Wednesday, 22 October 2014

You are, after all, a Slaves. You’re all the television, you young people nowadays.

Here we are. A week later. So far so good. Today will likely be a day for retrospective discussions of all the things I haven't been talking about for last...I don't actually want to calculate how long I had held my silence. Anyway. It's quite a good thing that I have a plethora of antiquated topics to discuss, it's been one of those slow news weeks here.

There is, however, one small matter of "current" events - Gotham. Last time I spoke about my disappointment with the pilot episode. This time I get to speak a little more positively. Episode two shows a lot more promise - now that they've done their whistle-stop tour of all the future villains we need to watch out for, the writers have settled into the business of establishing the show as a crime drama set inside the DC Universe. There are, of course, the mandatory "let's establish the storylines from the comics" plot threads, but they're pretty brief. It feels a little like they're trying to justify casting the roles of Bruce Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth. It's a tricky position which could easily go wrong, but from what I saw of Gotham, they did okay.

Mandatory plot threads aside, let's get back to the actual episode, vague on some details to avoid spoilers. Naturally, they have to find a way to sneak in the characters in the main cast and tonight they chose to shine a flashlight on the teenage Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova), with a story revolving around homeless kids being abducted in mysterious circumstances. The villains of the piece are particularly amusing and creepy, walking the neat line between overly camp villains of the Adam West era (not that this should be taken as a slight against the 1960s Batman series, it is a classic in its own right) and seriously disturbed bad guys that are becoming increasingly popular in viewers' apparent obsession with "gritty" remakes and original dramas. This last assumption based on the simple prevalence of such movies and television series emerging on our screens.

I've been incredibly vague and cryptic and have really failed to deliver a balanced review/critique here. Really all I want to say about Gotham is that it seems to be shaping up well. I was pleased with this latest offering - plenty of humour and action, the over-arching plotline of the series is shaping up nicely and it looks like there's some hope of Gotham being a decently enjoyable show. Still all to play for though, so here's hoping for next week, eh?

Oh, one more thing - John Doman continues to excel as Carmine Falcone. Seriously. Best casting choice of the series. People who have not seen The Wire and his portrayal of Baltimore Police Department senior officer William Rawls really need to invest in that show. His performance is brilliant. The whole show is brilliant. Though I've mentioned that once or twice before I think, so let's move on.

While I say move on, I want to expand on a point I made about Gotham last time - my feeling that the pilot should have been a two-parter. It prompted me to think about the last time I'd encountered a feature-length pilot for a TV show. At first I believed it had been a long time - looking at some of the shows offered up in recent years, there's been a disappointing lack of two-parter openings. It hadn't struck me before because they hadn't tried to overload our brains with character introductions the way Gotham did. However, on closer examination, I realised that one show I recently indulged in, Defiance, opened with a quite satisfying two-parter. So all hope is not lost.

For a moment though, let's examine what a two-parter allows. Not just as a pilot, but as a general trend in TV shows. A brilliant example would be season three of Heroes. I won't deny it, I loved that show. The first season was outstanding, two and three woefully disappointing with its final season being a little more hopeful but just moving too fast to really live up to all that season one had achieved. And while I just lumped season three with the verdict of woefully disappointing, there was one beacon of hope in amongst the darkness - the two-parter "Eclipse".

I won't go into precise plot details, but "Eclipse" allowed the writers of Heroes to take their time for once. In the previous episodes of season three they had been scrambling from storyline to storyline, mostly wrapping them up within a single episode. I remember watching one of those companion shows on the BBC, Heroes Unmasked I believe it was called. I remember watching one of the showrunners, possibly Tim Kring himself, admitting that they wanted to tell as many stories as they could - thus they were cramming as much into every episode as they could. Far from providing quick and easy audience satisfaction and keeping people entertained, I found it frustrating. I wanted them to slow down, take their time and develop these characters and their stories. Which is what I loved about "Eclipse" and generally what I love about two-part episodes in general. Writers take their time, they flesh out the drama and the action and get to set everything up for a great show-down in the second part. Another sterling example of two-parters comes from Star Trek: The Next Generation, the season two finale/season three premiere two-parter, "The Best of Both Worlds". An insidious (yet brilliant) trick that Stargate SG-1 was fond of using in the first few seasons, they ended season two on a gut-wrenching cliffhanger, having fleshed-out one half of the story and then made you wait and speculate for months until the incredibly satisfying conclusion.

Continuing on the subject of television, it's time to delve back a fair few months, to late spring/early summer time and a delightful offering on Sky Atlantic - Penny Dreadful. Set in Victorian England, Penny Dreadful (so named for the cheap, pulp horror publications of the late 1800s) is a Gothic horror series revolving around famous works of Gothic literature. The leader of the ensemble cast, Timothy Dalton, plays Sir Malcolm Murray - father of Mina Murray, of Dracula fame. It is Sir Malcolm's search for his missing daughter and the connection to the world of vampires and the supernatural that is the core of the show's first series and launch pad into the Gothic horror world. Other famous characters who come out to play are Doctor Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) and the mysterious Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney). Rounding out the cast are the not-so-familiar original creations, Josh Hartnett's Ethan Chandler and Eva Green's Vanessa Ives.

The show is, naturally, brooding of a sort and gloriously dark. Something one would really hope to find from a show drawing together famous works of Gothic literature and weaving them into a single narrative thread. A feat Penny Dreadful achieves quite nicely. The cast is quite superb, even with the addition of Billie Piper in the second episode - in spite of my approval of her performance as Rose Tyler in Doctor Who, I maintain some scepticism until I actually see what she brings to a show. Although her character's Irish accent can be a tiny bit laughable at times, it doesn't detract from the show or its inherent brilliance. Penny Dreadful has been renewed for a second series, which will air in 2015, so I would highly recommend A) tracking down season one and watch it before then and B) keeping an eye out in 2015 for the second season.

Finally, there is the matter of Defiance. In my last post before my prolonged silence, I mentioned having watched only three episodes. Earlier, I mentioned the satisfying feature-length pilot. So how about we talk in a little more depth about the show?

It is set in 2046 and Earth is a vastly changed place. Some decades before, a mysterious fleet of alien ships appeared in orbit. The alien races, collectively known as the Votans, seek refuge on Earth after the destruction of their home star system. Skipping to the end of the political intrigue and delicate negotiations that saw some limited Votan colonisation of Brazil, there was a big bust-up called the Pale Wars before the Votan Ark fleet in orbit mysteriously blew up. Earth was showered in Votan bio-forming technology, transforming the once recognisable eco-system of the planet into a strange, alien biosphere.

It is in this strange and wonderful new world that the characters play, specifically around the independent city-state of Defiance, built over what was once St Louis, Missouri. The city of Defiance is caught between the political machinations of the Votanis Collective in Brazil and the Earth Republic based in New York City, as well as the internal intrigue of its own mixture of human and Votan citizens. At the head of Defiance is Amanda Rosewater (Julie Benz), the Mayor, with prominent Votan Datak Tarr (Tony Curran), a ruthless Castithan business owner (and pretty much mobster) nipping at her heels. Caught between all of this are Joshua Nolan (Grant Bowler), a drifting "Ark Hunter" (a glorified scavanger, lootings pieces of Votan Arks that still haphazardly fall from orbit) and his adopted daughter, an Irathient named Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas) who find themselves pressganged into becoming Defiance's law enforcement (Nolan's job title becoming "Lawkeeper").

To cut a long story short, my thoughts and feelings on Defiance are very positive. Visually stunning, well-cast and quite well written. Has good heart and good action, not to mention (though I have before and will, probably every time I talk about, do so again) the musical genius of Bear McCreary. It shows a lot of potential, delivers an enjoyable first series and look forward to seeing some of the second series which is currently airing (on about episode ten or so I believe) and forming more of an opinion on Defiance's current direction.

Anyway, I think that's enough errant babbling for one day. Until next time, check out Defiance and Penny Dreadful. They're pretty damn good shows. Oh and given today's television centric nature, the quotation title is brought to you by Rupert Giles, Buffy the Vampire Slayer season two, episode three "School Hard".

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