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 РI 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 clich̩ destinies, but I was looking for, you know, some kind of original catastrophic Atlantis mythology epic that begs to be told Рnot 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?

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