More Shows I Couldn't Finish, Again.
by Kristin Battestella
Once more I've found myself in a rut trying to find new and recent genre shows to watch – resulting in my being terribly disappointed at the tune out worthy trio here.
The Last Ship – Producer Michael Bay (The Rock or go home) wastes no time with snowmobile action and helicopter shootouts to open this 2014 TNT debut. Point of view missile fire and snow splashing the camera ramp up the pace, and it already seems like the first episode goes through an entire season's worth of possibilities thanks to ship introductions, scientists versus soldiers, arctic mysteries, pandemic discoveries, and Russian enemies. Couples hook up, governments collapse, secrets are revealed, and nuclear consequences all happen at lightning speed as our eponymous ship loses communications than receives late orders to refuel in France, port in North Carolina, redirect to Florida, and travel to Guantanamo Bay. They raid an Italian cruise ship for supplies, too, and a black guy we just met gets exposed and dies while doctors work on a vaccine – and yes, all of this is in the first forty-three minute episode! Despite sad pre-recorded messages from home and crew arguments about staying onboard or taking chances on land, there's no drama because everything must hurry, hurry, hurry. It's too ironic when the saboteur tells the sleepless doctor this is a marathon not a sprint as the burials at sea, prayer vigils, mutated strains, and whispers of artificial engineering are steamrolled through in favor of painfully slow, procedural, and generic supply stops. However, I almost don't mind the detailed canvasing when the chance to have conversations provides better disagreements, tension, and situations. The series may have been better off starting in media res if the initial disaster, bitter blood, and isolated ship survival was going to be dismissed so quickly – then going back to the crisis would have had more weight. Unfortunately, the editing remains abrupt with disjointed fade ins and explosions. Maybe the hectic is meant to mirror the action intensity, but together it's dizzying. Viewers aren't there in the action because we can't see anything so it's just overwhelming and numbing when the camera never stays still. Random action zooms and shaky cam in crowded quarters don't define characters. Series leads Eric Dane (Grey's Anatomy) and Adam Baldwin (Oh my gosh does anybody else remember The Cape? I loved that show!) are too much alike to endear the audience in rooting for their back and forth, and the antagonism towards scientist Rhona Mitra (Underworld: Rise of the Lycans) gets old fast before the medical aspect is dropped anyway. It is also tough to know who the doctors, white couple, Asian engineer, lesbian officer, chaplain, and the black guy who I think is the chief petty officer are beyond their stereotype, rank, or position because they aren't named amid the shouting communications and military slang – which will be confusing enough for audiences unfamiliar with naval terms. Half the story is blown by the second episode as more people come aboard, scientists depart, and naval officers end up promoted to land based duties glossing over the original catastrophic action for coastal power struggles. Fine emotional moments and bonding scenes are too few and far between rushed missions, pit stop shoot outs, and drug lords in the jungle like it's a reverse Gilligan's Island with all the off the ship guests of the week. Easily ready vaccines are apparently not as important as hostages, moles revealed, enemy face offs, captures, and land lubber action as the exceptional premise burns out so gosh darn fast with no time to breath amid the weekly network typical. We only stay on the ship for a little while rather than all the time? Well that just seems...misleading.
Salem – 1685 stocks, brandings, church bells, and cries for mercy open this 2014 thirteen episode debut before pregnancies, torches, forest rituals, hooting owls, and promises of power. By 1692 Salem is swept with witch fever as bodies hang and rhetoric warns the devil is in town. Screaming girls are tied down over claims that a hag is terrorizing them – and there is indeed an unseen succubus leaping upon the helpless. Preachers insist they must save their promised land from this insidious invisible hell as sermons and town hall meetings become one and the same. Suspect midwives, old witnesses, and secrets intensify the witch hunt debates as families recall the original English hysteria and proud witchfinder ancestry. Although arguments about a girl not being possessed just touched in the head and in need of a doctor seem recent, it's nice to see the reverse of typical exorcism stories where confounded doctors come before prayer interventions. Chants, contortions, and taxidermy lead to full moon dancing rituals, animal head masks, fiery circles, baby skull offerings, sacrifices, effigies, and entrails. Unfortunately, nobody notices witches talking openly in the town square nor minds a woman taking charge when she has no rights but through her husband. Ladies speaking out over their exploitation is far too contemporary – along with out of place comeback quips and jarring modern sarcasm. Instead of real tribe names, talk of savages and conflated French and Indian War references pepper speeches about saving the country when we weren't even one yet. Killing innocents goals and grand rites achievements are reduced to the coven wanting to get rid of the Puritans so Salem can be theirs even though they are already in power behind the scenes and getting on their forest sabbaths. The witches versus ministry conflict with some pretending to be the other is drama enough without Shane West's (Dracula 2000) millennial grandstanding compromising Janet Montgomery's (Merlin) Mary Sibley. Is this about the falsely accused, misunderstood, and lovelorn or the naked, ethereal witches taking the devil's power for their spellbound husbands and familiar frogs? Revealing the supernatural at work creates an uneven back and forth that goes directly against the witches' motivations. Stay in their point of view or play it straight on the devil or innocent and let the audience decide which side we're on – attempting both evil and romance is far too busy and binds in name only historical figures and potentially juicy characters with weak, pedestrian male trappings. Hypocrite ministers terrorize the congregation when not cowering at torturing witches or having sex at the Puritan brothel like this is Game of Thrones. After bamboozling Enterprise, I was already leery of creator Brannon Braga, and an old hat, run of the mill tone hampers the writing team. In addition to rotating directors, there are only a few women behind the scenes, and weird Marilyn Manson music provides a trying to be hip that's more CW than BBC. Wealthy lace and tavern drab visually divide our neighbors amid period woodwork, forges, and rustic chimneys while gothic arches and heavy beams add colonial mood. Churches and cemeteries contrast dark woods, glimpses of horned and hoofed figures, skeleton keys, and spooky lanterns however the blue gradient is too obviously modern. Pretty windows and lattice work are too polished, and clean streets give away the Louisiana set town rather than on location imbued. Superficial costuming is noticeably inaccurate, and once I saw a Victorian filigree necklace I got at Hot Topic, well, that was pretty much it for this show.
The Shannara Chronicles – Granted, it's been decades since I attempted the admittedly Lord of the Rings inspired but post-apocalyptic Terry Brooks books upon which this 2016 ten episode season is based. However, I don't remember them being so modern and kind of, well, stupid. Sweeping pans, poor CGI, and weird lighting set the pointy ears and dangerous gauntlets seeking the chosen one off on the wrong foot alongside firm abs and Hunger Games mood. Let's blindfold people running through the woods and be surprised when they slam into the trees! The ancient tale of demons versus elves seemingly gets the John Rhys-Davies exposition stamp of approval, but our elf princess dresses so skimpy compared to others fully clothed and at times everyone's just wearing jeans or crop tops and hanging around leftover machines as if these things would still survive thousands of years into the future. Mystical speak, phantom voice help, and subtitled gibberish languages become convenient any time something magic needs to happen as too many separate stories meander thanks to weak performances, bad death scenes, pretty teens, man pain, and confusing flash forwards. A fantasy in itself is enough without all the cynical distractions, sardonic frat boys, or hot heads trying to prove something, so the try hard hip for the MTV generation that no longer watches MTV is laughably ironic. The best scenes are adults discussing earlier wars and magical consequences, but those are interrupted for rock music, bathtub saucy, and naked waterfall spying like it's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Visions of wraiths, frozen dudes brought back to life, swords reforged, disbelief in evil returning – it looks like DeviantArt and feels like a derivative Skyrim video game with half elves leaving the shire to collect stones, avoid trolls, and train in magic arts. This is a distorted fax of a fax rifting on Thor: The Dark World's Lord of the Rings prologue via some watered down Game of Thrones glory and the seemingly awe inspiring panoramas are been there, done that. For that I can just watch Lord of the Rings or Life After People. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯