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Sleepy Hollow season 2 review

Sleepy-Hollow-season-two-castI have been working on this review for awhile now and a lot has happened over that time. After season two concluded things were sort of up in the air for a bit when showrunner Mark Goffman decided to leave for another network. Fortunately, a new showrunner in the form of Clifton Campbell has signed on and Fox has renewed the series for a third season of 18 episodes. So, after this brief update I present my review of season two of Sleepy Hollow. As always with my non-first season reviews, spoilers may be present based upon whether I feel the need to mention them or not.

Sleepy Hollow came out of nowhere when it first premiered two years ago. Being a network series I would have ignored it myself except for one thing. Every reviewer I read, without exception gave it rave, or at least very good, reviews. Since I had never run into this before I decided to give it a look and I was pretty much hooked from the word go. This surprised me even more as, going into it, I really didn’t see a need to retread the Christian apocalypse material that had been previously covered so well by Supernatural but there were two features that worked for me. The first was the chemistry between the two lead characters Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) and Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie). A good pairing like this can elevate an otherwise unremarkable series to greatness. My “go to” example here is the classic Wild Wild West series. Without the excellent chemistry between James West and Artemis Gordon I often find myself wondering if the series would have made it past season one. The second thing was that the writing was definitely in the classic pulp style. As should be obvious to most of my readers by now I am a huge fan of pulp literature, especially the hero pulps. Sleepy Hollow has this no apologies for the plot just move the story along attitude that is the hallmark of that style of literature. A great example here is the beginning of the second season. Abbie was left trapped in purgatory as one of the season one cliff hangers. In the more dramatic shows I watch, this would have been fodder for a few episodes but, not Sleepy Hollow. Abbie was back in our world for most of the first episode.

As I mentioned when I first started this blog second seasons are tricky business for any series and the ratings for Sleepy Hollow’s second were not as strong as the first. There are probably a few reasons for that. The first and most obvious to me was bringing in Ichabod’s wife Katrina as a main character. I initially didn’t have a whole lot of problems with the idea, in fact I kind of liked it. That was until it started cutting into the Ichabod/Abbie chemistry I mentioned above. It also seemed like they kind of didn’t know exactly what to do with her character at first. I ultimately did like the way they used her but, the initial steps seemed somewhat indecisive. These two factors ended up being enough to reverse my initial optimism on the idea. Another misstep, and one that I was worried about from the previous season, was the trap of making Ichabod know all the famous figures from his era. From the first season we knew he was working directly for George Washington and we discover in season two that he apprenticed under Ben Franklin and helped Thomas Jefferson with the Declaration of Independence. This is a minor complaint that might be more of a pet peeve on my part but I really wish the writers had avoided it or perhaps introduced some less well known historical personalities.

Even with these two complaints, I still did very much enjoy the second season. The show does take on a more episodic tone at times so, be warned. If you prefer more of a continuing story style of series you may be disappointed with some parts of season two. Being raised on episodic series, I didn’t have a problem with it and, in fact, found it somewhat enjoyable. Given the events at the end of season one, Abbie finds herself with a new captain at the station and I have to say that this was another of the highlights of the season two. Of course Sheriff Reyes has a lot of questions about Abbie’s police work (like why, exactly, does the department need a history consultant?). The Sheriff could have simply been left as foil for Abbie but, instead they allowed her to ultimately be won over to Abbie’s side without her having to reveal everything to her new boss. What I especially liked about this was that they made Abbie really have to work for it as well as it nicely demonstrated her strength of character.

Given the supernatural nature of the series, the non-arc episodes tend to fall into the monster of the week variety but, even these do feature a good bit of character development as well. Also, they still go full throttle on these stories which is enhanced by grabbing some pretty unexpected creatures as well as methods of using them in the story. One such entry is a serial killer from Ichabod’s time that arrives via a fairly unique method that I have only ever seen once before from the previously mentioned Wild Wild West in a plot by recurring villain Miguelito Loveless. They even managed to surprise me with a mythological creature I had never heard of before which is pretty good for just two seasons as Supernatural has only ever surprised me with two such creatures over its ten year run. Did I mention I read a lot of garbage? Anyway, the arc stories are fine as well but, the one that stands out the best for me is the season finale which sends Abbie back to Ichabod’s time (spoiler alert: magic is involved). That last episode was really amazing and is probably my current favorite of the series to date.

Overall the strengths of season two more than make up for the weaknesses and the second season of Sleepy Hollow held up just fine for me. I’ll definitely be looking forward to what the new showrunner has in store for season three.

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.

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