Sunday, March 30, 2014

That What Graces My DVR To-Do List

In my rundown of favorite past shows of this century, I made one glaring omission: Smallville.

While I am under no delusion that the show was anywhere as great as I described the others, I legitimately looked forward to new episodes.

It was definitely hit or miss. Some seasons were turkeys. The Phantom Zone escapees one especially. The JSA characters were bleh. Even before that point, the show lost a lot of its magic when they killed Pa Kent. But they kept me hooked with great characters like Lionel and Lex, and by adding elements like Mercy, Lois and the Justice League. And finally writing out Lana. Guh.

But I digress. As a follow up to the last TV post, I want to run down the highlights of my DVR List. Here's some recommended  viewing for those not already hooked on these...

Rated TV-AFB (Absolutely Freaking Brilliant)

Herein reside those shows for which my devotion often strays into unhealthy obsession.

The Blacklist - I did not expect to like this show, much less love it as much as I do. It smacked of gimmick-TV. And prior to this my only association with James Spader was lame romantic comedies. I knew he could do smarmy, but I had no idea he could portray a villain this layered and this flat out awesome. It makes me look forward even more to Avengers: Age of Ultron.

At a time where there seems to be an odd glut of genius supervillains, Red Reddington stands head and shoulders above the crowd. Yet the show does not ride on him alone. It hits all the marks with a great cast of characters and complex plots loaded of intrigue and suspense.

Person Of Interest - Another home run from Bad Robot. Action packed spy thriller meets crazy sci-fi technology in a real world setting. I'm all over that.

It's rare for me to have zero complaints about a show. To say the series gets better every season (which is true) almost implies that past seasons weren't great. Not the case here.

Even before they brought Amy Acker and Sarah Shahi in as full time feature cast members, and delved into The Machine itself as a character, back when it was just Reese and Harold tracking down numbers while running from the cops, I put it on the Brilliant shelf. Two seasons of awesome setup led to an intricate plot of political intrigue without any loss of action, all with healthy doses of fun.

Sleepy Hollow - This is another one that I approached with great trepidation. It smelled gimmicky. I was underwhelmed by Grimm, revolted by Dracula, and disenchanted with Supernatural since season four. Suffice to say, network television hasn't impressed me in the urban fantasy genre of late.

This show completely blew me away. And not just because my expectations were so low it turned out good by comparison. I mean the writing is more solid than almost any other show out there. I am incapable of talking about this show without getting all fanboy on it.

The characters, the storytelling, the look and feel, the actor portrayals -- everything is spot on. It's fun without being campy, engaging without being pretentious, intense without being too moody. Entertaining when it needs to be. Serious when it needs to be. Entirely believable in its presentation.

Admittedly, the show rides almost entirely on Tom Mison's shoulders. Just like House never would have worked without Hugh Laurie, a time-lost Ichabod Crane would not work with a lesser actor. Though I have a hunch that the writers make his job easier.

Whenever you deal with the man out of time trope, you run a huge risk of the character coming across as awkward and dopey. It's hard not to play anachronistic moments as a gag.

But Ichabod is an incredibly intelligent and capable man who was fighting things he didn't understand long before time travel entered into his reality. He's adapted in entirely believable ways, and yet still has a unique perspective that allows for some amazing moments. "Thank you for calling OnStar" is a punchline fans will never forget.

Justified - When I heard there was only one season remaining, I wanted to go get drunk.

But all good things, I guess. The time is right. I own every season on DVD. I've rewatched them all once already, and predict I will again. Every season follows an overall arc, and yet the characters evolve so much it's like watching a new show every year.

Elmore Leonard adaptations are sooo hit or miss. It seems to take a rare talent to capture his awesomeness on film. These guys do it. There has not been a single bad episode to date. I even got my dad to watch it. He hates everything.

Again, spotlighting a highlight of the show implies that other elements are somehow inferior. They aren't. But Boyd Crowder has earned a place in the hall of fame for most fascinating villains in television and literary history. I'd love to put him and Red Reddington in a room together over a chess board.

The Americans - It's on the same network and by the same producer as Justified, so it comes as little surprise that I enjoy it just as much. The themes are reminiscent of The Sopranos, shining a sympathetic light on a ruthless mob boss by showing that he's as human as the rest of us -- without forgetting the fact that he's still the bad guy. This series follows the life of a pair of Soviet spies who have infiltrated the United States in the final decade of the Cold War, as they deal with their kids and "marital" issues while kidnapping and murdering US citizens for the KGB.

It's some pretty deep stuff. And unlike Homeland (which I couldn't get into at all), it never tries to suggest that they are misunderstood good guys. That kind of tight balancing act is hard to pull off. Hack writers need not apply.

Continuum - It only took two episodes for this to join Farscape at the top of the list of greatest sci-fi shows ever written. Season 2 doubled down on the awesome.

It is as cool of a cop show as it is a cerebral science fiction story. Tons of action, super cool technology, mind blowing visions of a cyberpunk future, and good God I am in love with Rachel Nichols. Woof.

Orphan Black - The best show BBC America has ever sent over the pond. Period. And I say this as a worshiper of the Cult of Luther. I must apologize here, as I have trouble discussing this show without gushing. I'll try.

Readers Digest version... An English chick sees a woman who looks EXACTLY like her commit suicide by subway train in New York City. She assumes her identity in order to steal her money. Finds out that she is one of an unknown number of clones scattered around the world. They have no idea who is behind it or why.

The intrigue is gripping. The plots are unbelievably tight for having so many moving parts. The characters of Sarah, Beth, Alison, Cosima, and Helena are all compelling in their own way.

Fandom has gotten caught up in how Tatiana Maslany has played SEVEN unique characters thus far. More if you count the nuance in the way she's portrayed Alison pretending to be Sarah among other switches. The psycho Helena in particular shows the actress's ridiculous range.

So not to dismiss the amazing talent she has... but the story is so beautifully written that I really don't watch it just for her performance.  Though damn she is impressive, in more ways than one. Pardon the pun.


Rated TV-PDG (Pretty Damn Good)

Getting out of fanboy love territory here. But I still thoroughly enjoy these. 

Arrow - One cannot help but draw comparisons between this and the last superhero show on The CW network, which is why I opened the blog by mentioning it.

I cannot deny that it shares some traits with Smallville. It has it's share of trite, cheesy soap opera moments. Its ghost in the machine pops up a little too often. It can get contrived. The dialogue is rarely what I would call all that great.

But dammit it's cool. Green Arrow and Deathstroke. The Suicide Squad. Huntress and Black Canary. Come on!

It is as unlike Smallville in just as many ways. Way edgier. Way more grounded. It's darker, yes, but still fun. By my way of thinking, they took all the things they did right last time around, shredded (most of) what they did wrong, and produced a product that reminds us of how cool DC comics used to be.

Castle - It sometimes feels like these are two different shows. There's the quirky, funny, charming romantic comedy reminiscent of Remington Steele and Moonlighting. And then there's this pulp cop show mashed up with a political thriller.

I like em both.

Falling Skies - I didn't think this one was going to make it past the first season. I loved the premise, and the characters were cool and all. I kept up with it, but that first season lacked... something. Whatever it was, they found it in season 2 and kept it going in season 3. I was psyched when I heard it got picked up for at least one more. Though I have a hunch it will be just one more. They still have more story to tell, it just feels like the last chapter.

Revolution - I was mildly bummed when I heard this got cancelled. But not all that surprised. I genuinely enjoyed it, season two more than the first. But I have no idea how they can keep the concept going another year.

I suspect the point when they lost enough of their audience for NBC to officially give it the axe was when they started dissing Christianity. That whole plot thread likening the nanotech to God made me squirm. Still going to miss the show, though.

The Following - Yet another on my love-hate relationship stack. At times, it wanders toward brilliant. Kevin Bacon gives some great performances. It's got cool characters. Joe Carrol manages to stay interesting despite channeling Hannibal Lecter a wee too much at times. (sidebar, NBC's Hannibal bored the shit out of me and dropped off the record list after 2.5 episodes).

So, while it's interesting, and is always moving, it bugs me how psychopaths just crawl all through the woodwork of this fictional universe. I think back to how Dexter faced off with a new serial killer every season. One, or sometimes two psychopaths would show up at a time. So that's what, nine or ten total over the course of eight seasons.

Ryan Hardy has dealt with three times that many in less than half the time. It gets kind of exhausting. And yet I find myself looking forward to the next episode. Its thrown a number of good swerves that I somehow didn't see coming. Proof that even with warts, it's all in the presentation.

Rated TV-NHB (Not Half Bad)

Getting into stuff that I could live without if forced to choose what to record, but glad I don't have to.

Once Upon A Time - I know, I know. I can't explain it. It's silly. But the stories are entertaining. And Robert Carlyle rocks..... Aaaand I just found out it was cancelled. Next week is the series finale. Dammit! Ah well.

Blue Bloods - Part family show with interesting characters, part semi-gritty cop show. Win-win.

Chicago Fire/Chicago PD - I list them together because they are kind of like the same show. PD spun off of Fire. No I don't just watch it because it's set in Chicago. That certainly helps keep the appeal, but its the stories that keep bringing me back.

Resurrection - This is the most promising show of the season. People from a small town in Missouri start coming back from the dead. The mystery alone has me hooked.
Marvel's Agents of SHIELD - I abandoned this show for a good stretch of this first season. I just couldn't take it. A paramilitary fighting force signs up a criminal hacker with ZERO redeemable field skills, and yet they keep putting her in the field. Not to mention an allegedly top secret spy team lets her wander around picking up ridiculously sensitive intel unchecked. Guh.

What's worse, it made zero attempt to make up for this problem by being exciting or all that interesting. It was the polar opposite of Arrow. Thanks for letting your brother run the show Joss. I wanted to see your take on the idea, not his.

But then they finally figured out what fans had been wanting. I got back on board when they explained Coulson's resurrection. Skye had become not completely worthless. They were giving us other Marvel tie-ins (ya know, the big mysterious ingredient that revived Smallville out of its slump and makes fans ga ga over Arrow). Took em long enough, but it's gotten better. We'll see if they can maintain it.

Other Stuff I Watch(ed)

Not as much to say about them, but I do look forward to White Collar and Covert Affairs (both of which I am pretty sure got renewed). The influence of those two shows are all over my writing.

Shows that I hope get renewed, but suspect they didn't... The Bridge, Longmire, and Defiance.

Biggest bummer news of the season was the cancellation of Almost Human. That had so much promise. But it rode too much on the concepts and setting alone and never made the jump to awesome that it should have.

Stuff I have caught glimpses of, and will some day check out on DVD or streaming... Being Human, Lost Girl, Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, Elementary, and Walking Dead.

There's only so much time in the day people!

Monday, March 10, 2014

A bit floored by this

As of the timestamp of my posting, there is a day and a scant few hours left to vote in the New Pulp Awards.

I've been in partial hermit mode the last couple weeks. I didn't even realize I or Supernatural West had been nominated. So I haven't had a chance to say how ridiculously honored I am to have made the list of  nominees for best new writer. 

I kept staring at my name, thinking it had to be a typo. Talk about being in good company. Thank you. The Supernatural West anthology as a whole is on there in a couple places, too. Good job, Nick Ahlhelm and Metahuman Press. Big cowboy hats off to the rest of the writers: Shane Cashman, Teel James Glenn, Terry Alexander, Viktor Kowalski, and Hunter Lambright.

This awesome anthology is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.

I'd call this getting off to a good start.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Favorite Shows of the Double Oughts

I watch a lot of television. Probably more than I should.

But I caveat that with the fact that I despise reality TV. I find The Bachelor especially repulsive, and I cannot help but silently judge people who actually watch that bilge. Anything that falls into the "bread and circuses" category of entertainment, I skip.

For me, TV is a drug, just as it is for everyone else. But not an opiate. I watch shows that excite the imagination. Stuff that doesn't just entertain, but inspires me to want to write something that cool. This is why I always go for a cinematic feel in my writing

A trip back through the archives of the blog will give you a glimpse at the kinds of shows I like, and dislike. Some are predictable, though I often go against the fanboy consensus.

Since the Olympics are over, and shows are picking up again, figured it was a good time to run down the list. Also bouncing off of a blog post that a friend of mine wrote and then posed as a challenge.

First, a list of past shows most worthy of Blu-ray ownership. In semi-chronological, but mostly stream of consciousness order...

Angel - I know this started in the 90's, but it crossed over so it counts dammit. Just as the show from whence it sprang started to rapidly lose its appeal, Angel hearkened back to everything Buffy had done right in the first three seasons. In many ways, it was sharper, slicker, and smarter. Both Angel and Angelus remain two of my favorite characters ever in the urban fantasy genre.

Farscape - The most brilliant sci-fi series on television. Ever.

Everyone on this show from the producers to the writers to the actors turned the space opera genre on its ear. It was unconventional to say the least. It was brave enough to get experimental, sometimes to its detriment, but always original. It was a fun, intense, dramatic, romantic, action packed adventure with ridiculously memorable and imaginative characters. Why more genre show producers aren't using Henson Studios boggles the mind.

If anything is most deserving of a comeback, it's Farscape.

24 - Despite its many plot points of convenience for the sake of the "events occur in real time" gimmick, the show played out like a great spy thriller novel, and always kept you guessing. I can't wait until the movie special comes out in May. I'd love to see it come back as a full series. Ideally with Jack Bauer, but I'd give it a chance either way.

Alias - The series that began my worship of JJ Abrams. Jennifer Garner as James Bond with some crazy sci-fi elements woven into the plot. Action packed, loads of fun, and very often brilliant in its execution. At least for the first three seasons.

Fringe -  If I wasn't already gay enough for JJ, this series sealed the deal. At its core, it was a police procedural. Very grounded in reality and yet completely out there, perfectly blending humor, suspense, action, and Oh My God WTF Just Happened moments. John Noble deserved a truckload of Emmys.

Lost - I've always been unclear on how much influence JJ Abrams had on this show. He is credited as creator, but it's not a Bad Robot production. I want to say he was only involved in the first episode, really. But it had all the hallmarks of a JJ brainchild. Wacky science concepts grounded in a believable setting, yet character focused with equal measures action and drama.

Either way the show rocked. It taught me a tenant or writing that I would read in an advice article years later. There's no such thing as a flashback. It's always a flash-present, meaning always have the action tie into what's going on in your story's "now". Every time I write a flashback, I hear the show's famous sound effect in my head.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles - The greatest show you've never seen. Ratings were tragic, probably because the very idea of it made fans of the movie franchise leery of even giving it a shot. And the pilot was kinda mediocre. But from episode 2 all the way to the end, it never let up. It had no business being as awesome as it was. The final episode made me want to see season 3 so bad you have no idea. I guarantee it would have been better than Terminator: Salvation

Dexter - I try not to throw around the word brilliant too frivolously, but sometimes I just can't help it. Any show that can present a psychopathic serial killer as a sympathetic hero is nothing short of brilliant. But it didn't ride solely on exploring Dexter's dark passenger. It was a tried and true detective story with interesting characters and tight plots.

Burn Notice - Not sure if I can put this series on the "brilliant" shelf, but I absolutely looked forward to it every week. It rode more on its supporting cast than the main character, but that wasn't a problem in the least. That's how a lot of the great team-oriented series in books and comics worked. Not that there was anything wrong with Michael Westen. Characters like Sam Axe, Fiona Glennanne and Maddy Westen were just that strong. 
Wonderfully written characters, great stories, cool spycraft, and unique MacGuyveresque ways of getting out of situations without the pretension of pretending guns aren't effective for taking out bad guys, too. Every season I kept wondering how they were going to keep the premise going, but it never got stale. And they ended the series on a note that felt like it was intended from the beginning, which almost never happens.

The Shield - Besides being one of the most groundbreaking cop shows ever made, it holds the distinction of having both one of the best pilots of a series ever, AND one of the best final episodes ever. The pilot hooked you right out of the gate then grabbed you by the balls with the last frame. The series finale ended Vic Macky's story on a perfect note that kept fans talking.

Alphas - This one ran in 2011 and 2012, but its worth ending the list on this note. I was absolutely fanboy ga-ga crazy over this little show that could. It was everything Heroes wished it could be. Another tragic victim of the SyFy channel's short sighted stupidity. It's nigh impossible for me to talk about this show without gushing, so I'll spare you and just say find it and watch it.

There were other shows I enjoyed, but I have trouble putting them on the same pedestal as the above when it comes to my personal enjoyment and replay value. Honorable mention to (off the top of my head) The Wire, The Unit, Over There, The Sopranos, House MD, and Chicago Code.

Scroll up, or follow the link to see my DVR to-do list of still running shows.