Archives for posts with tag: fantasy

The fashion for reboots is showing no signs of slowing down. The latest to enjoy such a privilege is Charmed. I never watched the original series, which both aids and detracts from my ability to analyse this show. Aids because I am distracted by a nostalgia for the previous version that could cloud my judgement. Detracts in that it means I cannot judge how much it is living up to the initial spirit of the show.

Anyway, Charmed should be right up my alley. Regular readers know I find it hard to resist a bit of supernatural hokum, the wittier and slightly dafter the better. I have slowly come round to The Chilling Adventures if Sabrina, although I still feel they missed a trick not having a talking cat. But once it settled more into the pattern of background long-term villain and short-term crisis points a la Buffy I began to fall for it.

At the moment, Charmed is suffering from a similar problem, in that it is trying to set out its premise, and is therefore currently lacking a natural rhythm. The first episode in particular seemed to be doing too much and had three scenes that could have all worked as a suitable ending that instead just got left hanging as the next situation came up that needed to be resolved. In other words, it was rushed.

The second episode was better. There was a tighter structure and slightly fewer distractions from the main thrust, although I still felt there was a battle for airtime between the plots at points. I once read a companion book to Buffy that suggested all you need is a plot and a subplot in each episode and all character development should span from that, and this is advice this show needs to follow.

My other big problem is that the show seems to be at pains to be as woke as possible. It’s fine to beat the drum by making strong female characters, LGBT themes and the current political background a key part. But it needs to be subtle. Again, I call upon Buffy as an example of it done well. It was only when people started discussing it as feminist and pro-LGBT you realised that it was. Charmed rather smashes you with it. And if I feel like that as someone who is pro #metoo and LGBT rights, I can only imagine what those who are more ambivalent or opposed feel.

What this show needs, and what I am going to give it, is time. It needs to find its rhythm and a means of telling its stories that works. The plots are good, the characters a little cheesy but capable of growing over time and there is a strong mystery hook. It has all the ingredients it needs. It just needs to blend them a little better.

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Revivals and reboots seem to be all the rage at the moment. Maybe it’s just the circle of nostalgia – the generation that enjoyed the originals is now old enough to be the decision maker in the industry and want to recapture their youth. Or more likely it is just a lack of original ideas, or at least ones that are profitable.

The latest mooted comeback is for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I have mixed feelings on this. It was a show that I loved as teenager and in my early twenties. It seemed to fit the times – a sassy, pop culture take on the genre. There was a chemistry so unique I find it hard to imagine it ever working that well again and I do not want my memories spoilt.

Having said that, there is such a lack of strong female leads in the fantasy world. Even most of the women in Game of Thrones seem entrapped by men in some way. Also, who am I to declare what the next generation can do and not do with a story? I gave short shrift to those who rampaged against the Ghostbusters revival, so I would be a hypocrite to put up the same barriers around Buffy.

There are some rules though that both the creators and fans (yes, fans, you have some responsibility too here) need to follow. First, we need to let the new Buffy be a new Buffy. If she is a different name, race, age or sexuality than the original we need to agree that is ok. We need to remember that this character is being made for a new generation to tell new stories.

More importantly, she is to be the change that generation wants to see, and a powerful female figure to boot. So gents, if she isn’t the stuff of your wet dreams, don’t wang on about it. That’s not her job. She just needs to kick ass.

That message goes to the writers as well. Make her a bimbo, or dependent on the love of men, or subservient to anyone in anyway, then you are missing the point of the character. Buffy taught a generation of people that while love is, well, lovely, it shouldn’t be something that makes you weak.

Finally, make the new stories genuinely new stories. Tap into contemporary fears and give us the hope they can be beaten. The evil tech genius who possess people through social media. The vampire who uses Tinder to meet its victims. The demon who thrives off the chaos caused by fake news. There, that’s three plots sorted for you. DM me for how to give me payment.

So I’ve decided that, if things go as they should, the reboot of Buffy will work. But, as I said, it is not just on the writers, it is on the fans as well. Don’t tear things down just because it isn’t what you want. This new telling is for new people as well. Let them get excited the way you did. Because you would hate for anyone to destroy the love you have for the new thing you have found, wouldn’t you?

An occasional topic I discuss on here is when should a show end. Once Upon A Time is a case in point. Season 6 seemed to end in such a way as to make the story feel complete – the biggest evil was defeated, most people got happy endings and a new, quiet life was dawning for many.

So news of a season 7 took me aback. Surely there were no more curses that one group of people could endure? How many more times must we sit through Emma and Hook being all ‘will they, won’t they?’ and Mr Gold turn briefly good before his Machiavellian streak emerges again? Hence why I avoided it for so long.

But, having given in, I feel more satisfied than expected. For a start, we have almost an entirely new cast, bar a few characters. And it is the best ones. The drippy Snow and Charming are gone, but Queen of Sass Regina/Roni is still around, Rumple has a new guise and Hook is still eye candy for those who are into their men who wear an excess of guyliner. We do have an adult Henry, less irritating but still too vanilla, but this is Disney.

I am loving the plot the as well, which seems to have dialled up the crazy several notches. There seems to be at least four villains this time, with Rumple joined by Lady Tremaine/Victoria, Drizella and Gothel, people coming back to life and a slightly grittier feel to the setting. The whole thing is deranged in the best possible way.

I do have bug bears. Whilst the plot is crazy fun, it is getting manic in such a way that I have no clue who is responsible for what and why. I’m not entirely grasping what the end game is of the villains, but I can live with that for now.

My biggest frustration though is Tilly/Alice. I hate in when American shows cast a British character and only allow them to sound like royalty or Cockney sparrows. Tilly is the latter and seems to be channelling Dick Van Dyke’s chimney sweep from Mary Poppins. As a non-Londoner, I feel slightly insulted that we don’t hear many other British accents. We have to translate Deep South voices over here, I’m sure Americans can handle Scouse or Geordie with a bit of help.

Anyway, this is to be the last season, hence the feeling of reckless abandonment with so much of it. I hope it builds to a satisfying end, even if it is not necessarily a happy one. Who am I kidding, this show lives on schmaltz of the highest order, of course it will be a happy one.

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.

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.