23 August 2018

Shows I Didn't Finish - Science Fiction and Fantasy Edition

Shows I Didn't Finish – Science Fiction and Fantasy Edition
by Kristin Battestella

Maybe these recent short-lived genre shows deserved more of a chance. Unfortunately, they don't really sell why I should make the time or the inclination. 

The Crossing – Forty-seven refugees on the Pacific Northwest coast are really Americans from the future with super powers in this eleven episode series from 2018. The premise of unexplained arrivals near Seattle tangling with a government agency is immediately akin to The 4400 amid cliches such as the new sheriff with past family issues, cryptic little kids, and officials on the case pawing over jurisdiction because the script says so. The bending time process with talk of future evil corporation takeovers and genetic destiny sound interesting. However, moles, kidnappings, a future virus carried to the past, and worries about isolation and outbreak are treated as afterthoughts between car chases, plot of the week detours, hip music, hot guys, and trailer chic. Poorly paced writing leaves basic questions hanging in faux serious beats – false crescendos and needless actions build to a commercial exit with all the tension in the wrong place. Time wasting visuals linger yet camera shots are only three or four seconds. It's tough to tell a story in such fast intercuts or on the move scenes with up to four plotlines per episode elbowing for room. Drives take long if people talk on the phone for the ride, but the trip is instantaneous for a nick of time rescue when over-compensating action is needed. Confrontations are merely angry phone calls between hollow, arms length conversations relying on more cellphones, laptops, and technology. Investigators watch tablet videos of survivors talking – we don't see the first hand interviews, just watch people watch a video that happens to be the information the audience needs. People tell others what to do when they should already know in redundant dialogue as the point of view bounces between superfluous characters alongside miscast, ham-fisted acting. Multi-ethnic arrivals telling of a terrible future and how now is so peaceful with freedom and rights is totally tone deaf, and the obvious suspicion and xenophobia underestimate viewers while the biblical references go nowhere. Since there's no onscreen stamp or indication of how much time has passed, the DNA tests, barely there doctors, and should have been essential quarantines seem far too late. The loose flashbacks and voiceover montages play catch up with car accidents, more arrivals, timeline changes, and opportunistic assassinations, proceeding more like a regular thriller than science fiction. These network genre television shows try to be edgy yet remain perpetually trapped in a weekly framework – dragging out thin, easily resolved plots over several episodes while delaying the primary storytelling just to meet the prerequisite quota. This should have been a taut eight episodes, yet nine different writers and ten different directors apparently have no idea what's happening here.

Extant – Halle Berry (X-Men) stars in two thirteen episode seasons of this 2013-15 CBS science fiction mystery from producer Steven Spielberg. After a year long solo mission, our astronaut has returned to earth pregnant despite being infertile with her scientist husband Goran Visnjic (ER). There's a futuristic trash can cum instant garbage disposal, GIF photo albums, and outer space effects morph into kid toys – an overused transition accentuating the immediately try hard mix of near future family and just for the cool high tech. Touch screen bathroom mirrors, virtual reality presentations, automated cars, and clear tablets are imminent enough and make the more fantastic android son, robots learning the human experience, and science versus the soul debates feel redundant and windblown. Not to mention all the flashy future tech will look terribly dated in the next decade. Shadowy figures in the hedge and people still believing in a lack of technology get stalled again for our parents in the shower so she can dream about her previously deceased boyfriend. Friend and doctor Camryn Manheim (The Practice) is likewise stuck with the cliché pregnancy revelations, however the implications of this unknown violation are frightening thanks to a zero gravity space station flashback with contaminated samples, interrupted transmissions, system shut downs, and well done interstellar graphics. The male voiced computer, older keyboards, switches, and panels add to the space station perils amid blackouts, faulty airlocks, help me messages, and visions of the deceased. Recent suicides and other incidents at her privatized space firm require psych evaluations and a possible quarantine, but this intriguing story looses steam when intercut with her husband's radical robotics. Ominous agencies are awakening men in stasis alongside mysterious grants and conspiracies – again resorting to stereotypical elements before the audience has a chance to digest the moral implications against the possibilities of great science. Secret meetings in the park and suspicious messages would move the conspiracy forward yet the editing again goes back and forth between the space station gaps and the mysteries at home. This entire debut could have been the solo mission scares before the difficult return home with supposedly not so dead astronauts knocking on her door whispering about trusting no one. This series was announced at almost the exact time Gravity was released before premiering the following season, and such visual need to capitalize makes it's tough to enjoy the character dilemmas. The intercut editing rushes the fantastic drama in forty-two minutes or less, making it easy to quit early despite an interesting premise and fine cast. 

Legend of the Seeker – Compared to Game of Thrones taking eight years for seventy-three episodes or Merlin taking five years for sixty-five shows, today, two twenty-two episodes seasons is a really big episode order for this 2008-10 series based on the Terry Goodkind books. It's surprising this series lasted that long thanks to an unfamiliar cast playing dress up and looking modern young amid mystical texts, knights, magical barriers between realms, powerful stones, and a beefy guy chopping wood in slow motion just because. The cast plays the who is who or in charge details, rules of magic, and clunky dialogue totally serious, making the unnecessary slow motion per every scene laughable yet lacking in the tongue in cheek humor of its Hercules and Xena production progenitors. Despite epic New Zealand vistas, horseback chases, confessors, wizards, and ethereal ladies; it's tough to care because the audience is overwhelmed with constant exposition dumps, just for cool whisking arrow shots, and slaughter of the first born flashbacks lifted straight from The Ten Commandments. He doesn't know, finds out, doesn't want to know, then uses the good for vengeance – the sacrificial family tropes, Chosen One destiny cliches, and basic thousand year old prophecies don't flow with any gravitas thanks to the constant rushing. Flash and action compromise the runes, sword of truth, rustic medieval setting, and magic mood. Instead of a faithful mini series, this comes off like a juvenile, rhythm-less cross between Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter rather than its own literary mythos, reaching with a trite villain a la Richard Lewis in Robin Hood: Men in Tights in the lull before all the gritty fantasy television Thrones hype. There's no time for a sense of awe or wonder – we're told there are oppressed people under a dark lord and now they have hope because of the seeker, but we never see it. In a time when television was switching to the shorter, arc storytelling boon we have today, fifteen different writers in Year One alone tread the episodic fantasy tires here. Perhaps this grows up as it goes on – there are certainly enough episodes to get itself together – however, I'm not going to wait through thirty hours of television for a maybe.

The Musketeers – Horses, capes, and muskets accent this 2014 BBC adventure alongside famous French names and the occasional monsieur or mademoiselle. The credits, however, are modern roguish rather than 1630 swashbuckler – matching the contemporary cut costumes, sardonic dialogue, messy hair, and silly mustaches. Despite period buildings and décor, the dark alley chases, anonymous bar fights, and surprising lack of color are too bland for the material. Interchangeable action, tiring slow motion, and over-edited confrontations made gritty miss the Dumas spirit. Any witty or charm has no time to banter amid convoluted crimes, espionage fake outs, and secret corruption almost as if the show is afraid to let a scene play out and instead prefers cliché manpain, trite revenge, hollow dangers, and typical plots of the week that happen to have swords. Intrusive crescendos interrupt the manipulated king, shootouts, poisons, prison riots, and black widowing when subtly better serves the off screen screams, hypocritical religion, and ruthless violence. More interesting conflicted characters take a backseat to duels in the snow, dungeons, and stolen gunpowder while meandering, run of the mill preposterous hurts any attempt at something serious – leaving intrigue, treason talk, or threats to cut off limbs brief and superficial. The female roles are likewise not characters in their own right. Be it a whore or a queen and whether it's being caught in the crossfire, helping the ruse, or kissing one and all; every woman is used by the men each week. Mature guests such as Jason Flemyng (X-Men: First Class), Vincent Regan (300), Tara Fitzgerald (The Woman in White), and Sean Pertwee (Dog Soldiers) would have been fun regulars, and Hugo Speer (The Full Monty) is a better musketeer than all the pretty boys like Santiago Cabrera (Merlin). Unfortunately, this desperate to be cool yarn is not a literary drama like British television is so good at doing. Pirates and slavery are out of place topics when nothing seems to be happening in overlong episodes confusing the obvious with redundant, showy set ups and back and forth double talk on who's protecting or plotting against the king. How did this last three seasons? This series would have been better as stylish special event movies several times a year like Sharpe where they could have just, you know, adapted the books rather than sucked the joy out of the plumes.

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