Thursday, September 28, 2017

TV Musings: Summer 2017

It’s long since time for another post on the science fiction and fantasy television I’ve been watching lately!  If there is ever a future where I’m fully caught up on blog posts, I may switch this back to a show-by-show format. For now, I have recently enjoyed watching a nice collection of new and returning shows, with a good balance between science fiction and fantasy.

New Shows:

Cleverman (Season 1, Sundance TV): The first season of this Australian series only runs 6 episodes, but the second season is also going to be available on Netflix at the beginning of October. The show draws a lot of inspiration from indigenous Australian traditional stories, which are all completely new to me.  Given how little I know about current social issues in Australia, I’m sure I also missed some allegory.  I thought it was a fresh and interesting show, and I enjoyed the chance to watch a fantasy that was not focused on North America.

In Cleverman, a mythological race called the hairypeople have suddenly appeared, and they have been promptly labeled as subhuman and restricted to ghettos or prisons. The story follows two aboriginal half-brothers with ties to the hairypeople.  The elder, Waruu, fights to make the world a better place for marginalized groups, while the younger, Koen, is a selfish and irresponsible jerk.  Unexpectedly, their uncle passes his cultural (and magical) Cleverman inheritance to Koen.  There’s more to both of them than meets the eye, and I felt the show was really deft in how their characterization was developed.

Travelers (Season 1, Netflix): This time travel drama is already renewed for a second season, which is good because this one leaves us on a cliffhanger.  In this show, a grim future for humanity has led to the development of time travel technology.  A person’s mind can be sent back into the body of someone in the past, shortly before their death. Teams of time travelers are sent back, desperate to shift the future to another course. They have faith in the plan of the Director, whether or not they understand the tasks they are given.  This one is light on special effects, but it is a really engrossing sci-fi drama.

The characters we follow find themselves dropped into some fairly complicated lives, and it was interesting to see how they tried to acclimate to being a different person.  Of course, they also have to be willing to drop their new lives at a moment’s notice, in order to attend to the needs of the future.  It seems like it must be a really difficult way to live.  While it might sound like a setup for a episodic kind of show, the story is actually very serial and character-driven.  The events in the finale were pretty major, so I’m impatient to see what impact they will have on the team’s future.

The Shannara Chronicles (Season 1, MTV): I’m not the demographic target for this teen show, but I have a soft spot for epic fantasy television. The second season has jumped to a different network (Paramount) and it has already started airing now. This show is based on the series by Terry Brooks, and its quirk is that it actually takes place in a post-apocalyptic United States.  Aside from that, it is a pretty traditional setting, with elves, humans, dwarves, gnomes, and trolls around the countryside. The main plot follows a group of three attractive teens on a quest to save the world.  The three of them--Wil, Amberle, and Eretria--are all really earnest and endearing, and I wanted to see them succeed.  There are also some subplots with druids and elven politics, but they mostly involve people making very poor choices over and over.

I thought the show was charming and fun, but the writing is inconsistent and some of the actors are still settling into their roles.  The teens’  interactions felt the most natural when the script wasn’t pushing the love triangle angle, and some episodes had pretty lazy plot choices (e.g. why are there torches laid out for them at the beginning of a tunnel in the wilderness?). The Black Guard at the Elven capital has also become a running joke in my household.  They are so utterly incompetent, it’s bizarre that anyone relies on them for protection. Despite my complaints, I did enjoy watching the show, and the remains of our former human civilization give the story a special touch.

Returning Shows:

Killjoys (Season 3, Syfy): The latest news from the Syfy Channel is that Killjoys is going to conclude with its fifth season.  This season ends on a pretty major cliffhanger, so I’m happy it’s going to have two seasons to resolve everything. This third season is more serialized than ever, and it focuses on the brewing war between the Quad and the alien Hullen.  While all the characters we have met play a role in the conflict, the heart of it is between Aneela and Dutch. If you’re interested in learning why they’re doppelgangers, this is the season for you.  The answer is probably weirder than you think!

In general, this show has a lot of convoluted lore, but I think a lot of the questions were cleared up in this season.  The quality of the show is pretty consistent with the second season, in terms of the writing and acting.  I enjoyed the balance of humor and seriousness in the dialogue, even if the jokes didn’t always land for me.  I also enjoyed seeing all of the minor characters find their own paths and strengths.  It feels like everything is starting to come together, and I’m excited to see where things will go from here.

The Man in the High Castle (Season 2, Amazon):  This first season had already started to diverge significantly from the original novel, and the second season firmly establishes the show as a completely separate entity.  The writing, acting, and production quality is as consistently excellent as was the previous season.  I had expected the parallel worlds to play a larger role than they did, but I like the understated way it is wrapped into the continuing alternate history drama.

The overall story, about preventing two fascist regimes from destroying the world with nuclear weapons, seems unexpectedly relevant to modern politics.  On the smaller scale, the season elegantly provided an emotional arc for essentially all of the characters, major and minor, and resolved many of the open questions from the previous season.  I do not know where the story will go after this, but I feel like the show has passed the first test of longevity.  It is beyond its source material, and the story is even more engaging than ever. I am looking forward to the next season!

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