Sunday, June 11, 2017

TV Musings: Spring 2017

We are currently in something of a golden age of science fiction and fantasy television, and there are far more options out there to watch than I think any one person could possible handle.  Even narrowed down to the subset of television shows that I personally enjoy, there’s simply too much content for me to stay up to date!  This is a nice problem to have, and I’ve got all my shows queued up to watch at leisure.  However, it also means that my posts about television may be some time behind the initial air dates. In this post, I wanted to point out a few fun science fiction and fantasy shows I’ve enjoyed this spring!

The Expanse, Syfy (Season 2): I love space opera, and this particular show is based on an excellent series of novels by James S.A. Corey (I have reviewed the first three here, here and here).  The second season picks up mid-first-novel and ends mid-second-novel, though I think there have been some small changes in the course of the story. As expected, season two gives us a lot more of the elderly and irreverent politician Avasarala, the tough Martian marine Roberta Draper, and introduces the botanist Praxideke Meng.  I also enjoyed seeing a bit more development for Naomi and Amos, as they both try to follow what it means to them to be decent people.  The show has lots of action, humor, politics, a terrifying alien virus, characters you can root for, and a vivid future for humanity in the solar system. The Expanse remains a solidly entertaining show with excellent acting, high production value, and a well-designed story.

The Walking Dead, AMC (Season 7):  I’ve stuck with this show from the beginning, even though the writing is uneven and the stories are often violent and depressing.  From my perspective, the dramatic intensity of the best episodes make it worthwhile to keep watching through the weaker ones. At the same time, this latest season made it clear to me that there is a rift between what I want from The Walking Dead, and what many other people seem to want. I love stories about building societies, and about the ideological conflicts between groups that must interact with one another to survive. The show does have this angle, but it seems overshadowed by the need to defeat a series of over-the-top evil human enemies. This season’s enemy was Negan, and all but two of the episodes in the first half of the season were dedicated to showcasing how evil he was.  I was bored by this, but really enjoyed the episodes that featured Carol and Tara.  The second half of the season picks up the pace, and I was thrilled to see diplomacy take a larger role. I’m still on board to see what will happen next, and I hope there is some kind of a happy ending for my favorite characters one day.

Emerald City, NBC (Season 1, only season): I did not have high expectations for this Wizard-of-Oz-based drama, but I was curious enough to check it out.  By the end of the season, I was thoroughly hooked (and sad that it had been canceled).  The show starts out a little slow, but it gets progressively more interesting as more details about the unusual world of Oz are revealed. The story begins with Dorothy searching for her way home, but soon spreads out to a wider cast with larger-scale problems.  The primary conflict during this season involves the Wizard, a whiny and violent man from our world who had risen to power, and the Witches, who had suffered great losses in a conflict shortly before his arrival.  Everything seems peaceful at the beginning, but there are problems brewing just below the surface.  As a side note, I especially loved the stories of Jack and Tip, but I don’t think I can say much about them here without spoiling plot twists! I am disappointed that NBC chose not to produce a second season, but I believe that the first season alone is still worth watching.

The OA, Netflix (Season 1): This is a weird one, and definitely not a show that everyone will enjoy. If you don’t mind a cautionary spoiler (otherwise skip this paragraph), it is about near-death experiences causing people to come back to life as angels who can bring about miracles through interpretive dance.  If that’s too silly for you, then you should probably skip this one.  The writers also chose an odd starting point, leaving almost all of the action of the first season to happen in flashbacks.  As a result, we get very little time to get to know the ‘present-day’ characters, and some of them are not very likeable or interesting. There is going to be a second season of this one, and I’m curious to see where it’s going.  I would not give it a high recommendation at this point, though.

Black Mirror, Netflix (Season 3): Black Mirror aims to be a kind of darker Twilight Zone for the information age.  Each episode of the show tells a different story, showing disturbing extrapolations from current technological or sociological trends. I’ve been watching Black Mirror since the first season, and I think it has had some pretty interesting stories.  For this season, my favorites were “Men Against Fire” and “Hated in the Nation”.  The first addresses how future technology could be used for dehumanization and violence, as we follow soldiers who are tasked with eradicating “roaches”.  The second addresses a behavior I think should be criminal, that of making death threats against people on the internet.  It reminded me of “White Bear”, though, in that the story goes way beyond simple justice.  I’m looking forward to seeing what they’ll come up with for the next season!

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