Rewatchable Sci-Fi/Fantasy TV Series



Strain, The  
Based on all four seasons.

A horror series created by Guillermo del Toro and released by FX is something to get excited about, and my expectations were high. The first season is a masterpiece of horror. It is a combination of old-school vampire horror where vampires are monsters and not romantic emo-teenagers, with the unique touch of treating them as a virus by the CDC, and their details are altered slightly in del Toro style to make them modern, unsettling and truly scary. Elements from the classic Dracula and Nosferatu stories appear here with unique touches, and they are done very well. This is also combined with the apocalypse genre, except this is a vampire virus and not zombies, and the apocalypse is much more interesting and scary here since it is gradual and occurs in stages with a group of people trying to fight the Master's plan every step of the way. The cast is rich, colorful and well cast, presenting a rich story with lots of character development. This includes a CDC scientist and his family torn apart by an infection, a rich and influential man who is desperate to stay alive via any means, various criminals that become involved in the Master vampire's plans only to have misgivings when they realize what they were involved in, an old dark-soul Holocaust survivor that has dedicated his life to fighting the Master, vampire-ancients with their own agendas, a truly evil Nazi vampire lackey, an effective rat exterminator that shifts his expertise to vampires, and many more. There are plots and counter-plots, lots of desperate survivalist action, very effective horror that gets under your skin, and intense drama as the worst and best of people is brought out by the horrifying spread of monstrous vampiricism. The writing is mostly solid and continuous with multi-season story arcs and complex character development.

The first season is definitely amongst the top three seasons of any horror series, with complex developments, a scary monster, a gripping unfolding story and best of all, fleshy and colorful characters and actors. The only minor misstep is the use of that Hollywood myth of a female super-hacker, but her story is a minor sub-plot. The second season is still quite good, albeit the Master becomes less scary and effective, and the writing sometimes feels like it is stretching things out a touch, but these complaints are minor and the season is still quite solid and interesting. Some cracks appear in the writing that seems to forget the super-speed of the stronger vampires when it isn't convenient, and the vampires constantly skip chances to kill their enemies, except this isn't really a valid complaint given that the vampires have repeatedly shown their motivations to be driven by sadism and the need to make their enemies suffer by taking away everything they care for or by breaking their will systematically, rather than going for simple murder, as we have seen with the Nazis. A lot happens in the third season, making it much more action-packed and intense than the second, although it now feels more like a strong, conventional, slicker show as opposed to the superb unsettling horror vibe from the first season. There is a story arc involving a brat kid going very very bad that may turn off many viewers, sometimes feeling too far-fetched, but it's not altogether implausible given that kids are often amoral and swayed by their misguided parents, and given that his devotion is to a mother who has been turned into a hybrid vampire-human. This development is quite dark and risky, but not beyond reason, and I found it unusual and interesting. The final fourth season follows a very dark climax, continuing the story as the characters grow increasingly more desperate in a new hellish world that threatens to take control. All this leads to a satisfying and intense finale.

In summary, one of the best horror series ever made with only minor flaws, and it's sad to see that mass audiences don't appreciate shows of this calibre while rating other, poorly written, but superficially thrilling shows higher. It brought something new to the vampire genre which is no minor feat, took risks and mostly succeeded, features a truly horrifying first season and a strong finale, and told its story, then ended without any padding. The mass of bad reviews only prove that audiences today have no taste. This is a superb show.



Expanse, The  
Based on all six seasons.

A surprisingly amazingly-well-done sci-fi show that eschews cheesy Trekkie aliens and geeky sci-fi tropes, and works hard for impressively detailed 'hard' sci-fi. Keep in mind, however, that this is primarily plot-and-action-driven rather than character-driven like Farscape. In other words, although the characters are solid and moderately interesting, their character arcs don't soar or show nearly as much depth as I would have liked, and the characters serve the season-long plots rather than vice-versa (as opposed to Farscape where even stand-alone episodes serve to develop the character arcs). Although I am more fond of Farscape and its approach, this show is much more consistent in its high quality and is thus less rough around the edges. And this is merely a relative comparison, as many of the colorful characters here grow on you nicely as well. The special-effects are superb and seamless, and the futuristic detail and world-building are jaw-droppingly impressive, and even overwhelming at first. The writing serves continuous long and complex story arcs with a solid and thrilling pace and plenty of action and thrills, and most of all, with creative imagination. This show is what Battlestar Galactica should have been.

The setup is a couple of hundred years in the future where humanity has expanded into Mars and the asteroid belt, effectively splitting the human race into three competing worlds where each world has created its own culture and mindset. Earth has deteriorated further and is decrepit but powerful, Mars is idealistic, youthful, with strong technology, military and motivation, and the Belters are a wild bunch of working-class rebels and space pirates with valuable space and engineering skills. The politics are very complex and subtle and are one of the main strengths of the show, and the writers assume an intelligent audience that pays attention. A scary, mysterious and elusive alien technology causes havoc, strange deaths and power struggles, as well as launches several conspiracies as the powers-that-be try to gain power and control with the new technology, while the scary bio-techno forces seem to have a complex agenda of their own. A group of colorful misfits with various backgrounds in a stolen ship find themselves in the middle of the chaos, and always somehow at the center of the main developments. This last element is a classic sci-fi trope that always seems to work. The alien technology sometimes wanders a little close to Lost territory in the sense that it seems to be able to evolve into anything and everything due to its mysterious power, but the writers don't lose control, and it all makes sense in the end.

The first three seasons are all superb and serve nearly complete story arcs. I was impressed and hooked from the first episode when I saw the rich detail of the worlds, and the characters and plots soon grow on you as well. Season three has a strange structure: The first half completes many story arcs and features a massive 'finale' in the middle of the season, and the second half feels kinda rushed and features another complete condensed story arc that ends on an open-ended but satisfying finale. All this was probably due to the fact that the idiots at SyFy cancelled the show after season three.

Thankfully Amazon picked it up for a fourth season. The fourth expands the world and builds on the previous three seasons as more worlds are now suddenly available to humanity with new dangers, while the clash between humans and the alien proto-molecule technology continues to develop. There are new political tensions with the new expansion, as well as a growing crisis on a strange new planet which climaxes in an extreme and tense survival situation. It is a good season, but relatively a slight step down from previous seasons due to a lack of mystery in the alien technology and less subtlety in the politics. But the writers do plenty of interesting things including some interesting and bizarre developments with the proto-molecule. So it is still a very good and solid season, only less compelling, relatively speaking. The fifth season goes back to superb, detailed, realistic, hard sci-fi, and actually increases its focus on character development, taking its time, resulting in a very solid and thrilling season indeed. This time the crew is scattered all over, as a terrorist unleashes an inter-planetary crisis, and the many varied tense and dangerous situations involving personal connections from the past bring out a lot of very good character development. Ironically, this turned off many superficial reviewers, but I found it rich and strongly written, albeit incomplete and ending on a cliffhanger. The final sixth season is a conclusion for the fifth rather than a stand-alone, and it is a short season, but it is a very solidly written and thrilling season, albeit focusing mostly on total war and politics. In summary, from start to finish this is a superb, fascinating, gripping, and very impressive sci-fi series, and probably the best sci-fi series with a continuous story-line ever made.



Black Mirror    
Based on all five seasons.

Quality over quantity is definitely the motto of this anthology series that brings to mind The Twilight Zone at its best, except this one almost has no filler episodes and even the lesser ones are entertaining and provocative. The theme is the dark side of technology, and each episode takes place in a different present or future, where a seemingly fascinating and useful technology turns out to have a dark side and an unexpected trap. This is no Luddite series however, or a cheesy horror show about technology gone evil. It is a very smartly written and observed show that takes a technology (usually future sci-fi technology but often close to the current technologies), and demonstrates where humans could easily take it in very realistic and carefully observed scenarios. In each episode, it tells a compelling tale with superb actors, constantly winds the tension tighter, then always provides a finale that leaves one thinking for a quite a while afterwards. And the writing is not only carefully written, it is smart and insightful. When was the last time you could say that about any show? It contains horror which can be a little disturbing, but in a good way, and without the excess of modern horror, and it is also sci-fi at its best, using imagination to explore humanity, and it contains a healthy dose of satire as well. The technologies explored range from youtube abuse, to programs that try to copy human beings, to virtual politicians, or Idol-type shows that find entertainment in everything, Existenz-esque reality games, computer malware, and even the evil behind Facebook 'Likes' or internet comments. From the mind behind Dead Set.

The short first two seasons are perfect and superb. The third season contains two weaker entries in the middle (with one puzzlingly silly lesbian love story) but the other four are superb. The fourth season, although not quite running at the high levels of the first two, comes quite close to those seasons, is a little more experimental as well as consistently interesting. Season five reduces the episodes down to three again, and focuses relatively less on the sci-fi effects and more on subtleties and the human side of things relative to previous episodes, resulting in a stronger season (ignore weak populist reviews). There are slight flaws, such as the somewhat weak ending of episode one, and the third is entertaining but much less thought-provoking, but episode two is a masterpiece of insightful social commentary in an era of maximum 'connectivity'. During the fifth season, an interactive movie was also released called Bandersnatch where viewers select choices for the protagonist while the meta-movie explores alternate realities, computer games and free choices, by way of Donnie Darko.



Prisoner, The  
Based on all seventeen episodes.

A cult classic series that lasted for only a few episodes but that's all it needed and it had the grace to quit while it was ahead. A government agent finds himself in a strange village where the people are either brainwashed sheep or part of the system and all are attempting to extract information from him using any means possible. The Prisoner repeatedly attempts to escape and fool his captors and intense cat-and-mouse games ensue. Psychological games, strange behaviour, bizarre other-worldly sci-fi technology that keeps the villagers in line, and nightmarish symbolism behind it all. This is thoroughly intelligent with fast-moving plots, and endlessly inventive to the point of being surreal. It only loses its way in the last 3 overly abstract episodes, but otherwise is superb and essential.



Game of Thrones  
Based on all eight seasons.

An epic fantasy series finally makes it to the small screen, produced by HBO to make it look like a huge-budgeted blockbuster movie and eventually the scope and budget grows beyond even the biggest blockbuster movie, only with a continuous story-line and massive scale spanning several seasons to create a staggering 70-hour-long dark fantasy movie. The story also spans hundreds of characters, and involves several continents full of various races, cities, politics, wars and parallel story-lines, and it is a very dark story indeed, as written and imagined by George R. R. Martin. This show has become a phenomenon that has surpassed everything that came before it on both the big and small screen. The story itself is too complex, huge and epic to summarize and it is probably the most epic thing that has ever been committed to screen. But it involves several houses competing for supremacy in a world similar in many ways to the medieval period on Earth. A king and his fragile alliance dies, which triggers a series of murders, wars and political games, both personal between the various people in power as well as political between races and houses. Alliances shift quickly, pivotal characters are murdered often, battles often end surprisingly, and men are pushed to their limits and beyond, usually bringing out the worst in them. Despite the religions in this world, this is a godless place, and the religious are just as cruel and godless, and the morally corrupt frequently emerge on top amidst the chaos. A looming doomsday winter with awakening hordes of the dead, as well as dragons and other forms of re-emerging dark magic complicate the chaos even further, often forcing enemies to work together. The show has one glaring flaw of a general attitude of misanthropy and sadism which affects the writing and characters throughout the run of the show, and this flaw will be described in more detail below, but otherwise, it is an epic and magnificent fantasy movie that draws its many plot-lines together slowly over eight seasons for a massive climax.

As mentioned above, the big flaw of this show is a very poor opinion of humanity, general misanthropy, and rampant sadism with a lack of balance between sadism and realism. This shows itself in many ways and it affects the writing as well as the behaviour of the characters, even ignoring its own careful character building just to have yet another character make a poor decision and do something horrible. The show revels in bestial behaviour, sadism and general hopelessness in its characters. Not that I think that humanity as we know it is generally good by default, or that many of the actions and behaviour in this show are unrealistic. Quite the opposite: I believe that most people will behave like animals under the right circumstances, especially when in a state of war and in a world like this one. But the balance is off and the show goes too far, and, as mentioned, it ignores its own careful character building to repeatedly shock with extremely sadistic or dark behaviour. Some characters are portrayed unrealistically as 100% sadistic without any remnant trace of humanity whatsoever. The rest and the majority of the characters demonstrate their more human side as well, but when it comes to the crunch, suddenly most behave in ways that would make Hitler raise an eyebrow without even a trace of a conscience. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the fatally flawed penultimate episode when a major complex character suddenly turns to the dark side in a too-extreme way. There's also a broken character who takes years to slowly find redemption with careful writing, who suddenly gives up completely in an extreme way. But this happens often also in the first 4-5 seasons, where mostly everyone can be relied on to not just murder, but to go out of their way to do so in the most sadistic way imaginable, or to be apathetic about other people's sadism, etc. So, once again, the problem is the lack of balance. The show also revels in graphic brutality, repeatedly crushes any hopes of justice and honor, wants us to sympathize with deeply flawed characters that have done great evil in the past, turns almost every character to the dark side, all religions are dark depraved and gloomy, and even the remaining honorable characters only wear their honor as superficial window-dressing with poor judgement. And all of this is present in the books as well as the show, even more so in the books, so the flaw is in the source material. What all this means is that this show is definitely not for everyone, but these flaws don't necessarily kill the show, despite everything I said. What remains is an epic but very dark and flawed fantasy show, with a collection of complex characters, many of them repulsive, but not all. The show still leaves small slivers of light and possibilities of redemption with a handful of remaining flawed characters, and the darkness of the first 4-5 seasons does give way gradually and slowly for payoffs in the last few seasons, albeit relatively weaker ones that could have been so much more powerful with a better balance.

Regarding the books (which is where I started): I found them overrated, with too many overwhelming problems in the writing, except that they had a good story at their core. One big problem is the desperate need for an editor. The books are bloated with many, many tedious chapters and pages that don't do much for the story or characters, describing endless banal conversations and encounters, useless details, and tedious flashbacks or 'historical' back-stories in every other page. To make matters worse, the story gets told by more and more characters as the books progress, reducing the pacing of each individual story down to a painful crawl. Reading the books became an endurance test regardless of the quality of the story. The other huge problem is that most of the characters are very flat. Sure, interesting things happened to them, but the writer obviously has no skills in bringing characters to life, with the exception of a couple of characters like Tyrion and Arya. Another problem is the intelligence is at a minimum. There are some moderately clever political machinations, but otherwise, there is no brilliance from either the writer nor the characters, and no wise characters, only people led by basic instincts, blind honor or simple motivations. The imagination of the novels is grand in scope and full of details to a fault, but the world is modeled largely after the medieval period, with cultures and people copied from instantly obvious parallels in our world, and only their names and costumes were changed. Even the fantasy aspects are minimized in order to keep it more realistic, and the religions are mostly modeled after Christianity, Roman gods or various forms of Paganism. Which means that the imagination did not impress too much either. But, like I said, there was a potent epic story at its core, and a screen adaptation could theoretically fix at least some of the flaws in the books.

And the TV series did exactly that with flying colors: It trimmed tons of fat off the core story, and the story emerged all the stronger for it. It re-edited the story, fixing the pacing. It even adjusted the timeline here and there to avoid neglecting some story-lines that were left to rot all too often. And finally, it did a brilliant casting job in every single role: And the actors did what the writer could not: Bring the characters to life, which, in turn, brought the story to life. This show did such a good job surpassing the books, I stopped reading the books after book 3, and focused only on the show (and I can't recall this ever happening before). This is not a perfect show however, and took a while to win me over. The one flaw that was not fixed is the aforementioned misanthropy. Another is the tiresome HBO habit of injecting gratuitous trashy sex and homosexuality into the show that wasn't even in the books. Every time they stage a completely pointless orgy scene (or the like) obviously engineered only to titillate like some cheap pulp fiction, the show takes a while to recover until I can take it seriously again. Another thing HBO often does is to emphasize the female roles and make them even more pivotal than in the books. Political correctness has no place in a world modeled after the Middle Ages.

The first three seasons follow the first 2.5 books rather closely, except for the aforementioned tons of fat that have been thankfully sliced off. The story is at its strongest and leanest in the first season, but the payoffs really start to become powerful during the third and fourth seasons. In the fourth season, the writers of the show start showing more independence, re-arranging the story-lines and even filming scenes that were only hinted at in the books, and even the stupidly forced sex scenes have been reduced, resulting in what is probably the strongest season. An interestingly unique dilemma then comes up: They run out of books. However, novels four and five were poorly accepted and contained too much filler material, that and the fact that the rest of the story still hasn't been written, forces the writers of the show to use what they can for the weaker fifth season, and then take over the writing for the sixth season. But this is not a catastrophe; Quite the opposite: The writers have proven to be superb at improving on the source material, and as long as they use the writer's consistent vision for the story, there is no reason the show couldn't soar as it has done already in previous seasons.

And this is exactly what happens: Seasons six and seven push the many stories and hundreds of characters forward in epic fashion. The many machinations become more complicated and interesting, the characters exponentially more vested in their roles and fates, many of them getting broken and reformed by the constant failures and loses, becoming more introspective and human as a result. And the mounting tensions and dangers build up constantly throughout the world and explode often with surprising but realistic results, with more and more story-lines slowly converging or closing. It's not perfect, as explained previously. There are also some puzzlingly poor decisions by some characters, a too-heavy reliance by the writers on constant deaths, as well as the opposite: people that survive certain death repeatedly. And the masses are too fickle, following the numerous all-too-quickly replaced leaders one after another. And the final season does ruin a couple of characters. But, that aside, taken as a whole, this is a magnificently epic and fascinating show. The characters really soar thanks to the combination of great actors, casting, screen-writers and story-teller, a combination that thankfully transcended the limitations of the books. And, as opposed to the hordes of fans that rate the battle scenes the highest, I think that they are mere strong punctuation for this show's real strength which breathes between its many deaths. Slowly but gradually, the darkness accentuates the small rays of light as well as the last feeble traces of humanity in some of the wicked characters, and the show lives within its characters and the many smaller human moments that pass between them. Brutal and shocking massacres and deaths break your heart one minute and completely change your expectations as to how a story is supposed to develop. But then you realize all is not lost just yet and some light shines through as the survivors soldier on and become tougher, more complicated, more human. Stupidly wicked characters are broken down in brutal ways and rebuilt and are given chances to find redemption. Many episodes hit you like a ton of bricks. And all this happens repeatedly. Most have praised the character of Tyrion Lannister as the complex center, but there are several underrated others that stick in my mind more: Such as the brutally cynical murderer 'The Hound' Clegane with a deeply buried human center, and his very unusual relationship with the young girl Arya Stark as she tries to find strength in cold and brutal revenge. Or there's the complicated interactions between the fiercely honorable Brienne, and Jamie who has allowed himself to drown in dishonor. Or the tragic love story between enemies Jon and the wildly beautiful Ygritte. And so on... The characters grow while the human and undead evil become increasingly more dangerous, thus constantly upping the ante and the intensity.

Season eight closes everything with a series of staggeringly epic movie-length episodes. For most of its run, except for the two ruined characters mentioned above and some overly rushed writing causing some minor mistakes, the payoffs and intensity are dialed up to 11 for many bittersweet and strong endings to the hundreds of story-lines. Despite the deeply flawed ending of two major characters and the overall darkness of the show, there is so much going on, and the majority of the material and characters are superb and compelling, making the show very worthwhile despite the flaws. The most interesting aspect of the last season was the reaction by the millions of new-generation fans, most of which had become so obsessed with their own fantasies, theories and poor reasoning over a period of ten years, that it generated an unprecedented wave of hatred, ridiculously illogical criticisms and low ratings. But, as I said before, for a more discerning audience that isn't afraid of extreme darkness, this offers a staggeringly epic experience regardless of its flaws, and the many characters, their long extreme journeys, the character development and their powerful interactions will all stick with you long after the battles and the hordes of this show's (ex)-fans are done.




Farscape  
Based on all four seasons and the concluding mini-series.

For once, the praises are valid and this happens to be one of the most entertaining old-school sci-fi shows ever made. But there's a caveat: This is a character-driven show a la Buffy. Those looking for geeky Star-Trek or Babylon 5 plots or highly original science fiction may be disappointed. There is also an abundance of snappish comedy, alien cultures and creatures that embarrass the silly humanoid aliens of other shows (the alien puppets were made by the Henson workshop), and great special effects. Another of the great advantages to this show is that it is basically one very long movie, with complex story lines continuing even between seasons, and characters developing and changing drastically as the show progresses. There are some stand-alone episodes that serve as sci-fi interludes but the character development is always continuous.

The main story arc is about an Earth astronaut from the 20th century who gets lost in a wormhole and finds himself brutally pulled into an intergalactic conflict while allying himself with various alien renegades fleeing from a cruel military species. Crichton tries to harness the power of wormholes to find his way back, falls in love with the incredible Claudia Black (an aggressive outcast from the military Peacekeeper race), and manages to make enemies out of increasingly more evil and powerful beings who are also out to control wormhole technology. The renegades include a selfish but royal mud-dwelling creature, a warrior, an annoying new-age spiritual 'witch', and a strange, sexually manipulative alien. Claudia Black and the evil Scorpius and Crais are by far the strongest characters, and the rest range from tolerable to good.

The first season isn't the strongest but it's fresh and entertaining, it introduces the story and characters and pulls you in. The poor second season suffers from sophomore effort syndrome: No freshness and inspired fun of the first season, and messy story-lines. Some ideas seem forced here and Zhaan, the blue 'spiritual' character, reaches her peak of annoyance. The best and third season boasts great drama and character development, a solid, consistent, and interesting story, and best of all: no new-age witch. The fourth season is interesting, fun and still great but is relatively weaker (the writers experiment with interesting plots but don't seem as inspired).



Kingdom, The (Riget)    

A TV series that is often described as a mix of ER and Twin Peaks filmed in Dogme '95 style. But while the ER-style gripping hospital drama and the Twin Peaks-like quirky characters and strange, spooky events keep the viewer fascinated, it is the humor and dense sub-plotting that are the clinchers. Highlights are the constant hilarious clashes between a formal Swede and Danish frivolity, the spiritual sleuthing of an old woman who tries to help the ghosts of the hospital while the administration tries to stand firmly with its belief in science, students play with body parts, doctors initiate each other with a surgical blade, a doctor that collects blackmail and discarded material in the cellar, and a pair of dishwashers with Down's syndrome that serve as the Greek chorus. This soon turns into chaos and over-the-top scenes of bizarre shock and hilarity that become more and more bizarre to the point of parody. Comedy and surrealism take the forefront instead of spookiness and gripping drama, with sub-plots involving a twelve-foot deformed baby with the mind of a grown man, Satanic rituals and demons, zombies, doctors with an addiction to splatter films, a madman in charge of group therapy, an ambulance driver that drives against the traffic while the staff bet on him, etc. A wild and gripping ride but unfortunately unfinished due to the deaths of some main actors.



Doctor Who (2005)  
Based on the first thirteen seasons.

BBC brings back the classic series (see below) with a bang and an upgrade, featuring modernized characters, more emotion and exploration of characters, and good CGI special effects. The Time Lord is back, saving worlds and people and encountering dangers, invasions, aliens and monsters in different periods in time. Even the Daleks and Cybermen are brought back with some scary upgrades. This is fun and imaginative sci-fi with colorful characters that shows the overly stiff Trek shows how to make science fiction imaginative and entertaining. Although the show emphasizes enthusiastic sci-fi fun, it also adds a healthy balance of pathos to elevate the show even beyond the original, as well as just enough silliness, interesting ideas, and comedy. This is also a show for Doctor Who fans that aren't afraid to revisit elements from the old show with more depth, emotion and humanity. This flamboyant, populist and emotive new approach comes to us courtesy of Russell Davies from Queer as Folk, the more disciplined writing I expect from a good sci-fi show gradually and increasingly suffering as a result. The show (with the exception of Moffat episodes) under Davies quickly deteriorated to overblown nonsense, sentimental undisciplined writing with not only plot-holes, but completely nonsensical writing that constantly breaks its own rules and often makes use of deus-ex-machinas. Somehow, Moffat taking over the show after a few years didn't fix these problems for long. In short, it started amazingly well with a perfect approach to a comeback, then quickly deteriorated.

Christopher Eccleston (05): Each of the old generations changed radically and revolved around the character of the latest regeneration of the Doctor and the ninth is no exception. Which is to say, it is yet another fascinating exception. The first season features a dynamic, modern, quirky, cheery, fun Doctor in a leather jacket with some complexities and dark moods but overall an adventure-seeking, life-loving, brilliant, technical wizard who enlists the capable Rose from Earth as his side-kick. Episodes are usually very good with only a couple of exceptions, strong highlights being the return of the Dalek, and the surprisingly emotional Father's Day. Brings back the humorous fun of the old days, a magnificent version of the theme music, and the imaginative sci-fi we expect from Doctor Who. This season is flawed by occasional lazy writing and deus-ex-machina solutions however, including the horrible season ending. But these flaws are minor (especially compared to what is to come), and the season is a great one.

David Tennant (06-09): As soon as we settled down to really like the new Doctor, he is replaced. Tennant at first seems too young, immature and too much of an action-hero, but within a couple of episodes he wins us over with his contagious enthusiasm, energy, and multi-faceted character, and thanks to the writers, he is given a lot to do. The Torchwood institute for fighting aliens is introduced, the Cybermen are resurrected with great care to make them scary instead of cheesy, and a few two or three part episodes bring back the longer stories we were used to in the past. But once again, the highlights are provided through the human angle by the writers, exploring the lonely life of the hero Doctor, the effect of constant dangers and adventures, the tragedy of Cybermen, the emotional roller coaster of time-travel (e.g. the incredible Girl in the Fireplace), etc. Flaws include increasingly lazy and dumb sci-fi exemplified by the Sonic Screwdriver that seems to be able to do anything with the same simple press of a button. The second season is rich, superb and sees the (over) emotional exit of Rose. But, overall, the ending is a good one, especially compared to all the other awfully overblown season endings. The weak third season takes a big step down in the writing featuring only a handful of good episodes, and otherwise indulges in way too many lazy deus-ex-machina endings, sloppy sci-fi, and a truly horrible last episode. The obvious stand-out is the instant classic horror episode by Moffat: 'Blink'. This season introduces the clear-headed but uninteresting Martha Jones, and resurrects The Master in a three parter that starts superbly then falls apart for a ridiculously nonsensical ending that fails on many levels. While season three is a mixed bag and still offers a few good episodes, with the fourth season and 2009 specials, the writing becomes pedestrian sci-fi entertainment at best, and cheating, contradictory, nonsensical or sloppy rubbish at worst. They wreck the opening theme, Russell injects the show more and more with his openly-stated gay agenda, the new companion is annoying, the endings are overblown absolute idiotic nonsense, and although the show is somewhat irresistible, it is constantly disappointing, except for the couple of superb Steven Moffat episodes. In summary, a rapid and gradual deterioration over five years with a superb first two years and a mixed third.

Matt Smith (10-13): The show is thankfully rebooted in the hands of Moffat and a new Doctor. I was sure that Moffat would deliver something amazing but was apprehensive about the too-young Matt Smith. To my surprise, it turned out to be the opposite: Smith lacks a bit of depth and personality, but he performs rather well after a few episodes even though he seems to be copying Tennant, and has a strange alien ageless face on a young body, which is appropriate. The first two episodes sees more fascinatingly unusual writing from Moffat with some flaws, then, with the exception of the deeply touching "Vincent and the Doctor" we get a series of terrible episodes with deus ex machinas, sloppy details and sentimental rubbish galore, leading to yet another overblown, brainless and nonsensical finale straight out of a Davies season. Bombs are defused with emotion, unstoppable scary monsters stop doing what they do at the writer's whim, nonsensical metaphysics and gobbledygook save the day over and over, Amy walks around in a tiny miniskirt in the 50s or 1700s and nobody even notices, etc. etc. How can a show 'change hands' only to deliver the same rubbish? Moffat finally makes his mark in season six with a complex, interesting story arc that just barely holds together if you think about it really hard, and for once the finale isn't complete nonsense. Unfortunately it's still mixed with a sprinkling of some emotionally-driven nonsense, showboating and spectacle, pandering to wide-eyed fans rather than to level-headed audiences. The above-average seventh season is a similar mixed bag with more good than bad, featuring a rich variety of episodes as well as some lazy plot holes and details that don't work, some sentimental or humanist deus-ex-machinas, and a half-interesting half-impossible finale. In summary, season five is a bad Davies left-over, but seasons six and seven are fun, interesting and addictive, albeit very flawed. The show seems to have an ongoing problem with spectacle and emotion overriding consistency and logic and it often makes me miss the geekier and simpler approach of old Who.

Then came the fascinating movie-length 50th Anniversary Special 'The Day of the Doctor', which, in an old Who tradition, thrillingly combines several Doctors in a single episode in addition to introducing the next Doctor. However, it also adds yet another complication in terms of the Doctor's number of actual regenerations. Given that Tennant flippantly makes reference to two other weird regenerations and now we have a mysterious 'War Doctor', the next number can be anything from 12 to 15. Basically, it's time to throw the numbering system out the window.

Peter Capaldi (14-17): Capaldi brings with him a welcome maturity, colorful personality and a more complex character after all of the youngsters recently. Unfortunately, Moffat is now completely lacking in focus and discipline, making seasons eight through ten very poor ones. Barring a couple of stronger episodes, the writing is all over the place. For one thing, it is unable to decide what to do with Capaldi's character who is sometimes a silly guitar-wielding clown for kids, a smart and complex Time Lord, or a second fiddle and reckless adventurer there only to support his smarter female companions and friends. Also the writers throw even the most basic plausibility, consistency, science and logic out of the window, assuming that anything goes with sci-fi. The writing keeps making up new complex things without bothering to check their consistency, and uses deus-ex-machinas for almost every situation now. Based on Moffat's other good shows, it seems Moffat can't handle sci-fi/fantasy, and doesn't seem to realize that good sci-fi makes up new rules, then sticks to them. I suppose this is what happens when a writer that likes to stretch the boundaries is given a boundless show to play with. He works so much better with limits. In addition, the emotional content of the show has become like a self-aware caricature of itself, always pushing every act of its characters to mythical status with endless annoying grandstanding. There is also a cringe-inducing stunt of not only casting The Master as a woman during this period but also into a strange warped Mary Poppins-esque character with a good but warped heart. Although I must admit that this stunt did grow on me in later episodes thanks to Michelle Gomez's very strong, fun and quirky personality. On top of everything, several story lines feel cloned, and the mindless liberal preaching and agenda grow to an intolerable level. Ironically, the first handful of episodes from season 10 go back to basics while a new companion is being broken in, and it reminds one of how much fun Who used to be when things were simpler, but then it's back to over-engineered emotional nonsense. Capaldi reminds me of the Colin Baker period: A darker and much more interesting personality and by far the best Doctor of the new series, wasted on a period of bad writing.

Jodie Whittaker (18-22): Moffat is out, and the show is under new management, bringing hope of a much needed reboot. Except that in a yet another misguided stunt, the new Doctor is a woman. Although the sci-fi rules of the show allow it and even mention it, and the Doctor has always drastically changed personality between regenerations, given that we have had over twelve strictly male personalities in the past 55 years, and given that this is a time when the populist brainless masses contrive to pretend that the boundaries between genders don't exist, this stunt reeks. In other words, one could make the Doctor female for two reasons: To make interesting sci-fi out of the idea, or to hop onto the politically correct trend. Seeing how the show became ultimately preachy, it's very obvious that it's the latter. On top of this, casting a pretty young face over personality only makes it much worse, and I had difficulty accepting Davison and Tennant for this reason as well. Of course, I watched it anyways, but it is much worse than expected for one simple reason: Whittaker is way too flat and doesn't have any kind of self-driven personality needed for the role and seems to be 'role-play acting' and trying to channel other Doctors instead using pure energy rather than personality. Instead of believing in her lines, she performs them. This is fatal for a show that depends on a quirky strong personality in a crazy sci-fi world, and even somebody like Tennant, weak and young though he was, managed to make his mark compared to this incarnation. Add to this PC fiasco an increasingly preachy liberal agenda that has been growing for the past few years, and which has gotten even worse. As for the writing: The biggest problem is the almost complete lack of character development. The stories themselves go back to Doctor Who basics and a wild imagination which is good, except they range from weak and generic, to mildly entertaining, and even these better episodes desperately need a proper Doctor and some character development. In short, all I could think of the whole time while watching this season is: 'When is the Doctor going to appear?'. Somehow the twelfth season gets even worse with random nonsensical writing, and illogical rewriting of basic Doctor Who lore, in addition to all the above problems (amongst the endless liberal speeches, now a woman is an 'upgrade' to man). The thirteenth season is a short one with a 6-episode story arc. The writing suddenly goes to the other extreme with an end-of-the-universe complex plot involving everything and the kitchen sink, and a completely nonsensical 're-imagining' of the Doctor Who universe and how time (and many other things) work. What this means is, they go for anything-goes, no-rules sci-fi, which is the most boring type, not to mention it wrecks previous rules. So, with this final horrible season, they actually wrecked the only thing that was still good: The simpler, classic-style Doctor Who style adventures. Once upon a time, even weak Doctor Who was fun. But now, other than a couple of weakly enjoyable episodes, it's just painfully bad with no enjoyment to be had. A nadir.



Star Trek: The Original Series  
Based on all three seasons.

So many ideas in subsequent sci-fi shows (like the new Treks, Babylon, Farscape and X-Files) have been stolen from this original, creative and risk-taking show that based on that alone this show needs to be watched. It's true that the effects were cheesy and cheap looking, it's also true that some ideas are dated or silly, but there are plenty of great episodes as well amongst the bad ones, and the sci-fi is adventurous and often fascinating. What sets this show head and shoulders above any of the new Star Treks however are the warm and colorful characters of Spock, Kirk, McCoy and Scotty who interact beautifully and entertainingly in many scenes, giving the show the humor, humanity and warmth that the new generations sorely lack.

The first season only has a handful of really great episodes, but more than half of the second season is great and is therefore recommended as a whole. The third is the weakest, the changes in direction showing themselves sorely in the writing and acting, most of it uninspired and lackluster with barely a handful of good episodes.



Dune  

After the interesting failure of Lynch's Dune movie that never fulfilled its promise, this series based on the challenging classic sci-fi novel was met with apprehension but was accepted by many as a surprisingly good and faithful adaptation. The writer/director remained mostly faithful to the book with minimal changes that are either necessary or inconsequential, and he seems to have had some vision and good sense of the book's character, breathing a bit of life into this complex alien world. The casting choices are mixed, with the many European actors lending character and color, moderately interesting choices for most of the main characters that range from good to mediocre, and although Hurt as Leto is a great casting choice, his performance is disappointingly disconnected. The story is too complex to summarize here. The special effects are somewhat weak and TV-quality, but the sets and many costumes are well done and since the book is mostly about alien cultures and technology, mysticism, politics, philosophy and complex machinations, this will only be a hindrance to those seeking Hollywood sci-fi action. In short, it's nothing extraordinary, but overall it's nicely done, and with such a difficult and fascinating story, that's praise enough. A fairly good production of exceptionally great science fiction, until a better adaptation comes along that really knows what it's doing. Don't hold your breath.



Twin Peaks: The Return  
Based on the single season.

25 years later, Lynch directs a third season for this groundbreaking show which ended on a cliff-hanger, and, mysteriously, a puzzling statement by a character that said "I'll see you in 25 years". The original show in 1990 was pioneering and has intrigued audiences ever since, but it was clunky in many ways, seeing as it was inventing its own path and genre as it went along, focusing on a murder-mystery, but embracing soapy drama and comedy, while somehow combining this with dream logic and bizarre supernatural elements. And it was also under pressure by the limiting TV format and networks of the time. This time, Lynch is not only in (mostly) complete control, but this also comes during a period of whimsical and free creativity, maturity and playfulness for Lynch, who has been making only short independent films for a while. What all this means is that audiences should not expect more of the same as the first two seasons, and this is actually a good thing. This resulted in a much better and endlessly fascinating season, but only for those that know what Lynch is all about and those that are attuned to his approach and methods. This season contains elements and approaches from many of his movies, even Eraserhead's otherworldly strangeness (episode 8), and Lost Highway's slippery and highly subjective and biased grasp of identity, time and place while under the influence of a trauma (last episode). But it also tells a story, one filled with fantasy, horror, and whimsical creativity, as well as quirky comedy. It wanders wherever it wants to or needs to, and it has fun with it, giving its audience massive space in which to wander themselves. If nothing else, you must watch episode eight, which is a bizarre, intense, horrific and surreal experience like no other.

The plot in this season is brand new and can almost (but not quite) stand alone on its own one-and-a-half feet, but it does depend in some ways on the previous seasons and the movie prequel. To prepare for this single-season event, I strongly recommend (re-)watching the prequel movie "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me" first, as there are plot elements that depend on that movie. That movie also summarized the core mystery, the characters and the resolution of Laura Palmer's death, and depicts the bizarre evil forces behind the story as well as the alternate dimension where they reside, all of which are featured heavily in this season. Regarding the first two seasons of the TV show, however, I hold that these are not critical for the plot in this one, but do greatly help in understanding the quirky characters of Twin Peaks and their behaviour. In other words, the previous seasons will give more weight and understanding to the characters, but not to the plot. Assuming you watched the movie prequel, the following is all you need to know about the cliff-hanger ending in season two: FBI agent Dale Cooper was left stranded in the extra-dimensional evil place called the Black Lodge where time and physics lose their meaning, while his evil doppelgänger has been released into the world, building a bizarre world of evil crime and violence for the past 25 years.

The world is much bigger in this season and also takes place outside of the town of Twin Peaks. But the town, its characters, and Laura Palmer's murder, remain the heart. Most of this season is preoccupied with Cooper's traumatic, bizarre and complicated return from that bizarre extra-dimensional plane, while his evil doppelgänger is... doing his thing. In this world, there is a billionaire obsessed with pulling extra-dimensional beings using technology, evil spirits live in a scary nightmare world where time and space have no meaning, and events are interconnected with only the most frail of psychic connections, and these forces affect our world often, causing many bizarre, interconnected, and nightmarish events. Artificial people may be 'constructed' to serve a tenuous purpose, either evil or good, and a strange clique of FBI investigators have developed their own methods of investigating these events. While all this is happening, the town of Twin Peaks continues its small dramas with its very quirky and strange characters, affecting and being affected by the portal in their town. Lynch once again makes music (and music performances) its own character in the show, which is why you may watch a person sweeping a bar for five whole minutes while a mood-setting song is being played, or you may watch Nine Inch Nails perform an otherworldly song right before a bizarre time-twisting end-of-the-world as we know it, occurs, as triggered by a time-warping historic nuclear explosion.

As with anything Lynch, audiences are making a mistake by trying to interpret everything as symbolic or meaningful and coherent. At the same time, it is more fun if you poke around the meanings of these bizarre events and details, just like when you meditate on the details of a dream you had and try to piece it together. But Lynch dreamt this and wants you to dream this, which means that things may happen just because they do, for their own sake, and because they help transform the story and experience into a dream, opting to tell the story via dream-logic. If you sit back and approach this show properly and with the right laid-back and curious attitude, it will not only sink under your consciousness and under your skin, but it will open up large spaces for you in which to play and ponder. People that complain about loose ends here are missing the point. Those 'loose' ends are there because they are there, because they are fascinating, dreamy or funny in and of themselves. Or because they add another mysterious layer to the story. After all, what is evil? Why do humans behave the way they do? There is always more mystery there in that thought alone. And this show is content with that never-ending mystery. It revels in it, enjoys it, makes fun of it, and dreams it, while telling its funny, and horrific story.



Legend, The (Story of the First King's Four Gods)  

Before Korean TV series became so popular and before Game of Thrones, there was this, the grandest, most forgotten and overlooked fantasy TV series of all time. Even a decade later when I re-watch this series I am amazed by how good it is and how nobody knows about it even years later. It is basically a 24-hour-long Korean version of Game of Thrones without that show's flawed misanthropy. It is epic in scope, features dozens of colorful characters (not as powerful as the characters as GoT, but still good), it has solid drama, many wars, complex fantasy powers and prophecies, and strong tragic romance. The events revolve around real historical characters from 2000 and 4000 years ago, but the story employs fantastical mythology about the second coming of a foretold king that will unite the kingdoms 2000 years after a god from heaven tried to establish human civilization and got involved in a fateful love triangle which ended badly with the powers of heaven used for destruction. Now, with the re-incarnations of key figures and the four heavenly symbols re-awakening, the kingdoms grapple for power as they try to figure out who is destined to be the new prophesied king, with complex alliances shifting, creating wars and conspiracies. Will the ancient stories be repeated, and will the dark side manage to misuse the heavenly powers again, re-awakening the black phoenix that may burn up the world in a fit of deep emotional upheaval? The first episode sets up the mythology with a lot of special-effects. And the second and third episodes get a little cheesy as it sets up the children who will grow up to be the key players in this saga. But after that, it's solid story-telling and characters, with a gradually intensifying continuous story that builds complex characters with very strong motives and character arcs, increasing the pace and the stakes continuously until the satisfying and thoughtful end. The writers do a superb job deepening the characters and giving them believable dimensions and motives even as they chase their many personal goals or turn to the dark side. It is hardly ever predictable. The ending annoyed some viewers who were probably expecting a Hollywood romantic solution, but instead it ends on a great, thoughtful and serious note regarding humankind and the intervention of supernatural forces. Minor flaws includes some overwrought drama, hairdos that seem more appropriate to manga than history, and the overuse of the same musical compositions. But, otherwise, this is an interesting, soaring and entertaining fantasy. Compared to popular Korean shows coming out even a decade later, there is no comparison. Probably the most underrated fantasy TV show around, Korean or otherwise.



Buffy the Vampire Slayer  
Based on all seven seasons.

While in high-school, Buffy discovers she is the legendary vampire and demon Slayer of lore, and is guided by Giles the Watcher and librarian who tries to train this otherwise regular high-school girl into acquiring a more serious attitude towards her destiny as a Slayer. But she only wants to have a normal life with her high-school (and college) buddies. Life becomes more and more complicated, her personal life completely controlled by numerous and various forces of evil, and her romantic life made impossible by a complex, repentant, brooding and cursed vampire. This series starts with a silly premise of a blonde girl with super-powers kicking evil's ass for a change, but grows into incredibly involving, funny and dramatic story arcs, with a fine balance of witty comedy and well-acted drama. This show is a unique phenomenon and a pioneer, as well as the show that made Joss Whedon an instant name in the industry. The really young actors and high-school setting, as well as the touches of camp, can be a hurdle. But it never fails to win over watchers of all ages with its superb acting and timing, strong story arcs, smart writing, very three-dimensional characters, constant witty banter, and intense drama.

The first season is much weaker than subsequent seasons, with a relatively more silly and campy attitude and approach, but there are hints of future greatness and most of the episodes are fun (with a couple of really silly but entertaining duds as well). This season also sets up the characters, but they only really take off in season two. The second season not only makes the show something to take seriously, it is one of the best seasons of any show, period. The show becomes a very entertaining mix of humor, strong character-driven drama, Greek tragedy, horror and camp which makes fun of itself and is aware of its silliness yet somehow also explores serious and touching drama and dark subject matter. Perhaps it's the self-deprecating humor that makes their pain more sympathetic but it works. It also helps that there are adults like Giles to counterpart the teenage feel and a variety of unique and colorful characters that interact wonderfully. This show takes risks and succeeds. The third season is also quite good, albeit it doesn't fly as high as the second, though even the weaker or sillier episodes are lots of fun due to the sharp banter and dialogue.

The fourth contains some excellent scattered episodes, continuing entertaining banter and chemistry, but it also starts showing cracks. Willow's character is the first to go and starts becoming annoying, the new Buffy love interest is a little on the bland side, as is the story arc in the second half. But some individual episodes can still surprise with their excellence, and there's even some new fascinating and bold experimentation. After the fourth however, it falls apart. There is too much forced drama and melodrama, characters become overly serious or behave inconsistently, new annoying characters are introduced, and it loses its charm. Willow turns into an annoying lesbian witch, Giles becomes unnecessary, Buffy's love interests become unrealistic, Cordelia and Angel leave the show, Dawn is an annoying child, some villains are overly silly, and Spike, the enjoyably evil wise-cracking character, turns into a softie and contradicts the show's own rules about vampires (if any vampire can turn good, how can they justify killing them indiscriminately?). Seasons five to seven still deliver some good scattered episodes and the dialogue can be fun, but the character and story arcs go too far and constantly lose their characters and balance. It's like someone took control of the wheel who keeps swerving off the road and hitting things down.



Angel  
Based on all five seasons.

A Buffy spin-off with several characters from that show either moving between the two shows, or sharing time with this one. This is also much darker and no longer has traces of the 'teenagers in school' aspect. This is a good thing. On the other hand, it is also lacking a lot of the superb chemistry, banter and timing between the many characters in Buffy, that makes that show more fun. Angel, the repentant ex-evil vampire moves to a different city and starts a kind of supernatural rescue agency, while killing vampires and demons, and battling his inner demons and dark past. Given that the protagonist of this one is a brooding, guilt-ridden vampire with a soul who is constantly threatened by his dark past, it makes sense that the show reflects this very different tone. But that doesn't stop the writers from injecting moments of much needed comedy and banter, especially in the beginning and end of each episode when the latest crisis isn't taking over their lives, or when characters from Buffy come for a visit. The approach to demons in this show is often too unimaginative or silly, simply replacing a race or gang of humans with a 'demonic race' and giving them all-too-human traits. But the rest of the villains fare better, especially the vampire family and an evil corporation of lawyers. Cordelia isn't as compelling a character as the others, but she lends much needed lightness, torn between her superficial drives to become a popular actress in L.A. and her newfound conscience and need to help fight the evil that has taken over her life. As with Buffy however, the writers eventually develop her character too far to ridiculous places. In short, this show has several flaws and is somewhat weaker than Buffy, but it's still good enough to serve a couple of great seasons and many amazingly excellent episodes.

As with Buffy, the first season is weaker, but for different reasons: The majority of the episodes are stand-alone involving a monster-of-the-week, the initial friends and support actors in the first half are bland, and the comedy and timing is shaky until the writers figure out how to adjust these elements to the new tone of the show. A handful of episodes are overly poor and clunky or silly. But there is plenty of superb character development in the first season even in many of the stand-alone episodes, as well as a handful of powerful and superb episodes, all of which make the first season a must-see. The magnificent second season is not quite as brilliant and darkly dramatic as Buffy's second but it's close and sees much inspired and dark character-development as Angel's colorful vampire 'family' comes back to complicate things (Drusilla is an inspiredly insane character).

As with Buffy's fifth, the third season falls to pieces and jumps the shark with too much far-fetched writing and annoying new character development and characters. There are unrealistic or dumb romances, an uninteresting pregnancy, an annoying kid, a never-believable new member of the gang (Fred), Cordelia changes from the funny superficial bitch she was in Buffy to a Saint with supernatural powers (huh?), etc. After that, the fourth doesn't and can't recover what with all the broken characters. And the fifth and final season, despite taking a risk with new interesting plot-twists and featuring Spike, simply doesn't work anymore.



X-Files, The  
Based on all nine seasons of the original series.

X-Files is both a classic, pioneering show, as well as a fascinating TV phenomenon with enduring popularity, thanks to several elements: First of all, the writing, although highly inconsistent in terms of quality and which varied in many ways from episode to episode, delivered an overall experience of quality, fascinating stories and ideas with a layer of plausible realism that was lacking in other supernatural and sci-fi shows. It also was a pioneer when it came to not only season-long story arcs, but multi-season, complex, ongoing, constantly developing plot-lines (as opposed to general character arcs). Not only does its complexity rival or leave behind shows made a decade later, it also has pretty good quality control, and the plot, although convoluted, doesn't just fall apart eventually like so many other shows that attempted this. Another important element is its passionate embrace of any and all conspiracies, paranoia, government plots, and so on, and the show has practically become a synonym for this sub-genre. It is also the definitive treatment on the topic of alien abductions and conspiracies. Perhaps one additional reason is its penchant for going against conventions or adding its own twists to staples of the genre, perhaps the most prominent example being its switching of wrong-headed gender stereotypes, with the male FBI agent being the intuitive one. And finally, it is a very unique show in how it managed to blend every genre possible: Sci-fi, horror, supernatural, thriller, comedy, drama and action, and even occasional forays into mysticism and experimental strangeness. It's the only show I know of that can explore deeply disturbing body horror in one episode, then skip to silly light comedy in the next, and get away with it. However, some of its strengths are also weaknesses: One is the aforementioned mythology that grows in complexity, but which eventually just becomes convoluted as the writers keep adding more and more elements, until they blow it up and start over. The pace of the mythology is also a challenge, each season only offering a handful of episodes that move it forward, often asking more questions than it answers. Another example is the openness and willingness to experiment with a variety of writers which is what makes the episodes so varied in quality.

The show revolves around two FBI agents that work on unexplained phenomena and strange unsolved cases. 'Spooky' Mulder is an intuitive believer in all things strange and supernatural and he has a personal stake when it comes to aliens, and his partner Scully is the scientific skeptic. However, the show plays around with variations on this setup several times. Episodes either belong to the staggeringly complex and eventually convoluted alien-conspiracy arc (or mythology as its called), or to the monster-of-the-week, supernatural cases that keep popping up out of nowhere. The mythology is fascinating at first but gets a little too complicated later on, and the stand-alone episodes range from brilliant to boring. The X-Files as a whole is an interesting idea show, a show for thought and sci-fi/horror/conspiracy enthusiasts, as opposed to dramatic or character-driven shows. In other words, although the show does attempt character development often, its two main actors are a touch too wooden or superficial to bring this aspect to life, and it's the writing and ideas that are the real star of the show. Mulder shows charm and humor, but hardly any real passion or depth when it comes to the heavy stuff, and Scully is mediocre as well with a character that doesn't evoke much sympathy. However, while the two primary protagonists are merely passable, it's their supporting actors and wide variety of villains that usually contribute most of the color to the show. Mulder's and Scully's contrasting personalities often adds to the fun as well via banter and chemistry.

The first season consists of mostly solo episodes, only a third of which are really recommended. At best, half of the episodes can be considered good. The second has way too many duds in the first half, but contains a couple of brilliant episodes and the start of the mythology arc within a stronger second half. So, once again, it is a season of which only half is good. The third is possibly the only complete season definitely worth watching in full. It's much more confident and interesting with only a few duds, plenty of mythology episodes and the three superb solo comedy episodes by Morgan. You may even get away with starting with this one, as the mythology only got its footing here and the plotting seems a tad whimsical anyways. The fourth is much darker and polished, and they actually start acting. It gets a little weaker mid-season but is interesting overall as a whole, and is strongly recommended as well. The fifth is a weaker shadow of previous seasons with less interesting mythology and only a few scattered fun episodes. Most of mythology is not even crucial for the very interesting movie which was released at the end of the fifth season ('Fight the Future'), once again expanding the mythology and developing it further, answering many questions while asking new ones. The fifth is wildly varied in quality, stories and tone, is weaker than even the first and second seasons, and barely half of the episodes can be considered good.

The sixth season is probably the most underrated season of the show and contains a majority of superb episodes. On the other hand, it is like a different show, with two thirds of the episodes just having light fun: Dark comedy, light comedy, silly spoofs, horror-comedy, the writers poking fun at their own protagonists and deconstructing their characters, adding constant flirts and romantic pulls between them, and so on. So it's understandably a difficult season to accept for fans. But it is very well done nevertheless and is strongly recommended. Another very important element in the sixth season that makes it a must watch is that this is where the alien mythology arc finally came to a close, or at least something as close to closure as the show will ever allow, with almost all previous elements explained and made clear, and a major group that was causing most of the trouble finds its violent end.

The seventh season is where the show completely loses its steam. The new mythology developments are no longer interesting as they try a few outlandish ideas or weak variations, some of them even weighed down by tired cliches which is disappointing for X-Files. And the stand-alone episodes are almost all weak as well except for a couple of exceptions. The eighth season sees Mulder/Duchovny replaced for most of the next two seasons by Doggett/Patrick, and along with this big change there is also a kind of reboot, reverting back to basic horror and the start of a new story-arc. The overall result is distinctly below average, but there is also some good mixed with the bad: Doggett is a good character, and the writers do a pretty good job bringing this new skeptical, practical but honest and efficient character into the bizarre world of X-Files. They wreck Scully's character however, both forcing her to replace Mulder as the intuitive believer in a too-extreme character-change, and giving her a lot of soapy drama to do with pregnancies, conspiracies, experiments and the missing Mulder. There is also a new fourth FBI agent who is just a bunch of lazy psychic cliches and who undermines the strength of the plotting with 'psychic' visions. The mythology never feels inspired or fascinatingly mysterious as before and just rehashes old elements in lazy ways or over-extends the repeated tiresome plot device of Scully's baby's genetics, then starts a brand new sci-fi mythology about super-humans that is too far-fetched to be believable. The stand-alone episodes range from very good to weak. But what really makes this eighth season stand-out is the more extreme approach to horror, graphic body-horror and intense darkness without the typical lighter episodes to balance them out. This balance is sorely lacking, despite a handful of good & intense stand-alone episodes. As expected after two such weak seasons, the final ninth season is completely washed out, with highly disappointing amounts of gloss, bland characters, a lazy approach to the supernatural and the bizarre, way too many sloppy and far-fetched plot elements without the subtlety of previous seasons, and more tired baby drama and super-human nonsense. The episodes once again vary in tone and quality, but the show seems lost, also in terms of writing and vision, and also in terms of what to do with its many protagonists that keep coming and going. Not the best way to end the show. 15 years later this show gets a revival, but chances for failure are too high and the show doesn't need it except for nostalgic reasons.



V    

A classic sci-fi mini-series in two parts about the invasion of Earth by aliens. Considering it's TV and 1983, this one is surprisingly interesting and entertaining as the humans discover that the seemingly peaceful aliens are not what they seem to be and start a resistance movement. The discovery of the truth behind the aliens diplomatic front and control of the media is classic material, and often draws visual and behavioural parallels to the rise of Nazis in the 1930s. The resistance grows gradually and realistically, especially in the second part as they become more organized. Flawed by a very stupid deus-ex-machina ending but very entertaining and tense otherwise. Followed by a weak episodic TV series.



Dead Set  

Surprisingly good zombie mini-series worthy of Romero, even though the zombies are the modern fast and angry kind. The first to deal with gory zombies in a TV format, but seeing as its total length is only 145 minutes, it's more like a long movie than a series. The setting is the Big Brother reality show and the zombies come out of nowhere. At first, when the contestants seem to be the only survivors, this induces groans and depressing thoughts of the Big Brother hordes joining the far more interesting cockroaches as the only survivors of an apocalypse. But as soon as they realize what is happening, they start acting more human-like and the satire also rears its amusing head. What better target is there for zombie satire than Big Brother? An ultimately selfish jerk of a producer treats everyone like pieces of meat in his quest for survival, and his trapped stay with an ultimately dumb contestant is an inspirational source of amusement. But this kind of black comedy, for the most part, takes a back seat to the horror, which maintains a 28 Days Later type of zombie survival intensity and gore throughout its running time.



Hogfather  

Two-part mini based on a book by Terry Pratchett, popular writer of many irreverent, comedic fantasy books. This adaptation is very successful, balancing the magic, the satire, the silliness, puns and Douglas Adams-esque wit much better than in the recent Hitchhiker's Guide movie. During Hogswatch (Christmas), someone is plotting to do away with the Hogfather, hiring a guild of assassins to come up with a way to kill such pesky magic and the world's belief therein. Death, Death's granddaughter, some incompetent wizards, and an anthill computer are on the job to save the world from such bureaucratic notions. Nicely whimsical and charming, great acting, and superb production, the only minor flaw being that the approach can't seem to decide whether to make this a children-friendly movie or more adult oriented.



Being Human  
Based on all five seasons.

British entry into the vampire trend that is a completely different beast, opting for the human angle over special-effect action extravaganzas. A vampire, a werewolf and a ghost become flatmates after they discover they have something in common: They all yearn to have a life as normal and human as possible despite their special afflictions. George is a smart Jewish werewolf who suffers from the inability to live a normal life even between his painful and dangerous monthly transformations. Mitchell is a very old but young-looking Irish vampire on the wagon, constantly fighting his bestial urges, and Annie is the mostly bubbly and naive ghost unable to move on. The writing and acting are very good and warm, bringing this scenario to life with attention to detail, using comedy to balance the angst in a good blend that brings Buffy to mind. Personal hangups, tragedy, funny situations, romantic complications, neighbours, and entanglements with their more evil-inclined same-species all help make this character-driven show grow and develop with every episode. A good watch with lots of heart, and a potential replacement for Buffy fans. The show was not compelling at first and had some writing flaws, but gradually improved with each season. Of course, the Americans picked this up for their own inferior version.

The first short season is very good but the last episode dropped the ball with several illogical and inconsistent developments to allow for the ending they wanted. The second season takes its time and seems like a slight step down in terms of compelling drama, but it takes a risk and develops multiple longer story arcs that are engineered for maximum character development. This is combined with well-used flashbacks to give the developments more depth. I wasn't too excited about the thread involving vampires making their hated enemy into their leader, some characters go through too many radical changes throughout a single season, and the demons that try to kidnap ghosts made no sense as well, but the character drama is mostly very good, and the interesting developments keep coming for a fascinating finale. The third season is where this show becomes as good as Buffy, balancing comedy, character, and pathos very well, and bringing all of the buildup and multiple story lines to a powerful climax. The fourth season falls apart for several reasons. Three of the main characters are gone, including George who was the backbone, and are replaced with weak new versions and a lack of chemistry, and the new naive OCD vampire is particularly unconvincing. Also the writing resorts to meaningless prophecies for the story arc, and otherwise repeats the same story-lines with the new characters, like a reboot with inferior versions. The fifth season is more of the same with minimally entertaining but never compelling material, featuring a mix of rehashed ideas and weak new ones acted by a forgettable new cast, this time involving the devil himself for a somewhat satisfying ending. They should have stopped after the third.



Penny Dreadful  
Based on all three seasons.

Named after the pulp serial stories sold for a pennies in the 19th century, often of a lurid, gothic or other sensational nature, this US-UK collaboration certainly lives up to its title. On the other hand, it also manages to deliver much more than just lurid pulp, namely strong intelligent dialogue, superb acting, and beautifully artistic gothic horror with many creepy and atmospheric moments. The acting is delivered by the always intense Eva Green who finally finds herself in a good role that gives her unique personality plenty to work with, as well as by Timothy Dalton, and a handful of superb supporting actors. The look of the show is mesmerizingly gothic, Victorian, carefully lit and detailed. The writing mashes together a handful of horror icons such as Frankenstein, vampires, werewolves, witches, Van Helsing, Dorian Gray, and some original creations, and gets away with it. As opposed to the terrible American Horror Story, this one has a vision and a few proper stories to tell. Along with a strong retelling of the classic Frankenstein story with some interesting deviations, there are several other plot-lines, the primary one involving Vanessa Ives who is a medium to all things evil and is always on the verge of being overwhelmed and controlled by it. This is a dark, heavy, melodramatic, romantic and gothic series, often involving people doomed to their own evil sins or creations, and features a group of fighters that gather together just because they never forgive themselves. That said, it also dives into sensationally lurid murders or sex flings, and allows free reign to its melodrama, so it's not for everyone.

The first season at first seems to be trying too hard to shock, but the artistry is instantly undeniable. Then it grows much more confident with its characters and stories and gradually focuses more on that instead, becoming a very strong show, thanks to its superb casting and writing. The second season once again starts with a bit too much over-the-top witchy evil that borders on camp, then finds its footing with an instantly classic back-story episode with Vanessa in training at the hand of a witch with an unforgettable personality. It also does interesting things with Frankenstein's monster who tries to hold onto his humanity where humans cannot, and it bravely and amusingly explores another monster and her adoption of radical feminism. It doesn't stray too far from its lurid roots however, and tellingly, the most graphic sex scene is a very out-of-place self-indulgent homosexual scene, and there's also some necrophilia. The story and characters remain intensely interesting to the end however. The third and last season is unfortunately quite weak. It repeats some of its story-lines, especially the thing where characters give in to their evil over and over just because someone tells them to be themselves, and they sway back and forth between extreme moods and the way they view themselves and the world, like manic depressives. And finally, the finale is quite disappointing and not too satisfying, the characters' arcs all ending on weak notes. In short, the third season is skippable, unless you can't contain your curiosity. Still, the show was superb for two seasons and should also receive praise for ending when the story was done, instead of padding it out endlessly for a long and horrible death.



Gulliver's Travels  

The first live-action mini-series that covers the complete satirical classic book, from the tiny Lilliput, to giants, to the flying island of Laputa, to talking, civilized horses. Gulliver finds his views on society and humanity constantly challenged and ridiculed as tiny people fight over petty absurdities but monstrous giants are more reasonable and gentle, intellectuals turn out to be impractical world-wreckers and man more beastly than horses. Some of the details and satirical subtleties don't emerge in this three hour well-produced special-effect extravaganza, but the writing is mostly loyal and well done, and the cast is full of good actors and stars. The one big difference is the way the movie weaves together the adventures with a new story about Gulliver in an insane asylum, giving the satire an extra, personal dimension as it deftly and visually overlaps the two plots.



Stand, The  

A mini-series that covers the epic Stephen King horror book and does so surprisingly well (considering King's dismal cinematic history). Earth is plunged into a post-apocalyptic existence after a virus wipes out all but a few survivors and the last struggle becomes an epic supernatural one between good and evil. The best and worst of humanity is brought out by the extreme circumstances as they try to survive, and they gradually split into two camps, guided by supernatural forces. Features many rich characters back from the time when King wrote superbly real three-dimensional characters, but flawed by the same weak deus-ex-machina ending as the book.



Day Break  
Based on the single season.

An action thriller that uses 'Groundhog Day' for its premise and '24'-like continuous intense thrills. It's also very well written and acted. Detective Brett Hopper wakes up to a very bad day that does not end well to say the least, only to find it repeats itself over and over. Every day he makes new findings, gathers new information, improves his actions and decisions. At first, the day is so convoluted and dangerous, that every thing he does seems to result in a very bad outcome. But eventually he starts improving, and we learn that not everything is reset every day, and some actions, especially ones that involve a cathartic moment with humans, can change the day. The writers also add superb touches that keep things interesting: little details, realistic human behaviour, smart and fast-moving detective work, the various ways the repetition affects the detective as well as the people around him, etc. He keeps fine-tuning the day, developing a system where he finds and locks on to a sequence of the right decisions that can avert many disasters, so that he can progress with the case. And what a complicated case it turns out to be. So much so, that after 10 episodes, it starts becoming ridiculous, like a season of 24 where too many things are piled on top of each other. Which is why this show gets even higher marks for stopping after 13 episodes. A very good one.



Going Postal  

The third of the Terry Pratchett TV adaptations, this one ranked higher than the messy Colour of Magic but slightly lower than the magical Hogfather. It improves on Hogfather slightly in pacing, writing and acting however. The story is entertaining and fun, and the characters are colorful and well acted, but it isn't as clever as I had hoped. A con-man is coerced into taking over the defunct post-office under the watchful eyes of a Golem. He soon finds himself in the middle of a business war, having to use his wits to avoid ruin, banshees, ghosts from his past, and death, to bring the post-office back to life while competing with the Clacks (a telegraphic business based on lights), and all the while trying to win over a very difficult woman. The writing, instead of creating a pure fantasy world, transports a conventional corporate thriller and internet hacking concepts into a fantasy world without changing the rules of the game, and this is done cleverly but it may also feel like a flaw in a fantasy film. Otherwise, this is a colorful, above-average work of entertainment, and great fun.



Doctor Who  
Based on many scattered episodes from all twenty-six seasons.

Running for twenty-six years and featuring eight different Doctors in the lead role, this monster of a cult TV show is a daunting series to explore. There are also scores of books and radio series that are part of the Whovian lore. The Doctor is an intelligent alien (Time Lord) who travels in a time machine called the TARDIS that can change its outer shape and size (!) as camouflage to blend in with whatever scenery it appears in. Trouble is, this mechanism broke down and it's been stuck in the shape of a police phone booth ever since. The destination of the TARDIS was never an exact science either. The Doctor collects various side-kicks, friends, and companions while saving the Earth, various people and other planets from alien invasions and monsters at different periods in time. His chief enemies that appear in different locations with new evil schemes are the intelligent, exterminating, mutated-flesh-inside-robots, master-race Daleks, the soulless cybernetic Cybermen (these suffered the most from cheesy costumes), a nemesis, intelligent but psychotic Time Lord, The Master, the military-minded Sontarans, the artificial/plastic Autons animated by the disembodied Nestene Consciousness to replace humans, the reptilian Silurians who are the previous tenants of the Earth, and the mysterious 'Great Intelligence'. But new and varied dangers, aliens and monsters pop up all the time. When the Doctor's body encounters a fatal end, he regenerates into a new body. Episodes were typically part of a longer story spanning 4 or 6 episodes. Each of the eight Doctors and production eras bring a completely different personality and approach, making each season change from children's show (during the first few years) to serious sci-fi, camp, action, horror or just plain fun & imaginative sci-fi. The writing varies in quality as well, sometimes juvenile or dated, other times inventive, scary, dramatic or imaginative. The special effects, too, relatively improved over the years, but mostly remained cheap-looking and distracting, especially the painfully obvious costumes and masks. Because of all this, a sampling of each season is recommended.

William Hartnell (63-66), the first Doctor, was a wise, commanding but kind, gentlemanly, grandfatherly figure with a tendency to get irritated. The show was in black and white, the acting was stiff and the stories were typically cheesy, involving somewhat dull and childish sci-fi as well as unique explorations of history as part of the adventures. But it had a sense of mystery and the Doctor was a strong character. Many of the episodes were lost due to a strange BBC archive purge, and some were partially reconstructed. The Daleks were introduced and were featured several times during this period, and the Cybermen make their first appearance in the last episode of this tenure right before a surprising 'regeneration' that passes the first baton.

Patrick Troughton (66-69), the second Doctor, brought eccentricity, mischievousness and light-heartedness to the show. Nicknamed the 'cosmic hobo' or scarecrow, he used a facade of weakness and harmlessness to get his way, was light on his feet, lacked authority and confidence but made up for it with energy, looked scruffy, was quite a scaredy-cat, and was accompanied by frivolous youngsters. The stories were looser, lighter and slightly more thrilling with more emphasis on action but were still weighed down by dated sci-fi cheesiness, home-made 'special-effect' props, and slow pacing. Troughton's characterization, although unusual, energetic and pioneering, was not very authoritative or winning to some, and the whole approach was still quite juvenile. The Cybermen were really developed during Troughton's tenure, and this era also gave us the classic 'War Games' 10-episode arc that establishes the Doctor's past, species and status as a renegade Time Lord. Many of Troughton's episodes were lost in the purge.

Jon Pertwee (70-74) was a dandy, dressing in ridiculously fancy clothes, sporting charm and wit, with a laid-back, confident, but minimally interesting and simple character. He was strongly into gadgets, technicalities, science and mysteries. The show switched to color, and the stories became more interesting and complex, with more professional acting and guest stars, the slightly better special effects held back only by the small budget. Most of the episodes took place on Earth as the Doctor was banished there by the Time Lords, and the nemesis Time Lord, The Master, was featured often. The show improved and was relatively more interesting to older audiences thanks to the more mature and serious-minded Doctor, and this is where many old-school fans started getting hooked, but the special effects were still often distracting, and the settings, pacing and personality were not as exciting, interesting or colorful as in subsequent eras.

Tom Baker (74-81) was by far the most popular Doctor for most fans but even more so for international audiences. He brought with him a well-balanced blend of charm, light-heartedness, wit, strength of personality, eccentricity and mystery as well as a huge scarf. The first few years delivered interesting horror in addition to sci-fi and are considered to be the classic seasons of the show, followed by a decline where new producers incorporated sci-fi gimmickry, camp and reverted to child-friendly humor (exemplified by the arrival of K-9 as a permanent companion, a mechanical dog). The effects were still cheap but some were passably good enough to be non-distracting, and the rest were slightly easier to overlook due to the stronger characters and the solid, imaginative writing during 74-77. These 4 years are where the show got really good, focusing mostly on horror reminiscent of Hammer movies with a sci-fi twist. Recommended: 'Genesis of the Daleks', 'Pyramid of Mars', 'Seeds of Doom', 'City of Death'.

Peter Davison (82-84) had the daunting task to follow-up after Baker. Although the writers did a pretty good job, the stories and direction were weaker, and Davison in his twenties was viewed as too young for the role (although he got better every season). Davison was a gentle, chummy, young personality with not much depth of character, and his typically young companions didn't lend much of a contrast anymore, sometimes even lost without the hand of a strong doctor. The show entered the 80s complete with a newly synthesized score, 80s hairdos, bright color, plastic, synthetics and starch. The format of the episodes remained the same however, complete with clunkers, some entertaining episodes, some interesting sci-fi, imaginative writing, and even more terribly dated costumes and special effects than before, thanks to the 80s look. A relatively weaker period for the show. Recommended: 'Resurrection of the Daleks' and perhaps 'Caves of Androzani'.

Colin Baker (85-86), my favorite along with Tom, was a very interesting and drastic change for the show, switching from the gentlest Doctor ever to a very unstable and eccentric personality. Colin personified an arrogant, whimsical, energetic, impatient, even sadistic, but still a cheery and good-hearted Doctor. This brave interpretation didn't go well with some people and serious instabilities with the writers and management (including an 18 month cancellation) made things much worse. During the first season, the show somehow deteriorated to camp and awful cheesiness, but it was inconsistent, and some of the episodes weren't bad, plus Colin's characterization elevated these average episodes to something colorful, fun and energetic. In fact, I often think of him as the best Doctor, personality wise. It's just a pity that his performance was wasted on a period of disarray, as well as on an annoying companion with an awkwardly fake and grating American accent who was hired to show off her physical assets. The last season featured a convoluted fourteen part story that dealt with a Time Lord 'Matrix' introduced during Tom Baker's era, which is a digital reality that can be hacked and played with while inside it. Hmm... Recommended: 'Vengeance on Varos', 'Mark of the Rani', 'The Two Doctors'.

Sylvester McCoy (87-89), the seventh Doctor, started with a clownish performance similar in some ways to Troughton using light-hearted mischievousness, but quickly transformed into an extremely clever, manipulative, resourceful, secretive, quick-witted and mysterious man that sometimes seemed to have supernatural powers and knowledge, but all without losing his light and playful approach. I can't say that his 'theatrical' character ever became 'real' to me though. Other important changes during this period included the upgrade in special effects, giving even the Daleks new weapons, and the writing moved several steps forward as well. This trend started with Colin Baker (probably due to fans writing for the show), and the stories became increasingly more complex, obscure, strange, allegorical and imaginative, which at first made the show quality adult sci-fi and horror, but then became less and less audience-friendly, and more pretentious, unwatchable and obscure with a tendency to completely unravel once you think of the big picture. This along with the problems in management finally killed the show. Recommended: 'Remembrance of the Daleks' and perhaps 'The Curse of Fenric'.

Paul McGann (96) appeared in a very misguided Hollywoodized movie as the eighth Doctor, complete with bad writing, endless abuse of Doctor Who personality and rules, misplaced action set-pieces, and forced romance, with The Master as some kind of body-snatching-horror-creature-cum-Terminator, and the TARDIS as some kind of gothic sci-fi palace. This didn't help renew much interest and it's the sort of thing you'd rather pretend didn't exist. He also acted in many Doctor Who audio-dramas.



Dollhouse  
Based on both seasons.

Whedon's first series after a 5 year hiatus from TV, and after collecting a horde of rabid fans from both Buffy and Firefly. Expectations were probably too high, and he seems to be fighting with the TV network once again on this one, but the result is very good nevertheless. The concept behind the show is the sci-fi ability to store, manipulate, download and upload personalities, abilities and memories. Not a new idea, and most writers would take it into the thriller/action genres, but Whedon concludes where humanity would put this to good use: A whorehouse. A futuristic one, where people at the end of their rope are given an offer to donate their bodies for a period of time in exchange for peace of mind and money, as their personalities are stored away, and replaced with custom-made personalities and memories in order to satisfy various rich clients' fantasies and needs. That's just the base. On top of this we get conspiracies, rogue dolls gone violent, warped or unusual fantasies, plenty of action-oriented episodes and fighting, a variety of special circumstances that require foolproof custom-made 'dolls' to solve tricky problems, evil power-hungry management with secret agendas, an obsessive FBI agent who seems to be the only one that believes the Dollhouse exists, and so on. And, being Whedon, he doesn't shy away from the pathos and humanity, the moral dilemmas, treacherous people, complex motivations, damaged psyches of both dolls and regular people, and plenty of fascinating and entertaining complications and variations involving this limitless technology. The sci-fi is not always 100% convincing, but I liked that the dolls develop abilities that seem to go beyond the simple brains-as-computers approach. There are also two superb 'epitaph' episodes that explore the consequences of this technology after ten years time when the world becomes complete chaos.

Some episodes, especially the first handful, feel like watered-down-Whedon in order to conform with a drawn-out, TV network's cookie-cutter idea of an action/thriller, and mostly episodic sci-fi show. But the show improves with every episode, the themes, arcs and character development are always there, and some later episodes are so densely packed with plot developments and surprises that they feel like several seasons worth. The casting, relative to Firefly, is much better this time. Dushku is given too much to do relative to the rest of the cast and has to carry the show. This, together with the fact that she is a doll, means she has to take on dozens of roles as well as complex psychological complications and breakdowns, a job that would challenge any actor. She does well for the most part, but also gives the feeling that she is in over her head at times, or isn't as focused in some episodes. The rest of the cast do well and add plenty of color, with only one character serving comic relief this time. I found myself missing Whedon's usually more snappy and witty dialogue, but it does make appearances occasionally to make the show more fun. In short, definitely much better than Firefly, not Whedon's best, but still very good, and a good Whedon is better than most shows, especially during the superb second season.



Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Marvel)  
Based on all seven seasons.

It's good to have the Whedons back in TV, this time in charge of a Marvel superhero series, except it involves human agents fighting superhuman and alien threats and protecting the planet. Super-powers and alien technology are also put to good use by SHIELD as well in their fight to put the world back in order. In addition, the plot developments in the first seasons work in parallel to the many Marvel movies as they are released, strongly affected by the developments in the 'Marvel universe'. The show starts in typical superb Whedon fashion: Snappy dialogue and youthful energetic characters led by older management, facing supernatural upheavals, mixing humor with pathos and rich character-development. After a few stand-alone episodes, the story arcs emerge, and the characters continuously develop, with episodic guest characters and developments sometimes having long-term effects later on. It's all great fun, and continues this way for the whole first season despite having an old-school 22 episodes per season, towards a gradually-building climactic finale with plenty of intense twists.

Unfortunately, seasons two & three falter even though they are entertaining. The writing even ups the ante and pacing, constantly adding more developments and twists. If you are looking for a fast-paced show with lots of action and constant plot developments, then you'll love this one. However, one can almost say that the pacing is too fast and there is too much plot twisting and development, while the big picture and plausible character work suffers. Also, most of the humor seems to have been lost. Joss Whedon barely writes any episodes and it shows in the lack of snappy dialogue, and the humor mostly disappears for very long stretches. But it's the lack of realism that got me. For example, with Buffy, audiences could chalk off her almost undefeatable fighting skills to the supernatural, whereas other characters remained true within their character limitations with realistic and slow character development. Here, not only do regular human petite female agents consistently beat trained assassins twice their size, they seem to heal and recover supernaturally fast, and survive many blows from supervillains that should kill them. In addition, agents that never fought, train for a couple of months and suddenly can fight and beat the best of them. Characters also constantly make strangely bad decisions that don't make any sense, just to feed the constant crises and melodrama. People hide secrets from others that they have no reason to distrust, or turn to evil in drastic measures for too-flimsy reasons, or even make decisions that conflict with previous ones. It also doesn't help that this show has the silly Hollywood fantasy characters of 'hot female super-hacker' that can hack into anything in seconds without ever seeming to study or work, and the 'super-geeks' that know everything about anything and that can solve almost any scientific technical problem within a day on any topic under the planet. So, what with the constant feed of ridiculously unbelievable fighting action scenes, and the contrived character development, plausibility flies permanently out the window and what's left is just the intense entertainment value. The emphasis seems to be on constant developments rather than on working with what they have so far, and there are no breathers to explore consequences and the characters deeper, or to make them fit into a solid character arc. Thus, these seasons can be described as: Things keep happening, and then more things keep happening, then even more things happen. It also doesn't help that the story arc becomes a clone of X-Men, complete with the recruiting of bad vs good 'inhumans', and a fearful government and society that wants them controlled or put down.

After the closure of all the story arcs at the end of season three, I was hoping for a comeback in season four, and to my surprise, they pretty much delivered one. There is more focus on interesting story and character arcs, and fewer ridiculously implausible fighting scenes. The first third is interesting with a new character, and solid character work for the rest. The middle sags a bit with an evil robot, but the last third is absolutely superb and intense, pulling everything together for a powerful climax. Season four definitely comes strongly recommended. The fifth season starts with an unusual step of diving into a plot with ancient-Roman-esque aliens that seems better suited to a space-sci-fi show rather than a super-hero show, but the writing is quite solid and serves a pretty good action-packed continuous story arc. The writers also make their characters a bit more vulnerable and limited at times, which is good. Unfortunately, after the first episode, the humor is mostly forgotten again for very long stretches. Also, the writers are back to cramming season-long developments into every couple of episodes, and they forget once again to breathe, to introspect, to allow for a little more humanity between the twists and turns and endless action and thrills. The pace is simply too damn fast, and the writers pull everyone to five different directions at once. And, once again, the characters keep taking impossible hits, recovering impossibly fast, and even coming back from death over and over again, making the dangers that much less threatening. Except, this time, for some reason, it's all not as tiresome as seasons two & three, and the fifth season keeps one interested with just enough strong character development, interesting twists and a strong finale. Overall, the fifth is not as strong as the fourth, but it's way above-average.

If this repetitive plot-device of bringing characters back from death was annoying and overused in previous seasons (even Buffy abused this plot-device), I felt that it simply became ridiculous in season six. To be fair, the season is quite good if one can ignore the constant deus-ex-machinas, resurrections and repetitive plot-devices. There are only 13 episodes in the sixth season allowing for a more focused story-arc without having to churn out endless crises and action, and it feels like there is slightly more character work relative to previous seasons and less implausible action, and there is even some scattered humor. But two characters are brought back from death to start with, and the finale features no less than four resurrections that use various fantasy and sci-fi mechanisms to bring people back. The writers don't seem to realize that all danger is undermined with all these convenient resurrections that attribute powers to various people and objects at random whenever the writers need it. This is made worse by Skye saving the day with her powers that can either seemingly do anything when the writers need the day saved, or nothing when the writers need tension. Story-lines are also repeated yet again, such as the separation of Fitz-Simmons, etc. In short, the sixth season is entertaining and pretty good at the surface, but all tension is constantly undermined by the writers. It's frustrating, since the rest of it is pretty good. But, if anything goes, nothing is important. The final season seven is a continuation after the cliff-hanger in season six, although it features a completely different story-line involving time-travel. Although it is entertaining and extremely dense, once again, with multiple story-lines and twists every few minutes, it doesn't work anymore. The characters are simply too overcooked by now and also come off as flat for some reason. Each character now comes with an incredulous amount of baggage, multiple resurrections, various super-powers that come and go, etc. and not only do the characters seem tired, but the actors as well. They revisit their own timelines making scores of references to earlier seasons, and then end with an unsatisfying finale that features several deus-ex-machinas in a row yet again.

In summary, the show as a whole is entertaining even during its weaker seasons, and extremely densely written, but it strongly prioritizes action and fantasy/sci-fi twists over character and humor. It also heavily over-uses deus-ex-machinas and makes up new rules whenever it feels like it. But it still has many good elements and some strong seasons. However, I can only solidly recommend the first season for the set-up and humor, and seasons four and five.



Preacher (DC)  
Based on all four seasons.

This is the first DC-comics TV series that I really enjoyed, probably because it is very very distant from its usual superhero-factory approach. Even the genre is unclear, as this combines horror elements in a pitch-black-comedy package with a very warped sense of humor. It also includes lots of violent action, gore, camp comedy, Western and drama, as well as super-powers, heroes and super-villains, except that these include characters like its own versions of god, Satan, Hitler, angels and vampires. The approach is anything-goes, as long as it's unpredictable and entertaining. It's about a preacher who has both evil and good sides to his character, who is given a god-like super-power born of both angel & demon, to make anyone do what he says. He decides to follow in the footsteps of his father and become a preacher despite his many past criminal exploits, his criminal girlfriend makes his life complicated, and a fun-loving wild vampire becomes his best friend. He has to deal with everything ranging from local criminals that worship meat, to going on a quest to find a (literally) missing god who is slumming it down on Earth, to battling re-energizing angels, to running from indestructible Western killers from Hell itself, to dealing with a torturing Christian organization led by fat people straight from Monty Python, or vicious mutilated men and mentally-challenged cloned Messiahs. People and creatures often turn out to be not what they seem, and the plots are almost never predictable, nothing is sacred, there is a great balance of intensely entertaining ultra-violence and black comedy and drama, the characters are all extremely colorful, wacky and fun, and the plot continues non-stop for four seasons, making this one impossible to stop watching if only to find out what happens next.

The first season feels like a warm-up and takes place in his local town, and it takes a while to warm up to these characters and the tone of the show, and even to figure out what the hell is going on. The characters often do many unexpected things, sometimes even things that are not consistent with their character. But it does becomes addictive pretty fast, and the characters and show eventually do grow on you, especially in the second season where they focus on more excellent character development. Each season progresses, changing the villains, dangers and adventures very often (many people get killed all the time). The best seasons are probably seasons two and three. Regarding its approach to angels, god, heaven and hell: Practically all movies lack an imagination and strongly anthropomorphize angels, demons and so on, and given the flippant tone of this show obviously it is no surprise that it does this as well, except that it goes much further and does this to their version of god as well to such absurd lengths, that it can't even be considered sacrilegious. Only a complete idiot would see this as blasphemy, seeing as their god is not only not omnipotent, not omniscient, not omnipresent, and not infinite, but also a cruel and emotional human-like creature with inconsistent supernatural powers. The problem is that the writers are very inconsistent with this creature regarding his powers and motivations. And this comes out in the weaker fourth season, which also loses some of the shows balance and turns to increasing sadism. It also features a mixed, somewhat weak, but still entertaining finale. It's not terrible, but it's weak compared to what came before, and it doesn't have the superb balance, feeling as if it were trying too hard to shock and surpass the previous seasons. Overall, this is a good, highly addictive show but only for those that enjoy warped humor, somewhat juvenile camp, and over-the-top entertainment without depth. Its strongest aspects are its unpredictable colorful imagination and colorful strong characters.



Electric Dreams  
Based on the single season.

It's about time someone dived into the pool of Philip K. Dick, and an anthology sounds like a great idea. I was expecting nothing less than Black-Mirror-esque quality of imaginative stories. This single season features ten episodes based on ten short stories, and the result is a mixed bag and not as great as I hoped, but, overall, it is an interesting, provocative, subtle and well done series with some flaws. The thing is that the writers played fast and loose with the original stories, making alterations ranging from minor, to political, to major while still keeping the themes and mood of the originals, to altering the story so much that it is unrecognizable ('inspired by', not based on). Some of the changes are good upgrades and modernizations that keep the essence of the story but make it more relevant to the age of cellphones and internet. Many of the changes are very tiresome additions of sexual content, or political changes to the casting and motivations; Some of them add more character and power to the women which is OK, others recast male characters as women which is jarring, and a couple of these changes greatly damage the story, like when they have a black man dreaming of becoming a lesbian (and vice versa), which obviously ruins the whole dream angle. And a couple of the alterations are so clunky that the story doesn't work anymore. But, overall, as mentioned, the majority of the episodes are good despite the flaws. There are paranoia and technology episodes straight out of Black Mirror, the good old reality-bending themes and themes of technology or aliens becoming human that we expect from Philip K. Dick, mind-reading and not-quite-supernatural manifestations of human aspirations and fears, and a couple of episodes are even so subtly thought-provoking that it went over the heads of many reviewers. A good but flawed short-lived series.



Twilight Zone, The (1985)  
Based on all three seasons.

An 80s version of the original classic with a few remakes of episodes, but featuring mostly new stories. Once again, many genres are covered, featuring people in scary, strange, horrific, supernatural or sci-fi situations, but comedy makes a more frequent appearance and even romance is explored at times. The quality, once again, ranges from silly to amazingly gripping. The structure is looser and doesn't always follow the mystery setup and twist ending of the original. This can be both good and bad, allowing for more range and color, but also delivering more predictable developments and weaker payoffs. There are plenty of morality tales and provocative ideas, but with a relatively stronger sentimentality and even some liberal, simplistic preaching. The production is superb, but replaces the occasional 60s cheese with 80s cheese. The vast assembly of quality celebrities involved in this show is astounding however, featuring writers like Bradbury, Silverberg, Stephen King, directors like Wes Craven and William Friedkin, and actors like Bruce Willis, Danny Kaye, etc.

Overall, and this will easily be considered blasphemy, I found myself enjoying the first season of this show more than the original for several reasons: The quality and range of writing and ideas, the sheer variety making a very enjoyable anthology, a sense of fun that wasn't present in the heavier original, and the approach of combining two or three short stories in one 45 minute episode, allowing each episode to be just the right length appropriate for the story instead of padding it. After this, the show reverts to single stories per episode. The second season still has some very good episodes, but the ratio of bad to good is nowhere like the first, and when it gets bad, it really gets sentimental and cheesy. The third season is a slight improvement mostly in the second half, but overall, the ratio is, once again, quite low, and there are too many weak and sentimental episodes with a poor payoff. Great first season though.



Jericho  
Based on both seasons.

The setup is a small American town dealing with post-apocalyptic crises after nuclear bombs go off in nearby cities. The population reacts in different ways, at first trying to continue with life as if nothing has happened, sometimes to ridiculous extents. But then the problems force them to re-evaluate many things, including survival tactics, having to work hard for bare essentials, panic, radically new lifestyles and viewpoints, and daily moral crises and decisions that forge character, bringing out either the worst or the best in everyone. It's an ensemble cast, from the sensible mayor and his political opponent, to the greedy shop-keepers turning into tradesmen, a son of the mayor who is in the middle of a dissolving marriage and an affair, another rebel son of the mayor with a dark complicated past and army training, a tough survivalist thief and his gang, a farmer forced into a bizarre relationship with an IRS auditor, a mysterious newcomer that seems to know a lot, neighbouring townspeople with conflicting interests, etc.

The first season starts off so weakly and disappointingly that it's a wonder anyone kept watching and this would explain why the show got low ratings. Drama is made out of petty things and family spats instead of real problems, crises are small or solved in every episode, the fallout radiation problem is over and forgotten ridiculously fast, and characters behave too stupidly (like deciding to cook all the meat instead of curing it), all giving the impression of very weak imaginations and a show that is way too soft and banal for such a setup. The grand mystery of the bombs moves so slowly, it feels like it's trying to copy the annoying audience manipulation from Lost. Then something happens during episode 12 as if a new manager grabbed the reigns: Real issues appear, details from the first half serve as a setup as the show grows momentum and improves with every episode, the drama becomes real and heartfelt, characters grow and develop intensely, and the scope of the show keeps growing to include complex 24-like spy vs terrorist thrills, wars with neighbouring towns trying to survive, governments, companies and army remnants trying to rebuild the country but weighed by corrupting power, all drawing parallels in history to the birth of America and exploring increasingly interesting issues. The second 7-episode season commissioned after fans were left with a cliffhanger is so concise, complex and intense that it makes me wish all shows were similarly restrained and focused. In summary: A mixed bag because of the weak first half, but it's definitely worth it as a setup to get to the superb developments afterwards. The second season closes most of the important threads, but built the scope into something that may be too big for a TV show.



Tick, The  
Based on the single season.

The Tick is a blue, indestructible superhero (with emoting antennae) that seems to have come from nowhere to fight evil in all shapes and forms, including misbehaving toilets and vending machines. His naive, immature, child-like personality is matched by his delusions of grandeur, and his large vocabulary is used to painfully mix metaphors, spit out cheesy superhero speeches, and utter drop-dead eccentric dialogue. In the city he encounters bureaucracy in the form of superhero licenses, ridiculous legal systems, psychiatrists bent on curing superheros, and superheroism and sidekicks as metaphors for homosexuality, chauvinism and marriage. The Tick is performed brilliantly and perfectly by Warburton and gets the vast majority of the laughs in this silly, but very entertaining super-hero spoof. His accountant wannabe super-hero sidekick serves as the foil. Their two super-hero friends Captain Liberty (neurotic modern woman in skimpy clothes) and Batmanuel (over-confident horny Latino lover), are weakly funny caricatures at best, and the plots can get pretty silly, but it's all fun nevertheless. It's also a bit annoying that half of the episodes involve some kind of politically-correct theme transposed to a super-hero plot, but even that ends up funny. The show started finding its footing after a few episodes and started becoming really funny, then was brutally cancelled. Good fun, but it was over way too fast (nine 20-minute episodes). Warburton is pitch-perfect and single-handedly makes the show great.



Misfits  
Based on all five seasons.

You know how superheroes are always about responsibility, special effects, glamorous super-powers, and heroism? Well this is the British, low-budget, punkish, teenage antithesis to all that. The protagonists are misfit, foul-mouthed, oversexed, irresponsible, petty-criminal teenagers that got their super-powers while doing community service. The super-powers distributed to them and various other people are often either downright silly (the power to inflict baldness?), useless, or very useful but full of downsides. Glamorous heroism is even the character trait of a villain in one episode. But what's funny is the devil-may-care attitude that causes the powers to be misused or experimented with, with realistic and chaotic results. Of course, there are plenty of people that completely abuse what they got, turning into villains, and our wild bunch find themselves defending themselves or others despite themselves. A lot is sex-driven, and the show is often shockingly full of crassness and outrageous situations caused by superpowers, such as sex with a grandmother, a gorilla, or a penis falling off, and the teenagers, especially Nathan, hold nothing back when it comes to commenting on everything that happens, making fun of each other, or making it worse. Deaths occur often, and these either cause some drama, or are shrugged off in line with the show's attitude, leading to a running joke about repeatedly killing probation officers. All this wild humor and fantasy is balanced nicely by just the right amount of pathos and character development, and the actors are all very good and colorful. If you know what you are getting into, and enjoy crass, silly and highly irreverent humor (think Red Dwarf), this may prove compelling for you as well. It's like a more teenage-sex-oriented Being Human, except I usually hate teenage shows and found this one fun.

The first season is weaker than the next two, and a bit rough, and the characters can get quite annoying, but it's still fun. The balance improves, and the characters grow in the good second season but there are also flaws such as the overly convenient use of the rewinding-time mechanism only when the writers feel like using it. The third season replaces the foul-mouthed Nathan, but he was getting tiresome and his replacement is also fun. The good third season has relatively more serious episodes and developments, the writers keep things fresh by switching their powers around, and it completes a few arcs that started in the first season. The fourth season is by far the weakest, not only because most of the original cast dies or leaves, but also because the writing is all over the place and the new characters are mostly uninteresting, over-the-top and not as funny, even neglecting the supernatural aspect of the show. The final season recovers partially with better character dynamics and story arcs, and it has fun with a wide range of crazy powers, but the series just seems to want to top itself with every episode involving outrageous sexual hijinks ranging from swapped genitalia to imaginary sexual partners, tortoise sex, and forced gay sex in order to remove a super-power. In short, only the first three seasons come recommended for those that like their supernatural shows wild, raunchy, silly, immoral and funny, with an attitude.



Stranger Things  
Based on the first four seasons.

Over-hyped, but still quite good horror series. As everyone keeps repeating, this is a homage to 80s popular horror involving kids, and it takes great pains to duplicate the look & feel, the attitude, the sets and time-sensitive details, the nostalgia for all things 80s, as well as the style of writing, and it did a very good job with this. Characters get prominence over complex plotting and special-effects, and the writers write a straight-forward plot instead of trying to over-reach with pseudo-clever twists like so many modern movies. At least two general factors give it away however: The modern special-effects (and this is no complaint obviously but it does affect the look & feel), and the fact that brutish males are often outdone and out-performed by smarter and more capable females in this show (although to be fair, this isn't as prominent here as with other modern movies and the nerdy boys get to shine very often as well). The elements and characters in this story are largely re-hashed from Stephen King stories like Firestarter, Talisman, It, and there is also a strong influence felt from Goonies and E.T., and some plot elements from The Thing, Red Dawn, etc. As such, this show loses points for not being new and creative, but it also gains points for looking back and carefully making use of what made those movies and books solidly entertaining. It's both sad and fun: Sad that so many writers and producers nowadays have nothing left but to lazily remake past successes, and that any success in doing so can create so much hype, but fun because it's good and entertaining nevertheless and it does manage to make a highly entertaining mash-up of ideas that feels new enough. If this had been released in the 80s it would probably have been above average, but not such a hyped phenomenon as this show.

The show is about a group of 'nerdy' kids that keep getting in trouble with supernatural/sci-fi monsters from an 'upside-down' parallel world, and they are helped greatly by a mysterious girl with psycho-kinetic abilities. Adults and older teenagers find themselves in supporting roles to try to catch up, protect and help the kids who are always at least a couple of steps ahead of them. Each stand-alone season features a continuous and complete story-line as a new threat gradually builds up in the small town while the kids and adults use their brains and resourcefulness to fight the monsters that threaten to overwhelm their world.

The first season is solid and straight-forward good fun with great characters and a good story. The second season expands on the world, the supernatural threats and characters and, as opposed to most reviewers, I found it better than the first season, except that it builds on the solid base of season one and expands it. The horror element becomes much more interesting and unusual in season two beyond simple monsters, and the characters grow nicely. As with super-popular shows like Game of Thrones, by the time season three came along, the fanbase had grown so large and their expectations so rigid and populist, that it behaved like a swarm. A few flaws, and suddenly it became trendy to hate it, and everyone swarmed and swooped on it and attacked it to the point of ridiculousness. Season three has both good and bad: The kids have now become hornier teenagers and this makes them lose a bit of their charm, but the real problem is that the writers didn't do anything interesting with them and instead opted for the usual teenager school-crush cliches that take up a chunk of the season. But this doesn't mean the characters aren't fun at all anymore. Ironically, it is the supporting characters like the conspiracy-freak Murray, Dr. Alexei and the saucy kid Erica that provide most of the fun in this season. The plot in season three involves evil Russians as portrayed by cheesy 80s movies. I.e. they are flat characters and their schemes are very far-fetched, but this is something 80s fans are used to. The horror is new and interesting however, and there is more fun comedy this time, including an unusual pre-climactic scene that breaks the tension with laugh-out-loud silliness. In short, if season one is a good 7, two is a great 8, and three is a non-essential but still fun 6.
The fourth season starts another mash-up story combining elements from Nightmare on Elm Street, Talisman, Ring, Firestarter. It's merely OK at first, but then it grows in stature as it focuses on the characters again and develops the story. There is more horror and violence. They also took too long to make the new season, and the kids are now all grown up, losing some of their charm and the horror, at first, feels like an 80s teenage horror movie inspired by Elm Street, but it soon develops into something more interesting. Another flaw is the ending contains too many powers that come and go according to the plot and emotions of the character, plot armor, and new powers given to Eleven every other episode, until the final episode adds a final Deus Ex Machina. Despite all these flaws however, the season won me over and it is solidly entertaining with interesting and fun characters. It's not huge event that everyone claims it to be, but it's a good season.



Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell  

A mini-series based on a popular and award-winning massive fantasy novel which I have not read. Although this is often described as Harry Potter for adults, it also combines magic with period drama, light comedy, and alternate history. It's a massive sprawling story with many characters and developments, hence the seven-hour running time instead of a movie. It's about the return of magic into English society during the Napoleonic Wars. A bookish, skittish man who has studied magic all of his life is ready to bring it back in all its glory, as long as it remains respectable and modern rather than be prone to chaos, stories for housewives or a tool for rogues and charlatans. His re-awakening of magic, however, also awakens an instinctual man with an innate gift of powerful magic, as well as old, dark magic and magical worlds. In a desperate act to impress society, he awakens an evil faerie who likes to collect people as playthings, and he soon loses control. The government becomes dependent on the new magicians to help with the wars, except that the magic eventually loses its respectability. Wives become victims of the power games and dark magic, and magicians that start as friends become rivals.

The acting, casting, production, effects, and costumes are all astoundingly well done, as is the tone of the series, masterfully combining magic, period drama, light comedy, wit, dark magic, light horror, war and character drama. The characters are very nicely written and acted. The story, however, while solid and entertaining, did not wow me. Especially the final two episodes where the writing just kept piling on the magic as deus-ex-machinas, and I am still not sure what actually happened in the end. As with Harry Potter, the magic itself is a combination of knowing the right spell from the right book, or having innate instinctual abilities, whereas I prefer to see it as something that is developed and studied with great effort. And here there is simply always a greater magic spell that appears when needed by the writer. These small flaws, however, do not detract from what is otherwise a nicely told story, and an entertaining and well-done fantasy mini-series.



Haunting of Hill House, The  

In this day and age of nonsensical horror that emphasizes either random horror imagery or jump-scares, it's good to see a more old-school approach to haunting that relies on human terror, well-told intense stories, and a less-is-more-approach. It is merely inspired by the classic 1959 novel, using some similar names and plot elements but re-imagining a new story from scratch, so don't expect it to cover the novel. In fact it feels inspired by Stephen King's 'It' with some elements from 'The Shining', which brings it full circle, since King was inspired by the classic novel as well. The story takes place in two primary time periods, both involving the same family, and these two time-lines are intertwined throughout the show in wonderfully clever ways to enhance the emotional impact, as well as the denouement of each plot thread. It tells the tale of a family of five children that moves into the notorious Hill House in order to improve and sell it and make money, only to find terrors. And it continues the tale a couple of decades later when they are grown up and very broken, some more than others, their personal issues, questions and traumas coming to the fore, the house living within them in their traumas and fears which they will have to confront. The first four episodes are all setup, focusing on one character at a time, laying the table, but telling each unique individual story well, while the bigger story emerges piece by piece. The fifth episode is a brilliant and inspired one that will send shivers down your back as it all comes together in a powerfully terrible way. The sixth is another brilliant episode with many flowing long-takes that just lets the family have it out with each other in a confrontation. A couple of the actors are not as strong as others and this episode challenges them, but most are very good indeed. The next three episodes are more conventional horror fare but still above-average. The final episode is the fly in the ointment with a weak schmaltzy ending featuring a weird conversion of evil into wholesome longing, an ending that lowers the overall effect of the show but which doesn't ruin it. The brilliant middle episodes make it a recommended must-see however, and the rest of the episodes are very well done as well.



American Gods  
Based on all three seasons.

Neil Gaiman's imagination and humor, and Bryan Fuller's flamboyant visual sense, combine here to create possibly the most unpredictable, creative and visually rich fantasy series. At least at first, until it falls apart in the second season. It is also produced by Starz, which means that there is near-unbridled gore and sexual content. It's a creative fantasy about gods with a very lower-case G, gods created by humans that have moved to America along with their believers, and who now have to face competition in the form of modern gods of technology, globalism, money and the internet. At the center of the story is an ex-convict named Shadow who recently lost his wild wife in a freak accident, and who is hired by a strange man called Wednesday. Wednesday keeps him in the dark, taking him on missions as his bodyguard, as things turn increasingly bizarre, and his life filled with impossible things and very strange people that they meet on their road trip. A narrator introduces each episode with entertaining and wild ancient tales of gods and humans, often heavily laced with Americana, and these serve as back-stories for the gods that they encounter in their journey, most of them now down on their luck and reduced to loser bums due to the deterioration of faith in society. In some ways this is a much richer version of Gaiman's Neverwhere that also featured fantasy mythical characters hidden within modern civilization and a collection of bizarre characters. The show is filled with overwhelming style, color, fun and highly eccentric characters, over-the-top mythical tales of biblical-level violence and sex, and brutal forms of worship to a variety of primitive gods as well as several forms of Jesus. There are occasional, scattered but not prevalent scenes of over-the-top splatter straight out of Spartacus. Every sex act is bizarre and perverse in some way or another, but highly entertaining (except that Fuller focuses almost all of the graphic nudity scenes on the men). The high factor of unpredictability is highly entertaining, at first, since the story-telling and characters are so much fun. However. the power of these gods is never defined properly, their mortality and abilities seemingly ranging from completely impotent to god-like based on writers whims. While this can be ignored in the first season as it sets up the world, this becomes a serious problem in later seasons.

Unfortunately, the second season completely falls apart due to several reasons beside the one mentioned above about badly-defined fantasy rules. Fuller leaves, taking with him the preoccupation with homo-eroticism, but unfortunately, seemingly also taking with him the focused story-telling and character work. The new episodes increasingly focus on quirk, back-stories, anything-goes filming style and effects, and completely pointless quests to track down seemingly useless objects and eccentric people, and the story constantly goes backward instead of forward. Characters stop making sense. They keep declaring war, but focus on irrelevant minutiae or marketing ploys instead, for whole episodes at a time. Plot elements, details and characters keep getting introduced but never seem to add to the story or make much sense, as if the writers grabbed random details from the book but then changed the plot developments that would explain why they were needed in the first place. And, finally, the liberal preaching that only made short appearances in the first season become intolerable in the second, with gods preaching on and on for whole episodes at a time about the evils of white people and men. There is no recovering from the second season, so I would recommend stopping after the first. This will not provide full closure of some story-lines, except that the third season doesn't complete the story either.



Dead Like Me  
Based on both seasons.

18 year old apathetic Georgia dies by a flying toilet seat and becomes a grim reaper, discovering that soul-reaping is an annoying job with rules, bureaucracy and management. She tries to tweak the system, come to terms with her death, spy on her ex-family, and generally start a life she never had before she died. This show starts off very well with colorful characters, an irreverent take on death, quirky comedy, and interesting developments, but mid-season, two things cause a quick death: A new character (Daisy) grinds the show to a halt with her annoying and unrealistic arrogant-bitch-slut character, and the writing loses its edge, wandering too often to feel-good and overly safe territory. Three of the characters devolve into one-dimensional comical characters, and there is only so much quality comedy you can get out of that. The second season continues its downward slope into uninteresting sullen drama and weak writing. Great first quarter though.



Fades, The  
Based on the single season.

The British have really taken over the horror-fantasy genre on TV lately. Being Human, Misfits, Apparitions and now this. This one has an original take on ghosts, where they cannot 'ascend' and are instead becoming more corporeal and strong through a horrifying mechanism. The Angelics (human warriors with psychic powers) are there to wage war on these malignant spirits, but lack the power to take on these new forces. Enter Paul, a nerd with emerging psychic powers, and his friend Mac, an even bigger nerd who provides the humor of the show and practically steals it as well. The plot develops as the Fades become stronger and the Angelics more desperate, while Paul and Mac have yet to get laid and figure out detailed technicalities and flaws of their favorite sci-fi films. Yes, it's another Buffy-esque teenage horror-comedy series, only more intense and fast-paced, especially since the show was cancelled after only six episodes and they tried to wrap up as much as possible for the ending. As with Buffy and Being Human, the friendship, characters and humor make the show. The horror and special effects are quite good, but the writing takes the lazy option of developing more and more supernatural abilities every few minutes rather than work on what they already built, and this is one bothersome flaw. Another flaw is that it should have been longer. But it's still quite enjoyable and recommended.



Daredevil (Marvel)  
Based on all three seasons.

This is the first of a collection of TV super-hero series by Netflix in an attempt to create its own "Marvel TV Universe". These shows borrow the left-over super-heroes from the Marvel stable not being used in the MCU, they are given their own show, and the characters share time with each other across several Netflix shows. This show tackles Daredevil, the blind warrior obviously inspired by Zatoichi. His only super-power is extremely heightened senses, giving him many abilities such as getting a map of everything around him even through walls, reading people's reactions and honesty by their heartbeat/breath, etc. That, and super-healing via 'meditation', although that doesn't explain the amount of punishment that he takes in this show without stopping fighting. A young lawyer by day fighting criminals with his capable friends, and a vigilante by night fighting criminals with his fist, this man keeps himself very busy. His chief nemeses are Kingpin (a magnificent D'Onofrio), a scary criminal mastermind who makes sure he controls everything with long-term planning as well as with brutality. And, Bullseye (who appears later), an unstable man with pinpoint deadly accuracy. The structure consists of continuous story-lines, one complete story per season, and the fights are relatively more down-to-earth, done quite well, and very ubiquitous, making this one good also for action junkies.

The primary problem I had with this show as a whole is the Daredevil's ideology. He feels strongly against killing, regardless of the situation and the amount of evil he encounters. This problem shows itself in several ways: For starters, his crime-fighting consists of fists and super-senses, and this is so impractical when fighting evil criminals with machine guns, that it quickly proves unbearably stupid, since he puts himself and others in mortal danger while fighting endless fist-fights. Not to mention that the criminals often just get up and continue fighting again later. There is also a slight hypocrisy problem since he has no problem causing permanent physical damage to people or torturing them for information. He does eventually add more practical things to his arsenal though, like armor and a versatile baton, which at least makes him a little more efficient. But the biggest problem, however, is that he refuses to kill people even when lives are obviously in danger. Regardless of the possibility of redemption, when other innocent lives are at stake and you have the chance to kill, you have to kill, or else you are almost a murderer yourself. This should be obvious, and yet this super-hero keeps preaching about the sanctity of life and the possibility of the most evil men finding redemption, all the while many innocent lives are lost again and again. To be fair to this show, Daredevil is confronted several times with this issue, both by other characters, and by consequences of his own actions, leading to a crisis in season three. But he never really changes his mind and this makes it difficult to see him as a super-hero rather than a bleeding-heart idiot.

The first season is the best one. It is the most realistic, it builds each and every character in three-dimensions in superb ways and just the right amount of flashbacks, adds many colorful characters, builds the tension superbly, develops the plot strongly with naturally flowing consequences, including surprising deaths, and features a strong ending. The only flaw is the aforementioned impractical way to battle an army of gun-toting criminals. The second season has both good and bad: The Punisher is the good part. His approach is the other extreme and complete opposite of Daredevil: He kills all criminals as soon as he can and in brutal ways. The clash between these two wrong-headed super-heroes is strong stuff (despite both of them being wrong). The Punisher is also acted by someone who is a much more juicy character-actor than the blander but capable Daredevil. His story takes up the first third of the season, with the rest of season focusing mostly on two other story-lines that are poor: The on-off-on-off relationship between Daredevil and the wild Elektra, about which the writers seemingly could not make up their minds. And the narrative about Yakuza, ninjas, undead, strange fantastical-horror experiments, and other elements that not only veer away from the grounded realism, but which also never makes any sense and isn't resolved in this season. The writers seem to be pushing in many different directions in each episode, resulting in a weak season that is only made somewhat interesting by the Punisher. After this came 'The Defenders' which is where this narrative is continued. The third season of Daredevil however, goes back to the more grounded criminal elements, featuring a battle of wits between an increasingly capable and powerful Kingpin, and a Daredevil who is having a personal crisis of identity and ideology. This makes it the second-best season, but it is also severely flawed by weak writing. Many many plot twists, traps, events and decisions made by the characters simply make no sense if one takes more than five seconds to think them through. Traps that seem clever at first have glaring flaws once you think about them, but the victims allow themselves to be used without overcoming the trap in obvious ways. The good guys, who were smart in season one, keep doing one stupid thing after another just to create more tension and drama. And Daredevil inexplicably loses many of his abilities that were apparent in the first season just to make the fights more dangerous, and conveniently regains them for the finale. In short, the third season seems great at first, but will not work well for a thinking audience. The first season is quite solid and colorful though.



Happy!  
Based on both seasons.

Can you imagine a TV show that combines 'Crank' and 'Toy Story' in a kind of ultra-violent and very warped 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit'? Well these guys not only imagined it, they made it work somehow. I wasn't surprised to find one of the writers wrote Crank. But everyone was surprised at the places this show went. Nick Sax is an energizer-bunny of sheer destructive energy and ultra-violence. He never really starts it however, it just follows him around. People don't just let off steam and punch each other silly here, they stab eyeballs with forks and literally rip each other's heads off. And the fuel for Nick's energy is an impossible amount of alcohol and deadly chemicals. But then he finds out he has a little daughter, one with a cutesy floating imaginary friend in the shape of a blue unicorn. How they get along, or don't, is the fun part. Except that they are being chased by depraved serial killers, possible demonic entities, evil child entertainers, and lunatic mafiosos making a reality TV show. This is a world where children's entertainment combines with alien orgies involving bug costumes, or where a visit to Chinatown actually involves mystical fortune cookies and cheesy kung-fu street battles. The first season is driven by a strong plot, good characters, and hilarious humor, even though the violence is cartoonish. The primary genre, at first, is dark crime and over-the-top cartoonish ultra-violence with strong humor and mild fantasy elements. The first season finale leaves many loose ends with some of the wackier story-lines, but closes its primary plot arc nicely. Season two, however, gets lost in zaniness and focuses primarily on making a freak show and dives into anything-goes fantasy elements. The plot seems to wander aimlessly in service of its whimsical and insane imagination. and the characters stop even remotely resembling real humans. It's like watching a live-action road-runner cartoon with gore and sex... and lots of dancing. Also the second and final finale is weak and pretty much falls apart after a couple dozen too many whimsical fantasy plot elements that go nowhere. Which means that season one is very good, but season two is ridiculous, albeit wildly entertaining.



Stan Against Evil  
Based on all three seasons.

Nobody does snark, wisecracks and sarcasm better than John C. McGinley, not even Bruce Campbell. Which is why I enjoyed this a little more than Ash vs Evil Dead. Granted, this show is a much smaller and lighter show, it doesn't have the great over-the-top splatstick and splatter of that show, nor is it as developed in terms of story-arc, and it definitely doesn't have the appeal and cult status of the Evil Dead franchise. But the humor is relatively better; It is quirky, eccentric, often witty. It's a parody of all things horror, but it's a different kind of silly with a personality of its own. Ash vs Evil Dead is more campy. And, as I said, John C. McGinley sells it. This show is about a small town infested with demons and witchcraft after a constable burned 172 witches, causing a centuries-old curse on all things law-enforcement. Somehow the cranky old sheriff (McGinley) on his way out got away with it, but when a new young sheriff enters the picture, the demons have a lot of catching up to do. An amusingly clueless deputy with bizarre behaviour, and a lost-in-her-own-world sheriff's daughter bumble along as one strange demon after another tries to murder the troupe using all the supernatural forces in the horror genre. Each episode is a short parody on different horror tropes. Some are merely amusing quirk and entertaining light silliness, others are laugh-out-loud hilarious, and McGinley is always there with his inimitable attitude. The supporting cast add lots of fun as well, especially Janet Varney as the superb foil, although the other two are pretty cartoonish in their dumbness. The third season gets even sillier and experiments on some episodes, but it's still good. It's a small show, and nothing ground-shaking, but it's good fun with a unique comic tone.



Channel Zero  
Based on all four seasons.

A horror anthology where each season is a different story, and basically a set of four, 4-hour-long horror movies. It is based on internet "creepy-pastas" which are collaborative public-domain horror stories and ideas, from what I understand. The first season is above-average and watchable, but is not a strong one, and features a poor ending that contradicts what came beforehand. 'Candle Cove' is about an unstable child psychologist, and bizarre unsolved murders of children dating back to his childhood, and it exploits very well that elusive TV show or movie that we all saw as kids that disturbed us for some reason and which grows in our minds over time. It is also is the most old-school of the lot, and as an 80s horror movie, it would be considered slightly above-average but nothing more. The second season is by far the best one and is the only reason this show comes recommended. 'No-End House' is about a mysterious haunted house that is a lot more than it seems and which has a way of latching onto teenagers and literally feeding on their memories and fears. It develops the idea very nicely, and it integrates dream-logic horror and alternate reality imagery very nicely as part of the story and the well defined mechanics of the vampiric house. There is both new and old in this season and it combines them well. 'Butcher's Block' is the third season and is by far the worst of the lot. It is the opposite of the previous seasons in the sense that it emphasizes a stream of creepy or gruesome wild imagery without rhyme and reason, prioritizing random horror visuals over coherent and a well-developed story, inching a bit too close to the category of brainless trash that is American Horror Story. This one is thoroughly modern. 'The Dream Door' is the fourth season, which, like the first season, is a good but flawed above-average watch. It borrows a couple of ideas from Cronenberg but without the body-horror, featuring mysterious doors and bizarre killers, as well as a very creepy contortionist. The writing is pretty good, but the strange casting and flat acting let this one down. In summary, definitely watch the second season, try the fourth, watch the first only if there's nothing else, and skip the third.



Survivors (2008)  
Based on both seasons.

A deeply flawed but still strong remake of the classic 70s BBC post-apocalyptic show, both based on a book by Terry Nation. The setup is a virus outbreak that kills 99.99% of the world's population, leaving only individuals to try to survive the aftermath with all the horrors and desperate survival tactics that ensue. The original focused on human drama, clash of personalities and survival tactics, and raised interesting and scary questions, but it was flawed by flat characters and some heavy-handed writing. This remake fixes this flaw with superbly colorful and damaged characters and actors, and intense dynamics between the personalities, but it breaks most of the rest. Specifically, it 'Hollywoodizes' the show, injecting unnecessary thrills, action and conspiracies to the point of breaking the realism, and this is very disappointing from the BBC. However, it still offers very interesting crises and interactions with various pockets of humanity that attempt to build new radical forms of society now that all the old laws are dead. This, together with the aforementioned colorful characters which, at least for me, can make or break a show, make this remake compelling.

At first, the handful of survivors are so damaged that it only adds depression on top of the catastrophe. But the show uses this combination to force them to live together and grow as people, the circumstances forcing them to gradually but radically alter their behaviour and ways of seeing the world. At the same time, the other groups that gradually form are often quite extreme, and the writers don't sugar coat the fact that some people simply turn into animals as soon as all restrictions are lifted. The first season is very good; the second season shifts too much to action and conspiracy, but the characters grow nicely. Although the second season ends on a cliffhanger, it is only a conspiracy and action cliffhanger, which was the least interesting aspect of the show. Now, if only there was a way to merge the best aspects of both shows into a single great one...



Santa Clarita Diet  
Based on all three seasons.

Victor Fresco makes another fun light comedy, this one with a surprising extra layer of shocking gore. The combination of cute comedy and characters with serial-killing zombie-gore is quite a leap, but they make it work. It's like a zombie-comedy version of Dexter: The wife turns into a zombie, and decides to kill only bad people for her food, and then a lot of the show is spent trying to cover up for these murders, or hiding their 'hobbies' from normal people. The first couple of episodes start with weak acting and shaky comedy as they try to find the right tone that combines over-the-top cute with violent killing, but after a few episodes it gets off the ground and becomes a funny comedy with many laugh-out-loud moments and many fun supporting characters. The story is continuous, making this a fun binge-watch. The second half of season one and all of season two are good. Although they add sneaky PC messages into the comedy in season two, this only gets somewhat annoying in season three. Season three becomes too cutesy and silly to my liking. It's still kinda fun and entertaining but relies too much on over-the-top dumb characters, and the husband and wife relationship and arguments are trying too hard to be cute this time around. It also ends on a cliffhanger because the show was cancelled.



3rd Rock from the Sun  
Based on the first two seasons and some of the third.

A guilty pleasure, but only for the first season. Four aliens come to Earth to study humans while assuming human form. The wide range of human experiences hits them like a confusing ton of bricks, from emotions, to puberty, lust, food, disease, strange social customs, dating, relationships, family, crime, etc. They experience human feelings but don't know what to do with them, they panic at every bodily function, and so on. They approach everything with uninhibited childlike wonder, confusion and energy because it's all new, allowing the writers to create some really entertaining humor and satire. The best comparison for this show would be The Addams Family, except this one has aliens instead of ghouls and witches, and the silly & satirical humor is much more raunchy. Lithgow is hilarious, as are his three companions, all cast for slightly off personality and looks, and they all ham it up and have great fun with it. The leader takes the job of a physics professor and spends all his time working on an impossible relationship with an anthropology professor, thanks to a complete lack of skills with anything resembling normal human behaviour. A military expert becomes a woman allowing the writers to have fun with gender issues, and the oldest of the group becomes a teenage boy. The last weird young man... well there was an extra seat.

The first season is somehow both very silly and sharp, but the over-the-top acting and silliness keeps growing, wearing out its welcome already in the second season. By the second season, it is down to merely amusing and entertaining, but overly broad and silly humor delivered by cartoon-like characters.




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