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.
Summer used to be my busiest viewing season of the year with lots of cable original series coming out during that period. As a result, the fall was usually a step down for my TV viewing. This has changed now thanks to the addition of four series to my planned viewing, two network and two not really as I don’t see the CW as a true broadcast network yet. I’m going back to chronological order as I find I need to use this list as an occasional reminder for myself.
Starting with non-genre is Boardwalk Empire’s final season with only eight episodes which starts tonight on HBO. Even though the series seems to be targeted at me individually, I have to admit the fourth season was definitely lacking something. I will still be interested to see how things play out as the final season takes place in 1931 which is the middle of the Great Depression. Swinging back to genre is one of the three shows I’m talking about above in the form of Fox’s Sleepy Hollow which starts on September 22nd. This was one I tried on a lark last year given that every early review I read of the pilot last year was a glowing one. The series didn’t disappoint even though it is covering some of the same territory that Supernatural already has (along with about a zillion other new genre shows this year). Normally I would be worried about this show as it entering its sophomore season but I’m not as concerned as it seems like the cast, crew and writers seem to really have their collective heads around the concept. Going into grey territory we have the fourth season of Person of Interest which some people consider genre. I’m just not one of them. The third season finale was a really dark one so I’m really looking forward to the show’s return on September 23rd on CBS to see where things are heading. Also, on the 23rd is Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC. I have been seeing a lot of little articles about some of the changes for the second season, which I have actually been trying to avoid in all honesty, and I’m curious to see how they work out. I really felt the first season of this series kind of got hamstrung by the story needing to wait for the release of The Winter Soldier to really get going. I guess this would be the point to mention that I’m also looking forward to the Agent Carter series that will occur over the mid-season break of S.H.I.E.L.D. (boy does typing in that acronym get old fast).
Moving to October, the 5th specifically, and back to non-genre is Showtime’s Homeland (or Homeland: The Affair as it seems to be advertised). This is the first season after the resolution of the Brody storyline so, it will be interesting to see how things go. I’ll just say I’m not as pessimistic as a lot of the other series regular viewers seem to be but, then again, I also felt the whole Brody thing lasted one season longer than it actually needed to. Back to genre again, we have Supernatural returning for its 10th season on October 7th on the CW. This show still works for me but I’m a little hesitant about the announced musical episode as Once More with Feeling from Buffy will be an insanely tough act to follow given that it is at the top of my ten favorite genre TV episodes list. On the same night and channel we also have the start of The Flash which I am very much looking forward too, even if I do have to agree with my friend Dennis Zeigler about having trouble reconciling Grant Gustin with the Barry Allen I remember from the comics I read as a kid. Still, I plan to keep an open mind and some of the preview shots I’ve seen have looked pretty awesome. On the 8th on the same channel Arrow returns for its third season. At the risk of sounding like a broken record here, if you are a genre TV fan you really need to be watching this series. Arrow is easily my all-time favorite super hero series to date. I know some people complain quite a bit about the CW’s casting but, Stephen Amell really does look like someone who could kick your ass in a back alley. Also on the same night on FX is the fourth season the anthology series American Horror Story which is subtitle Freak Show this season. For those who are not aware of it, the plans for the fifth season are a grand story line that links all four previous seasons together. I’m genuinely curious to see how this gets handled as even though the setting changes from season to season the cast does not thus, making it hard to have some characters on screen at the same time. This reminds me that I should also probably get around to watching the last half of the first season before then. Sorry, but I totally lost interest about halfway through that one. Finally, October finishes out with the return of AMC’s The Walking Dead for it’s fifth season starting on the 12th. This had an even more amazing cliff hanger ending than Person of Interest so, I’m really pretty enthusiastic to see where things go for our band of zombie apocalypse survivors.
Finally (OK so I kind of lied about the whole chronological thing) there are three series I wanted to mention as genre fans might want check then out, even though I’ll probably only hit two of them myself. The first is Gotham, which premiers on Fox on September 22nd. I’m not planning on checking this one out myself as the subject matter doesn’t interest me and also leaves me wondering how they are going to be able to go anywhere with it but, every early review of it I have seen this far has been even more glowing than those for last year’s Sleepy Hollow. The series concept is the Batman version of Smallville, basically. On October 24th I’ll very likely be checking out Constantine as the previews for this NBC series very much remind me of the Hellblazer comics I read back in the day. So, if I can overcome my inherent prejudice against network programming, I’ll give it a go. Finally, on November 24th, SyFy will be doing a space based SF mini series called Ascension set in an alternate reality aboard a generation ship. This one I will definitely be checking out as I can’t seem to get enough space based genre TV content myself.
Planet of the Apes was a huge franchise that sort of completely disappeared for a number of decades but, anyone born in the late 50s or early 60s can tell you how big it was at the time. The first film in 1968 was a huge hit. The first draft of the screenplay was written by Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling but would ultimately be rewritten by Michael Wilson. The movie spawned four sequels that came out in rapid succession. After the two year gap to the second film, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, the rest would be released only one year apart from one another. Two TV series, one live action and one animated would appear one year apart from the end of the movie run and each other. Movie theaters had special Planet of the Apes marathon events where they showed all five films in one day as a lead into the first of these two sequel series (the live action one). For the time period there was a large amount of merchandising which by today’s standard would not be considered not much. Marvel did two comic book series. More dear to my heart was the Mego action figure series which are probably still up in the attic at my folks house. There were also record/book sets, models and some other stuff. So, why did this franchise all but disappear from the public eye? It could have something to do with the 1977 release of this little film called Star Wars along with the re-invention of SF cinema that followed. That’s honestly just a guess on my part as I have always wondered about this. Maybe, as my wife suggests, the kids who were the main audience for the series just grew out of it or, perhaps the public was just tired of the Planet of the Apes.
With the release of the excellent Dawn of the planet of the Apes my friend Eric Hillis’ requested, much like my article on Godzilla on TV and the accompanying Movie Waffler article on the history of the Godzilla franchise, a couple of articles on the Planet of the Apes franchise two TV series. I started with the latter Return to the Planet of the Apes animated series because it was readily available. I actually watched both series back in the day although I only watched about every other episode of the animated series. At first I didn’t think I would be able to cover the earlier live action series until my friend Richard Chamberlain generously volunteered me the loan of his DVD set for this series. Richard is a scholar and gentleman who runs a blog called Monster Movie Kid where he is going through all of the Planet of the Apes movies. He even discusses the two TV series himself. You should definitely check it out. Also, check out my review of Return to the Planet of the Apes and, after a few more weeks my review of the earlier live action TV series.
Just a few quick comments on Defiance that were inspired the most recent episode Painted from Memory. What specifically that got me to write about the episode was the awesome opening. The episode begins with the public return of a character everybody (myself included) had presumed to be dead. The character’s sister and murderess are both in the Need Want (bar/brothel) and as their reactions begin to register the song “What’s Up” by the group 4 Non Blondes (don’t worry, I had to look them up as well) starts playing in the background which features the chorus line “what’s going on?”. This then carries into the title sequence where the song replaces the regular title music. The whole sequence was executed pretty seamlessly and I thought it was pretty slick. I actually found it funny from the perspective that it struck me as flipping around the now common trope, which I’m kind of fed up with, of ending an episode on a song. While I don’t think Stargate: Universe was the first to do it, that show certainly popularized it and, being a SyFy original series as well, I have to wonder if the idea of starting this episode on a song was sort of an inside joke.
Anyway, getting back to Defiance, I have to say that the second season of the show has seen a marked improvement in overall quality. It doesn’t surprise me as the executive producer did Farscape which also built up as it went so, I’m guessing that this is just his style. I had watched the first season without thinking all that highly of it until, towards the end of the first season, my younger son Alex watched an episode with me. Now, Alex is a notoriously tough critic who is far worse than my wife. He liked the episode he saw with me enough to watch the next few during the duration of his visit. So, that definitely made me think that the improvement I thought I saw at the end of the first season was probably more than just my imagination. In any case, the third episode of the second season had the first moment when I realized this show was going places. There was a very brief flashback scene to 3000 years earlier that explained some of the background while at the same time leaving you with even more questions. The increase in quality hasn’t been entirely consistent over the second season but, it is still enough for me to recommend to people who may have initially given this series a pass that they may want to now take a look.