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That time of year again

Promo shot for one of my 2014 genre-TV discoveries.

Promo shot for one of my 2014 genre-TV discoveries.

My television discoveries of 2014 article is now available for viewing at The Movie Waffler. I probably could have posted it here this year as there is only one non-genre show in the form of True Detective on the list. Actually, True detective is what I like to call an edge show in that genre-TV fans may enjoy it even though it is non-genre. If you want to read more about it and some other edge shows then you can go back to my comments here. Finally, I wanted to give credit where credit is due. This whole idea came to me from the awesome website Rupert Pupkin Speaks where every year around this time he and a number of guest reviewers post their list of movie discoveries of the previous year. If you are into less well known good films you should really check out his site.

And another one I forgot

This pretty much sums up the character, if one may use the term loosely, of Saul Goodman.

This pretty much sums up the character, if one may use the term loosely, of Saul Goodman.

In writing my previous entry I forgot to add another show that I will be checking out this winter.  In my defense, I didn’t so much forget as I just hadn’t seen an official announcement about its premier date.  Fortunately, I am in the process of writing my TV discoveries of 2014 article and, in the process of doing some research for that, I stumble across the premier date of February 8th of AMC’s new series Better Call Saul.  Breaking Bad is currently at the top of my all-time favorite television series list so, I will definitely be checking out this spin-off series about everyone’s favorite shyster (wikipedia it) Saul Goodman.  While it’s definitely non-genre it’s supposed to be a mix of drama and black humor and I’m definitely a fan of the latter.  So, I guess it’s a good thing I was doing that article or I might very well have missed the first episode given that The Walking Dead restarts on the same date and I rely on the DVR to catch that for me.  Keep up the excellent advertising work AMC.

Flu season

I wish this pulp magazine really existed.

With what I like to call the “winter” TV season right around the corner, I though it might be time to talk about the shows I’ll be watching starting in January. I’m going to start with the one show that I’m most looking forward to which is Marvel’s Agent Carter. It starts on January 6th with a two hour premier on NBC. What can I say? It’s superheroes and World War II so, I’m probably close to the bulls eye of its target audience. I just hope it lives up to all of the hype. The other new series coming out this winter is 12 Monkeys which is a SyFy original series based upon the 1995 film of the same name. Given that the movie is one of my all-time favorite SF films, I was really on the fence about checking this one out. However, my friend Kevin Bachelder recently saw the first couple of episodes and had some very positive things to say so, I’ll be checking it out after all. 12 Monkeys premiers on January 16th on SyFy. On the same night, season 2 of Helix begins as well. I liked the first season of Helix which started out awesome then kind of lost its way in the middle before ultimately getting back together enough to deliver a solid ending. I’m kind of puzzled by the previews though in that it looks like there is no continuity from the events at the end of season one, to the point that I wondered if the second season was a prequel. Apparently, it’s not. While we’re on the subject of SyFy, does anyone know if they will be showing season 3 of The Almighty Johnsons or do I just have to find a way to order the DVDs directly from New Zealand? I would have sworn I saw a schedule that indicated that they were planning to but, that promptly disappeared. Maybe I just dreamed about it. In any case, for those unfamiliar with the show here are my season one and two reviews.

The remaining three series I’ll be returning to are all non-genre fare that I’ll cover here. The first is the American version of the original British series Shameless. As long time blog readers know this series holds a special place in my heart due to Frank’s uncanny resemblance to one of my in-laws. Season five starts on January 11th on Showtime. I’m looking forward to it quite a bit as the cliffhanger from season four seemed to return a character I liked but who I had assumed was long dead. The Americans is an espionage drama set in the 1980s that my wife got me into. The first season was OK but the second season moved so fast that at the finale I thought we were only about eight episodes into it. That’s some pretty awesome writing. The Americans returns to FX on January 28th. Finally, in case it’s not been made completely apparent yet, sitcoms are really just not my thing. They are more of Diane’s. Having said that that there are a few I like with Fawlty Towers probably being my favorite. Showtime has a series called Episodes that tries to mix British and American humor in one series. While I thought the first season went well, I felt the second kind of shifted more heavily to the American side of things. There was a one year gap between seasons two and three for some reason so, we’re in the process of catching up on season three in anticipation of four which starts on January 11th on Showtime.

Of course, there is also all of the other series returning from their mid-season breaks. For those keeping score at home, these include: American Horror Story: Freakshow, Arrow, The Flash, Person of Interest (which I feel has finally entered genre territory with the most recent season), Sleepy Hollow, Supernatural and The Walking Dead.

2014: The genre TV year in review

One of the bigger surprises for me in 2014.

One of the bigger surprises for me in 2014.

First, i want to apologize for the two month delay in posting.  The new job got kind of crazy again leaving me precious little time to write anything.  However, it did allow me enough time to keep up with everything that I am currently watching.  I also managed to sneak in the first episode of CW’s The 100 which has been on my “to do” list for quite some time.  I’m really looking forward to going through the rest of that series based upon what I saw in the pilot.  With the holidays upon us things have finally slowed down enough to allow me to put some thoughts to keyboard.  Eric Hillis over at The Movie Waffler asked me to do an overview of genre TV in 2014 article and here it is.  The short version is that it has been a pretty good year but, you can check out the article for my more detailed analysis.

This Should Really be Available on DVD: Real Humans season 1

Odi at one of his better moments.

Odi at one of his better moments.

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.

OK, so I blew the call on Firestorm

Meet Dr. Martin Stein (aka Victor Garber)

Meet Dr. Martin Stein (aka Victor Garber)

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.

Why don’t I talk about that show?

Another show that you won't see me discuss that often here.

Another show that you won’t see me discuss that often here.

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.

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