Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

I’m going to try to avoid as many spoilers as I possibly can, but when it comes to a show this extensive and interconnected with the MCU, that will be difficult. If you are truly worried about spoilers, avoid this post until you’ve completed the series. Or at least watched enough of it that you won’t mind spoilers. You’ve been warned!

I can’t believe that I haven’t written about this show before, but I’m rewatching it right now, so it’s as good a time as any. I’m an easy sell when it comes to superhero shows, but I definitely feel like this is one of the better ones. Maybe that’s just because Joss Whedon had such a heavy hand in the show and I love most things Whedon. Frankly, this may be the most Whedonesque show that ever existed. But it’s not just Whedon; the cast is phenomenal, the writing is solid and both their choreography and set design are great. Before I gush too much, let me tell you about the show.

I’m going to try to be concise, but, in the world of Marvel Comics, S.H.I.E.L.D. has been around for a long time. Not to mention how the television show ties into the MCU in general, this may be a long post. S.H.I.E.L.D. stands for Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division, and was formed to address superpowered threats without having to rely on superheroes all the time. The organization itself first appeared in Strange Tales #135 in 1965, a creation of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, but we’re talking about the television show here. When the series starts, the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. is Agent Phil Coulson (played by Gregg Clark of The West Wing and basically so many MCU movies that I’m not going to list them all here). Agent Coulson makes his first appearance in the movie Iron Man and then is seen in a few of the other MCU movies, until he dies in The Avengers, killed by Loki. Yep, you heard me right; he dies. So him actually being the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. is kind of weird, which they play into quite a bit early in the series. He makes cryptic references to “Tahiti” being a “magical place” and we don’t find out until later what he means by Tahiti. Then, there are his agents.

The team initially consists of consummate bad ass, Agent Melinda Mae (played by Ming-Na Wen of ER and The Mandelorian), James Bond-like Grant Ward (played by Brett Dalton of , well, not much, really. He’s been a voice actor for Milo Murphy’s Law and then a number of bit parts), the Nerd Herd duo of Leo Fitz (played by Iain De Caestecker of Coronation Street and Overlord) and Jemma Simmons (played by Elizabeth Henstridge of Wolves at the Door and Suspicion), mercenary Lance Hunter (played by Nick Blood of Trollied and Babylon), his ex-wife Bobbi Morse (played by Adrianne Palicki of John Wick and The Orville) and, last but not least, muscley-but-complex guy Alphonso “Mac” Mackenzie (played by Henry Simmons of NYPD Blue and Shark).

Another agent, that is not an agent at the beginning, is Skye (played by Chloe Bennet of Valley Girl and Nashville). The characters of the cast are strong enough that’s it’s hard to call anyone a star, but, if I were pressed to pick one, Skye and Mae would be a tie behind Coulson. Mainly because she is so integral to so many plots of so many seasons. When the series starts, she’s an anarchist hacker, out to fight the system. Then, under Coulson’s tutelage, she becomes a dedicated S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. Spoiler Alert! She ultimately is found to be an Inhuman and develops powers. Her superhero name becomes Quake, but she switches names more than a pro golfer switches clubs. It’s unfortunate that her character is tied to so many plot lines, because she is, in my opinion, one of the weakest of the bunch.

I’m not going to write an exhaustive list of cast members; they were surprisingly numerous for a seven season run. But I do want to spend some time on the part-time, side actors that show up from time to time. I don’t know what their budget was, but they must have been spending Marvel dollars, cause, damn, did they have some star power. Kyle MacLachlan (of Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks) is in 2 seasons of the series, and, in my mind, you don’t get much bigger than that. Ruth Negga (of Misfits and Preacher) has a sizable role early in the show. Samuel L. Jackson (of Pulp Fiction and just about every movie in the MCU) shows up once or twice as Nick Fury, just to cement the show’s connection to the movies. Patton Oswald was a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in a number of episodes. Bill Paxton, Edward James Olmos, Stan Lee (because, of course), even George Stephanopoulos appears as himself in an episode. And this is with leaving a few names out, because I don’t know how long this would be if I included anyone with name recognition.

There were some big names behind the camera as well. Roxan Dawson (who played B’Ellana Torres on Star Trek: Voyager) directed a few episodes, as did Jonathan Frakes, for the full Star Trek treatment. Lou Diamond Phillips directed an episode. Even cast members Clark Gregg and Elizabeth Henstridge got their turn at directing. While the Whedons, along with Maurissa Tancharoen (of Whedon vehicles Doll House and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog), did most of the heavy lifting writing wise, they definitely had help. Drew Z. Greenberg wrote a number of episodes for the show, but he’s also written for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Warehouse 13, Arrow and Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Jeffery Bell has written episodes for The X Files, Angel and Alias. Comic book legend Jeph Loeb is listed as an executive producer, as is Joe Quesada. The people who put this show together have comics and sci-fi in their blood.

If one thing disappointed me about Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., it was that only one spin-off came out of it, and that was a short-run internet series based on Yo-Yo, called Slingshot. What makes it tragic is that there were so many great characters that could have carried a series. The first one to come to mind was Robbie Reyes/Ghost Rider. Ghost Rider is not an easy character to get right and I thought that both the writers and Gabriel Luna did a great job. And, that there was so much more that could have been done with him. Another is the duo of Bobbie Morse and Lance Hunter. From what I understand, there was a spin-off (Marvel’s Most Wanted) in the works, I think a pilot was actually filmed, but the network (ABC) decided to pass on it. I haven’t actually seen this pilot and, believe me, I’ve looked. Even beyond these obvious ones, there were so many possibilities. A show following Coulson and Agent Mae, or Fitz and Simmons, even Quake probably could have carried a show. I think someone had figured that Inhumans would be the show to take over the Marvel banner, but no one could have guessed quite how bad it would be.

While I will always miss the show, I feel it had a good run. Seven seasons wasn’t bad and they left on a good note. Always leave them wanting more, right? What I find odd more than anything is how completely Marvel content seems to have left the small screen. There’s nothing outside of Disney+ and even some of those shows are one offs (I certainly don’t see a season 2 for WandaVision). And while I have enjoyed the Disney content, and am looking forward to more, I feel like they’re only focusing on Avengers-level characters and ignoring a wealth of other stories. I think that Agent Carter ended too soon, I was enjoying The Gifted before that was canceled and I LOVED the beautiful mess that was Legion. On the other hand, I am excited for the upcoming Ms. Marvel. I guess I shouldn’t complain. The state of comic book based television shows even just 10 years ago was pretty dismal. Now I’ve got my choice of more shows than I could have imagined. I still contend that out of all those shows, Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is one of the crown jewels of the MCU.

Ted Lasso

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not usually into sit-coms. Most of them are carbon copies of each other, with nothing new or fresh to say, rehashing jokes that have been around since the 50’s. There are exceptions. I’ve already done an entire blog post about The Good Place, I fell in love with Brooklyn 99 just a year ago and I’ve just recently found a new sitcom that I adore, Ted Lasso. Much like The Good Place, Ted Lasso defies an easy description. Yes, it’s a comedy, but there are times that it will kick you right in the feels. There’s a sports angle, but it doesn’t dominate the story line. And, oddly enough, especially for a show I like, if I had to sum it up in one word, that word would be wholesome.

Okay, so the show itself is about an American football coach, the eponymous Ted Lasso (played by Jason Sudeikis of Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock), who is hired to coach an English football team. That premise, if you know anything about both sports, is funny in and of itself. Obviously, a big part of the humor is that Lasso knows nothing about English football, AKA soccer. The reason he is hired is that the owner of the team, Rebecca Welton (played by Hannah Waddingham of Game of Thrones and Krypton), knows how much her ex-husband, Rupert Mannion (played by Anthony Head of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Merlin), loves the team and she wants to see it fail. Lasso is assisted in his coaching position by Coach Beard (played by Brendan Hunt of We’re the Millers and Horrible Bosses 2) and Nathan Shelley (played by Nick Mohammed of Intelligence and Hank Zipzer).

Obviously, some of the players factor into the show. The two with the biggest roles are Roy Kent (played by Brett Goldstein of Derek and Hoff the Record) and Jamie Tartt (played by Phil Dunster of Catastrophe and Humans). Roy is the older player that was great in his day, but is now slowing down. He’s gruff and taciturn, but does care about the team and is seen as a leader. Jamie is Roy’s polar opposite. He is the star player of the team and selfish and arrogant. He rarely listens to anything anyone else has to say and is completely self absorbed. The other players are mainly background for these two, but we do get to see a little of Sam Obisanya (played by Toheeb Jimoh of The Feed and London Kills) and Dani Rojas (played by Cristo Fernandez  of El Hada de Las Chelas and When You Are Gone). Sam is a Nigerian player still trying to find his place on the team and so far from home. Dani is from Mexico, new to the team and, potentially, has just as much talent and star power as Jamie. He’s also the most insanely happy character on the show and that’s saying something.

The origin of Ted Lasso actually started 7-8 years ago, as a commercial for NBC’s coverage of the Premier League. In these promos, Sudeikis played the character Ted Lasso, usually giving a press conference and answering questions in such a way as to display a comical ignorance of soccer. That character must have stuck with him, because he went on to develop into a series, along with Bill Lawrence, Joe Kelly and Brendan Hunt. All of them have had a hand in writing episodes. Fun fact: Zach Braff, of the television show Scrubs, directed the second episode of season 1.

Some had suggested that Ted Lasso is loosely based on the American football coach Terry Smith. He started as a defensive back for the New England Patriots, but injured his knee bad enough to ultimately retire. He coached at a few U.S. Colleges, but then went to Great Britain to coach the Manchester Spartans. I haven’t been able to find out how much Smith knew about soccer before crossing the pond, but he was wildly successful at his job. He took a 2-10 team and turned them into a 14-0 undefeated team in his first season. After an incredibly amazing coaching run, he became the owner of several professional sports teams, including the European Champion Spartans. According to Wikipedia he’s a teacher now, but I don’t know more than that. I tried to do more research, but evidently Terry Smith is a very common name, even among football players.

But I digress; back to the show. It’s hard to describe why I love it so much, but I don’t think I’ve seen one without crying at some point during its 30-40 minute run time. Watching the show almost feels like a therapy session. The easiest thing to describe it as is a comedy, but it’s more humorous than laugh out loud funny. The characters are incredibly well written, achieving that rare balance of being strong and vulnerable. The stories are often good people going through tough situations and sometimes overcoming them, but, also, sometimes just being big enough to accept the things that can’t be changed. One of the best quotes I’ve heard about the show comes from Keri Lumm of Paste magazine. She said, “Ted Lasso is the wholesome American hero we need“,  going on to say “… the landscape of television has felt kind of gloomy, so imagine my surprise when I turned on the TV to Ted Lasso and felt a swelling of a now unfamiliar emotion – hope.” Perhaps that’s the word I was looking for to describe the show; the word hope. Do yourself a favor and watch an episode. 

Grimm

Note: Sorry for the long hiatus. I’ve been working 2 jobs, plus trying to selling art, so the last few months have been fairly busy. I’m glad to post again, but I don’t know how frequently I’ll be able to do that. I’m going to try for at least one post a month. If you’re reading, I’m glad that you’re here. 

This delightful little show ran for 6 seasons, from 2011 until 2017. This is another title that I will classify as a Child of the Slayer. I first mentioned this concept back in my post about the television show Reaper, but given that I don’t think anyone reads these posts, I’ll talk about it again. The term is a reference to the wildly popular series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and how that popularity spawned several children, television shows that mimic many aspects of the original. I’ll point out the similarities that make Grimm one of these children, but first, let me tell you about the show. This is not a bad show. I certainly wouldn’t call it a great show, I’m not going to tell anyone that they HAVE to track down this show and watch it, but it will always hold a place near and dear to my heart because of its star – the city of Portland.

The show itself is billed as a horror police procedural and follows the main character Detective Nick Burkhardt (played by David Giuntoli of Privileged and A Million Little Things) and his partner Det. Hank Griffin (Russel Hornsby of Seven Seconds and Proven Innocent). Nick discovers that he is a Grimm, a person with the ability to see mystical creatures that live among us, called Wesen. This is a family heritage, passed down from generation to generation, along with the responsibility to keep these creatures in check, since some of them aren’t so friendly. Given his position as a Portland police officer, he will often discover that he is looking for a Wesen while investigating a case. So, what qualifies Grimm to be a Child of the Slayer? Let me break it down.

First of all, there is the very nature of the show itself. Set in modern day America, there are other-than-normal beings that co-exist with us unnoticed. These beings each have their own histories, traditions, habits, abilities and diets. They are somewhat magical in nature. And many of these creatures, due to their proclivities, prey on humans and could be called evil, though that could just be a human-centric outlook. I should point out that due to the name of the show, all of these creatures are supposed to be related to the ones found in Grimm’s fairy tales. The premise being that the original Grimm was actually a Grimm, like Nick, and that those “fairy tales” were actual stories about the creatures he tracked down and had experience with.

Secondly, he is a “chosen one”, he has abilities, passed down through the family, that others don’t have and allow him to detect and, if necessary, kill these Wesen. This ability to see these creatures is probably his primary ability. These beings look just like ordinary humans for the most part, hold down normal jobs and lead pretty average lives. In times of stress or strong emotion, however, their mask fails a bit and anyone who is a Grimm, such as Nick, can see their true form. That’s his biggest power as far as I can tell. While he always prevails, he never displays steel bending strength or super speed; if he does have actual powers, they are understated to say the least. He does have a few advantages though. One of them being his reputation. Evidently, Grimms have a long history of tracking down and slaughtering Wesen, so those that encounter Nick are usually deathly afraid of him. He also possesses his aunt’s trailer.

His aunt, who is the one who tells him he is a Grimm in the first episode, brings an Airstream trailer with her. Inside is a weapons cabinet, filled with medieval appearing weaponry. Some of these have been chosen, because they are the only thing that can kill this beast or that. Along with the weapons, the trailer contains ancient-looking, illustrated tomes, filled with notes and illustrations of some of the different creatures that have been encountered over the years. Often times, an episode involves a great deal of research to figure out what they’re dealing with and how to defeat it. I suppose you could say that this research is another way that Grimm is like Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

But this wouldn’t be a Child of the Slayer without the Scoobies. The first one we meet is Monroe (played by Silas Weir Mitchell of Prison Break and My Name is Earl), a Big, Bad Wolf flavor of Wesen, though the show calls him a Blutbad. By day, a mild mannered clockmaker, but in his Wesen form he’s basically a werewolf. Seriously, he rips a guys arm off in the second episode. Then there is Bud (played by Danny Bruno of Nowhere Man and Leverage), who is an Eisbiber. I don’t know what that is supposed to be, but he is adorable. He acts a liaison between Nick and the rest of the Wesen community. Later we meet Rosalee (played by Bree Turner of Undressed and Good Girls Don’t) who runs an herb shop. She is a foxlike Wesen called a Fuchsbau (who the hell makes up all these names?) and assists in researching lore and creating potions.

I hesitate to name Hank as a Scoobie. He is Nick’s partner and he does help out with the cases, but for a good chunk of the show he has no idea that Nick is a Grimm or that there are even things called Wesen. Then there is Sergeant Drew Wu (played by Reggie Lee of Prison Break and All Rise), a Portland police officer who also helps Nick in a professional capacity, but, like Hank, has no knowledge of anything Wesen. That being said, Wu became one of my favorite characters of the show.

It’s no real surprise that Grimm gives off such Buffy vibes, it has a more direct connection than most other of the Slayer’s children. One of the showrunners was David Greenwalt who was also a co-executive producer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and co-creator of its spinoff Angel. Another showrunner, Jim Kouf, also worked on Angel. Even Alex Denisof was in a few episodes. Yes, the actor who played Wesley in both Buffy and Angel, was Viktor Albert Wilhelm George Beckendorf, a power hungry human trying to rule the world.  As for other people who worked on the show, I did try to find out the writers, or at least the process, for coming up with the names for the different Wesen. Turns out they’re most just German words, which many times make no sense when translated. There are over 100 different Wesen presented in the show, so they dipped into other mythologies and, when they did, the names were words from those cultures. I did find out who did the illustrations in the many books they pour over. Carly Sertic is a freelance film maker and graphic designer who has worked on several other productions. Her Oregon connections are strong. She graduated from the University of Oregon and has worked on Portlandia and Twilight. There are a few other crew members with Joss Whedon connections. Jose Molina was a co-executive producer for 5 episodes of Grimm, but he also worked on Firefly and Agent Carter.

The show is not without its problems. The whole Grimm’s fairy tale thing doesn’t always work and often comes off as a bit forced. In the first season, we get to see Wesen based on bees and for the life of me I can’t remember any bee creatures in any fairy tales. The show tends to start mysteries and plot threads that fizzle out and go nowhere. The woman playing Nick’s wife, Juliette (played by Bitsie Tulloch of Quarterlife and Superman & Lois), is annoying as hell. They must have realized this, because they kill her off and bring her back as a Hexenbeast, a witch-like Wesen, which doesn’t really improve her any. Later in the show, season 5, I think, they introduced another Grimm to the cast, Trubel (played by Jacqueline Toboni of Easy and The L Word: Generation Q). I’m not sure what the writers were thinking introducing her character so late in the show, but she just wasn’t that interesting.

But, again, the real reason I watched the show was because of Portland. I’ve lived in Portland for over 20 years and I love this city. I loved the show, because Portland was prominently on display. Unlike certain other shows that filmed in Portland (I’m looking at you Leverage), but pretended they were in another city, Portland landmarks were celebrated. Nick and Juliette’s house was classic Portland, in a charming little Northeast Portland neighborhood. The exterior of the U.S. Custom House building downtown was often shot for the police department that Nick worked at. There’s a scene at popular tourist spot Multnomah Falls. A number of episodes were filmed at Hoyt Arboretum. Fuller’s Coffee Shop, the Raven & Rose and Nell’s Cafe all had scenes in Grimm. The easily recognizable pink boxes of Voodoo Donuts show up on a regular basis. They even filmed a scene at a house across the street from where I was living in North Portland.

But as I had said, it was far from a perfect show and if you weren’t in love with Portland, Grimm may not have made quite the impression that it did on me. It got mixed reviews from the critics, though it did seem to have a pretty loyal following from the viewers. There was a spinoff planned, one that would focus on a female Grimm, perhaps that was what they had planned for Trubel, but it the project was declared dead as of June 2021. It was popular enough to get a comic book series from Dynamite Entertainment, which lasted about a year. Three novels were published based off of the show. Episodes are not easy to find these days. I looked for it on the NBC website and then on Peacock, NBC’s new streaming service, but no dice. Amazon Prime has it, which seems like an odd place for it and ensures that I won’t be watching reruns anytime soon. I’m not too concerned; it was a fun show while it lasted, but there are better things to watch right now. And besides, the star of the show, the city of Portland, I just happen to live with her.

Chuck

Before there was Limitless, the Bradly Cooper vehicle about a brain boosting drug, there was Chuck. The hero trope has been around since before the Greeks spoke of Olympus, someone special, better, and with the will to fight to make the world a better place. In some of the earliest stories, this came in the form of overwhelming strength, as in a Samson or Hercules, or extreme prowess, as in the Samurai mythos or even Robin Hood. As we have entered more of an information age, intelligence, both intellectual and emotional, have come to the forefront when it comes to superpowers. Perhaps Neo of The Matrix films could be considered in this sense, having the intelligence and perception to see through the veil of “reality” and tap into the source code underneath. I’ve already mentioned the Limitless franchise (the TV show was pretty damn good) and another obvious entry into this category is the Scarlett Johansson movie, Lucy. But, in 2007, an unassuming little action/comedy came along called, Chuck.

Since this was never the most popular of shows, I’m going to assume that the majority of viewers haven’t seen this one, so here it goes. The titular character, Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi of Shazam and voice acting for several of the Tangled films), is a directionless 20 something, working as an IT guy for a big box electronics store. The show presents Chuck’s “best friend” as Morgan Grimes (Joshua Gomez of Invasion and Without a Trace), a fellow employee at the unimaginatively named Buy More store, but, honestly, I see little in their relationship that I would call friendship. I’ll talk more about this, but let’s table it for now while I go on with the rest of the show. Chuck lives with his sister, Ellie (Sarah Lancaster of Saved by the Bell: New Class and Everwood), and her fiance, Devon, AKA “Captain Awesome” (Ryan McPartlin of Sequestered and L.A.’s Finest), both of them doctors.

The premise of the show begins when a former classmate of Chuck’s, Bryce Larkin (Matthew Bomer of Doom Patrol and White Collar), a CIA agent, emails something called the Intersect to Chuck. Upon opening the email, Intersect, the merged database of both the CIA and NSA, downloads itself into Chuck’s brain. Bryce then destroys the computer that the Intersect had been in, making Chuck the only known repository of the secrets of two of America’s biggest intelligence agencies. Unfortunately, Agent Larkin dies in the process. Given the resources of the NSA and CIA, they have little trouble tracking down Chuck and send two agents to deal with him. The CIA sends the obligatory (not that the CIA is obligated to send a hot, female agent, but that a show of this nature is obliged to have a hot, female lead) hot, female lead, Agent Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski of Dexter and A Handmaid’s Tale), while the NSA sends the farcically intimidating , Major John Casey (Adam Baldwin of Firefly and The Last Ship). These two are allies in that they both must protect the asset that Chuck has become, but adversaries in that they are from two separate entities that each have a vested interest in Chuck.

So, what sort of asset is Chuck? Not much, at first, him being portrayed early on as the bumbling everyman that has had greatness thrust upon him. He’s mainly a repository for knowledge. He’ll be in a situation, then something will trigger these “flashes”, times when the Intersect is activated by some clue in the environment and a quick cut montage of images will be played to indicate these classified details that enter his mind. This Intersect will allow Chuck to defuse bombs, recognize international terrorists, etc. Other than this ability, he is a liability in the field, flanked by the more experienced agents Walker and Casey, Chuck displays no coolness under pressure, no fighting prowess, no more abilities than hiding under a table and somehow not being hit by the swarms of bullets flying around him. This will gradually change over the course of the series, when the Intersect seems to be able to imbue him with an almost inhuman ability at spy craft. Depending on the situation, viewers will see Chuck become a master martial artist, an expert marksman, he’ll even get the ability to play musical instruments and speak a foreign language. The whole thing can get somewhat deus ex machina at times, but given that the show never really takes itself that seriously, it’s not that disruptive to the narrative.

The high point of the show for me is the romance that develops between Chuck and Sarah. It’s obvious from the start, and no different than what a hundred other shows like it have done, but Strahovski does such a great job with Sarah’s character, it just feels natural. And, yes, I’m giving her most of the credit. Levi is great, but his investment in the Sarah/Chuck flirtation seemed minimal. The low point of the show is Chuck’s “best friend” Morgan. This character is about as appealing as a cold sore. I’m not sure what the producers envisioned for this character, but over the course of the show, we see him constantly perv on Chuck’s sister, sneak into Chuck’s room without anyone’s knowledge or permission, shirk work duties that would help Chuck, blow Chuck’s mission on several occasions and just generally be an annoyance to everyone. Possibly this was meant to be comic relief, but the guy seems like absolute slime to me. Now that I’m thinking about it, there’s a number of elements about the show that bother me. Why were Chuck and his sister (along with her fiancé) living together. Sure it’s Burbank and it’s expensive, but they were both doctors. Even if they were residents, together they easily could have afforded their own place. Did they just pity Chuck? Also, having the intelligence agents work nonsensical cover jobs to keep an eye on Chuck was ridiculous. Again, I feel this was to add one more comedic element to the show, but, damn, did it get old quick.

So, while I did enjoy the show, it was by no means perfect. And I’m certainly not alone in that, given that the show teetered on the renewal roster for almost its entire run. As early as season 2, NBC considered canceling Chuck, due to it’s consistently low ratings, but fans launched a “Save Chuck” campaign to bring a season three into existence. There was the standard letter writing and push for renewal on social media, but then they got creative by teaming up with Subway. Yes, the restaurant chain; please note that this was all before the Jared Fogle arrest, which occurred in 2015. As Chuck’s run continued, constantly plagued with the threat of cancellation, fans would team up with a number of unlikely organizations to save their beloved show, such as the American Heart Association. It ran for 5 seasons, which isn’t bad, as shows go. And Agent Bartowski has not been forgotten. There are still Chuck fan websites out there and even Chuck themed fan art. Wildstorm publishing, affiliated with DC Comics, I believe, put out a Chuck comic book, and the cast of Chuck has definitely been doing the Comicon circuit. Their fan base has been so enduring that a Kickstarter for a Chuck movie started up earlier this year. I think these fans know that the world needs a show like Chuck. Sure there’s action, comedy and romance, but it’s all done with such an element of wholesomeness, of innocence, that’s it’s an oasis of entertainment protected from the maelstrom of drama, spite and violence that plagues most of television these days. After I’m done watching the endless parade of bipartisan bickering, the constant reminders of how we are destroying the Earth and the ever looming threat of war, I want a bit of fun escapism. After a year like this one, we need Chuck more than ever.

Doom Patrol

In the marvelous HBO miniseries, The Outsider, one of my favorite characters is Holly Gibney, a borderline autistic investigator, who clearly operates in a slightly different reality than most of us. In one of the last scenes, after defeating the Big Bad, it asks Holly how she recognized it. To paraphrase (because, to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I’m remembering it right) her answer, she replied, “An outsider can always recognize another outsider.” I’m not sure that one needs to be an outsider to enjoy Doom Patrol, but the feeling it gives me, of maybe there is somewhere I belong, is why this show brings me so much joy. It is ostensibly a superhero show, but the majority of obstacles that this misfit band of odd balls must overcome are internal. Sure there are superpowers, but there’s also family, mental illness, lost loves and plenty of self-loathing to go around. There are punches aplenty thrown at bad guys, but the hardest punch they pack is right in the feels.

The show involves the wheelchair bound scientist, Niles Caulder (Timothy Daulton of The Living Daylights and Flash Gordon), whose questionable experiments, not to mention ethics, created most of Doom Patrol to begin with. The earliest member is Rita Farr (April Bowlby of Slammin’ Salmon and Two and a Half Men), a former star of the silver screen changed, by a toxic gas, into a stretchy, elastic mutant. Next to join would be Larry Trainor (Matt Bomer of White Collar and Will & Grace), a former test pilot who, during an experimental flight absorbed an entity made of “negative energy” that now dwells within him. Oh, yeah, and he’s horribly disfigured and emits so much radiation that no one can ever physically get close to him again. Possibly the most powerful member of the team is Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero of Orange is the New Black and Jane the Virgin), a disturbed woman with multiple personality disorder (MPD), each different personality possessing their own superpower. This can range from her persona, Baby Doll, who believes “everything is lovely”, to Lucy Fugue, who has radioactive bones and see-through skin, to Sun Daddy, who is a huge figure with a sun for a head and can throw fireballs. With a current tally of 64 separate personalities, she’s like a slightly less together Legion. There’s the unimaginatively named Robot Man (Brendan Fraser of Encino Man and George of the Jungle. Yeah, that Brendan Fraser.), a former race car driver that suffered what would have ordinarily been a fatal accident, were it not for Niles Caulder placing his brain into a nearly indestructible robot body. Last to the party is Victor Stone, AKA Cyborg (Joivan Wade of Youngers and Doctor Who), the only member to not be created by Niles Caulder. Normally associated with the Teen Titans, or the Justice League for those Snider cut fans out there, he is a former football star who, after a horrible accident, is recreated with cybernetic parts. Boo-ya!

All of these people are very, very flawed, and that’s what makes them all so goddamn beautiful. Jane grew with an abusive father and was subjected to years of sexual abuse. Leading to the development of her MPD, she spent years institutionalized and indulging in excessive drug use, both psychiatric and illegal. Despite having incredible powers, she has absolutely no control over them, often arguing with herself to even get anything done. Robot Man, being super strong and close to invulnerable, is a bitter, angry man who mourns his former life, an empty life previously lived carelessly. Likewise, Cyborg misses being a popular football star, but an otherwise normal person. His bitterness is mostly aimed at his father, for turning him into something more machine than man and, in stark contrast to how Cyborg is usually portrayed, is less superhero and more soul searching, self-doubting kid. Rita, once used to fawning adoration, now cloisters herself, uncertain of when her body will betray her. She has the ability to stretch and bend like Plastic Man, but, much like Jane and her erratic powers, it takes all of Rita’s concentration to even just keep her body from oozing everywhere. Larry Trainor, AKA The Negative Man, may be my favorite of them all. He lost it all. Once a virile man in his prime, a decorated pilot, with a wife, a child and a gay lover on the side, his body is now covered in scars from head to toe, the amount of radiation coming off of him requires that he always cover himself in specially designed bandages, Invisible Man style. Oh, and his super power? The entity inside him may also be indestructible, can fly and made of pure energy, but it is not under his control and, once unleashed, leaves Larry helpless.

Niles Caulder may be the most tragic figure of all. A man of exceptional intelligence, it seems he leads the Doom Patrol more out of his feelings of guilt over the failed experiments that he views them as. In various flashbacks during the show we see him as he interviews Crazy Jane or fiddles with the inner workings of Robot Man. He isn’t the cause of their current condition, but, in his hubris, he saw fit to use their conditions to play God and tamper about with them as if they were nothing more than lab rats. Much like the rest of Doom Patrol, we are torn between looking up to him as their ingenuous leader and hating him for turning them into freaks for his own curiosity. His history gets more complicated and more tragic as the show goes on, but I don’t want to give away too much.

Equally as fun are the villains of the show. One of the first we meet is Mr. Nobody (played by the amazing Alan Tudyk of Firefly and Tucker & Dale vs. Evil), a reality bending entity that breaks the fourth wall like a less sane Deadpool. Yes, LESS sane. He can control the action on the screen just by his narration. There is a government agency, The Bureau of Normalicy, dedicated to eliminating aberrations just like the members of Doom Patrol. There are Nazis, a Ghostbusters-like team, known as the Sex-Men and Beard Hunter, a serial killer who hunts down men with beards. Lest we think that the entire world is out to get Doom Patrol, their allies are equally as weird. There’s Flex Mentallo, The Muscle Man of Mystery. Imagine Charles Atlas come to life, but his actions, instead of being feats of brawn, are more like magic spells cast by flexing his muscles. I loved him in the comic books, and was dubious when I heard he’d be in the live action Doom Patrol, but they got a fantastic actor to play him (Devan Chandler Long of Runaways and Bosch). And then there’s possibly the most surreal character of all, Danny the Street. What Danny is is a little hard to describe, so I’ll just plagiarize Wikipedia. They say, “Danny is a living and sentient piece of urban geography who can magically and seamlessly place himself in any urban landscape at will, without any disruption to his surroundings.” It is mentioned that he identifies as gender queer and he is usually lined with dance clubs, gun shops and drag cabarets.

Did I mention this was originally a comic book? Maybe I should have said that up front, which would explain my effusive praise of the show. But I’ve been reading Doom Patrol from so long ago, that it’s just common knowledge to me. I sometimes forget my audience, mainly because I’m not sure if I have an audience. The original Doom Patrol was published in My Greatest Adventure #80 in 1963, created by Arnold Drake and Bob Haney. It’s actually had several different incarnations, but I’m relatively sure that the heart of the television show is based off of Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol. Writing the title from issues #19 to #63, he is the one who introduces Crazy Jane and Danny the Street. He injected a level of surrealism to the comic that overshadowed anything it had previously been. In fact, it was so…I don’t know …different, I guess, that I didn’t know how the show could even be pulled off, but under the creative command of Geoff Johns, it truly shines. As with most things I review, this show isn’t for everyone. If you want non-stop action or a clearly demarcated fight of good vs. evil, then this isn’t that show. Doom Patrol is that ugly, orphaned puppy who is just so scrappy and adorable in his own way that you can’t help but love him. It’s the show that makes you feel that no matter how strange or different or broken you are, you are still worth something and that you can still find a place you belong. And I absolutely love it for that.

Channel Zero

I don’t have a lot of time, so I’m going to try and make this post short and sweet. I’ve just started a huge project that I’m going to be devoting a huge chunk of time to. So much so that it may spill over into my blog here and change the focus of the entire thing. But now is not the time for that, so, with the possibility of me no longer writing about TV or movies, I want to make sure that I talk about a few of the shows I consider “must see”. Particularly the ones I feel just don’t get enough love. Which brings me to Channel Zero.

Channel Zero was a horror anthology that ran for 4 seasons on Syfy. It was written by Nick Antosca, who has, in addition to writing Teen Wolf and Hannibal, has also written several novels, like Fires and The Quiet Boy, and even a few films, like The Forest and Antlers. It’s an impressive resume, which explains some of my praise. And while my praise is effusive, it’s a little hard to explain. It’s like those jokes that you sort of just have to be there for. I’m normally a “story guy”, all about the plot, the character development, but, admittedly, Channel Zero is a bit weak in that department. Not that the plots or the characters are bad, it’s just that they aren’t the strengths of the show. The characters are thin, the plots slightly confused, but the feel of the show itself is CREEPY! It’s one of the eeriest shows I’ve seen, giving the viewer that otherworldly feeling that is so elusive. I’ve talked about this rare quality before, in films like The Endless and A Cure for Wellness.

Each of the four seasons tells a story involving different bits of creepypasta. If you don’t know what creepypasta is, welcome to the club, even now I have only a cursory understanding of the term. The best description I can think of is urban legends for the internet. The Slender Man and The Russian Sleep Experiment are examples of creepypasta, spooky stories, once told round the campfire, now skulking around the information superhighway. Season 1 tells the story of Candle Cove, a mysterious children’s show from a studio that shouldn’t be transmitting. The theme of Season 2 is The No End House, which, as the name implies, consists of a series of impossible rooms. Season 3 is called Butcher’s Block, about a highly carnivorous family of exceptional longevity. Lastly, season 4 is a story that is equal parts disturbing and depressing, called The Dream Door. Each one is very different, except for the ability to make one’s hairs stand on end.

I consider Season 1 to be the best, but I’m not sure if that’s because it’s true or if I wasn’t prepared the impact it would make. The first few minutes of the first episode stay with me to this day. There’s so many things to creep one out in this season. The children’s show, Candle Cove, is a puppet show and puppets are almost as creepy as clowns and dolls. Murderous children are involved and children are kind of sinister even when they’re normal. And, then, then there’s the tooth monster. The main character is guilt ridden and possibly insane. Almost every scene exudes menace and danger lurks just out of sight.

Before I had seen season 2, I had never heard of the No End House. There are several iterations of this particular creepypasta, but it essentially is about a house that people are called to go into, sometimes because there’s prize money if they go through all the rooms in the house, sometimes because they are dared to. Each room is sequentially numbered, this number appearing on the door to the next room, usually starting with 1 and going up to 9. The first room is deceptively cheesy, but each of the others get progressively more horrifying, the last one nearly driving people to madness. Those who get through all of them to finally escape the house initially feel relief and return home, only to find the next number on their front door. This is basically the story in Season 2 of Channel Zero, except that a group of friends enter the house, each experiencing different things, based on their individual fears and, as you might guess, they don’t all get to leave. There’s a heck of a lot more to it, themes involving grief and loss and how much of one’s self is in their memories, but I don’t want to ruin any of this by saying too much. I also wanted to say that one of the cast members in this season is the phenomenal John Carroll Lynch of The Drew Carey Show and Fargo. He’s an amazing actor who absolutely nails his roles in everything I’ve seen him in and this is no different.

According to Wikipedia, season 3, Butcher’s Block, is based on Kerry Hammond’s “Search and Rescue Woods” , but if that’s true, it’s very loosely based. If you’re unfamiliar with “Search and Rescue Woods” (I was), it was originally a series of stories first featured on the subreddit, No Sleep, and later collected into novel form. The stories are told by one of the search and rescue rangers who work a particular set of woods where all sorts of mysterious and spooky happenings occur. Butcher’s Block involves a pair of sisters, one with severe, almost incapacitating, depression, who move to a new town and find a strange flight of stairs, in the middle of the woods, seemingly leading to nowhere. Eventually, they meet Joseph Peach (played by the incomparable Rutger Hauer, RIP, of Blade Runner and Hitcher), the elderly patriarch of the Peach family, the head of a butchering and meat packing empire. This season is a bit more meandering than most, but no less eerie, culminating in the sisters having to make a devastating choice.

The fourth and final season is Dream Door, based on Charlotte Bywater’s story, Hidden Door. I’m guessing Antosca is a Reddit fan, because Hidden Door also is a find from r/Nosleep. In Dream Door, a married couple find an odd door in their basement, that they hadn’t noticed before. They explore it and initially found nothing, but before long, the door, or the room behind it, manifests their dreams. And, true to the nature of the show, these things are perverted manifestations of these dreams.

My love of television is well known. I mean, I’m writing a frickin’ blog about it, for goodness sakes. Most of the shows I talk about here are shows that I feel are high quality entertainment, shows I want to tell people about, because I think that they’ll enjoy them as much as I do. That being said, I wouldn’t really call them art. Entertainment? Yes, but art? There are the few rare shows that attain that vaunted title that few television shows even consider. I feel that Legion did it, Antosca’s other show, Hannibal did it and Channel Zero does it. By this, I’m not saying that these are the best shows in the world, but that they “subvert the paradigm”. They don’t care what a show should be, they have an artistic vision, one that is different than what the very concept of a television show should be. Often, certain things, like plot, are sacrificed in pursuit of this vision, but what emerges is a thing of beauty. Well, maybe not beauty, per se, in the case of Channel Zero, but something pure nonetheless. It’s not so much entertainment as a work of art that evokes a feeling. It bypasses the brain and triggers fear and dread directly to the brain stem. If you, dear reader, ever decide to watch Channel Zero, remember this. Don’t dwell on plot points or if things make sense or any of the things that one normally focuses on a show, just feel it.

Supernatural

Earlier, I had shared my concept of the Children of the Slayer, in a reference to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, (BtVS), a show so influential it begat a myriad of imitators. Of all these children I could discuss, one would assume I might talk about her closest child, Angel, spawned from the same writers, the same creative minds and sharing quite a few of the same actors. I will discuss Angel later, but right now I want to talk about arguably the most successful of all the Slayers children, Supernatural. It’s ending this year, after an impressive 15 seasons, with thousands of adoring fans, it was originally only planned for a three season run, but the overwhelming popularity of it extended that.

The show follows a pair of brothers, Sam (Jared Padalecki of Gilmore Girls and House of Wax) and Dean (Jensen Ackles of Smallville and Dawson’s Creek) Wincester, who are “Hunters”, a vocation which involves them tracking down and killing all manner of supernatural creatures. It’s a family calling, as their parents were hunters, but their mother was killed in a tragic, demon-related fire when they were young. Their father accompanies them in the end of the first season, he leaves early in season 2. And it’s just the brothers for the vast majority of the series, though he does return briefly (1 episode) in season 14 . Actually, that’s not entirely true. Throughout the show, there is a rotating cast of characters that interact with the Winchesters. I say interact, because these characters are wonderfully dynamic, villains becoming allies, friends becoming evil; there are so many twists and turns, double crosses and reversals of fortune, that the show traipses dangerously close to soap opera territory. It is this crowd of personalities that gives the show a richer, more complex tone that I am sure contributed to the show’s longevity.

Sam and Dean are consummate bad-asses, often going toe-to-toe with demons, vampires and even the gods themselves. They have demonstrated exceptional fighting skills, though more street fighter than martial artist. They are also weapons experts, usually carrying around enough firepower to equip a small army. Given the nature of their prey, they have demonstrated a comprehensive grasp of magic, routinely exercising demons and creating protective circles. To round out these many talents, they seem to be masters of disguise, or, at the very least, infiltration. On multiple occasions, we see them being accepted as doctors in a hospital using nothing more than a stethoscope and a lab coat or getting the run of a police departments by wearing a suit and tie and flashing a fake FBI badge accompanied by the hokiest sounding of fake names. By far, their greatest weapon, however, is The Colt, a mystical weapon that will kill anything, and I mean ANYTHING, that it hits. And lest I be incomplete, I must mention the Impala. That’s not a euphemism; their car is a 1967 Chevy Impala that Dean refers to as Baby. It’s magically protected and serves as both second home and rolling arsenal.

While the Winchesters, sometimes affectionately referred to as “The Boys” (Not to be confused with the Amazon show, which is based off of Garth Ennis’ comic, The Boys. Though, to be fair, the Amazon show is written by the writer of Supernatural, Eric Kripke), are very much the stars of the show, they share the screen with many others, who occasionally steal the spotlight. There’s Crowley (Mark Sheppard of 24 and Leverage), the once-King of Hell, a demon, who frequently teams up with Sam and Dean, for his own purposes. I have to mention Bobby (Jim Beaver of Justified and Deadwood), long-time family friend and hunter, who acts as the wise uncle. If there was anyone who could be considered a “third Winchester”, it’s Castiel (Misha Collins of 24 and ER), an angel who is a staunch ally to the Boys. Introduced to the show in 2008, in the fourth season premier, Collin’s character went from guest star to regular, won a People’s Choice Award in 2015 and has even directed for the show. There’s Rowena (Ruth Connell of Hari Kari and The Cursed Man), the mother of Crowley, before he became a demon, and 1000 year old witch who, while usually helpful, is as fickle a friend as her son. I shit you not, I could go on and on, there’s so many well fleshed out semi-regulars to mention, but I also wanted to mention the level of guests they have on the show. Nerd-favorite, Felicia Day; Battlestar Galactica’s, Tricia Helfer; Curtis Armstrong, known to most people as Booger from Revenge of the Nerds; The Walking Dead’s Jeffrey Dean Morgan, AKA the infamous Negan; Star Gate’s Amanda Tapping; BtVS alumni, Amy Acker and Julie Benz; even Linda-fucking-Blair was on the show. Talk about royalty

So, how is Supernatural doing as a Child of the Slayer? Let’s see, bad-ass main characters that fight vampires, werewolves and demons with both conventional weaponry and magic? Check. A team of Scoobies to back them up? Mega-check. Combining dark humor and witty banter with gothy angst? So much check. Supernatural may be more BtVS than BtVS. Just like Buffy, Supernatural was a monster of the week series that also had a larger story arc playing over the whole season, but the big bad at the end wasn’t always something that could be fought. Many seasons included an “inevitable” dark fate for one or the other of the Boys, or insanity-provoking torment for a beloved member of the team. There are some parts that are so over the top brooding and sad that, well, it’s almost too much. But, then, they balance it out with something so ludicrous completely turning the mood. Over the course of its 15 season run, both Sam and Dean have been killed and sent to Hell, Dean actually going on two different occasions. Sam has had a girlfriend killed and became addicted to demon’s blood (who knew that was a thing?). Dean was trapped in Purgatory for a year and bore the cursed Mark of Cain. Themes of abject loneliness and painful regret should be listed in the credits, they’re on the show so much.

Oh, I almost forgot, Supernatural‘s contribution to pop culture. Much like BtVS, Supernatural has spawned several artistic offspring. Fan conventions began in 2006 and have been going strong ever since. Mayor Steve Adler of Austin, TX proclaimed June 23rd, 2018 as Supernatural Day. There are comic books, a series of novels, webisodes, an anime series, and several attempted spin-offs. I say attempted, because none of them really ever caught on. Maybe once the show is over they’ll stand more of a chance, because, let’s face it, the Winchesters should never truly die.  

This may be the longest post I’ve ever written and I’ve still only just touched the surface. I’ve already mentioned the writer of the show, Eric Kripke, but in addition to writing The Boys, he’s also written NBC’s Revolution and The House with a Clock in Its Walls. He pitched the concept of Supernatural for nearly 10 years before the WB picked it up. While some seasons are better than others, the storytelling on this show is always solid. It’s been a favorite of mine for the entire 15 year run, but I’m not sad to see it end. It’s not only outlived its mother, but all its brothers and sisters. And they’re sure as hell going out with a bang; the big bad they’re up against for the finale is none other than God himself. I don’t know how it all will end, but I can’t wait to see.

Upload

As much as I love talking about my favorite movies and TV shows, I figured I could put my video addiction in service to the public by talking about newer shows. You know, shows that you’re on the fence about. Shows like Amazon’s new vehicle, Upload. The promo trailers for this show started playing around the time that The Good Place was ending, so I assumed that this was Amazon’s attempt to fill that void, particularly since it’s set in a sort of afterlife. Whether that was the intention or not, this is a very, very different show from The Good Place. Far from being a feel good comedy that addresses philosophical and ethical topics, Upload is actually a terrifying horror series, of Black Mirror proportions, masquerading as a comedy. I’m not sure if it knows that.

Right away, we are introduced to Nathan Brown (Robbie Amell of The Tomorrow People and Code 8), an uber-vain, but otherwise all-around good guy and his fiance, Ingrid (Allegra Edwards of Briarpatch and Orange is the New Black). The circumstances are not ideal; Nathan has been involved in a serious car accident and is, apparently, dying. Luckily, he exists in a fictional world where one can upload their consciousness to a virtual reality, effectively becoming immortal. Immortal, that is, as long as the servers that contain this digital afterlife keep running; can you imagine the pressure on their IT department? This is not a cheap procedure, but Ingrid comes from a super rich family, and she not only pays for Nathan to be uploaded, but also pushes him into it. Once in the system, Nathan meets Nora (Andy Allo of Pitch Perfect 3 and Chicago Fire), a woman working for the company hosting Nathan’s consciousness, who is essentially his handler. This company, Horizon, is the stereotypical, soulless tech company, and Nora, with as much power she has over Nathan and his entire reality, is just a lowly gig worker in the real world. On top of that, her father is dying and she’s desperate to save up enough for his upload.

The comedy aspect is kind of meh. The jokes never achieve laugh out loud status, nor are they overly insightful. While the world they have built is clearly a parody of modern day society, rather coming off as witty, as scathing commentary, they are blunt and heavy handed. It doesn’t help that none of the characters are very likable. That being said, there is one element of the show that keeps me watching. The mystery. A regrettably minor character is Fran (Elizabeth Bowen of Michelle’s and No Tomorrow), Nathan’s cousin who begins to investigate his death. In her amateurish, but dogged, investigation, she begins to uncover some very suspicious clues that he may have been murdered. Little breadcrumbs of clues are doled out, stringing the viewer along. Particularly me, since it’s the only aspect of this show that I find remotely satisfying. If I tune in for season 2, and that’s a big if, to follow Fran and her investigation will be the only reason.

One of the reasons I watched in the first place is to see Robbie Amell. Not because I’ve seen any of his other stuff, except for his brief time as Firestorm on the CW show The Flash, but because looks so much like Stephen Amell, of the CW show Arrow, I thought they were brother. The last name helped that thought as well. Turns out they’re cousins, but, damn, that resemblance. Andy Allo is decent as Nora, but one has to wonder if her talents are being squandered, as she is an accomplished musician. She sings, plays both piano and guitar, and has five albums to her credit. She’s good enough to be in Prince’s band and even collaborated on writing songs with him, which I consider pretty damn impressive. I gotta give a shout out to William Davis, who plays the super rich, David Choak, Nathan’s neighbor in the afterlife. If he doesn’t sound familiar, most people probably know him as The Smoking Man, from the X-Files. Arrogant and jaded, his brutal honesty with Nathan was a nice dash of spice in an otherwise bland show and I hope he gets more screen time in the next season.

Let me revisit my claim that this show is a horror. In the first episode, in his first few moments in the afterlife, we see Nathan looking at himself in the mirror. He is annoyed to find part of his hair out of place, sticking up like a cowlick. Viewers know that this Nora’s fault, as she gave it to him while creating his avatar as part of his upload. Try as he might, he can’t get his hair to lay down. At another time, we see Nathan reach for something he wants, only to be blocked and see a message come up that he has to pay more for it, like some in game purchase. Given that he doesn’t have any money, that he is on his fiancé’s dime, he seemed resigned to a very boring existence. Lastly, we are given a peek at the low rent region of the afterlife and it is Spartan to say the least. Stark, white, windowless walls, devoid of any art or decoration, enclose a cell-like room containing only a bed, chair and bureau, also all white. Far from being a virtual paradise, Nathan has absolutely no agency. Others control how he looks, what he has access to and the very world around him. This definitely feel more like Altered Carbon than The Good Place. Except that, unlike Altered Carbon, he can’t be resleeved, he can’t be put in another body, he will never again have a physical form.

Considering this reality to its inevitable conclusion, this a terrifying form of existence, because of the implications. If this technology exists, surely less scrupulous people/corporations/governments can use it for other purposes. This is an inescapable prison, a chamber of endless and novel torture. The show makes jokes around this concept, trying to be funny, but all I can think as I am watching this is OMG, this looks like hell. Even in the concept of hell, one is put there under a judgement from God, the Almighty. In Upload, it’s a human’s decision, with all the flaws and weaknesses of our species. This thought deadens every punchline for me. It paints a very dark reality and makes no concessions to soften the blow. There’s no mention of an ethics committee, no talk of regulation by an independent body, nothing about a legal framework moderating how this technology is used.

Look, I get it. It’s a TV show, it’s parody. Why am I thinking so much? First of all, that’s what I do and I’m not going to turn that off just to watch a TV show. Second, we’ve seen trope of a virtual reality before and it usually doesn’t end well. I’ve already mentioned Altered Carbon and Black Mirror (the episodes White Bear and White Christmas embody what I am talking about perfectly), but I’ve also seen it in Cube Zero, Source Code and Inception. In fact, even in the very first episode of Upload, the reality of Nathan’s new existence drives him to almost take his own “life”. I’m a little surprised that the show came from the mind of Greg Daniels, the creator behind such shows as The Office and Parks and Rec. With all my bitching, I gotta say that it’s not that bad of a show. It’s not that great of a show, but it’s not that bad. I did watch to the end. One could do worse for a sit-com. But with my background of watching sci-fi and horror, Upload just lands too close to some of the most horrific virtual reality scenarios I’ve seen. For every joke that brings a chuckle, it’s accompanied by a chill that runs down my spine.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Part 2

Even with another blog post to work with, there’s so much I want to say about this show, it feels almost overwhelming. I could hem and haw about how this is going to go, but I’m just going to start writing and see where it goes. As I said in my last post, I didn’t start watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BtVS) until the third season. Which is good, because the first two kinda suck. I mean that in the most loving way possible. I went back and watched them after the series had ended and all I can say is that it was only the deep love I had developed for the show that made them watchable. I’m going to give a spoiler alert right here. I know, I know, the show’s been over for more than a decade, with countless reruns and pop culture references floating around the internet since then, but I exist in a culture that is hyper opposed to anything even resembling a spoiler and the last thing I want to do is ruin the show for some noob seeing Ms. Summers in all her glory for the first time. So, consider yourself warned. The rest of this post will have information about specific plot lines and episodes.

The first two seasons are important mostly to establish two long time cast members that I haven’t mentioned yet. From the very beginning, we are introduced to the vampires, Angelus or Angel and Spike. Sure, there are other characters who come back from time to time, but, really, Angel and Spike are central to the show. Hell, Angel got his own show, which I will discuss in glorious detail (or endless tedium, depending on your view point) at another time. Spike (James Marsters of Smallville and Hawaii 5-O) is easy to describe; he’s the Jonny Rotten of vampires, played as a punk Brit to his core, with very little character development beyond that, until much later in the show. Angel (David Boreanaz of Bones and SEAL Team)is a bit more complex, in that he has a duel personality. He’s the vampire with a soul. What that means is that he was originally like every other vampire on the show; cruel, violent and with an undying hunger for blood. Then, at some point, he gets cursed with a soul, and magically becomes kind and remorseful. Throughout BtVS, this device is used like an on/off switch so sometimes he’s is Buffy’s worst enemy and other times, he is her true love. Oh, yeah, did I forget to mention they’re in love? They play the starcrossed lovers trope to the hilt, which would have probably gotten real old, so I’m thankful Angel left when he got his own show.

Season 3 introduces Faith (Eliza Dushku of True Lies and Dollhouse), another vampire slayer, and Wesley (Alexis Denisof of Angel and How I Met Your Mother), her Watcher. Wesley is pretty much a one note character in BtVS, but he undergoes crazy development in the spin off Angel, to, ultimately, become one of my favorite television characters of all time. Seriously, you kinda have to watch all the other seasons of Angel to get the story, but season 5 of Angel is a fucking masterpiece in my opinion. But back to Buffy’s show. Faith is the bad girl slayer. Sexy, tough, rough around the edges; she wreaks havoc on the show in season 3. Wait, had I mentioned earlier that there could be only one slayer at a time? Yeah, the break that “rule” constantly during this show. Faith eventually does jail time on the show, resulting in Dushku getting mountains of creepy fan mail from prison inmates.

Season 4 is kind of flat. There are definitely high points, like Hush, but, on the whole, the season feels like a jumbled mix of ideas and storylines. It’s still good, it doesn’t backslide to season 1 levels, but the arc it follows seems less cohesive than season 3. There is a lot of transition in the season and most of it feels like it’s setting up season 5. Spike starts becoming one of the good guys, Willow starts becoming a gay witch, Buffy gets a new bae, as well as a sister. No, her mom doesn’t have another baby, Buffy’s teenage sister, Dawn, appears. I don’t know why, but I never got to like Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg of Eurotrip and Gossip Girl), but I never did. Maybe it was because of her abrupt introduction, with little explanation. Maybe it was because they wrote her as the bratty, younger sister. I couldn’t tell you, but, to me, her character never really seemed to work well.

Season 5 really outdoes itself. The Slayer ups her game by facing off against an evil, gender-shifting goddess. She kicks Dracula’s ass. We are introduced to the Nerd Trio (if there’s an actual nickname for these guys, I don’t know about it) and the Buffy Bot. And we get episodes like The Body. In the episode before The Body, I Was Made to Love You, the show ends with Buffy walking into her house to find her mother, dead, on the couch. The camera freezes on the scene and the episode ends. The Body picks up at that exact same shot. There is no intro, no theme music, it just starts with Joyce Summers, the maternal unit that we’ve grown accustomed to on the show, now a motionless corpse. I had mentioned the emotional swings on this show and there has been death and loss in other episodes, but this one is like a punch to the gut. It is stark and tedious and sad. I believe there’s actually one vampire fight, but, for the most part, this episode is an exercise in grief. I never thought that the cast, as much as I love them, were great actors, but they do a stellar job in this episode.

Season 6 builds on the grief of season 5 and then ramps it up to 11 and breaks the knob off. The season starts off with Buffy dead and the Scoobies bring her back to life. Unfortunately, she had happened to be in heaven, so now, every day, normal life is hell to her and she spends most of the season in a self-destructive depression. Talk about giving the audience something relatable! This season is pretty rapey, too. Spike tries to rape Buffy, which was a brutal and unsettling episode. The Trio loom large this season and whether they’re making devices to mind-control women or sex-bots that look like Buffy, these guys turn the creep factor WAY up. Willow gets addicted to magic, like junkie on the streets addicted. The writers build up the romance between her and Tara, just to have Tara murdered right before her eyes. She goes off the deep end and becomes the Big Bad for the season finale. Evil Willow is pretty awesome, particularly when she rips some guy’s skin off and sends him to hell. Good times.

I consider season 7 to be the last season of Buffy, even though this isn’t exactly true. Technically, seasons 8, 9 and 10 were put out in comic book form and while these were pretty good, they’re just not the same. 7 isn’t a bad season, but it takes a little while to get going. Buff and the Scoobs gets their asses handed to them for most of it. Xander gets his eye gouged out by the always great, Nathan Fillion, playing an evil, supernaturally strong priest, Caleb. I know a writer needs to bring the protagonist down before the inevitable turning of the proverbial tables, but for a good chunk of season 7 it’s just one loss after another and that gets a little old after a while. The turn around is pretty good though, and I felt like it was a worthy ending for the show.

Speaking of writers, I’ve always put forth BtVS being a Joss Whedon creation, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Marti Noxon and David Greenwalt. I’m sure there were a host of great writers for this show, but Noxon and Greenwalt are the one’s I remember. Noxon joined the BtVS writing staff during season 2 and wrote or co-wrote 22 episodes. She was promoted to co-producer in season 4. In addition to her work on Buffy, she has also worked on Angel, Grey’s Anatomy, Mad Men, Glee and Sharp Objects. Greenwalt, in addition to his work on Buffy, wrote for Angel and Grimm, which is near and dear to my heart because it’s set in Portland, OR. I think I’ve dedicated enough ink to BtVS, but I’m glad I got to write about something I loved. And, maybe, just enough time has passed to rewatch the show and fall in love all over again. Happy viewing!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Part 1

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I’m reluctant to even write this post. Buffy looms so large in the history of television, particularly for the sci-fi, fantasy nerd set which is me, that I feel inadequate to do it justice. Even so, it’s been such a love of mine, and the metric by which I judge so many other shows, that I feel compelled to try and pray my humble words are worthy. If you’ve been living under a rock, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BtVS) is a Joss Whedon creation, based on the movie of the same name, and claimed by some to be the greatest television show ever. The movie was so abysmally disappointing that I didn’t even watch the television show until season three, and even then, grudgingly. Soon after, Tuesday nights became Buffy nights and few things would keep me away from my TV at the appointed hour. I don’t usually get emotionally attached to television shows, or, hell, most people for that matter, but I’m unashamed to say that I did with this one. It had a worthy ending, but I was sad to see it go and miss it to this very day.

The show was so fresh and stood out in a sea of TV banality. It was the origin of so many terms that I use, such as “Big Bad” and “Scoobies” and, as I will talk about ad nauseum, gave birth to many, many imitators. Like many works of art, I can’t quite pinpoint what, exactly, made the show so amazing. I can only guess that the combination of Whedon’s vision and the cast’s chemistry and the crazy number of talented people that worked with them created some magic television alchemy that countless others have tried to repeat.

I probably don’t need to tell anyone what BtVS is about, but for completeness sake, and to stay with the form of the blog, here it goes. The show follows the titular character, Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Geller of Ringer and Scooby-Doo), who happens to be imbued with special powers to fight evil, also known as a Vampire Slayer. They have existed since prehistoric times, are always women and only one exists at a time, another being chosen when one dies. The Slayer has heightened strength and agility and instinctive fighting skills. The Slayer is assisted in her duties by a group of individuals known as Watchers, who act as repositories of knowledge of the creatures she finds herself fighting against. They also serve as the straight man to the flippant, high school girl that is Buffy. In this case, that man is Rupert Giles ( Anthony Stewart Head of Merlin, Dominion and The Stranger), who is specifically responsible for the support and training of Buffy. Also helping her fight against evil are her friends, or scoobies, as they came to be called, Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan of How I Met Your Mother and American Pie), Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendon of Criminal Minds and Coherence), Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter of Angel and Charmed) and Daniel “Oz” Osbourne (Seth Green of Austin Powers and That 70’s Show). They all exist in the fictional, idyllic, California town of Sunnydale.

The show followed the Monster of the Week format, with larger story arcs layered over that, some spanning multiple seasons. True to her name, vampires were Buffy’s primary enemies, but over 7 seasons, she fought mummies, demons, cyborgs and even a god or two. The tone of the show skillfully mixed a gothy angst feeling with humor and witty banter. It is this back and forth play of emotions that sinks those barbs of pathos deep into your heart strings and gets you right in the feels. The victories make you want to cheer, but they are companions to devastating losses. Relationships loom large in BtVS and you can be sure that any happy couples are going to, at some point, become painfully heartbroken. It’s not uncommon for an episode to have you laughing in one scene and have you close to tears in another.

Even with this this level of emotionality injected into a well written, supernatural action drama, the show trailblazed in so many other ways. In season 4, the episode, Hush, gained recognition for having only 17 minutes of dialog in its entire 44 minute run time. Whedon had heard a claim that the only reason the show was as sucessful as it was was because of the back and forth banter between the characters. He took this as a challenge and wrote an episode in which the Big Bad were a group of creatures known as The Gentlemen that steal everyone’s voices. In season 6, Whedon wrote a musical episode called, Once More With Feeling. In this episode, a demon arrives in Sunnydale and compels everyone to break into song at random moments. With a run time of 50 minutes, roughly 8 minutes more than a standard episode, the cast sings a variety of song that were collected into a soundtrack with over 20 separate tracks. Called the “greatest television soundtrack of all time” it rose to 49 in the US Billboard 200. Once More with Feeling is still considered one of the most popular episodes of the entire series and has been shown in theaters to sing-a-long audiences.

There’s a lot to talk about, when talking about this show. In addition to the soundtrack I mentioned above, there have been several books, a role-playing game, video games, a collectible card game and a few podcasts dedicated to BtVS. After the television show ended, Buffy’s stories lived on as a comic book, writers churning out three more seasons. There’s been one spin-off, Angel, two others proposed, but never developed (Buffy: The Animated Series and Ripper), and a potential re-boot (but don’t call it a re-boot) currently in the works. Even this might not be surprising for a popular television show, but if we want to fully comprehend the cultural significance of BtVS, we need only to look at academia. Since 2001, there has been a quarterly publication called Slayage: The Online Journal of Buffy Studies. There are multiple colleges that offer classes based off of BtVS, touching on topics from media to gender studies. Meet-Up groups, Buffy focused conventions and other references to the show continue to this day. Buffy remains a force to be reckoned with and there is more to be said, but I’m going to wait for another day. I knew this subject would be too much for one post, so I’ll continue this next week. Until then, stay 5 by 5.