Sci-Fi/Fantasy TV Series of Some Interest


Apparitions  

Intelligent, British, religious horror about a war between good and evil, possessions, Satan's minions and exorcisms. The first episode promises nothing less than an intelligent, intense masterpiece that seems even better than The Exorcist with its plausible, down-played horror of evil that makes use of humans, down-to-earth characters, superb acting and the great Martin Shaw in a gripping performance as the exorcist priest. Unfortunately, the writing starts deteriorating towards more Hollywoodized overblown horror concerning an overly active, flashy and obvious evil power and some chaotic logic. The agenda and powers of the evil minions makes less and less sense as they shift from building an army of converted Satanic or possessed humans, to focusing on converting the soul of the chief exorcist, to general chaos, to some muddled climax at the Vatican that makes no sense, and then it suddenly all stops for no reason. Its actual power inside churches is confusing, the treatment of Monsignor Vincenzo's character is very muddled, and the ending doesn't close satisfactorily. The series runs for 6 hours with some episodic writing, but mostly runs as continuously intense religious horror, and the acting, production and a lot of the writing are all so superb that this is a must-see. I'm just disappointed because of what could have been, especially after being given a glimpse in the first episode.



Now and Again  
Based on the single season.

Another in the sub-genre of Six Million Dollar Man clones, but a very good one. A married insurance salesman dies in a train accident and is snatched by a government scientist, who transplants his brain into a genetically, technologically and chemically enhanced body. Normally, you would expect a show like this to be about the government missions and the action performed with super-abilities, but surprisingly, this show doesn't put him out on the field, but keeps him as a lab rat as the pet of a very pedantic, strict and uptight scientist that only lets the government make use of him intermittently on bizarre and science-oriented missions, making for many humorous situations, and exploring the human angle as their personalities clash. In addition, it focuses a lot on his wife and daughter and his relationship with them, as he is forced to keep them in the dark. This adds much pathos and even more of a human angle. All in all, the blend of imaginative missions, plenty of sharp funny dialogue, great casting, colorful acting, pathos and thrills is something extraordinary that would have made Joss Whedon proud. Flaws include: The very implausible super-human strength that makes him as ridiculously strong and indestructible as Superman even though he is still made of flesh and blood. The lack of a story arc and more development, although there is some character development and a few double-episodes. And finally, the slightly weaker and sillier second half that also leaves you hanging with a double-cliffhanger ending. All these are minor, however, and definitely did not make this show deserving of a cancellation. A flawed but still must-see show.



Master and Margarita, The  

I belong to a minority that doesn't think the book was a masterpiece. Although rich, interesting and multi-layered, there is a lack of structure and tightly woven thematic threads, with too much fantasy slapstick. The novel and movie weaves together three stories: The first is the chaotic visit of the devil (Woland) and his strange retinue of Behemoth (in the form of a cat), a magical illusionist, Azazello the assassin, and a vampiress, in 1930s Moscow. They spread disorder by attacking society's many weaknesses and ridiculous authorities, revealing dangerous secrets and playing games with their greed, corruption and bureaucracy, and predicting poor Berlioz's gruesome death. There is the story of the doomed lovers Master and Margarita, with his spirit-crushing experiences in writing a novel about Pontius Pilate paralleling Bulgakov's own life. And then there is the story of Pilate, and the inevitable destruction of his soul as his power puts him in an impossible situation with Jesus, drawing parallels and counterpoints to Russian leadership. Themes of strength and cowardice, fate, passion, honesty, necessary evil, and living free and inspired all drive the many characters and parallel plots. This great mini-series is very faithful, with one extraneous character, sharing the flaws of the book as it wanders into lots of fantastical comedy with barely passable special effects and an uninspiring cat costume, and featuring mostly great acting talents (the actor who portrays Woland is particularly superb). Like the book though, I found it interesting but somewhat unsatisfying. If you like the book, however, this comes highly recommended.



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 for a short while, but there's simply not enough of the good stuff.



Ash vs Evil Dead  
Based on all three seasons.

A TV series that revisits the classic cult horror movie trilogy 25 years later. Like many other fans, I was skeptical, but not only over whether they would manage to pull it off and make something good, but also whether this kind of thing could work in a TV-series format at all. There is also the question of which of the three movies it would model itself after, seeing as each of the movies was a completely different beast: The first was an intense horror-splatter experiment unlike any other with only light touches of camp. The second was a classic splatter-horror-comedy hybrid that is a milestone and which took every aspect way over-the-top. The third, the only one that I didn't like, was so goofy, dumb and silly, it was basically a spoof of itself.

This series mostly goes for the splatter-comedy-horror hybrid tone of the second movie, but with numerous very goofy splatter/creature moments from the third, and only one or two episodes that go for intense horror reminiscent of the first. The approach is over-the-top splatter entertainment with wise-cracking campy heroes fighting any and all forms of evil, while everyone around them is torn to shreds by Deadites, demons, possessed objects and various other evil creatures. Plots go anywhere and everywhere as long as it involves plenty of brutal and splatter action. Bruce Campbell hams it up as a dumb energetic horny hero with the chainsaw-arm, archaic in this day and age but still kicking-ass, and who is the only person capable of handling the brutality necessary to carve up the ruthless and vicious Deadites. He is joined by a couple of sidekicks, and Lucy Lawless complicates matters as a special woman with supernatural powers and complicated motivations. The show features lots of highly enjoyable fan-service, but not too much. There are many visits to the old locations, especially the good old evil cabin, many of the old monsters and (dead) people come back, and many many scenes are reproduced shot-for-shot, except under new circumstances. But most of the show is new and great fun.

The good: Bruce Campbell gets many laughs, and Dana DeLorenzo is a good fun character serving as his spirited sidekick. The splatter is over-the-top and fun and creative, involving endless wild splattery effects and a wide variety of methods for tearing apart Deadites and humans, and some scenes are so deliciously offensive and extreme that they are side-splittingly gruesome. The not-good: Plots feel random and secondary, the supernatural developments and behaviour of the creatures just seem to go anywhere and everywhere without any rules, basically serving as a secondary backdrop for the splatter. The four protagonists are fun but never compelling, and mostly one-dimensional. Ash is fun but silly and lacking depth, Kelly Maxwell is the only character that feels three-dimensional and real but she is not enough to save this, Pablo is just silly, and Ruby never feels like a properly drawn character, with motivations that change from episode to episode. The splatter and some battles can often get too goofy, much like in the third movie Army of Darkness. Season endings are weak and often feature Deus-ex-machinas. In summary: I enjoyed every minute of it and it is very good extreme entertainment. But there is nothing more than entertainment here. I would have enjoyed this much more as one or two sequel movies. Or I would have enjoyed the show much more if they had mixed serious drama and plots with hilarious comedy, Buffy style, and toned down the goofy comedy and really silly evil object-possessions and slapstick fighting. But that's not what they were aiming for. Either way it's definitely the first of its kind, a splatter TV Series that gives its splatter top billing (Spartacus prioritized the story and characters). A must-see for fans. I just wish it had more to offer.



Dirk Gently  
Based on the single season.

As long as you approach this knowing that this is based on Douglas Adams characters and ideas and not actually on his stories, you should have some fun. You see, the makers of this show wisely decided that they cannot reproduce the zaniness of the books for a massive cult of nit-picking fans, especially on their limited budget, so they opted to be merely inspired by Adams and create a show that is mostly harmless. Unfortunately, this wisdom and inspiration did not produce something quite as funny, witty and absurd as Adams. Dirk Gently is a holistic detective that believes in the interconnectedness of all things, solving his cases via pure improvisation, open-mindedness, laid-back acceptance of all events, actively pursuing random occurrences, and finding the thread that connects the most random details. With Adams, this often included aliens and impossible absurdities. On this show, there is robots and time-travel. Dirk refuses to pay his secretary and cleaner, and bills his clients for seemingly unconnected things like buying a new fridge. Dirk's personality flaws are usually offset by his brilliance and sheer luck. The format is one network of cases per episode, the casting and acting are good, the writing is above-average, and overall, the show is quite entertaining but not compelling, and was cancelled after only four episodes.



Journeyman  
Based on the single season.

Although this isn't tagged as such, this is a much improved re-imagining of Quantum Leap. A man finds himself travelling back in time to seemingly key events in other people's lives, and he instinctually tries to help, only to find that the required outcome is not always what he thought it was. The fact that he helps people as himself (and not as other people as with Quantum Leap) is a much better approach, and the character development and slow unraveling of the mystery of his abilities, all make this show very watchable. The mechanics of time-travel, although fun, seem too simple at first, but develop with every episode, as he finds out the consequences of 'going off mission', of mistakes that can drastically affect his own life, and also discovers other people like him that travel. Like Quantum Leap, his trips end abruptly as soon as he completes his mission and seem limited to the past 40 years and in the USA, but this series has good fun with this. His friends and family slowly get pulled into his world one by one with the expected reactions and drama, there's a professor who seems to know more than he lets on, and the overall mystery teases with obvious hints of a directing force behind it all. The power is always beyond his control, making him disappear at the most inappropriate moments, but at the same time his ability seems to be his own supernatural constituent. Entertaining and interesting, with good acting and personality, but cancelled just when it really started getting good. In other words, the biggest flaw here is that it is unfinished. I don't usually rant against cancellations, but this one is a mystery.



Jekyll  
Based on the single season.

A re-imagining of Jekyll and Hyde set in modern times by Moffat of Doctor Who/Coupling fame. At first this appears to be a ballsy masterpiece, combining intelligence, imagination and acting chops not seen since House of Cards. Gentle Dr. Jackman has built a truce with his alter ego who is a brutal, primal, powerful man always after violence and sex. He enlists the help of a psychologist, and finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy involving detectives, a mysterious woman, a powerful government agency, all with complex motives that seem to revolve around his abilities. James Nesbitt delivers a riveting performance in both roles, albeit with some overacting at times, but the bigger flaw is with the show that strikes an awkward balance between a horror thriller that takes itself seriously, and a comical take on evil. It's all very fascinating until the second half, where Moffat takes it to implausible and supernatural places, and develops ambitious but unsatisfying themes of human nature and the dark depths of passion, until it all falls apart. It's still a must-see however.



11.22.63  

Time-travel mini-series based on a Stephen King book and co-produced, among others, by J.J. Abrams. Now, King has had a long, very poor track record of screen adaptations for his supernatural horror, and ironically, despite being the master of written horror, does much better with less supernatural stories for the screen. Abrams, has a long poor track record of being a hack with his TV shows and screenplays. So, altogether, my expectations were low. I was pleasantly surprised to find this an above-average show. That is, most of it is quite watchable and interesting, but is pretty much middling in terms of quality and its story, and then the beautifully bittersweet and thoughtful finale raises the show to above-average. It's about the psychology of what-ifs, and how people let them ruin their lives with regrets, traumas, obsessions and desires to change the past. Most plot descriptions would focus on the fact that this is about a man who goes back in time to stop the Kennedy assassination. But then you would expect this show to be a sci-fi thriller. And it is, partially, but the real heart of the show is in the characters and human psychology. There is a time portal with strict rules that serves as the setup, a malicious supernatural force that gets in the way of altering history (this aspect doesn't work well at all), and a whole lot of trying to make a temporary life in the 60s while trying to figure what really happened with Lee Harvey Oswald towards the goal of stopping the catastrophe three years later. There is romance, spying, and several side-tracking dangers. There is not one, or two, but three psychotic men whose families need saving, and this aspect becomes strangely repetitious. And there is the aforementioned thoughtful and sad, bittersweet ending. There is a much stronger 3-4 hour mini-series in here instead of 8 hours, if they only trimmed off the weaker stuff and side-stories that don't work as well.



Tick, The (2017)  
Based on the first season.

Although this features much of the same team that brought us the 2001 incarnation of The Tick with Patrick Warburton, and it even includes Warburton as a producer, it is quite a different creation. The primary difference is that it doesn't feature Warburton in the role of The Tick, and he was the one critical ingredient that made the earlier attempt great fun. Whereas Warburton inhabited this role completely with a pitch-perfect combination of dumb, grandiose, childishly naive and supreme confidence with speech that is somehow both eloquent and clumsy, and he sold every line as if he truly believed every word, Peter Serafinowicz here merely puts up a front and performs his lines. He does not sell it with anything close to Warburton's definitive delivery. And the writers don't equip him this time with hilariously colorful dialog and speeches as in the 2001 version either, and this is another minus. Another huge difference is that this show is a huge upgrade that takes the whole superhero thing more seriously with ongoing plot arcs and complex fights against super-villains, except it tries to make it funny as well. In other words, the 2001 version was a super-hero spoof with sitcom-esque characters and a drop-dead hilarious Patrick Warburton, whereas this one is a superhero comedy with lots of action, more fleshed out characters, some darkness and non PG violence, lots of special effects and ongoing plot arcs. Or, another way to put it is that this seems to be influenced by the Marvel Studios comedies that have been coming out lately. I enjoyed this one as amusing entertainment, but laughed my head off with the 2001 version.



Gifted, The (Marvel)  
Based on both seasons.

Based on the X-Men universe with the involvement of Bryan Singer, this Marvel show successfully reproduces the approach and tone of the movies although on a much smaller scale. To explain the lack of the actual X-Men from the movies however, they had to write them away in a strange disappearing act, to be replaced by another group of X-Men. This comes complete with the fear and hatred by the human race against the mutants, various factions in the Mutant resistance and underground that try to survive or fight it out with competing ideologies often ending up fighting amongst themselves, as well as the X-Men used as a metaphor for whatever oppressed race or minority one prefers, as humans discover they are mutants and have to deal with inter-personal drama as well as dangers emerging from the angry humans, their own powers, and the responsibilities that comes with them. In this show there's a special government force that often throws out the rulebook in attempts to take down the dangerous mutants, a mutant underground just trying to survive, and others that put up more of an aggressive and merciless fight. A handful of more powerful mutants generally lead the fight or handle the defenses, while others become refugees in their own country. At the core of this series is a family of ex-law enforcement father, fighting mother, and mutant siblings with extra powerful powers that threaten to take over their lives and which everyone wants to control.

This show features generally quite solid writing and characters making it an entertaining super-hero show with plenty of both action and drama. For fans of the X-Men universe, this should do the job nicely on a smaller scale and it also includes appeal for the teenage crowd with younger X-Men at the center. The primary issue with this show is the lack of inspiration and originality. I.e. it is an entertaining watch, but doesn't bring anything new to the table beyond the X-Men movie franchise. Another flaw that is almost inevitable with this kind of subject matter is that, what with all the dozens of X-Men with various super-powers, there are often obvious solutions to problems and crises that could have used one of the many super-powers, except the writers suddenly have to make it all-too-easy to subdue or blatantly ignore these powers in order to develop the crisis forward in the way that they need. For example, if the plot demands that a mutant get captured by the police, suddenly they are subdued with a collar even though they could have broken out beforehand by using or combining their powers in obvious ways. Or, for example, an evil mutant could be killed with a flick of the wrist of Polaris who can fling knives and metal objects before anyone could react fast enough, and yet she fears her for some unknown reason. This happens even more often in the second season and it seems that the mutants only realize how they obviously powerful they truly are in the season finales. Plus, many of these mutants in the underground spend way too much time hand-wringing and fleeing, with almost no planning. All that said, this is still an entertaining watch, with a colorful array of characters, super-heroes, action and conflicts. It's just missing any kind of ingredient that would make it stand out.



Returned, The  
Based on the first two seasons.

Although this French series deals with the dead returning to life, it is not a zombie series but a 'resurrection' series, as well as a supernatural drama, which is as far removed from Walking Dead as possible (a good thing). It is actually closer to Twin Peaks, except it makes use of the mysteriously supernatural rather than the bizarre and surreal. Some of the dead are returning after many years of being dead, with no memories of their death or of being dead, looking and behaving exactly the same as right before they died. The effect on their loved ones is devastating, leading many to extreme reactions. But some have been gone decades and the world has moved on. This takes places in a beautiful small town in the French alps, where a dam had previously collapsed and caused a catastrophe. There are many secrets and memories in this town, some involving past loves, some involving a serial killer. The first season is superbly atmospheric and grippingly mysterious as several dead characters and their past are introduced, and the town slowly grows to learn about the dead amongst them. There is also a strange kid who seems to know a lot more than he lets on, and who may or may not be causing things to happen as the town literally shuts itself down and closes everyone off, all leading to a chilling climax. Nothing is resolved however, and small suspicions start creeping in while watching this season that the writers may not have a plan. Unfortunately, the second series turns these suspicions into certainties and even loses its gripping atmosphere and mystery with a whole lot of random boring developments without a point, leading to an even more pointless ending. It becomes obvious that this is a town where things 'just happen'. Mysterious wounds come and go, forgotten, characters switch motivations and sides every week, a serial killer suddenly stops being a serial killer, big secrets are revealed then forgotten, rules about the increasing undead are made then broken, and the episodes just churn out the drama amidst its many characters that started so well in three dimensions, now all at the mercy of a writer that has lost the reins completely. Although it is not as bad as Lost was with its blatant manipulations and commercial goals, this employs a similar approach of adding supernatural events for their own sake without any hope or plan of resolving them, and eventually causing many contradictions. Such a waste for such a strong first season. Although, the first season could still appeal to an audience that enjoys mystery, supernatural developments and atmosphere on their own terms.



Sleepy Hollow  
Based on the first two seasons.

Obviously, there is no way the short story of Sleepy Hollow could be stretched into a TV series, and thankfully this show doesn't even try. Even the tone and theme of the story have been discarded, and the only thing this show has in common with the story is the names of some characters and a Headless Horseman. Once you put that aside and watch this show on its own terms, however, the show is surprisingly good in its first season. After a fatal encounter with a supernaturally powerful horseman in war, a soldier of the American Revolution, Ichabod Crane, finds himself magically transported to modern times, along with the Headless Horseman. Culture shock and outrage at some of the ways America has evolved since the revolutionary ideals of his time is only the beginning of his troubles. Along with the horseman, supernatural evil forces are plotting nothing less than an apocalypse. He teams up with a skeptical black police lieutenant in the city of Sleepy Hollow to fight the violent forces of evil, and together they become the prophesized Witnesses to the apocalypse. Demons and witches plot and awaken more and more evil forces and spells towards their plans for ending humanity, and the Witnesses soon have their hands full. History and historical details are re-interpreted to align with this show's mythology, with everything having an occult meaning Da Vinci Code style.

The good: Tom Mison as Ichabod is one of the best things in this show, is convincing and intelligent in his role, and the writers give him a superb old-school dialogue and wit to work with. His reactions to modern quirks of life and historical developments, and his banter with Abbie about his adjustment to the modern world, are all priceless and witty, and adds much needed humor and a great element of satire to this show. John Noble as the complex character of Henry Parrish is even more superb in his acting chops and strong character. The partnership between a soldier from 250 years ago and an emancipated black woman of the law, is unusual and often interesting, and their banter is fun. The approach to horror is also quite creative, going beyond the usual vampires and zombies of most shows, dealing with unusual demons, witchcraft and magic, and the many encounters can get quite tense and thrilling.

The not-so-good: His witch wife Katrina is poorly cast, made-up and acted, never convincing of her character and of her 250-year-old culture. Casting is politically-correct, giving most of the fighting action to women, and the race casting quota is often felt as artificial. But the real problems are in the structure of the show and the writing approach to the story arcs: For one thing, this has got to be the most ineffectual apocalypse I've ever seen. Demons have to conjure up a convoluted multi-step magical procedure to get around dozens of limitations in order to start to get close to their grand plans, and at each step of the way, these two humans always easily manage to find a counter-spell or magical object with a quick look at some books and notes. Magical powers seem to come and go at the writers' whims, and one often wonders why the demons don't get on with it. Furthermore, the show is so episodic, that the demons plans not only change in every episode, they seem to move on and forget previous plans, such as the horseman doing everything he can to find his decapitated head in order to further the apocalypse. Every episode sees a new evil, a new plan or step of the plan, a new secret that personally involves Ichabod, Abbie or Katrina and their families, and a new form of counter-magic. This extremely episodic approach almost makes the show into a limited horror anthology, were it not for the recurring characters and character development, and it feels more emphasized than with shows like Buffy and X-Files. It also becomes formulaic, especially in season 2. The stretching out of the apocalypse often takes a turn to the ridiculously banal, as the horsemen of the apocalypse turn out to be humans involved in things like a love triangles or family resentments, that cannot escape their conflicting human interests in order to focus on the end of days. The episodic approach also causes some plot holes: Sudden twists such as the one in the final episode of the first season, although powerful and interesting, contradict previous developments as well as involve extreme about-turns in terms of character (a good ally turns out to be working for the demon, except previous episodes had the same demon send many emissaries that almost killed or thwarted this traitor, which doesn't make sense). Similarly, the ending of the second season features another about-turn of character that never rings true.

The first season is strong, interesting and entertaining, but unfortunately, the producers stupidly made the ending into a cliff-hanger thus making the first season inseparable from the weaker second. The second season often becomes formulaic and is thus weaker, but it is still pretty entertaining, although the ending is not believable. In short, a watchable show with several good aspects, but a mixed bag, and the quality of the writing is all-too-often sacrificed for commercial goals.



Gotham (DC)  
Based on the first two and a half seasons.

Batman without Batman, or, the Batman origins as a series. But, unlike Smallville where Superman already had his powers, here he is a just a rich kid who is newly traumatized by his parents' death and is only beginning his psychological journey towards superheroics with the help of his tough and loyal butler. In addition to Batman himself, almost all of the many colorful super-villains from the Batman universe appear here in various early phases, some already well on their way to madness and psychotic behaviour, others just young men and women with tendencies. And finally, there's the story of Jim Gordon, the police commissioner and Batman's friend, who is only an honest rookie here, battling police corruption and a city gone mad with crime. The show starts very strong and remains superb for most of the first season, with great casting choices, strong personality and color, and with superbly balanced writing that finds a middle ground between reality-based thrills, character development, a touch of humor from the over-the-top criminals, and action, as well as the portrayal of a city going mad with a freaky amount of psychotic criminals that constantly take their violent behaviour to new levels. While Jim Gordon has his hands more than full, and the first vigilantes start emerging in reaction to the crime, Bruce Wayne slowly toughens up his personality and mind to find new ways to deal with the city that killed his parents, while trying to uncover the corruption in his company that led to the murder. But it is Oswald 'Penguin' Cobblepot who steals the first season with his very complex and devious personality who worms his way through the many crime bosses and rises fast in the ranks. Although the first season has a large amount of criminal-of-the-week filler episodes (seeing as it contains an old-school count of two-dozen episodes), even those are interesting thanks to the rich world of Gotham and its personalities. However, despite all these praises, the first season is a still only a warm-up prequel, promising even better things to come with great potential that could be expanded and delivered in subsequent seasons.

Unfortunately, the terribly disappointing second season not only squanders this potential, it wrecks it. Instead of focusing on the development of the characters and the city they established in the first season with its grounding in reality, the show switches to entertainment-sugar, constantly upping the levels with more and more freaks and villains, and taking some of the characters through a roller-coaster of insane and silly twists. Batman is still too young, but somehow most of the super-villains have already emerged and taken over early, and the show shoehorns more of them in using increasingly ridiculous plot-devices like super-villain copycats and undead zombie-criminals that keep coming back. And none of them are developed properly as three-dimensional people as in the first season, and how could they be developed seeing as the show keeps throwing in more and more plot twists and villains every two episodes. It's now all about how freaky they can behave rather than how they emerge from normal human beings as Penguin did, like the Joker-clone who gets the faces right but not the personality, or like the anything-goes, unconvincingly psychotic Barbara. Penguin suddenly looks incredibly sane compared to the new guys, and is pushed to the background, or given contrived radical personality changes. Barbara is the worst offender, changing sides and fake personalities half a dozen times. Even Bruce's development barely gets screen time, and important plot-points like the corruption in the city, the police department, and in Wayne Enterprises are completely forgotten, giving way to this new show which seems to be only about the freak-show and the crime. It suddenly becomes like the mirror-image of X-Men, with more and more super-villains with various super-powers running unchecked, and this quickly stops being interesting since it is not balanced by the other, serious side. The city of real corruption and violence from the first season has now become a cartoon with cult-conspiracies and zombies, and where anyone can become psychotic for no good reason. It's somewhat entertaining, but what a waste.

I didn't see how they could recover from this ruin in the third season but watched some anyways. They toned down the supernatural freak-show at first and brought back more of the serious character development, which is good. But I was right: The misguided freak-show is still there, and some silly characters like Barbara are unrecoverable, making this show weave constantly between watchable dark superhero drama and b-movie cheese. The Jim Gordon character arc is pretty good at first although they eventually make implausible mistakes with him as well just to feed the drama, along with some other characters, Bruce Wayne doesn't progress much, and once again, the superb characterization of Cobblepot and Nygma at first steal the show, but then they pull a PC twist that pretty much contaminates even Cobblepot. So what with the constant sloppy handling of characters, the silly focus on the freak-show, the weak superficial Joker, and the annoying unfulfilled potential of season one, I've had enough.



ReGenesis  
Based on the first season.

A fascinating show about microbiology and biochemistry that blends hard sci-fi, jargon-heavy forensic detective work with a base in reality, and personality drama similar to House. David Sandstrom is a brilliant scientist working for NORBAC, a joint multi-national organization used by governments to investigate possible acts of bio-terrorism or any difficult large-scale cases involving biochemistry and genetics. His personality is challenging, but nothing as difficult as Dr. House, and his team includes several other specialists, a biochemist with Asperger syndrome, and a boss with ties to the CIA and the world of politics. They investigate deadly outbreaks with dedicated precision to track down its source and possible links to terrorists, chemical attacks on wiring, the Gulf War syndrome, as well as getting involved in personal cases involving individuals that could use some experimental medical help. The structure is multi-episodic, with crises and multiple plot-lines continuing or developing over several episodes. The jargon sounds mostly plausible to someone like me without a proper background, and the logic and detective work is good enough to suspend disbelief despite some implausible, convoluted or overly convenient turns. The acting is good, and the writing blends jargon-heavy sci-fi, tense thrills, and human drama elements quite well, exploring various effects of science and nature gone bad. Strangely, the many overlapping plot-lines sometimes tend to wander off to be replaced with new ones without proper closure, with only some of them re-appearing at the end of the season as if they were put on hold until then. In short, a very interesting and watchable show with good writing despite some flaws, and although it lacks something extraordinary that would make it rewatchable, it is very solidly recommended.



Legion (Marvel)  
Based on the first two seasons and parts of the third/last.

An utterly unique piece of work and one would never expect this from a Marvel super-hero TV series. It's a combination of reality-altering super-powers, the exploration of minds and characters via surrealism and fantasy realities, plots involving super-heroes versus super-villains that take place in multiple levels and realities, surrealism, psychedelia, sci-fi, and the just plain artsy and strange. The first few episodes blow your mind with their inspired brilliance, introducing an unusual super-hero whose borders between schizophrenia, multiple personalities and his super-powers are never quite clear (and never become clear either). There are also no borders between the realities in his mind and the world he lives in, as things and events often bleed from one to the other. There is the exploration of memories, personalities, alternate possibilities and realities, and there is evil and wanton destruction and death that take place inevitably concomitant with such powerful powers. If all of this sounds overwhelming and confusing then that is because the show is like that, and it will take several episodes to get your bearings, or at least until you understand the language of this series. Each episode takes risks and explores whatever tickles its fancy via unlimited realities. All of this, however, is both the strength and the fatal flaw of the show, and it is a delicate balance that works partially for the first season, but which falls apart for the second and third.

The first season still allows for some grounding in a proper reality, and a separation does emerge eventually between the imagination or the powers that manipulate memories and reality, and an actual reality. There is also a plot and a story underneath all the visuals and psychedelia that progresses as it should, giving the audience something to get involved in and sink their teeth into. My biggest problem with this season however, is that I don't like super-heroes with unlimited and undefined powers, and this one seems to reveal a new super-super-powers every other episode. Since the writers can simply have the character pull out a new power whenever the plot requires it, there is no sense of danger, tension or grounding in reality. As the title suggests, the original super-hero is a chaotic legion of absorbed personalities, each with its own super-power, but in this show this is made worse by muddling it all together and having anything happen at any time. And this only gets much worse in subsequent seasons. The other characters in the show also have metaphysically strange powers such as merging into a single body, exploring memories and minds, or controlling time, but even these are drowned in the overall reality-defying psychedelic nature of the show.

The second and third seasons go all out without limitations, and that's why the show fails. It's not just alternate realities in the mind that defy physics or that discard a logical flow of events, but also the actual reality itself that is no longer real. Reality is constantly injected with strange things without rhyme or reason such as androids with moustaches and random cows, the powers of the super-hero and super-villain are vastly inconsistent and whether one is getting the upper hand over the other seems completely random according to the whims of the writers. There are no more proper consequences, since anything and everything can happen. Episode after episode take place within minds, trying to explore the characters through virtual realities and surrealism, but the insights mostly turn out to be empty pop-psychology or artsy pretentiousness that don't really add anything concrete to the show, and the characters never feel human or real. And so, despite all of the mind-boggling visuals and sets and special effects as well as the wild imagination, one is left completely empty with nothing to chew on or to get involved in. The audience feels completely left out and in the hands of an ultimately self-indulgent writer that can write anything and everything at any moment. And so, the show is both a wonder to behold, and a completely empty piece of art.



Forever  
Based on the single season.

A twist on the immortal man. This one can actually die, except he wakes up in nearby water every time he dies. Naturally, after 200 years, he is a tad obsessed with death. He is also stalked by another immortal man who is even older and definitely more psychotic. The immortals here, however, and unlike the ones in Highlander, don't live life fighting duels and chasing death, but improve themselves and gain knowledge as well as experience, making this a more cerebral affair than Highlander. Unfortunately, the creators of this show only use this setup to create yet another murder-mystery-solving show. Fortunately, it is still interesting. His vast experience, medical knowledge and obsession with death have made him into a Sherlock Holmes of murder, and he naturally teams up with a detective to help solve crimes using minute clues and surprising arcane knowledge gained from over 200 years of being a doctor. The show is mostly a mystery-of-the-week, always with clues that allows him to show off, except that too-often, he finds a link to his past in most of the cases, allowing the show to inject 200 years of back-stories and character development, and sometimes the immortal psychotic stalker interferes, increasing the threat-level. There's also an ongoing mystery with the love of his life that disappeared, drawing comparisons to Monk. In short, definitely an above-average episodic murder-mystery show that gets quite interesting often, but they could have done more interesting and original things with this. Comparable to New Amsterdam.



Invasion  
Based on the single season.

Yet another sci-fi series that got cancelled after a single season dealing with an alien invasion of Earth. This one came out roughly at the same time as Surface and Threshold, but after Odyssey 5, and it rates a close second after Surface. It boasts continuous story-lines, like one long movie, and it has a more plausible and serious-minded approach than Surface, which would rate this one higher, except that it has slightly more writing flaws, and leaves much more information hanging after the cancellation. This one presents an alien invasion as a riff on the Body Snatchers theme. A hurricane brings with it strange lights landing in the water, and people entering the water don't come out the same as before. As the town slowly recovers from the hurricane, it finds that some of its citizens aren't behaving quite the same. The focus is on an extended family of sheriff, his wife, her ranger ex-husband, and various shared children and siblings, including a conspiracy-and-alien-freak brother. There's family tension and complicated pasts, groups of humans and not-quite-humans form alliances as various people collect tidbits of information and slowly gather together, with an always secret and suspicious government hovering behind it all. It's mostly an interesting ride throughout 22 episodes with good acting, the writers drop the ball occasionally (such as with the inconsistent character of the sheriff, the poorly handled biological differences that nobody seems to be noticing or studying, and the badly written religious character of Lewis), and the feeling that they may seem to be making things up as they go, as well as stretching out the stories just a bit too much. The final climactic episodes close the family drama arcs and some season-long buildups and secrets, but all the mysteries of the aliens still remain largely unknown, and there's a cliff-hanger.



Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog  

Three 15-minute musical webisodes by Joss Whedon released on DVD that features the same magic as in Buffy. Dr. Horrible is an aspiring cheesy villain and mad scientist, fighting his nemesis Captain Hammer whenever he tries to implement one of his evil plans. He also pines for a girl he met in the laundromat. When Captain Hammer steals her from him, the gloves are off. Most of the running time consists of a funny video-diary-blog as Dr. Horrible comments on his evil plans and thoughts, and many pretty good musical numbers. Whedon still hasn't lost his touch, mixing silliness with pathos, sharp dialogue and comedy. I'm not a fan of musicals, but if you are, consider this a must-see.



Walking Dead, The  
Based on the first three seasons.

I'm surprised it took this long to make a TV series about a zombie apocalypse. When this one finally arrived, created by the talented Darabont, it was no surprise that it became even more super-popular than Battlestar Galactica. But, for me at least, the show is a very mixed bag. As expected, this is about a group of survivors after the world is overrun by zombies. The story arcs are continuous, with some episodes even continuing a second after the previous one. As with BSG, the writing embraces dark themes, anyone can die at any time, and people break down and commit horrible acts of immorality, and are constantly faced with difficult choices. I don't believe I am saying this but, the writers focus so much on character development, that it becomes melodramatic at times from sheer character strain and the piling up of traumas. At first glance, this show seems ultra-realistic. The lawlessness of the apocalypse brings out all sorts of character flaws and insanity, the women, at least until the third season, don't magically turn into kick-ass action heroines. Survivors are faced with their own relatives trying to eat them, as well as desperate survivors and rival gangs, insanity, people that exploit the situation in many ways, and even things like wife-beaters and redneck racists now going unchecked. Zombies may be dumb but turn deadly in herds, and humans develop rules for survival, mostly running from one crisis to another. The gore is strong and superbly done, and the writers go nuts coming up with many different ways to show death, and various inventive uses for the walking dead. This is horror in many shapes and forms.

But then come the flaws: One of the biggest distracting problems is not that many of the characters become unlikeable or make some poor judgement calls, but that most of them are so unbelievably stupid. The most glaring example is how, for two whole seasons, nobody ever thinks of setting up a perimeter or choosing a location with a natural perimeter like islands, prisons, asylums, military installations, or even shopping malls (Dawn of the Dead), etc. In the first season they live in the woods where zombies can surprise them at any second, and for the second season, they fixate on a farm with an unwelcoming host for some unknown reason, when obviously the farm offers no security (and nobody bothers setting up any), and they could have simply gone to the next unoccupied farm. Puzzlingly, they never seem to perform any farm work, which again raises the question of why they fixated on the farm. Also, one would think that with farm work and zombie survival, they wouldn't find time to sleep, but they somehow make time for love triangles, flings and personal dramas all day long. Add to this the incomprehensible selection of impractical road-only vehicles that keep tripping them up even though they have their pick of millions of abandoned vehicles. And then there are the plot holes, inconsistent rules and sloppy writing. For example, they make a big fuss over not shooting guns since the noise attracts herds of zombies, but they have no problem riding a noisy Harley or the fact that car engines attract plenty of attention in a quiet post-apocalyptic world. Dead-mans guts are used to pull a trick that actually works in the second episode, and then this trick is promptly forgotten for the rest of the show even though it could have saved them many times. And so on. Characters sometimes make extreme decisions only for melodramatic effect, and, in the third season, they all just keep fighting each other for no good reason other than that they are angry, insane, or seemingly have nothing better to do. Much drama is made over kids, but they allow the kid Carl to be put through unbelievable traumas and dangerous situations, and practically ignore him while he turns psycho. By the third season, even a dozen zombies are dispatched as easily as a sneeze, and that's all they do: fight other live humans. The characters start losing their semblance to reality, and a comic-book kick-ass chick with a samurai sword and two zombie mules is added to the show (which may have been inevitable seeing as the show is based on a comic book). Enough said. This rapid decrease in quality is perhaps due to the replacement of Darabont, many writers and others during the second season, except that even the first season is not without some flaws described above.

Like I said: a mixed bag, and there is plenty to enjoy, but it requires switching off your brain. When compared to zombie classics, this has no satire, no compelling and surprising story lines or intelligent characters, and it doesn't offer much that is new, even copying the beginning of the outbreak from other movies. The writing is not bad but lacks discipline. When will TV execs realize that, for story arcs and ongoing TV series, they need to hire a single quality overseer writer with proper quality control? I suppose this will only happen when general audiences become more demanding and stop switching off their brains.



Survivors  
Based on the first season.

British show on the aftermath of a plague that wipes out 4999 out of every 5000 people on the whole planet. Survivors have to deal with issues such as practical farming, tool-making, food, diseases etc., as well as law and order, petty wars, new governments, communes, federations and rules, attitudes towards marriage and living together. The Armageddon premise is strong enough for a TV show as it is, but the writing explores the above big issues and constantly asks difficult and interesting questions such as what you would do in such a scenario when it's only up to you to deal with looters or a murderer and there are no prisons. Or what kind of commune and method of management would work best. The typical BBC low-budget doesn't make the show suffer, as it revolves around people, drama and the writing, not special effects. The biggest flaw however, is the lack of three-dimensions, charm and likability in most of the protagonists. With the exception of a few supporting actors, they never really come alive for some reason, albeit they are acted very well. Also, the slow first half of the season takes its time, with our random group of survivors wandering between various groups of people while looking for Abby's son, each trying to survive in a different and often extreme way, and the writing and messages tend to become heavy-handed. But the second half is superb once they settle down, and many of the characters and tensions build up, climax or receive closure. This also includes the very intense, well-written and compelling episode on 'Law and Order'. Terry Nation of Doctor Who fame wrote for the first season and then left, which brought about a deterioration according to fans.



Quatermass  

A one-time mini-series 1979 revival of the venerable Quatermass character from the 50s. This scattered sci-fi, mystery & adventure series may have inspired many sci-fi series such as Doctor Who and X-Files that feature a brainy go-to scientist as the hero and science, alien or sci-fi-based mysteries. This British mini-series features similar production values to Survivors as well as a dystopian country-side full of strange cults and gangs. Quatermass re-appears in a broken-down society searching for his grand-daughter, encountering strangely behaving youth, many breaking out in sadistic violence, while a cult gathers momentum believing that they will be taken to another planet and leave this messy one behind. When horrifying and puzzling alien phenomena appear, Quatermass goes to work roaming the country-side trying to survive the chaos while trying to figure out what the aliens want and whether they are connected with the strange upheavals with the world's youth. Somewhat interesting with pretty good sci-fi, but it's never quite clear how Quatermass arrives at his intuitive insights and conclusions.



Ray Bradbury Theater, The  
Based on the first three seasons and some scattered episodes.

One of the better anthology series that reminds me often of my favorite anthology: The 1985 Twilight Zone. But whereas that show featured many different quality authors, this allows a single, classic, talented sci-fi author to lead the show with his many short stories and ideas, and provides him with an endless parade of big-name actors to bring his ideas to life. This is almost as good as it sounds. Like all anthologies, the quality of the stories constantly varies from superb to watchably entertaining to poor. The first season is by far the strongest with consistently good episodes, featuring provocative teases and interesting ideas that Bradbury delivers in a focused, hit-and-run short format that never feels the need to explain everything, only to tickle us with an idea or thought. The first season is very short however, and the second season takes a dip in quality, giving an equal ratio to poor episodes. After that, a lot of the writing seems to settle on poetic and theatrical but too simple or sentimental short stories often involving strange horror or an odd human angle. Altogether very watchable and often entertaining, but I am not a big fan of mixed anthologies and having to wade through many weak episodes.



Odyssey 5  
Based on the single season.

The pilot offers an intriguing setup with intelligent writing: A group of 5 astronauts witness the destruction of planet Earth, are saved by a mysterious alien being, and sent back in time to try to investigate and stop it from happening. The time travel angle is explored thought-provokingly from the human angle: How would you re-live 5 years of your own life? What would happen if you tried to use this knowledge to change events? All too often, the butterfly effect rears its ugly head, events can be sped up, avoided or changed to some kind of variation due to human limitations as well as ingenuity, etc. The acting is good and led by Peter Weller. After these first couple of episodes, each episode explores new possible technologies coupled with alien interference and how it could affect people, resulting in some interesting sci-fi. But this is where my praise ends. The writers seem to have lost the forest for the trees. With every episode it becomes clearer that they are more interested in inventing new sci-fi technology thrills every episode rather than building a plausible mythology. Every episode adds something new to the mix until it goes beyond convoluted to impossible, breaking the setup of the show. Sentients, synthetics, computer sentients, DNA alterations, a wide variety of mind-control techniques, government conspiracies, sentient skin, ghostly apparitions in other dimensions, experiments with rage, etc. etc. it doesn't stop. Unlike X-Files, all of these occurrences are tied into the grand mythology instead of presenting them as stand-alone episodes, so the 'mythology' and aliens never develop a modus operandi because they invent something new every episode. This of course, makes their investigations grind to a halt since they have to deal with something new every episode instead of making progress, all this in addition to dealing with their personal issues now made complicated due to their knowledge of the future and their new mission in life. In other words, this is a show that tries to outdo X-Files and seems to be succeeding for a short while until it collapses under its own weight. Other flaws include the, yet again, laughably unrealistic episodes dealing with computers and machines. Why can't a single movie or TV series simply hire one of the millions of computer experts to correct the scripts? The final flaw, however, is that this is extremely incomplete and leaves you hanging with a cliff-hanger and partial revelations. Before you watch this you have to ask yourself: If the X-Files crew had only made the first one or two seasons and then stopped, would you want to watch it anyways?



Outcasts  
Based on the single season.

Normally, it's the US copying or re-making British shows, but in this case it's the reverse. This was obviously a British attempt at creating a Battlestar Galactica clone complete with dark drama, complex story arcs, a microcosmos of humanity attempting to survive and build a new world, a conflicted leader, traitors, humans vs. altered humans, many characters with emerging secrets, and religious and supernatural undercurrents. The setting is the planet of Carpathia where colonists have been building a new home away from Earth for the past 10 years. But the genetically engineered Advanced Cultivars (ACs) are causing trouble, Earth seems to have gone down the drain, a political rival is using religion for his own agenda, and strange phenomena and evidence of life on the planet keep appearing to complicate matters further. Barring a few details, the writing and acting are both superb, with one major flaw: Every episode introduces new directions and developments, building and building various plot-lines without developing many of them in subsequent episodes or tying them together, until the series ends abruptly eight episodes later just when it finally starts to gather momentum. In short, This had the potential to be better than BSG, but the cancellation means that the jury is out and will stay out forever. Only watch it if you can tolerate incomplete projects, and if you like thoughtful, harder, real sci-fi as opposed to the special-effect and action-driven US shows.



Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, The  

Three-hour BBC mini-series that was released right after the original radio show and the book. The plot concerns the Earthling Arthur Dent who is saved by his odd friend right before the Earth is demolished to make way for a space bypass. The rest of the adventure is a series of absurd situations revolving around the secret behind life on Earth, and the meaning to life, the universe and Everything. But it's really all about Douglas Adams's surreal wit, absurdism and satire. This original series, as opposed to the 2005 wacky movie, preserves some of this wit and satire. But it's not without its major flaws. One big flaw is the budget that seems smaller than Doctor Who, and, considering the insanely fantastical material it is covering, this could be a deal-breaker for many. The most-often mentioned example of this is Zaphod's second head, a painfully obvious dummy that always looks like it's about to fall off. Another is the badly interpreted roles of Trillian and Zaphod. And another is the amount of material that has been left out. But, it is Douglas Adams after all, so there is plenty of fun left over to be had. Just make sure you read the books first which are obviously unfilmable, and the 2005 condensed movie version's biggest sin was that it skipped most of the satire and punchlines and opted for wacky sci-fi instead.



Inside No. 9  
Based on the first two seasons.

From the creative team behind League of Gentlemen and Psychoville comes another show, once again in a completely different format, but boasting their very unique brand of dark humor. It's an anthology this time, and, like most anthologies, the quality and sub-genres covered range widely, except these guys seem to enjoy their whimsical creativity so much, they also cover a wide range of genres. From black and warped humor, to straight supernatural horror with a touch of comedy, serious drama, satirical period pieces, or character dramedies. For the most part, they tone down their juvenile and warped jabs at toilet-humor and gleeful gross-outs from previous outings, but these make an appearance as well on the occasional episode or two. You never know what will come next, and that is part of the fun of this show, but the quality varies. Some stand-out examples: A dialogue-free series of misadventures and surprises by a couple of incompetent robbers as the evening becomes increasingly strange and grotesque, a man with a strange mental breakdown involving a very manipulative homeless person, family games turning into surprise murder, a satire on celebrity worship, a couple of horror shorts involving strange demons or ghosts, a Python-esque highly irreverent stab at populist witch-hunting, etc. Their highest-rated episode, strangely enough, is a drama, except it's a rip-off of the movie Stay. As mentioned, the quality varies but the hit-rate is quite high, and overall, this is definitely an entertaining and above-average show. Almost great.



Warehouse 13  
Based on the first two and a half seasons.

Whereas Torchwood is about a secret agency that deals with aliens, and Sanctuary is about monsters, this show is about objects, both supernatural and scientifically powerful. This show is better however, mainly due to the good casting for a change, and a sense of fun that almost reaches the level of new Doctor Who, except it lacks that show's depth and minimal sense of plausibility. Two secret service agents are recruited by a mysterious agency that manages a huge warehouse full of artifacts, using agents to track down and retrieve more of them every time something unusual blips on their radars. Each artifact has a magical ability, some more dangerous than others, bringing to mind The Lost Room. As with X-Files, Pete is the intuitive one and Myka is the brainy one, and together they make another team of clashing but complementary super-agents. Their banter, personalities and tension are somewhat fun, but Saul Rubinek as Artie is even better as the eccentric, devoted and brilliant warehouse keeper. The addition of a female 'super-genius teenage brat hacker' is the only cliched and dumb mistake. The writing is mostly episodic and just has fun with inventing new artifacts and crises every week, but I wish they had something more to offer, some complexity, character development, depth, humanity or even more story arcs. But the writers seem to be content with merely writing new gadgets or new warehouse quirks every week, and then fill the rest of the episode with family-friendly and silly banter between the agents. This would turn out to be the template for many other shows on the Sci-Fi channel, and it itself is a copy of the Friday the 13th series. Fun, but limited.

Unfortunately, this simplistic level of entertainment continues in season two and it becomes even lighter, fluffier and sillier, with the protagonists acting like immature children every other scene. By the third season I had enough, the mostly episodic writing is too braindead, whimsical and silly to be interesting or even fun anymore. Take the example of a necklace that allegedly was used to make a Golem: The writers think: Golem... clay, why not make humans turn into clay cause that would be scary, and pick a delivery device out of a hat... computers! Except TVs are cooler so make it go through televisions as well. Oh, and while this is happening, what if Marylin Monroe's brush made hair turn blonde? When the show only has this to offer, it's obviously just silly and brainless, and therefore boring.



Librarians, The  
Based on the first season.

A blatant Warehouse 13 clone with only superficial differences, but a fun one. Instead of a huge Warehouse of magical dangerous objects and brainy, action-hero agents that collect them, there is a Library, librarians and guardians. Whereas Warehouse 13 focused mostly on random objects with random powers, this focuses more on classical legends and magic like dragons, mummies, the Minotaur, Camelot, Tesla, haunted houses, etc. At least they didn't do something terrible so far like the Warehouse 13 re-imagining of H.G. Wells as woman. Each member of the team gets a skill that makes them unique, except they remain mostly one-dimensional, and the character-development in this show is minimal. The writing is mostly episodic with some re-occurring characters that keep coming back to cause more trouble. There's lots of comedy, lots of rapid-paced gobbledygook nonsense that they pass off as sci-fi which would only convince kids, silly characters, adventures that are part silly part entertaining fun, anything-goes magic, no heavy dramatic moments, and just enough action. In short, this is purely a family-friendly, fluffy, part silly, part entertaining TV series for young and family audiences.



Flash, The (2014) (DC)  
Based on the first one and a half seasons.

The second super-hero series based on the DC comics stable is a different beast than Arrow. At first it seems to be modelled after Raimi's Spider-Man with its combination of personality, energetic fantasy and action, and a high sense of fun and excitement, rather than the heavy and serious approach of Arrow. Except that, as it progresses, it rapidly becomes more and more like a Sci-Fi Channel show, which means that instead of establishing the universe and then developing the characters and drama, it just keeps throwing more and more super-powers, gadgets, super-villains and sci-fi/fantasy elements into the mix, as if that is the only way to keep audiences watching by giving them bigger doses of sci-fi. So, on the one hand it is more entertaining and fun than Arrow, especially with its much improved casting and sense of fun, but it is still a limited show. Also, it is easy to forget that there was already a comparable attempt at creating a series based on this character in the 90s, so this is a remake/upgrade.

Barry Allen is a forensic scientist working for the police who is converted into The Flash after being struck by a freak lightning bolt. He becomes capable of moving at impossible speeds, doing everything at 700mph or higher, including healing his body. He joins a team of scientists that help him fight crime with their ideas, lab research and gadgets, especially with the ongoing parade of super-villains that emerged from the same freak storm that created him. The show is a mixture of villain-of-the-week, together with story arcs involving even more powerful or devious villains, solving a family murder in Barry's past, complications with their personal lives, time-travel, parallel worlds, and so on. As mentioned, although this is all quite entertaining, and one would expect to have to suspend disbelief and the rules of physics for a show like this, the questions, impossibilities and technical obstacles are extreme and too high in this show. Some examples: His actual speed is inconsistent, at first declared to be around 700mph, then, suddenly, only when the writers feel like it, he can move faster than bullets, or even faster than lightning. And, many things are too instant, given that even at 700mph it means that it takes 5 seconds to run a mile. And then every episode the writers come up with a new impossibility that can be performed using fast speed: Tornados, walking through walls, keeping back tsunamis and other weather phenomena, time-travel, creating lightning, performing surgery with his hand, etc etc. And even if his healing is fast, that doesn't mean his body is invulnerable or super-strong, so surviving the things he does, even something simple as punching someone at top speed, should be impossible. Strangely, the writers seem to have the opposite problem as well, making him take a hit even though he could have obviously dodged it with his speed. And even if he can survive such extreme abuse, the people he carries should have a wide variety of damage, starting with extreme whiplash. And then there's the fuel needed to make use of so much energy. And then there are the scientists that work with him: Every week they come up with a new gadget that either pushes the boundaries of science or breaks them, and they build a working gadget in a single day. That's a super-power in itself, and most of them are in their 20s to boot, yet know everything about everything. And so on and on.

Given this approach of the writers, it's no surprise that the only super-villains that truly challenge them are rival Flash-like villains that can simply go faster than he, so they keep adding more of those into the mix. Personally, I don't find super-heroes with unlimited powers interesting, which is why I never really liked Superman. The right way to do this is to establish the rules and limitations, then write something interesting within this universe. People are much more interesting when they are up against limitations. It also doesn't help that the writing is never really clever or inspired or witty in any way, and the personal drama aspects of this show are pretty cliched. So the only thing this show has to offer is the constant injection of super-powers. Which means it's fun, but only for a while.



Todd and the Book of Pure Evil  
Based on the first season.

Silly comedy, horror, gore & metal TV show that brings to mind Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey. A couple of loser stoners in high-school, a mousy female science fan, and a goth girl team up to track down the Book of Pure Evil. The Book latches onto teenagers with various insecurities, making them read out an evil spell that always backfires into gory mayhem, until the book flies away. The gang try to keep up with the book, as, every episode, another teenager falls prey and makes a wish, while the guidance counselor is given orders by a retirement home run by Satanists to infiltrate the gang and retrieve the Book. Just to give you an idea of the humor in this show, one episode features a super-fat girl wishing her fat away which becomes a 'fat monster' that makes all other girls into blobs, inspiring the wisdom-spouting janitor to preach about the sex benefits of insecure fat women while Todd has to deal with a trauma involving his fat parents having sex. Other episodes feature a monster penis that turns everyone into stone, a zombie goth-band that eats people, a bullied homosexual that turns the whole school gay, and an evil metal guitar straight out of 'Trick or Treat'. Students are exploded, crushed, beheaded, torn apart, etc in a splash of splatter and over-the-top gore, and everyone shrugs it off as another day in Crowley High, while three 'wise' stoner metalheads hang around the school waiting to give Todd advice. Stupid fun if you know what you are getting into and liked Bill & Ted. Don't fall for the comparisons to Buffy; this is silly stuff that doesn't take itself seriously.



Supernatural  
Based on the first five seasons.

A male-oriented horror-themed series with continuous story-arcs about two young hunters that track down and kill all things supernatural which, in this show, are almost always evil. This is a down-to-earth, action-oriented, male counterpart to all the supernatural shows with females as leads, including Buffy, and, during the first one or two seasons, this is taken to such an extreme, and it goes to such pains to avoid emotional touchy-feely moments, that it becomes as ridiculous and extremely testosterone-fuelled as Ghost Whisperer was estrogen-fuelled. But this improves with every episode and with every season over a long story arc that takes five seasons to complete. Character development gradually becomes quite good, and the writing keeps escalating until it's in over its own head. The horror and action is muscular, pretty good for the most part, and sometimes even scary. All icons from horror movies are paid tribute to and sometimes given a small new twist, including vampires, zombies, demons, witches, etc. as well as every obscure horror movie monster you ever heard of. The actors are always aware of the horror movies they seem to find themselves in and drop movie references all the time, making fun of the situations, but the writers still manage to make it thrilling or scary, balancing humor, horror and action. The show becomes more creative with its own structure as seasons unfold, referencing itself, its past and future, its fans, appearing in other 'TV shows' and even the writers make an 'appearance' on the show as a prophet. The show, as with Buffy, starts out very poor in the first season, but gets better and more interesting with every season.

The first season is full of laughable macho posturing with two hunks as leads and a lack of humor, with much more posturing than personality, and fights with the monsters almost always involve guns, fists or other weapons and no plan of action, presumably because it wouldn't be cool to be prudent and thoughtful. Also, every single female on the show is a hot babe, the pedestrian writing almost always feels simplistic, without surprises, wit, realism or depth, all this making the first season feel engineered for teenagers. The second and third seasons show definite improvements in character building, humor, pathos and story arcs involving demons, making it easier to overlook the remaining flaws and start enjoying the show. But it still doesn't feel fresh or inspired in any way, especially with the stand-alone episodes that seem to be rehashing every horror icon, reference or idea from every horror movie systematically instead of coming up with something interesting, and the apocalyptic story arcs seem to be trying to repeat the success of Buffy only with demons. The fourth and fifth seasons go all out in ambitious story arcs involving wars between angels and demons, God's involvement, many dark character-building moments, and a biblical, complex apocalypse. Ironically, this much more original development is simply over the writers' heads and it's the stand-alone episodes that are now much more interesting due to the character development. Although the show retains a good level of watchable entertainment and addictive developments, there are also many flaws:

First there is the casting: Although the men are usually cast for a special face or personality, all of the women are cast purely for model looks, and are not only very forgettable, but also laughably implausible in their roles of ass-kicking hunters or thieves. There is slightly illogical treatment of demons: They seem to forget that they can leave their physical bodies while they are being trapped or tortured. And then there's the demons identifying themselves to us conveniently by flashing their color-coded eye lenses every time they appear, or talking endlessly to explain everything to us instead of killing. The fourth season posits a world where God is very far from omnipotent, angels are sadistic and have doubts about God, demons can win a battle with God and angels, and a fight between angels and demons consists of insults and punches, and somehow, while the apocalypse is going on, these hunters find time to chase ghosts and evil strippers. In other words, it's the apocalypse reduced to the mentality of a macho bar brawl. They search for God like he were a lost person, forgetting the whole omnipresent thing, most angels are constantly behaving like macho, jerk, cruel mafiosos even if they aren't 'fallen' and even when they are following God's orders, even God is turned into an uncaring creature and the show takes any chance it has to preach against the belief in God. What object can capture or kill what supernatural being seems arbitrary, like a computer game, and it's always just a matter of finding the right killing object or simple incantation no matter how powerful the being is and how spiritually empty the hunter is (is it so far-fetched a concept that in order to wield spiritual power you have to develop spiritual power somehow instead of just reading words from a book?). The whole idea of being able to kill angels and demons through, with, or in their physical bodies either temporarily or permanently is very muddled, especially since some of them keep coming back arbitrarily, and even our heroes keep coming back from death over and over so the tension is undermined because, in the end, the writers are gods in this show and they invent new, random rules when it suits them. And then there is the fact that this show takes Christian ideas of Satan and fallen angels to ridiculous extremes to the point where even most Christians wouldn't accept this portrayal. Jewish sources hold that Satan is not rebelling but doing God's work, that angels have very clear vision and never have doubts, etc., so, from this point of view, this show is unbearable. Add to this some implausible character development such as the guy who goes through 30 years of torture in hell only to come out behaving just like he did before with only the occasional whine.

Summary: A lot of good stuff, and very watchable, with down-to-earth horror and characters, and good lead actors, but it lacks anything to make it great, and is constantly undermined by uninspired or unoriginal writing. This is a show I couldn't stop watching for 5 whole seasons, while, at the same time I couldn't stop wishing that it were better.



Constantine (DC)  
Based on the single season.

This is based on a DC comic so, as opposed to other shows of its kind, the approach to the supernatural in this show is a lot of flash, action and style, with some dark themes. The attitude towards fighting demons is macho, and its conversations with angels is the equivalent of meeting your friend at a bar, which makes this a show only for fans of shows like Supernatural. Constantine is a very experienced 'master of the dark arts' with a lot of energy and an attitude to match, and he devotes his life to fighting evil in all its forms, except he has a dark attitude towards life and a dark past involving a spell gone bad. He maintains contact with some friends with supernatural talents of their own that often help him in his battle, but he keeps them at arm's length. Each episode features another threat, demon, ghost, possession, spell or fallen angel with a different modus operandi, and Constantine pulls out another in his endless bag of flashy magic spells to detect, track and fight or contain the evil. This episodic approach is somewhat limiting for the show, as is the constant making up of new supernatural rules. It doesn't build up, barring the threat of a story arc about a big evil to come that never materializes. But its still entertaining and energetic, and its biggest strength is the protagonist who has a strong presence and an interesting character. Towards the last few episodes of its short season, the character development kicks off and starts making the show more interesting, and then it just ends mid-way through a climax. Wasted potential that leaves you wanting.



Ultraviolet  
Based on the single season.

An earlier fantasy/horror series by the superb writer of Apparitions. This is a very understated British vampire series, treating vampires as a fact of life and focusing on interesting scientific developments, complex schemes and conspiracies by the vampire underworld that the protagonists slowly uncover. The heroes are flawed, and often plagued by doubt regarding their merciless agenda to wipe out all vampires, and this is only worsened when their friends and family fall under suspicion as well. A secret organization, with links to the government, that operates above the law, tracks down vampires and investigates any activity or criminal case that shows signs of vampiric activity and behaviour. They discover strange hybrids and vampiric experiments that makes their job harder. The structure is mixed, with episodic cases as well as slowly building background and character arcs, and you have to stick with it through the first two slow episodes and pay attention to the understated drama and dialogue to get into it. Unfortunately, this show ended after only six episodes, and although there are no blatant cliffhangers, all the developed details and grand schemes go to waste.



Battlestar Galactica (2003)              
Based on the mini-series, 2 and a half seasons, and scattered episodes.

Possibly the most hyped sci-fi show so far, with praises mostly going through the roof. The actual product though, is an extremely mixed bag, containing both great and terrible elements. As far as this being a remake/re-imagining of the original, not only is this not a problem, but it is welcome, seeing as I never liked the cheesy original. The setup is that the human race has almost been wiped out by Cylons (robots created by humans), causing a group of refugees and military survivors to leave their 12 colonies and destroyed home-world of Caprica, and flee to the mythical Earth, home of the 13th colony of humans. Their trek through space in search of a new home-world is fraught with many dangers, sudden attacks by the complicated Cylons, wars, and various survival crises. Religious themes mixed with Greek mythology underly many motivations and drives, politicians and the military mostly co-operate, while human flaws add to their many troubles in a temporary home made up of wandering space-ships, reducing the whole of humanity into a condensed, roaming microcosm.

First, the good: The 4 seasons are like Farscape: A continuous story with lots of character development, story arcs and character-driven writing, mixed with epic developments and dark ambitious writing that attempts nothing less than to use the sci-fi setup to explore humanity's many sides. The writing goes to places most shows would balk at, exploring dilemmas and many difficult decisions, often resulting in far from idealistic outcomes. Characters soar, develop, turn to the dark side, and the writers aren't afraid of making them unlikeable. The space battles are superb, the effects are good, and the look-and-feel as well as the sound of the show is unique, also using the by-now trendy shaky camera style.

Unfortunately, the flaws are bad and prevalent enough to thwart any immersion by an audience with half a brain, and they only get worse with every episode. The extremely nonsensical re-imagining of the Cylons alone sinks the show: Their motivations never make sense and are extremely inconsistent. One minute they are wiping out whole cities and killing babies, the next second they are feeling remorse and helping humans find God. One second they are plotting extremely convoluted plans to gain the trust of a single human for no apparent reason, the next they are playing sadistic games for fun, then the show wants us to believe they are cunning master strategists with a plan. They suddenly leave with good intentions, then they come back with bad ones. Maybe the writers confuse inconsistency with mysterious. How does one explain robots that philosophize and act according to idealisms and religion? Why would robots develop human versions and give them emotions, lust, love and religion? They obviously aren't very good at infiltration if they keep missing obvious opportunities and coming back as the same person. Why only make 12? Why make biological ships? Why can't humans detect a Cylon with a simple CT scan if they have a built-in link to Cylon systems (which, for some illogical reason, can't be used for communication), various superpowers, and a spine that glows when they have sex? They spend 10 episodes developing a detection system, in one episode it takes minutes to get a result, then suddenly it takes 11 hours, and then they come up with a nonsensical excuse to make Baltar hide the results, then the detection system is forgotten completely for the rest of the show just so that they can pointlessly maintain the tension of which random human is a Cylon. And if Cylons are so indistinguishable from humans, then why are they treated as machines? The show can't decide whether to make the Cylons human, robots, or supernatural beings with prophetic and mystical powers, so it makes them all three. And the list of contradictions grows with every episode: Some magical healing properties of blood appears once then disappears, Cylons are affected by a disease that humans have developed immunity against, and yet they still can't detect Cylons. As usual, all dealings concerning computers and viruses are idiotic and lack an even basic understanding. And then there is the occasional use of mystical and religious deus-ex-machinas to drive the plot forward, resulting in insultingly lazy writing, and increasingly annoyingly incongruous religious preaching by robots. Etc. It's all absolute nonsense, thought up by writers who have no clue what it takes to make disciplined sci-fi. Every episode raises more inconsistencies and nonsense until I can't take it anymore, with the last one and a half seasons being absolutely terrible religious soap-opera claptrap.

And then there is the casting, some great, some painfully miscast for some affirmative action quota: It's hard to ignore the fact that they recast the testosterone-fuelled, womanizing, cigar-chomping, maverick pilot-hero of the original as a woman. Especially when they didn't even bother re-writing the role for a woman. To make matters worse, they cast an actress who plays it as a semi-annoying, grinning, dumb brat who isn't believable in the role of a skilled, well-trained pilot. She performs well in some dramatic scenes and the writers let her grow into her own in some episodes, but overall, her character, and some others, break the realism thanks to the badly implemented casting stunt. And by the way, 'sir' only applies to males. And then there is Gaius Baltar, a man who is so self-serving, emo-whiny and childish that he lets his whole species get destroyed over and over rather than expose his mistakes. Isn't this taking character flaws too far? In addition, this whole thing about a female Cylon implanted in his head is obviously ripped off from Farscape but never makes any sense here. Her character of bimbo-sadistic-slut and baby-killer preaching about God while manipulating the idiot 'genius' then falling in love is more annoying and inconsistent nonsense. Obviously, the only real purpose is to continuously show a blonde with cleavage.

In summary, a great setup and approach with some great high-level writing, ruined by a complete lack of control and vision in the implementation and sloppy details. They are obviously making it up as they go along, and the writing is constantly being compromised in order to manipulate the audience. It's like a great vision is constantly being undermined by hacks. A very frustrating show.



Lost Room, The  

A sci-fi/fantasy mini-series about 100 scattered objects (scissors, comb, etc) with super-powers, a mysterious room, the cults, groups, power-obsessed and desperate individuals that collect and use these objects for various purposes, and a police-man who gets involved and promptly loses his daughter in the room. The cop tries to find a way to bring his daughter back while chasing down objects and their owners, forming alliances and making enemies while trying to figure out the puzzle of the room. Action mixes with superb comedy, and questionable sci-fi and fantasy.

I don't think I have ever so enjoyed such sloppy writing before. While the show pretends to be rule-based sci-fi, what it really is doing is adding new objects and rules all the time to keep things interesting, coming up with clever ways to exploit these rules while ignoring gaps in logic. For example, the comb freezes time, allowing the owner to move around but not move other objects, but in an early scene he steals money from the register...and what about his clothes? Objects are used to attack people but conveniently only affect the intended target, characters are aggressive one minute and meek as a mouse the next, the hero is chased and shot at and then is let go, the puzzle promises to be scientifically and logically based but the plot suddenly veers into clashing mystical/fantasy areas, etc. Even the powers of the objects seem random and silly, like a child's fantasy. The show rapidly deteriorates in record time, the puzzle becoming so convoluted that the horrendous ending could only disappoint. And yet it's still great fun to watch.



Twilight Zone, The  
Based on the first one and a half seasons and several scattered episodes.

Landmark series that still holds up today in many ways, despite some slightly dated or cheesy touches. Rod Serling is the creative man behind this episodic anthology of short stories that stick to a similar structure but vary widely in content and quality. The structure usually sets up a bizarre or fantastical mystery, develops a few characters, then ends with an ironic twist that is often thought-provoking. Horror, sci-fi, fantasy, strange phenomena, the supernatural, psychological twists and even occasional stabs at humor are all used to explore one idea after another. Serling hands out quick morality tales, social commentary, ironic twists, elements of horror and snippets of psychological insights that are usually not very deep or sophisticated, but maintain a certain level of interest in addition to the entertainment factor of the surprises and yarns. This is ideal for fans of clever little short stories, like a fantasy/horror version of an O'Henry anthology. Another plus is the fact that Serling concentrated on getting an endless stream of quality actors and directors as opposed to spending the money on special effects. The resulting episodes however, vary between silly, predictable and simple, to moderately entertaining, to intensely fascinating. All seasons are similar this way except the fourth, which featured double-length episodes that often feature stretched content instead of more content. In short, a classic pioneer and still quite watchable, but even Serling considered some aspects of it dated.



Hammer House Of Horror  
Based on the single season.

Not being the biggest fan of neither Hammer movies nor of anthology series, this is probably not for me to review. But, surprisingly, Hammer seems to have done much better here under the limitations of TV thanks to the half-length format and lower budget. The show focuses more on the stories, ideas and actors rather than on Hammer studios padding out a full length movie with over-the-top gothic horror showboating, blood, gore and camp. That said, the 13 episodes here range from quite weak to wonderfully entertaining or creepy, with two excellent stand-out episodes (Silent Scream and Two Faces of Evil). The acting is usually solid however, with the typical British penchant for down-to-earth realism combined with colorful character. The ideas covered include dominating witches from the past, black humor in the form of recurring nightmares within nightmares, ex-Nazi prison experiments, haunted houses with a twist, evil children, creepy doppelgängers, unusual werewolves, and more.



Alice  

Another Sci-Fi Channel mini-series (or SyFy as they stupidly want to be called now) that, like Tin Man, re-imagines classic fantasy into a strange sci-fi world inside of our own. Alice chases a man with two white ponytails who kidnapped her boyfriend, falls into a mirror and finds herself in Wonderland, where cities reach endlessly into the sky with several ground levels that always fall into an abyss, and where citizens kidnap people from our world to distill their emotions into liquids, ruled by a despotic queen who finds her rule troubled by a rebellion. The casting is much better than with Tin Man, featuring a dynamic and sexy Alice, the world is entertaining, imaginative and colorful, and yet for some reason, it all feels so haphazard and pointless without ever being involving. Perhaps it's a combination of flaws: Alice could have used more, well, wonder when she finds herself in Wonderland, the Mad Hatter needed to be more mad, the love interests were questionably shoehorned in and lack chemistry in any case, and the series has all these ideas and imagination that never go anywhere. Absolutely nothing happens with the emotion angle, the rebellion doesn't rebel, the hypnotic-psychological torture scene feels out of place, characters come and go, Frewer as the White Knight is so comically funny that he seems to be in a different movie, and the ending just loses all control of consistency for a forced happy ending. In short, this mini-series is very entertaining but empty, and desperately needed more of Lewis Carroll's intellectual nonsense rather than a nonsensical script. Tim Burton re-imagined it better.



Lone Gunmen, The  
Based on the single season.

Uneven X-Files spin-off based on the three colorful, funny, geeky, idealistic, paranoid, investigative reporters from that show. This could have worked based simply on the great characters of the trio and the types of news stories they usually are interested in, but unfortunately, someone made the decision to add two characters that undermine the show: A very inconsistently written, cartoonishly naive idiot who loves the Gunmen and who was probably hired either for looks or unneeded silly comedy, and a dull ass-kicking all-knowing female straight from Dark Angel who turns the Gunmen into fools in every episode for no good reason besides drawing in the fanboys. Other than that, the stories are very varied, entertaining and often interesting, from intelligent chimpanzees, to spy-games, government cover-ups, or corrupt Senators. There are no supernatural phenomena or aliens, and the show takes things lightly as opposed to the X-Files. The highlight is definitely the pilot that features a plot to crash a plane into the World Trade Center, 6 months before 9/11!



Addams Family, The  
Based on both seasons.

Remarkably timeless and fun classic. The Addams Family is a very strange family that finds fun and health in anything macabre, odd and gloomy. This light and not particularly sharp comedy gets its laughs from mainly two things: Silly horror spoof and physical comedy, and satirizing society and family by turning standard values and aesthetics inside out. Gomez and Morticia are the energetic and cheerful heads of the family consisting of a witchy grandmother, a gloomy 7-foot Frankenstein-like butler that plays the harpsichord, a ghoulish Uncle Fester that runs on electricity, two kids brought up to play with dynamite and dangerous pets, the disembodied and very handy hand Thing that keeps popping up out of nowhere, and the walking wig Cousin Itt. Visitors usually run away in horror, neighbours, schools and business associates always appalled and surprised by the unpredictable family, the Addamses always oblivious to the effect they have on other people.

Although fun, the problem with this show is the sheer amount of episodes per season and the repetition. The exact same gags and jokes are repeated over and over, like Thing delivering mail or Fester lighting light-bulbs in his mouth, with canned laughter laughing at every repetition. Plot-lines repeat themselves often as well. A fun show to watch intermittently as individual episodes, but they should have gone for quality over quantity and focused on the satirical parts more than the silly physical comedy and jokes based on the family's idiocy. The 90s movies very successfully extracted all that is good with this show and improved on it.



Gormenghast  

BBC mini-series based on the classic fantasy books from the 50s. Fantasy, in this case, meaning the unique world of the Gormenghast castle-city occupied by strange, eccentric and insane people, where a vicious caste system is in place and everyone's lives are ruled by meaningless rituals. There are no wizards, dragons and magic to be seen. The plot involves a lowly kitchen boy who escapes and rises rapidly through the ranks thanks to natural manipulative skills and a deviously obsequious character, a young new Earl and Lord who grows up hating everything around him, a daughter who feels like she should be the pivotal emotional character but is instead portrayed as a bratty, ditzy, confusing mess, a cruel mother, a detached father driven to insanity, and many other colorful characters. The result is a very mixed-bag and uneven. The bad: Ridiculous over-acting by most of the cast; Stephen Fry, Christopher Lee and Ian Richardson get away with it but everyone else chews the scenery to overly-comical effect. The writing seems to have lost something in translation, focusing too much on sets and whimsical comedy. The first episode is terrible but things soon pick up and become involving. The good: The fascinating world of Gormenghast and its rich characters and story, the gorgeous and colorful set design and costumes that sometimes bring to mind Peter Greenaway.



Awake  
Based on the single season.

The pilot is intensely intriguing: A man finds himself in two realities after a traumatic accident, shifting between them every time he goes to sleep. In each one, a different family member has survived, but both seem as real as the other. He even has a very different shrink in each reality, each one trying to prove that the other reality is the dream, explaining all the things he sees as psychological projections and manifestations, driven by his subconscious and various fears and desires. Unfortunately, after the pilot where he declares that he is happy with having both realities and isn't interested in resolving the issues if it means losing his family, the show merely becomes a cop-show with a twist, where cases are solved using criss-crossing of clues from both realities. Fortunately, this twist can be quite interesting as well, with alternate versions of people and events in either world, overlapping or giving up contrapuntal details that help solve the cases in unusual ways. His personal life and relationship with his fractured world also develops slowly throughout the show, leading to a twist ending that partially works. So, all in all, a show with a good idea, wasted on another cop-show, but still pretty interesting and watchable.



Afterlife  
Based on the first season.

A British entry into the supernatural medium genre that is miles above most of the rest simply because it emphasizes people and acting over special effects. Alison Mundy is a tortured psychic that is regularly visited by ghosts against her will, and she feels compelled to help them, usually with unexpected or unwanted results. Robert, a typically closed-minded psychologist, decides to turn her into a case study, and she goes along with it because his dead son needs help. The plots are simple, offering nothing much that is new, which is both a strength and a weakness, allowing the supernatural events to be plausible, but also somewhat cliched. The real strength is the superb acting and dialogue, the actors selling the circumstances extremely well, and the show thus allowing sombre, creepy and human dramas to build. Compared to Being Human, this show doesn't have the plot holes, but also doesn't take any risks. Solid watching, albeit not spectacular.



Day of the Triffids  

Good BBC mini-series based on the Wyndham novel. Triffids are carnivorous, mobile plants that can poison or blind humans, and are being harvested for their oil. But when an apocalyptic event makes everyone go blind and a plague starts killing off the masses, the triffids find humans to be easy prey. Interesting post-apocalyptic horror show in the vein of 28 Days Later but flawed by uninteresting characters, events that move too rapidly, making this long story seem rushed, and the incredulous unexplained combination of worldwide blindness, triffids and plague.



Dark  
Based on the first two seasons.

Interesting and challenging, but at the same time, very over-praised and overrated German time-travel series. It's about a German town with a nuclear power plant and many, many secrets and mysteries. A dead boy killed in a bizarre way plus some missing teenagers, both trigger a series of intense investigations both by parents and police, as well as by teenagers and children as they try to find out what happened to their friends. There is a circle of family, friends, and lovers that are all connected in ways you wouldn't believe. Unless you read Heinlein, that is. The following description contains spoilers in the sense of describing the basic plot device that drives the whole series, so feel free to skip it. But it's not going to give away any details and the show is so complex in its twisting and turning plot developments, it's not really a spoiler. The time-travel angle is based on some Heinlein stories, and movies like Time Crimes. I.e. it involves the idea of a time loop that creates itself. But whereas good stories use this device as only one plot element and films like Donnie Darko add an element of free-will thus making it interesting, this TV show's fatal flaw is that everything, and by that I mean literally hundreds of plot developments, all rely on only that plot device. Not only is the show fatalistic and based only on self-creating time paradoxes to the extreme without any possible way to explain how it all started, the characters all seem to be annoyingly fatalistic as well. As in, they ensure that things happen the way they are supposed to happen, and everything that happens is a loop. It's one thing to go back in time and find out that you unknowingly contributed to events, it's quite another to purposely go along with it, and to have everything that happens rely on this mechanism. So, what happens with this show and its enthusiastic audiences, is that it shows very complex, interconnected events happening in many time-periods, the audiences that get involved in the show have to work very, very hard to place all the pieces of the puzzle together, and when most of it clicks into place many episodes later, they declare the show a work of genius. Except that it's not as clever as it seems at all since it doesn't take that much skill to tell a story out of order and make the audience wait for the missing pieces, and the characters don't make sense half of the time because of their fatalistic attitudes. This is the major flaw. Other flaws include the number of drama-queen characters. And the show's soundtrack is also annoyingly dramatic, over-using dark moody sound and music for every single scene. It all gets rather tiring and repetitive. There are also dozens of loose ends and unexplained events, but it's perfectly possible that these would be explained at a later date as the show does seem to have a plan (I may be wrong). All that said, it is kinda fun to follow the mysteries and many details for a while and try to see how it all works out. It depends on your patience and attention to detail, as well as on your patience for fatalistic time loops.



Erased  
Based on the single season.

Live-action series based on a manga. This is more human and touching than the average animes I've seen, and it has a similar vibe to the 'Stand By Me' movie, i.e. it's mainly about friendship, especially childhood friends, set against a backdrop of dark crime that awakens a more adult side of the children and a deeper friendship. Except that this also involves time-travel, the unexplained type that is beyond the character's control and which gives the protagonist new ways to solve problems by attempting to correct the past. It's a short six-hour watch (for a TV series), with a continuous storyline. The tone is relatively light for a manga, but it does involve child abuse and a serial killer. The unexplained time-leaps, various other plot devices that appear when the plot needs it, and the various ways that characters just seem to leap to convenient conclusions all give the show a feeling of contrivance, however. But the characters are warm and moving, and the plot is above-average. Nothing awesome, but a pretty solid and interesting watch.



Travelers  
Based on all three seasons.

Time-travel sci-fi by the makers of Stargate. There are several things in common with that show, especially with the military-style mission-based episodes, and the mixture of good and sloppy writing, but this is a pretty interesting and unique show for the most part. The set-up is 'travelers' from the future that found out how to send people's consciousnesses into people from the past, in order to fix catastrophes and change humanity's future. Several rules are defined about this form of time-travel and its limitations, which is good, except the writers break their own rules sometimes. Although the structure is mostly one mission per episode, the character arcs, the enemy's progress, as well as the details and possibilities of this sci-fi idea are constantly developed, and the episodes vary a lot and in creative ways, keeping things quite interesting for its whole run. As with some of the Stargates, at first the characters are quite flat, bland and military, but they eventually grow more layers and depth. There is action, interesting sci-fi to do with time-travel, and programs used together with human consciousness, and some interesting questions about what is or isn't appropriate in order to save humanity using an AI computer's help. There is also plenty of personal drama since the travelers also have to cope with the lives of the humans that they take over. At first, this is reminiscent of Quantum Leap, but it soon becomes much more interesting.

As mentioned, there are writing flaws in this one that keep holding it back. One is the fact that for over a season I couldn't figure out basic capabilities of consciousness transfers and what actually happens to them when they transfer/die. They talk about multiple transfers, and yet they can't seem to do it, dozens of people are sent on really tiny missions and sacrifice themselves, and the attitude towards death is very flippant, making me believe it's temporary, but then it isn't. Until the end I could not figure out why they couldn't do some things. As mentioned, there are also episodes where they blatantly break their own rules on time-travel and missions, or veer off into impossible timeline alterations that don't make sense. The finale features a classic deus-ex-machine that comes out of nowhere and is highly unsatisfying. These flaws don't ruin the show, however, and the creativity kept me watching, but they do hold it back significantly.



Outlander  
Based on the first season.

The only fantasy element in this show is the time-travel magic that takes a woman back in time in the first episode. With that out of the way, let's deal with this show as a historical drama, romance and adventure: Claire is a nurse in 1945 who just finished an intense stint in WWII, and who is married to a historian. She suddenly finds herself in Scotland of 1743, amidst high tension and constant skirmishes between England and Scotland. As an English-woman, they mistrust her, but this show takes the usual American route of making the British into intolerant or downright evil characters, so, naturally, she tries to survive with the Scots, slowly gaining their trust, and falling for a young & proud fighting man. The episodes vary a lot, since the story and characters constantly progress to different settings, misadventures and circumstances, but the tone and quality vary as well. The good: The locations, settings, costumes and characters are all very well done with attention to detail, effectively transporting you to another world. One pet peeve of mine is how, with time-travel, modern women go back in modern dress and barely get any reaction from the locals. But here, they all assume she is a whore even though she is dressed as a 1945 respectable woman. It's about time someone did that right. In addition, their attitudes towards women clash with her modern viewpoints often, and this, too, is done quite well. A typical modern show would have her outdo all the 'backwards' men in both mental and physical skills, but this series doesn't resort to that PC nonsense and she often finds herself in over her head and in need of lots of protection. The circumstances also constantly change, so the series doesn't feel like it is padding the time with time-filler nonsense.

The bad: First of all, this is no romance. I never understood why movies with cheating married women are labelled as romantic and this one is no different. Her new marriage may have been due to necessity, but the sex sure wasn't, and disgust for such an unlikeable disloyal woman and her affair hardly qualifies as romance. A smaller problem is that she is a bit too 90s with her liberal and feminist attitudes, and doesn't seem like she's from the 40s. Although, as mentioned, she has to deal with their attitudes best she can, one episode has her convert a man who believes wives should follow orders or be belted, into a man who declares his loyalty to her as his equal within a week or two. A laughable female fantasy, to say the least. And then there are the constant last-minute rescues, while her friend Jamie, is constantly being tortured both physically and mentally in the harshest ways imaginable. After three or four repeats of this pattern, besides losing the realism, the series starts making you wonder about their agenda. You won't believe how far they take his tortures, reaching 'Passion of the Christ' proportions, over and over again by an incredibly evil sadist, as he constantly puts himself in harms way for her, while she is always rescued before anything really bad happens to her, making her insistence on their equal status even more preposterous. As usual, feminists want to have their cake and to eat it too. In summary, a mixed bag. Surprisingly harsh and good for what sounds like a chick flick, but also quite flawed.



Nightmares & Dreamscapes  
Based on the single season.

Stephen King adaptations have a very poor record, and the anthology book this is based on felt like poor leftovers, so I wasn't expecting much. But I was pleasantly surprised when, out of eight episodes, three were good, and two others were watchable. The stories vary from Lovecraftian horror to quirky supernatural tales to a dramatic criminal heist and the casting boasts several big names (John Hurt, Tom Berenger). Battleground is the most fun and thrilling, featuring an assassin who gets into a war he didn't bargain for when he tackles a toy-maker, the metaphysical/psychological Umney's Last Case features William Macy as both a writer and his own creation, and Autopsy Room Four, although overacted, intensely features a man facing his own pending autopsy.



Stargate Universe  
Based on both seasons.

This third incarnation of the Stargate franchise (or fourth if you include the movie) took many fans by surprise. For the first few episodes, it's obvious that the writers are trying to emulate the new Battlestar Galactica: Character development, story arcs, heavy drama, sacrifices and tough decisions, dark lighting, shaky cameras, the works. But like almost all shows that emulate, it can only turn out inferior and uninspired. The bad may not be as terrible as BG's deep flaws, but the good is not as good either, and it doesn't take the risks that BG did. That said, the show is still quite watchable, it features good acting and actors for a change, and it is the best of the three Stargates so far.

After unlocking the last secret of the Stargate, a group of scientists and soldiers find themselves on an Ancient starship in a very distant galaxy, stranded and unable to return back to Earth. The ship is on a mysterious mission which drives the inspired and obsessive lead scientist (Robert Carlyle) to some very disturbing behaviour, and this agenda, the military, and the rest of the varied crew, continue to clash and conflict for the rest of the show. The ship is falling apart, it seems to have a mind of its own, and is run by challenging alien technology, so for much of the show, the crew have to face challenges involving fixing the ship to save themselves, and trying to work around the ship's schedule while replenishing supplies and escaping dangers, all the while hoping to find a way home. The communication stones allow them to switch bodies with people on Earth to visit their military superiors, families and loved ones every once in a while, contributing to the character development. The episodes vary greatly in content and tone, some involving action, others character development, some are multi-episode crises, others involve the usual sci-fi danger, alien, or technological challenge of the week we've seen many times before. This variety keeps things interesting, and the many overlapping story arcs and developments are continuous.

While the show remains entertaining and watchable, most episodes are constantly peppered with writing flaws that keep the show from becoming compelling. Developments at times feel contrived instead of flowing naturally, there are some deus ex machinas, techno-babble that comes out of nowhere to save the day and then disappears, alternatives that aren't explored just so the writers can get to play with some melodrama, important developments that come and go, seemingly forgotten for several episodes only to come back later and be resolved with a disappointing twist of the pen, etc etc. These, and the fact that we've seen most of this before in other shows, keep the show from being great. But there's no doubt that this is better than the previous Stargates. Except that too many fans of the bubblegum sci-fi action of the first incarnation didn't accept the changes, so it was cancelled.



Ministry of Time, The  
Based on the first season.

Spanish time-travel series about a secret government ministry in charge of keeping history intact. Using a mysterious labyrinth of doors, it can visit almost any time in the past, and it has recruited agents from many time periods as its army of time doctors and warriors. Rogue agents, random time-portal doors, and self-serving time travellers try to manipulate history to their benefit in a variety of ways, and its the ministry's job to correct these anomalies. The best aspect of this show is the attention to historical detail which may not be perfect, but is higher than the usual time-travel entertainment. Characters from different time periods talk in different styles of Spanish and behave differently, and every time agents are sent to a time period, they go through the wardrobe department first and use research to make sure that they blend in and put history back on track. By combining all of this together, and having the agents go to many different periods (typically between 1000 and 20 years ago), and work on guiding key events in history, we get a rich entertaining historical palette. It is also great fun to see people from different periods work together with the culture clash that this entails. The actors are fun, and there is some humor. The mechanics of time-travel feel rather ad-hoc however, or are unexplained or even illogical however. Time paradoxes are completely ignored, causality doesn't seem to be a thing, and the policies of what they can or can't change never seem to be worked out. Also, if their goal is to fix history, the why don't they simply destroy all the doors? And then there are the doors that lead to fixed-but-moving points in time. To have access to 1000 years of history within a range of a few days would require say, 1000*365/3 which equals over 100,000 doors, each of which seem to take several meters of space... well you get the idea. And then there is the structure of the show which is pretty old-school: Episodic mission-of-the-week with ongoing light character-development between episodes. So the show has its limits, but it's a fun one-time watch nevertheless.



No Ordinary Family  
Based on the single season.

A flawed and poorly written, but entertaining series. The concept here is partially modeled after The Incredibles, but it's better to think of it as an action-comedy about a normal family with typical social dysfunctions, average intelligence, and superpowers. A family-dad (Chiklis) who works as a police sketch artist, his over-achieving scientist wife, and two average teenage children, all get superpowers when a trip to Brazil turns chaotic. For the first ten episodes it's quite entertaining as they adjust their lives to these very disruptive, tempting, inspiring, useful and dangerous abilities. The father goes superhero, except his training and attempts at saving people with the help of his sidekick don't go smoothly, to say the least. The mother is more cautious and tries to study it, but gets involved in a conspiracy at work. And the teens, well they have a lot of angst and high-school issues to work out, and reading minds or developing a super-brain don't always help. It starts as an action-comedy, there is some character development in the middle, and then it drops the ball and gets lost in nonsensical conspiracies, and new ridiculous powers and villains every week. Although it is fun at first, the writing is never inspired or sharp. The writers' approach for the 'super-genius' ability is terrible, giving him abilities that have nothing to do with brainpower, and they never bother with details, such as how the clothes can survive such abuse, and why a super-strong father should also have super-reflexes to catch bullets with. The villains and their motivations are a complete muddled mess and only get worse towards the end. But the leads have personality, and it's a light, fun one-time watch if you're not too picky.



Westworld  
Based on the first two seasons.

The combination of a Nolan brother, HBO, Anthony Hopkins, and Ed Harris in a sci-fi TV show based on a Crichton screenplay about A.I. robots going out of control sounds exciting indeed. The core of the story revolves around a park populated by robots that look and act just like people, a park created for entertainment purposes to allow people the ultimate freedom of pursuing any of their nasty fantasies even if they include sadism, rape and murder. The abuse of robot-people without a care for consequences is guaranteed with careful programming of the robots and special guns so that no actual human can be killed in this world. But, of course, we all know what happens with those kinds of rules in movies. The 1973 movie was a bit cheesy and had its issues, but Nolan and co. take it way further to attempt to explore the meaning of being human, free-will, consciousness, memories, etc, all set in a highly detailed and realistic sci-fi world where robots can be built and programmed to act like humans with increasingly fine nuances and complex A.I. structures. The writers add many many more layers as the show progresses, including many twists, layers of programming and surprising behaviour, and plots within plots as various people with power try to use the robot-world for different ambitious goals, while the robots spiral out of control.

My primary problem with this show is philosophical, and it is a problem with most movies that deal with this topic. The possibility of robots achieving consciousness or free-will is not a futuristic sci-fi concept, it is simply impossible. Anyone who actually grasps their own consciousness for what it is will be aware of this fact, and concepts such as 'loops', 'bicameral mind', 'A.I.' or 'emergence' do not explain anything and are mere theoretical propositions and meaningless constructs that use magical words to attempt to 'explain' something that is fundamentally impossible. A simple thought experiment like the Chinese Room should demonstrate the simple qualitative difference between what a program can do, versus a consciousness that experiences it. Case in point: A robot/program that can perform a display of emotions flawlessly just like a human being is doing just that: displaying emotions, not experiencing them. Of course, if you believe that humanity can be reduced to programming and that consciousness can emerge from biology or from a program, you will enjoy this much more than I did. This show, ironically, keeps presenting the possibility that one of its robots may actually be making a free choice or becoming conscious (and knocks this possibility down repeatedly only to raise it again and again), while, at the same time, arguing that humans are just simple programs, thus shooting itself in the foot. It also doesn't help that its view of humanity is misanthropic, assuming the worst behaviour of all its humans. And then there is the way that this show has its humans lose control of its robots repeatedly, or be unable to format a robot's memories completely. This is another common problem in movies of this type. But any programmer not mystified by A.I. will scoff at this silliness. It doesn't take a genius to build a robot where the code and accumulated data are completely separated, allowing for a simple reboot to start from scratch. Not to mention multiple failsafe devices that could be added, etc. Furthermore, the show repeatedly reminds us in brutal ways that most of its characters are robots and that all of their emotions are a programmed external display. What all this means is that I never believed this show for a second, and that most of its drama was completely un-affecting since it involved robot emotions, or robots fighting or dealing with other robots. In fact, the show made the fatal mistake of making the story mostly about robots and their problems, rather than using robots to explore humanity, or to explore how such a world would affect humans. And by arguing that humanity is robotic, it made the problem much worse.

The first season is plagued with the above philosophical and technical problems, making it uninvolving and impossible to enjoy properly. But it's not a complete waste of time, as some of the questions are thought-provoking, the sci-fi world and technical details are incredibly detailed and well done, and there is some good drama and tension involving actual humans. The plotting is complex but solid, although the motivations are weak or murky, not helped by the aforementioned misanthropy and the tendency to only see the worst in people to the point that they make no sense. Some of the mechanics don't make sense as well. For example, although the guns don't kill people, any other violence obviously can kill, including indirect effects of gun-fights. In the second season however, it all falls apart. The writers try to expand this world in thirty different directions and it soon collapses completely, also due to a complete lack of focus, and also due to contradictions with the first season. There are two additional virtual worlds within this semi-virtual robot world, new technologies in every episode, new secret labs or plots in every other episode, several more theme parks as well as a seemingly endless amount of locations and populations within this theme park, robots programming other robots in a circular loop with ridiculous plot twists on top of other twists just for the sake of being twisty, and a baffling non-linear plot-line through the eyes of a robot that has lost its 'sense of time', all made even worse with constant flash-backs, and dozens of little story-lines that go nowhere. Even an audience that pays careful attention will find it extremely challenging to piece it all together, and when they do, they will find contradicting motivations that don't really mean anything anyways since most are robots. Perhaps J.J. Abrams's influence as producer kicked in during season two... In short, a fundamentally problematic but intriguing first season that will only really appeal to reductionists, and a catastrophically convoluted second season that completely lost the forest for the trees. There is no humanity in this one.



New Amsterdam  
Based on the single season.

Another show inspired by Highlander on the immortal man theme. There is only one immortal here though, and he doesn't battle with anyone except criminals. Yes, it's just another variation on the detective-show, but whereas these things usually look for a strong character on which to base the show, this one tries to create the character based only on an extremely extensive life experience. It's done quite well and is moderately interesting, but that's as much praise as it will get. The detective empathizes with many people due to his personal experience with everything, he often has sharp insights and intuitive leaps, as well as extensive knowledge in history and arcane details that baffles many of his peers, and he often finds unusual ways to solve a crime by tricking the criminal. Cases are usually weaved together with back-stories from his past, sometimes only based on a theme of the crime, other times via ties to his huge family tree. The longer story arc involves his attempts at becoming mortal again, which he knows will happen when he meets The One: His soul-mate. He even takes a near-death to mean that his woman is close by, and pursues his romantic goals with these ulterior motives, which complicates his love life even further. Slightly above-average and interesting, but short.



Eleventh Hour  
Based on the single season.

Although this one deals purely with scientific and natural crises, it sometimes brings to mind the X-Files. Patrick Stewart is a government scientific adviser who, for some reason, runs around like a detective getting himself in trouble to the point that they assigned him a female 'government protector'. There are only four episodes in this short-lived dark British show, but they are unusually long (70 minutes). The episodes cover a cloning scientist gone rogue, a viral outbreak crisis with some sloppy writing flaws, a poor and paranoid environmentalist episode, and a water spring with some strange effects on the people who drink it. A mixed bag, with good acting and some interesting and entertaining elements, as well as sloppy ones. The potential is obvious though and it was picked up by the US for an American version.



Night Gallery  
Based on the first season.

A pretty good, slightly underrated followup anthology series by Rod Serling, this one focusing mostly on horror. Many of the stories feature despicable characters that are set up to receive a just and supernatural punishment, making this reminiscent of Tales from the Crypt, except it doesn't pump up the camp appeal. Actually, several of the episodes feature superbly dramatic and emotional content. Supernatural powers are frequently used with ironic consequences or twists, and various horrors or magical events serve to explore a human angle in a dramatic story. Although, as with any anthology, the quality varies per episode, the writing is more consistently above-average and the fluctuation isn't as severe. But neither is the show superbly impressive, maintaining a consistently entertaining level of competence with some touches of cheese and a few weakly contrived endings. Serling, once again, brings high-quality actors and directors to the show, even peppered with big names like Spielberg, Burgess Meredith, Diane Keaton and Roddy McDowall. Another plus is that each episode features two to three mini-episodes, giving each tight story the appropriate time it deserves, all showing the way for the 80s Twilight Zone and other later anthology shows.



Miracles  
Based on the single season.

A spiritual-oriented version of X-Files that died after only 13 episodes. Paul Callan is an ex-miracle-investigator for the church who is recruited by a mysterious man who runs a paranormal investigation agency. Every episode, they track down supernatural events, some of them tied to a larger mythology of evil. The show starts quite well with touching drama and dark, plausible, spooky thrills, even linked to themes of faith, spirituality and religion, but very soon settles down to a much more conventional ghost-of-the-week episodic show. The mythology barely gets started in these episodes and then it stops. Watchable, with a few above-average episodes and a pretty good reproduction of the darkness and interesting spookiness of X-Files, but it didn't get the chance to build up anything extraordinary, and the leads aren't that interesting.



Saving Grace  
Based on the first season.

This HBO-esque show starts with a challenging character that gets visited by a very unusual angel. She is a very dysfunctional female detective with an overwhelming freewheeling character and energy, who at first seems like one of the guys: An energetic, cussing, booze-swilling, hard-edged detective who chases down criminals with a passionate vengeance, and who sleeps with everyone, ploughing through life with teenage abandon, causing many headaches for her priest brother. But she also seems to care too much about some things, the sleeping around that would put a playboy to shame soon feels pathological, the recklessness becomes tiresome, the treatment of her lovers is despicable, and her hypocrisy when judging other people is even worse. So her character, quite quickly becomes a lot less interesting and too tiresome to watch. Holly Hunter is superb, in a complex role full of personality with wild youthful energy, and shows off her naked fit body often. The angel is a tobacco-chewing redneck with completely incongruous light-filled wings, who is more about getting chummy and provoking people than about religious fervor. He too is very unusual and interesting at first, assuming you can put aside your theology and just watch for a while to see where they take this. Their interaction is unusual, complex and interesting at first, with her resisting him every step of the way. But then their conversations turn out to be quite banal as he gets overly friendly. His mission is seemingly to attach himself to desperate cases, like a friend who constantly reminds you of his disapproval with subtle barbs and commentary, except this one is omniscient, appears and disappears on a whim, and has a few tricksy magic tricks up his sleeve to provoke a certain reaction. After a few episodes, this too becomes less interesting, and he merely turns out to be something like a chummy life coach or shrink rather than an angel; he ignores and jokes about sins all the time, and is only here seemingly to empower people via self-help banalities and psychiatry rather than with insights or inspirations. The 'saving' of Grace seems to be remarkably similar to shrink sessions. The detective aspect of the show is not too interesting either, with humdrum episodic weekly cases to solve, except they often have a little twist used for character development as well. The ending of the first season is a cliche of victim-hood. In short, this is primarily about characters, except they become less interesting as the show progresses, and the supernatural aspect is more of a psychiatry gimmick rather than anything of quality.



Superstorm  

A docudrama mini-series about powerful hurricanes and weather manipulation by the makers of Supervolcano. Like Supervolcano, this one focuses on the science, with a plot and writing that revolves around explaining as much of the science as possible rather than on action and character. But whereas the rushed and sloppy Supervolcano suffered because of this since it was also trying to be a movie, Superstorm balances a more complete story and fleshier characters. A group of scientists is put together to battle the worsening hurricanes using weather prediction software, distant perturbation and seeding. Politics and personal issues raise their ugly heads while the biggest hurricane yet threatens to hit Miami and New York. Realistic and interesting albeit slightly flawed by shallow characterization, yet another unrealistic female hacker, and a lack of action.



5ive Days to Midnight  

What is it with Sci-Fi Channel mini-series and endings? A superb mystery/thriller right up until the horrendous conclusion. A man receives a strange message about his own death in the form of a homicide police file with old pictures and clippings of his murder. The series moves along rapidly and intelligently as he first tries to discover whether it's a hoax, whether it's from the future, and exactly who would want to kill him and why. The plot is carefully written, dropping clues and suspects without revealing too much or boring the viewer, thus keeping the viewer in suspense for 3 full hours... until the ending ruins it all. A pointless twist ending, very nonsensical and inconsistent dealings with time travel, and other illogical elements cause the whole structure to fall apart.



Middleman, The  
Based on most of the single season.

Entertaining comic-book series that is reminiscent of The Tick in its unique quirk, self-aware cliche-spoofing snark, and long eccentric dialogue with fancy vocabulary that usually takes a few seconds to register. Take that, run it through some Avengers sci-fi camp hero action and Men in Black alien-monster smart-aleck comedy, and maybe the result would be this. A multi-talented middleman hero fights anomalies and alien/supernatural crises with wit, gadgets and fancy fight-maneuvers without even knowing whom he works for. He recruits a snarky, laid-back, quick-witted assistant who often seems to cause more trouble with her attitude than she is worth. Her romantic life, vegan flatmate, and other strange illegal denizens of her artist-infested building provide the personal crises and comedy. Other elements include the constant use of cliches and camp as comedy, and many references to sci-fi movies and pop-culture. This is entertaining stuff, but only mildly so, with the convoluted eccentric dialogue with run-on sentences delivering few payoffs and raising more mind-warping sound-waves than laughs, and the vegan-cum-self-absorbed-artist mentality of the show can get annoying. Almost great.



Good Place, The  
Based on all four seasons.

Fun but superficial comedy that re-imagines the afterlife as a colorful light-hearted bureaucratic and very broken system run by demons, angels and software. Even the torture is funny. Basically, heaven and hell look like bubbly mobile apps where anything can happen. Eleanor (Kristen Bell) finds herself dead and in the Good Place, except something is very wrong, since she lived a very selfish and bitchy life and everyone around her is practically a saint. Much of the first season features hilarious comedy that derives from this setup. For a while I felt that this was like a silly reversal comedy version of The Prisoner, where a bad guy is stuck in a good place. But then there are many twists and plot jumps as the story and setup keeps changing in entertaining ways for four seasons. The primary aspect that keeps you watching is the continuous fantasy story-line, and, given the breezy and light-hearted comedy and 22-minute episode length, this makes the show very binge-watchable. But it's not a classic by any means: The third and fourth seasons are weaker, and, except for Eleanor who has a bit of character depth, the rest of the characters are either very one-dimensional and based on a single character quirk, or chaotic (there are no rules with demons and robots). And all of them switch from one emotion to another with a swipe of the finger. Demons, robots and other strange denizens of the afterlife also seem to be inspired by the aliens from 3rd Rock from the Sun in the way that they are exuberantly silly and fascinated by humanity's quirks and foibles. All of this effectively doesn't let the characters become real people. The way the afterlife works is obviously ridiculously silly and limited, but that's part of the fun of this show, and the constant references to ethical philosophy is not even half as clever or insightful as it thinks it is. It often feels like a comedy on the afterlife suitable for tweens. Despite these flaws, though, it is a fun, light and entertaining watch.



Kevin (Probably) Saves the World  
Based on the single season.

It's difficult to pull off a feel-good show. Not only has it gone out of vogue, what with all the super-dark and misanthropic TV shows out there, these nice shows also tend to be preachy or sickeningly sweet. This show starts shakily, but improves nicely after about 3-4 episodes and it succeeds mainly due to its sincere and special cast that managed to pull it off without feeling fake or cloying. Kevin is a young man with bad personality flaws who has just gone through a dark period in his life. When he is visited by a 'not-angel' and given the task of improving himself and saving the world, naturally, this doesn't go over well. But with persistency, he slowly tries to change his life around and become a better person. As opposed to 'Joan of Arcadia', this doesn't have that show's teenage banality and problematic approach to religion, and as opposed to 'My Name is Earl' it doesn't feature over-the-top cartoonish characters. This one manages to find a nice middle ground and the characters are sincere and relatable. Although the first four episodes or so do have somewhat of an annoying tone which feels like one of those over-eager over-bearing people trying to help you by 'saving you'. But it gets better. And the quest to find the righteous of the world feels like a goofy quest modelled after a computer game where you have to find the clues and signs. But, other than that, it's a fun show, with pleasant people that are fun to hang out with, but it's definitely not for cynics. It tries to avoid too many religious problems by approaching it with a more karmic model and uses awkward references to the almighty 'Universe', and reinventing its own version of 'not-angels' as something a bit more human. And it works, kinda. Unfortunately the show was cancelled and leaves you with a cliffhanger. So it's not a great show, but it's still good light fun.



Hemlock Grove  
Based on the first two seasons.

Netflix's first horror entry. In some ways it is similar to True Blood, namely in its free-for-all pulpy approach to horror and mix of various creatures and supernatural events, all centered in a single town. It also, at least at first, injects a constant quota of sex scenes. But it's slightly better thanks to its unpredictability and less trashy approach. The writers go out of their way to make everything as different as possible, often too much out of their way. For example, vampires here don't have any of the usual limitations and interests, one even fancying himself a warrior for good. A gypsy werewolf finds ways to bypass the moon cycle, a deformed Frankenstein-esque creature is a sensitive girl, and so on. The story shifts about a lot, but always involve the core characters: A vampiric mother of a rich influential family who is trying to use technology and business to create a semi-normal life for her family, her antagonistic vampiric son with an agenda of his own, his tense alliance with the gypsy werewolf with whose destiny he is somehow linked, a Christian cult dedicated to fighting evil, a gypsy witch with highly unusual practices who helps when she can, and a mad scientist funded by the vampires who is constantly working on some outlandish experiment while trying to deal with all the chaotic detritus around him. Rogue werewolves, mad cultists, apocalyptic visions, evil babies, mysterious murders, freak accidents and more keep their lives constantly interesting.

As mentioned, a strength of this show is its unpredictability and imagination. A bigger strength is its ensemble of good actors. Unfortunately, it is completely lacking in discipline when it comes to writing an actual plot or characters that make sense. It's obvious that they are just making things up as they go along, often adding elements that seemed cool to them at the time without thinking things through or bothering with making them fit into an overall plan. Characters entertain one motivation or plan, then switch several times in a single season to contradictory motivations just because the writers decide the plot needs to go in this new direction, which obviously makes it impossible to tune in since the characters never make any sense. And strange elements are constantly introduced just to add more entertaining freakishness and color to the show, even though they make no sense. So the show keeps things entertaining, but to the detriment of brains and structure. Some glaring examples: Werewolf transformations make less and less sense: A hand transforms into a wolf's leg yet at the same time there is a perfect human hand inside the wolf, which is a perfect example of what is wrong with this show: A cool freaky image trumps basic logic. And more: A wolf or human dies several times but then comes back to life when he transforms, and he is warned several times about repercussions of transforming but then he just gets better via another deus-ex-machina. Friends turn into enemies overnight over some silly behaviour that never makes sense just because the writers decide it's time they split up, characters turn from evil to good and back again at the flick of a switch, and a guy decides to abandon his sister whom he loves to danger based on... a completely illogical plot device. Season climaxes suddenly floor the pedal and cram fifteen twists in a matter of minutes, each making less sense than the previous one. And so on... This is a show that assumes its audience won't care about a carefully planned plot and story arc or characters that make sense if the twists and turns keep coming. And it's probably right. In any case, it kept me entertained for a couple of seasons thanks to its imagination, but I felt stupider for it. It takes a lot more than imagery and imagination to write a series.



Real Humans  
Based on the first season.

Swedish take on a world filled with AI robots made to look like humans. It is very detailed and fascinating, some of the details are realistic, others fall into the cliched trap of taking robots too far and making them all too human. How much you enjoy this show will depend on how much you have thought out what potential future AI robots can and can't do and what it means to be human. The robots here are as ubiquitous as smart-phones, and humans have adopted them for a wide variety of tasks, from work assistants, to maids, to caregivers or sex toys. Only a handful of humans opt to fight against this trend and see something unhealthy in it, and even they often give in to the usefulness or even the faux-humanity of the robots. Many even treat them as full human beings, fall 'in love', or just feel they are their best friends, and some radicals even work on emancipating them from being dependent on humans, re-programming them to be independent and to have a personality. And this is where the show takes it too far: There can be no such thing as an 'autonomous' robot. It would just stand there and do nothing unless you have programmed drives into it. A drive to gain knowledge, for self-preservation, to help humans, to emulate humans, etc etc, and conflicting drives would be solved with an algorithm. Even learning, changing robots would have to progress via basic drives. The free robots here develop spontaneous emotions, ego, even things such as sadism, a yearning for religion, and humor, and they have very different personalities. This is taking it way too far and is impossible. And even if such things could be emulated, why would anyone in their right mind program sadism into a robot, or an ego with uncontrolled emotions from which sadism could emerge? Especially without a counter drive to do good or to want to be liked by humans? And why would a programmer leave previous memories inside a robot when he re-programs the robot as a maid? This shows that the writers are thinking of them as humans as if computer memories can't be easily erased with a simple press of a button. As the show progresses, it becomes less and less realistic this way and soon wears out its welcome. Even a human that sees the 'hubots' as annoying toasters suddenly falls in love with one of them, a priest and many others try to fight for their rights, and so on. Humanity rapidly becomes pathetic and very dumb in this show, while the robots become more human than humans. Everything else is very well done, however, including the special effects and makeup, the very tricky acting by the hubots, and the many little social details. Finally, Asimov fans will want to know that the Three Laws of Robotics are briefly mentioned and used in the robots but, as opposed to Asimov's laws embedded into positronic pathways, these can be removed easily with a program.



Once Upon a Time  
Based on the first season.

Taking a page from the book of Enchanted, this series features fairy-tale characters in a modern world. They have all been cursed to a horrible world (ours) without magic, unaware of their identities, and *gasp* without happy endings. An entertaining concept, even though Enchanted did something similar with good results, and the writers run with it in creative ways. The daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming is a modern-day bail bounty-hunter and completely oblivious to her background and parents, until her lost son finds her and tricks her into visiting Storybrook to help bring back the magic into the locals' lives. She encounters stiff and tricksy enemies in the form of an evil queen-cum-mayor, and a rich deal-making Mr Gold (Rumpelstiltskin), both plotting plots within plots to keep their power, and control the people they hate. Their fairy-tale backgrounds are told using back-stories, and back-stories for the back-stories, showing past secrets, loves and crimes, combined with elements from the classic fairy tales, yet almost always somehow involving the evil queen and Rumpelstiltskin, their stories paralleled with their modern-day lives and problems. Stories are both episodic in the form of problems, plots and characters of the week, as well as the longer character arcs, rivalries and secrets. The writers take a lot of whimsical freedom in combining elements from the many stories of different origins (Mad-Hatter takes the evil queen from Snow White into Wonderland to fight the Queen of Hearts while Pinocchio helps to bring the queen down), some work better than others, and they are generally entertaining even though they aren't particularly clever. One problem is that most female characters have been converted to liberated feminists and warriors in line with PC regulations, and while this is amusing when they are in the modern world combining their fairy-tale personalities with life in the real world, it is stupid when they are in their fairy-tale world. Also, the character balance is generally estrogen heavy, and the constant plotting, back-stabbing and scheming between them sometimes becomes too catty and soapy. All-in-all, it's pretty entertaining fluff, but nothing more.



Once Upon a Time in Wonderland  
Based on most of the single season.

I'm not sure why they started a spin-off if it's just more of the same. It's Once Upon a Time, only with an emphasis on Alice in Wonderland characters, but that doesn't stop them from splicing it together with Robin Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Aladdin or any other fairy tale. There's the ongoing story arc packed with (too-many) back-stories, catty queens, travel between our world and Wonderland, elaborate evil schemes by evil sorcerers and witches, doomed love and lovers doing anything to be re-united with each other, and plenty of action. Talking rabbits is one fantasy, super-warrior young pretty girls that can beat anyone in combat and save the guys, is another. In order to keep the story going, the writers simply keep introducing more magic spells or magical objects, often changing the rules, or introducing another character from another fairy tale to keep things interesting. This undisciplined approach to fantasy, once again, never allows the show to become immersive or believable, but it's quite entertaining. As long as you don't expect anything to do with the real Alice in Wonderland's theme, atmosphere, humor, and surrealism. It's just fairy-tale celebrity names and faces inserted into modern adventures and action with anything-goes magic.



Pioneer One  
Based on the first season.

This show's claim to fame is its business model: A purely independent, user-based financial model, where the episodes are created based on audience donations, and then are provided for free via the internet. Episodes take time to appear while waiting for the donations to accumulate, so it is definitely a different experience, albeit still a commercial one. In fact, this is so commercial, that you are forced to watch commercials in the middle of the episodes even though the audience paid for it, which kind of detracts from any romantic notions of independence. As long as you aren't expecting a special effects bonanza and big budget, the show itself is interesting and very watchable, but not compelling. A mysterious space capsule crash-lands in the USA, causing radiation and a quarantine in both the US and Canada. But the real excitement is over the human that is retrieved from the capsule who speaks Russian, and his frail medical status and symptoms suggest a strange, possibly alien upbringing and environment. Politicians scramble to control the situation and uncover his secrets, and scientists are gathered to examine the evidence, with the expected, almost cliched clashes between political and scientific ideals. The actors range from pretty good to weak, the realistic dialogue is the strongest aspect of the show, and the developments are, as mentioned, interesting but not compelling.



Outer Limits, The (1995)  
Based on most of the first season.

A more modern approach to the old anthology series from the 60s that deals, mostly, with science gone horribly wrong. It's not as preachy as the old version, but it feels more negative, with almost all the episodes ending on a dark, depressing, defeatist and doomsday note, making this a great show for Luddites. Once again, the writing focuses on mad scientists, experiments going wrong, dystopian futures, and evil aliens, with good production values and the occasional name actor or writer. The quality ranges from average to above average, and it maintains a pretty good level of entertainment and interesting horror stories, but it lacks brilliance, provocative ideas, or deep thought.



Amazing Stories  
Based on most of the first season.

Spielberg's version of the anthology series, employing the 80s look, the variety of stories, genres and approaches, and the parade of celebrities and names similar to the 80s version of The Twilight Zone. These well-produced mini-movies cover sci-fi, horror, supernatural thrillers, and lots of comedy, silliness and schmaltz. Stories range from supernatural ghost trains, to an actor in a mummy costume being chased by rednecks, to a scary phantom that lives in a mirror, to a romantic love story involving magical dolls. The results are a very mixed bag, from very entertaining, to moderately interesting, to overly silly, to sentimental schmaltz that plagued Spielberg's works in the 80s. Unfortunately, the overall balance leans towards the silly, soft, childish and unchallenging, but there are gems amongst the many rocks.



Tales from the Crypt  
Based on most of the first two seasons.

An anthology series by HBO based on comic books and focusing on campy horror. There are moral twists as with Twilight Zone, only these are much less thoughtful and more about finding horrific ways to give the main characters the ironic punishments they deserve. The Crypt Keeper is the animatronic ghoul who bookends each episode with gallows humor, camp and puns. As with the 80s version of Twilight Zone, this show features a very impressive parade of celebrity directors and actors. The writing, however, ranges from campy fun and clever little dark twists, to contrived and silly. Almost always fun to watch, but it's nothing more than campy entertainment to pass the time.



Outer Limits, The  
Based on scattered episodes from the first season.

A competitor to Twilight Zone in the 60s, usually held as inferior but regarded well by the people who saw it at the time. This short-lived show focuses on imaginative science fiction stories and the horrors of science gone bad or chaotic, often the consequence of misuse and human behaviour. In other words it's an anthology of short 60s sci-fi tales covering aliens, mad scientists, experiments gone bad, and other odds and ends. The concepts and imagination are superb, but the development ranges from clumsy and poor, to moderately entertaining, to interesting. The acting, like Twilight Zone, was superb, but the more frequent sci-fi special effects were laughably cheesy, yet somehow still managed to be creepy in some episodes. The other big flaw is the terribly preachy and simplistic ending attached to each episode, making you cringe as you see the predictable moral speech approaching. A mixed bag, more enjoyable if you can get past the bad qualities to its more impressive sci-fi skeleton.



Sarah Jane Adventures, The  
Based on half of the first season.

If Torchwood is the more adult-oriented offshoot of the new Doctor Who, this is the juvenile version of the same approach. Sarah Jane, the Doctor's assistant of old, finds purpose and adventure in life protecting the Earth from alien schemes and dangers (who saved the Earth before she decided to do this I wonder?). She finds help in various teenagers and children who are swept up in the crises and who form an ad-hoc team of alien-battling heroes. Surprisingly, this is the least sloppy of the three shows in terms of writing, and is very reminiscent of the old Doctor Who in its simpler, cheesier, but fun adventures and monster thrills, only its audience is purely juvenile and doesn't contain the same complexity, character or darker elements. Sarah Jane isn't much of a character, but the kids, neighbours and aliens provide color, along with a cheesy super-computer, the cheesy K-9 robot dog, and a sonic lipstick device (thankfully not as overused as in Doctor Who). Good for kids, it doesn't shy away from scaring them just a bit, provides some drama they can relate to and a moral mother figure, but seeing as I grew up with Doctor Who as a kid, I don't see why there has to be such an emphasis on kids for kid shows.



Futurama  
Based on the first two seasons and many scattered episodes.

From the maker of Simpsons comes a surprisingly different and entertaining show, proving he isn't a one-hit wonder. A pizza delivery boy accidentally freezes himself and wakes up 1000 years later, finding a job as... a delivery boy. He makes friends with a tough female cyclops whom he falls for (echoes of Farscape?), a booze-drinking, thieving, amoral, metal-bending robot, a crustacean/lobster doctor who knows nothing about human anatomy, and others. Given the creativity of the writers and the sci-fi setting, anything goes with the episodic plots, from an evil robotic Santa Clause, to invading aliens hooked on Ally McBeal, to time-travel paradoxes involving sex with your own ancestor. The characters are surprisingly violent and mean, the gags and jokes fly by at super-speed, and the creativity is superb, mixing irreverent satire, wild comedy and entertaining animation. The only flaw is that this wild, unfocused approach makes it impossible to relate to the characters and the show, leaving you with mere cartoonish entertainment instead of anything warm like the Simpsons.



Star Trek: Enterprise  
Based on most of the first and third seasons.

This fifth incarnation of Star Trek is surprisingly better than all predecessors except the original and managed to arrest the increasing deterioration in quality, but is still a mixed bag. The decision to make this a prequel, taking place before the original series when humans were more adventurous, volatile, excited and still fresh to the wonders of the universe is good. The writers attempt to fill in some blanks, building up some back-story for the original series, developing the tense, initial human relationships with the Vulcans and Klingons, and exploring their technological developments, but it also makes chaos out of previous Trek timelines, having these earlier humans discover many alien races too early, and sometimes changing the character of the aliens, betraying the fans.

At first, I was surprised by how enjoyable this is compared to other Treks since The Next Generation: The actors are actually quite good, making the lead characters flawed and warm personalities again instead of some stripped-down, bland, politically-correct, idealized, professional, bleeding-heart statues that we got used to in all Star Treks since TNG. I particularly liked Billingsley as the doctor. Even Jolene Blalock as a pretty Vulcan mostly gets it right in the first season, logic ruling her behaviour with only a few lapses, although she doesn't have the strength and hidden humanity of Nimoy's Spock and the writers seem to mistakenly need to gradually give her more emotional outbursts to the point of a complete emotional breakdown in season three, thus breaking the special appeal of her character. Compare this to the interesting things the writers did with Spock to understand what I mean. Also, and very unfortunately, the producers constantly undermine her character by making her wear impractical skin-tight and revealing outfits which are very unbecoming to a Vulcan, and several episodes find a variety of blatant ways to exploit her sexually.

Due to the lack of a fully-developed transporter and other devices that make life too easy, the dangers are more interesting. There are some attempts at making the aliens more alien, but, generally, this is still the same old silly Star Trek's lack of creativity and budget with overly humanoid aliens made by simply attaching various appendages to actors' heads and changing their behaviour only very slightly. The writing gets many points for making it more character-driven and about people and their ingenuity, rather than about boring politics, techno-babble, and what passes for alien customs in geek-dom. The sci-fi also is generally good and tries to come up with interesting episodic challenges, some recurring characters and traces of longer plot-lines, backed by plausible technicalities, but, unfortunately, most of the story lines are recycled from previous shows, and there is some lack of technological consistency between episodes. The third season is even better, presenting a story arc and more complex alien aliens. In short, there is mostly good as well as some bad, and I'm surprised that this show wasn't more successful. Altogether, I found this very watchable and a pleasant surprise, but not great. Oh, and it has possibly the worst opening title song of any show in history.



Heroes  
Based on the first one and a half seasons.

Ordinary people find out they have super-powers and get involved in conspiracies and destinies not of their choosing, many trying to live a normal life while battling villains or saving the world. A son of an Indian professor with unusual ideas about evolution and genetics continues his father's work in tracking down people with special abilities, while more and more people develop different super-powers and motivations, often crossing paths in complex season-long story arcs. This over-hyped show starts off solidly, like a poor man's X-Men by way of Unbreakable, the writing flowing very naturally from episode to episode as the many plot-lines and characters become more and more complex. But already midway through season one, things start to break down, with plot-holes, sloppy writing, soap-like coincidences and developments, and character inconsistencies.

The list grows with every episode. Some examples: One of the biggest problems is that the writers attribute super-powers to evolution and genetics, but then they have family members all 'inheriting' wildly different mutations, all supposedly random yet all of them so useful and fully developed. It makes no scientific sense. Then there are the many nonsensical powers like the ability to use the internet via the brain (wouldn't you have to learn about protocols first at the very least?), switching on a car using heat?, or channeling your dead sister through your body who somehow has superhuman strength (huh?). And if the powers are genetic, why do they go away and return only when you carry a sword? And how do you absorb other people's genetic powers just by standing around them, or by cutting open their cranium? Then there is Nathan Petrelli who learns he can fly but constantly brushes it off like it was a minor embarrassment, Peter Petrelli is too whiny, Sylar the villain, and a couple of other characters, all of who simply make no sense psychologically as the writing progresses. Soapy coincidences pile up as more and more people turn out to have powers or to be related to the others. The time-travel sequences don't demonstrate writers that have everything planned; Quite the opposite: they present time as something constantly in flux with situations changing depending on actions, and yet, they seem to miss the most obvious solutions and over-complicate things just to increase the drama, and then when it comes to Mendez who can see the future, nothing seems to be changeable. And so on. In short, a very good start and concept, but the writing unravels into chaos very fast in a show with obviously no quality control. Despite all this, it's still kinda addictive and sometimes fun, and two characters raise the level of this deeply flawed show with sheer personality: Masi Oka/Hiro Nakamura and Eccleston's Claude.



Red Dwarf  
Based on the first three seasons.

Cult British sci-fi series for fans of silly/clever sci-fi spoofs. Dave Lister the repairman is put into suspended animation as punishment for bringing his cat on board. He wakes up 3 million years later to find that the crew (and perhaps all humans) have died from radiation, his cat has evolved into a human-shaped and sized, preening, talking fop of a creature, his pompous, pedantic boss has survived only has a hologram, and the ship's computer has developed senility. This setup combined with imaginative sci-fi situations like time moving backwards, memory and holograph cloning, Cat gods, and alternate dimensions builds good comedy, but of a campy kind. The main character is a tad too smug and weak of an actor to pull it off, the writing is somewhat sloppy, and the budget is very low, but its good for some laughs.



Earth: Final Conflict  
Based on the first season.

The last creation of Gene Roddenberry. Seemingly benign but complex aliens have come to Earth, changing the future of mankind, both helping and using humans. They implant a handful of humans with motivational control devices to serve them, provide amazing technological solutions to humanity's problems, perform various experiments on them, learn their culture, some treating humans as inferior beings, others becoming more sympathetic and loving. An underground movement is dedicated to spy on and bring down the aliens. William Boone, whose wife has been killed by the aliens, is both an implant working for a sympathetic alien and a resistance fighter, and frequently has to fight in both camps. Good, disciplined science-fiction and interesting writing but mostly bland characters, extremely slow story-arc development, and no humor or character development. The first season is interesting but all agree that the second season onwards took a nose-dive.



Salem's Lot  

A vampire mini-series based on one of Stephen King's best classics, directed by Tobe Hooper. Unfortunately, it's a TV production from the 70s and this shows. A writer comes back to his hometown drawn to an evil house with new occupants. Soon, children are disappearing, people become fatally ill with acute anemia, visited in the night by lost family members and lovers, and before you know it, a vampire outbreak threatens the whole town. The writer, a horror fanboy, and some friends wage war on this fast-spreading terror. Some scenes are quite effectively directed and everyone seems to remember the visitation by the young vampire boy scratching on the window, but the effects and makeup are dated and somewhat hokey, and the atmosphere and characterizations of the book are somewhat lost. Better than the 2004 version but only in some ways.



Blakes 7  
Based on most of the first two seasons.

A classic British sci-fi show created by Terry Nation, the creator of many fine Doctor Who stories and the Daleks. It is also the precursor and prototype for shows such as Farscape, Firefly and Andromeda which feature a group of rebels fighting against a corrupt federation, their varied personalities often clashing with each other as well. In Blakes 7 there's an idealistic leader, a calculating but complex pragmatist, a psychic, a portable AI computer, a thief, etc. The companions are frequently replaced and most are criminals, some with no sense of honor, causing much tension and fascinating dynamics. They fly through space, usually fighting the federation and arch-nemeses or exploring strange new worlds. The show is episodic with some longer arcs and surprisingly, does not shy away from killing off its main characters without much ado. Thanks to Nation, the tone is more consistently serious here and the stories and dialogue more complex and interesting. The actors are good and deliver with great conviction, but this is counter-balanced by an extremely unconvincing low budget, silly costumes and home-made wobbly special effects. It could also do with more humor and less stiff characters. Overall, a well written, moderately interesting show, if you can get past the budget.



Firefly  
Based on all 14 episodes.

From the creator of Buffy and Angel comes this ambitious attempt at a character-driven science-fiction show with complex characters and some humor. The main characters are renegades, rogues and smugglers who roam the universe evading the Alliance while attempting to make a living in the underground and encountering various adventures and dangers. The future is a mixture of technology and the Old West, giving this show a unique look and atmosphere as gunslingers and farms mesh with gadgets, spaceships and super-weapons. The show was cancelled, leaving a cult following of angry fanatics. The problem with the show however is that the actors are all either miscast, very unconvincing or dull. The writing is good and you can see Whedon was attempting a more mature Angel with interesting character interactions, but it ends up inferior. Some characters, like the whore that everyone worships for some reason, are even annoying. A full-length movie followed in 2005 with similar problems but also with bigger special effects and plot.



Twin Peaks  
Based on both seasons.

Revolutionary TV series in many ways. This 1990 series didn't just create a serialized and continuous story line in a TV show way before this format became popular and before the small screen was taken seriously; It also teased the audience with an ongoing mystery and many interconnected details and clues, while entertaining the audience with the antics of its many quirky characters. And the whole mystery is pinned on Lynch's delivery of dream-logic and bizarrely supernatural elements that constantly tease by asking new questions as soon as some old ones are answered. The tone/genre is also a bizarre combination of mystery, crime, quirk, comedy, goofy comedy, soap drama, fantasy, horror and the downright strange. It's one of those pioneering creations that will puzzle new watchers that have taken everything that this show did for granted, given how every show since then has copied bits of it until it has become ubiquitous. It directly influenced shows like Northern Exposure, Picket Fences, X-Files, Lost, Wild Palms, American Gothic, and many more.

The core of the plot revolves around the murder of Laura Palmer, a high-school girl with complicated & dark secrets, in the small, isolated, woodland and very quirky town of Twin Peaks. An intuitive, brilliant and eccentric FBI agent Dale Cooper arrives to investigate, and ends up staying for longer and getting involved much more than planned. As with Blue Velvet, there is a combination of sweet small-town life and simple folk, with vicious, deep, dark secrets and crime, which translates in Lynch's language to quirky humans haunted by a bizarre and supernatural evil. While this is going on, the many small dramas, quirky behaviours, and back-stabbing intra-family feuds continue in soapy fashion. Lynch/Frost embrace the quirk and the soap, taking it to comical and even over-the-top levels in order to portray the eccentric strangeness of a small town in larger-than-life brush-strokes. Which somehow goes together with the incomprehensible supernatural evil that haunts the town as well. Right from the start, impasses are solved using strange psychic rituals as well as bizarre dreams and visions, a lady that gets messages from her wooden log acts as the local town prophet, and portals open up to dimensions where the laws of time and physics don't apply. And all through this, wives cheat on their husbands, spouses plot insurance schemes, men beat up women and visit a strange whore-house, etc. Except that all this soap is always mixed with an element of strange quirkiness, such as a woman that gets a strange biological malfunction that gives her super-strength and makes her think she is a teenager.

The core mystery continues to develop and tease until the middle of the second season when pressure forced a reveal and final resolutions (episodes 7-10). After that, the show wanders around, having whimsical fun with its many characters in a dozen scattered story-lines like a goofy beast without its head. This external pull also seemed to have affected the series in other ways, resulting in a show that is often schizophrenic and tonally chaotic. Creativity, whim, conflicting visions and network pressures, as well as this being a show that was inventing itself and its own path as it goes, means that this show is also unique and creative, but also very clunky at times, especially after the mystery reveal. The mystery itself often feels like a Macguffin to keep audiences titillated and intrigued, improvising and adding more and more layers to the mystery, while the rest of the show and characters get their stories told. The over-the-top soapy elements are also a hurdle, as is the cliff-hanger final episode. But audiences embraced it all and still do, and fan discussions over its many dense details and clues continue for decades after its airing. Followed by a brilliant, very different but much better, and very very dark prequel movie "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me" that takes its time to grow on you, as well as a much better third season 25 years later: "Twin Peaks: The Return".



Colour of Magic, The  

Second adaptation of a Terry Pratchett book in his random Discworld series, this two-parter based on a couple of early inferior books, and not such a successful movie after Hogfather. The story seems slapped together with a bunch of random nonsense about a tourist, some power-hungry or incompetent wizards, an old warrior, some dragons, an attempt by scientists to determine the gender of the giant turtle their world is flying on, and the alarming flight of the turtle through space, seemingly in the direction of a sun. There are some amusing moments and entertaining scenes, but jokes are stretched to movie-length plot elements and repeated, like the aggressive live luggage that follows its owner everywhere, the tourism satire, and the petty wizards killing each other for power in silly ways. Entertaining in pieces, but dorky, unstructured and haphazard as a whole, without the warm magic of Hogfather.



Future Man  
Based on all three seasons.

Silly but fun entertainment. The first season is like the Farrelly Brothers made a spoof of Terminator, and a bunch of other time-travel sci-fi movies. It's dumb, irreverent, raunchy, juvenile fun. A limited form of entertainment, but an entertaining way to pass the time. Time-travelling warriors interrupt some of Josh Futturman's private time in order to save all of humanity. Except that he is only a loser, horny, janitor-gamer, and they are raw, uncouth, trigger-happy rebels with the social skills of a wild boar. Both blood and sperm will fly while they try, repeatedly, to save the world using this tricky time-travel thing that somehow always goes wrong. Sometimes, the fate of humanity revolves around a blowjob. There are endless amusing movie and pop-culture references as well as spoofs, and the sci-fi plot becomes increasingly outlandish. There are deadly cyborgs, funny adventures and culture clashes in the 40s, 60s and 80s, a deadly herpes cure, an all powerful James Cameron, emotional houses, scores of Back to the Future references, etc. Then season two goes crazy with wacky post-apocalyptic spoofs, warped future families, and dystopian sci-fi madness. Season three goes all out into anything-goes time-warping scenarios and a fantasy-sci-fi 'heaven', like a Doctor Who season gone mad. As the seasons progress, the wacky imagination and entertainment levels increase, but the laughs are less strong. It becomes increasingly about anything-goes sci-fi silliness and entertainment. The characters all feel like they came out of cartoon, and the writers take their personalities to several chaotic and extreme paths within a single season. And practically all of them are strangely and randomly bisexual for some reason. This isn't as witty and crazy as Preacher, and this one is much more juvenile and silly than that show, but it is still fun, in its own limited way.



Reaper  
Based on the first season.

This is one of those silly but entertaining shows that are fun to watch as long as you don't expect anything except a light amusing way to pass the time. Sam discovers his soul has been sold to the devil by his parents, and he is now obligated to work as a kind of 'reaper', or, to be more precise, a bounty hunter for hell. Escaped souls from hell are captured with a random 'vessel' and delivered to the local DMV where a demoness guards a mail slot to hell. His slacker but energetic friends join in on the adventures, and his rocky relationship with a female friend complicates his life even further. Although the dialogue and acting is fun, the premise is simply too random and illogical, with the mentality of a game show. Like Warehouse 13, Lost Room, etc. random objects like toasters and bubble toys receive random magical properties to become 'vessels', the devil plays random jokes on Sam and sends Sam on random missions he could have performed easily himself, and souls receive random super-powers, all having no reason to exist except to allow the writers to keep things 'colorful' and keep you guessing by maintaining that game-adventure-quest approach. The structure is mixed, starting with a handful of formulaic and silly episodes, and providing one escaped soul per episode, then mixing it up a little and developing more story arcs involving relationships with girlfriends and demons, secrets kept by his parents and the devil, and so on. Unlike Dead Like Me, the show goes to great lengths to make the reaped souls not only already dead and in hell, but also despicable mass murderers, all to avoid any drama, and there is no such thing as an ordinary person who is trying to escape hell. Which means this show has absolutely no edges or depth; It is purely silly and moderately fun entertainment. Ray Wise makes a good devil though.



Tales from the Darkside  
Based on most of the first season.

Yet another horror anthology series from the 80s, this one with a higher rate of weak or silly episodes, but it is still generally entertaining. Although it boasts some names like Romero, Savini and Stephen King as well as a few bigger actors, this is also not as star-studded as the others, but the acting is not the problem. The short 20-minute format is nice, and tone ranges from campy fun to cheesy horror to psychologically dark. The topics cover the usual monsters, ghosts, strange tales, spells, cannibals, evil machines, undead family members, and the plain unexplainable that causes havoc with normal people's lives. The writing mostly isn't impressive however, with obvious or nonsensical twist endings that are just there to surprise whether they make sense or not, and in the end, you just watch these for the entertainingly amusing or campy episodes



Monsters  
Based on most of the first season.

A sister show to Tales from the Darkside from the same producers with a very similar format and approach to anthology horror. The budget feels relatively lower however. Episodes are bite-size 20-minute stories usually with a little twist, so even the weak ones don't overstay their welcome and stay just long enough to entertain. Also, as with Tales, the episodes range from chilly and pretty interesting little horror stories, to weak cheesy camp. Most of the stories involve a monster, often with cheesy effects, and it's up to the story to deliver something more interesting, which it sometimes does. The introductions are repetitive scenes of a monster family watching the episodes. In short, another mildly fun horror anthology.



Probe  
Based on the single season.

Discovering an obscure sci-fi series co-created by Isaac Asimov should get any sci-fi fan excited, but unfortunately, he doesn't seem to have been too involved in the writing and its quality. This is an interesting, fun but frequently silly short-lived 80s series that mixes Sherlock Holmes with science. The brilliant and eccentric Austin James and his female assistant get called to investigate bizarre murder cases that usually involve inexplicable physical phenomena, but, unlike X-Files, these cases always involve a sci-fi gadget, experiment or invention. These include illusions, overpowering computer programs, robots, killer elevators, special apes, magic spells and more. Its usually fun, the characters are quirky but slightly over-acted and artificial, the cases are entertainingly convoluted, but its not always as clever as it seems with plenty of silly deductions (calculating the height of a man according to the lipstick smudge on his date?), and silly science (computer programs that gain control over gas and water pipes? viruses that can target a single human?).



Space: 1999  
Based on most of the first season.

A not-as-popular classic sci-fi series from the 70s by Gerry Anderson, who also created the more sixties-esque and lower-budget 'UFO', and the marionette show 'Thunderbirds'. Anyone who watches the original Star Trek and Doctor Who will feel right at home with this look and feel of bleeding bright colors, cheap costumes, obvious plastic miniatures, artificial scenery, 70s technology, etc. The episodic writing is also comparable, offering wildly imaginative sci-fi where anything can happen, including two moons from different time-lines merging into one, immortal bullies, and supernatural alien cultures. The tone is slightly darker, with every episode offering more humans up for the slaughter, and not quite ideal endings. But its the characters that falter here, lacking the warmth, personality and humor of the aforementioned shows, and you will not find yourself warming up to the actors much who aren't given dimensions and character. The setup is wild and doesn't make much scientific sense: The moon breaks away from Earth orbit after a catastrophe and the 350 humans on the moon-base, instead of instantly evacuating, find themselves travelling through space which somehow seems extremely busy and populated even though they are travelling at sub-light speeds in a straight line. But, as mentioned, the imaginative writing, as well as the guest actors, make this one moderately interesting and fun.



Triangle, The  

A slightly above average Sci-Fi Channel mini-series ruined by extremely sloppy and lazy writing. It starts off with the cliched Haunted House plot of a team of miscellaneous people hired to investigate supernatural phenomena, only in this case they have to solve the Bermuda Triangle. Enter disappearing ships, airplanes, people that get instantly old, time-travel, hallucinations, alternate realities, science techno-babble, travelling between dimensions, Armageddon, government conspiracies and the kitchen sink. It gets entertaining half-way, then gets a little interesting with the exploration of alternate realities, then it falls apart. The final solution makes no sense, the writing blatantly and inconsistently gives different experiences to different people, it has no clue on how to handle time-travel and the ending wraps things up too neatly with forced happy endings. Still, it's got pretty good effects for a TV movie, and the acting is good.



Max Headroom  
Based on the first season.

An 80s icon, and an American series based on an unusual British cyberpunk sci-fi movie with some shared actors. The setup is a future where media and computers rule the world, where networks war for ratings, hackers provide valuable services, and TVs are everywhere. Edison Carter is an intrepid investigative journalist who gets himself in trouble with a network after digging into some dangerous technology for commercials, after which they reproduce him as a computer program complete with memories, sarcasm and sense of humor. The first episode is a very weak and childish remake of the movie, but they improve soon after, with episodic stories full of dystopian sci-fi imagination (sales of bodies, omnipotent corporations, hacker terrorists, etc), 80s cheese, investigations and mysteries, a slightly punkish attitude (but much less than in the original movie), and constant wise-cracks and commentary by the blonde, electronically stuttering, uncontrollable talking-head Max Headroom. It's the 80s though, the characters don't develop, and the approach to computers and screen technology is typically laughable, as well as very dated.



Tin Man  

Sci-Fi channel mini-series that re-imagines characters from the Wizard of Oz as a science fiction and fantasy adventure. Oz becomes a planet with a tornado as its conduit, the emerald is a source of great power, the lion is a cowardly psychic creature, the tin man is a cop, etc. DG finds herself on a quest to save the world with her new strange companions, uncovering many secrets, encountering a variety of odd creatures, machines and magical objects, and fighting off an evil witch and her army. This is all quite entertaining, but the show is horribly uninvolving mainly due to the poor casting of an extremely robotic and bland girl as the protagonist, and a witch that looks like a brat from a soap opera with a legion of flying monsters emerging from her cleavage of all things. How can you take that seriously? The writing has no depth and feels like it was written by a geeky teenager who is mainly preoccupied with adventure and magic, and the special effects and supporting characters range from acceptable to mediocre. Maybe it was targeted only for children. Flatly entertaining.



Wild Palms  

Cyberpunk mini-series influenced by and compared to Twin Peaks, with many names like Oliver Stone, Kathryn Bigelow, Belushi and Dourif involved. For the first half, the show feels like no-one is in charge, pulling in several confusing directions at once: There are the strange dreams, interconnected events and Lynchian mantras, a sci-fi vision of the near-future where virtual reality emerges to replace TVs, phones, and other forms of entertainment (Bigelow?), a convoluted conspiracy involving not one but two opposing underground groups called Fathers and Friends that seem to run the world (Stone?), thriller action-drama, strange Scientology-like cults, and an evil child. Harry Wyckoff uncovers massive conspiracies and machinations involving senators, powerful corporations and TV networks, revolutions, world-domination, secret family ties and child-snatching, where one family member after another seems to be involved. He tries to pick a side and stay alive as his nightmares about a rhinoceros and symbolic palm trees keep popping up. After a couple of episodes, the show settles down mostly with the cyberpunk world-domination angle. Mildly entertaining, but besides the haphazard and nonsensical writing, the vision of virtual reality seems half baked and the future world feels lacking in vision.



Ring of the Nibelungs  

An adaptation of the old Norse/German fantasy tale about a blacksmith who kills a dragon, gets the dragon's gold, wins favor with the king, falls for the Queen of Iceland, a Valkyrie, and soon finds himself both adored and hated by various people in power who either want him or his gold, the curse of the gold ring hanging over him. It inspired the Lord of the Rings and is a great story, perfectly suitable for epic operas and movies. However, this TV production messes with the story a bit too much and casts two horrible leads. Siegfried is mostly a grinning, cocky, unlikeable idiot, and Brunnhild, acted by Terminator 3's Loken, is good with rage but terribly flat with everything else. Even the dragon is weak. The rest of the cast is merely OK and von Sydow is a strong presence as always. Silly first half, much stronger second half but mostly because the grand story gains momentum. With better leads and production, this could have rivaled Lord of the Rings. And that's the real tragedy.



Lexx    
Based on the first two seasons.

A cult, unique Canadian-German campy sci-fi show that is a very mixed bag. On the one hand, the imagination rivals Dune in its other-worldly creativity and it takes you away to strange future worlds with creatures that are not always humanoid both in appearance and behaviour. On the other hand, the plot development isn't clever at all and though it has great ideas, it tends to get sloppy and inconsistent. On the one hand it has humor, nastiness, sex and other things that make Hollywood scurry for cover, but on the other hand the humor is purposely campy and gets terribly silly, ruining the effect of the show.

The various plots and bizarre adventures involve four main characters (the show gleefully and regularly kills off everyone else): A pathetic coward who constantly tries to get into Zev/Xev's skimpy pants, who is part love slave, part lizard. They are accompanied by a dead, deadly assassin who has no motivation to do anything ever since he died 2000 years ago, and a decapitated robot head who got the other half of the love slave treatment and is now obsessively in love with Zev/Xev. These characters are unfortunately either unappealing, annoying or dull and even the pleasure of eyeing Eva Habermann was stopped short in season 2.

The first season is made up of four movie-length episodes, the first of which comes recommended. These four are often unpredictable, creative, interesting and fun, despite their campiness. The second season instantly settled for a more episodic and silly TV-show approach, with only a handful of really good episodes.



Sliders  
Based on the first season and scattered episodes.

A science fiction comedy about a brilliant-handsome-athletic-charming student (yeah right) who invents a portable wormhole device that creates bridges between parallel worlds. He takes his professor, his almost-but-not-quite girlfriend, and a hapless black singer in search of his singing career who falls into a parallel world by mistake. The fun of the show comes from two things: The chemistry, amusing interaction and characters of the four leads, of which Rhys-Davies, as usual, single-handedly raises the entertainment factor a few points and pulls everything together with his roaring personality, and secondly, the expectation of what wacky twist of reality the next parallel world will bring. Worlds include a communist-Russia dominated USA, a world without penicillin, a world about to be destroyed, a world where the sex and hippy revolution didn't die, a world where intellectuals are the superstars, etc etc. Flaws include the lack of longer story-arcs, the incredulous fact that most worlds involve the leads as fulcrum characters, and the worst of all: the incredibly simplistic and silly writing that almost never allows you to believe in the reality of a world. They really should think things through better.



Star Trek: The Next Generation  
Based on the third season and many scattered episodes.

Years after the original series got cancelled after only three seasons, the feature films renewed interest in Rodenberry's creation and the studios pushed for a new reincarnation. Once again, the new and improved Enterprise was launched to explore new worlds and go where no man has gone before, this time with better special effects, a bigger budget and a new politically-correct, peace-loving crew, with even the once vicious Klingons and challenging Vulcans being softened down to match the liberal, idealistic, utopian vision of Rodenberry. The show was being pulled in different directions and it got off to a shaky, cheesy start with messy writing, but during the middle seasons it reached a peak.

Overall, this show is a very mixed bag. The good: Better effects, some interesting writing during the third-fourth seasons with occasional story arcs, the scary Borg, Patrick Stewart's Shakespearean voice and strong presence, and the fact that its not as geeky and stiff as the later Trek shows. The bad: Mostly stiff or weak characters, Vulcans aren't as interesting anymore, the extremely annoying and silly character of Wesley Crusher, the extremely bland Pinocchio-cyborg character of Data who was obviously a very weak replacement for Spock, political correctness, and the overuse of the fantasy generating holodeck. Despite all its flaws, the original series was a lot more fun, warm and fresh.



4400  
Based on the first two seasons.

4400 abductees from different time periods come back in a huge ball of light, each with special psychic powers. The government tries to understand, control, hinder or help them in whatever their purpose may be. This is somewhat interesting drama sci-fi that is sorely lacking in humor, colorful characters, imagination and some risk-taking. There are episodic stories where some of the 4400 get into some kind of trouble with their super-powers and there are several ongoing story arcs with regular characters, as well as the slowly developing mystery of the 4400. Some of the longer arcs become soapish and the shorter ones feel like X-Files lite. In other words, this is moderately interesting but flat.
The first season is short (5 episodes) and gets quite interesting in the second half, but is only a buildup for the second season so it feels incomplete. The second season rapidly settles into mediocrity with only a couple of more interesting episodes.



Jessica Jones (Marvel)  
Based on all three seasons.

The second in a series of inter-connected shows by Netflix based on Marvel comic-book super-heroes. This is a very different show from Daredevil however. Instead of an idealist super-hero that enjoys fighting and saving lives, this one involves a snarky, damaged, self-hating and neurotic NY lady with super-strength that is trying to avoid her super-hero destiny and work as a PI instead. But angry clients, involvement with dangerous criminals, and various parties that become increasingly interested in her abilities, don't allow her to avoid flexing her muscles and getting in frequent danger. Her mysterious past and crazy adopted family also keep making things more complicated. As such, this show is more about characters, tension, psychological damage, comedy and drama rather than about action (although it has that as well). Krysten Ritter has a bit of the look and vibe of Eliza Dushku going for her, albeit a little less intense. The super-powers wielded by a damaged person, combined with the criminals that she fights that are both messed-up in the head and that commit messed-up crimes, result in a very different kind of show, with its own brand of colorful characters that may or may not appeal to different people. It also provides relatively more realism for a super-hero show. I found it moderately interesting, but with problems in the writing, depending on the season.

The first season has the most problems as far as I'm concerned and it almost caused me to stop watching. Although it features a compelling bad guy in the shape of a mind-control super-villain (David Tennant) that turns the whole world into his disposable toys, slaves and sex-slaves, it has Jessica do really illogical and immoral things for most of the running time. For some reason, she decides to keep him alive to collect evidence against him in order to get one girl out of jail, even while she watches him kill or endanger dozens of other people. In the meantime, she and the law also ignore obvious witnesses and evidence that could be used to get him in jail, claiming weak things like disbelief to brush this option aside. The only possible reason for all this, obviously, is to keep the season going despite obvious solutions to the problem. Strangely, this is the same problem that plagued Daredevil (refusing to kill bad guys even when all other options run out) although for different reasons, and it is much worse here. The writing does several other similar contrived things to the script, making its characters often do nonsensical things just to keep the twists coming, and the whole first season suffers as a result. Which is a pity because the fight against a completely amoral psychopath with mind-control capabilities is interestingly dark.

The second season switches to a very different kind of antagonist that messes up Jessica's head even more, and which also provides her with a very good reason to be conflicted between her responsibilities and her other personal issues. This is by far the best of the three seasons (despite reviews that claim the opposite). The personal tension and moral conflicts gradually build up as Jessica finds herself on both sides of the fence. The highly three-dimensional villain is not black and white in this season, and this makes it a much more interesting one. The only problem is that it features neurotic estrogen overload, what with a damaged super-hero, an even more problematic girl with warped ideals that makes Jessica look healthy by comparison, as well as an unhinged psychotic serial-killing woman, and a ruthless sociopathic lesbian power-lawyer that hurts anyone that gets close to her. Ironically, audiences accused this season of being politically correct, except that it is the exact opposite, providing an argument against giving women any power. It even has its sociopath lesbian make a speech about empowering women which is so obviously tongue-in-cheek, yet the irony flew right past many people.

The third season is a mixed bag: The quality of writing is somewhere in between the first and second seasons, with both good and weaker aspects. There is a clear-cut villain antagonist again, this time a very intelligent regular human serial-killer that uses his brains to outmaneuver the super-heroines, except Jessica once again takes her ideologies too far putting too many people in danger and once again doing stupid things just to keep the season-long clash with the killer going artificially. The second plot-line involves an interesting question of when a hero can cross the line and lose themselves in the violence or killing to become an immoral person. Unfortunately this question is not explored to satisfaction, opting for superficial and even immoral ideology in the form of a simplistic condemnation of killing. So, like I said, this is a mixed bad of a season with many flaws once again, but it also has some points of interest.



Defenders, The (Marvel)  
Based on the single season.

This is Netflix's Avengers, combining super-heroes from four of its Marvel/Netflix super-hero shows for a team-work extravaganza. It's more like a 7-hour mini-series though, and definitely feels made-for-TV rather than anything grandiose. Jessica Jones, Daredevil, Iron Fist, Luke Cage and all their friends find their paths converging when they follow some crimes to their source: The Hand, an evil organization set up in two of the other shows, featuring some supernatural undead powers, several powerful leaders and fighters, and hundreds of minions. The confrontations increase in intensity for a grand finale. It is entertaining and action-packed in predictable ways. Unfortunately there is no inspiration of anything really interesting here beyond mere entertainment, like a very long super-hero b-movie. Jessica Jones is the most colorful character here (as in the stand-alone shows), Daredevil isn't much without his colorful supporting cast, and the other two are weak as usual. They even resurrect Elektra for this run, and, just as in Daredevil, the writers once again can't seem to make up their minds about her and have her swing in five different directions. In short, a mildly entertaining way to pass the time, but nothing more.



Wynonna Earp  
Based on the first season and some of the second.

This is like the girl-power version of Supernatural and is based on a comic book. But I don't mean to make it sound like a male-bashing show. Melanie Scrofano manages to do something uncommon in this day and age: To portray a strong, smart and sexy girl without resorting to bitchiness or male-bashing. This show is about the female descendants of Wyatt Earp and their various friends in a horror-fantasy world populated by many demons. Equipped with Earp genes, some sharp-shooting supernatural gifts, a supernatural gun, a wise-cracking mouth and a yearning for wild action in all shapes and forms, she battles the demons that keep trying to take over, escape their Wyatt curse, or otherwise cause general violent mayhem. There is also a secret government agency trying to keep things under control, populated by eccentrics, super-soldiers and strict bosses with agendas. Wynonna and friends are the misfits however, and a big part of the fun is in the wild attitudes. When I say 'girl-power' however, there are some aspects that can be tiresome: Like the obvious agenda of making women outdo men everywhere and keep men as barely useful side-kicks. Or like the hypocritical writing that can turn straight people gay but not vice versa. Or like the ridiculous idea of making gay demons who also happen to be the only nice demons just to make the PC crowd happy. But these are only minor annoyances in this show. The writing mixes demon-of-the-week structure with different evil powers, as well as story arcs involving curses and plots. Some episodes are bland, some are pretty good, especially when the plot takes off in the middle and last few episodes of season one. It takes a while to get going though, and the first five episodes are rough and weak. Other writing flaws include the fact that demons have plenty of opportunities to kill the good guys but don't for no apparent reason. And the mythology gets more and more convoluted as it goes, with an anything-goes approach to supernatural evil and curses. I found it somewhat entertaining, for a while.



Stargate SG-1  
Based on most of seasons 1, 2, 5, 9 and 10 and many scattered episodes.

Based on the much more interesting but flawed movie, the show features a special army unit that is sent week after week to deal with some alien crisis or to help another planet via the teleporting Stargate. Alien recurring enemies include the arrogant Goa'uld that use powerful technology with Egyptian aesthetics, the rapidly replicating machine-Replicators, and in later seasons, the fanatically religious Ori and their followers. Recurring themes include the discovery of ancient myths and gods as having a basis in alien cultures and technology, including the folklore of Thor, King Arthur, Egyptian mythology, Atlantis etc., and clashing scientists and soldiers that have to learn to work with each other to deal with alien technologies and threats. The human race develops quickly as they capture more alien technology, but the dangers keep growing and proliferating as well.

This is the only show I know of that gradually jumped the shark in reverse over ten seasons. Seasons 1-4 are terrible: Science and army-oriented action save the day week after week, worlds are saved, repressed societies freed, battles won and strong enemies defeated all in one hour with some facile action maneuvers or some claptrap deus-ex-machina scientific gobbledygook. The Goa'uld and their armies are usually very easily defeated, even though they have superior technology. Alien planets and cultures are over-anthropomorphic and too similar to Earth, and the army's security measures and inability to learn from mistakes are laughable. The writing is cliched and predictable, nothing surprising ever happens despite the fact that this is sci-fi, and the actors/characters are all dull as dishwater and instantly forgettable. The writers gradually give Jack more wit and character and he is supposed to provide the humor with snarky comments and sarcasm, but his delivery usually feels artificial, and the rest are far worse. There is never any conviction, nobody carries the show so the show doesn't go anywhere. Tapping is so robotic in her delivery and artificial acting that she makes Data from Star Trek look human and the rest aren't too far behind. The villains are as boring and single-note as the protagonists, portraying black and white evil arrogant bores. Based on the first half of this show, this is, at best, action-oriented entertainment with OK special effects, or sci-fi for kids.

The transitional seasons 5-6 introduce more complex stories, the characters loosen up a bit, have slightly more fun with it and provide more interesting human angles. Seasons 7-8 bring all the plot threads to a grand climax with ongoing and much more intense story arcs, finally making this show quite watchable. Seasons 9-10 are like a brand new show, featuring cast changes and brand new powerful enemies in the form of the more interesting and challenging Ori, and the show imports Black and Bowder from Farscape. Bowder delivers a good character, but Claudia Black, as usual, drives the whole show forward with her personality and charm, even forcing the rest of the cast to interact with her with more color, the writers giving her a character of a flirty, con-woman, sex-pot thief with complex inner conflicts and drives. The end of season 10 crams what seems like a season's worth of writing into a couple of episodes, and the mediocre direct-to-video movies that came afterwards feel like more attempts at filming many leftover ideas that were in danger of being abandoned.



Stargate: Atlantis  
Based on the first season.

A spin-off of Stargate SG-1 has a team discover a far-away planet of Atlantis long abandoned by the Ancients, only to find themselves isolated in this galaxy (presumably, to avoid many cross-overs and dealings with the same enemies as the original Stargate). The show features the same semi-clashing but mostly co-operative mix of scientists and military men, and the nemeses providing the story arcs are the Wraith, a super-powerful and advanced race of beings that look like vampires, collecting humans like cattle for feeding. Being a spin-off during the latter half of Stargate, I would expect the creators to have learned a thing or two from the original, but this is only partially the case. For starters, the casting and personalities are relatively better, but still vary in quality: Lt. Colonel Sheppard and Dr Weir are both passably good, but are still somewhat bland, Dr. McKay the technical genius, Dr. Zelenka, and Dr. Beckett the Scottish doctor provide genuine memorable and enjoyable personalities which shows what can happen when you don't use super-model looks as a criterion, Teyla is horribly and distractingly flat even though she was cast for her curves, and the rest don't even register. Once again, the writers set up a powerful enemy which allegedly wiped out even a super-race like the Ancients, and yet the humans don't seem to have many problems beating them or escaping from them over and over again, turning the Wraiths into almost laughable boogie-men. They're easily blown up with Ancient technology, they seem to depend on brute force most of the time, and there's even an episode where a whole fleet is wiped out with some Ancient technology, so how did they ever win? Davi as the evil human military genius Commander Kolya is much scarier, but he doesn't appear much. Another problem with the original regarding the childish approach to alien cultures was also not corrected here, and many of the people and sets look like they just came off a backstage prep and beauty salon rather than living an actual alien life. The writing repeats many episodic story-lines that I've seen in a dozen sci-fi shows before this and nothing really stands out even if some scattered good episodes provide a solid way to pass the time. As far as I'm concerned, the original only gets higher marks because of its last two seasons, and the Replicators and Ori were much more interesting, but overall, this show is better because the characters are more fun (they take half a season to warm up though). Either way, this is only passable sci-fi entertainment at best. Also, I see that Tapping replaces Weir and Beckett in season four - that can't be good.



Dark Skies  
Based on the single season.

This show about aliens on Earth, government agencies, conspiracies and 20th century history as related to aliens was released during the peak of the X-Files run, and way before Taken. It doesn't have the quality, creativity and atmosphere of X-Files, but it has advantages of its own: A focused story arc that only deals with aliens on Earth and no other episodic supernatural occurrences, and an entertaining re-interpretation of history in the light of alien conspiracies. Another unique touch is that the aliens are themselves invaded by a third alien species. John is the protagonist along with his girlfriend who find themselves deep in complex plots that involve the future of humankind, caught between the Greys, an advanced alien species with unknown goals, the Hive, a species of leeches that invade, infest and control other organisms, and Majestic, a secret agency that has to fight the aliens as well as keep everything secret. Almost every episode develops the war and conspiracies forward as the tactics keep evolving, some episodes focusing on fighting abductions and alien infections, others on miscellaneous experiments on both sides, or on attempts to expose the secrets. Big events like the Kennedy assassination, Beatles coming to America, Howard Hughes isolating himself, the big blackout, Vietnam, etc. are all woven into the alien tapestry which sometimes causes these events, or has other close ties with them, the show using a mix of stock footage, tricky casting and editing tricks to splice the events together. Unfortunately, although the show is interesting, it isn't as compelling and has some flaws: The main flaw is the flat leads, who look and act like dolls without personalities. Some effects are poor, the ideas don't really feel inspired or fresh, and the writing doesn't take many risks. Also, the show had a 5-year story arc but was cancelled after only one, and the season ends on a cliffhanger. Slightly above average and moderately interesting at best.



Alphas  
Based on the first season.

Yet another uninspired, copycat Sci-Fi series that is entertaining but only in the most commercial way possible. This is a copy of X-Men, except that humans with super-abilities are named Alphas, and they too have problems with normal humans and two conflicting idealistic leaders, one more willing to go to war than the other. The show is mostly happy with evil-Alpha-of-the-week episodes that often feel like superhero versions of CSI, but also provide longer developments to do with the revolutionary and violent Red Flag movement of Alphas. Besides the unoriginality, the biggest problem is with the brainless writing and some of the super-abilities. Gary's abilities to not only see but also manipulate electronic waves as if they were some kind of floating computer screen with a user interface are ridiculous, not to mention that more than half of the things he does are either impossible or could be done by anyone with a computer. His pseudo-autistic personality is unrealistic but fun - just another incarnation of the Hollywood 'hacker' character I suppose. Hicks's super-coordination is very cool. Rachel's super-senses are mostly used merely as a mobile forensic lab - not very imaginative. And the rest are hit and miss. Altogether, an entertaining time-waster in between the scenes involving bad writing, but very uninspired and doesn't have anything compelling to offer.



Kolchak: The Night Stalker      
Based on two TV movies and most of the single season.

Although this is often known as the 70s version and inspiration for X-Files, the tone and approach are very dissimilar. This show gives equal balance to character, comedy, action and fun, and not only spooks, supernatural mysteries and thrills. It is also not as realistic, and many of the guest stars tend to be portrayed in a campy or dated way. That said, this show's strength is Darren McGavin as Kolchak, an aggressive, intensely curious reporter full of personality who may lack in people skills, but when he smells a whiff of something strange, he does everything he can to get the story, usually involving himself in the process, as well as putting himself in harm's way, having to fight the dangerous creature himself. There is one episode dealing with UFOs that barely touches an alien mystery, and that probably inspired X-Files, but most of the show deals with various creatures, monsters, supernatural humans, mythical legends come to life, etc. His boss and the police force are always in denial about what he finds, even when it's staring them in the face, and his evidence often tends to get lost or ruined during the chaos. His comically abrasive interactions with the people around him provide the comedy and character. The structure is very limited and repetitive, but the episodes are usually fun, and even a bit spooky at times, but, as mentioned, Darren McGavin carries the show with his portrayal.



Masters of Horror  
Based on both seasons.

In the grand tradition of anthologies, Mick Garris collects all of the luminaries (directors, actors and writers) of horror he can muster for this show, some from the 70s and 80s, others more modern, trendy and popular. The variety in quality is as extreme as it gets, ranging from pathetically poor to horrifically entertaining, but the variety of stories and approaches helps, as you never know what the next episode will bring. It also seems that horror audiences have evolved and split into two camps, the dwindling few that appreciate well-written horror, personality, or some black comedy and satire in their terrors, and the modern masses who seem to only rate highly the nasty gore and nifty special effects, regardless of how weak the writing and characterizations are. This series also breaks the usual boundaries of horror anthology TV regarding gore and nudity, making an effort to include as much of these as possible in every episode. Overall, this show has way too many duds and disappointing episodes relative to the successful and entertaining ones, but it's still fun to watch once for its variety and to see what these 'masters' can do with a TV series format.

The first season's highlights are: John Landis's blackly amusing 'Deer Woman', proving he still has what it takes to make horror-comedies, Stuart Gordon's somewhat creepy 'Dreams in the Witch-House', Larry Cohen's 'Pick Me Up' with an entertaining b-movie twist to serial killers, and perhaps also Lucky McKee's 'Sick Girl' that starts out silly but becomes quite entertaining, and Dario Argento's dark but simplistic 'Jenifer'. Some weaker episodes worth mentioning: John Carpenter's overrated and unoriginal cut-and-paste job 'Cigarette Burns', Joe Dante's amusing zombie-satire 'Homecoming' that is a bit too liberally biased for its own good, Takashi Miike's pointlessly gruesome, violent, sick, badly-acted, nonsensical punk-horror 'Imprint' that was banned from TV, and Tobe Hooper's intriguing 'Dance of the Dead' that ultimately disappoints and goes nowhere with Englund chewing the scenery.

Most of the directors return for a second round in another season, which is generally weaker, and it seems they invested effort to increase the gratuitous nasty gore quota for its own sake, but it's still somewhat watchable. The best episode of the whole series is probably Dante's 'Screwfly Solution' with its compelling mix of horror, gender-war satire, and sci-fi, like a really good and modernized Twilight Zone episode, its only flaw being ideological in that it feeds the misandrist feminist social viewpoints on violent men. John Landis delivers again with 'Family', an even more black horror-comedy with an ending that takes a jab at torture-porn. Brad Anderson provides a good psychological episode in 'Sounds Like', and Gordon directs 'Black Cat' a classier episode by Edgar Allan Poe marred by some weak plot devices in the original. The rest are weaker: Hooper's 'Damned Thing' is intriguing, viscerally evil and violent, but disappoints in its ending. Carpenter's 'Pro-Life' is pointlessly nasty and uses hokey supernatural horror and straw men to make a statement for abortion. But it does feature Ron Perlman. Argento offers the silly 'Pelts' about evil raccoons, 'Right to Die' is a Tales from the Crypt style ghoulish episode with over-the-top gore and immoral characters, 'Washingtonians' just has silly fun with an outrageous idea, and the rest aren't worthy of mention.



Taboo  
Based on the first season.

Don't be fooled by the descriptions of a dark period drama; This is actually a fantasy-horror series in the sense that the protagonist is psychic and practices all kinds of dark magic, and the series is relentlessly cruel, dark, filthy and twisted with not a single somewhat-well-adjusted human character in sight. It's not even as balanced as Penny Dreadful, which is saying a lot, and feels like a period drama as imagined by yet another misanthropic dark-comic-book artist. It's about a secretive and scandalous anti-hero James Delaney (Tom Hardy) who arrives in 1814 England for his father's funeral after a stay in Africa, who finds himself battling two governments and the all-powerful East India Company after his father leaves him an important inheritance. There are plots and counter-plots galore and the writing is complex, and the story and performances are gripping. But, and this is a big but, it's completely ridiculous relentlessly dark fantasy with anachronisms galore. Everyone either is psychic or has the most efficient spy network in human history and knows everything. There is not a single human being in sight; everyone is either a bizarre killer, with depraved appetites, over-the-top evil manipulative agendas without any other dimensions to their character, etc. There is incest backed by supernatural lust magic, the grotesque king looks like a character from Little Britain or Monty Python, and even the hero acts like a serial-killer for no apparent reason while his serial-killer enemies admire his handiwork. Tom Hardy himself delivers another one of his special performances, always intense and grippingly colorful, but never resembling reality. He has made a career of chewing the scenery, despite that fact that he has delivered many subtle performances as well. Both fascinating and ridiculous at the same time, and just another unrealistically dark modern TV show.



OA, The  
Based on both seasons.

Unusual and original supernatural TV series with pervasive and fatal writing flaws. At the center is a young woman who may have mysterious supernatural powers, or who may just be insane, driven to fantasy by a trauma. The show plays on this ambiguity for most of its running time, showing the events from an otherworldly point of view, but also leaving room to doubt everything, even way past when it becomes obvious which of the viewpoints are real. She used to be blind, and disappeared for seven years, coming back with her eyesight intact and insane stories of a Russian mafia, an abduction, and bizarre scientific experiments involving death. She collects a bizarre group of desperate broken people to which she tells her stories. To tell any more would be to ruin the series, and this show keeps you watching mostly just to find out what will happen next, due to its very unique story-lines.

The first episode starts poorly. I was convinced I had another Lost on my hands. Characters play coy, and the camera and writing are more devious and manipulative, not revealing anything even when it is obvious that the characters need to be talking. Characters never seem real, displaying completely implausible reactions to events, and their behaviour feels like they are chess pieces set up by the writer rather than that of real people. Characters just do stupid things, bizarre things, without ever once thinking about what they are doing, passively or emotionally letting the plot take them where it needs to, and mostly never reacting as you would expect humans to react. This problem continues throughout the first season. But, at the same time, her fascinating story is told in stages and this keeps one watching, if only to find out where it goes. So the first season features a strong story but weak character development. The second season, ironically, features much stronger characters, but the story completely unravels into random supernatural nonsense. It's like they took a page from the book of American Horror Story and just threw everything they could at the story without bothering to explain anything, right up til the end which leaves a few dozen questions and mysteries not only unanswered, but unanswerable. To the themes of death experiences, experiments and strange psychic powers, they add mystical performance-art, prophecies, healing powers, supernatural haunted houses, a downright bizarre psychic octopus, parallel worlds, and even some meta-references. Just because they set up details and dots to be connected by an audience that pays attention (which I did), it doesn't mean that it makes sense. So, in the end, it did turn out to be a bit like Lost, except it was a much more intriguing watch than Lost while it was happening. This had the potential to be a Donnie Darko for the new generation with its mix of pseudo-science and original mysticism, but the writers seemed to be too preoccupied with their emotionally-driven supernatural plot devices and many details to pay attention to the overall plot coherency and characters.



Runaways (Marvel)  
Based on the first two seasons.

A teenage-superhero show with a fun concept: The super-villains are their parents. At first it's not clear how this can be stretched to a whole season or two, but since they still maintain the parent-child relationships at least in minimal ways, they can't exactly kill each other except under dire circumstances, and this is what lends the writing its complications as well as the fun. A group of teenage friends that have wandered apart find themselves drawn back together to discuss and fight what seems to be evil and strange wrong-doings by their parents. The parents are all rich and bring a unique skill or super-technology to their strange cult, but the teenagers also discover that most of them have developed some kind of super-power as well, raising the stakes. Tensions slowly rise, there are complex conspiracies involving blackmail, kidnapping, strange murders, cults, alien technologies, magic and lots of teenage angst. There's one brilliant parent that's like a poor-man's Iron Man, a barely-teen ditzy girl with super-strength, a really annoying social justice warrior that controls animals, a hacker, a goth-witch with seemingly almost unlimited spell-powers (not a good thing for plots), undefined glowing powers, weapon-gloves, and other elements.

The weak but mildly entertaining first season suffers from a few things: A slow pace, way too much padding, and constant tiresome use of endless bickering and people doing stupid things on their own to stretch out the season. There's a primary story arc involving events of great importance, but this keeps getting put on hold while they sort out endless little crises as people keep doing things behind everyone else's back on both sides and then getting into trouble for it. There is not a team to be seen in this one, and this plot device is used way too often, and one just feels the writing structure and padding for the whole season instead of being swept away by the story. The second season is a definite big improvement in terms of pacing, although they still use the constant device of having people go off on their own to do something stupid repeatedly. Overall, as mentioned, this is a show primarily for teenagers, and the writing has issues, but there is some time-passing fun to be had here primarily in the second season.



Black  
Based on the single season.

It's good to know that Korean TV series nowadays can also be dark and serious and not just romantic comedies for teenage girls. This one was picked up by Netflix and it's a very challenging watch in terms of its complicated structure and layered details. The primary protagonists are a traumatized woman that sees shadows around people before they are going to die, and a grim reaper that takes over a man's dead body with a complicated past. There is also a group of misfit police-men, many friends, estranged relatives, enemies, criminals and killers. There is romance, and amusing comedy with both the romance and the wildly undisciplined detectives, but this is secondary to the crime mystery, thriller and dark fantasy about death. There is also a lot of cruelty, Korean style. At the core of the story there is a very very complicated inter-connected series of crimes. And then there is also the personal complicated and melodramatic back-stories. Both of these are uncovered layer after layer after layer, each time revealing another detail and another connection. The season consists of 18 episodes which are almost movie-length, each one averaging 75 minutes, so, basically, it's a mystery that gets revealed continuously for 24 hours. And due to its unusual structure, if you don't pay attention to every detail and every scene, even the ones that don't make sense at first, you will get lost quickly. The same scene may be repeated 10 episodes later except with one additional detail, then five more times after that, each time revealing another secret. Most of the time this is done cleverly and the pieces click into place (if you pay attention). Sometimes, after you put in the effort to re-arrange all of the little pieces in the right order, you find illogical behaviour from the characters, taking into account the revealed secrets and their behaviour at the time. There are also some problems with the fantasy aspects and the rules of how death and grim reapers work, and the writers break their own rules a few times. There is also a strange and quite off-putting constant over-use of characters talking to themselves all the time in order to explain plot points and what they are thinking. But, in general, the attention to detail is quite good, albeit they made it very difficult to keep track of everything, and this can only be watched properly with minimal pauses and full attention. But there are two more serious problems here: One is that, in order to reveal every detail only when the writers want you to know about it, they purposely show only broken pieces of scenes. And this can often make you confused and wonder why nothing makes sense, rewinding and trying to figure out if you missed something, only to find the missing pieces several episodes later. The idea is to show each detail only when a character finds out more, or when showing the scene from another point of view, but still, the way they did it, it can come off as incoherent at first. The biggest problem, however, is that the plot is ridiculously convoluted, coincidental, melodramatic and cruel. The amount of things that happened all together, the amount of revelations about bigger masterminds behind devious criminals behind other criminals, and the amount of cruel inter-connected acts performed by a dozen people, all reach a crescendo in the final few episodes, and it just keeps going, until it becomes a laughable convoluted mess. So, altogether a very mixed bag, an interesting watch but with fatal flaws.



Carnivàle  
Based on the first season.

This was my experience while watching this show: A new and strange world comes alive right away in the first episode; a world of a wandering carnival of freaks and performers in the 1930s Dustbowl America, led by seemingly psychic and supernatural forces and people. They pick up a young man in the desert with healing powers who is haunted by strange visions. At the same time, the parallel story of a preacher with supernatural powers is told, his visions sometimes merging with the healer's. The day-to-day life of the carnival is explored in detail, their various relationships including a blind psychic and his bearded lady lover, the performers and pimp of the naughty coochy show (which is basically a 1930s strip show), an unsettling catatonic-cum-telekinetic-cum-psychic woman and her daughter, etc. The acting is superb and very natural, the visual style and detail are also amazing. Strange visions keep popping up, they perform their carnie duties, they have flings, strange things happen, the healer gains the interest of several people that think he has a special destiny, then more strange things happen. Then, after a few episodes you realize that nothing really new is happening and nobody is progressing or learning anything, including you. The preacher goes through a roller-coaster of events, but his secondary plot doesn't nearly get as much time. Ten episodes later, and still nothing new has happened. People keep offering to reveal secrets and help the healer with his destiny, but he keeps running away, so nobody learns anything new. At some time you realize this is about good and evil, with biblical references to Jesus, prophets, etc. But then you file this away since it doesn't really add anything to the show and the show still isn't doing anything interesting. Towards the end, things start heating up, the show keeps dropping hints that something big is going to happen soon, very soon. And finally, in the last episode, things do happen. But you are left with a cliffhanger and it's just too little too late. You then decide that you have had enough and definitely will not watch the second season, especially since you know that the show was left unfinished and only ends with another cliffhanger. In short, visually rich and full of intrigue and mystery, but simply too slow and uneventful, mostly because the characters behave irrationally and seem to have no interest in answering questions. This needed more meat guys. Even Twin Peaks developed its mystery and details faster.



American Gothic  
Based on most of the single season.

A Sam Raimi production with some similarities to Twin Peaks that has a cult of fans. There's a murder in a small town, strange supernatural events, and evil controlling the locals, but that's as far as the similarities go. The setup is a Southern town ruled by a sheriff with supernatural powers and an endless interest in people, manipulating them at every turn with blackmail, intimidation, psychological games, mind tricks, fear, and just plain violence and death. Caleb Temple (a superb Lucas Black) is a boy whose family has a dark secret with the sheriff, and whose sister was recently killed by him. The sister comes back as a ghost to protect him, and his cousin, a reporter, also does whatever she can to uncover the secrets and help Caleb. The sheriff is a mysterious one, behaving like some kind of one-man mafia, controlling everything as well as protecting the city from other predators. Unfortunately, the writers also give him unlimited powers in every episode, ranging from controlling people, causing hallucinations and a wide range of supernatural phenomena, being everywhere and knowing everything all at once, manipulating everyone, changing his appearance, etc. until you start to wonder why an obvious super-demonic force like him is even interested in just this small town. The show also sets up the tension, but then has the whole town wander about their daily lives for the rest of the season without working on plans to get the sheriff, while he plays with them as if they were pinballs and he was the only one controlling the flippers. It just doesn't make sense. Despite the above, the show is quite intelligent and interesting on several episodes, and some of the horror elements work quite well, it just seems to lack a proper story arc and a point.



Goodnight Sweetheart  
Based on several scattered episodes from several seasons.

Light British dramedy with a time-travel twist. A married man with various little life-problems and a limp marriage stumbles on an alley that takes him back to the 1940s in the middle of WWII. He makes friends there in a pub, and falls in love with the barmaid. The show has fun with his double-life, his secrets and games that only his close friend knows about, various attempts to help people in the past, or themselves in the present, all with light comedy and warm characters, and some drama and character development. But, the best aspect of this show is the constant culture-clash and little comparative details in attitude, speech and mannerisms. One running joke always has some guy protest 'there are ladies present' whenever the language gets a tad colorful, he poses as a songwriter armed with hits from the future, and plenty of details like smoking females that think it's good for them, and attitudes towards 40s nudie-mags, provide satirical laughs.



SeaQuest DSV  
Based on scattered episodes of the first season.

Backed by Rockne O'Bannon and Spielberg, this high-powered and well-produced sci-fi show was accused of 'adapting' The Next Generation and attempting to pirate other sci-fi shows and its fans, but it does have its own unique appeal, albeit a moderate one. Roy Scheider, initially reluctant, leads a new sea vessel in the year 2032, when much of humanity has gone underwater for much needed resources. Like Star Trek, it is both a scientific vessel and a military one, exploring the unknown under the sea as well as fighting criminals and various malicious entities. Episodes cover a wide variety of adventures, from a high-tech submarine battle with criminals, to a sea monster, underwater archaeological finds, haunted shipwrecks and more. The cast range from acceptable to cliche, with a Spielbergian version of Wesley Crusher, a wiz-kid who magically knows everything and often saves the day, to a dolphin that can communicate with humans via technology who also sometimes gets to save the day. Celebrity guest actors spice up each episode, the effects are pretty good, and the writing ranges from competent to cheesy with some environmental or liberal preaching, without doing anything remotely edgy. In short, it's moderately entertaining at least in its first season, but it's nothing to get excited about.



John Doe  
Based on most of the single season.

A show that cut-and-pasted many elements from other movies and shows: The background of a super-capable man with amnesia and a complicated past is from Bourne Identity, he finds he knows everything about everything except himself, promptly befriending the local police unit and solving crimes with encyclopedic knowledge and deduction a la Monk, only with more confidence, cold facts, technical jargon and forensics a la CSI, he solves problems scientifically with anything he can find at hand a la MacGuyver, his past keeps getting more strange and complicated as he tries to dig into it in a kind of less intense Nowhere Man, and the mystery of his identity progresses at a snail's pace which is slightly more audience manipulation a la Lost than X-Files. The result of all this is a slightly above-average show, with a mixture of real facts (I looked some of them up), realistic tricks, and well-researched knowledge, and stupidly implausible plot devices (like the fact that he can apply his knowledge to achieve instant motor skills), solutions that don't make sense but trick the audience by throwing a barrage of technical jargon at them, and deductions based on extremely flimsy logic or probabilities. The main actor, who looks uncannily like the offspring of Mel Gibson and Ben Browder, provides a good energetic performance of a walking encyclopedia, the rest of the cast are mostly forgettable. The longer story arc and mystery teases with misleading clues and supernatural phenomena until the cliffhanger ending which leaves most questions unanswered, and the mystery-of-the-week episodes are only mildly entertaining, like a relatively better CSI, aided by the fact that they vary the mysteries to allow John and the writers to show off their knowledge in wildly different subjects.



Flash, The (DC)  
Based on most of the single season.

Superhero series based on the comic, about a forensic scientist who gets hit by lightning mixed with chemicals, and finds he can move at speeds of 300-600mph. He teams up with a government scientist (who doesn't seem to have to report to anyone and has an advanced research lab all to herself), and proceeds to clean up the city and fight super-villains. Some other characters are let in on the secret, but otherwise, he leads a double life. The structure, unfortunately, is villain of the week, some with powers of their own, others making use of advanced science, or just plain violence and crime. Some of the episodes are more serious, and others are just comical and fun. The writing is faithful to comic-books, with a juvenile comic-book mentality and logic, personality is at a minimum, and so is the character development. All this makes the show quite limited, but everything else is done quite well for a TV show from the 90s, with the sped-up 'special effects' being obviously easier to do well than most others of its kind, and the action, banter and entertainment are all fun. It also helps that the music is by Danny Elfman, which makes the show feel much bigger than it really is. Although it is often compared to Batman, it doesn't have that movie's darkness and visual flair.



It  

Mediocre mini-series adaptation of the classic Stephen King horror novel. A group of adults are drawn back to their home-town to fight a terrible evil, slowly uncovering repressed memories of the last time this evil turned up during their childhood. Good acting by Tim Curry as the evil clown and a good first half with the kids and initial development, but the second half is weak with a typically lazy King ending, and the whole thing has a made-for-TV feel.



FlashForward  
Based on the single season.

Yet another sci-fi show that only lasted a single season. One day, somebody is going to have make a show about the fantastical meaning of single-season shows and why they can't break this metaphysical barrier, but I digress. The premise for this one is interesting: A mysterious event causes everyone in the world to black out for 2 minutes 17 seconds, causing worldwide chaos and mass accidental deaths, but more importantly, causing everyone to see into their future and all the psychological and philosophical ramifications of this. For the first ten episodes, this show is very good, exploring the human angle as well as the mystery of the event with a good balance. People are faced with questions of destiny, fate, free-will and so on, seeing things they either do or do not want to happen, some even not seeing anything, leading them to conclude that they may be die very soon. There are many story-lines, too many in fact, including some scientists that may have been involved, an FBI investigation into the event, personal family dramas about possible futures of marriages, or marriages that break up, revelations that change people's lives, causing people to do things they weren't considering otherwise, and so on. But then it falls apart episode by episode. The producers stupidly start to focus more on the action, thrills and intrigue, and force the writers to come up with dozens of surprises, twists and turns even in a single episode. Thus the show suddenly turns into a bad season of 24: The twists become more preposterous, agents become double agents, double-crosses turn out to be manipulations of yet someone else pulling the strings, the developments are obviously made up as they go along, with new Lost-style flashbacks and revelations constantly shoe-horned in that weren't there before, undoing previous developments, or making previous behaviour nonsensical if you stop to think. But the constant tension, surprises and new plot-lines build to a frenzy, trying to stop the audience from thinking, all leading to a tiresome climax and a new flash-forward, by which time I lost all interest. Stop trying to surprise and entertain us constantly, and just write the damn story guys. It wouldn't hurt to plan some of it in advance either.



In The Flesh  
Based on both seasons.

Short-lived British zombie drama series with a gay zombie protagonist. The concept here is good, once again demonstrating the seeming unending potential in the zombie genre for social commentary: Years after a zombie outbreak decimated the population and the people fought back, the powers-that-be find a cure that brings humanity back to zombies even though they are still physically dead. Cue the social problems: Families that want their relatives back but find it hard to accept them, fighters that still think they are a menace and want to kill them, the PDS (Partially Deceased Syndrome) sufferers that find it difficult to be accepted even wearing makeup, some joining cults that believe in being what they really are, ex-husbands coming back to find their wives re-married, and so on. Unfortunately, the writing isn't very good. Characters often switch in extreme ways from one motivation and viewpoint to another as if they got a different writer every episode, dozens of plot-lines are started and then dropped, and too much time is spent on hand-wringing and emotions. And questions keep popping up, killing the immersion and realism: If the ex-zombies don't eat neither food nor brains, what gives them the energy to behave like humans? And why isn't their flesh rotting and deteriorating? And why would any human have sex with an ex-zombie who is cold and probably stinks? One necrophiliac I can understand, but this show has dozens. And why isn't there law-enforcement at this stage and why do people get away with killing ex-zombies after the government put them back into society? Etc. A pity, since the show started strong with a promising concept and good realism.



Space: Above and Beyond  
Based on the single season.

An average sci-fi show that is basically an average war movie set in space. The year is 2063 and the science fiction aspects of the show aren't far-out or imaginative but this sometimes works to its advantage by keeping things down to earth (no pun intended). The setting is the first encounter with aliens who wipe out human colonists and thus start a brutal war. The show follows a group of marines as they fight in space and on planets, each episode with a different objective and challenge. The stories range from average to moderately interesting and, seeing as the writers came from X-Files, there is a mysterious conspiracy arc that doesn't develop much during the single season. The flaws include an uninteresting cast and set of characters, and some over-dramatization of heroics and jingoism.



Andromeda Strain, The  

High-budget mini-series remake of a great sci-fi classic from the 70s that managed to make scientific detective work into a thriller. In the original, a virus outbreak is investigated by a group of scientists racing against time. Here, the writers decided more is more and wrote a scatterbrained action-thriller that can't decide whether the virus is about government conspiracies, alien life, environmental issues, or time-travel. The action and suspense doesn't let up, making this an entertaining flick, but a messy one, especially when compared to the tight and brainy original. A flawed action-thriller, with a terribly preachy ending.



Day of the Triffids, The (2009)  

Another remake of the Wyndham apocalyptic novel. Humans have been farming the carnivorous triffid plants for their oil for years, but when a solar eruption causes the whole world to go blind, the triffids have their day and take over the world. Some humans that kept their sight try to survive the post-apocalyptic challenges. This makes sense in the book, but the writers of this series stupidly decided to make the movie about action. So suddenly, triffids kill just for the sake of killing, not for eating, and they are made so dangerous here that even the sighted are overwhelmed, resulting in many battle scenes. Izzard is a cartoonish villain who survives a plane crash without a scratch and takes over the country in a single day, the leads range from passable to bland, and as with the original BBC series, the story feels rushed. Still mildly entertaining, but in a generic way. The original wasn't too great, but it looks much better when compared to this.



Wonderfalls  
Based on the single season.

From the maker of Dead Like Me comes another quirky show about a sullen, smart but neurotic and disaffected 20 year old girl who one day starts getting advice from inanimate objects with faces. She is pressured into doing all kinds of weird acts that seem to cause damage but turn out very well in the end, forcing her to be a do-gooder instead of a cynical, lazy, anti-social loser. The writing is creative and the quirkiness is entertaining but the laughs are scarce, the stories revolve around her or the other females too much, the morality tales get too obvious and crude at times, the show stays too safe, and the characters aren't that interesting. An average, overrated but entertaining show.



Life on Mars  
Based on most of the first season.

British cop show with a twist: A detective from 2006 suddenly finds himself in 1973 after an accident, also leading the life of a detective. The show has several layers: There's the clash of modern detective know-how and strict procedures with simpler police-work based on instinct and brute force. But, despite the fact that the show recreates many of the 70s quirks and details and amusingly compares the two lifestyles and attitudes, it often feels like they recreated the 70s from Starsky and Hutch, with an unrealistically testosterone-fuelled, politically incorrect, ignorant and overly aggressive police chief, and equally crude portrayals of various attitudes, stupidity and sexism. Most of the show consists of rough 70s-like cop action, which may have sounded like fun given the current flood of flashy CSI clones, but it is mildly entertaining at best. And then there is the mystery of how he got into the 70s and whether there is a meaning behind it. The writers tease with theories of a coma, time-travel, madness, hallucinations, and spiritual or personal-cum-mystical goals, tying many of the episodic crimes and thrills with hints of various connections to the world of 2006, but never allowing any single theory to stick. This sometimes leads to interesting developments and character explorations, but from the first episode, I already felt that the writers did not plan an explanation that could possibly be consistent, and therefore concluded that this is just audience manipulation inspired by 'Lost'. In short, a unique show, but once it is deconstructed, there isn't much that impresses, albeit it does occasionally offer moderately interesting entertainment.



Ashes to Ashes  
Based on most of the first season.

A follow-up to the short-lived two-season Life on Mars, except this time it features a modern female detective getting shot and going back in time to the same time & place visited by Sam Tyler. So we get to see the continuation of that 70s world, this time through the eyes of Alex, a modern woman teaming up with the macho, sexist, racist Gene Hunt from Life on Mars, while she tries to figure out why she is there and how to get back to her daughter. Once again, the show is mostly about 70s-style police action with episodic cases, old-school action, nostalgia, culture-clash and so on, except this time it isn't as fresh. Gene Hunt has progressed and learned a few things from Taylor, and the character development is quite good as the two opposites slowly bond. She also goes through several stages while trying to figure out if it is all a mental construct or whether she actually travelled back in time and what steps she has to take to get back. The story arc involving the mystery of her parents' deaths back in 1981 reaches a dramatic climax in the first season's ending, but it is quite slow-moving. Once again, the show teases with various theories on the fantasy angle, but it's really just about the nostalgic love for 70s macho-ism and how it clashes with more modern sensitivities, except that it is so over-the-top at times that it feels like a spoof of 70s cop shows. In short, moderately entertaining at best.



Munsters, The  
Based on most of the first season.

Like Addams Family, this ran in 1964 for two seasons and featured a ghoulish family oblivious to their strangeness. As opposed to the Addams Family, the family members look like characters straight from the horror movies and the humor is more juvenile and silly. Dad Herman is a cheery but childish Frankenstein monster, Lily is a witch, the son is a werewolf, the grandfather a vampire who experiments in his dungeon laboratory, and poor pretty Marilyn is so normal she's the black sheep of the family. The humor is simple, featuring a lot of physical gags, juvenile silliness, some supernatural special effects, slapstick, and a lot of shock reactions from visitors even though the family is very easy going and charming. A limited show compared to Addams, but entertaining in a cheesy way.



Children of Dune  

A follow-up Sci-Fi mini-series after the relative success of Dune (2000), this time mostly a failure. Subsequent novels after Dune increased in complexity, mysticism, and introverted depth, making potential adaptations an increasingly difficult task, but this one made several big mistakes: The first is to think it can cover two books in the relatively short time of 4 hours. Thus, the story here often feels rushed and doesn't give the scenes time to breathe, and it also skips some important developments that will cause only the book-readers to understand what is really going on. Secondly, the focus seems to have shifted more towards creating 'cool' action and upgraded special effects (which are still mostly TV-quality), with the drama and cultural aspects being neglected as a result, and thus Dune becomes a CGI effect rather than a living culture, especially in the first part. Thirdly, the casting, characterizations and costumes also have taken a big step down, with mostly bland and immature actors looking like they are sitting in a modern living room after just having visited a beauty salon, rather than pondering the fate of the universe in an alien desert, and the writer thought it fit to add his own hokey dialogue this time. Once again, the story is too complex to summarize, and the mini-series is somewhat worthwhile due to the great books it is based on, but this one is overall quite poor and will mostly appeal to undiscerning fanboys of pretty sci-fi.



Three Lives Three Worlds, Ten Miles of Peach Blossom (AKA Eternal Love)  
Based on half (28 episodes) of the single season.

Chinese romantic fantasy involving complex politics, loves and relationships between various immortal deities. It combines mythology, Asian fairy-tales, Taoism, a tiny bit of martial arts, and lots of romantic melodrama. I'm not going to pretend to know anything about this mythology and culture so I will only describe what I saw. These immortal groups include the heavenly but strict Nine Heavens at the top of the hierarchy, the 'Fox Tribe' that are part animal or nature, especially foxes with multiple tails, and the darker Ghost Tribe that are more prone to wicked deeds and ambitions. All have supernatural powers and know a wide variety of magic, but they can be hurt or killed with great effort. The characters regularly speak of tens of thousands of years that have passed, and this puzzled me since relatively nothing seems to have changed in such ridiculously vast stretches of time. Until I saw a much later episode that explains that one day of an immortal life is equivalent to a year for mortals, in which case I guessed that they are talking about mortal years, not immortal years. But the show doesn't explain any of this, or what the various deities are about. In any case, the show involves some threats and war from the god of the Ghost tribe, but is mostly focused on a handful of very complicated and often forbidden romantic entanglements, all made much more difficult by strict heavenly rules as well as endlessly scheming jealous rivals. This story is stretched out over 58 episodes that are one continuous story-line spanning tens of thousands (or possibly just 50) years.

I haven't been enjoying many recent Chinese fantasy epics, mostly because they rely too much on heavily-used artificial-looking computer special-effects and ubiquitous flying people as well as ad-hoc rules for magic. Visually, this show is split between luscious, beautiful costumes and elaborate indoor scenes, and between the horribly fake plastic outdoor scenes in heaven as well as the very clunky special-effects for all of the creatures that make them look like a late 80s computer game. The battles and dangers I found very uninteresting since these are basically a fight between artificial-looking special-effects with completely undefined magical rules, so the writers just make the destined winner do bigger random 'magical things' in the form of a special-effect spectacle, in order for them to win. Similarly, every time someone gets hurt, someone else comes up with another magical healing tool to solve the problem, so there is not really a sense of danger or any sense of human effort to work within any kind of restrictions. All this severely limited my enjoyment of the show, despite its epic story and rich fantasy worlds.

But putting these technicalities aside for a while, the story itself is a mixed bag. The first seven episodes are poorly written and the characters don't make much sense, with emotions swaying this way or that way like gusts of wind, and many of them behaving irrationally or cruelly for no apparent reason. After that though, the primary romantic interest emerges with complicated obstacles, and it's a strong story, at least for a while. This kept me watching for a score more episodes. Except that the obstacles started becoming more and more contrived and ridiculous as coincidences pile up or people jump to completely illogical conclusions and ignore what's in front of their face just in order to keep the romantic tension going episode after episode. So, after a while, I had enough of all this nonsense. I can see this show appealing to a different kind of audience however and it is a very popular show in China. Followed by "Three Lives Three Worlds, The Pillow Book" in 2020.



Robin of Sherwood  
Based on the first season.

80s British retelling of the Robin Hood legend with a heavy dose of fantasy and magic. The show seems to have a cult following and features Robin during different periods in each season, and episodic adventures with sorcerers, witches, spells, knights, as well as the expected drama and ongoing battles with the sheriff. The approach is very 80s, with an emphasis on action, infrequent comedic touches, and no character development or story arcs. Magic pops up now and then with increasing deus-ex-machina sloppiness, but it's not the main focus of the show in the first season, and Christianity is bashed as usual in favor of Paganism. The location shooting in British forests and castles is by far the best thing about this show. The actors are acceptable but lack depth, the fighting ranges from medium to weak, the costumes are mostly good with occasional 80s cheese, the hairdos and makeup are too 80s, and the music is terribly synthesized Celtic pop. In short, altogether a moderately entertaining, dated show, probably kept alive by D&D fantasy enthusiasts, and probably more appealing if you aren't looking for much depth.



Threshold  
Based on most of the single season.

A very impressive level of sci-fi creativity kicks the show off in its pilot, only to disappoint for the rest of its 12 episodes. A team of various experts are assigned to a challenging event of alien contact involving the fourth dimension, alien invasion via DNA infections, sound-wave weapons and other sci-fi mysteries. But then the fourth dimension element is forgotten and the show focuses on alien infections spreading throughout the population in increasingly complex ways, the structure settling instead on a sci-fi-jargon-heavy episodic infection-of-the-week thriller, without learning much that is new until its brutal cancellation mid-season. Before you know it episodes start feeling repetitive as they hear of a strange occurrence, investigate, finding more attempts at alien infection, and then use their expertise, brains and guns to squash the latest outbreak unrealistically quickly before the episode ends. The good: The pilot episode, the slightly above-average colorful lead personalities, and the unique idea. But the idea isn't developed, the female lead who is supposedly a contingency plan 'expert' is so incompetent she can't even come up with a plan that relies on more than 4 people to save the world, and after a while you realize they are throwing sci-fi and tech-jargon words around without thinking things through (third-generation digital copy? quantum encryption?). It's like an episodic, sci-fi version of 24: lots of nonsensical jargon mixed with some entertaining thrilling events, and 4 people that have to save the world over and over even though they work for the government, except it doesn't have the addictive and complex season arcs. Perhaps the show could have become more interesting given more time, so in the end, the biggest flaw is that it is very unfinished, like watching half a movie.



Forever Knight  
Based on most of the first season.

Pioneering show from the late 80s that seems to have inspired other shows but remains relatively unknown. Not that it's a great show by any means, but it holds up moderately well. The setup is a 700 year old vampire who turns over a new leaf and becomes a cop, working the night-shift and bringing criminals to justice with his super powers while mentally grappling with his dark and long past, constantly surrounded by old friends, enemies, acquaintances and memories. Some crimes involve other vampires, but mostly, his new crime fighting adventures are paralleled with old ones, the episodic mysteries and crimes mixing with ongoing character development and back-stories. Thus, the obvious followers are the better 'Angel' that improved on this formula and took it much further, and the weaker 'Moonlight'. The back-stories throughout many periods in history was probably copied by Highlander. However, the brooding vampire haunted by an evil mentor who seems obsessed with making sure he turns out evil seems to have been inspired by Rice's 'Interview with the Vampire', and here, he is so obsessed, you have to wonder why he doesn't get a life and move on instead of stalking one of his failed students for hundreds of years. At the very least, it should have come to some kind of climax and death after a few decades, no? The vampires here seem to be more like supermen with enhanced power of flight, super-hearing and superhuman strength, and that doesn't always translate well into something plausible. Also there's the ridiculous fact that he somehow manages to keep a job even though the dark hours change throughout the year, and nobody ever makes him work extra hours or go to court during the day. Watchable, but the quality is mostly 80s/90s made-for-TV.



Highlander  
Based on several scattered episodes, mostly from the first season.

I never understood all the sequels and spin-offs, seeing as the first movie didn't leave room for them (no immortals left!). But ignoring that, this is a moderately fun, albeit formulaic TV series that feels sometimes like an 80s show despite being made in the 90s, with its mix of action, drama and a note of intentional camp. Duncan MacLeod is from the same clan as Connor (Christopher Lambert from the movie who even makes an appearance to pass the torch) and also an immortal. He survived through the centuries, making mortal friends, lovers and confidants, as well as alliances with other immortals while battling and beheading the evil ones until 'there can be only one'. Almost every episode has someone popping up from his vast and rich past, cue a historical flashback, then develop the tension until the final battle. His artistic lover takes most of it all in stride by now, and his new street-wise thief-cum-assistant sometimes helps. The show started off very awkwardly, but moved to France mid-season 1 with new writers and then improved slightly. The casting choice of a suave Italian model/dancer as the Highlander is questionable, and he does come off rather bland, but he makes the fight scenes look pretty good. The episodes range from cheesy to moderately entertaining.



Witchblade  
Based on most of the first season.

Based on a comic-book, this fantasy-action adaptation has basically one thing going for it: Yancy Butler. She doesn't steal the show, she carries the show. The cheesy setup is a tough female cop who finds herself chosen by a gauntlet-weapon called the Witchblade with an agenda of its own, giving the bearer various super-powers like seeing events that took place in the past, talking to ghosts, deflecting bullets and super-fighting abilities. This is where the first problem starts: The weapon seems to be some kind of half-baked, nonsensical fanboy fantasy and the writers keep giving it more implausible powers in various episodes like being able to walk through fire and turning back time. The general attitude and approach of the show also feels like it came from an anime fan, with ridiculously hyped-up action sequences that uses way too much cutting, strobe-flashing and Matrix-effects, and the pseudo-philosophy that the actors spout is reminiscent of typical pretentious Japanese anime nonsense. She fights common criminals, corrupt cops as well as supernatural evil in some episodic outings while the back-story of her past and mysterious new acquaintances accumulates. Then the show improves greatly in the second half of the season as she finds out more about her family and many convoluted conspiracies involving all of her friends and acquaintances (but nothing that makes sense about the Witchblade), only to end on a stupid note as the writers pull out a deus-ex-machina that reboots the series. So the show is mildly entertaining at its best, but as I said, Butler has a tough, edgy and very strong presence that reminds me of Claudia Black, and she makes the show watchable. It's rare to see a female in a lead action role that can pull it off like this. Unfortunately, the head-in-the-clouds fanboy approach of the show clashes with her grounded presence rather than benefiting from it.



Star Trek Continues  
Based on the first six episodes.

This is fan fiction taken to a whole new level. It's a partially successful attempt at reproducing The Original Series of Star Trek, 50 years later. It's a tribute as only fans can make, which means it is a deeply respectful, geeky homage, but it is still only an emulation rather than anything original. So, obviously, it can only be enjoyed by a certain audience. I enjoyed it for a while, and had fun with the nostalgia, as well as with the little details on which they worked so hard, then just felt like re-watching the original. The most successful are the production values, complete with bright colors, costumes, detailed sets, tone, and even the aspect ratio. These alone will take you instantly back to the original show. The other superb aspects are the writing and stories, getting the tone almost perfect, with a combination of informal personalities, anything-goes sci-fi adventure, Roddenbery's style of liberal and idealistic social commentary and satire, imaginative creatures, and cheesy special effects. The most important aspects, however, are the casting, personalities and dialogue. And here the results are quite weak. Kirk comes out the best, with an actor that gets many of the little mannerisms down pat, even though he doesn't have the full personality and presence. Spock was a big disappointment and very wrong, at first being much more Data than Spock, then improving in the third episode, but with very inconsistent characterization from then on. Bones was very very wrong and completely ineffectual, then they recast him but with only a small improvement. A somewhat understandable failure given McCoy's strong personality. Doohan's real-life son was cast as Scott but he was very wrong for the part, ironically. Sulu, Chekov and Uhura were too weak compared to the originals as well. They also left out much of the heart of the original series by not writing in the superb banter, arguments and teasing dialogue that made the Original Series great.



Babylon 5  
Based on half of the first two seasons and the third season.

A show backed by hordes of rabid fans who seem to think this is the second coming, but it's generally a bland sci-fi series. Babylon is the fifth and last attempt at brokering peace between the various alien races of the universe as well as the opposing factions on Earth, each with their own agenda and politics. Babylon is a huge space station in neutral territory given special diplomatic power and is a regular stop for various groups of visitors, its staff having to deal with politics, traders, security issues, arguments, fights and wars, terrorists, and their own personal issues. The shows boasts a pioneering 5-season story arc that, in theory, builds a massive mythology, but this isn't as great as it sounds with only moderate payoffs and infrequent developments. In between the long story arc involving shifting alliances and the war with the dreaded, mysterious Shadows are the usual stand-alone episodes which are almost always weak and uninteresting. The flaws of this show are: capable but uninspired, stiff writing that doesn't take risks, characters that range from painfully dull to mediocre, and geeky or juvenile approaches to power games, culture, religion, politics, and humor. In summary, an average show that ranges from dull to moderately interesting during peaks of the huge story arc. Better than the newer Star Treks, but only very slightly.

The first season is very weak and poor, the second picks up somewhat with better acting and story-lines, the story arc building up very slowly, the third and fourth is where it starts getting interesting and more exciting but never reaches an inspired peak.



Cleopatra 2525  
Based on most of the first season.

Made by the creators of Hercules/Xena, including Sam Raimi in the production chair. The official blurb is as follows: "An exotic dancer, cryogenically frozen in the year 2001, is accidentally thawed out in 2525 by two female warriors who are fighting against evil robots which have taken over the world. The three join forces and try to escape the underground caverns to which humanity has been banished, meeting up with all sorts of strange creatures along the way." As you can imagine, this is silly sci-fi action and can be called 'Xena in space', except that it is a more purified and amped-up form of this kind of dumb entertainment, focusing on the girls in skimpy outfits, the ubiquitous unrealistic fights where the girls always win, and the crazy action, gadgets, robots, mutants and an Alice-in-wonderland approach to sci-fi, and I therefore enjoyed it more. They travel by falling or flying through endless caverns, and they fight the alien invasion that convert humans into Terminator-like 'Betrayers', as well as episodic mutants, weirdos and crises, all with the help of a mysterious Voice. Think of the wild camp of Lexx (without the gore) mixed with Xena. It's undoubtedly stupid, but fun guy-oriented entertainment for a rainy day.



Charlie Jade  
Based on most of the single season.

A continuous sci-fi thriller with complex details and developments that demand an attention span. Several parallel universes become embroiled in intrigue. Alphaverse is run by evil mega-powerful corporations with an arbitrary class system, Gammaverse is an environmentally-friendly, idealistic world with idealistic terrorists, and Betaverse is the equivalent of our world and finds itself stuck in the middle of a struggle involving Alpha trying to steal natural resources from Gamma. When a bomb creates a catastrophe and breaks the link between the worlds, it also sends Charlie Jade, a mysterious investigator and dark hero figure with an ability to see into other worlds, into Beta and triggers a series of events as secrets slowly unfold. The show is a mixed bag: On the one hand, the writing is complex and takes the hard way, developing details instead of using lazy populist entertainment and episodic thrills. The show also has a unique atmosphere of its own and mixes sci-fi, film-noir-like detective work, thrills and drama. But it also wavers between challengingly complex, and needlessly obtuse with sloppy and confusing writing and editing. The cinematography can't decide whether it wants to be polished sci-fi, amateurishly gritty & shaky, or a tribute to Blade Runner. The characters are mostly flat, and the one that isn't (01 Boxer - a psychotic traveler between worlds) is plagued with overacting. The increasingly annoying editing techniques makes use of numerous pointless flashbacks and repetitive scenes, sometimes changing the details between runs. The result is a show that seems like it should be interesting, and yet you find yourself wandering and bored all too often. This desperately needed more fleshy characters and writing; It features some solid sci-fi, but it all feels so uninspired, so uninvolving, with muted colors and empty characters.



Mork & Mindy  
Based on most of the first season.

The show that launched Robin Williams, and arguably a precursor to 3rd Rock from the Sun. Mork is a highly eccentric and harmless alien with a sense of humor, sent to Earth to study humans. He befriends Mindy, her conservative Dad, and his wiser, sharp-tongued mother in law, who all serve as foils to Williams's comedy, but they develop personalities and light comedy of their own, with frequent warm touches of humanity peeking in between the silliness. Mork sits on his face, drinks through his finger, greets people with 'nanu-nanu' and a strange handshake, and displays many other quirks, as well as being thoroughly confused by human behaviour and speech. At the end of the day he makes a mental report to his boss, describing the new lessons he learned and making commentary on human behaviour, both comedic and serious. This is the setup, but Robin does his thing regardless of the show, improvising his comic routines, making physical comedy, mimicking ten voices a minute, and frequently breaking character as he makes jokes only humans could understand. Much of the show is quite silly, but Robin goes with it, adds plenty of his own touches and makes it fun.



Medium  
Based on most of the first season.

Another show about a psychic helping to solve crimes, this one based on a real person Allison Dubois acted by Patricia Arquette. The approach is more mature than with Ghost Whisperer and feels relatively more authentic, with a realistic family life and a bit more complexity, less silly emotional outbursts and easy psychological solutions, but still with a formulaic and episodic structure that solves one crime per episode. However, the writers vary it just enough to keep it moderately interesting. Arquette, in my eyes, was never a good actress, with a lack of emotive expression, depth and no talent for bringing personalities to life, and she was probably hired by Lynch because she seems unreal in a strange way. Interestingly, whereas the Ghost Whisperer writers made the husband a super-supportive inhuman non-entity, here it's the psychic wife that doesn't see him as human, never showing any affection for him, always treating him horribly and waking him up every single night just to share her latest nightmare, while he remains stoically supportive, human and loving. The family tension grows when her daughters (one, an annoying brat) develop similar abilities and, together with the grounded, scientifically-minded husband, they all help solve crimes through Allison's job at the district attorney's office. The biggest problem though is with the muddled show's approach to psychic messages. Half of the show makes it out to be an instinctual and intuitive unraveling of bad vibes and messages mostly via confusing and symbolic dreams, but then the rest of the show has her talk to ghosts that easily tell her anything she needs to move the plot forward and resolve the mystery in time for the end of the episode, or via many effortless and crystal-clear visions that work like a video camera with zoom and pause capabilities, almost like with The Dead Zone. In short, slightly better than others, but still very flawed due to Arquette, the episodic formula, and the lack of consistency and realism.



Lost in Austen  

Extremely uneven four-part mini-series that is basically a fan-fiction fantasy version of Pride and Prejudice. Amanda Price is a modern girl and a huge fan of Jane Austen who is in a bad relationship and pining for the mannered world of Austen. One day, a doorway opens in her bathroom into the beginning of Pride and Prejudice, and she exchanges places with Elizabeth Bennet by accident. From then on, it's culture-clash with a twist: She knows the world and characters so well that she feels right at home, and yet her modern sensibilities, forms of speech and looks all bring her endless trouble as she wrecks the story developments and finds herself in her own tense love story. That's the concept, but the actual execution is very flawed. First of all, the writers assume the audience remembers everything about P&P including all of its minor characters, otherwise her reactions when meeting everyone and her hard work at fixing the storyline will make no sense. Secondly, while, at first, she sells the situation quite well and her modern behaviour clashes with this other world in amusing ways, it rapidly becomes too unrealistic to enjoy. From her pubic hair, to their shrugging off of her constant rude and crude speech and improper behaviour, to her hairdo, to kicking a man in the balls, to lesbianism. The final episode features a crossover from the other direction as characters from P&P find themselves in modern London and, while this is amusing, their behaviour is also highly unrealistic. And, finally, for a chick-flick love story, the fact that the love between her and Darcy makes absolutely no sense is a deal-breaker. He falls for her all of a sudden even though he was obviously repulsed by her until then, only because he is in a silly girl fan-fiction story. Still, there is some enjoyment to be had here despite these big flaws.



Salem's Lot (2004)  

Yet another Stephen King mini-series remake, this one a classic tale about vampires in a small Maine town. A vampire moves into an old house with an evil past and starts snacking on the locals. A writer, doctor, teacher, boy and priest declare war on the rapidly spreading vampires. Interesting casting, some good scenes and good production values could have made this into something great, but a robotic director and vicious editor don't bother with building any atmosphere, heart, character or buildup of any kind, simply cutting rapidly from one minimally functional scene to another.



Dresden Files, The  
Based on the single season.

Harry Dresden is gifted wizard-cum-PI with a penchant for getting in trouble. He has ties with the police-force like Monk, only he uses a magical hockey-stick, spells, knowledge of the supernatural and a sorcerer-ghost guide instead of pedantic detective work and logic. The show is mostly episodic, featuring a supernatural danger-of-the-week with some ongoing characters and back-stories to give it a slight feeling of depth. But a good fantasy is one that sets rules, whereas this show employs lazy writing that simply invents new magical tricks, evils and powers every week, feeling like a more adult-oriented Charmed. The actors aren't bad but they aren't given much to do, and the show as a whole feels bland, uninspired and formulaic. In short, a mixed bag, with much more blandness than good.



Moonlight  
Based on the single season.

A blatant Forever Knight and Angel ripoff that thinks it will gain originality points merely by changing the vampire rules regarding their powers and weaknesses. The protagonist is a repentant vampire detective who is driven to help and save humans, he has a difficult romance with a human, and the structure mixes episodic mysteries that often involve the supernatural, or vampires and humans from his past, mixed with longer character-driven story arcs. Unfortunately, the show is not only unoriginal, it also features mostly bland personalities. The stories and characters become more and more interesting with every episode, building a slightly above-average momentum, but the general blandness, the lack of surprises and risks, and the unoriginality, make this show feel like the blood has been sucked out of it. The vampires are all too human with the same souls and emotions as humans, and it doesn't help that vampires are given a variety of superman-like abilities that seem to come and go according to the writers' whims. Interestingly, this show's producer also produced Veronica Mars which has been praised as the most interesting teenage show since Buffy. At best, a very mildly entertaining way to pass the time.



Sanctuary  
Based on the first season.

A talented person is recruited by the leader of a secret organization devoted to studying monsters, 'abnormals' and the supernatural, the goals being to collect knowledge and help humanity. If this sounds familiar then you probably watched Torchwood. The team behind this was also behind Stargate, and it has a similar blend of sci-fi/fantasy entertainment with general blandness. Episodic mysteries and monsters mix with season-long story arcs involving various nemeses. The leads are the biggest problems: Only Zimmerman registers intelligence and personality, Tapping is slightly better than in Stargate but is still mostly bland and lacking a presence, and then there's the blonde female fighter in tight leather that looks more like a porn-star than an action-star that can take out anyone. Why do shows keep trying to copy Buffy without understanding what made that one work? Themes of monster-acceptance and their relationship with humans seem like X-Men lite, and the writers, as with Stargate, like to borrow myths and legends from real-life (Yeti, Jack the Ripper, Sherlock Holmes) and play around with them. The writing feels very haphazard, throwing together any monster, gadget, genetic mutation and character motivation that comes to mind that week, resulting in a purely entertainment-oriented fantasy show that doesn't manage even a minimal level of plausibility, and is miles away from X-Files. OK to watch at times, but this is at the low rung of the entertainment ladder.



Tripods, The  
Based on most of the two seasons.

80s British sci-fi for teenagers and older children. The approach and feel is a bit similar to Survivors, featuring survivors of a catastrophic event wandering the countryside encountering one adventure or different group of people after another. Except, that, the event in this case is the occupation of the planet by aliens in huge tripods similar to the ones from War of the Worlds. The premise is interesting: The remaining humans have been controlled like cattle, and they are all 'capped' when they reach the age of sixteen, a procedure that leaves them with a metallic mesh attached to their heads that controls their passions and aggressions, leaving them non-curious, non-inventive and peaceful. So the humans have reverted back to the medieval ages, living like peasants, their children awaiting their capping ceremony, and avoiding the 'vagrants', people that have gone insane after a bad capping. Except that some teenagers have fled and seek a group of resistance fighters in France after being inspired by a scout rebel roaming the country. I had difficulty with some implementation details of the premise, seeing as some people obviously had plenty of aggression, ambition or jealousy left over, and the world still had plenty of policemen and jails for some unknown reason. Also, it is a bit juvenile and the writing tends to get stuck for a few episodes at a time amidst groups of uninteresting people like some French aristocrats, wine-makers, circus-folk, and some slave-masters in the second season. But, otherwise, it was moderately interesting and entertaining. The second season features the boys on a mission to a city of tripods and aliens to learn secrets by infiltrating the slave hierarchy and serving some master aliens. But it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger as the third planned season was never made.



Falling Skies  
Based on the first two seasons.

An alien invasion series produced by Steven Spielberg ought to be promising. And the pilot did not disappoint, with superb special effects and interesting non-humanoid aliens, and a troupe of resistance fighters that are being beaten easily by superior technology, trying to survive step by logical step. But then the potential is squandered on uninspired and sloppy writing. As with the new Battlestar Galactica and V, the writers seem to be making it up as they go, and the plot holes soon start to appear, and the focus shifts to little twists and details while forgetting the big picture of the war. The worst demonstration of this kind of writing is in the so-called harness that is forced on human children, making them subservient slaves. At first it makes no sense because they can obviously build robots that are far superior in efficiency and far less of a bother. But then it gets worse. Every episode, the harness seems to develop new powers and developments. It heals humans, gives them superpowers that seem to come and go according to the writers whims. It makes them dependent and completely under the control of their captors, or not, depending on the writer of the week. And so on. In the meantime, the war with the aliens gets sidelined and stretched out. The character of John Pope never makes any sense, supposedly a wild nihilist that has no qualms killing fellow humans for his own goals, but then, suddenly he becomes a subservient cook, tries to escape only once, and our heroes are actually surprised that he escaped. And so on. The aliens can obviously wipe out the planet with their nukes, but never do for unknown reasons, the writers keeping us in suspense by withholding information but then writing themselves into illogical corners that they can't possibly get out of, like they did with Lost. There is actually a scene where one character says that he managed to see into the Overlord's mind and now knows the aliens' thoughts and goals, and no one even asks him what it is. It doesn't get much more blatantly manipulative and unrealistic than that. An example of a plot hole is that an alien rebel lets go of one of our heroes instead of killing him as ordered, but when he turns up alive, the aliens never think of suspecting their fellow alien. And so on. I focused on the bad so far, but everything else is pretty good. The acting is good, the special effects are great, the alien technology, species and culture are pretty unique and good, the characters are OK, but tend to get too touchy-feely at times, spelling out every emotion and working out issues quickly with too many 'heartfelt' moments. The good stuff makes the show somewhat watchable and entertaining, but it is impossible to truly get involved with shows like these that feature such sloppy writing. The original V was better.



Exorcist, The  
Based on the first season and a bit of the second.

This borrows more than just a few visuals, ideas, and lines from the classic movie and book with the same title. But these are just starting points for 'inspiration', as this show pads the possessions and exorcisms to take up many episodes, and also changes and adds many more elements from its own imagination, such as evil conspiracies by demons and their minions against the Vatican, and more flashy visual psychological worlds during exorcisms. Some of it works, some doesn't, mostly it never feels necessary even when it's watchable. Exorcisms are problematic when it comes to movies, since they often just mean lots of screaming and special effects until the writers decide that it's over, for whatever random reason. It also doesn't help that there is no finality, and in a series, they are just going to move on to the next exorcism even with the same people/demons. One can argue that it's a battle of wills and religious faith until conviction or faith wins the day, but that's not going to be very cinematic. Plus, this show wants it both ways, not just making it a test of character and faith, but also adding technique and methodology that allows the special-effects people to do more, thus undermining the above idea of an exorcism. The idea of evil getting into a person's mind should not be reduced to a matter of virtual worlds and special effects. Plus, as I said, whether they win or not seems rather ad-hoc despite the technique. So, in order to be interesting it really needs to be a question of character and the drama of the people around the possession. At first, this series seems to get it right, with interesting personalities, and the crises being a test of character of everyone involved, and the actors are somewhat interesting. But then it gets bored with this and starts adding all of the aforementioned elements, thus losing the intensity and creepiness of the original material. So it starts pretty well, but then becomes just another bland supernatural series that is watchably entertaining at best, and then I lost interest after a while.



Orphan Black  
Based on the first two seasons.

Canadian conspiracy thriller series revolving around cloning (the fact that this is based on cloning is revealed after the second episode so it is only a minor spoiler). Sarah falls down the rabbit hole when she witnesses a suicide by a girl that looks just like her. As a hustler in trouble with some unsavory streetwise elements, and trying to do well with her little daughter, she decides to take on the identity of the dead woman, but finds way more than she bargained for. The good: The structure is continuous, making this one feel like a very long movie. The acting by Tatiana Maslany is truly impressive as she not only acts as many different clones with completely different personalities, she even acts as clones impersonating other clones, all with many nuances that express their personality though dress, facial expressions, speech patterns and they way she carries her body. Her only flaw is weak accents. The seamless special effects and editing that keep the clones interacting with each other are impressive as well. In addition, the momentum of this series is continuous and contains many twists and unpredictable complications.

The not-so-good: It is never believable because the writers never build proper motivations for all the parties involved. Superficial motivations are given, such as a corporation wanting to control their clones for eugenics, but what kind of control they need and what they actually do with the control never emerges. Or a religious group that just does wildly crazy things and everyone in the group goes along with it (seemingly if they are religious, they must be nuts). In fact, it all becomes rather contradictory, and instead of injecting revelations that answer questions, the writers' approach is to add more and more complications until it becomes ridiculous. More groups with agendas, and within each group, more betrayals and individuals, each with shifting personal agendas within the group. They even made a plot twist based on a patent on DNA, except what could they possibly do with that since human cloning, not to mention human slavery, is illegal? I watched for two whole seasons and it only got worse and worse. Another problem is that they introduce human cloning but no one ever discusses the obvious interesting issues it raises. So obviously the writers are only interested in generating superficial thrills. For example, according to this show, everything about a human being is due to nurture not nature, seeing as their personalities are so wildly different, and even their sexual orientation is different (kudos for the political incorrectness), despite identical DNA. And even if this is due to epigenetics, no matter how early in life the changes would occur, this would still be classified under nurture. But the show never goes into any of this. Instead, it just injects many gratuitous scenes of the lifestyle of a flamingly gay whore who is her brother, and a lesbian relationship (again definitely portrayed as nurture not nature), in an obvious attempt to make the show edgy. In summary, it had potential and was interesting for a while, but it doesn't go anywhere.



Last Train, The  

British apocalyptic 6-part mini-series that takes its cue from Survivors and other 70s-style post-apocalyptic dramas that focus on the people and survival crises. The setup is intriguing, using a sci-fi plot device to throw a group of unsuspecting people into a dead world after it all happened, without a clue as to what happened and how long they've been away. Unfortunately, this unique approach is thrown all away with poor, sloppy and melodramatic writing. The characters serve as fodder for one crisis after another caused by an endless stream of whimsical and ridiculously bad decisions, and the people never come off as actual thinking humans with brain cells, only as fodder for crises engineered by the writing team. The time that has passed and its decaying effects are portrayed inconsistently, it takes them days to even show an interest in finding food and it is never made clear how they are eating. Despite this sloppy writing, there are some scattered elements of interest if you enjoyed the old-style shows, and a post-apocalyptic world is almost always minimally entertaining. The ending, though, is somehow both interesting and laughably melodramatic.



Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency  
Based on the first season.

A second attempt by the BBC to adapt these unfilmable hilarious books, this one a joint effort with some Americans, except this one is even less successful. As before, they don't try to copy the plot of the books, but they do try to film something vaguely inspired by them. Except they got it all wrong this time. This is about a quirky self-proclaimed 'holistic detective' who finds solutions in absurdities and the interconnectedness of everything. Except, instead of a real three-dimensional person who is bemused, confused and overwhelmed by the sci-fi craziness of his life and the heavy wit of ironic fate, Samuel Barnett plays him as a very gay very manic pixie inspired by Doctor Who. He is irritating. Elijah Wood as his confused assistant is actually much closer (and better) to the character than he is, except he isn't Dirk, and has to hang out with Dirk all day. Another character who is a holistic assassin with special powers, fares even worse than Dirk with a forced quirky attitude that feels like something out of a kid's cartoon. Once again, other characters like Wood's, seem to be in a different show. The mystery plot involving things like time-travel, soul-swapping and steampunk magic technology are vaguely inspired by Adams in their zaniness, except they emphasize crazy violence and wacky humor over witty absurdities, and thus get it wrong. The humor, at first, features some Adams-inspired dialogue between characters that are as creative as they are confused, but then this tapers off and they forget to keep it going after a few episodes, and focus on the ongoing wacky sci-fi thrills, violence and mystery instead. Which is entertaining, but it is not Adams, and it falters when the forced quirky cartoon-characters keep popping up, which is very often.



Eureka  
Based on the first season.

Watching this show about a city full of geniuses, I couldn't help but wonder why it always felt so dumb. This is another populist Sci-Fi creation that thinks sci-fi is all about wacky gadgets and inventions made by amusingly eccentric nerds, most of which look like models. Marshall Jack Carter and his daughter stumble onto a city populated with genius scientists that are always inventing or experimenting with something dangerous, and his competence with maintaining order awards him a 'promotion' as their sheriff, because everyone knows that geniuses don't have common sense. The city is supported by the government because it needs their weapons, but otherwise, they are given a free hand. So every week, something weird happens with time, space, energy, the air, etc, sometimes involving evil deeds by a duplicitous citizen who got his hands on a powerful gadget, but mostly as a consequence of eccentric geniuses toying with things they shouldn't. This setup is never believable, the freedom given to them by the government, the fact that no one knows about it despite the fact that anyone can drive there and that it houses the most renowned scientists, the powerful inventions that are there one episode and disappear the next and that are never used for anything outside of this city, the characters that seem more like dumbed down talented tinkerers or fashion models rather than world-class professors of theoretical physics, the chaotic abandon with which they perform dangerous experiments, etc. There's not much thrill in watching a writer throw in some techno-gobbledygook that causes a problem, only to have more techno-gobbledygook-nonsense solve it in time for the end of the episode. Especially when the things that are based on real science don't make logical sense. There are also story arcs, but these barely move an inch throughout the whole season. And what's the deal with the house equipped with an emotional program? Is this a kids show? Despite all this, it's mildly entertaining and amusing mostly due to the humor, but very minimally so.



Signal  
Based on the first eight episodes.

Korean detective series with a time-travel twist stolen from 'Frequency', and with the same flaws (inconsistent time-line changing rules). An old walkie-talkie is found which forms a communication link, once a night, to a cop in the past. The young detective that finds it, manages to solve a 15 year old murder case using a tip from the past. And then suddenly he finds himself assigned to a 'cold-case' detective squad, trying to solve old dead crimes. The communication starts helping in many ways as they get more and more creative, but it also complicates matters, since every time they change the past by providing information, the present changes as well, along with (almost) everyone's memories. New information and clues gathered by cops in the present are sent back to try to solve cases earlier before they went bad, and old information is used to try to catch criminals they can only find in the present, and sometimes this works in a loop, with each side helping each other. This idea is often interesting, but sometimes gimmicky, especially since the link is created at different all-too-convenient times to help the plot, and also since only some people remember things and others don't. The actual detective work is done mostly by a pedantic very young man that combines Sherlock Holmes attention to detail with 'profiling', i.e. rapid character insights based on minutiae, except that it's really completely wild speculation and impossible feats of deduction with the most frail of clues. This part is often contrived and I never liked the way they use profiling in detective shows. The writers also add contrived setups to give each case a very tight deadline in order to make it thrilling as they race against the clock every time. I enjoyed it for a while, and was curious where they would take the time-travel angle, then eventually got tired of all the contrivances.



Arrow (DC)  
Based on most of the first two seasons.

A super-hero series dealing with the origins and development of Green Arrow, and also the start of a DC Comics 'multiverse' where many of its heroes and heroines from the DC stables converge. Oliver Queen is a billionaire brat who, after a shipwreck, finds himself on a strange island that transforms him into a hard man with superlative fighting skills. He finally makes his way back to the city and his family, bent on a mission to clean the city from its ills, many of which his family was involved in, in one way or another. His crime-fighting skills may make him murderous, or an upright hero, and many may have to die along the way... cue the dramatic music. The sci-fi aspects are limited to things like a couple of gadgets invented by villains, or drugs that provide super-human strength, but otherwise, this is modelled more after Batman than Spiderman, with stunts, hoods, masks and fighting skills. The many story-lines are continuous, but the main plot-lines are constantly interrupted by the preposterous back-story of what happened to him on the island, fed to us in tiny tidbits which keep piling on the absurdities, sometimes bringing to mind Lost. Unfortunately, this doesn't have the superb character and inspiration of many of the recent super-hero movies. Action-wise this is pretty impressive and entertaining (as long as you ignore the fighting chicks in the show that obviously have no training), and if you are only looking for an action series, this show may hit the mark. And although the first season is pretty weak, the second season hits its stride with more colorful super-heroics and a larger stable of villains, heroes, and everyone in between. But almost all of the characters, barring an exception or two, are quite bland and forgettable, and they even commit the sin of casting a hot chick as the 'cute little super-hacker' that knows everything about everything. The writers keep throwing twists and turns into the many plots, as well as endless secrets and revelations, new villains with new plots, etc. But mostly, this flies by as the manufactured thrills that they are, with no inspiration or humanity. So there are two problems: The writers never seem inspired and the plot developments mostly feel either copied or programmed, and the casting prioritizes models over personality, so that any drama falls flat on wooden actors that come off as two-dimensional. It even lacks humor. Episodes keep trying to build momentum with yet another absurd twist, but never stop to introspect and build character. So, like I said, the show can be an entertaining way to pass an hour or two, but it never achieves greatness and never stands out in any way. Too slick, flat and uninspired.



Lois & Clark (DC)  
Based on scattered episodes.

A campy comedic series on Superman, his day-to-day life and his tense, complex relationship with Lois. The show is silly but fun, sometimes soapish and too focused on the relationship but also including action with villains and superpowers. Alas, Dean Cain is a weak superman and plays both roles the same, never making the Superman duplicity believable. Despite all this, the show was somewhat entertaining due to its subject matter.



Ascension  

Incomplete mini-series with an intriguing premise at its heart that could have been developed into something fascinating. But the writers foolishly shifted the focus to other, unnecessary things, and then they were cancelled right in the middle of a climactic development in the story. The premise is based on some true experiments in the 60s, and it suggests that a mini-society was launched in secret in the 60s in a space-ship and sent on a hundred-year mission to try to colonize another planet. So the show could have been about a society frozen in the 60s developing its own parallel culture, except within a compressed world and in miniature, also strongly affected by the strange and very limiting constraints of their environment. For example, a ritual starts to develop around reproduction which is selected by a computer, since they cannot afford to allow their very limited gene pool to deteriorate based on random romantic interests. There is also a culture growing around the stewardess in their life-long 'flight', who also doubles as a courtesan. And so on. There is a twist to this (and they drop hints about it early), which makes it even more interesting. But then the writers shift the focus to a supernatural development which is quite banal and cliched, and also some conspiracies, as well as soapy love triangles and sex scenes. And then it got cancelled so we don't even know where they were ultimately taking all this. Oh well.



Almost Human  
Based on most of the single season.

Slick futurist cop-show. The star, which is the only reason to watch this show, is the myriad of gadgets and technologies in every episode, displaying a pretty good imagination. Some are less realistic than others, and some are mere extensions of what we have now, but others are quite inventive and are integrated into a chaotic society in interesting ways. Unfortunately, the rest of the show is just a buddy-cop show straight from the 90s, with an emphasis on episodic cases and lots of action. The two protagonist cops are actually a damaged human, and an android with a 'synthetic soul', except that the title of this show is a misnomer: The android is 100% human in terms of behaviour, emotions, speech, humor, morals and understanding, only he has a variety of super powers thanks to his built-in computer, lab, connection to the internet, and strength. Besides the fact that a robot could never be so human, I don't see the point of making a show about a society with advanced robots only to have them behave exactly like humans. The structure is episodic and the writing never really becomes inspired, but the chaotic technology is entertaining. Categorize this as a slightly better Knight Rider. Another sloppy J.J. Abrams production.



W: Two Worlds  
Based on the single season.

I tend to avoid Korean series classified as romantic and comedy since they are mostly cheesy, but this one was wrongly billed as being a fantasy drama. Turns out it covers every genre in the book: Fantasy, meta-fiction, sci-fi, thriller, drama, romance, comedy, light horror, and teen chick-flick. This is not a good thing, since the tone is all over the place. But mostly it is about having fun with the often-used idea of a fictional character interacting with its own author. In this case, this concept goes through many iterations, as the writers play around with it in various creative ways, including the idea that fictional characters may control the real world, as well as the sci-fi trope of parallel worlds. Unfortunately, they have too much fun with it, and it falls apart at around episode seven. 'W' is a fictional character in a very popular manga, whose purpose in life is to find the elusive murderer of his family. Using Korean-romance-logic, he is a young upstart hunk, but somehow also a filthy-rich CEO, despite never really performing any work. Unfortunately he is also a boy-toy, and the writers have him act so cute for his romantic interest in such fake engineered ways, that he actually comes off as creepy. When one reality starts crossing over into the other, the author and his daughter (who is in love with this fictional CEO), become involved in a dangerous game as the dangers in that world start fighting back and invading the real world. It starts quite well, but, unfortunately, after episode seven the writers break their own rules often as they keep changing the game, and powers shift back and forth as needed for the next episode. One episode they can change anything and alter reality in many ways, the next episode they are helpless and in mortal danger. In summary, the romance is corny and engineered for teenage girls, and every time it kicks in it comes with corny music, the meta-fiction is quite good and interesting for the first six episodes but then it deteriorates and falls apart, leaving only undisciplined but mildly fun entertainment.



Counterpart  
Based on the first season and bits of the second.

This starts as high quality sci-fi, exploring humanity by using a single sci-fi idea of a mirror world. Thirty years ago, the world split into two parallel worlds with a connecting tunnel. They started as identical copies, but as time went by, more and more differences appeared based on millions of minute decisions cascading and altering the society as well as individuals. This split happened in Berlin, and has been kept a secret by a hierarchical government organization that keep diplomatic ties between the two worlds based on many rules. But as the differences grow, so does the mistrust, sometimes even between a person and his own copy. The writers of this show at first explore the personal effects on some individuals as they encounter their doppelgängers, but it also re-imagines the Cold War, this time not between East and West, but between mirror copies of worlds. Spies, secret agents, diplomatic crises, paranoia, conspiracies, terrorists and even sleeper agents are revisited in this new intriguing scenario.

For the first 6 episodes or so, this is a highly intriguing watch and quality sci-fi with a superb dual performance by J.K. Simmons. The Cold-War spy stuff is average throwback convoluted material and only mildly interesting, but the character studies enhanced by this highly unusual situation when people are faced with live what-if scenarios made by their own selves, is very fascinating and extremely well done, and was the main reason I kept watching glued to my seat. But then the spy thriller aspects start taking over, and not only is this layer of the show not as interesting, it showed a much weaker side of the writers. For the second half of the season, every episode shows increasingly sloppy developments as characters jump to impossible or ridiculous conclusions, make completely idiotic decisions, contradict their own behaviour and the whole thing just stopped making sense. Towards the end, I was either yelling at the screen to make more sense every few seconds, or pausing it to try to figure out the convoluted mess, only to find that everything unravels as soon as you think about it. One of the main problems seems to be that the writers wrote the overall story but forgot to think things through from each character's point of view. It's not often that you see a show start so high and fall apart in such extreme ways within a single season. The second season started adding more illogical layers to the conspiracies and secrets, so I stopped there.



Misfits of Science  
Based on most of the single season.

The adventures of a team of lab mutants with super-powers, seen as freaks by society, their sloppy methods and whimsical behaviour causing much consternation for their bosses at the research lab and the various powers that be, sometimes feeling like a very 80s and light-hearted version of X-Men. The fun here is not in the adventures and action since these are often very unrealistic and hokey, but in the banter and characters, kinda like the A-Team, except with an emphasis on weird events and supernatural science rather than on constant action. Then again, there's another factor that probably kept many guys watching, which is a very young and perky Courteney Cox. It also features the late, charming Kevin Peter Hall as a giant who can shrink down to a few inches, his 7"2' height probably causing a lot of grief for the cameraman. Gloria has telekinesis, John can control electricity like a supercharged weapon and speed-freak, and Billy is their eccentric leader with a 'scientific' brain. Their adventures vary from Mayan treasures, to psychic links, nuclear radiation, meteor mutants, other freaks with powers, primitives looking for space ships, and so on, with silly mishaps and wild experiments always going on in the lab while they go out to save someone or another from the latest weird danger. Cheesy fun.



Continuum  
Based on the first season and most of second.

Canadian sci-fi action-thriller involving futuristic gadgets, time-travel and high-tech terrorism. The corporations have taken over governments and law-enforcement, but unlike Robocop, society has become subservient to commercial interests to fascistic extremes. A group of terrorists seek to undermine them using indiscriminate violence, and a cop equipped with the latest hi-tech weaponry is waging a long war against them. Except that they have taken the war to a new level by using a time machine to change things in the past, and she finds herself stranded with them in 2012 joining forces with today's law-enforcement. So basically, it's a terrorist/cop thriller with futuristic gadgets turning a rogue law-enforcer into a superhero, except it also features lots of time-travel complications. The terrorists keep attacking in a variety of ways, from trying to kill ancestors of important people Terminator-style, to undermining corporations using violence, revolutionary incitement, criminal alliances and recruitments. In addition to Keira's ongoing war with them, she also desperately tries to find ways to go back to her family and her own time, and has to hide the fact that she is from the future from law-enforcement co-workers, using a young technical wizard to help her with her investigations and gadgets. This is all moderately entertaining, but it's also severely flawed: For one thing, there are at least three versions of the old fantasy creature called the 'Hollywood Hacker' here: I.e. people that know everything about everything, and who can hack any system or come up with any information within a second. These mega-useful omnipotent Hollywood accessories are laughably unrealistic and only serve to keep the pace and action going by feeding the action heroes with a stream of information and support. Just once I'd like to see a hacker say that they'll attempt to find a security hole which may take a few days or weeks, or that a system is beyond reach, or that it'll take a few minutes to search some documents, even when it doesn't suit the writer's plot and pacing. Also the hero is working for fascists, and the enemy are mass murders, not allowing the audience to choose sides. For another thing, the many powerful weapons and defenses in her gadgets seem to be used only when it suits the writers. This is a common mistake when the writers pull out too many lazy hi-tech deus-ex-machines that are too powerful. And then there's the treatment of time travel which never makes any sense, pulling out alternate time lines, or ignoring paradoxes only when it suits them, and becoming ridiculously convoluted in the second season, piling on more and more individual agendas and secrets and layers until, obviously, everything collapses and never makes any sense and the characters' motivations turn into whimsical nonsense. There's also the fact that most of the cops and terrorists, as with 24, seem to be more about fashion statements rather than believable casting. In short, it's watchable and entertaining, but only in an artificial way, as it is never believable for a second.



Eli Stone  
Based on the first season.

An obvious attempt at emulating Kelley's legal dramedies like Ally Mcbeal, complete with hallucinations, quirky court cases, office romance complications, cheeky legal secretaries and assistants, and musical numbers. Except, in this show, the hallucinations turn out to be prophecies and visions meant to pressure the lawyer to help people, and the court cases aren't as interesting. Eli Stone is a shark lawyer who is caught up with winning using any way necessary, when he discovers a brain aneurysm that arrives together with hallucinations of a very quirky nature, except they reveal truths and predict futures, as well as interfere with his life enough for him to change. Before you know it, he is taking on pro-bono cases, connecting with his family, and changing his priorities. It starts as corny as it sounds, but gradually the drama becomes a little more interesting as his life becomes more complicated with ex-girlfriends working in the office, revelations about his dead father, new romances, and whatnot. It often resorts to sentimental rubbish though, and its bleeding-heart liberal slant is sometimes sickening, such as when they take on legal cases to fight for prisoners' abuse by evil wardens, or to get gay chimpanzees back together. Kelley wrote unusual cases and hot topics where he can argue both sides in the show, but this show lazily sets up evil vs. good (liberal) and then has him fight the good side. Some cases are better than others however, and it's not all formulaic fodder, same as with the drama. As for the hallucinations, this is an outright annoying and formulaic gimmick, often involving musical numbers interrupting Eli at work, constantly putting him in embarrassing situations as he gets swept away in the vision. One wonders why he doesn't learn and why he keeps interacting with his vision after the first 2 or 20 times got him into trouble. To sum up: The drama is watchable, but the cases are a mixed bag, the liberalism is intolerable, the comedy is often programmed and uninspired, and the supernatural aspect is an annoying gimmick.



Gifted Man, A  
Based on the single seasons.

Below-average but watchable hospital drama show. The titular man is a super-doctor who looks like Paul Newman's son, that, although specializing in neurology, seems to be able to cure and diagnose anything in record time, except when the writers want some drama. He starts the show as a hard and demanding celebrity doctor serving only rich patients. The fantasy aspect is extremely minimal and involves an ex-wife who appears to him as a ghost, who nurses him back to humanity simply by pressuring him to take care of the loose ends at her old job at a private clinic in a poor neighborhood. Since he always loved her, she gradually manages to bring out the best in him. Although this is almost as cliched and cloying as it sounds, and it doesn't help that the ex-wife is somewhat unctuous and liberally sanctimonious, it's still watchable as a hospital drama with weekly crises and patient dramas, backed by character development. An often-used plot-line is where patients are accompanied with a friend or parent who turns out to have a worse health problem, or friends and acquaintances with problems that complicate the doctor's life. Just barely watchable.



Big Wolf on Campus  
Based on scattered episodes of the first season.

Although sometimes compared to Buffy, this high-school werewolf comedy is much too goofy and light for such a comparison. It does have a teenage supernatural hero saving his friends from a wide variety of monsters though. In this case, its about a jock who turns werewolf, and becomes friendly with a wise-cracking goth-geek that knows his secret. Of course, his girlfriend is clueless and his lifestyle makes his high-school, home and romantic lives difficult. These are all cliches and predictable. But the tone is really light fluffy comedy to the point of being as goofy as a cartoon, complete with cartoon sound effects and slapstick. It's got good, clean, fun energy though with a slightly above-average wit, and the episodes are a breezy 20 minutes, which makes it light fun silly entertainment when nothing else is on. Think of it as the TV series version of the 1985 Teen Wolf comedy.



Teen Wolf  
Based on the first one and a half seasons.

Reviews promised something better than just another Twilight clone with werewolves. There were partially right, but this is no Buffy, and practically anything would make a show better than Twilight, so that's not saying much. This, as expected, is about a teenager in high school who becomes a werewolf, the constant dangers revolving around other werewolves and a family of werewolf hunters, and the chaos this causes with his love life, friends, his sport games, and so on. There are some elements that are good, which also help make it a little bit better than shows like Smallville: There is no monster-of-the-week format, and the story-lines are continuous, building on previous twists and developments. Also, the writers don't just keep adding new monsters and supernatural powers all the time, and try to stick mostly to werewolves. There is also much needed humor, mostly supplied by his friend Stiles, who tries to take it all in stride with sarcastic commentary. But it's not at the level of witty Buffy humor of course. Unfortunately, there is also a lot to make fun of: Based on the ratio of nudity here (all male no female), this is obviously targeted at teenage girls and gays. It's impossible to take a show seriously when the 'quota' of shirtless males is evident in each episode. It also doesn't help that this is the most ridiculously hairless wereWOLF I've ever seen. Also, there are still corny Twilight teen-romance moments, and the creature-effects are surprisingly poor. And finally, the writers, constrained by the concept of werewolves, obviously don't know how to keep things entertaining only with characters and humor, and seem to have to keep inventing new rules to generate constant thrills. So the first thing that goes is the new-moon werewolf concept, the writers ignoring classic werewolf definitions and giving them powers every day. And then there are werewolf 'alphas', as well as more and more people involved in the werewolf hunting society, all of them with constantly shifting motivations and agendas and secrets. So of course, sometimes they contradict themselves and seem like they are making things up as they go along. But, the show is still watchable for a while, depending on your tolerance for some teenage silliness.



Kyle XY  
Based on the first season.

Slightly above-average teenage show with a Lost angle. I.e. the main focus of the show is teenage high-school drama, but with a twist: All of the typical teenage angst over dating, sex, rivalry and popularity is seen through the eyes of a strange youth who appears one day in the forest with no memory or navel. He has super-abilities and a mind like a computer, and he sees the world through a newborn's eyes with a strong moral conscience, experiencing everything for the first time, and judging it based on his unmotivated conscience and innocent emotions. This gives the show its edge, as the adopting family go through various reactions to his behaviour and eventually fall in love with him. The story arc about his past involving secret experiments and mysterious agents progresses one centimeter at a time in every episode, usually raising more questions and hooking the audience, which is why I compared it to Lost. But it's not as convoluted as that show. Flaws include its simplistic and unsophisticated writing, the fact that this is a show for teenagers, and the common mistake of attributing too many super-powers to an enhanced human (assuming he is human), some of them veering into fantasy land. For example, calculating exact trajectories taking into account wind-factor and surfaces cannot be done using the eye and brain alone - you need to take various measurements. Same goes for weather forecasts. Physical abilities like super-strength and being able to train the body to do anything instantly are also questionable. In short, not for kids because of the sexual content, which means its approach makes it only suitable for young teenagers.




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