28 April 2018

A Shakespeare Trio, The Fifth!

A Shakespeare Trio, The Fifth!
by Kristin Battestella

Spring is upon Stratford-upon-Avon, so it's time for another trio of tragedy, shrews, and Shakespearean documentary. Huzzah!

King Lear - Ian McKellan (Richard III), Romola Garai (Angel), Sylvester McCoy (Doctor Who), and Frances Barber (Silk) anchor this 2008 two and half hour PBS television presentation based on the cast's previous stage performance also directed by Trevor Nunn. Although such small scale stage design and up close cameras may seem congested at times, other frames are well done with a deceitful daughter in the foreground looking over her shoulder at the angry father questioning which child will prove her love and earn her inheritance. Colorful gowns, regal red robes, and strategic lighting invoke a fifteenth century abstract meets anachronistic Cossack look while frenetic organ music parallels the titular senility. Our seated king is an indulged old man, fickle, and vain. He's pushing for more flattery but exiles his favorite over a blunt opinion when such honesty doesn't glorify him. Rival duchies toe their positions while everyone wants a piece of the king's power but not his affection, and several soliloquies almost break the fourth wall as viewers understand the illegitimate son looking for an angle. Between brotherly coups and dukes in disguise, our regal dad bounces from daughter to daughter – neither want him there and we understand that, too. Lear has no one to blame but himself as he descends from the gilded seat to dark brawls and jester humor, snapping and shouting amid angry gesturing and out of control tears. This ornery old man is surrounded, not with feigned love and regal safety but a rainy wilderness of fools and madmen. In such squalor, one might even suspect he is imagining his jester on the moor as his spiral spreads to the aristocracy with hangings, eyes gouged, and armies approaching. The barren outdoors stir an overcast purgatory for this near biblical reform as blind fathers meet lost sons and the women's costumes likewise darken to match their jealousy and power through their weak or lusty men. The older dog may learn the error of his ways, but there is a higher cost for such late education. Where Lear once reigned from a bright court on high, now the bleak swords and battle planning happen within the hedge hogs. Is it better to be crazy and blissfully unaware or do you realize your humility too late and pay the terrible price? This turmoil could have been prevented, and as much as we feel the family emotion, the tearful reunions and brief moments of clarity only lead to more poisons, duels, suicide, and executions. Without subtitles or name tags for all the dukedoms, the intrigue may be confusing if you don't know who is who. Time away from the eponymous circumspection lags a little and this is too long for a younger classroom. However, this play isn't meant to be Bard for the youthful audience either. One has to be in the mood for such depressing, but this is a well played take on the enduring tragedy.

The Taming of the Shrew – After the bitterness of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for their fifth collaboration producers Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton starred in this 1967 feature comedy debut from Franco Zeffirelli. Pleasant countrysides, rainbows, sing songs, carnivals, and cobblestone set the bemusing scene while big plumes, jumbo sleeves, and velvet galore invoke a colorful sixties meets medieval jovial. Some of the crowd scenes are, well, crowded, but the wide camera captures both the stage action and all the movement within alongside creative up close angles. We know that's Liz's violet eye spying through the shutter before we even meet her! The viewer is smitten by her huffing, puffing, and wild hair amid laugh out loud rough and tumble chases, Kate sitting on a trap door to prevent Petruchio from entering, and his swinging across the loft a la Tarzan to reach her. Beautiful and talented as she is, however, Taylor doesn't quite have that effortlessly iambic Bard rhythm. She plays her dialogue seriously against gruff Dick's larger than life wink but that contrast does match the shrewish behavior. The leads may be a little old for these roles, too, but the battle of the sexes ruses and boys will be boys disguises aren't meant to be taken at face value. Subtitles are still a must, yet the trimmed dialogue is less about the younger daughter with multiple beaus and more about getting the bawdy done with her older eponymous sister. Framing elements and side characters are excised for these two hours, emphasizing this wooing with peacock feathers on full display. Despite a very misogynist subject with men making all the plans and never considering the women's input, part of the charm here is in seeing a strong woman like Kate clap back at such brash male thinking when Petruchio takes her over his knee. This lady peering through the window pane is well aware of the fronting – Kate's having none of it, he likes it that way, and our leads' off screen turbulence adds to the je ne sais quoi. Why must the woman who can take ownership of herself cower so the man can claim her? Does he test her spirit so she'll keep him on his toes? This couple balks at courtship while celebrating why love is worth it, and it's interesting to pro/con or compare and contrast the then versus now innocence, rowdy, and acrimonious here, with Woolf prior, and Zeffirelli's subsequent Romeo & Juliet. Is it better when the woman won't come when called or does so but steals his thunder? Taylor's Kate becomes a refined woman that makes her husband look good, and here I'd like to think of her final speech as the orgasm restaurant scene in When Harry Met Sally. Whether the woman is tamed or pretending, the man may never know.

Shakespeare Uncovered – Season One of this 2013 six episode PBS series opens with Ethan Hawke exploring the serial killer line between man and monster in “Macbeth.” Archival Orson Welles, Sean Connery, and Patrick Stewart clips compare the Thane's capacity for violence and a king's ambition versus an actor's drive for success amid psychiatrist input, ballet interpretations, and body language cues breaking down The Bard syntax. Scholars discuss the historical sources and Scottish locations as well as witchcraft and politics in Shakespeare's time, yet the superstition and recognizable evils almost place the ruthless circumstances and self-fulfilling prophecy in modern horror terms. Joely Richardson, Vanessa Redgrave, and Helen Mirren study the more lighthearted but multi dimensional female roles of As You Like It and Twelfth Night in “The Comedies” with Old Vic tours and insights on Bill's early, ordinary life shaping his relatable characters in an era when the parts couldn't even be played by women. 1910 silent films and Alec Guinness footage accent the liberating disguises despite the problems they cause – like falling in love with the wrong person. Gender subtext and stage cross dressing present more about what's inside thanks to paired androgyny or twins lost and found. Ganymede terms and mistaken identities further push the sexual innuendo, letting the audience in on the layered gender studies of this four hundred year old play. Westminster Abbey graves, poetic verse, and prophetic warnings for leaders who believe in their own invincibility anchor “Richard II” with Derek Jacobi and Ben Whishaw comparing their own interpretations alongside Ian McKellan and John Gielgud performances. Professors study the gilded artwork reflecting Richard's divine influence amid regime changes then and now, Thatcher history, Elizabeth I coups, and de Vere authorship possibilities. Can a king separate the man from the duty and go out on his own terms? Jeremy Irons, Tom Hiddleston, and Simon Russell Beale tackle the patriotic rousing of “Henry IV and V” with Laurence Olivier highlights, The Hollow Crown behind the scenes, Shrewsbury locales, and play with in a play revelations. Shakespeare took historic license to heighten his drama – unafraid to get brutal with famous speeches, noble ambiguity, and dark consequences on fathers, sons, and the inescapable mortality we bear. David Tennant and Jude Law test that most celebrated very definition of theatre “Hamlet” by choosing a version in the video store – Mel Gibson, Kevin Kline, or Monty Python. Bad Quarto and First Folio side by sides strip down the grief, anger, and revenge, exposing an actor's personal retrospection and raw performance with the audience inside his state of mind as Hamlet famously asks what's the point of it all. Shakespeare's own ill father and dying son influenced this writing of ghostly specters versus imaginative excuses and righting wrongs at the expense of the son, however later Freudian interpretations add to the poisons and maternal taboos. Episode Six “The Temptest” has directors Trevor Nunn and Julie Taymor end discussing the ambitious fantasy of Will's last complete play and whether or not he himself played Prospero in this semi autobiographical text with experimental stage directions, Bermuda shipwreck inspirations, and colonialism suggestions. Early candlelit presentations, Christopher Plummer footage, and today's inventive storm on stage effects recount the stranded father cum unforgiving alchemist unable to keep his daughter away from new princely influences. Was art imitating life for The Bard? The more he tries, the more Prospero looses control as his beastly servants deliver beautiful speeches on good versus evil duplicity and nature versus nurture choices. Lofty soliloquies ponder the celestial and life itself using puns on the globe – both theatre and world must face that inevitable final frailty. Although thoroughly British with a certain pretentious formality at times, more often than not this personal per hour remains educational with densely packed information and analysis to pick and choose a discussion.

24 April 2018

Tales from the Darkside Season 2

Tales from the Darkside Season Two Provides More Bizarre
by Kristin Battestella

Producer George A. Romero's 1985-86 Second Season of Tales from the Darkside is the series' longest year with twenty-four episodes of oddities, scares, and morose mood. Of course, the night club comedy act in “The Impressionist” is stale – but mysterious G-men offer a has been comedian a special job communicating with gestures amid secret labs, spaceships, and sympathetic aliens. Our slight of hand performer picks up the interstellar mimicry, but refuses to reveal the alien's secret to fusion power. While the weak effects are a little laughable, this alien touch gives a once sarcastic man a piece of something more. It's business as usual, however, for harsh workaholic Bill Macy (Maude) in “Lifebomb” until an insurance salesman presents a deal on an unique medical safety device that's too good to be true. After sudden chest pains, he accepts the titular offer, but that little implant on his back leads to more scary medical situations and company control over what could be life saving technology. This is an interesting plot on stress, aging, and our career servitude made fantastic before inventor John Heard (Home Alone) recounts the earthquakes and mini volcano rising through the floor to deliver extraterrestrial Penelope Ann Miller (Carlito's Way) for “Ring Around the Redhead.” The jailhouse frame condenses the pace for the romance, reduces the need to show action the series can't afford, and grounds the what ifs with electric chair shadows and noir mood. Remodeling and rent control versus eviction unfortunately carry a touch of racism in “Parlour Floor Front” as the upstairs alligator on the polo shirt snobs insult the elderly voodoo practitioner downstairs. A few curses lead to damaged antiques, broken wrists, and falls off the ladder. Mischief, disrespected coffins, and evil-tainted gold escalate to fatal lies as Tales from the Darkside does a lot of scary with very little. Likewise returning director Tom Savini's “Halloween Candy” adds vintage costumes and candy bags to the holiday hate and cranky old dad hoping the kids have a sugar overdose on the doorstep. Threats to call the police or telling the trick-or-treaters to go to hell result in an incessant doorbell buzz and a devilish little goblin peeking in the window. Broken watches at midnight, bugs in the candy, blue hues, and freaky monster masks stand out thanks to the well edited suspense.

Romero himself pens “The Devil's Advocate” starring ornery radio show host Jerry Stiller (Seinfeld). He makes his callers cry amid vintage soundboards and flashing red studio lights, but the engineer falls asleep, the studio grows increasingly darker, and call ins come from all over history before a chat with the boss from below himself in this superb one man parable. A man in shades also has an exclusive offer to revive an old sixties network series for the film within a film of “Distant Signals.” The show Max Paradise was unfortunately terrible, but a hefty gold investment reminds the crusty Hollywood suit, writer's block writer, and drunken actor how inspiring television really is. Although this nice Galaxy Quest story follows several scary tales, it's made all the more bemusing thanks to today's reboots and revivals ad nauseam. By contrast, the self involved yuppie parents in “Ursa Minor” don't believe their daughter when she says her antique teddy bear is responsible for the household mischief. Occult experts warn them of Native American magic and ancient worship of the eponymous bear constellations, but the muddy little paw prints and tool mishaps create some chilling moments before the faulty gas stove, ambulances, crutches, and karma for “Effect and Cause.” Starving artist Susan Strasberg (Scream of Fear) believes in synchronicity, tarot, and astral charts, leaving her reluctant to paint over unusually awful found canvases. Unfortunately, the esoteric heavy and chaos debates leave her trapped, helpless in a home that's working against her in this Mandela Effect meta mind bender. Baby Seth Green (Buffy) has something creepy under the bed on Christmas morning in “Monsters in My Room,” too. The boy prays against tentacles, saw blades, and boogie men in the closet out to get him with scary nighttime lighting and every toy, ticking clock, or floorboard creak adding to the terror. However his stepdad wants to toughen him up, giving him beer and trying to make the boy a man in a whiff of subtext as real world and horror merge.

Shakespeare quotes and an antique telescope invoke a renaissance touch for “Comet Watch” – a lighthearted entry obsessed with the cosmos once an Edwardian babe pops into the attic after taking a long celestial trip. The dated science and charming love triangles set off what was then a timely January 1986 airing ahead of the forthcoming Halley's Comet. Yes, this again far beyond the Darkside theme. However, this is probably the last time a genre television series could address such fanciful fears with such innocence as we're too scientific and overly cynical these days. “A New Lease on Life” provides a new apartment with all the trimmings and supposedly no catch for an uber cheap $200 a month. Unfortunately, the wall groans when an against the rules nail is hammered in, and handymen against newfangled microwave radiation fix the bleeding sheet rock with peroxide. Neighbors denied water warn our tenant while cries with in the walls and giant garbage disposals suggest there's a price to pay for eating meat. One could have it all forever if he just follows the rules and do what he is told, making this a freaky little statement on human horrors and arrogance. The desperate writer with the empty refrigerator in “Printer's Devil” follows an ad to one creepy agent's office where voodoo dolls, mystic tomes, and animal sacrifices promise Pulitzers. Publication and success soon follow, but the so-called inspirational pets also increase as the literary riches must be maintained. When his new girlfriend starts sneezing over his apartment zoo, well, our devilish agent suggests one final sacrifice. “The Shrine,” by contrast, presents a mother offering her estranged daughter milk and cookies. She doesn't want to talk about the past or her daughter's breakdown, but she keeps her daughter's room in untouched childhood perfection – yet phantom winds and nursery rhymes suggest someone else is living among the ribbons and pom poms. Can a mother be so disappointed in how a child grew up that she would try again with the same daughter? The who does mommy love more contest could be silly, but the warped women's roles are played serious amid the taboos. Motel manager John Fielder (The Bob Newhart Show) reluctantly lends the Room 7 key to a cruising salesman for “The Old Soft Shoe,” and a vintage radio plays jazz while a woman in black lingerie draws a steamy bath. She calls our salesman by a different name and insists they'll never be apart while they dance cheek to cheek. However, 1950 newspaper clippings and dusty corsages lead to gunshots and jilted dames as the nostalgic personalities and ghostly femme fatales bring the blood and stockings full circle.

On Thanksgiving eve an ingenue waits on the desolate platform for the late train in “The Last Car.” Once onboard, the eponymous passengers warn her she can't travel between cars – they fear the upcoming tunnels, nobody likes to talk about time, and the so-called train to Providence isn't stopping like it should. Lost watches, a shoe box full of all the foods they desire, and a nonsensical conductor create an askew Twilight Zone perception with memorable revelations before a cocky doctor is happy to diagnose mob boss Abe Vigoda (The Godfather) with cancer for “A Choice of Dreams.” Fortunately, a more radical scientist offers him the power over death for a cool ten million. Ticking clocks count down as the murderer faces his own mortality while black and white offices with futuristic technology keep the brain alive as the memories flashing before our criminal's eyes catch up to him. The 1935 noir, moonlight, pale skin, and hints of red in “Strange Love” tell us what fangs are afoot. Marcia Cross (Melrose Place) has no heartbeat and a cold touch to match her seduction, power, and beauty as this saucy love triangle leads to betrayal, a double wide coffin, and a bloody good time. The video will left by a fire and brimstone televangelist for his sister Connie Stevens (Hawaiian Eye) in “The Unhappy Medium,” however, isn't the riches she hoped. The hypocritical pretenses and greedy true colors come out thanks to neon lighting, purgatory traps, and devilish possession. The family that sins together, stays together in this timeless Tales from the Darkside parable. Meanwhile, the empty army recruiting office receives an unlikely man not signing up but asking for sanctuary in “Fear of Floating.” He unbuckles his boots and floats every time he lies – a gift the army would love to use between the zany standoffs, tall tales, delusions, deceptions, and one low hung ceiling fan. Splattered sheets and bloody babes set off frequent Tales from the Darkside director Frank de Palma's finale “The Casavin Curse” amid homicide detectives, suspect servants, and ancient gypsy curses turning a tiny heiress into a deadly demon with killer claws. She always ends up hurting the one she loves!

Tales from the Darkside's half hours often center around one or two characters, and episodes are slightly better when there's a more recognizable name to anchor the fun. Indeed, viewers have to take these gonzo tales with a sense of humor, for even amid the serious parables there are laughable things. Scribble on a piece of paper isn't an alien language nor is one earring and a few crystals in a gal's hair outer space couture – actually, it's just totally eighties! A calm granny offers chicken soup to the possessed little girl who'd rather eat souls in “The Trouble with Mary Jane,” and local amateur exorcist cum con artist comedienne Phyllis Diller is going to use tea leaves and tarot cards to put this demon into a pig and make her fortune. This could be something scary, but it's tough to tell if the humor is intentional and we should roll with it or just laughably bad. Several juvenile shows and household scares in a row sag mid-season, and daughter Lisa Bonet (A Different World) tries to inspire her angry composer father in “The Satanic Piano.” His record company is unhappy with his latest album, but a mysterious man offers the family a computerized keyboard with telepathic connections and a sinister price to pay. Can a machine capture the purity and essence of one's soul and music? This contemporary tale is waxing on something innocent, however the execution is off the mark in a series where youth in terror befits the Darkside content. Dated phrases like “rad,” “far out,” or “right on” I can dig, yet I can't say the same for “Dream Girl” as film shoots and pin ups help a creepy janitor live out his sexist misogynist fantasy. While fog, distorted angles, and fake props set off the warped titular haze, the Inception play within a play meta is too nonsensical and confusing with abusive shouting and characters trapped in an overlong, dry predicament. Certainly the computers and alien designs are primitive. The empty sets are gray scale abstract with wild faux marble luxury meant to be eighties high end but it's all so obviously cardboard fake today. One may argue the backdrops beyond those false windows create a more stage-like setting allowing the bizarre per tale to shine, however the redressed cheap is often too apparent – an office from one episode is easily a jail cell the next. Most special effects seen are also hokey but brief with major fantastics largely left to off camera imagination. Though the jury may be deliberating on the eighties silk blouses and pussy bows back in vogue, those bright yuppie pinks and thugs in sport coats with the sleeves rolled up were never good looks!

While there may be no subtitles for the Tales from the Darkside: The Complete Series set, the always chilling greeting and opening theme speak for themselves. Old tape recorders, rotary phones, and typewriters add nostalgic décor alongside retro ice boxes, doilies, and static on the big boob tube. Blue lighting, silver accents, moonlight silhouettes, firelight, and candlesticks invoke mood as increasingly dark schemes, shadows, dreamy photography, and cigarette smoke frame the spooky atmosphere. Some of that white leather furniture and mauve pastiche does have the right swanky, and Tales from the Darkside's production values increase slightly during the season with latter episodes featuring real homes and locales rather than mere set walls. Tiny white lingerie and steamy nightgowns and some side boob close calls also push the envelope, yowza! Art Deco tone on tone designs add an Old Hollywood simmer while choice reds and brains in jars never let us forget the horror at hand.

Sure, Tales from the Darkside has a certain amount of dated silliness. Bemusing weirdness is more often featured than full on frights. However, the scares are superb when they happen and the spooky fun doesn't overstay its welcome. Tales from the Darkside Season Two is easy to marathon for nostalgic creepiness and all manner of bumps in the night.

08 April 2018

Short SFF to See or Skip

Short SFF to See or Skip
by Kristin Battestella

Some recent but short lived science fiction and fantasy series are a pleasing quick binge – while others are disappointing hard passes, to say the least. 

Worth A Look

Awake – After a car accident, Detective Jason Isaacs (Harry Potter) begins living dual realities in these thirteen episodes from 2012– one where his wife survives and the other with his living son. The graphic opening gets right to the two fold funeral and therapist per reality with B.D. Wong (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) and Cherry Jones (I Saw the Light) differentiating each environment alongside varying hues – warm reds with his wife and blues or greens for his son. Are these double dreams merely a coping mechanism to relieve his mind from facing death? Names, numbers, and clues crossover between each reality and help our detective solve cases despite both doctors thinking this dual life is unhealthy rather than positive and ultimately unsustainable. Intercut conversations with the therapists point/counterpoint almost like a three-way debate on selective hearing and conditioning the mind to bend facts to our opinion. A hospital hostage situation adds schizophrenic routines, insomnia, unstable harm, and more convincing oneself to hide the problem. Our cop relates to a delusion mental patient with similar distorted realities amid explosives, hallucinations, and meta fantasies further blurring what's real. Is there really a distinction between fantasy and reality and do you insist upon the one piece of information that will shatter the illusion? Is it better to lie or let the fantasy resolve itself? Drive thru clowns provide clues to cold cases, missing files, and bodies in the basement cement. Informants, stakeouts, and unmarked vans return to the original schism as Detective Malfoy passes out, spiraling over changes in his reality patterns and talking to himself in public. Foot chases, vehicle crashes, and on the street hysteria lead to sketch artists and police connections as denial, grief, and blame come to forefront with consequences and suspensions. Is he paranoid or protecting his dual fantasy? Evidence needs to prove his unreliable memory, and the desperate husband/father goes after someone guilty in his red reality – but that doesn't mean his quarry did wrong in the green reality, does it? Switching realities at just the wrong time reveals “they know that we know that they know that we know” secret meetings, hackers, and manhunts. Suspicious storage lockers, corruption, and shocking executions provide cliffhangers in the later episodes alongside gunshot wounds, holding cells, and surreal visions that perhaps solve the source behind his accident and answer which reality is real – maybe. What hurts is when this series falls prey to the superficial case of the week filler with cliché cinematic timing and on the nose action, shaky cams, or fast zooms crowding unnecessary bookies, arson, and teen pregnancy scares. The cerebral aspects are more interesting, and this show needs to hold firm on its format rather than deviating from his unique points of view or carrying unnecessary regulars when longer serving guest Laura Innes (ER) provides the more critical performance. Although each entry is decent entertainment, the forty odd minutes aren't enough time. Episodes Three, Four, and Five are wasted on saccharin dialogue and sentimental resolutions, and broadcast versus production order dumbs down the complexity by giving away conspiracy details too soon. Episode Six “That's Not My Penguin” should have happened immediately, and airing Episode Eleven “Say Hello to My Little Friend” four slots earlier would have saved the show. NBC's mishandling here reminds me of the similarly short-lived Journeyman, and American networks must adapt to having shorter themed Sunday SF specials rotating in themed blocks rather than shortsightedly canceling genre properties. This series should have been a ten episode event, and it deserved to see another Inception-esque season.

Didn't Finish 'em!

HelixRonald D. Moore (Deep Space Nine) produced two seasons totaling twenty-six episodes of this 2014-15 SyFy original starring CDC doctor Billy Campbell (Lizzie Borden Took an Ax) in the Arctic amid contamination suits, retrovirus outbreaks, and private biotech companies operating in international territory with no official jurisdiction and the nearest help 200 miles away. Patient attacks lead to body bags, throwing up in one's helmet, mutations, veiny infections, and black blood yet everyone's hush hush about what's being researched. Vials, gloves, assorted masks, and microscopes reveal freaky frozen evidence while escaped infected multiply, people panic, satellites are sabotaged, and oxygen systems are compromised. Arguments over who is in charge interfere with antidotes, gruesome incubators, and researching the RNA sequences. Encoded messages, toxicity risks, stealth syringe assaults, and burning evidence lead to bleak vegetative states, morphine, silent scenes behind sealed glass, detailed procedures, red lighting, and danger signs. Quarantined doctors are unprepared to face these monsters– er infected patients, so good thing the base is conveniently huge with numerous levels and random victims each week. Some are attacked and quarantined, others up close to the infected lie about their encounters, supposed lockdowns are actually out of control, and it's tough to grasp what's happening. Windows with iceberg vistas detract from any sense of claustrophobia, and going outside the base is a mistake when the undefined logistics are continually bent. Uneven somber and loud actions compromise the pace, and what should be isolated tension doesn't feel potboiler enough. Scientists uncover data another scientist found two episodes ago but didn't share, so we have to see everyone's shock twice amid twin twists, mirrored wall sex, and easily dismissed infected used as contrived scares. One on one debates become soap opera pissy with unresolved ulterior motives within yet more tangents. Our good guy remains one step behind while his hallucinating ex-wife wastes time by blindfolding herself, removing the bandage, being re-bandaged, and taking the blindfold off again. The mole is revealed early before leaving him out in the arctic overnight to be rescued by a police babe and taken to her lair shirtless and handcuffed – and then Jeri Ryan (Voyager) is brought on as another contradictory CEO. La dee da quirky music almost mocks the serious presentation, and unnecessary slow motion, jump cuts, shaky cams, and shock editing cancel out any tense body horror by creating a visual for the audience rather than letting us see people afraid in camera. A lack of intercoms, walkie talkies, smartphones, and tablets is unrealistic, and nobody covers their face when they venture outside below zero. People camp on the open ice with just a parka and a blanket! Daily timestamps chronicle the series in real time, but an onscreen week into the show, humorous flashback fantasies break any internal focus. Eleven different writers over thirteen episodes as short as thirty-seven minutes with seven directors often in two episode blocks equal a lot of cooks without a handle on their own viral premise playing at science fiction while using shock attempts at horror. After dragging out aspects that should have happen immediately, the initial outbreak turns into something else entirely, and the original concept should have been a six episode miniseries or even a television movie. Viewers can skip two or three episodes and not miss a thing, and I no longer cared enough late in the First Season. 


Intruders – John Simm (Doctor Who), Mira Sorvino (The Buccaneers), and James Frain (The Tudors) star in this 2014 eight episode BBC America co-production based on the 2007 novel, but the opening prologue of break ins, muffed screams, and a fatal bath tub already seems unrelated to the Seattle FBI visits, gunshots, and house fires. The set up remains busy, bouncing from a wife who hasn't been herself to Nevada conspiracy theorists broadcasting on analog and CB radio rather than a website or podcast. The back and forths between young Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things) being pursued and Simm's poorly accented cop with a bad history jar for importance – so much time is spent on making the unknown science suspicious when enough's happening with spouses not showing up for work or people being called by one name and claiming that isn't who they are. Thanks to the title, we know appearances are going to be deceiving, which hurts the ominous despite cult books and magic number nine motifs. Mysterious re-appearances and foreign languages waste time building up a body switch we all saw coming. The kid stuff is also laughable – evil intruder memories and nice little girl switch-a-roos are embarrassingly obnoxious rather than menacing. An entire episode is wasted on a child not being able to travel unaccompanied, and aging the role up to a teen would have made a huge difference to the northwest convergence, quotes on death, and murders made to look like suicides. Meanwhile, our former cop is searching for his wife amid empty offices, fishy bosses, and runaround taxi driver messages but he never checks her phone for photos or texts nor contacts authorities or police friends. These are short forty-five minutes shows yet the plot feels as if it should be more feature oriented with just one missing embodied person and the secret gun toting man in pursuit – who security cameras somehow never see. The history montages and voiceovers read by a child are over the top reincarnation exposition that don't explain anything, the separate stories don't come together, and nothing happens in the current narrative – begin with the secrets before or get to the resolution. Flashbacks on who killed whom or who makes the rules topple alongside the evil kid tropes and drunken changes paralleling the struggle between these past and present lives. In fiction you can juggle multiple storylines but this idling all over the place makes the television mystery nonsensical. The characters remain clueless or in denial, it's difficult to suspend disbelief when so many contrivances underestimate the viewer, and I had to quit halfway through.


Atlantis – I was totally confused three episodes into this 2013 fantasy series from Johnny Capps, Julian Murphy, and Howard Overman (Merlin) purportedly about the eponymous lost continent. Somehow, Mark Addy's (Game of Thrones) Hercules, Alexander Siddig's (Deep Space Nine) King Minos, a Jason of Argonauts fame, a geeky Pythagoras, and more decided Ancient Greek motifs are part of this submarine gateway to the underwater but still dry island. There are oracles mixed with modern science, gay humor, and cliché destinies, but I was looking for, you know, some kind of original catastrophic Atlantis mythology epic that begs to be told – not a retelling with a twist of heroic youths in Greece. I probably expected too much, but coming for one and finding the other feels like this series totally misrepresents itself. If I wanted to see Greek myths, I'd watch the original Clash of the Titans, so why should I stay if there's no Atlantis as we know it here?