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Direct Beam Comms #61



TV

The Expanse – Episode 1, season 2 Grade: A-

I won’t talk much about The Expanse on SyFy since I just published a feature-length article on the series a few weeks ago except to say that the second season, which premiered as two episodes back-to-back, kicks off with a bang right where the first ended. That season of The Expanse generally followed the first half of the book Leviathan Wakes with, I’m assuming, the second season covering the back-half of the book. Which should mean for some seriously good TV with ships zooming around the solar system, Mars and Earth at the brink of war along with an out of control city-sized asteroid with its sights set on the Earth.

Powerless – Episode 1 Grade B

Have we reached peak superhero yet? The creators of the new Powerless TV series sure hope we haven’t as they launch their new series on NBC that is “the first comedy series set in the DC universe.” Starring Vanessa Hudgens, Alan Tudyk and Danny Pudi, Powerless follows the staff of Wayne Security, yes it’s owned by Bruce Wayne, who try to invent products that will help the common person might someday be caught in the middle of a superhero battle with no place to go. Things like a device that alerts the wearer whenever villains are near or a suit that acts like an airbag when they’re about to be hit.

In many ways, Powerless seems like a cross between the series Better off Ted (2009–2010) that too was about the employees of a corporation trying to invent wild and wacky things along with the beginning of the comic series Kingdom Come (1996) that takes place in a world so overrun with superheroes and the battles that people aren’t even pawns in these “good guy” vs “bad guy” little wars, they’re completely ignored and expendable.

But whereas Kingdom Come was deep and brooding and Better off Ted wild and zany, Powerless is more of a mainstream comedy.

In Powerless, Emily Locke (Hudgens) arrives at her job at Wayne Security in Charm City from having grown up in a “flyover state” — or a place so insignificant the heroes literally flyover and ignore it. She’s got to lead her team of scientists and inventors to come up with something before Bruce Wayne shuts the company down. Which is pretty much a foregone conclusion since if they don’t succeed there wouldn’t be a Powerless series.

The first episode was a little light on comedy — I think I chuckled once or twice. But I think Powerless did have enough going for it and enough subtle insider DC humor, from “Shazam” to an interesting twist ending, that I can see myself sticking around with the series to see where it goes.

Santa Clarita Diet – Episode 1 Grade B

And speaking of Better off Ted — the new Netflix series Santa Clarita Diet, of which all episode are currently available to stream, was created by Victor Fresco who is also the creator of Better off Ted. Santa Clarita Diet follows married realtor couple Shelia and Joel, Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant, who’s life take a turn for the weird when one day Shelia literally pukes her guts out during the showing of a home and apparently dies. Except that even without a heartbeat she still seems quite alive and mostly normal except for a few changes. For one thing Shelia’s gone from being slightly timid to more open and adventurous. Oh, and she has this need to eat raw meat and whenever she doesn’t feed that need bad things happen.

This isn’t The Walking Dead, there are no hoards of zombies threatening civilization as Shelia seems to be the only affected by this. In many ways, Santa Clarita Diet feels like a sitcom version of the serial-killer TV series Dexter. In that show, Dexter would only murder people who deserved it, a lot of times other serial killers. And In Santa Clarita Diet Shelia only wants to eat people who’ve done bad things.

Well, mostly bad things.

In the first episode the person she eats isn’t someone who’s killed or harmed anyone. He’s a dork who tries to have his way with Shelia and ends up, well, “feeding her need.”

Santa Clarita Diet joins a few other horror-comedy series like the successful Ash vs Evil Dead and the less-successful Stan Against Evil and on the whole Santa Clarita Diet is mostly successful. The first episode does wax and wane between feeling mostly real one minute to wild and wacky the next, which I’m not quite sure works just yet. I do give the series creators a lot of credit, though, for going for gore and gross-out humor in Santa Clarita Diet. They don’t shy away from thing like disgusting green vomit or showing the dismembered, twitching corpse of Shelia’a meal in the first episode.

And, much like with Powerless, I’m interested in seeing where Santa Clarita Diet goes and will be sticking with this one for at least a season or two.

Training Day – Episode 1 Grade D

The new CBS show Training Day is the latest movie turned series to turn up on TV this season joining the likes of Lethal Weapon, Frequency and the upcoming Time After Time. This Training Day is based on the 2001 Denzel Washington movie with Bill Paxton filling in as the corrupt cop Det. Frank Rourke with new officer Kyle Craig (Justin Cornwell) taking on the Ethan Hawke role from the film.

Essentially, the 2001 version follows relatively new officer, Hawke, being evaluated by a tough, grizzled street veteran cop played by Washington. Except that the grizzled cop is very dirty and when the new officer decides to expose the corruption he puts his life in danger. Early episodes of the series The Shield would borrow from the corrupt street cop Training Day plot before taking its own path for six seasons. Which makes me wonder about this new Training Day TV series, is there any new ground this show can cover? Especially being a CBS drama?

After the first episode at least it doesn’t seem that way. Training Day is basically a high octane version of The Shield with Craig leaping out of the window of an exploding apartment within the first sixty seconds of the show with a shootout on the streets of LA that’s reminiscent of the big shootout in the movie Heat (1995) abet smaller all within the first half. There’s also a few kidnappings and a house burned down that all happens in episode one.

I was really looking for something in Training Day to latch onto but, honestly, there just wasn’t much here. Paxton is interesting in his role but they make him a bit too Robin Hood in the first episode. Sure, he’s a corrupt cop who’ll shoot the bad guys and steal their money one minute, but it’s only because he’s trying to get them to stop targeting a kid who’ll end up getting the money in a trust fund when he turns 18. It’s like the creators of Training Day want there to be an edge to the Rourke character but do their best to make sure any edges are neatly sanded down.

It seems like the first season of Training Day will focus on the murder of Craig’s father when he was a boy and how Rourke, his father’s ex-partner, ties into it. But for me Training Day is a one and done show, so whatever happens in future episodes I won’t be there to see it.

Cool Sites

Made for TV Mayhem: A site that reviews 1970s and 1980s made for TV movies.

The Reading & Watch List

This week in pop-culture history

  • 1940: George A. Romero, creator of the modern zombie movie is born
  • 1960: Jenette Goldstein of Aliens, Near Dark and Terminator 2 is born
  • 1965: Michelle Forbes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Admiral Cain of Battlestar Galactica is born
  • 1974: Elizabeth Banks, Effie of The Hunger Games is born
  • 1983: Videodrome permiers
  • 2000: The last episode of the TV series Sliders airs
  • 2000: The TV series The Others premiers



The Expanse season 2 poster



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Opening credits Sunday: The Expanse



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The Expanse – The future will still kind’a suck



Most sci-fi things that take place in the future focus on how the future’s going to be different then today. If that future is Star Trek, then it’s this wonderful place where mankind zooms around the cosmos in great ships meeting exciting alien species and having wonderful adventures. If it’s the future of something like Blade Runner, then it’s a dark and dreary place where it always rains, everyone smokes and life is terrible.

Most sci-fi futures are in place to contrast our own. That’s why I think the future depicted in the SyFy series The Expanse is so interesting — unlike the rest of sci-fi the future in that show is much like our present. It’s almost like the message of The Expanse is, “The future will be exactly like the present which means things will still kind’a suck.”

Based on the series of Leviathan Wakes novels by James S. A. Corey, in The Expanse, it’s the near-future where we’ve moved off the Earth and have colonized Mars and most of the near-Earth asteroids. Those who live on Earth have the most power, Mars the second and the asteroids a distant third if any at all. But, without spoiling things, something happens in the depths of space that threatens the future of mankind and it’s up to the “Belters” who live on the asteroids to stop this threat before it gets to the Earth and ends everything. Which, admittedly, sounds like something that’s been done many times before. But I think how it’s done on The Expanse that makes this series so unique.

The crew of the Rocinante

These three groups are represented by the crew of the ship the Rocinante captained by Jim Holden (Steven Strait) who have proof that something’s going on in the dark depths of the solar system if only anyone would listen. UN Ambassador Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) on Earth who’s trying to avert a war with Mars as ships begin disappearing and each blames the other. Detective Joe Miller (Thomas Jane) who works on asteroid Eros and is hired to investigate the disappearance of a young woman and finds more than he bargained for. And a space station chief Fred Johnson (Chad L. Coleman) who represents the interests of the Belters even if he’s got a dark secret in his past he’s trying to make amends for.

Except for the Avasarala character, these people aren’t the best and brightest. They’re not the special forces, aren’t Sherlock Holmes and for the most part have low-level jobs without a lot of responsibilities just like most people today. But they’re all thrown into this conflict where regardless of their status, they all have to step up and do their best and stop this greater threat while trying to overcome their limitations.

Ships of the Expanse

The interesting thing about all these characters and stories is that while there’s this overarching storyline in The Expanse, for the most part the paths of these characters don’t really cross until the end of the season. It’s almost like each of them all are working at different parts of the plot and really don’t know what any other group is doing and it’s not until the end of the first season when characters stories begin crashing into one and other that they get this fuller picture of what’s been going on the whole season.

The characters of The Expanse don’t live in this wonderland among the stars, they live in a place where what separates them from instant, boiling death is sometimes just a few millimeters of plastic. A place where the air can, and sometimes does, literally run out. And in a place where if something breaks and you don’t have a spare or can’t fix it yourself…well, you get the picture. But what’s so different here is that the characters of The Expanse aren’t frightened of all this. To them, their reality is a horrific banality that comes from living in space.

It’s like someone of today who’s house is next to a busy intersection. They know that at any moment an accident outside might send a truck careening through their home. And they might think about this when they first move in but later on they don’t think about it whatsoever. And the same holds true for the people of The Expanse who just accept that their day to day lives might at any moment be interrupted by something that might end everything.

The second season of The Expanse premiers February 1 on SyFy.

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Direct Beam Comms #56



TV

Doctor Who: The Return of Doctor Mysterio (aka 2016 Christmas Special) – Grade: B+

Superficially, there doesn’t seem to be much resemblance between the classic version of Doctor Who that ran from 1963–1989 and the modern one that began in 2006. If the classic Doctor Who looked slightly cheap then the modern one looks like a little money was spent on each episode. If the classic Doctor Who had mostly self-contained stories, then the modern one has season, if not series, long stories. But I think in tone the modern version of Doctor Who is actually a lot closer to the classic one than it might seem from the outside which is exemplified in the latest Christmas “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” episode.

This time, the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) finds himself in New York where a group of aliens are set on taking over the world. Using a cover corporation called “Harmony Shoals,” these aliens just so happen to be the size and shape of our brains and their plan includes luring people to their buildings around the planet and removing the brains of all the politicians on the globe and replacing them with these brain-looking aliens. In an homage to the Superman story, investigating Harmony Shoals is dogged reporter Lucy Fletcher (Charity Wakefield) who meets the Doctor and his assistant (Matt Lucas) who are also scoping out the corporation. And there’s also a Superman-like superhero flying around New York City called the Ghost aka Grant Gordon (Justin Chatwin) who the Doctor knows and accidentally created decades prior when he met him as a child. As the aliens begin to put their devious plan into motion and threaten the fate of the entire planet, it’s more of a question as to whether Lucy will ever figure out that the Ghost is really her nanny Grant Gordon as to if the aliens will succeed in taking over the planet.

Which to me is a story only Doctor Who, either classic or modern, could do with a straight face and get away with it, to take a story that might seem silly and goody and present them as a straight sci-fi/fantasy story without irony or laughs.

And I think that’s part of the strengths and weaknesses of Doctor Who. Right now most critically acclaimed sci-fi series push hard in the direction of gritty reality, of which Doctor Who certainly doesn’t. Doctor Who is a sort of anthesis series to heavy shows like The Expanse and Westworld and is also a bit of an anachronism to older styles of storytelling. However, that might also be a good thing for Doctor Who — while every other series can be seen as being of our times Doctor Who instead stands out as a series slightly out of time, more harkening back to the sci-fi series of the past than today. And that might help the series for viewers in the future. Doctor Who might never feel old and dated since it’s always been a bit old and dated to begin with whereas the other series of our time might feel too much of our time and not relatable to future viewers.

A whole heck of a lot of TV

Over the past year I’ve been reviewing new episodes of TV series here in these weekly Direct Beams Comms. I don’t pretend to review all or even most new comedies and dramas released but I did review all the comedies and dramas I watched in 2016 which turned out to be 45 brand new TV series. If you consider that most TV series I watch tend to air between five and 13 episodes the means there’s somewhere between 225 and 585 episodes of TV out there of just these new shows I watched.

In addition, I watched 15 shows that were in their second or further seasons meaning there’s anywhere between 75 and 195 episodes of those shows I watched too.

Which is a lot of TV — that doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon.

Looking out over the calendar there’s new TV series I’m interested in checking out each week from now until mid-February. And that’s just counting NEW series, not returning ones. And my guess is that calendar stops in February not because there’s a break in new shows being launched but because that’s all the further out the calendars I found online happen to go out.

The one good thing with all these hours of TV is that since new series are being launched all year long it means there’s a lot of TV watching for me that’s spread out over the months. But that also means that there’s somewhat of a commitment on my part to watch all these shows since there are always new ones due out next week.

Anthony Hopkins in Westworld

What’s most fascinating is that while I watched around 60 scripted shows last season, this represents only about 13% of the total amount of new series out there, more than 450 this year in a recent report. Which is the best of times since there are so many series channels are willing to take chances on TV shows that wouldn’t ever have gotten made a few years ago. Even edited for content I can’t imagine a series like Westworld ever being shown on network or even cable TV in its current form without being turned into something more episodic even this decade. And I can’t ever see something like the five part documentary series O.J.: Made in America having aired on ESPN of all places finding a TV home other than right now. We might have gotten a one hour special on O.J. years ago, but a five part multi-night documentary would have been out of the question.

Game of Thrones

All of which makes me wonder, if we’re living in this wonderful time where there are quite literally AMAZING brand-new TV series being created and released year after year, how does all this sustain itself? Right now we’re living in a time where there are all these different content channels from network to cable to streaming all looking for series and all willing to shell out big-bucks in some cases to get it. (Reportedly a single season of Game of Thrones costs HBO about $60 million and Westworld $100.) But they’re willing to spend this money right now because all these channels are trying to stake their claim and be the one place people go for their entertainment in the future and are willing to spend, spend and spend to get this.

But what happens in a few years when the economics change, maybe people are less interested in watching scripted series and there are the inevitable channel collapses, acquisitions and mergers? What happens then, I think, are channels and networks less willing to spend such amounts on TV series and less willing to fund loads and loads of new shows. And I don’t think this day is that far in the future — it really can’t be with the amount of money being spent and lost on series.

People always talk about how great the movies of the 1970s were and how movies since were never able to capture that same spark. Or, if they were able to capture that spark it was only for a movie or two or for a short period of time. I think that’s what’s happening with TV series right now — we’re living in this golden age of TV with all these different choices and options where there are all these amazing shows and it just can’t last.

The Expanse season 2 TV commercial

“Are all your plans always this vague?”

The Reading List

The 52 Most Anticipated Movies of 2017

This week in pop-culture history

  • 1993: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine premiers
  • 1996: Twelve Monkeys is released in theaters
  • 2007: Children of Men premiers in theaters