Here's a brief reaction to some of this year's best new TV, in no particular order. I've spoilt the frak out of them, too, so don't read if you don't want to know what's happened as of roughly now.
There are a number of well-received shows still on my to-do list; if you're a fan of something not on this list, either I haven't gotten around to it yet, or I wasn't that fussed. #sorrynotsorry.
Let's start with an old staple.
Doctor Who has been a little hit and missy lately, with the internal consistency of its stories flying out the window more than usual since Capaldi took over (which is really saying something), but it's just ended its ninth reboot season with a whopper of a two-part finale.
While the many detractors of Clara Oswald may bemoan the bait and switch that was her death-not-death, I for one am overjoyed that this companion will get to spend her BBC retirement actually doing all the things she'd come to love doing. Plus, Ashildr and Clara exploring time and space in a Hartnell-era TARDIS … let the shipping commence.
In the meantime, I'm looking forward to seeing a little more of the fantastic Michelle Gomez's character in future.
Homeland's back, and it looks something like this.
For some reason this show is never top of my list of "must-see" for the week, despite the fact that I still enjoy every episode. Perhaps because it has a quite deliberately slow pace to it and, arguably, nothing much happens a lot of the time. Still, it's been fun watching Carrie get sucked back into her old life, and even more fun seeing Saul swear at her every other episode. Not to mention Peter Quinn's special ops antics.
It's hard to imagine how much longer Homeland's producers can stretch this one out, but it's still not gone the way of 24. (Mind you, 24's fifth season was excellent.)
Speaking of stretching it out, they're really struggling with this one. It's not that The Blacklist's third season has been bad — it certainly hasn't — but it doesn't really have anything to do with the blacklist any more. The nature of Red and Lizzy's situation has necessarily stagnated the story somewhat, although it did give Dembe a chance to have his Jack Bauer moment after a few weeks of capture and torture.
I'm growing a little concerned, though, that the big bad "Cabal" is turning into just another faceless organisation that never ends: peel back one face, and another one appears. This was the main problem with Burn Notice, which started off with so much promise but ended up recycling the same tired ideas for years, kept alive really only by virtue of its loveable characters. Will that be the case here? For how much longer can our heroes sneak around trying to, um, do whatever it is that they're trying to do? The truth is that I don't really care, because it's still fun to watch them doing it … especially the unstoppable Tom Keane, Lizzy's doting secret agent husband-of-sorts.
Besides, the way the mid-season finale ended up, our characters seem to be headed in a new direction now anyway. We'll see how that turns out.
Well, there's certainly no denying that Molly Quinn's all grown up: Alexis Castle kicked some serious arse in the first two episodes of season eight, whilst managing to remain completely sexy the entire time. She's working alongside her dad who's now a PI because he needs to be able to put his skills to use while his wife's busy being the precinct Captain, or pretending to be a spy, or ignoring him for no good reason.
It's hard to ignore: this season has been frustrating, because the need to "do something" with the Kaskett relationship has spilled out into a strange kind of stand-off between the two main characters. They still love each other, but she's broken up with him, so she can do more super sleuthing without putting him at risk. The welcome addition of kind-of-also PI Hayley doesn't quite go as far as making up for the fact that this whole arc is a little weak, but at least Castle does eventually tell Kate exactly that.
So it's lost some of its edge over the years. But it's still mighty entertaining: I laugh so hard watching Castle. As long as that stays the case, I'm happy. That being said, I could have done without a whole episode devoted to Ryan and Esposito slating each other about the former having accidentally shot the latter in the arse; this dragged out for a puerilely long time.
Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Positively giddy throughout the third season's trailer, that didn't wear off when I got to see actual episodes.
Skye Daisy is as strong and beautiful as ever, presented to us through the irreplaceable Chloe Bennet (who might have taken the crown for leading lady if it weren't for Melissa Benoist, Krysten Ritter and Hannah John-Kamen — there's a lot of competition in this category all of a sudden). Iain de Caestecker's loyal Fitz has been great to watch too, with a "getting angry" scene that I'd have classed as the best acting of the year (if it weren't for, again, Melissa Benoist pipping him to the post last week). The whole "Simmons on another planet" arc has given the show a welcome extra dimension, though I'm concerned that narrowing the scope of Hydra could have been a mistake.
S.H.I.E.L.D. itself as an agency seems so small nowadays, at least as portrayed, and the ATCU turned out to be only a brief distraction. It would be nice to see Agents pick up the pace a little, though its integration of Inhumans into the status quo feels organic, much like the rest of the characterisations. Hunter's constant one-liners, for example, are one-liners that you can excuse, because they are funny.
I still look forward to this every week.
I've followed this from the start: an interpretation of the "time travelling criminal-hunter" trope that felt fresh from the beginning, and perhaps suffered, over its four-year run, only from a limited operating budget and an odd restriction in storytelling scope. It was never all too clear what everybody's motivations were, and the characters seemed to ignore obvious futilities in their future-changing plans.
But Kiera Cameron was someone you just wanted to be friends with, y'know? The cast was generally strong (if a little thin), the music was gorgeous, and I was really just grateful for the final season that Canada's Showtime squeezed out, albeit in curtailed form. I must admit the ending was disappointing, insomuch as it essentially rendered all of Kiera's new goals as tragically pointless… although, again, only entirely inevitably.
Here's something I wasn't expecting: a whole new take on the superhero genre that one may be forgiven for feeling has become over-saturated lately.
In a world where superheroes flying around shooting laser eyes at each other has become completely commonplace, a division of the city police force is set up specifically to deal with those powered individuals who are honestly not all that heroic, and therefore require special "handling".
Angelic Olesya Rulin acts as audience surrogate of a sort as she attempts to navigate this world, desperate for powers of her own while hundreds of Powers whizz by every day without a word; she's essentially channelling every cult TV fan in an era of almost constant superhero movies.
Matters take a surprisingly dark turn when the big bad — an outstanding Eddie Izzard — takes centre stage, and the electricity remains on right until season's end.
It may have been a little clumsy in places, and it's not as noir as it tries to be, and frankly I've seen Michelle Forbes as a hard-arse too many times to buy into her as a caped hero loved by teenage girls everywhere (although, arguably, this is half the point) but it's certainly not the "yet another crime procedural" I was afraid it would be. Despite its flaws, season one feels like a fairly solid freshman run for Powers. It'll be interesting to see how much it matures in its second, which is already in production.
Heroes was always the sort of show you kept watching hoping it would be as good as its initial episodes had been. It was always worth following for its ensemble cast and miscellany of superpowers, but declining ratings tracked declining viewer satisfaction until its eventual cancellation in 2010. So, when a jump start was announced, I admit to being a little skeptical.
But, y'know what? It works. Heroes Reborn quite cleverly integrated the events of the original show's final moments into the framework for a brave new world, paving the way for interesting new characters who have their own mysteries to unravel, whilst giving us enough familiar faces to make playing the loyalty card feasible. That Hayden Panettiere was either too busy or too famous to take part in the new show is extremely obvious, but it is so at least in part because the main arc has effectively been written around it. Though I'd still like to know who Nathan and Malina's father is.
Of course it has some problems with its time travel mechanics, but who cares? The cliffhangers-are-frustrating-me factor is still in full force after all these years and I reckon that's almost paradoxically among the best signs of enjoyment.
The 2002 film was a big success, owing to its high concept, superb visuals and expansive scope. It's only reasonable to expect that a TV sequel wouldn't be able to manage quite the same level of production awesomeness, but I have to say: it gets bloody close.
Set a decade or so after Tom Cruise got all three precogs released from the crime-predicting machine in which they'd been held captive for most of their lives, they're surprisingly well adjusted to the real world … and one of them wants to be a bigger part of it. When Dash decides to "come out" to DC Metro Detective Lara Vega, the two of them join up with carer Wally (from the original film) and start handling cases themselves using Dash's visions. Naturally this draws enough attention to get everybody in trouble, though matters seem sufficiently resolved by the end of the season finale.
The future-technology is seamlessly integrated into the show in a believable fashion, and everybody's motivations are also believable (which is rarer in TV than I would like). The cast may not put in the most inspiring performances in the world, but they do a good enough job of bringing you into their world.
I could watch another season of this. This future deserves to be explored.
If you thought it was unusual to reincarnate a hit movie in TV format, just wait until you discover that there's another one. Whereas Minority Report largely stays true to the tone of its progenitor, Limitless is a bit of a surprise.
The narrative arc is directly connected to Bradley Cooper's 2011 thriller, but rather than attempt to reproduce it this show takes a whole new approach to what is essentially the same story. Some of the comedy moments therefore appear to come out of left field until you get used to it but, once you do, watching Brian Finch (Jake McDorman), FBI Agent Rebecca Harris and friends resolve whatever needs resolving in their goofy way is remarkably entertaining.
Besides, I've decided I would happily watch Jennifer Carpenter in just about anything.
Thunderbirds Are Go
I was hugely into Thunderbirds as a kid. I had Thunderbird 2 and 4 models for sure. I had a lovingly-crafted Tracy Island. I loved this show. Frankly, I still do.
So when teaser trailers started doing the rounds earlier this year, I was cautious. Thunderbirds is a sacred property, and if it's going to be done, it needs to be done right. I admit to having enjoyed the 2004 movie (complete with theme tune remix courtesy of Busted), unlike most other people, but that wasn't really Thunderbirds.
They've done a good job, though. They've changed a lot of it in subtle and not-so-subtle ways: Jeff's absence for one, various machine redesigns, new faces for everyone but Parker and Scott, and Brains is now apparently Indian. These are all superficial, though: the real change is in the pacing. While the original show enjoyed an hour-long runtime per episode, or more, CBBC's new Saturday morning outing has to cram in an entire rescue or two inside just 20 minutes, and it shows. The characters whip through dialogue, with little time to discover whether there's anything really to distinguish these characters from another, and there are almost no quiet moments. There's always something happening. It's like the entire Tracy family have developed ADHD, or at least discovered a very large stash of mood-enhancers.
This in contrast with the original Anderson production tending to make us sit through five minutes of the Mole rolling across some mud, though I like to think that this was a worthwhile lesson in patience sadly missing from any education given to "kids these days". We do still get Thunderbird launch sequences, though. In fact, come to think of it, all of the graphics are superb, if one forgives their deliberate, slightly cartoonish nature. One very quickly forgets that one's watching CGI "actors", perhaps in part because the backdrops are physical models effectively matted in. If this was intended as a deliberate visual homage to the tilt-shift quality of the 1965 classic, it's a successful one.
But after all that, much like with Castle, it's mainly the laughs that keep me coming back. Thunderbirds Are Go is surprisingly funny. Oh, and I'm not sure whether fancying an animated character is kosher these days, but Kayo — the special ops, PC re-imagining of Tintin — is wife material.
So I hope it lasts. But I do think it should calm down a little, and try exploring some different plots once in a while. The obvious attempt at incorporating some educational value into the rescue stories is admirable, but we've already had several episodes quite similar to one another, and the first series has not even finished yet.
Discovering Killjoys only really by chance last week, I quickly caught up with its freshman run to discover a delightful cross between Firefly, Andromeda and Defiance. What it lacks in scope it makes up for in casting and character, and seems to have a reasonably interesting arc, unravelling at just the right pace.
Newcomer Hannah John-Kamen and familiar Aaron Ashmore (Smallville, lots of X-Men movies) bring Dutch and Johnnie to life with seeming ease: while their shipmate characters have tons of chemistry together, they also insist it's a brother/sister dynamic rather than subjecting us to yet another "sexual tension" arc, and the fact that I can completely buy this is testament to the acting chops of this lot. Of course, a love triangle of sorts inevitably does develop when Ashmore's character's brother gets thrown into the mix, but that's literally another story.
Don't know what else to say, really. Worth a watch. The warrant is all!
Marvel's Jessica Jones
Now this is noir, at least for the most part. Krysten Ritter stuns as Jessica Jones of comic fame, currently in her "moping about as a PI" phase after discovering that being a superhero isn't really for her. The return of "Kilgrave" AKA Purple Man into her life sets her and her few friends off on a wild adventure, resulting in an absurd body count, some surprises and a lot of fun.
I particularly enjoyed the results of writer Scott Reynolds taking the opportunity in episode eight to work in some Doctor Who jokes; Jessica Jones tells David Tennant's Kilgrave at one point that he's "not ten any more", which one might have dismissed as meaningless dialogue if it weren't for the strong indication, several scenes later, that Tennant's character had emphatically stated "DON'T BLINK" off-camera to two supporting characters, in the interim. If you don't get that, I don't even want to know you.
While Jessica Jones meanders a little in the middle, making me wonder whether thirteen episodes may have been a little too long a run, it's clear that Marvel's experiment in direct-to-Netflix extended miniseries showcasing some of the lesser known comic characters is proving itself a resounding success. So far, at least.
CBS's Supergirl has become something of an obsession of mine lately.
There are certainly plenty of obvious factors in its favour: Melissa Benoist's adorably dorky Kara Zor-El; Chyler Leigh's appropriately nuanced performance as
a grown-up Lexie Grey foster sister and government agent Alex Danvers; Calista Flockhart's confident but human CEO in form of Cat Grant; a solid supporting cast, and some gorgeous visuals. The weekly plots are interesting enough and there's a wider arc in there somewhere.
But I think what really makes this show tick for me is its optimism. DC's blue and red superheroes have hardly ever been subtle in their heroism, but I must admit it's refreshing to see so much levity at a time when we're mostly being fed our heroes on a diet of dark and gritty. Even the relatively recent Smallville wasn't exactly mood-enhancing.
Anyway, Supergirl was recently given a full-season order of sorts, and this is one I'd definitely like to see go on for at least another year after that. Up, up, and away!
In the meantime, here's a completely unrelated song of the same name.