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Sci-Fi series mini reviews, part one

We got Apple TV, so suddenly we have access to way more shows. I’ve written up reviews of the ones we’ve watched recently—but I’ve divided them into two entries, as it gets long. Here’s part one.

Fringe (2008–2013)

A US show. We saw all but the final two-thirds of the final (fifth) season, when the show seriously went off the rails.

I really loved this series, which starts out as sort of an updating of the X-Files concept and then goes off in its own direction. Every episode does have some sticky, body-horror-type aspect, which is not my thing, but those were very eye-closable and ear-pluggable, and meanwhile, the characters and stories were fabulous. I loved King Learianly emotional mad-scientist Walter, played by John Noble of Denethor fame. This guy has apparently gotten typecast as someone who is either going to have son issues (Fringe, LOTR) or father issues (Sleepy Hollow). The other characters (capable, reserved FBI agent Olivia Dunham, Walter’s genius-but-ne’er-do-well son Peter Bishop, sweet FBI agent Astrid Farnsworth; inscrutible boss of the Fringe division Philip Broyles) start out as familiar types but grow in depth within just a few episodes. In addition to having exciting episodic adventures, the show deals sensitively with family, loss, grief, trust, selfishness, wrongdoing, guilt, and redemption, along with identity and what makes us who we are. An alternate universe and, later, an alternate timeline give the writers a chance to explore who characters might be if things had gone differently. And with the exception of a couple of cartoonish bad guys, everyone has a chance to be forgiven and to make better choices.

Dark Matter (2015)

A Canadian show. A bunch of characters wake from stasis on an interstellar freighter with no memory of who they are. Someone among them erased all their memories—but it went wrong, and whoever did it lost their own memories, too. Instant mistrust. And they’re not happy about what they find, when they are able to discover who they were.

The premise was fun, and I liked the android character. However there is an Asian character whose storyline is so screamingly orientalist that pretty much every time he hit the screen, I had to scream. I'm talking painfully, cringeingly orientalist. Additionally, because the ship basically runs itself, the characters have nothing much to do all day except … hang out. So of course all the Asian character does all day is practice martial arts. Yeeeeaaaaah. Apparently a second season will air in 2017.

Outcasts (2011)

A British show that was cancelled after one season.

Refugees from a very near-future earth have settled the planet of Carpathia, which is earthlike except that it appears to have no megafauna or even medium-sized fauna, and is prone to violent sandstorm-like storms.

We watched this after Dark Matter, and it was a relief to have characters who weren’t simply cartoons or adolescent in their motivation and action (with the exception of the Evil American—who made a fun change of pace from the Evil Brit that you get in American shows, but who was pretty transparent in his deviousness). However, the pace was **really** slow. Also, I wanted the weird alien stuff that I knew would come to come quicker, be more present, and to be … slightly different from what it was. (Could we please do away with the trope of aliens just wanting to understand that thing we hooomans call luuurve?) Still, it was an okay way to chill out of an evening. Warning, though: it ends without resolving any of the plot developments, though some things are made clear.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 24th, 2016 07:14 am (UTC)
I've seen all of these, although Outcasts is a very dim, fuzzy memory. Fringe is fantastic, despite the weirdness of the the fifth season. It's one of my favorites. Walter is such an interesting character.

Dark Matter has it's issues, but I've enjoyed it, in part by pretending I don't see the Orientalism. (I sometimes wish that after writing a story or script, the authors would just put the various character elements into a basket and jumble them. So, maybe the martial artist could be one of the women, while the kid genius is Asian, etc.) There's a second season already out, actually, but apparently airing later on the channel you're using. The second season ender was cringe-worthy, though, and took the Orientalism so much further than anything that came before that I'm sure you do not want to watch it.

A better show, imo, is The Expanse. It's the third of last year's sci-fi space shows, and the best of the bunch. A worse is Killjoys. It's setting is similar enough to Dark Matter's, and the timing of its release close enough, that there was a lot of speculation that the two might be set in the same universe, but that was not the case. The biggest faults with Killjoys are lower quality writing and acting. Fun, in a turn off your mind kind-of way, but not a show of real quality.

Both Dark Matter and Killjoys seem to be obvious attempts to be the next Firefly. Killjoys, more directly so than Dark Matter. The Expanse, uses as it's backdrop a multi-layered spacefaring society, which allows it greater depth as it explores the political ramifications of the growing divergence of interests between Earth, colonists on Mars, space station inhabitants, and asteroid miners. There are obvious connections to be made between the tensions of the various groups and political tensions we see today; I see this as a good thing. Also, the main protagonist, who was not born on Earth, is a police detective who, in the course of investigating a missing person case, soon becomes embroiled in the machinations of various political groups.

If you get a chance to watch it, I highly recommend The Expanse.
Sep. 24th, 2016 01:15 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the recommendation! We need one, as we've run out of shows to watch right now. (We can't watch the new season of Dark Matter yet because we're not watching them as they air, we're watching them through streaming Netflix. This is also why we can't yet watch the season of Jane the Virgin that's already aired, that I'm dying to see.)

Yes, I can see how Dark Matter was a homage to Firefly, though I liked the negative wise-cracking guy on Firefly more than the one on Dark Matter (forgive my laziness with names--I have a terrible memory and right now I'm too lazy to go look them up.

Anyway, we'll definitely check out The Expanse!
Oct. 3rd, 2016 06:49 pm (UTC)
The Expanse books are absolutely fantastic, too. Well, "too" but I haven't watched any of the TV adaptation yet, it's been sitting on my DVR for a year while I intermittently watch other stuff.
Sep. 24th, 2016 01:02 pm (UTC)
Oh, I'm wincing from the gruesome bits (just from the mention of the gruesome bits, let alone seeing them!) but other than that, to be seeing three new shows sounds fun! I really like the premise of the Canadian one (urrk for the orientalism, though). Also - it could be done really badly - but as a premise, it could lead to some great places.
But just to be seeing and critiquing new shows with other people sounds terrific fun - even if all of you watching have to groan simultaneously at the less-then-impressive bits.
Sep. 24th, 2016 01:17 pm (UTC)
Yeah, you'd have to spend a bit of time like me, with eyes and ears plugged, if you watched Fringe, but I think as someone who's managed Doctor Who, you could handle it (with judicious avoidance), and I think you'd like it--it's always risky to recommend things! But maybe :-)

I know you don't get opportunity often, but if the chance arises!

And yes, it's very fun to have things to watch together :-)
Sep. 24th, 2016 02:16 pm (UTC)
I've pulled the pin on Doctor Who more than once; currently - that is to say, every now and then through this current half-year or so - I'm catching up on old (1980s) episodes I've never seen. I'm not up with the current one, though I think Peter Capaldi is very good. I got very fed up with boyish charm a regeneration or two back.
Sep. 24th, 2016 05:38 pm (UTC)
I'm not up with the current one, though I think Peter Capaldi is very good. I got very fed up with boyish charm a regeneration or two back.

+1. I ended up bailing on the Twelfth Doctor because of the scripts, but Capaldi's performance was always excellent. I was so happy when he was cast; I just wish Steven Moffat had been as good at long-form showrunning as he was at one-shot episodes. It will be interesting to see what happens when Chris Chibnall takes over. I don't think I know him at all.
Sep. 24th, 2016 06:04 pm (UTC)
I've only ever seen random episodes of Dr. Who, but yeah, when he became Mr. Charming (and also apparently as special as God), it sounded really unappealing.
Sep. 24th, 2016 05:35 pm (UTC)
A US show. We saw all but the final two-thirds of the final (fifth) season, when the show seriously went off the rails.

What happened at the end of Fringe? I have not seen the show, but I knew many people who were watching it as it aired (including lesser_celery and my father) and I heard in general great things about it. Walter always sounded like a character I would like.
Sep. 24th, 2016 05:53 pm (UTC)
From the very first season, there had been these gentle, affectless observers watching the progress of events. They are all pasty white, bald, and wear suits and hats like they've come from a Magritte painting. Eventually it's revealed that they can travel through time, that they come from the distant future, and that they're watching significant developments in the show's present.

At the end of the fourth season, all the issues that have been raised have been solved--the central plotlines have been resolved (not necessarily entirely as viewers might like, but anyway: resolved). So in the fifth season, they lurched over to a completely different theme and type of story: they made the observers come back in time and take over our present (actually, our near future--about 15-20 years later), destroying the natural environment to make it the type of poisonous atmosphere that suits them better, and treating all humanity as a subjugated race. It's all very Nazi/1984-ish. Our heroes have been frozen in amber (literally! it's a Thing in the show) and are brought out of it to help battle the observers.

It's just nuts, though. The observers worked as detached, distant, affectless aliens. Now suddenly we have to accept that they're into conquest, control, torture, and rapine. (Apparently they're also all male, all white, and the suit and hat are something they can't be without. It's as if you assumed that all Brits were fat red-faced men with pith helmets because you'd seen a few explorers matching that description in central Africa.) If they wanted to do a dystopian alien invasion story, they could have--but it was stupid to make the observers fill that role.

Plus, the particular strengths and quirks of all the main protagonists just don't count for much in this new set-up. I couldn't watch it.

I think you would like Walter very much. He's very flawed, and at the same time sympathetic.

Edited at 2016-09-24 06:05 pm (UTC)
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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