Horror Review: Sapphire and Steel


Sapphire and Steel has been getting some buzz amongst fandom lately. Neil Cross, the creator of the BBC series Luther has stated that he wants to do a revival of Sapphire and Steel as his next project.

For those of us who were getting into British Sci-fi shows in the 80s, this is an exciting prospect; however, I’m sure a lot of you have no idea what I am talking about.

So what is Sapphire and Steel and why are some of us excited about a reboot?

Doctor Who, Blake’s 7, and Sapphire and Steel were considered the holy trinity of British Science Fiction in the 80’s. Which is interesting because I, personally, don’t consider it Science Fiction; I think of it as horror. Sapphire and Steel is a British TV series created and written exclusively by Peter J. Hammond that aired from 1979 to 1982. It was broadcast on ITV, which was a commercial network in Britain that was often the main alternative to the BBC.

The premise of the series is that if a breach in the fabric of time occurs, other worldly operatives are dispatched to fix the situation before malignant forces from outside of time can take advantage of it.

Most of our knowledge of the operatives comes from the opening narration of each episode:

“All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension. Transuranic heavy elements may not be used where there is life. Medium atomic weights are available: Gold, Lead, Copper, Jet, Diamond, Radium, Sapphire, Silver and Steel.

Sapphire and Steel have been assigned.”

It is implied that this corresponds to the periodic table, but since none of the named operatives are named after elements we cannot be sure.

The series follows operatives Sapphire (Joanna Lumley) and Steel (David McCallum) as they investigate the breaches in time and work to correct them. The two are clearly not of this world. They can communicate with each other telepathically. Sapphire can manipulate time in a limited fashion, rolling it back, as well as having psychometry. Steel is super strong, has limited telekinesis, and in one episode was able to lower his temperature to near absolute zero to defeat a threat, but at the cost of weakening himself. In personality, Steel is cold and a bit rough in his dealings with humans, as opposed to Sapphire who is warmer, although this is implied to be a learned skill when Steel calls her a diplomat.

The time breaches are often caused by some anachronism in the area. An old nursery rhyme book, a party exactly recreating the 1930s, and a doctored photo mixing old and new elements. Once a breach has happened, Sapphire and Steel are dispatched and have to figure out why it happened, what it unleashed, and how to fix it.

Occasionally, in the course of an assignment a third operative will be sent in. The two other operatives we meet are Lead (Val Pringle), a jovial giant who can insulate Steel against the weakening effect of lowering his body temperature, and Silver, a technician who can transmute small bits of matter and can manipulate technology.

One of the features of the series that made it stand out (and makes it excellent horror) is that Sapphire and Steel’s main goal is sealing the breach. While they will attempt to save the humans caught up in it, this is a secondary goal and if letting a human die will ensure the breach is sealed, they will let the human die.

Since the series was on ITV it had what could kindly be considered a micro budget. Consider that Sapphire and Steel’s run was during the end of Tom Baker’s run on Doctor Who and the first year of Peter Davidson’s. People joke about the cheap effects of that era. Now consider that to Sapphire and Steel, Doctor Who’s budget would seem lavish. For most shows this would have been a problem, but Sapphire and Steel turned it into an advantage. Since each episode had limited sets, it was simply that during a breach no one could get out, which was usually Sapphire’s doing. The writing was also very good and made the episodes slow, but well-paced. Tension was built to the point that a pool of light on the ground, clearly created by a stage hand with a flash light, was nonetheless absolutely terrifying.

And then there was the acting. Joanna Lumley and David McCallum were already established when the series was made (Lumley from the New Avengers and McCallum from the Man From U.N.C.L.E.), but still years away from their bigger successes (Absolutely Fabulous and NCIS). In Sapphire and Steel they convey the otherworldliness of the characters and make them sympathetic even when having to make the hard choices their jobs require.

Sapphire and Steel was a serialized program, just as the original run of Doctor Who was. In all there were only six stories made, ranging from an hour and a half to three hours, depending on how many half hour segments each story required.

Be warned that some of the episodes can be very scary. One person online once said a story can go from “give me a break” to “Someone please hold me” with very little warning. And it is famous in fandom for having a downer ending in the final episode.

If you decide you want to seek out the series you are in luck. Shout Factory did a rerelease of the series in 2013. You can go to their site to find it, and the series is available from Amazon for about $26.00 as of this writing.

I am going to give Sapphire and Steel a B. I think horror fans who give it a chance will be pleasantly surprised, but I can see where the slow pacing and cheap effects could detract from others enjoying it.

Review: Flash Season 1


When last year’s TV season began, The Flash was one of the most highly anticipated shows amongst the geek crowd. When we looked at it here during the beginning of the season it was certainly living up to that buzz, but did it maintain that level?

Well yes, actually it did; no need to beat around the bush on that. But let’s look at how it managed that.

The one thing the Flash had going for it, from the start, was that it embraced its comic roots without shame. It also went against the grain for just about every other DC live action property by not going the grime and gritty route, instead choosing to have an optimistic hero who acted as a symbol of hope.

CW already had the required grim hero in the Arrow. One observation of the two shows is that in the CW DC universe, Superman’s role is covered by the Flash and Batman’s by the Arrow. One episode highlights is when Barry tries to emulate the Arrow’s grimmer way of handling things, only to have it blow up in his face.

One of the factors that influenced the story more than any other was the time travel aspect. Time travel was always a part of the Flash in the comics and the show did not shy away from this in the least. Like any show involving time travel there were questions about what the consequences of changing the past would be, and the creation of a plot hole or two. However, the overall execution was well handled.

So how did the characters evolve over the course of the first season?

Of course, as the main character Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) had the most growth. Starting out as enthusiastic but unsure of himself, Barry grew into a responsible hero who (when it came down to it) would make the choice of serving the greater good. Gustin nailed the character from the start.

If the show rested on Gustin’s shoulders, then his best support came from Tom Cavanagh. As Harrison Wells, Cavanagh portrayed a wonderfully complex character. As Wells, he was Barry’s mentor and a surrogate father figure, but in his true identity of Eobard Thawne (aka The Reverse Flash) he was Barry’s worst enemy who wanted nothing more than to destroy him. Cavanagh was able to portray Wells as both affectionate to Barry and the rest of the S.T.A.R. Labs crew, while at the same time being a threat to them.

While Wells’ goal was to push Barry’s powers to greater heights, Barry’s foster father Joe West (Jessie L Martin) guided him on the path of the kind of hero he wanted to be. The father/son bond between Joe and Barry was easily the series emotional core. Joe cared so much for Barry that he was willing to have their relationship erased from history, if it meant that Barry could get his mother back.

Of Barry’s colleges It was interesting to watch Cisco Ramon’s (Carlos Valdes) arc over the season. Cisco had fanboy glee over Barry’s powers and being part of a team fighting supervillains. It was also interesting watching his bonds with Barry’s father figures. He worshipped Wells and took his betrayal hard. Conversely. over the season. Cisco had a growing working relationship with Joe, being his secret partner in investigating the truth behind the death of Barry’s mother. The revelation that he can subconsciously remember timelines that time travel erased directly opened a door to his (eventually taken on) identity of Vibe from the comics.

On the flip side you have Catlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) whom, thanks to a glimpse of the future, we got to see as her villainous alter ego of Killer Frost.  While she continued her role as caregiver to Barry when injured, the show steered away from having her fall for him, instead bring in her supposedly dead fiancé Ronnie (Robbie Amell), who was still alive, as his comic book alter ego Firestorm. She was also the most resistant of the S.T.A.R. Labs team to the idea that Wells was really the Reverse Flash.

Iris West (Candice Patton) suffered most of the season from being more of a plot motivation, for Barry, than an actual character. For the first two thirds of the season, she was defined by her relationships with Barry, her father Joe, and her boyfriend Eddie. It was only towards the end of the season, when she learned that Barry is the Flash, that she started coming out of that and showing signs of being an actual character. Hopefully in the next season they can build on that and give her some more defining characteristics.

Speaking of Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett), for starting out as a bit of a cliché (romantic rival for Barry) he turned out to have an interesting arc. Half way through the season Barry and Joe let him in on Barry’s secret so that he could help with the investigation of Wells. Eddie was not happy that they insisted on keeping it from Iris. But he turned out to be a stanch ally and a tragic hero when he learned that he was the Reverse Flash’s ancestor, and that his romance with Iris was doomed to fail. His arc ended in a heroic manner and I, for one, am disappointed we will not be seeing more of him in season 2.

There were some notable guest and reoccurring characters that warrant mentioning.

Besides Ronnie, you had Professor Stein (Victor Garber) the other half of Firestorm. Garber is a great actor and brought both fun and gravitas to Stein. I look forward to seeing more of him both on the Flash, and in the mid-season spin off Legends of Tomorrow.

John Wesley Shipp, as Barry’s father Henry, was also a great part of the show. Although initially just a bit of stunt casting (Shipp played Barry in the 90’s Flash series), he did an excellent portrayal of a man accepting the bad hand he was dealt and just being happy his son was doing well. He made the pride Henry felt upon realizing that Barry was the Flash radiate.

And of course there was the other great nod to the old series of having Mark Hamill as the Trickster (the character he played on the 90s series, as well as doing the voice on the Justice League cartoon). Hamill is a fantastic actor and I hope we get more of him in the future.

In the end, I give the first season of the Flash an A+. It is the best comic book series ever and we can only hope that others learn from its example.

Review: The Flash

The-CW-The-FlashIn a season full of comic based TV shows, The Flash has managed to stand out from the crowd. It started building buzz a year before its debut when it was announced that Barry Allen would appear on last year’s fall finale for Arrow. What transpired was one of the best depictions of The Flash’s origin ever, setting the stage for the series.

Originally, The Flash was supposed to get a back door pilot in that later half of that season, but the executives at CW were so impressed by what they had seen so far that they opted to order a full pilot for the show instead. When The Flash premiered, it was the highest rated debut the CW had seen in five years. It has been a strong ratings performer for the network since then, easily gaining a full season order after only two episodes.

I’m going to make a bold statement, The Flash is easily the best comic book adaptation that has ever appeared on TV.

So why is that?

One of the biggest complaints about most adaptations of DC properties is that they seem to be ashamed that they are based on comic books and do everything to say “no, really, we are mature.” Often doing this by going grim and gritty, even if the character in question was nothing like this in the comics.

The Flash doesn’t bother with that. It proudly embraces its comic book roots and presents a hero who is upbeat and optimistic. Even more than the nineties version, this show explores the nature of the Flash’s powers and what he can do with them. The visuals also capture the feel of the comics, complete with the speed force lightning effect that surrounds Barry when he uses his powers.

It’s also a great point that, so far, all the villains have been characters from the comics. Even when the characters have obvious alterations from their comic roots, they are still all great nods to the original versions.

Of course for the show to work, we have to connect to the characters.

As Barry Allen, Grant Gustin naturally has the whole show riding on his shoulders. Fortunately, it is a case of perfect casting. The show takes advantage of his boyish looks to help convey the enthusiasm that Barry has for his powers, while simultaneously highlighting his compassion. As with any modern adaptation of the character, this Flash is a mixture of both Barry Allen and Wally West. Where the nineties version was mostly Barry with some Wally mixed in, Gustin’s is more of a 50/50 mix.

The supporting cast is also strong, with some interesting references to the comics

Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh), the Head of S.T.A.R. Labs, is responsible for the Particle Accelerator explosion that gave Barry, and all the villains, their powers. While clearly working to both protect Barry and help him improve his powers, there is clearly much more going on; we are shown that he is faking the need for a wheelchair and is willing to kill in order to protect Barry. On the surface, Wells appears to be an original character, but based on recent events I won’t spoil here, this is likely an alias so we will have to wait and see.

Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) is an engineer working for Wells, who is possibly more enthusiastic than Barry about their crime fighting. He has a habit of giving the villains nicknames, thus bringing their comic book names into the show. He is based on the DC hero Vibe, which begs the question, is he going to get powers down the road?

A similar question hangs over Dr. Catlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) who in the comics is the super villain Killer Frost. Here she is part of Wells team and acts as medic when Barry is injured. She is far more serious than Barry or Cisco, but clearly cares about them. While there has been nothing overt, there are hints that she might be attracted to Barry, which could end up setting up a classic CW love triangle and another case of Chloe syndrome.

And this leads us to Iris West (Candice Patton), the girl Barry carries a torch for. The weakest part of the show is how convoluted this relationship is. Barry had a crush on Iris as a child. When his mother is murdered and his father sent to jail for the crime Barry goes to live with Iris and her dad. As adults, Barry still has that crush on her but, due to the awkwardness of their situation, keeps this to himself. As adults Iris considers Barry to be her best friend, oblivious to his crush, and is dating her dad’s partner; but once the Flash appears on the scene, Iris becomes his number one fan and writes a blog about him. Of course in comic canon Barry marries Iris, so that makes her his destined love. Unfortunately this is the one thing in the show that just rings false.

Swept up in this is Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett), Iris’ boyfriend and her dad’s partner on the police force. Eddie is an honest to goodness nice guy who just has the misfortune of being Iris’ boyfriend, thus making him a default antagonist for Barry. Also, there is his name; in the comics Eobard Thawne, a man from the 25th century is the Flash’s nemesis, Professor Zoom, the Reverse Flash. Since the Reverse Flash is the big bad of the series fans are naturally assuming either Eddie becomes him, or is somehow connected to him. Time will tell.

Rounding out the main cast is Joe West (Jesse L. Martin), Iris’ father and Barry’s foster-father. Where Wells mentors Barry on the practicalities of his powers, Joe mentors him on his behavior as a hero. Honestly, I don’t think the show would be able to hold up the believability of Barry’s development without Joe and I’m glad they had him know about his foster son’s duel identity from the beginning.

Outside of the main cast special mention needs to go to John Wesley Shipp as Barry’s father Henry Allen. Shipp played Barry in the nineties Flash series, and having him as Barry’s father is a nice nod to that connection.

Right now The Flash is by far the CW’s most watched series and with strong episodes and engaging writing, and will hopefully show DC that not all superheroes need to be dark in order to be successful.

I give The Flash a grade of A+. Fans will be overjoyed at how their hero has been translated to screen and non-fans can enjoy the series just as easily.

And, of course, we will revisit the show at the end of the season to see if they are able to keep this success going.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D End of Season Review


I did a review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D at the beginning of the season and, as I did with Arrow last year, I vowed to do a follow up review at the end of the season to see how the show ended up. I think this is going to become a tradition here at Fanboy News Network.

If you want a refresher on what I said in the first review please go here. I’m going to assume you have read that review before going into this one. Be warned, I am not going to avoid spoilers, so if you have not seen the season finale you may want to hold off reading this.

So what changed on  Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D between the last review and now? Damn near everything.

The biggest complaint about the show was that for a TV extension of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D didn’t feel that connected to the movies or the comics outside of the occasional name drop. Of course, what seemed like a bizarre oversight turned out to be a high stakes gamble by the producers. Knowing the plot of Captain America: The Winter Solider in advance, the whole front end of the season was one massive build up to that story.  While the price of that gamble was a major slip in the ratings and much rancor from the fanbase, the payoff was incredible.

It also allowed a build up to that event, starting with the return from the mid-season break, and for some real delving into the mystery of Coulson’s resurrection.

This level of coordination between a film and TV show is unprecedented, which is a word that gets tossed around in regards to the MCU a lot. It also took a show that was good and made it riveting, as the entire status quo of the series was obliterated.

Out of this you got a fresh look at the characters.

Grant Ward got a lot of this. In the early part of the season a major complaint about the character was how bland he was. In hindsight, this was brilliant as it was later revealed that Ward was an agent of Hydra. His blandness went from just a flaw to a cover that hid his true allegiance. I am also impressed by the dedication to this development. It would have been easy to write in a change of heart in the finale and have Ward attempt to redeem himself, and thus rejoin the team. Instead, they doubled down on the betrayal and simultaneously showed that Ward is, in his heart, a follower who is lost if no one is giving him orders.

Melinda May turned out to be a very interesting character, once the story really got going mid-season. The revelation that she created the team, and was tasked with monitoring Coulson, cleared up a lot of issues that hampered the show early on and allowed for some great character moments. It also allowed her to have complex relationships with Coulson, Ward, and Skye.

Fitz and Simmons were on the short end of the stick when it came to character development, early in the season, but their arcs have become interesting, as the show continued on. Fitz is a company man through and through, will follow Coulson whatever the circumstance, and is the one that struggles the most when Hydra strikes. Simmons is more interested in discovering the truth, and will go behind the team’s back if necessary. They also had the development that their feelings for each other were complicated. Early in the season fans couldn’t tell if their relationship was meant to be romantic or more like siblings. The reveal was that for Simmons it was sibling, and for Fitz it was romantic. The resolution of this is one of the cliffhangers at season’s end and it will be interesting to see how they deal with it next season.

Skye was an early source of derision amongst the fanbase. Because she was there to act as an audience proxy, she was a focus point for most of the early episodes. Due to this, she was declared a Mary Sue. Which the show decided to poke fun at by having her reveal that the orphanage she grew up in gave her the name Mary Sue Poots. Later episodes still had her as big part of the story, but gave more balance to other characters. Her big reveal was that she may not be fully human, and that her parents are described as being monsters. There is great potential here, especially if they make whatever she really is something from the comics such as an inhuman, or an eternal.

Phil Coulson always had the advantage of being the character everyone had already warmed to from his appearances in the MCU movies and one-shots. He also had the built in mystery story arc of how he managed to still be alive after the events in The Avengers. It was the revelation of how he was brought back to life mid-season that marked the shows turnaround from just ok to really engaging. It was also great to see Clark Gregg take the character and flesh him out. With an entire series to work with, we got to see more of what drives Coulson; his idealism and his doubts were both on display. I also want to touch on, for perhaps the last time, the article I wrote prior to the release of the Avengers where I mentioned that Tom Huddleston had said Loki would be up against 8 heroes, and I speculated on who the eighth Avenger was. In the finale, Nick Fury came out and said that he considered Coulson an Avenger.

Outside of the main cast you had some very interesting reoccurring characters:

First, I would like to point out Antoine “Trip” Triplett (played by B.J. King) who was introduced as a S.H.I.E.L.D agent working with John Garrett. Trip’s role on the team evolved into being their new specialist, after Ward was revealed to be a Hydra agent. Trip avoided the blandness issue that plagued Ward by being made the grandson of one of Captain America’s Howling Commandos. This gives him a connection to the MCU movies and he and Coulson are able to bond over their shared love of S.H.I.E.L.D’s history. He also flirts with Simmons, creating tension with Fitz.

Mike Peterson (played by J. August Richards) is a character that appeared in the pilot, and had the subversion of being made into Deathlok, thus retroactively becoming a character from the comics. Like that character, he starts out as a reluctant villain. In the finale, he is freed from Hydra’s control. My hope is he will be followed up on in season two, and we will get to see his redemption story.

John Garrett (played by Bill Paxton) is a subversion from the comics. Like his comic incarnation, he is a S.H.I.E.L.D agent that is made into a cyborg. But, like Alexander Pierce in the Captain America: The Winter Solider, he subverts those roots by being a Hydra agent. Garrett is an example of a well built character arc. He is friendly and helpful before he is revealed to be the bad guy, giving his heal turn some real bite. Once he is free from the need to pretend, he proves manipulative and self-serving. He turns into a great foil for the team and makes a memorable bad guy.

The biggest flaw of the series is that, even though they knew where they were going with the Hydra plot from day one, they so underplayed it that early part of the season seems disjointed and not at all connected to the MCU. While they made up for it in the second half, they had an uphill battle to regain the goodwill of the fanbase.

Based on all of this, I give Season 1 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D a final grade of B.

Review: Dracula TV show


Reviewing the new Dracula TV show has been an interesting process for me. If you follow me on Tumblr, then you know that on the night of the series premier I live blogged my sister’s reactions to the show as she live blogged watching it. It was an interesting night that led to my sister repeatedly thumping one of her copies of the original novel on the coach while yelling NO!, and drinking enough that she declared that she could not feel her feet.

After it was over, I declared that I was going to write a full review. However, to be fair to the show, I could not just review the pilot; I needed to watch several episodes in order to do this properly. She said I was braver than she, while clutching her fanged bunny Clovis for support.

So here it is. Fair warning, there will be spoilers, so enter freely and of your own will.

For those not in the know, the new Dracula series is a reimagining of the tale. Still set in Victorian England, the story now has Dracula pretending to be an American inventor and industrialist, named Alexander Grayson, in order to promote a new type of energy. His goal is to undermine the financial might of his ancient enemies, the Order of the Dragon, by reducing the worth of their oil holdings.

I think I pulled something writing that last sentence.

Having watched the first few episodes I have drawn the conclusion that this show was pitched as something other than Dracula and that it was repurposed, probably due to executive demands that it be based on a familiar property.

Of all the characters only Lucy Westenra acts anything like her counterpart in the original novel, and even she has significant changes.

Starting with Dracula, he is far from the monster in the novel, in fact he seems more of the noble monster trope here. He is out for revenge on the Order of the Dragon for killing his wife and turning him into a vampire. The show has also gone with the reincarnated lost love angle that has been used so often it almost seems a must for vampire stories.

Speaking of that reincarnated love, Mina has gone from a school teacher to a medical student studying under Professor Van Helsing.

Her Fiancé, Jonathan Harker, has gone from being a solicitor to a journalist hired by Dracula to investigate his rivals.

Lucy is still a rich high society girl, presented as a Victorian party girl. The one change here is that she harbors secret romantic feelings for Mina.

In one of the biggest changes from the novel, Renfield has gone from a madman whom Dracula enslaves to a trusted manservant who can counter Dracula’s instructions for Dracula’s benefit without repercussions and whose advice Dracula values.

But that pales in comparison to Van Helsing. In the novel he is Dracula’s arch nemesis and in media his name is synonymous with monster hunter. Here he is the one who frees Dracula from his tomb as he also seeks revenge on the Order of the Dragon for killing his family, and needs the vampire as his partner to accomplish this. He even goes so far as to try and find a way to allow Dracula to walk in the daylight.

For the order of the Dragon they are so generic in being bad guys that even reading a synopsis of episodes it is difficult for me to tell who is who.

The one exception is the order’s female vampire hunter, Lady Jayne Wetherby. Not suspecting that Grayson is in fact Dracula she starts an affair with him, while the order wants to ruin him as a business rival. She seems to serve the dual purpose of having a female vampire slayer in the show, and to have a character Dracula can have sex with every episode.

Another issue I have is the anachronisms throughout the show. In 1881, when Van Helsing frees Dracula, he uses a battery powered flashlight. In a scene in 1896 you see Dracula wearing s modern style wristwatch. You also have the female characters wearing off the shoulder dresses to society events. I think a lot of this is due to the show having a very steampunk sensibility, with Dracula as a pastiche of Nikola Tesla and his goal of bringing broadcast power to England. I think more of it is due to the show being more concerned with eye candy than any kind of accuracy.

Overall, this show feels like it was meant to be an entirely original franchise and it had Dracula tagged on for name recognition. The sad thing is I would probably be more tolerant of it, had it been an entirely original idea. One of my biggest issues with it is the complete rewriting of the classic characters. Were Renfield and Van Helsing original characters I would have no problem with their behavior. I would also have been just fine with the struggle between an American industrialist vampire and a Victorian secret society were the industrialist not Dracula.

Also, not everything is terrible. The production designs and cinematography are both terrific. The show looks incredible.

In the end, this is a show that could have been great, had they made it anything other than Dracula. As it is, I cannot get past that fact as it is too distracting.

I give Dracula a D on the Fanboy News Network grading scale. It is a very disappointing effort.

Surprisingly good TV Shows

sleepyhollowEvery TV season the networks hope to lure in viewers for their new programs, and that will require a lot of pre-publicity on the shows. When deciding what you are going to watch, a lot of judgment goes into trying to decide what you are going to watch and what is not worth your time. Over the last three TV seasons, I have come to learn that I cannot trust my initial assessment of shows based on preview material. I can name six shows, two from each of the last three seasons, that I was convinced were going to suck, and now are shows I don’t want to miss.

These shows are Once Upon a time, Grimm, Arrow, Hannibal, Sleepy Hollow, and The Blacklist.

So what was it about these shows that caused my initial dismissal of them, and what do they have that has made them appointment viewing?

Let’s find out.

For the first question, my answer is that I didn’t think any of them would be a sustainable series and be able to get up to nine episodes. For everything, but The Blacklist, a big part of my negative view was due to their being adaptations. Once Upon a Time and Grimm took it a step further, in that they were both shows using fairy tales as their basis, and I figured one would eventually cannibalize the other. In the case of Arrow, it was another superhero show on the CW and so I was expecting another watered down and drawn out story like Smallville. Hannibal was doubted because I didn’t see how a network TV show could possibility go to the dark places that the story would demand. With Sleepy Hollow I will admit that I assumed it was going to be a Twilight like take on the story. Finally, The Blacklist just seemed to be a thin premise that I could not see sustaining a season believably.

Clearly, I was wrong on all counts.

Once Upon a Time and Grimm are nothing alike, I don’t even think of them as having a common origin point anymore. Arrow is not watered down in the least. Watching Hannibal I am regularly shocked at how far the network has allowed this series to push the imagery. Sleepy Hollow, while nothing like the story that inspired it, is not following in the Twilight path. And The Blacklist is a fun series that teases at a greater mystery.

But I think there is more to it than my being wrong in my initial assumptions. All of these shows have two things in common that make me tune in week after week.

First is the fact that there is focus on characters and their story arcs. I am invested in what happens to these people and want to see where they are going. Even the worst written of these six shows (Once upon a Time) has me hooked by this, even for the villains.

The other thing is the overall story and series mythology. Each show is going somewhere and doing it at a good pace. To use Smallville as an example again, they dragged out their main arc, Clark Kent becoming Superman, for 10 years. By the end, it just felt ridiculous. In contrast. Arrow dealt with its main arc (Oliver going after the people on his father’s list in the first season) and wrapped that up; Once Upon a Time also wrapped up its main arc (breaking the curse on Storybrooke) in the first season. Both of these series then went on to have new arcs in their following seasons.

So good characters and good story pacing, really this is what we should want from any series.

And to wrap up, I would like to point out that I am not always wrong. I had bad feelings about both Dracula and The Tomorrow People. I was not wrong. In fact the only reason I am still watching Dracula is to give it a fair shot for when I review it, so you have that to look forward to.

If you have not checked out any of the series I have focused on here, I would recommend giving them a try. Of course, we will have to see how the rest of the season plays out. And maybe we will visit them again after this season is over.

Arrow Season End Review

tv-arrow02Back at the beginning of the season I did a review of Arrow, the CW’s take on DC Comics character Green Arrow. At the time of that review, the series had only aired five episodes. At the end of the review I promised to revisit the series at the end of the season. Well, the season has ended, so here we go. Go here to see what I said of if you haven’t already, as I am going to write this review with the assumption that you have read the previous one. I will not be avoiding spoilers either, so be warned.

First, let’s see if any of my opinions changed between then and now.

Back then I complained that Oliver Queen’s mother Moira, sister Thea, and best friend Tommy all suffered from underdevelopment compared to the rest of the characters. To varying degrees, all of them got better development as the season wore on.

Thea got the least. She is still Oliver’s troubled little sister, seeming to follow the pattern he set in his life pre-island of party girl excess. But after a drug bust and near imprisonment she had to do community service at the Laurel’s law office. This led her to meet a street tough named Roy Harper and start a relationship. It got her out of self-obsessed territory and made her more than just window dressing.

Moira got even more interesting. Her involvement with the villain of the story drove a lot of development, especially when it became clear that she was in over her head and just doing whatever she could to protect her family. This culminated in an attempt at redemption that was well played and should prove fodder for great drama next season.

Tommy ended up getting the best development in the series other than Oliver. While sharing the name of Oliver’s arch-enemy from the comics, it turned out that the Dark Archer was actually his father. This led to plenty of speculation as to which side Tommy would eventually end up on. His arc was well played. Once his father cut him off from the family money, Tommy honestly grew as a character. He found a job working for Oliver at his night club, and started an honest relationship with Laurel. One of the interesting points of that relationship is that every time Tommy was presented with a challenge that might have lead him back to his insincere party boy ways, he instead made the right choice. It created great tension in that he was good for Laurel, thus adding complications to Oliver’s relationship with both. This got even more intense when Tommy learned that Oliver was the Hood, leading him to abandon both Oliver and Laurel. This led to the biggest twist in the finale when Tommy risked, and lost, his life to save Laurel, and reconciled with Oliver as he died.

Since the last review there were five major characters introduced.

Roy Harper, played by Colton Haynes, I have mentioned before, as he is Thea’s boyfriend. He is significant to comic fans, as in the books Roy is the first Speedy, Green Arrow’s sidekick who ended up as the hero Arsenal. Roy’s arc is that the Hood saved him and now Roy wants to find him and learn from him. Basically Roy feels called to do better with his life, and feels working with the Hood is the way. It was not a big arc, but a good set-up for one next season, especially with his actions in the finale. Roy is going to be promoted to series regular next season.

Another character getting promoted to regular next season is Felicity Smoak, played by Emily Bett Rickards. Felicity is an odd addition, because in the comics she is a supporting character in Firestorm, not Green Arrow, but that is just a fanboy nitpick. At first I was annoyed by the fact that they had this obviously very attractive actress playing like she was an ugly duckling nerd. I had no problem with her being a nerd, but the way she acted was not matching how they had her look. Fortunately as the season progressed, she became more of a socially awkward and insecure character. She knew how she looked, but it was treated as another hindrance to what she loved to do. At first she was just someone that Oliver would come to when he needed some information that required computer skills. When he had to turn to her for help while wounded, she was not surprised, as she had deduced most of what was going on already. This makes her another example of not making smart characters act dumb for the sake of plot convenience.

Since then she has been part of Oliver’s team. However, she brings a problem I like to call the “Chloe syndrome,” named for the character Chloe Sullivan from Smallville. This is where the lead character has more on-screen chemistry with a secondary character than the official love interest. In this case, Felicity has a lot more on-screen chemistry with Oliver than Laurel does.

The third late addition is Tommy’s father Malcolm Merlyn, played by Torchwood star John Barrowman.  As stated earlier he took over the role of the Green Arrow’s arch-enemy, the Dark Archer. It was good to see Barrowman break type and play a villain, especially one with some sympathetic aspects. Malcolm was a well-intentioned extremist.  Sadly he will not be back next season.

The final newcomer is Slade Wilson, played by Manu Bennett. His character was teased from the first episode, as Slade in the comics is the villain Deathstroke, and we saw the Deathstroke mask in the first episode. His role is currently limited to flashbacks to Oliver’s time on the island. It was a good idea to bring on a new regular as part of the flashbacks if they are going to stay in use. It is also interesting to watch as Oliver and Slade are allies right now, but in the comic they are enemies.

Of the remaining cast, Paul Blackthorn is about the same as he was early in the season as Detective Lance. His arc was a minor one, with him eventually coming to realize that the Hood was needed to save the city, and that maybe they could be allies. It was a slow build that took all season, and for the most part it works.

The biggest disappointment is Katie Cassidy’s character Laurel, and in a lot of ways it isn’t her fault. While she did drive a certain amount of the plot, the writers put her in a bad spot. As a love interest for Tommy she worked great, showing his growth and making his final fate really hit home. As a love interest for Oliver she did not work as well. The two do have chemistry, but again it seems pale compared to the Oliver and Felicity. Add to that the fact that the writers have put just too many obstacles between them. But the worst part is that she just seems to be there as a motivation for Oliver, which is sad when you compare her to her comic book counterpart.

David Ramsey as John Diggle, Oliver’s partner in crime fighting, got a good arc in the latter part of the season, the discovery that reoccurring villain Deadshot killed his brother, and Diggle’s thirst for revenge, which created tension in the Diggle/Queen partnership. This plot thread has not been resolved, so there is more to mine from it. Outside of that they maintained the intelligence and skill that was shown early in the season and portrayed that Diggle is not just a sidekick.

And of course you have Stephen Amell as Oliver. Over the season, it is clear that he was a good find and perfect for the role of superhero. His athleticism has made his portrayal of Oliver all the more realistic. He also had two versions of the character at different times in his life, which has gone smoothly. The season finale showed him wounded and yet determined.


Another Wonder Woman Pilot

Here we go again with another Wonder Woman pilot.

CW, being a subsidiary of Warner Bros. has a long track record of bringing DC comics’ properties to the TV, or at least trying to. Obviously they had the 10 year run of Smallville and the 13 episode long Birds of Prey series. They produced a pilot for an Aquaman series. There were proposals for a show about teen titian member Raven and about the Grayson family before Dick became Robin that never got past the proposal stage. And of course you have the current series Arrow.

I’ll be honest, I am really apprehensive about the announced Wonder Woman pilot. It shares several traits from the other shows and pitches mentioned above that I think are not workable. On the other hand I had doubts about Arrow too and I have ended up liking that series.

Basically CW has some habits when it comes to DC shows that I am convinced are just there to annoy long time comic fans.

The first is that they seem to think that the best way to go is with a series that functions as a prequel to the comics, with Arrow and Birds of Prey being the exceptions. This started with the original pitch they made over a decade ago, a series that was going to be titled Bruce Wayne, detailing Bruce’s life between his return to Gotham City at 18 and becoming Batman. The reason the series did not get past script stage was that the WB movie division also wanted to explore Bruce’s development into Batman, which ultimately resulted in Batman Begins. On that point let’s go ahead and say that this turned out for the best.

So when Bruce Wayne was shut down they turned around and created Smallville. And as I have said before, at first this was not bad, but it went on too long and stretched the premise beyond the breaking point.

The Aquaman pilot used the exact same idea, only with Arthur Curry. I remember liking it when I first saw it, but in retrospect I think it would have ended up a weak premise for the same reasons that Smallville did not work long term.

The Graysons was just baffling as a pitch. Following Robin’s family and their adventures prior to their murder and Dick’s being taken in by Bruce. This would basically be a series where we know that it will end with the murder of the main characters. Also if we go with the general idea that Dick becomes Robin around 13 than the age you have him at the beginning of the series would set the lifespan of the show. All this of course assumes you intend to remain faithful to the comics, which Smallville showed was not necessarily going to happen.

We now add Wonder Woman to that list, as the pitch is literally the same as Smallville, but with Diana coming to America and I guess learning what it means to be a hero.

Another issue with DC shows on the CW is the names. I think the only show that got to keep its title from the comic was Birds of Prey. Besides Smallville and Bruce Wayne, You had the Aquaman show being called Mercy Reef, Green Arrow became Arrow, and now Wonder Woman’s show will be called Amazon. I assume this is a marketing issue with the film division in case they want to develop a movie using the characters, but it does seem like they are running from the franchises they want to develop.

So here is my main issue with the new stab at a Wonder Woman series. They are using a format that fans are going to be apprehensive about. The whole “Diana before she was Wonder Woman” is at best only sustainable short term. If they are going that route I hope they do not take the “no flight, no tights” mandate that ultimately hamstrung Smallville.

I think if they are going to do this they make it the arc for the first season, with the finale having her become Wonder Woman. From second season on have it be like Arrow, the beginnings of her career.

Do I see that happening? No I do not. I’m afraid they will get locked down into the prequel mode like Smallville and the problems that it brings.

On the other hand if they manage to stay true to the characters roots and persona maybe it will be worthwhile, or at least wipe out the bad taste left by the last Wonder Woman Pilot.

Two things I want to address real quick before I wrap up.

First, the whole Iris thing, where a casting sheet was released stating that the character’s name is Iris along with other back story alterations. This is a not uncommon practice when casting for a very well-known character. It is done in hopes of getting an audition that is not just an attempt to fill the preconceived notions about the character. Rest assured her name will be Diana in the series as has been confirmed by Geoff Johns.

The other is the Justice League movie. Obviously it is being developed and there is a general assumption that Wonder Woman will be in it. How will that work? Good question, and there are a lot of ways to do it. One is they just assume that audiences can deal with two different version of the character at once like when Superman Returns came out during Smallville’s run. Another is that they do not include Wonder Woman in the Justice League movie. This all of course assumes that Amazon makes it past pilot stage.

So there we have it. Let’s hope that DC can give their most iconic female character the adaptation she deserves.

Arrow Review

When I first heard that the CW was going to do a Green Arrow series, I was worried that it would be another “before they were a hero” concept like Smallville, as that seems to be their pitch for every DC comics based show.

Fortunately that is not the direction they went. However they still had to do something to drive me nuts. In this case it was calling the show Arrow, not Green Arrow, just Arrow.


Green Arrow is a character from the early forties. The general public may not be that familiar with him, but for the comic book fans he is a solid second tier character. Why mess with the iconic name.

And I have not been able to find an answer to this question anywhere. I would think they would offer some answer for the change, but no, nothing. The speculation is that due to the failure of the Green Lantern movie, the producers dropped the word green from the series title to avoid association. Also Greg Berlanti, one of the series co-creators, was a writer and producer on Green Lantern and I think that added to the need for distance.

So aside from the loss of the green how do I feel about the series?

Let’s take a look.

The premise of the series takes the basics of the comic book origin and uses it as a jumping off point. Oliver Queen, a rich socialite, is shipwrecked on an island for five years where he develops archery skills to survive. After being rescued from the island Queen comes home and becomes a Robin Hood themed crimefighter.

One of the series strengths is that it takes this basic story and filters it through the same sensibilities that fueled Nolen’s Batman trilogy.

Queen is now the son of a wealthy family. He is famous for being a rich party boy. While on a yacht trip with his father and his girlfriend’s sister, the yacht sinks and Oliver is the only survivor. Before dying his father confesses that he was corrupt and that he wants Oliver to survive, return home, and correct his mistakes by dealing with a list of other corrupt community leaders.

Using flashbacks the series fleshes out that Oliver was not alone on the island. It is clear that the skills he gained during the five years there were not self-taught.

Queen returns home, and lets people think he is returning to his party boy ways when really he is going after the people on his father’s list.

So how does the series work, both on it’s own and as an adaptation of Green Arrow.

As a series it works surprisingly well considering it is on the CW. The creators stated that they were using The Dark Knight trilogy as inspiration and it shows. The scripts are smart and there is at least a nod to practicality in how the heroics are presented.

One of the strengths is that the series does not make the mistake of having the characters act dumb in order to maintain their plot.

In the first three episodes Oliver has a body guard, John Diggle, thrust on him by his mother. In most other shows Diggle would have to be treated as a fool in order for Oliver to constantly ditch him and not have him figure out the truth. Here by the second episode Diggle knows something is up, and by the fourth Oliver has decided that he can trust Diggle and recruits him into the mission. This allows Diggle to be treated as a professional and for the show not to strain credibility with keeping Oliver’s secret. This is one of the mistakes that Smallville use to make and it is really good to see it avoided here.

Another good decision is to make sure that this is not a super powered world. Even the most extreme characters are just really well trained, but not superhuman.

The casting is also well done for the most part. This is a CW series so of course it is populated with a gaggle of pretty people, but it also has a better balance of non-model types. Also the type of people Oliver’s party boy lifestyle attracts makes this at least make sense.

Stephen Amell is well suited to play this version of Oliver Queen. He is athletic and in scenes where Oliver is doing parkour it appears that Amell is doing it himself. He also brings a good balance to scenes that flashback to old party boy Oliver vs. determined crimefighter Oliver.  There is also a bit of fan service with him, as not an episode goes by that he does not appear shirtless at least once.

Katie Cassidy as Laurel Lance does fairly well. She is certainly much improved over when she first showed up as a reoccurring character on Supernatural. She holds her own with Amell in their scenes together and there is certainly chemistry. The biggest issue with her character is that she is they want to portray her as able to handle herself in a fight, and she does not have the shape or presence to quite pull that off. As her character is based on the Black Canary this is going to be a sticking point for a lot of comic fans.

Paul Blackthorn as her father Detective Quentin Lance is probably the strongest actor of the cast, and his character provides some good tension. He is a good cop, but is angry at Oliver who he blames for his other daughter’s death.  The only downside is that Blackthorn is playing Lance much the same as he played Harry Dresden on the Dresden Files and so it can be a little distracting if you watched that series.

David Ramsey as John Diggle is the only one on the main cast whose character does not have roots in the comics. Earlier I described his situation with both how well his character is written and played. His story arch is still developing, with him now being partner and voice of reason to Oliver. It is going to be interesting to see where they take him.

Susanna Thompson plays Oliver’s mother Moira. She is playing an odd balance of the loving mother to Oliver and yet she is clearly at least partially responsible for the yacht wreak that sets the series in motion. Right now it is unclear how deep she is in with the bad guys and her character suffers from needing more development

Colin Donnell and Willa Holland have it even worse in the development territory. Donnell plays Tommy Merlyn, Oliver’s best friend who expects that now he is back the good old days are back too. There are hints that he suspects more, but he does not get a lot of chance to show that. In the comics Merlyn is a rival archer and one of Green Arrows main enemies. Hopefully as the series progresses he will get more development.

Holland plays Oliver’s sister Thea. Her role on the series is that of a reminder to Oliver of his shallow past as she is turning out the same way. Her nick name is Speedy and it appears she was based in part on the second Speedy to be Green Arrows sidekick in the comics. She really has very little to do other than pout and get lectures from Oliver.

So what we have now that we are five episodes into the series is a good, if slightly flawed superhero series. I feel there is a lot of potential here and it seems that they are going in the right direction.

I give Arrow a B-, but I will take a look at it again at the end of the season and see where we are then.


American Horror Story

When I was growing up one of the shows I liked to watch was Dark Shadows. I was too young to really understand it much beyond “oh neat, monsters,” but I would sit riveted. Years later it was syndicated and I was able to watch it again.
One of Dark Shadows’ intriguing qualities was how it handled casting new characters. Between time travel, parallel worlds and simply a character dying and a new one showing up later, many actors on the show played 4 or 5 different characters. The show often dealt with this by just ignoring it. It became the accepted norm.
And now the new show American Horror Story has decided to follow in its footsteps.
If you have not watched this show you really should.
The premise is that the Harmon family of Boston, Ben, Vivian, and their Daughter Violet, move to Las Angeles for a fresh start after Vivian has a stillbirth and Ben has an affair with a student of his. They move into a restored mansion that was an amazing bargain.  Only it turns out that the house is cursed, anyone who dies on its property is trapped there as a ghost.
I am not going to spoil the rest. It is a well-crafted story, and discovering details as it moves along is one of its strengths.
While I was watching the early part of its first season I was wondering how they could sustain the story over multiple seasons. The pacing was great and they gave a lot of revelations but there was no way to avoid the problem Heroes had, a great first season and then a downhill slide.  
And then they proved me wrong.
The season finale was in fact the end of the story.  As it become clear near the end that they were going to wrap up the producers explained the plan. Each season would be a complete story with new characters. To provide continuity several cast members would stay with the show, but as different characters then before.
I personally think this is brilliant. It allows for a well-paced story with a climax, which is much more satisfying then stretching the story beyond the breaking point that shows like Smallville have.
It also allows for the freedom to sign up some really good actors as they are do not have to commit to anything beyond the one 13 episode season.  I’m sure that’s how they got Dylan McDermott for the first season.
It was announced that Jessica Lange, Zachary Quinto, Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, and Lily Rabe are returning next season and that they will move from the west coast to the east. If they can keep up the quality from the first season I am there.