Shows I Didn't Finish!
by Kristin Battestella
Be they action adventures, historical fantasies, science fiction thrillers or not, these flat-lining serials can’t stay afloat long enough to gain viewer interest – even mine!
The Bastard Executioner – FX's 2015 ten hour saga opens with a ninety minute pilot setting the Longshanks versus Wales strife with bloody battles, heady 300 action, and unexplained fantasy imagery. Such TV-MA flash over substance, nudity, and ridiculously intrusive modern music are unnecessary – not to mention nasty talk of barren holes, swollen meat, and inadvertently humorous “savage noble” and “noble coward” exclaims. The messianic pierced side wound, miraculous battle survival, and second chance idyllic country life do fine with humble thatch villages contrasting stone castle finery. Old age or dirty makeup with rotten teeth, however, call attention to themselves – and there's an entire scene with a baron taking a shit while someone else wipes his arse. o_O Without the who or why, ridiculous graphic torture splices become anonymous flayings with no thematic weight, and momentary on the move conversations don't build endearment. Pointless black and white blinks add to the camera's distracting focus on the frivolous – there's no in scene tension thanks to hasty, unimaginative up closes and standard television blocking provides no sense of scale while covering for inferior sets and the weaker cast. Drama is made simple to match crass homophobic hypocrisy, and one regular character is known for porking his sheep. The desperate grab for viewers puts the messy, unnecessarily super sized pilot off on the wrong foot with overtaxed Robin Hood peasants, pagan and Christian changes, and an unhappy baroness vying for attention alongside a stereotypical but underutilized ensemble that's better than the leads. Women and children are once again used for manpain, and at home horrors better left unseen become brutal gore shocking viewers out of the medieval immersion. Can you really put a dagger through the top of a person’s skull like that? Skipping to Episode Three does improve with in media res identity intrigue, righteous executioner conflicts, and marital ruses, but all this backstory should have been a revealing twist later. Torture devices and knight turned executioner uncertainly at what they do can be better than the numbing nasty, but the unique rebel leaders, Moors, sword wielding monks, and discussions on faith or ignorance take a backseat to the derivative violence. There's no chance to stew in the depravity of Stephen Moyer's (True Blood) power hungry chamberlain or Alec Newman's (Dune) ambiguous soldier secrets, and newcomer Lee Jones has too much brawn and not enough charisma to carry the weekly visions of late wives and incomprehensible mysticism. I just want to skip over all the superfluous torture – Ed Sheeran for a casual eye gouging! – but plot of the week executions, tournaments, and need to be cool shoehorning go nowhere. Who thought that opening song was a good idea? Who?!
Crossbones – This 2014 nine episode season opens with British Navy glory versus that monster of the seas – piracy! Frigate broadsides, spyglass viewpoints, and cinematic flair accent the realistic seas and below decks amputations. It's period fine design with eye catching island scenery and musket action, but initially the viewer has no idea who is who. The meandering premise packs a lot but remains too busy with MacGuffin chronometers, cipher decoding, poisons, and undercover plots. Even with multiple unique pirate opportunities, the women are too modern Boho, remaining love interest tropes or undeveloped with stereotypical lesbian moments. The scene chewing dialogue tries hard with debates on God, the devil, religion, or freedom – attempting drama heavy, steamy edgy, and adventure spectacle all at once. Everyone converses with knives at their throats and a melee or torture scene is required every three minutes between the hollow threats. Screeching, ghostly visions litter the well-spoken honorable pirate cult leader with new ideals and illness conflicts – today's unimaginative way to show trauma rather than using the innate camera and actor at television's disposal. Despite their eighties SF glory, these days it seems NBC just can't do period pieces or adventure series coughCrusoecough. More use should have been made of the Jamaica and Puerto Rico settings with more French or Spanish flair instead of odd accents and acupuncture that looks like Pinhead. While John Malkovich (Places in the Heart) is enjoying himself, the too serious ensemble is unable to meet his chess game. Richard Coyle (Coupling) plays a poor man's John Simm, and I love Julian Sands (Warlock) but he's out of place even when playing with a victim's eyeball. The unneeded previouslies reiterate the poorly paced season arc – Jacobite history and the origins of Teach's team are more interesting than weekly Gilligan's Island visits. For a supposedly secret pirate utopia, trade and travel happen too easy, and this should have begun with shipbound mutiny, traitors, or sickness instead. After all, when one thinks of pirates, we think of high seas – not a cabin boy collecting sponges for the local brothel. Malkovich's Blackbeard isn't seen enough, leaving the personality lacking with basic intercut plots and embarrassing sex scenes. Shootouts and orgasms! This is not meant to be an accurate Blackbeard account, but that uniqueness is wasted as an excuse for trying to be Game of Thrones and Black Sails. When dealing with alternate happenings, one should be far more specific on what is fact, what is fiction, and where the line is placed between them. Ultimately, seven different writers and six different directors make for a rocky foundation that doesn't know its audience – this isn't enough fun for Jack Sparrow millennials nor high drama for older historical viewers. I began wanting to like this but kept wondering when it would get better before just not caring how it ends.
Paradox – This 2009 five episode mini series rushes to set the scene with mysterious images from space, northern lights, foreboding digital countdowns, solar flares, and ominous downloads but has no sense of who anybody is or where any of it is going. Just get right to the detective ordered to investigate the call from a reclusive scientist and put the audience in on the personal with the facts: disaster images dated for today ten hours from now and how. Instead, unrealistic protocols and technicalities hamper the suspension of disbelief – there's no reason to be on anybody's side as they jump to easy conclusions, steering cases only they can solve with no uniforms or agency help. Defense ministries visit to assure secrecy rather than assembling top intelligentsia assistance, and debates on whether the goal is to find the image source or solve the crimes depicted feel hollow when there should be resources enough to do both. They can't even take overnight shifts to monitor this future hook up signal. U.S. peeps be confiscating that satellite for review! Interesting questions on predestination, aliens, miracles, divine messages, or electromagnetic interference never garner proper focus, and intriguing concepts on multiverses, alternate futures, and wormhole parallels are lost in the episodic framework. Rather than one long Contact mission, the weekly puzzles lack sophistication – is this global SF fantastic or a regular Manchester crime thriller? No one ever leaks information to the internet or press, and the mysteries lack tension or personality enough to keep viewers looking passed typical brawn versus brains triangles and rape plots. Why even go there with your strong female lead? Random people of the week take away from any religious possibilities – names such as Prometheus, Christian, King, Rebecca, Simon, and Benjamin become red herrings while redundant countdown flashes and repeated in your face images underestimate the audience. Show viewers the case images once at the beginning of the episode instead of dumbing things down with poor dialogue: “You know nothing of time. If I kiss you now would you arrest me for assault? You are as stupid as the rest of your profession.” Emun Elliot (The Paradise) is too similar to non-fave Joseph Fiennes, with a dry as unbuttered toast awareness of his ominous delivery to match the treading water contrivances. Everything the team needs to solve the crimes is all in the mystery photos, but nobody ever bothers to sit down and study them in full zoom, finite detail. Narrow thinking and frivolous pursuits waste time with faux angst – busying each hour with basic science talk and big action rescues but never getting any closer to an overall resolution or higher purpose. This should be a straightforward serial, but it never finds its footing. Not only do I not care, but I want to zip through on half speed just so I can get to the end instead of waiting for an answer that never happens. Perhaps this notion would make a fine book, however the attempted edgy doesn't fire on enough cylinders. I mean, satellite to the future and it's all about solving petty crime in Manchester? Explain yourself!