Rewatchable Sci-Fi/Fantasy TV Series


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 hilarous 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.



Prisoner, The  
Based on all 17 episodes.

A cult 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.



Black Mirror  
Based on the first 2 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 doesn't have any filler episodes, so far. 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 touch of satire as well. The technologies explored range from youtube, to programs that try to copy human beings, to virtual politicians, or Idol-type shows that find entertainment in everything. From the mind behind Dead Set.



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 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 storylines. 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).



Doctor Who (2005)  
Based on the first eight 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 who 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 increasingly suffering as a result. The show (with the exception of Moffat episodes) under Davies quickly deterioriated to overblown nonsense, sentimental undisciplined writing with not only plotholes, but completely nonsensical writing that constantly breaks its own rules and often makes use of deus-ex-machinas. So it started amazingly well with a perfect approach to a comeback, but then quickly deteriorated. After five years, it switched hands to Moffat, who unfortunately, also started mixing interesting ideas with increasingly emotionally-driven, nonsensical plot developments and deus-ex-machinas, but the quality varies from episode to episode and the fun keeps you watching.

Christopher Eccleston (05): Each of the old seasons changed and revolved around the character of the latest regeneration of the Doctor and the ninth is no 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, 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.

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. The third season introduces the clear-headed but uninteresting Martha Jones, resurrects The Master, and takes a big step down in the writing, making several throwback episodes of old-school silliness and laughable aliens, way too many deus-ex-machina endings, sloppy sci-fi, and a truly horrible last episode, with only a handful of good episodes. With the fourth season and 2009 specials, the writing is pedestrian sci-fi entertainment at best, and cheating, contradictory, nonsensical or sloppy at worst. They wreck the opening theme, Russell injects the show 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.

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 is not great and 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 features a rich variety of episodes but unfortunately, the writing, once again, is lightly peppered with lazy plot holes and details that don't work, as well as sentimental or humanist deus-ex-machinas, and a mixed-bag finale with a good Moffat twist as well as an illogical time-travel metaphysical impossibility. Seasons six and seven are fun, interesting and addictive, only it's disappointing that they aren't giving this material the attention it deserves. I'm really starting to miss the geekier approach of old Who. Just because the stories involve time-travel and sci-fi, that doesn't mean that anything goes, including logic, science and consistency.

Peter Capaldi (14-): This one actually turns out to be the fourteenth doctor (don't ask, although the 50th anniversary special was pretty good). Capaldi brings with him a welcome maturity and more complex personality after all of the energetic youngsters recently. Unfortunately, Moffat seems to have run out of inspiration and is now completely lacking in focus and discipline, making the eighth season a very poor one. Barring one or two strong episodes, the writing is all over the place, unable to decide what to do with Capaldi, throwing even the most basic plausibility, consistency, science and logic out of the window, assuming that 'anything goes' with sci-fi, and throwing in dozens of half-baked ideas and magical solutions to problems whether they make sense or not. Capaldi reminds me of Colin Baker: A darker and more interesting personality wasted on a period of bad writing.



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.



Game of Thrones  
Based on the first 5 seasons.

An epic fantasy series finally makes it to the small screen, produced by HBO to somehow make it look like a huge-budgeted blockbuster movie, only with a continuous storyline spanning several seasons. The story also spans hundreds of characters, and involves several continents full of various races, cities, politics, wars and parallel storylines, and it is a very dark story indeed, as written and imagined by George R. R. Martin. The result? A show that has rapidly surpassed even the popular phenomenon that was Breaking Bad. The story itself is too complex, huge and epic to summarize. But it involves several houses competing for supremacy in a world similar in many ways to the medieval period on Earth. A fragile king and 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, people 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 morally corrupt frequently emerge on top amidst the chaos. A doomsday-esque upcoming winter with awakening hordes of the dead, as well as dragons and other forms of dark magic re-emerging, complicate the chaos even further.

Let's start with 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 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 on our planet, 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 Paganism. Which means that the imagination did not impress either. But, like I said, there was a potent story at its core, and a screen adaptation could theoretically fix at least some of the flaws in the books.

And the 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 storylines 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. Flaws include the tiresome HBO habit of injecting gratuitous graphic 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 planet modeled after the Middle Ages. Also, the show cannot recover from all of the flaws of the books. For example, the darkness constantly skirts the border between realistically brutal, and misanthropic sadism which reveals more about the author than about the world. The problem is not that bad things happen to good people, or that bad people gain control, but the fact that, in this imaginary world, almost everyone can constantly be relied on to behave their worst and react in the worst possible way. Even the honorable people seem to behave blindly out of training, without a proper moral sense. It doesn't take talent to be misanthropic. Anyone can write a story that kills each of its characters one by one in brutal ways. But, as mentioned, these are flaws in what is otherwise a powerful show.

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 become powerful during the third and fourth seasons. In the fourth season, the writers of the show start showing more independence, re-arranging the storylines 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. All this is probably in preparation for a potentially catastrophic dilemma and problem, the fact that novels four and five have been poorly accepted and contain too much filler material, and the fact that the rest of the story still hasn't been written, forcing the writers of the show to use what they can for the weaker fifth season, and start taking over the writing completely for the sixth season. Which means the show can potentially break without the backing of the original writer and his consistent vision for the story...



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.



Buffy the Vampire Slayer  
Based on all 7 seasons.

Buffy discovers she is the legendary vampire and demon killer of lore, and is guided by Giles the watcher, but she only wants to have a normal life with her high-school and college buddies. Life becomes and more and more complicated, her personal life completely controlled by various forces of evil, and her romantic life made impossible by a complex, repentant vampire. This series starts with a silly premise of a blonde girl kicking evil's ass for a change, but grows into incredibly involving, funny and dramatic story arcs, with a fine balance of comedy and heavy drama. A unique phenomenon.

The first season is silly and campy with hints of future talent towards the end. Avoid and don't judge the show based on it. The second season not only makes the show something to take seriously, it is one of the best seasons of any show, period. A blonde chick in school slaying vampires - how can you take that seriously? That's what I thought as well. But this show is 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 characters that interact well. This show takes risks and succeeds.

The third and fourth seasons are still very good but the fourth loses its way halfway through. After the fourth, there is too much forced drama and melodrama, characters become overly serious and 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, and Spike, the enjoyably evil wise-cracking character, turns into a softie.



Angel  
Based on all 5 seasons.

A Buffy spinoff with several characters from that show either moving 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 very good thing. Angel, the repentant ex-evil vampire moves to a different city and starts a kind of supernatural rescue agency, while killing vampires and battling his inner demons and dark past. Friends and foes make his life more interesting.

The first season is mostly mediocre but has a few episodes that rank at the top of both shows so it's worthwhile. The superb second is not quite as brilliant and darkly dramatic as Buffy's second but it's close. The third falls to pieces and jumps the shark with unrealistic or dumb romances, an uninteresting pregnancy, an annoying kid, Cordelia changes from the funny superficial bitch she was in Buffy to a Saint with supernatural powers (huh?) and sleeps with the annoying teenager, etc. The last season takes a risk in the plot and also brings in Spike but it doesn't work anymore.



Star Trek: The Original Series  
Based on all 3 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.



Strain, The  
Based on the first three 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 detals 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-souled 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 probably in 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 too much, 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.



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.



Legend, The (Tae Wang Sa Shin Gi)    Info

A Korean series that is basically a 24-hour-long fantasy/mythology/history action-drama. The events revolve around real historical characters from 2000 and 4000 years ago, but the story employs fantastical mythology about supernatural powers, four Heavenly symbols that wield powers to their guardians, and the destined second coming of a king that will unite the people using these symbols, with a possible dangerous re-awakening of a black phoenix that may burn up the world in a fit of deep emotional upheaval. After the first few cheesier episodes, the story picks up with constant deepening of characters, complex and superb writing that gives strong, viable motives to all the characters as they chase their various goals or shift to the dark side. The structure is not episodic, making this one long movie with a constantly developing story, with the writers never dropping the ball or becoming predictable. This is quite a feat. The ending annoyed many 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. One flaw is the sometimes heavier, overwrought drama that borders on the soapy and which should have used more subtlety. Other minor flaws are some of the hairdos and faces that seem more appropriate to mangas than history, and the overuse of the same musical compositions.



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 beaurocratic 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.



X-Files, The  
Based on the first 5 seasons and scattered episodes of seasons 6-9.

X-Files involves two FBI agents that work on unexplained phenomena and strange unsolved cases. 'Spooky' Mulder is an intuitive believer and Scully is the scientific skeptic. Episodes either belong to the staggeringly complex but 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 lost much later on, and the individual 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 drama, soap or character shows. It also features a touch of very creepy horror which it takes seriously. Mulder often acts woodenly, showing no passion but he gets by, and Scully is mediocre as well with a character that doesn't evoke much sympathy.

The first season consists of mostly solo episodes, only a third of which are really good. The second has way too many duds (especially the first half), but contains a couple of brilliant episodes and the start of the mythology arc.

The third is possibly the only complete season definitely worth buying. 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 and recommended.

The fifth is a weak shadow of the previous seasons with uninteresting mythology and only a few scattered fun episodes. The mythology is not even crucial for the movie. The sixth turns to boring mythology, trying to start new ideas and closing the old, and contains many light solo episodes and a handful of great ones. Seasons 7 to 9 feature lots of soap drama, more boring new characters, silly mythology, and some scattered good episodes.



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 storylines 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 backstory 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 seasons.

Running for 25 years and featuring 8 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 series 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 series 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 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 (81-84) 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 (84-86), 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 so some of the episodes weren't bad and 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 developing 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 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.  
Based on the first three 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 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 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 twists.

Unfortunately, subsequent seasons falter even though they are consistently 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. It's the big picture and humor that seem to have been lost. For one thing, 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 supervillians 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. So what with the constant physical fighting action scenes, believability flies permanently out the window. 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 (unless the writers want them to suffer). Also, the writers keep adding more extreme character twists that quickly feel random without conforming to everything we saw previously. Superpowers are forgotten or reveal new aspects and abilities according to the plot's demands. In short, there's a strong feeling of many writers adding as many things and exciting plot developments as they can think of without someone guiding them into an overall vision of the characters or enforcing quality control with the details, so that the big picture will make sense. And, the emphasis is on constant developments rather than on working with what they have so far or making them fit into a solid character arc. The show can be described like this: Things keep happening, and then more things keep happening. The characters act out one emotion or agenda, then act out another, contradicting the first. The writing favors excitement over solidity, and commercial pacing over heart. So, in summary, starting with the second season, this show delivers constant action and entertainment, but not believability, compelling characters or greatness. 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.



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 auditer, a mysterious newcomer that seems to know a lot, neighbouring townspeople with conficting 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 similary 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.



Surface  
Based on the single season.

This show surprised me by redeeming itself midway through the season. It starts off like a very cliched and disjointed rip-off of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Sea-monsters are discovered that threaten to bring about some ecological disasters, and suddenly there is a government conspiracy to cover things up (why? why would a new creature and ecological crises need to be covered up, and how would this even be possible?). Additionally, a man who had a close encounter seems to think it was some mystical experience (which Close Encounters only got away with because it involved aliens). But, despite this poor beginning, the writers grab onto their audience with constant momentum, a continuous story line, fast-moving developments, and thrilling action, like with a season of 24. Two main story-lines emerge: A kid and his escalating adventures with his secret pet baby sea-monster, and a marine-biologist and insurance-agent out to uncover the secrets with low-tech creativity and a lot of commitment. Although these stories are full of really annoying parents, sisters and spouses, both are very entertaining. The writers keep piling on the surprises, too many in fact, dangerously toying with the border between entertaining switch-off-your-brain sci-fi, and groaningly implausible contrivance. Some terrible examples include the impossibility of a carbon based life-form surviving in magma, and shooting up 5000 feet through the ocean without dying of the bends. But if you can ignore flaws like these, it's a rollicking ride, as long as you can take an ending that only answers some of the many questions and mysteries. This is a pretty good one, but you have been warned.



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 by Warburton and gets the vast majority of the laughs in this silly, entertaining spoof. It's everything else that falters: Characters that are weakly funny at best, and silly plots that entertain, but keep the show from greatness. The show started finding its footing after a few episodes and started becoming really funny, then was brutally cancelled.



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, beaurocracy 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 irreverant 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.



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.



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.



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...



3rd Rock from the Sun  
Based on the first season and most of the second season.

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 miltary 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.




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