So much TV! – week of 6/22/22
It’s gonna be a crowded week. I know my wife was just complaing that it’s all summer reruns for her, but for me, everything is firing on all cylinders, full speed ahead.
Superman and Lois is back, and there’s something to be said for a series like this… Where every single episode feels like the penultimate episode. As bizarro world attempts to merge with earth, Superman is down for the count and powerless. It’s up to all of our second string heroes, including Jordan as well as stealing his daughter to protect Smallville. In the meantime, The evil doppelgängers are back, looking for their counterparts and looking to take out Clark while he’s still vulnerable. All of this goes on, Lana finds herself coping not only was just learning the job of being the newly elected mayor, but also dealing with an extinction level superhero crisis and trying to pull the town together in the midst of it.
The Orville has done an excellent job of really being Star Trek… Copying the aesthetic and the trajectory… And for the first time I wonder and worry if they’ve also swallowed the poison pill of modern Star Trek. The Orville hasn’t been without its social justice and political points… Although it’s generally been fairly evenhanded with them. But with this episode, featuring the election of the Krill… The bad guys, basically religious Klingons, I wonder if they’re getting a little heavy handed with their political commentary. We have an election that changed suddenly… mysteriously… almost overnight! And yet we have the leader who wins being very much A nationalist and an ideologue… All the things they said President Trump was. Of course one could also apply that to current President Biden, who governs every bit as an extremist as they all said Trump would be. The fact that there is suggestions of a stolen election… Or a challenge to it… Like I said. It’s heavy-handed and I’m feeling a little attacked. I actually chatted with us a little bit with one of my friends who does not share my political leanings. He’s not necessarily my opposite or even in the middle, but more of a cynic… and unlike other people who I hear frequently say “I hate all politicians“ and claim to be independent… He actually is. From his viewing, he saw a bit of skewering of both sides… And I’m content to leave it at that. I know my bias. Still, it’s clumsy and really not what I want to watch The Orville for. It’s a shame too, because the episode is gorgeous. The Krill homeworld is shocking how detailed and well realized it is. It’s just gorgeous and a monstrous bit of science-fiction design. Is everything you want from a future alien city.
Week of 6-15-22
The Flash kicks things off right this week, jumping right in showing a race between the flash and another speedster dressed like a ninja. It’s a funny coincidence, considering I spent the weekend watching a bunch of ninja movies…
The black suited speedster in question is Dr Mina, a scientist who seems to have developed a machine that can grant a person artificial super speed. Or is it really artificial speed force? Barry’s taking it upon himself to help train her, but things go sideways when he meets her partner… Ebon Thawn, the Reverse Flash. This is the blonde hair blue eyed version of Thawn, and he’s lost his memory. It’s suspicious enough to send Barry running to check on Tom Kavanaugh‘s reverse flash, still stripped of his power, and cooling his heels in iron heights prison. Together they realize that what Mina has created is a machine that Thawn designed 200 years from now in his own quest for super speed… But it’s not creating artificial speed force. It’s tapping in to the negative speed force. Much like an atom can have a negative charge and a positive charge, Barry is the avatar of the speed force and carries the positive charge. What Mina has discovered is the negative charge of the speed force, and a lightning bolt from her hand can cancel out Barry’s powers.
It’s just a great solid superhero adventure. Mina actually stopped just short of kind of becoming a female reverse flash… And indeed, Barry even says “Central City can always use more heroes“. No it can’t! What it needs is more villains! and I’d love to see her go full Reverse Flash here. When you’re at the eighth season like this, it wouldn’t really be just a gender swap replacement of an existing character, but rather a variant that moves right along in the continuity, not taking away from the already established character. let her be a reverse flash for an episode or two, and maybe even climax it with three reverse flashes after Barry. Either way, you can tell that I’m digging on this episode, because of all the speculation…
Moreover we get not one, but three stingers at the end, it seems that there wasn’t really enough time to dedicate to the b storylines, so they’ve got a cliffhanger us at the end here with glimpses of Cecile and her powers going off the scale, A potential resurrection for killer frost, and new devious plans hatching with the reverse flash. It gets me very excited for what the back end of the season has to offer. You also can never go wrong with a cameo from Ray Palmer. Even if it is just Brandon Routh skypeing in, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Everything that Brandon Routh brought to the table with Clark Kent… All the charm and gawkiness without being… Well, stupid… (The way Christopher Reeve played him) it’s all dialed up to 11 when Routh plays the atom, and it just works so well.
But then we get to Ms Marvel. And see, I don’t understand Disney. They bought Marvel… A company mostly built on superhero adventure franchises. Colorful characters in colorful costumes punching people. Then they proceed to make these Disney+ shows with very few costumes, muted colors, and nearly no action, adventure or punching. I understood there wouldn’t be tons of action in the first episode because we’re basically getting an origin, but the second episode seemed even flatter. It’s Kamala’s got a crush, and somebody’s stealing shoes at the mosque. That’s basically what happens. There’s about 10 minutes of a superhero rescue towards the very end and quite the cliffhanger, but the 40 minutes or so that proceeded… It’s all just people talking. You know, I feel like I’ve said this before… Oh wait, I have. I said it for six weeks with Loki.
Part of me wonders if Marvel just hasn’t gotten The formula right… I mean, the Disney+ shows sure seem to be following a specific structure, but it’s not the right one. In a film, the first act is world building. You get 30 or 40 minutes of that before you move into the second act which is conflict, usually resulting in a big problem or falling out that has to be resolved shortly into the third act just before the climax. It’s a reliable structure, and when you deviate from that, you start feeling like the film is dragging. On a traditional 22 episode network television series, you probably get about 20%-25% of each episode divided world building, maybe a little bit more or less depending on the story, as well as character development all throughout, while never neglecting the action and adventure itself. For all of my talk about how the CW shows really do love their scenes of attractive people talking about their feelings in dimly lit hallways… They still understand that balance, And don’t deprive us of the important punching moments.
And yet every week I hear my friends gushing about “Marvel has done it again!“ And have the newest Disney Marvel show is the best thing ever! And I just don’t get it. I almost wonder if they’re reacting more to that shocking cliffhanger that they do seem to like leaving us with rather than the contents of the absolute self. That would make sense to me, but honestly, it’s not enough to run a series on that alone.
Fortunately, they haven’t forgotten about the action when it comes to making Obi-Wan. The imperial forces are bearing down on the underground railroad base, and it’s basically up to Obi-Wan to buy them time to evacuate… and get Princess Leia to safety.
We finally get some of Reva’s backstory… But it’s no exaggeration when I say literally everybody I knew, whether they were Star Wars fans or not, whether they like the show or not, EVERYONE ABSOLUTELY KNEW she was going to end up being one of the kids in the Jedi temple and that somehow she would’ve survived the massacre from Revenge of the Sith. Obi-Wan suggests that the reason she’s doing all this is really to able to get close to Vader to kill him… Which is weird, because she’s been serving Vader for a decade or two now, but it’s only now that Obi-Wan’s dreamy eyes are enough to convincing her to try and kill him? No, I still insist that this character feels very clumsily inserted into the story for purposes of padding out the length to get it to six hours, and to make sure that there’s some sort of diversity first. It’s not even that she’s awful, it’s just that she’s unnecessary. The imperial turncoat that’s been helping Obi-Wan and Leia escape…? The one that will occasionally don her old imperial officer uniform? You could have given Reva’s entire backstory to her and not missed a beat. She could have still headed up to confront Vader this episode and had a far more interesting death. And all the tracking and torture and villainous stuff Reva’s been doing? It’d all be WAY more interesting if that were Vader. I’ve said it before, but it bears reapeating. you have one of the greatest cinematic villians of all time at your disposal. Not just of sci-fi, not just of star wars….ONE OF THE GREATEST VILLIANS IN THE HISTORY OF ALL MOVIES….but you’d rather use Reva.
I can kind of see how Obi-Wan really did start off life as a film script. You can feel the pacing, especially now that we’re fully immersed into the third act, and this thing absolutely would’ve blown our socks off as a three hour film, rather than a six hour miniseries. In fact, I could go for a couple of two-hour Obi-Wan films with these kind of production values. Still, while this probably wasn’t the series best destiny, it’s still been the best of any of the Disney Star Wars that I’ve seen.
With no Superman and Lois this week, we’re rounding things out with the Orville. The thing is, I’ve never been a fan of imaginary stories. I don’t enjoy the stuff like Shore Leave, or the holodeck hijinx of Casino Royale or the Big Goodbye. Still, I’ve gotta admit, Seth MacFarlane is not gonna be able to fully realize his dream of doing a Star Trek series without at least one of these type of stories. He provides us with a sufficient McGuffin, and to his credit, the story actually gives us more of a twilight zone feel to them than a fantasy diversion. It’s an interesting aesthetic, but for me these still always feel like a waste of time.
McFarland also manages to tack on what Harlan Ellison used to refer to as “that dopey utopian bull$#@% that Gene Roddenberry loved” tm. McFarlane puts it in the mouth of the MacGuffin, a highly evolved creature, that’s at least 50,000 years beyond us… more really, since they learned how to manipulate and control their evolution. She suggests that humanity is on the right track, having left behind it’s gods and it’s myths and it’s nations, but when you become as involved as they are, you even move beyond any other identities… Explorer, captain, husband, even man or woman. Now, before people start pointing fingers and triumphantly exclaiming “See! Star Trek was always woke!“ Not only can I just kind of brush it off as one line of dialogue… (And being a student of history, I’ve noticed that every generation seems to think that they’ve evolved past a lot of those traditional concepts and identities… past ideas of God and nation and identity (and then history or reality reassert themselves and we find ourselves drawn back to those traditions). Sure I CAN address that myself, but I don’t actually have to, because in true Star Trek fashion, the show plunges forward to explore the statement further. McFarlane points out that while humans may not be as involved as our McGuffin, we’re old enough that we don’t run experiments on lower life forms the way the McGuffin has just done on us. It’s an interesting statement. It doesn’t necessarily contradict her, but it certainly gives you something to think about… and makes you wonder whether or not the McGuffin’s evolution is truly progressive and positive or not. The crew discusses it over dinner in the mess hall that night at the ship…
McFarland is pushing an atheist view here, that when you die there’s nothing, but that’s something to wrestle with. It’s an idea that we can’t truly wrap our heads around. Even the idea of it just being a formless black void after we die… We still have to be conscious in some way to perceive that… How do you perceive nonexistence? Bortus on the other hand suggests that death is noble. It’s a part of life and it has it hazards on virtue. McFarlane dismisses it as the traditional philosophical idea, but even in the dismissal, we get to listen to the point. Despite all of this, the first officer seems shocked that McFarlane would wish to live forever. He gives a marvelous justification though…
“I want to see what happens.”
I love this. I disagree with the primary tenant that McFarlane really wants to espouse, but he does it smartly – it’s classical liberalism which wants to debate the comcept, talk about it and chew it over and eventually come to a conclusion. It’s a difference between this and any of the modern Star Trek we see on Paramount plus which merely wishes to push it’s message, unquestioned. The Orville maybe stating its own opinion, but more importantly, they want to start the discussion. That’s why a single line can spark so much explanation from me here in this blog. That’s what Star Trek used to do.
Of course, you could justifiably say that I’m over thinking things here. But then again, hasn’t that always been the point of science fiction in general and Star Trek in particular?
See you next week.
Week of 6-8-22
Oh wow, Superman and Lois just went full on soap opera this week. I mean it. It’s nothing but drama… With a little bit of superheroics tacked on in the last 12 minutes or so. This may actually be the first bad episode they’ve had… And quite frankly, you can skip it. Anything that was important in this episode will almost certainly be recapped when the shower turns on June 22. I’ve got to admit though, for the series to have gone some 35 episodes or so and only so now hit a bad one, it’s actually pretty good. Supergirl jumped the shark almost immediately in her second season, and this is way better produced than that. It’s not enough to put me off, but yikes. They’re making up for turning the soap opera dial down a little bit the last couple episodes this week.
One thing that I am noticing though and it bears mentioning is the character of Kyle Cushing… Lana‘s husband. Lana and Kyle are currently separated because she discovered he cheated on her years ago while he was still drinking. In general, I don’t side with cheaters. I despise them. And even when I can understand the events that led to it, I am always on the side of the person who got cheated on. That’s mostly true here as well, but what impresses me is the links to which Kyle is going to try and win Lana back, as well as being a good father and try and keep his family together. Early in that first season most of us pegged Kyle as the “grown-up frat boy“ or “craft beer douche bag“, “former high school football hero”. It would’ve been very easy for them to just slip into the abusive husband or bad dad or dumb Republican kind of tropes. Instead, they’ve given him a great deal of nuance. The fact they’re showing him trying so hard and actually being a good father… The fact that they’re treating him as a character instead of a caricature – they absolutely deserve props for that.
One of the criticisms I’ve been hearing about Obi-Wan is how much it’s reminding people of the last Jedi… Specifically comparing sad Luke Skywalker in exile and saying Ewan McGregor is kind of sad Obi-Wan also in exile. I can see where they’re coming from on this, but at the same time I think things like the Last Jedi, and the constant bait and switch tactics we’ve seen ramp up over the last few years, and a lot of the diversity stunt casting rather than organic diversity… I think all of that has made us more sensitive to things we probably would’ve dismissed 10 years ago. I think we really wouldn’t be looking at this quite so critically if it had come out say, right after the Force Awakens. Imagine this and rogue one coming out within a year of each other… and then giving us the second sequel, making us wait three years instead of two. In any event, I think some of those criticisms have been answered here. Because in episode four, Obi Wan is driven, and singularly minded. He is on mission and finally giving us the Jedi action hero that we’ve been waiting to see. It also restores something that’s been missing from the D+ SW shows. For me, growing up, I could never figure out who was the actual hero of Star Wars. Was it the space pirate Han Solo or the cosmic mystic Luke? I think that this balance of those two aspects was really the key to Star Wars success. When the prequels came out, we were really missing this as they overfocused on the Jedi, and they never quite figured out how to strike that balance in the sequels. at first it looked like Finn would become the new streetwise space cowboy, but then Disney couldn’t figured out what to do with him so they shrunk his role and his space on the poster (because China doesn’t like Black people) and basically turned him into little more than a damsel in distress for Rose Tico – really a disservice to both characters.
With the release of the Mandalorian, we finally had our gritty shooty bang bang space western hero back, but now, the Jedi were all but absent. Oh sure, we’d get a guest appearance here or there, but for the most part, they weren’t a big part of that story. Obi-Wan feels like the other side of that coin. Like we’re getting a little bit of each depending on which series you watch. I’d love to see the balance achieved a little bit more, but it seems that we may actually be getting somewhere here. I sure hope so. There’s a lot of people who have lost their love for Star Wars because of how mishandled it’s been, and Obi-Wan should’ve been a good step towards getting them back… If it’s not too far gone already.
Ms. Marvel premiered this week as well, and I’m of two minds about it. They definitely have their target audience… Leaning heavily into the fangirl, convention fiend sort of element. Indeed, the entire episode really centers around Kamala Khan and her friend trying to figure out how they’re going to get to avengers con, in the heart of the city. I recognize a lot of myself in this, especially recognize a lot of my daughter in this. I’m surprised however, at how much I also relate to the parents… And they are of course, cast as the unreasonable bad guys. That I don’t like. But then again, we’re not the target audience. (However, people my age also weren’t the target audience for Stargirl….and I was completely all in on that show pretty much from the word go)
Ms. Marvel is one of those characters that is moderately popular, but that Marvel wants to make way more popular… Much like the way they hype Captain Marvel. And this first episode is very much a Captain Marvel hype machine. I’m not sure how successful that’s gonna be, but then again, I’m not seeing a ton of stuff here that bothers me or that I’d object to in the first place. It’s also very early in the story, and we haven’t gotten much happening yet except introducing our characters and learning the source of Ms. Marvel’s powers.
The Orville seem to be full of homage this week. Every time we turn around, I kind of felt like I was watching something lifted from a bit of one episode of next generation or another. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. We’re watching the Orville because it’s the best Star Trek out there right now… Which is saying something considering it’s not Star Trek.
The ships get permission to cross through Krill space… Those were the white and scaly bad guys from last year. Crossing through there and gives them access The areas of the galaxy previously unexplored… And everyone’s excited. Everyone but the Krill. When they learn that the Orville will be going through a dark expanse… Let’s just put it this way; they pray the last rights over them before they leave. They have legends about that area… Demons that possess people and hide unimaginable terrors.
That’s quite a set up. And it’s worth noting… They’re gonna pay this thing off in spades.
Just past Krill space, they come across an area that just seems like a void. There are no stars. It’s hard for sensors to penetrate, but undaunted, they had in. Inside this large dark cloud they find a bizarre looking space station. They’re explorers, it’s time to explore. Shuttlecraft is dispatched and the whole thing has a very Star Trek the motion picture feel to it. The tiny ship as it penetrates the black clouds, and then enters the looming space station. Watching the bizarre hatchways open in a sort of star/claw formation… And the essential alieness of it all.
Inside, I actually start to get extremely strong Borg vibes. The best of both worlds, where they’re exploring the ship and trying to figure out what different nodes and lights do in signify. what those notes do, is infect visitors. One of the away team is infected with a virus that completely rewrites his DNA and turns him into… Let’s just call it a monster. It’s very reminiscent of the episode of TNG where Barkley turns into a spider… Only there’s more of them, and as monsters go, they’re pretty horrifying. Perhaps too intense for broadcast television, but then again, the Orville no longer have to worry about that. Being on Hulu allows some fair that’s slightly more R-rated.
It’s interesting, because I’ve seen a lot of people complain about the sort of horror violence that we’ve seen in modern Star Trek… Myself included – though not quite so publicly – and yet here, it doesn’t bother me quite so much. Perhaps it’s because we’re dealing with monsters. There’s always been monsters on Star Trek… As opposed to watching people get their eyes gouged out by other people or watching a bunch of Falcons see a vision so horrible they blast themselves in the head with tasers… here, it’s just not so mean-spirited. Modern Star Trek is Saw, whereas the Orville is still the old-fashioned 80s slasher movie style or a 50s Wolfman flick. monsters, not cruelity. All of our characters get a chance to be heroic, and despite the other horror of the situation, the show and the crew still managed to retain an optimistic outlook. This is great stuff, and I am totally on board for the season. The weekly episodes… Honestly it’s the highlight of my week, much of the way Doctor Who used to be.
Another thing that’s striking me about the Orville is how distinct its ships look. The union ships them selves still have a lot of the Starfleet clean look to them… Definitely that same color scheme, But the design itself… Well, you’ll never mistake it for Star Trek. The same is true with a lot of the computer consoles, though everything else about the show really could be another TNG era spinoff. That of course is what has made this thing so strong. But I do sometimes find myself wishing for prettier ships… Then again, I was never a big fan of the look of the Enterprise D. The Orville is filmed exquisitely, almost to the point where I may actually like it better than the TNG flagship. Isn’t that strange?
The Flash is in a weird place this week. They kind of need half an episode to use as a bridge episode, connecting us to the greater storyline, but they also insist on throwing a big storyline that’s unrelated… And quite honestly, not that compelling. The B storyline involves the temporary editor at the central city citizen… And it’s another example of this show really dying to be and ensemble show, the problem is it’s not. The main character of the show… Well quite frankly his name is in the title. And he’s off on a secret mission… so in the mean time, the show is trying to push the supporting cast. Even worse, it’s the new supporting cast, not the characters that we really got attached to over the years. I understand, with this many episodes you do have to shuffle a little bit, but… they’re not pulling it off. We’ve had a really great run this season, but now, it’s almost like it’s catching up to them. Between this and the cast turnover, I know I keep vacillating back-and-forth, but it’s swung me back towards this should be
And man, it’s a good thing that television has been halfway decent lately, because there’s not a damn thing I want to read in comics right now.
Spider-Man number three is just depressing. It’s nice to get a recap of tombstone‘s origins, but man, that beat down Spidey takes… It bothers me kind of the way the beat down in Superman Returns bothers me. It’s just not what I want to see.
I tried to get the Poison Ivy issue this week a chance, but… Just ugh. I don’t recognize these characters anymore. And none of the politically charged pride books, or the new and improved justice league full of anything but what we’d actually like from justice league… Say Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman? (And the real ones I mean, not the great value brand that DC is currently trying to pass off). I mean, seriously, if Grant Morrison could get this right while hopped up on whiskey and amphetamines, chain-smoking a dozen clove cigarettes at once, this can’t be that hard.
At least Archer and Armstrong is still interesting enough. It’s really more of an alternative comic… And I like the direction they’re going this time around. And the current stories are trying to find a way to restore Armstrong’s immortality, and it’s been a lot of fun. Exactly the sort of weird alternative Loopy fun that this title has never gotten enough credit for.
Hopefully we get better next week.