It all started with this awesome IO9 article on the top ten shows that had us in the first five minutes. As I was going through the article, I had most of the shows covered. Two of the missing pieces were things already on my “to do” list like Batman Beyond which is a train I fell off of far earlier than I wanted. Fortunately, my nephew Zack will be lending me his copy of the complete series. The other was The Middleman which I learned about awhile back from Tuning into SciFi TV. Then there was this show called Real Humans, from Sweden of all places, that I had never heard of. With the help of my son Harry I was quickly able to check the series out thanks to a nice set of home made English subtitles that someone generously created.
Real Humans takes place in Sweden in a not too distant future/alternate reality. The show doesn’t really specify which. I can see what Charlie was talking about in the IO9 article as the series wastes no time in throwing you into the story. We open with a man driving home and hitting someone with his car. As he gets out to investigate, he finds he has hit someone who clearly isn’t human. He doesn’t stay long to investigate as a mob of similar people begins approaching through the woods. We come to learn that these “people” are actually robots called Hubots as they are built to look mostly human. The man races home and attempts to seal up his home telling his wife he expected something like this to happen when the Hubots attack. During this process we learn that one of the group is a human and see one of the Hubots get captured by a couple of people who appear to be Hubot scavengers.
After this opening the story focuses on this band and four other groups. The principle group is the Engman family. We first encounter them through the mother’s father Lennart who lives alone in his own house with a Hubot companion named Odi. It becomes apparent fairly quickly that Lennart is heavily dependent upon Odi but, unfortunately, Odi is an extremely old model of Hubot who is beginning to malfunction, dangerously so, at times. This prompts the Engman’s to purchase a new Hubot caretaker for Lennart. When the salesman at the Hubot store learns that the Engman’s have never owned a Hubot themselves he successfully sweetens the deal on a more expensive caretaker model by throwing in another Hubot for free for the family. The free Hubot, of course, turns out to be the one we saw abducted from the earlier group. The Engman’s neighbors are Roger and Therese and her son Kevin from a previous marriage. Therese has a Hubot named Rick with whom she is quite intimate. Roger works at a distribution warehouse of some ilk where he, a peer, and their supervisor are the only humans left in a sea of Hubots. Almost immediately we see Therese leave Roger with Rick and her son after yet another in what has probably been a long string of domestic fights due to Roger’s less than sparkling personality which is no doubt fueled by his innate distrust of Hubots. This is likely enflamed by his work situation. Finally, two police detectives, Bea and Ove, have taken up the investigation of the actions of the rogue group of Hubots and are hot on their trail.
I’m not going to go much further into any details of the story itself as a number of the characters turn out to be not who they seem to be at first and a few go through some major life altering circumstances. Overall, the story is a classic SF one in that it goes into a quite thorough examination of the impact of the new technology, in the form of the Hubots, on our society. As a result, the story is largely carried by the characters themselves and the actors all do an outstanding job with their roles. Odi’s failing state is a mirror for Lennart to examine his own advancing years. Roger starts as the classic trope of the man whose job is being displaced by the new technology but, I’m glad to say he evolves beyond that throughout the season. However, the human cast is only half the story here. The actors who play the Hubots completely sold the world to me. A series like this is obviously going to be quite light on the visual effects but, Real Humans makes exceptional use of that small amount. The Hubot make-up is quite unsettling and it wouldn’t surprise me if a choreographer was used to coach the actors in their Hubot roles. They also have this “going wild” sequence as their programing starts getting challenged. It is a series of alternating eye blinks combined with a subtle little audio effect that is quite impressive. This effect is also minimally used which further enhances its impact. All of this combined to make me completely buy into the Hubots as artificial people. There is also a back story, told in flashback, that provides us with an explanation of how things got to the point that we have watched from the beginning of the series. One other minor detail that I found kind of interesting is that, being a non-American production, guns are never presented in a positive light throughout the series.
Real Humans is a very character driven program. At first I wasn’t really sure about my opinion on it until I got to the fifth episode which locked me into the rest of the run, and provided me with yet another example for my rule of always giving a new series five episodes before abandoning it. Each episode ends on a cliffhanger but, it was the fifth episode’s one that made me almost want to break my rule of one episode per day. There are a number of twists and turns as we learn not only what the renegade Hubot’s goals are but, also how the various government enforcement agencies intend to deal with the situation. The one thing that kept jumping into my mind over the course of my viewing was the thought that this might have been what the Battlestar Galactica fans wanted to see in the series Caprica. While the series is most likely inspired by the Karel Capek classic R.U.R. with a little bit of Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus thrown in for good measure, I was left wondering if the Battlestar Galactica SyFy series might have been an inspiration as well.
For those who aren’t able to access the version of the season that Harry found for me, the Canadian Space channel will be coming to your rescue by presenting a subtitled version of the series starting on November 12th with the first two episodes shown together. Actually, the first episode itself will be shown as a special premier on the 8th with the 12th starting the series regular full run. So, with this broadcast we will hopefully see an official region one DVD release with English subtitles which means I’ll have to change the title of this review. On top of this there is also supposed to be an English language version of the series titled, simply enough, Humans starting in 2015 which is a coproduction of AMC in the US and Channel 4 in the UK but, is only going to run for eight instead of ten episodes.
I wanted to address one side note outside of the review itself. Out of all of the ideas thrown at the audience there was one, that got maybe five to ten minutes of screen time tops, and that really hammered my “bad idea” button a number of times to stick with me as I thought back over the first season. It’s not much of a spoiler but apparently Lennart’s wife must have worked for a fancy firm as one of the death benefits they had was this thing called a Hubot clone. This is a two part process, the first of which is an extensive interview before death followed, posthumously, by your personality from the interview being converted into software and loaded into a Hubot copy of you. The idea here being to help ease your loved ones through the trauma of your passing. There are so many things wrong with this concept that I could write a whole other blog entry on this topic alone. However, even as horrible as this idea is I have to admit that there is no doubt in my mind that, given the technology presented, it would certainly be one of its uses as there would be someone who would be certain that they could make money off it.
In my previous posting I talked a bit about the introduction of the character Firestorm on the new Flash series. I mentioned that I suspected that they might change his origin given that Firestorm is created by Ronnie Raymond and Dr. Martin Stein physically merging into one being. The reason I thought this was because of the more realistic focus on the super powers presented in the series Arrow. Well, it looks like Flash is going to be a little more on the fantastic side as they are going with the original, and in my opinion classic, version of the character. No problem for me as this was the version of Firestorm that I loved so much as a kid and remains my favorite to this day. I’m just really curious how they’re going to handle the whole merge thing but based on the preview of the next episode I may not have that long a wait as I know who the villain is because he is another classic one from the early issues of Firestorm.
When I started this blog, going on two years ago now, I really didn’t have an overall direction or guiding principle in mind. For those who know me, this is really a big departure from how I normally roll. Having been a board gamer for most of my life, I tend to be more of a planner than not. Or, as I like to put it, my back-up plans generally have back-up plans. Even without an overall scheme, I did have a couple of ideas of things I did and did not want to do. First and foremost, I did not want Fantastic Television to become just a review site. I like talking about all sorts of aspects of genre television so I wanted that echoed here as well. Another thing I wanted to do was cover a lot of the lesser known stuff out there. I run into all kinds of weird genre TV series like Space Patrol Orion or Freakylinks that I hope other fans might be interested in as well. There was only one thing I didn’t want to do and that was cover the insanely popular stuff. My reasoning for this is sort of along the lines of do I really need to add my voice to the chorus of people praising Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead? Probably not, as anyone here is almost certainly already following these shows themselves if they are interested in them. Having said all this, awhile back Eric at The Movie Waffler sent out an email requesting season appropriate content for October and specifically asked for an article that was an overview of season one through four of The Walking Dead. Being a regular contributor to his site and having watched the show from day one, I felt kind of morally obligated to oblige so, here is my article in case anyone wants to see my feelings on one of the most amazing genre shows on TV.
I know I don’t post anywhere near as many news stories on Fantastic Television as I would like to so, with three significant pieces of genre TV news I figured now was a good time to make up for that.
The first is actually more of an opinion piece on my part than an actual news story, per se. For those who gave up on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. last year (and I honestly can’t fault anyone for doing so) you may want to give the show a second chance. The season two first episode aired last Tuesday on ABC and it was pretty impressive. How impressive I hear you ask? (In my overactive imagination.) Well, how about the episode starting during the Second World War with Agent Carter and the Howling Commandos? We then jump to modern times seeing the state of the new and not-so-improved S.H.I.E.L.D. which is now under director Coulson. As if rebuilding the organization and fighting Hydra and other threats wasn’t enough, there is now a US general named Talbot who is intent on bringing them down as well. He also isn’t afraid to go on national TV to deliver his message. Oh yeah, then there is this new Hydra operative named Carl Creed whose name I couldn’t quite place until I used the Ipod to refresh my memory that he is better known as the Absorbing Man. For those unfamiliar with that name, he is a major player villain in the Marvel universe. There is no shortage of action mixed in with some equally awesome character development. Don’t worry about what you may have missed as the episode is very much a new pilot for the series and they do a good job of catching you up throughout the episode. If you’ve seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier you know a good percentage of what you need to anyway. The show definitely had more of the feel of the Marvel movie franchise to it so, give it a look. Hopefully, the rest of this season will continue to do so.
The second piece of news is that SyFy announced the renewal of Defiance for a third season. Surprisingly, at least to me, is that they also renewed Dominion for a second season as well so, I guess we haven’t exceeded the apocalypse genre TV series limit yet. Actually, I really shouldn’t comment here as my sister got me to start going through The Leftovers recently. Getting back to Defiance, I haven’t said a great deal about this show because it had a somewhat slow start. I stuck with it because it’s done by the same producer who gave us Farscape also which took awhile to get rolling. However, the second season of the series really started taking off around the third episode and really picked up steam towards the end. Season two ended with some seriously game changing events so, I’m really looking forward to what will happen with season three. For those who haven’t checked it out yet, season one is available on DVD and season two is on Hulu.
Finally, it was announced, actually it was more like people figured out, that Firestorm is likely to make an appearance in The Flash. Firestorm, the nuclear man, was the one comic that along with the New Teen Titans got me back into reading DC comics from an exclusively Marvel diet. Oh yeah, that reminds me that TNT has commissioned a pilot for a live action Teen Titans series in case anybody missed that. OK, so this really is a three news story post after all. Getting back to Firestorm, there was a brief period starting in 1975 where DC did something called the DC Explosion to try and increase their market sales. This resulted in a number of new characters being created, one of which was Firestorm. In 1978 this was followed by what is now called the DC Implosion where they decided that the plan wasn’t paying off and cancelled a bunch of titles. Firestorm would ultimately return in 1982 for a much longer run. On a purely personality level, I like to think of Firestorm as DC’s version of Spiderman in that you have a teenager who relishes the super powers he has recently acquired. If I recall correctly the first scene we get in one of the two first issues is him flying through the air screaming “Yahoo!”. The comic tended to be on the lighter side of superheroing with a reasonable amount of humor. On the power level the character is completely different than Spiderman. Firestorm, at least the first two versions that I read, can see matter at the atomic level and can freely rearrange it at will making him a sort of super alchemist. Except for organic matter that is, he can only effect inorganic matter. I’m actually kind of curious to see just how he gets incorporated into The Flash for a couple of reasons. First, based purely upon the tone of Arrow here, the character is a little too bright and cheery for that series. I’m guessing the tone of The Flash is going to be a little less dark based on this character’s inclusion. The second, and bigger problem, is part of Firestorm’s powers. The Arrow writers seem to put a lot of thought into how their super powered being work with a definite emphasis on believability. Firestorm’s powers aren’t so much the problem as they are pretty well defined but, what I neglected to mention above is his origin. He isn’t really just Ronnie Raymond. He was created as the result of an experimental reactor accident where the scientist Martin Stein tried to shield Ronnie with his body. The explosion fused the two of them into Firestorm so, the two of them actually fuse together (fusion, get it?) to form Firestorm. Ronnie actually controls Firestorm, for the most part, while Stein is sort of an on-board adviser. It is written a lot cooler than I’m probably describing here but, the whole merging of two people was something that none of the series’ regular writers ever really explained that well so they did the classic comic book thing of never really going into any detail on it. I gather that the newest version of the character (DC recently restarted their universe for like the zillionth time with an event called the new 52) doesn’t actually do the whole fusion thing so, I’m going to hazard a guess that The Flash writers will skip that whole aspect of the character as well given their focus on plausibility. The short version of all this is that it gives me yet another reason to look forward to CW’s new superhero series..
OK, so it took a little longer than a few more weeks but, my review of the live Action Planet of the Apes series from 1974 is finally done. As I mentioned in my previous article on the animated Return to the Planet of the Apes series this followed on from the Battle for the Planet of the Apes theatrical movie. The apes franchise was pretty much at the zenith of its popularity at the time and the merchandising around it would prove to be a prelude to the explosion following the success of Star Wars. I was in the target age group for this series and had the Mego Planet of the Apes action figures and am pretty sure I had the treehouse at the time. I remember watching the first episode and did watch a few more but lost interest in the show fairly quickly. These memories made me somewhat reluctant to revisit the series when Eric at The Movie Waffler asked me for a review of it. The relative scarcity of the series on DVD, which is no longer readily available and seems to go for decent money on Ebay, made me think I may not get a chance to revisit the show. So, I guess I should add this one to the “this should really be available on DVD” list as well. Fortunately (although I didn’t see it that way at first) my friend Rich Chamberlain over at Monster Movie Kid generously lent me his set. So, what was my reaction to revisiting a childhood genre series that I didn’t exactly have fond memories of? You’ll have to check it out here in my review.
As I’m sure most if not all of you know, I contribute articles to The Movie Waffler website as well. I generally post reviews at the Waffler for the non-genre TV I watch that I feel need some attention and, while I’m not the only TV reviewer there, I seem to be Eric’s “go to” guy for genre stuff which I’m sure to mention here when it does appear. With this thought in mind, I also wanted to point out a recent book review for a book that I think Fantastic Television readers might be interested in as it seems to contain a decent amount of genre TV content. The book is called Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show which is apparently based upon a documentary of the same name. The points of interest to genre fans are the interviews with Ron Moore (Battlestar Galactica), Damon Lindeloff (Lost, which, yes I know I don’t consider a genre show but some do) and Joss Whedon (if you don’t know who he is, why are you reading this blog?). In any case, I plan to check the book out myself at some point I just wanted to make you all aware of it in case any of you wished to do the same. The review is available here.
In our continuing coverage of the classic Outer Limits series Vince, Mary and I discuss the episodes Specimen: Unknown and Second Chance on the Bmoviecast. These are two episodes I enjoy very much even though they are generally not that well regarded. You can listen to the podcast here to get all of our thoughts on these two lesser known episodes of this classic anthology series.