Saturday, December 16, 2017

TV Musings: Fall 2017

Today, I want to talk again about some of the science fiction and fantasy television shows I’ve been watching lately.  There are so many fun ones out these days that I’m still pretty far behind. This season’s batch is very heavily science-fiction, and covers the end of one show and the beginning of three others!

Orphan Black (BBC America, Season 5): This season was planned as the conclusion of the show, and it successfully wraps up the many mysteries and character arcs that have been introduced over the previous four seasons.  In other words, this show does have a complete story, and it was not canceled before its time. In broad strokes, the show features a group of young women who discover that they are experimental clones created and monitored by a mysterious organization focused on the artificial evolution of humanity. I appreciated the emphasis on the importance of both nature and nurture in human development, showing how each of these women lead very different lives while sharing similar traits.  In this season, it was also nice to see Sarah (one of the clones) begin to acknowledge her daughter as a person with her own hopes and desires, not as a Macguffin to be protected. Not all of the many memorable supporting characters made it to the end, so it was bittersweet seeing the survivors move forward into their future. Farewell to a show that was suspenseful, clever and often darkly humorous, and which featured a vibrant cast of complicated people.

Salvation (CBS, Season 1): I was not really expecting a science fiction show from CBS, but it looks like they’re starting to be interested in embracing the genre (they also have Star Trek: Discovery and an upcoming Twilight Zone reboot). In Salvation, a bright grad student one day discovers that a massive asteroid will strike the Earth in six month.  He soons becomes involved with the US government and Darius Tanz (an Elon-Musk-like scientist), as they plan to divert the asteroid and save humanity. That seems like a sensible plot that would wrap up fairly quickly, but this assessment ignores that humans are often horrible and self-destructive.  Luckily, the main characters are all sincere people with good intentions, so it’s easy to root for them in their struggle against malice and corruption.  There’s a fair amount of artistic license with the science, but the story is a lot of fun.  I expect this one is likely to wrap up in its second season.  

Legion (FX, Season 1):  Legion is a show that has a very strong sense of style, and it presents a colorful, confusing explosion of a story. It revolves around a very powerful (and dangerous) mutant named David, who is living in a mental institution.  He ends up taken in by a mutant group that wants to help disentangle the effects of his powers from his mental issues, all while contending with threats from both inside his mind and out.  I thought the over-the-top style worked well to convey the blurring of reality and illusion, and it was sometimes pretty comical as well. On a side note, it must have been incredibly fun for the actress who played David’s friend Lenny (and she was amazing in the role). I also liked that the show surprised me; I couldn’t really see where it was going and I didn’t predict some of the twists. I’m excited to see where they’ll take things in the second season.      

The Orville (Fox, Season 1): This was not the strongest sci-fi entry of the fall, but it was light and entertaining enough that I watched the full season.  I really like the idea, showing an exploratory vessel in a Star-Trek-ish universe that is run by ordinary people.  There were some neat touches, which illustrated what it would be like if the crew members saw their work as just a job and not necessarily a calling (e.g. “Is is okay to have soda on the bridge?”).  Like Star Trek, it is episodic in structure, with each episode telling a short story focused on one of the people of the Orville. Some of these stories are really interesting and funny (“Into the Fold”--a supercilious robot and a family are crash-landed on a post-apocalyptic planet), and some are unintentionally horrifying (“Cupid’s Dagger”--basically an extended rape joke).  Some continuing weaknesses are a lack of creativity in alien species, glaring plot holes, and the focus on the captain and XO’s failed relationship as a source of humor.  Still, there were enough fun episodes that I am planning to try the second season next year!

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