Archives for posts with tag: fantasy

One of the biggest challenges facing any science fiction or fantasy series is to get the balance between creating excellent adventures and encouraging long-term emotional investment. Ignore the latter and when you want to create a big hefty scene where a lead character dies or leaves you find yourself with an audience not that bothered and just wanting to you to move on to the next big showdown. Ignore the former, and you don’t really have a sci-fi/fantasy show at all, just a drama with a few weird references.

Doctor Who tackles this problem with varying degrees of success. In the Russel T. Davis era, it did this very well, bar the odd episode. The plots wrapped you in nicely and had a zing to them, but you still cared about the characters. One of the times I’ve cried at the TV was when the hologram of The Doctor cut out before he could say ‘I love you’ to Rose.

I feel, in my personal opinion, that the Steven Moffat era has been less successful. For a start, I have never fully understood why the loss of Clara Oswald is felt by The Doctor with the pain that Amy Pond or any others were not. So that’s the emotional investment side not hitting the right note. Then we have the adventure side, which I also feel is sometimes lacking. Too many episodes seem to end with The Doctor knowing what he was doing all along, which makes you wonder why someone so keen to save the world lets so many people get harmed in the process.

There are some bright moments though. I have always liked Peter Capaldi as The Doctor, playing him both that bit darker but also with stronger vein of humour than some of the other recent incarnations. I also think Matt Lucas as Nordole becoming a semi-regular character is a smart move, as I feel the Tardis actually needs a trinity of people. I’m undecided on Pearl Mackie as Bill – her mouthiness is welcomed but I feel we were spoilt in our early days with the near perfect Rose Tyler, with only Amy Pond so far coming close. I think the best solution is to give Bill time to grow.

Best of all though is we still have Michelle Gomez as Missy. Like Capaldi, she is bowing out this series, and could actually end up being the greater loss. There is a fizz from her that cannot be replicated. Her voice is an iron fist wrapped in a velvet glove. Like all the best villains, she makes being evil look fun.

There have been some genuinely strong individual episodes in this run. Thin Ice felt like a Tennant-era classic – evil human bad guy thwarted and some good done to the world in the process. Extremis has set up some interesting concepts and given us a decent story arc to get our teeth into. When the stars align, Doctor Who can still pull out a corker of an episode. But it needs to do this more often. The show is having a reboot next year – new Doctor, new showrunner. A perfect opportunity to audit it and gives us the best the show can be.

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And now, my annual appraisal of Once Upon A Time. I have a love-hate relationship with this show. Glimmers of something wonderfully tense and intriguing often gets buried behind sentiment and cheesiness. Season three marked a high point for me in terms of character development – Rumple, Regina, and Hook (to name but a few) grew as characters, whilst the storylines had a genuine tension.

So what of this season? Well, several things in it are working deliciously well. This season hasn’t been afraid of focusing on the darkness. This is seen most obviously in the very literal split between Regina and The Evil Queen, which has also thrown up the brilliant plot device of ‘How do you defeat your enemy if you are the enemy?’ But we have also seen it in Mr Gold’s own wickedness plumbing new depths, culminating in the most recent episode being one of the strongest for a while. I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s nice to see a plotline not get sugar-coated for a change.

Then there is the ongoing background plot of Emma’s fall as The Saviour. For a show that normally unravels its mysteries quite quickly (Jekyll and Hyde were dispatched within a handful of episodes), they are asking us to be patient with this particular plot. It’s a slightly daring plan, especially if the final pay-off is less than expected, but the return to form in other areas has given me optimism it will work.

Of course, not all is perfect. We have the nausea-inducing plot of Snow and Charming never being allowed to be awake at the same time under a new sleeping curse. While wickedly evil, it means we have an awful lot of two characters making eyes at each other while the other sleeps. I admit to lacking a romantic sense, but even the lovers in this world must consider this overkill.

I also find the Aladdin plot tedious. Once it had served its function as context to Emma’s storyline, it seemed to dribble into nothing. For a show that has a history of strong women, or at least women that learn to grow a backbone, Jasmine seemed exceptionally wet. Thankfully, it seems that this has been wrapped up for now. Unless we are going to see a sparkier double act, I would advise against investing much more in this.

Overall, it does feel as if the show is injecting itself with a bit of zing. Yet it is coming from going deeper and darker, something that runs head on to its usual vibe of love and family. It will be interesting how the rest of the season plays out, especially as there is no half-season split – what we are seeing now needs to sustain itself for the finale. I hope it does. When it works, this show is too good to fail.

Before anybody says anything – yes, I know I have discussed Grimm before. Twice, even. However, there is a good reason for me to come back to it. Quite simply, there is always something new to say about it. It is a show that keeps moving forward, even if sometimes it shoots of down a dark tunnel that looks hard to get out of.

Which brings nicely to the big season 5 story arc, the rise of Black Claw. There are a fanatical Wesen terrorist organisation, fighting to bring back old traditions and return the Wesen race to dominance. Apparently, Hitler wanted the very same, which begs the question ‘was Churchill a Grimm?’ Probably not, but never let being sensible get in the way of enjoying a fantasy series.

Anyway, the parallels to our world are obvious. Black Claw are Isis or similar, wanting their culture to be the dominant one. People who don’t join are traitors to their kind, and winning over impressionable young minds is key to their success. The unrest is on a global scale and often disguised as general political disgruntlement (riots in Ukraine, the Troubles in Northern Ireland re-emerging etc.). It certainly feels very frantic.

This feeling of everything being at warp speed wasn’t helped by the first episode back from its Christmas break being very weird and feeling like it had been shot as a cross between a B-movie and bad soap opera. The filming was jerky and the background music obtrusive. Weirdly, only we in Britain seemed to notice, and by the next episode the faults seemed to have been corrected. Perhaps someone pressed the wrong button on the DVD player at the TV network. Bloody interns.

There is a general feeling that this season is going for the big payoff, as if someone knows this will be the last series. It is hard to imagine how the show would top this next time around, especially in terms of the depth of peril that the characters are rushing in to. The obvious comparison here is season 7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where a similar apocalypse scenario played out. The team knew there was no way back from it, so called it a day.

If it is the last season, at least the people behind Grimm are throwing everything at it. Juliette as a weird cyborg-Wesen with a ridiculous amount of wigs, Nick kissing Adelind, Meisner looking so grumpy he puts Daniel Craig to shame. It’s a wonder there is any space in an episode to return to the crime of the week.

Like I say, as much as I love the show, it feels as if it is right that this is a swansong. This is their jumping the shark, their return of the First, their all or nothing. Just make sure the person putting the disc in knows what they are doing.

I have to confess that I don’t normally watch adaptations of books on TV. I either have read the book in question and have no faith in the attempt to bring to the screen (my favourite bits in books are often obscure little moments that get cut in the necessity of making something 1000 or so pages long be told in the space of three or four episodes), or haven’t read the book because it was of no interest of me and therefore would have an equal lack of enthusiasm for the screen version.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell has managed to creep its way into my viewing schedule though, albeit accidentally. I must admit that although the book sounded interesting from the back cover blurb, it got pushed all too easily into ‘I should read’ list rather than the ‘I want to read’ one. Stuck on Sunday night with nothing to watch (seriously, do programme schedule people assume only the over-60’s turn on their TV on the Sabbath?) the adaptation easily won the ‘least bad’ option.

In truth, I am rather enjoying it, even if it is moving at a glacial pace. The chalk-and-cheese titular characters, played by Bertie Carvell and Eddie Marsan, are fascinating characters. Strange is all foppish aristocrat, tumbling upon his new life through accident and becoming a brilliant magician through innate talent rather than practice. Norrell, on the other hand, is the book-worm, jealous of his new protégé/rival’s talents and snobbish of how he acquired them. The second episode, where Norrell begrudgingly realised that all of his time honed-skills were paling in comparison to the natural gift of the upstart Strange, was smartly done.

Then there are two shadows to contend with, The Gentleman and The Raven King. The former, played by Marc Warren as some devilish rake with a side-line in tart ripostes, is front of stage at the moment, proving to be an added complication to Norrell’s fall from grace. The latter, so far unseen, is likely to be the more malevolent force, and will hopefully step things up a gear (bar the odd moment this programme as hardly tested the viewers’ mettle).

My one dislike about this is the two main female characters – Strange’s wife and Lady Pole, seem to be a little on the outskirts of the plot at the moment (even the Gentleman has started paying more attention to a male servant). However, there are hints these two characters could develop more when they interact with each other.

Is this my favourite show of the year? No. But it is passing the time on Sunday evenings quite pleasantly. It’s a long wait until Downton Abbey comes back, and we need something to fill it.

I have in the past slated the fantasy-drama series Once Upon A Time, in particular in comparing it unfavourably to Grimm. This was because both shows started at the same time, and shared a basic premise of rewriting fairy tales. Arguably, Grimm has now moved beyond this premise, centring more on its crime procedural/Buffy aspects. This naturally leads me to reappraise Once Upon A Time in its own right.

In hindsight, I perhaps did the programme a slight injustice. Its plots are often inventive and offer clever extensions to the stories we know so well. Snow White becomes more of a warrior figure, almost a female Robin Hood. The baddies, in particular the Evil Queen and the Wicked Witch, are people who got tired of being punished for doing good. My favourite rewrite was constructing Peter Pan not as the eternal boy, but as a selfish, cruel and ultimately destructive elderly man who hungered after youth as a means of remaining powerful. A stark warning for those of us who refuse to grow up and accept the responsibility that comes with it.

I do have some issues with it still though. For a start, there is still for me a lot of schmaltz in the relationships between characters. Everything is resolved by the love of a parent or spouse, everyone seems to be willing to sacrifice themselves for a greater good, and the good guys always seem to win in the most convenient of ways. No wonder characters like Regina constantly turn to the dark side – it is the only thing that stops the show consisting just of people singing to birds for an hour.

Speaking of Regina, I do wish we weren’t constantly forced to watch her try and become good and fail. Yes, I like the depth of character she has (bar Mr Gold she appears to be the only one to have more than two dimensions) but there must be something she can do. I must confess I have only just begun season 4 (the show is currently only available on Netflix in the UK), and whilst I am intrigued by her plan to rewrite the stories so the bad guys wins why does she have to identify herself as a villain? Surely we have seen enough of her better nature to see she is morally complex at worst?

Perhaps the fact I am asking so many questions of one character – although similar ones could be asked of Gold – proves the show works. It drags you back in because you want to see where the characters go next. However, it is a sign of where it sometimes goes wrong that you start rooting for the bad guys.

When you watch the same show season after season it can be worthwhile to take a step back and see how the show has moved on from its beginnings. Some move on from their original premise to something wider or narrower (e.g. Revenge, which I’m still not sure needed to go beyond its third season climax), whilst others add layers to the original story, fuelling the story.

Grimm falls into this category quite nicely. As the fourth season moves along, more characters are being given light and shade beyond Nick himself, as well as different permutations of what his powers actually mean. In the case of the latter this has included episodes dealing with what happens when a Grimm goes bad (or rather loses the ability to make decisions) and the consequences of losing his powers. Being behind America here in the UK, we are only just beginning to see him get his powers back, as well as the return of Josh Porter, who I must confess I had forgotten about until his back-story was re-explained to the viewers.

It is the added depth to the characters though that this show has made the biggest advances. Nick is no longer the only one facing dilemmas. Rosalee and Monroe’s relationship has become a good allegory for racial and homophobic race crime, a love that was condemned by parents and is still under threat from the wider community. Yes, comparisons to the KKK are made a little obvious, but this is a mainstream series after all, not some abstract play where you have to puzzle over the meaning for hours afterwards.

It is in Adalind’s development though that I am most intrigued by. Having spent the first two series playing a sharp, smart and manipulative (if slightly unloved) character, the past couple of seasons have added nuances. The realisation she is just a pawn in men’s games led her to almost becoming a good guy, coupled with motherhood. Then the loss of her child, in a plot so tangled it has taken even the smartest villain in the show nearly half a season to figure out what happened, has led her to being a more amoral figure. She doesn’t care for good or evil, she just wants her baby back.

It will be interesting as this season develops to see how different sub-plots ferment. How will Adalind and the Royals trace Kelly Burkhardt? How far will the Wesen community go to destroy Monroe and Rosalee? And will Wu ever be allowed to learn what the hell is going on? With all this going, the ‘Wesen crime’ plotline in each episode is almost the distraction. Still, you have to stick to what you do best, I guess.

I apologise for my absence and infrequency of posts. There are a number of reasons for this, not least the fact I have pledged to do more with  my life than just watch TV, which is hazardous when you write a blog about TV. The other main reason is that, to put it bluntly, I have found little to inspire me to write of late. Yes all of my old favourites are back, but I begrudge repeating myself unless the programme in question has significantly changed or the nature of the show allows frequent revisits due to a revolving-door as regards personnel (e.g. The Great British Bake Off).

One show in the former category is True Blood. I have fond memories of the first two seasons, where the blend of dark humour, paranormal romance and politics was smooth and delicious. The cliffhangers genuinely had you on edge, the characters (even minor ones) well-developed, and there was a dark beauty to the whole thing. Even the third and fourth seasons were strong enough, not least the development of some previous minor characters like Jessica and Hoyt.

Yet the past few seasons have seen a slide in quality. The show was always violent and sex-driven, but now it feels as if the writers are constructing flimsy plots and coincidences just to get the next unleashing of blood and lust. Perhaps they feel threatened by Game of Thrones, one of the few programmes that has outstripped in terms of death and nudity. If so, they could take a leaf out of that shows book and learn how to properly weave shock and awe into a plot.

Then there is the fact that the politics is now so overt that it feels almost lazy. The whole Hep-V storyline just doesn’t grab me. In fact, the whole vampire fundamentalists, cult of Lilith etc,etc,etc hasn’t appealed to me. All the subtleties have gone, and this includes character development as well.

There are a few remaining bright spots. Pam has long been a favourite character of mine, even when she only had about two lines the whole season. Her growing role has been a relief at a time when so many other characters have become increasingly annoying (seriously, Sookie, stop wearing your past like a crown of thorns). Still, one character does not carry a show, and the loss of Tara only added to this.

This is due to be the final season of True Blood. It would be nice for the producers to attempt to recreate the glory days of solid stories and interesting people. Early evidence shows though that is not likely to happen.