Check It Out

Check out the new Dangerous Thoughts page I added. That’s it right there… no, to the right. On the tab bar. The tab bar. The tab that says, “Dangerous Thoughts.” No, that one says “A Girl Unseen.” The tab next to that… yes, that one. Dangerous Thoughts. Sheesh.

With the first five episodes coming out in the next month, I thought I’d better put a page up where folks can keep track of the progress.

Look, you can even just click this: Dangerous Thoughts

Jessica Jones & Daredevil

I don’t remember the day I bought my last comic book, nor do I remember the reasoning behind the decision to stop buying them. I know it was my sophomore year of high school so I can assume leaving those illustrated stories of derring-do by men in tights and women in low cut tights had something to do with the presence of girls in my life.

But I like to think that part of it was also the dissonance between the world of the comic books and the world I was living in. The cleanly drawn line between good and evil, right and wrong in the books was more a fuzzy, wavering line in the real world and, while there were some straight up bad guys out there, I was starting to believe the good guys weren’t up to much good, either.

I was reading books like the Thomas Covenant Trilogy, Stranger in a Strange Land, and the Dune series along with stories by Philip K. Dick and Harlan Ellison. All with extremely conflicted ideologies and complex protagonists (if not complete anti-heroes as in A Clockwork Orange and A Boy and His Dog).

Even though I was still fond of my favorite heroes like Captain America, Nick Fury and Spider-Man, the crisp divisions of the four color pallet just didn’t seem relevant anymore.

Daredevil was a big part of that world, too. He stayed the longest because he was a vigilante who was conflicted about being a vigilante even though he meted out justice with extreme prejudice.

But he was still a guy in spandex starring in illustrated stories for kids.

The thing that I really longed for wouldn’t come along until I had stopped paying attention: Comics for grownups. I wanted that great artwork and those exciting panels to be put toward something that challenged my growing mind.

Earlier this year we got a truly dark, truly artful telling of the Daredevil story on Netflix and it was wonderful. I’m really looking forward to the second season. Where The Flash (and probably Arrow and probably Super Girl) is more of the simpleminded fun of the comics from my youth, Daredevil dwells in a far darker world, one more reminiscent of the one actually live in. I like them both but I get a stronger sense of satisfaction from Daredevil and Gotham than I do from The Flash.

And then there’s Jessica Jones. What was awful in the comic book, I can only imagine will be truly horrifying in live action. That David Tennant, my favorite Doctor, will be playing the Purple Man, makes it even worse.

Does it sound like I’m not looking forward to it? Wrong. Some fiction should be difficult. I’m filled with trepidation not because I don’t want to see this story brought to life but because I know that I’m going to feel all the feelings and as you get older you have a tendency to not want to do that, but every now and then good things come along and force you out of your cocoon.

Krysten Ritter is going to do a fantastic job. I’ve seen a couple of trailers, one short and one longer, and they both look as good as Daredevil. Tennant will be great, as usual. Mike Colter is perfect for the part of Luke Cage and the damn thing even has Carrie-Anne Moss in it. When it came to casting, Netflix wanted to make sure they had it nailed down.

It may be difficult to watch, but one thing is for damn sure: It will be better than Blind Spot.

Continuum

My first thought was that this was meant to be a CW show. Everyone is too pretty and too young. It just has that “The FBI’s hottest agents are all in one apartment complex” feeling.

For instance, Rachel Nichols who plays time traveling supercop Kiera Cameron was 32 when this show debuted, however she looks like she may be 28 at most. Still, her character is supposed to be a former soldier and current police detective/mother of a six-year-old. She just looked too young to be that person.

Secondly, her present day partner Carlos is played by Victor Webster, a former chin model and star of such soap operas as Melrose Place and Lincoln Heights.

Needless to say, I was not hyped for this show, but I had a whole weekend upended by cancelled plans and nothing else to fill it with so I decided to watch it anyway.

It gets off to an unsteady start (like most shows) but I was struck right away by the quality acting coming from Nichols and Webster. They had almost instant chemistry and never once let a line reading go flat.

This is the problem with dismissing actors just because they’re attractive. Some — though, probably very few — attractive people actually have soul it turns out.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

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Castle And POI

Every TV series seems to go through a similar arc. They get off to a wobbly start while the writers are trying to define the characters in terms of the actors. Hopefully, this happens in the first season and by the second season the actors have taken full ownership of their characters. Then, by the third or fourth season, when all the cylinders are firing in time, the series hits its peak.

Then it continues on for another four seasons or so until it has used up all its previous good will and everyone just wishes it would go away.

Buffy went on for four seasons after its untoppable third. There were highlights and great moments to be had (in increasingly sparse amounts) but the Mayor was the best villain, the Scoobies were at their best, the comedy was funny and the drama was hard.

But think about what it means to a writers room that you’ve truly hit your stride in the third season: In America on Network TV, that means you’ve already told over sixty stories about your characters.

These aren’t sitcoms. The characters aren’t just mouthpieces for jokes. They have lives that the audience has to empathize with. Very few of even the most adventurous people in history have done sixty exciting things in their lives.

It must get a little crazy in the writers rooms of shows once they pass that peak at season three. They’ve got be constantly asking themselves, “What could possibly happen to our main characters this week that hasn’t already happened to them?”

Castle is entering its 8th season while Person of Interest is about to begin its 5th. The writers rooms of these two shows have taken different approaches to dealing with story fatigue, though neither are handling it particularly well.

On Castle, everyone has now been kidnapped (some more than once), everyone has also been trapped in a burning building, strapped to a bomb and left for dead hanging off the side of a ledge. A show that started out as clever and intriguing has become increasingly ridiculous.

Person of Interest, on the other hand, started out as slightly ridiculous, became temporarily relevant and then slipped into speechifying at the expense of storytelling. It has become a show in which one of the main characters (usually Root) shows up and explains in one long sentence how she compromised a secure network, what the stakes are, and what needs to be done. This is followed by lots of knees bent running around and shooting with less accuracy than a Storm Trooper.

This is one of the reasons why I like the idea behind shows like American Horror Story and Fargo. They tell a whole new story every season, sometimes using most of the same actors in different roles and other times replacing the cast entirely.

Also, the quality TV coming from the upper cable channels on shows like Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul have wised up to the British way of things and are limiting their seasons to ten or so episodes.

I have to admit that, while I like that just doing ten shows allows them to provide the kind of quality normally found in Swiss watches, waiting ten months to get more of Saul Goodman is a tough stretch.

Especially when you have to fill it with 22 episodes of blather like Castle and POI.

Dark Matter

This is a fun show once you get into it. Like any show, the first few episodes are as wobbly as a new fawn but this one carries the extra baggage of being easily and unfairly compared to that beloved child murdered in its crib, Firefly.

I say that it’s easy to draw comparisons between the two shows because of some glaring similarities: a group of people stuck together on a space freighter who are either reluctant or unable to reveal their pasts. In the case of Firefly, the crew were criminals and ex-rebels who craved the privacy space affords. In the case of Dark Matter, they are a group of criminals who have had their memories wiped.

It does sometimes feel like a bunch of frustrated Browncoats got into a room after Firefly was cancelled and said to themselves, “How can we bring that back without having to pay for the IP rights?”

But I won’t go into further comparisons here. Either you will get over the similarities and like the show for what it is or you won’t.

I do like it. Once the characters differentiated themselves (a process that seems to happen in all non-Whedon shows where the writers allow the actors to flesh out the 2D characters) it’s a quite engaging story.

There are a few tropes that fall flat. Four’s character seeming to be transported directly from feudal Japan, swordplay included, seems like a wasted chance to do something new. Even though they tried to flesh out Six’s hardcore military type with a nice back story, he remains two dimensional (if well acted).

But the high points really allow you to gloss over the TV tropes. The constantly shifting interplay between the six crew members, disturbed and reinvigorated by new information about their pasts, keeps the show from getting bogged down in an emotional stalemate and Melissa O’Neil does a great job bringing humor and life to a character that could have been overly grim.

It’s fun and the first season cliff hanger seems organic rather than tacked on. I’m looking forward to season two.

Black Mirror

This is the most appropriately named show ever.

First things first: Three episodes per series? Now the BBC is just straight up trolling us.

But, more to the point, you couldn’t find a blacker mirror to hold up to society. I can only assume that one cup of coffee with creator Charlie Brooker would leave you ready to slit your wrists. His vision for modern humanity is so bleak the few laughs that pop up in this show are darker than the damning social critique.

The problem is not how bleak it is but how accurate it feels.

DC on TV

It’s pretty much indisputable that Marvel owns the movie theaters and has owned them since Spider-Man and Iron Man and The Avengers effectively erased the embarrassments of the past (I’m looking at you Fantastic Four and also at you Fantastic Four, and you’re not out of the woods, either, Fantastic Four). But they have stumbled (in my opinion) on the small screen.

I don’t think anyone was more excited about the Agents of Shield than I was and yet I could barely make it through the first season and bailed out half way through the second. Agent Carter was interesting but little more than an anomaly that could best be summed up as Mad Men meets The Avengers.

Gotham is another thing entirely. As a matter of fact, it may be its own prototype, the thing that creates a new genre. Before I sing its praises, I have to admit that I bailed on this show four episodes into its first season. I got what they were up to but it just didn’t hook me. It wasn’t until the umpteenth friend implored me to give it a second chance that I sat down this last weekend and binged it. Now I’m hooked.

I’ve been hooked on The Flash since the beginning but mostly because I like a show that doesn’t pretend it’s not what it really is. The Flash is a silly comic book and this is a silly show based on a silly super hero.

Now, having said that, put down your slings and arrows because I’m about to backtrack as fast as my feet will carry me. Not about The Flash being a silly superhero. I mean, c’mon, he’s the Aquaman of the land. Also, the Hollywood physics are extremely strong in this one. I won’t even start on the kinetic effect of a bony little fist traveling at Mach II coming into contact with a human jaw…

But, I’ve wandered off the path again. This show’s characters and tragic story arc are expertly written and the actors are all working at the top of their game. I have quibbles (the actor who plays his imprisoned dad sure shuffled off to Buffalo in a hurry after his son sacrificed everything to get him out of prison, but I figure the actor had an offer from another series) but overall this has turned into an enjoyable show featuring characters with whom I’ve been able to make that all important emotional connection that’s missing with Marvel’s TV offerings.

With the exception of Jarvis on Agent Carter. The actor and the character, both gems, were just not enough to save an otherwise two dimensional show.

I was a strictly Marvel comics kid (with the exception of Batman the TV Series when I was excusably young) so I don’t know much about the world of Gotham or The Flash but that’s fine as long as I’m willing to invest the time to learn. Both of these shows make that an enjoyable prospect.

The 1970s and 80s were filled with enough awful superhero TV shows (The Flash, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, etc.) that I swore off them forever. It wasn’t until I sat down and binged the first five seasons of Smallville (long after it had gone off the air) that I began to have hope.

Now, the key to Smallville was that they started off with the idea that he would never don the suit and would never leave the ground, at least not without an airplane. This forced them to focus more on character development and relationships than superhero antics. It was a good show that marred its legacy by running at least five seasons too long. I dropped off after the five and left perfectly satisfied.

But again, that’s another example of a DC property that translated perfectly well to the small screen but not to the big one. How many times are they going to try to reboot Superman The Movie?

And just to head off static about the DC show I haven’t talked about: I get the giggles when I see anyone with a bow and arrow. Whether it’s Green Arrow, Hawkeye or even Jennifer Lawrence, I just can’t get serious about it.

As a matter of fact, the last time I saw a movie with a bow and arrow in it that I thought was cool was The Professionals.

 

You’ve Got To See This

The other day, I heard someone ask the question, “What was the first movie you realized was bad?” and it got me thinking. When you’re a kid, just going to the movies is a treat. Your friends will be there, candy will be there, cartoons and previews will be there and then the curtain will go up and the actual movie will be there.

Honestly, as a child you don’t realize that some movies are better than others. Even the movies I watched on TV, and I can remember some real stinkers now, were all cool in some way. Probably the only thing that will kick a boy out of a movie is too much kissing. The kissing scenes are what you had to sit through in order to get to the chase scene but a boy can only stand so much.

Take something as stupendously awful as Monolith Monsters. A kid can’t spot the badly made models or the holes in the logic about a small, desert town being invaded by giant crystals that are hydrophobic. All the kid sees is giant crystals erupting from the ground and crushing houses.

The danger of these movies lies in trying to revisit them in adulthood when you’re much more critical and you can spot bad model work a mile away.

When I was stationed overseas there were no English speaking movie theaters on the economy so we were pretty much stuck with whatever came to the base theater. I was also working a weird, rotating shift schedule so seeing a movie sometimes came down to getting the majority of the people on shift to agree to go to a late show and have the theater stay open for us.

I saw Terminator there. I saw Doctor Detroit there. It wasn’t a bad theater. One large screen and a pretty good sound system. The movie came on Thursday, played through the Sunday matinee, and then was gone forever.

At some point, I heard that Stephen Spielberg had remade one of my favorite childhood science fiction movies ; a little gem called Invaders From Mars. This movie alternately terrified and thrilled me whenever I managed to catch it on Saturday Night Creature Features all through my childhood.

The head without a body being carried around in a glass orb by the giant, ape like mutant. The shifting sands that sucked people underground into the Martian spaceship where they had mind control devices installed their heads by a giant drill. The members of the town, even the kindly old policeman, turning one by one into slack faced slaves.

Terrifying! And the SFX were out of this world!

To an eight year old.

Needless to say, I convinced my tribe to pony up their hard earned bucks to go see a really bad 80s remake of a pretty corny 1950s movie.  I lost some skin on that one.

Years later when I first got Netflix, one of the first things I did was to rent the original only to discover it was just a half-assed piece of kiddie sci-fi that actually ends with “it was all a dream” and then a question mark.

The same thing happened when I found X: The Man With The X-Ray Eyes on VHS and showed it to friends. The only difference was that I felt — and still feel — it was a good movie with a weird, Lovecraftian edge to it that my friends just didn’t get.

I guess the moral of this post is to leave your childhood memories undisturbed by your adult sensibility. We watch movies and read books as part of a time and place, without that context they can come off as raw and uninformed by current standards.

Whenever that urge to go back and visit one of those childhood favorites, go out and see a new movie, instead. Make a new memory.

 

Limitless

And we have a winner!

In the increasingly frustrating fall sweepstakes, a show has actually distinguished itself from the pack of wannabes. Limitless is a clever, exciting show with its own narrative voice and a special look and feel. It’s entertaining and, more importantly, feels fresh. This is a show you will close your iPad to watch.

Blindspot, meanwhile, is still a broken sewer pipe spewing cliche’s into the already fouled water supply of television drama. The male protagonist continues to deliver every line from the same stony expression like a hillbilly who’s trying to speak around a wad of chewing tobacco and everyone around him is forced to say stuff like, “Heroes don’t hurt people.” and “He’s serious this time.” and “That bomb is going to go off in thirty-four minutes, we have to get moving!”

And of course the entire overfed, overstaffed, overarmed legion of police forces can only muster one guy and his mentally unstable sidekick to go after a heavily armed terrorist. However, in the real world, if you have an outstanding parking ticket, expect a SWAT team to kick in your door.

I think shows like Blindspot and Minority Report and now, unfortunately, Castle, are meant to be watched with your head down, eyes pointed at your iPad or iPhone. They’ve got the beats, like when a house explodes or a car is blown up or a score of automatic weapons start blasting away on an oddly empty city street, to get you to look up just before the commercial break, but the connective tissue is just lazy writing, the minimum necessary to qualify as a “story” because they know you’re not truly paying attention.

That’s the difference between the old model of networks and the new model of pay services like Netflix and Hulu. Networks don’t sell entertainment. They sell advertising. Pay services are actually selling entertainment.

And as you go further up the channel list, the more desperate the smaller stations are to grab your eyeballs. AMC and FX and the like realized a while ago that they couldn’t sell their commercials unless they get you to watch and that’s why shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy got the green light.

But you and I will watch the major networks by default, so they don’t technically have to deliver anything of quality. Anyone who sat through the execrable One Big Happy knows exactly what the big networks think of their audience.

That migration from the default entertainment has been moving slowly and steadily up the dial and to the pay channels for years and now, the pure services like Netflix and Hulu are jumping in on the deal.

The networks continue to trot out the same old slop, artlessly aping better shows in their Executive Notes versions, and scratching their heads over their shrinking numbers.

It’s sad the old networks are struggling but as someone who once had to choose between Charlie’s Angels, Three’s Company and Baretta, I have decided to celebrate our new options.

 

 

Blindspot

Working in the corporate world as I do, I should not be surprised when I see something that reminds me of that all-time famous dish from the kitchen of too many cooks: spaghetti soup ham salad hash.

“Hey, you know that..uh.. what do you call it, Black List, is making bank. Let’s make another one of those.”

“You bet, chief!”

“A couple of notes though. You know how James Spader’s face is so expressive he can turn even the most hackneyed line into pure Shakespeare? Instead of that, let’s have a male lead whose jaw is wired shut. And, uh, for good measure, make sure he speaks in a growl that’s so low only whales can hear it.”

“Whales, got it!”

“And another thing: I’ve notice a tendency for what I like to call frilly, fancy pants writing to slip into some of our shows now and then. That whole Better Call Saul train wreck stinks of it. Let’s make sure that our show is just one cliche after another. It’ll help with audience recognition numbers.”

“Cliche’s, you got it. Anything else?”

“Nope, just the usual unmotivated, inexplicable mood shifts and unfounded emotional attachments. Oh, and I want to make sure we have the line, ‘Do you ever get tired of being right?’ said to the protagonist early on. Also, he should look at a map or something and say, ‘Someone like’s playing games.’ Those are two lines you can’t have a show without.”

“Great, I’ll just go code the parameters into the hit show generator and get a script for you!”

“Yeah, good, then wash my car, would you?”