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Monday, February 16, 2009

TV Watch: Sci Fi Report Card

I don't get a chance to write weekly on every show out there, as I am only mortal and have an actual job as well. As a way to recap across the board, here's how the current crop of science fiction is doing on our books:

Let's start with the problem child. Heroes and I have generally had a tumultuous relationship, but the show usually delivered the goods by season's end. Problem is that this season I'm just running out of caring. Is Claire annoyed with one of her fathers? Don't care. Has Parker picked up some new ability because apparently reading minds makes for really boring TV? Don't care. Does Hiro have any powers this week? Don't know. And don't care.

Heroes lacks any central theme in my eyes. It's not a show about salvation, or responsibility or even outright power. It doesn't really seem to be a show about anything except what random happenstance occurs on a group of people for a season. Were it not for the flaming bolts and flying around, this show could be Seinfeld. It needs to get rooted, clear out some weeds and produce a decent storyline. Grade: D+

Fringe has me pretty well hooked at this point. I like the characters, the back plot is interesting and the monsters of the week well handled. That said, the show seems poised for trouble. It could follow so many bad examples and end up in the weeds in just no time flat. Incongruities, too many unexplained events, drawing out plots for seasons on end - all mistakes made by prior star pupils.

For now, I'll remain optimistic - if not just to wait to hear what random insanity comes from Walter next. It's a smart, well acted show that pulls enough material from past shows while remaining fresh and unique on its own. There's a few specific quibbles - like just how weird Massive Dynamic can be without reminding me of an episode of FLCL, but nothing serious. Grade: A-

Speaking of incongruities, too many unexplained events, drawing out plots for seasons on end - Lost has managed them all. The saving grace of it all at this point is the characters, which the writers still haven't forgotten are the heart of the show even if they've struggled keeping focus (perhaps they should tutor Heroes after class). This season feels like it is cleaning up, tightening up and straightening up the overall format - but there is no doubt that the episode neither feel as strong nor deliver the same punch as the first couple of seasons. The show isn't as fun as it was, feels less like a puzzle and has lost a lot of its flair - but there is an effort here and that effort is showing this season.

Lost is no longer an overachiever, but pretty certain it will graduate. Grade: B

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
My usually thumping point for Terminator has been - who wouldn't want to watch a show with Summer Glau as a cyborg? Fair to say that while the logic is sound, that's not enough to make a show last for more than a few episodes. So why should you watch this outside of a robotic River Tam?

First - Lena Headey, who is downright amazing as Sarah. At its center, the show is about the confused and complicated life of some refugees of time - and Lena embodies that confusion in her character. She morphs from bumbling mom to roadside warrior in nanoseconds. Secondly, the show is trying to be less of a B-movie TV show and more of a character study on living life as a refugee. There's less action, more dialogue and it works quite well.

What the show lacks right now is that moment where an episode just feels perfectly galvanized. The show has this wandering feel to it, which isn't entirely bad - but not entirely good. I used to tell people if they were interested in Lost - at least watch the first Locke episode. If you don't like that, you'll hate the show. Terminator doesn't have that working example yet. Grade: B+

As I said in my post on the premiere, I don't think it is fair to judge Dollhouse until a few episodes into the season. I think the show is off to a robust start and I have a lot of confidence that Joss will mine the premise for what its worth. Still, all we have to go from is setup and groundwork. We'll check back in a couple months to see where it is. Grade: New Student

Battlestar Galactica
For this season, Galactica is my star pupil. This season has been off the charts good, evoking all the tidbits of the first season that drew viewers in the first place. Military SF, mystery and a pervasive sense of dread emanate from these episodes. The coup episodes are possibly my favorite in the series history and even with that storyline resolved, I'm hooked in for more.

I can't say that I'm sorry to see the show go, simply because I think the plot needs to have a definite ending. It does feel like the ending will shore up all the little elements we've been shown through the seasons and probably end with a bang (my guess right now - a literal one).Grade: A+.

Atlantis, Sanctuary, etc.
At some point I guess we should catch back up with Atlantis to see how it ended - it looks like we left off with a couple episodes to go. We didn't have a lot of interest left in the show, especially when it got cancelled and the content feeling like it was getting stuck in the mire all season long.

As for Sanctuary, I honestly can't even get past Amanda Tapping's awful rendition of an accent to even get through a preview, much less a whole episode. And yes, I know Tapping is British born and all, but from what I read she's upping the ante on it to be "technically accurate."

Don't know. Don't care. Don't watch. Grade: Absent from class


Winkyboy said...

I think you missed Battlestar Galactica in the role call, which is strange because it should be valedictorian. I give BSG an A+. Not only do we have the on-going war providing us excellent explosions, but there is also an intellectual level spanning religious and political themes relevant to current day subjects. Besides, the actors on the show are amazingly well-cast. Tricia Helfer and Grace Park excellent in their jobs AND they look good. Mary McDonnell and James Olmos are just born to play these parts. It goes on and on.

Heroes: Yeah, it does get a passing grade right now, but everyone I know around here save myself has dropped off watching it. It is floundering, but I have high, high hopes for it considering that Bryan Fuller is going to take over writing again after the next handful of episodes. Agree: D+, but with potential to regain its higher grades.

Fringe: I'm not sure... I've watched a few episodes and I've LIKED them, but I'm still too early on in the series to be able to grade it properly. New Student, for me.

Lost: B. Stop telling us the dog ate your homework, Lost.

Terminator: I'd give this a good solid A. I can't understand the move to Friday, but then I also can't understand why stations care any more when shows are played because of DVRs. Regardless, I up the grade for this one because it handles time travel so exceedingly well. I'm tarnished with the bad or confusing assignments Heroes and Lost have been turning in, so it's refreshing to see such consistency in TSCC.

Dollhouse: New Student.

Atlantis: So absent from class I've forgotten about it. But it had a nice B grade last time I was interested, so I need to polish that one off.

Sanctuary: Yeah... Amanda Tapping does NOT fit this role. I've only watched one episode, so it's gotta be New Student again for me. I'll watch more, but it's really, really hard to watch Amanda playing something that just doesn't seem like her.

Josh said...

I did miss BG! I just added it and posted an errata pointing out that. I think BG is doing as well, if not better, than it ever was.

Josh said...

OK, updated the update a bit too.

Yeah, Terminator's move to Fridays is about as odd as Dollhouse showing up there in the first place. It might well be a death chime for Terminator, which hasn't had the greatest numbers to begin with and does not bode well for Dollhouse either.

I would have hoped for a Monday appearance from both, take on Heroes. Heroes as been in a ratings freefall lately (for good reasons), and the night would have been ripe for competition.

But X-Files thrived on Friday, and hopefully the Whedon fanbase can do both shows proper.