programming these day. I didn’t know what to expect going in, except that it was some sort of 80’s style sci-fi thriller.  The story involves the disappearance of neighborhood kid Will, whose distraught friends come across a mysterious, frightened, and powerful young girl named “Eleven” during their search for him.  Eleven has escaped from some kind of government compound, whose activities may put the town in danger.

I really liked the consistency of the 80’s vibe (the set, behavior, costumes, etc.).  The story also had a sense of nostalgia, and it was easy to binge-watch the whole season.  I also liked that, while violent things happened, it wasn’t as grimdark as some shows get these days.  I think sometimes I just want to watch a story about people stopping a nefarious government plot and rescuing a little kid, and I don’t want it to have a depressing ending.  On a last note, I liked that this one didn’t go the route of having clueless adults and hero kids.  Each age group tried to solve the problems in front of them as best they could, and for the most part they all believed one another.

Killjoys (Season 2):

Killjoys is another Syfy scripted show, which I thought showed a lot of promise in its first season. The show followed a team of three ‘killjoys’--Dutch, D’avin and John--who take on reclamation contracts for a living.  Dutch is the all-around leader, D’avin is a veteran who specializes in physical, and John is his little brother, who speciailzes in the technical side.  The end of the first season was a game changer, and the three of them became more embroiled in the violent politics of their star system.  After the events of the finale, they are still officially killjoys, but they only accept jobs that aid them in pursuing their own interests (allowing them to cross closed borders, etc.).

The world-building of the previous season pays off now, as there is a ton of story to tell in the Quad System.  I was impressed that just about every character in the show had their own arc. All the same, everything eventually ties neatly together into the broader story of the secrets of the system and the mysteries of Dutch’s past.  In more detail, the two major topics are the intentions behind the isolating wall that Qresh has put around Oldtown (in Westerly) after its bombing, and what is going on with the “Sixes”--sociopathic, self-healing assassins.  My only nitpicks about the show so far are pretty minor, such as the ridiculous spellings of the characters’ names (seriously, Khlyen? Pawter? D’avin?).  The end of the season marks another major shift in the premise, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.  I didn’t nominate any episode from season one for a Hugo, but I’m thinking that “Johnny Be Good” is award-worthy this time around.  

Dark Matter (Season 2):

Dark Matter is yet another Syfy show, and let me just say that I am loving how many space operas they have on their production list at the moment.  I thought the first season was promising, though it had some weaknesses.  Due to starting the series with mass amnesia, I felt like it took a really long time to firmly establish the characters beyond superficialities.  The world building is also a little unfocused, to the extent that I’m only starting to get a sense of the connections in their universe near the end of the second season.    

In the second season, the show suffered from a lack of focus.  Every single character had a subplot of their own, but they didn’t really seem to be building into anything larger.  There are hints of an imminent corporate war, but it doesn’t really seem to interest the crew of the Rasa all that much.  Also, with the way the story hops from one character’s personal story to another, sometimes the revelations and climaxes feel a little rushed.  On the positive side, all of these unconnected stories are really entertaining. There’s Portia’s history as a deadly science experiment, Android’s exploration of humanity, Ryo’s imperial succession family drama, tough-guy Markus’s uneasiness with his unsavory and grief-filled past, and more. I like the individual pieces, I just hope they build into something larger and more coherent in future seasons.


  1. I tried watching the show 12 Monkeys but...I don't know... it was't that I couldn't get into it. I think it was that I just really, really loved the movie. It was interesting on its own (especially after the first episode or so after it diverted from the movie more), but I think I keep comparing it to the movie. I should try again.

    I loved Stranger Things. And what you said about the different age groups teaming up--I agree. I liked that too.

    1. When I started watching the tv show, I had only vague memories left of the movie. I have watched it, but it was a long time ago. By the second season, at least, I would say the show has pretty much completely diverged from the film--at that point it's more "loosely inspired by" than "based on". Also, I love the show, so of course I'd recommend giving it another shot :)!