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

[Editor’s Note: While I love writing about television and movies, this website is mainly to call attention to my art. If you enjoy reading anything I write, please consider visiting my Red Bubble store, where prints of my art are sold. Thank you. ]

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.

Stumptown

This is not what I thought I’d be writing about. So much of what I write, or draw or paint for that matter, is driven by what has “sparked my joy” in the moment. With my last post about the TV show, Reaper, I was all excited to write about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but with just having watched the season finale of Stumptown, a show I’ve been enjoying way more than I expected, I’ve decided that it will be my topic for today. Stumptown, by the way, is a crime drama on ABC based on a comic book created by Oregon writer, Greg Rucka. Obviously, that is where my interest began.

Given my interest in comic books, I’ve been aware of Rucka for some time. He’s written for several titles, such as Batman and The Punisher, in addition to putting out a few mystery novels. A number of years ago, I saw him talk at the Jack London Lounge. It’s a jazz club now, but back then it was an eclectic space, hosting everything from bands to lectures to monthly comic book events. I was at one of these events on a night Rucka was there talking about his (at that time) new title, Lazarus. It’s a great comic, but that’s not the point. He was so excited to talk about this title, he displayed such passion about his work, I’ve been a fan ever since. He started writing Stumptown in 2009, the title being a reference to a nickname of Portland, OR, where the story is set. The homage to this fine city certainly boosted my estimation of the comic. You might think my appreciation for Stumptown, the comic, would color my opinion of the TV show in a favorable light, but, on the contrary, it made me more critical of it.

Which is why I am surprised at how much I like it. Cobie Smulders is perfect as the main character, Dex Parios, a Marine back from Afghanistan, turned private investigator. I remember enjoying her range as she shifted from comedy (How I Met Your Mother) to action (The Avengers), but she works surprisingly well as the abrasive, hard drinking Dex. She lives with her younger brother, Ansel (Cole Sibus, the Spare Room being his only other acting credit), who has Downs Syndrome and works at the bar, The Bad Alibi. This bar is owned by Dex’s best friend, Grey McConnell (Jake Johnson of New Girl and Get Him to the Greek), an ex-con trying to go straight. Occasionally assisting Dex in her investigations is Detective Miles Hoffman (Michael Ealy of Barbershop and Almost Human) of the Portland PD and his boss, Lieutenant Cosgrove (Camryn Manheim of The Magicians and Person of Interest). Then there’s Tookie (Adrian Martinez of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Focus), Portland food truck owner whose purpose of the show is something of a mystery to me, but he is amusing as the passionate chef.

The show is fun, which, now that I’m writing a (near) weekly blog about television shows, I’m realizing is a major factor in whether I like a show or not. I find the mysteries that Dex is tasked with to be well written, the winding path to her solving them to be exciting joyrides. The cast has great chemistry with each other and there is a fair amount of character development, even in just the first season. I like the show’s use of music and the running gag of Dex’s car stereo playing random songs at random times, that can’t be turned off, is effective and, thankfully, not overused. There’s a nice combination of mystery of the week and longer story arcs. As comic book turned TV show, it’s not the usual fare. I’m not saying that this is the best TV show I’ve ever seen, but I do like it, more than I thought I would. I’m really hoping for a season 2, but, as of this writing, I’ve heard no news about whether it’s been renewed or not.

My biggest complaint is that, as Portland-centric as the comic was, and the show claims to be, it’s clearly not filmed in Portland, and it shows. It’s filmed in Los Angeles, which is about as far from Portland as you can get, setting-wise. I have a real connection to place and, even though I wasn’t born in Portland, I immediately fell in love with it. There is no easier way for me to be interested in a show than to set it in Portland. Shows like Leverage, Grimm and the Librarians used Portland like a cast member and I would tune in just to see shots of my adopted hometown. One episode of Grimm was filmed at a house across the street from where I was living and it was a blast to watch. Stumptown will have the occasional shot where a Portland landmark can be seen, but for a show that’s named after the freakin’ city, I want more. Heck, even when Leverage was supposed to be set in Boston, they showed more of Portland than Stumptown does.

But, really, that’s my only complaint about the show. I’m sad to see it end, but I have high hopes that it will come back for another season. Not that I’ll be surprised, particularly after writing about the all-too-short run of Reaper last week. Whiskey Cavalier, Pushing Up Daisies and, while we’re on the subject, we have to mention Firefly, which has become the patron saint for shows that ended too soon. So be it. It’s not like there’s any shortage of programming, especially when everyone and their uncle is coming out with a new streaming service every other week. Still, when it comes to Stumptown, I’ve got my fingers crossed for another helping of Dex and friends.

Manifest – In Defense of Bad Television

Manifest is NOT a good show. In fact, it’s downright bad. Which is what makes it the epitome a guilty pleasure. For those not in the know, Manifest is an NBC supernatural drama, now in its second season and, in my opinion, has its place along with the other religious-centric shows that I’ve been writing about. But as guilty as these pleasures are they are still pleasures, and even more than that, they are perfect for my art purposes. As I said weeks ago, while some people listen to music or podcasts, I watch videos while I do art, and I can’t do that if they’re too good. I’ve tried doing art to the shows Dark, Mindhunter, The Wire and the like, and it’s simply impossible. Either I get too caught up in these shows and don’t get any art done or I can’t follow the show, because I’m too focused on doing art. I’ve learned to choose my shows carefully and I’ve become quite good at figuring out which shows will work or not. Manifest fits this bill to a tee.

If you are unfamiliar with the show, Manifest follows the passengers of Flight 828, a flight that disappears on its return flight from Jamaica and reappears 5 years later. To the passengers themselves, no time has passed and it’s not until they land that they discover that everyone else has considered them dead. This sets up two parallel storylines. One is the mystery of the flight itself; what happened to it, where were they during that lost time, etc. The second is the effect their return has on everyone they left behind. People who were not on the flight have continued to age normally, marriages dissolved and new relationships formed; five years doesn’t sound like a lot until I think about how different my life was that far back. These are both solid plots, but, of course, they’re not enough for the writers and the show adds one more by giving all the passengers psychic powers.

Not cool ones, like Professor X or Martial Manhunter type psychic powers. No, that would be too useful. These are vague visions that plague the passengers, at times, driving them to suicide, that must be deciphered and agonized over. And this is the primary religious aspect of the show. They start calling these visions “callings”, and, while they seem to make little sense, if they have faith and persevere to follow these callings to wherever they lead, then they will be rewarded. Lives are saved, evils punished, wrongs set right. God or religion is never mentioned, but there is a lot of focus on faith, and the overall tone is so “churchy” that I gotta wonder if they have a religious consultant on staff. The core cast begins to recognize a higher power behind these callings and following the direction of this higher power becomes their mission.

All of this is not why the show is so bad, but it doesn’t help. Although the simplistic nature of the show is so heavy handed, a deft writer and a solid cast could potentially allow the story to rise above these short comings. This is not the case. Central to the show is Ben Stone (Josh Dallas of Once Upon a Time and Zootopia), a mathematics professor, who after returning, commits whole heartedly to his role as holy crusader. Unfortunately, he comes off as such a goody two shoes that it’s hard to root for him in his various quests, his over whelming demeaner being self-righteousness. Equally as bad is his son, Cal Stone (Jack Messina of, well, the only other thing he’s been in is an episode of The Marvelous Ms. Maisel), who seems to be more in tune with these visions, this higher power, than anyone else. Not sure how the show runners envisioned him as, but he comes off as the consummate creepy kid, complete with eye-rolling seizures and portents of death. Rounding out the cast is Michaela Stone (Melissa Roxburgh of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Star Trek Beyond and Legends of Tomorrow), Ben’s sister and a New York police detective, Grace Stone (Athena Karkanis of Suits, Zoo and House of Cards), Ben’s wife who was not on the plane and a few others that I frankly can’t be too concerned over.

None of the characters are likable, all overly dramatic and lacking in any sort of logic in their actions. Compounding this is an outlandish story that includes a shadowy government agency and human testing in a secret laboratory, a hiker who survived being trapped in a cave for a year that has a mysterious connection to flight 828 and a cult of worshipers of the passengers of flight 828 that pops up almost overnight. And, with all this, I still can’t stop watching this show. The mystery surrounding these visions, where they will lead and how they came to be in the first place is just too damn compelling. I don’t know why that is! All my criticism is valid. Hell, if you don’t believe me, just watch a few episodes yourself, and you’ll ask yourself, what the hell does he see in that show, and I honestly couldn’t tell you. Some have called the show the reverse Lost, a previously lost flight returning home and bringing their mystery with them, and they’re not wrong.

And much like Lost, whose mystery made the first season so addictive, Manifest is at risk of being buried under its own questions, if it goes on long enough. Seriously, as much as I love this type of show, unless some of those mysteries are resolved, it’s going to lose its audience. There’s only so far curiosity is going to hold someone. To anyone looking for an hour (or 43 minutes, if I’m being truthful) of mindless TV fun, it’s worth a look, if only to marvel at how cheesy it is. If you’re looking for the next great television show that will stand the test of time, you may want to give this one a pass.

Messiah

For as controversial as I thought this show would be, I have heard surprisingly little about it. Much of what I have heard is a general condemnation based purely on its religious nature. Personally, I loved it. I’m not one to usually binge watch, but I found myself unable to look away. Each episode seemed to end too soon and I needed to know what happens next.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Messiah is one of Netflix’s originals, all 10 episodes dropping on January 1st, 2020. It essentially asks the question, what would happen if the second coming of Christ occurred in our current political climate. Central to the story is Al-Masih (Mehdi Dehbi of Tyrant and London Has Fallen), an enigmatic figure that begins to amass a following in the Middle East and then, somewhat mysteriously, winds up deep in the heart of Texas. Swept up in his path are a wildly disparate group of individuals. First, we meet Jibril (Sayyid El Alami of Zombi Child), a Syrian orphan convinced that Al-Masih is the Messiah. Two government agents, Eva Geller (Michelle Monaghan of True Detective and Boston Public) working for the CIA and Aviram Dahan (Tomer Sisley of We’re the Millers and Eyewitness), who is possibly a Mossad operative, are both convinced that he is a terrorist. Felix Iguero (John Ortiz of Little America and Kong:Skull Island) is a Christian pastor who has lost his faith and has it restored when Al-Masih saves his daughter, Rebecca (Stephania Lavie Owen of The Carrie Diaries and Krampus) from a tornado. He becomes a dedicated follower, as does his daughter, which drags his reluctant wife, Anna (Melinda Page Hamilton of Rectify and How to Get Away with Murder), into the mix.

And the best part about this show is that we just don’t know who is right about Al-Masih. The way his character is written, and fantastically portrayed by Dehbi, is delightfully ambiguous. The best description I’ve heard of this show is political thriller. They sidestep the entire religious aspect and focus on the effect this charismatic figure has on those around him and how he shifts the balance of geopolitics. Dehbi performs with the imperturbable confidence of a man who has the full support of God himself, unnerving those who attempt to question his mission and his faith. He acts and talks as one who has an unshakable belief in carrying out God’s will and the acceptance for whatever that may be. His seeming lack of Earthly agenda throws the lives of both Eva and Aviram into disarray, used to being in control, but now letting self-doubt creep into their minds. The pastor, Felix, is initially swept up Al-Masih’s faith, but must wrestle with his own doubt as he finds that God does indeed work in mysterious ways.

The pace of the show is a bit slower than I normally like, but there was a sustained tension around the mystery surrounding Al-Masih. Is he the second coming of Christ, or is he the Antichrist, or merely some con-man terrorist with his own plan? Tantalizing clues are sprinkled throughout, each one supporting a different conclusion. There is a constant feeling of, “What’s going to happen next?”, to the extent that, if there isn’t a season 2, I’m going to be a little annoyed. That being said, while IMDB is rating Messiah at a 7.6, other critics haven’t been so kind. With the religious baggage such a story line is going to carry with it, I’m not sure Netflix will want the risk of a second season.

But the premise is such a fantasy fulfillment theme that it seems like it would have a guaranteed following. Given the predominance of the Christian faith, the second coming of Christ is a wish fulfillment that cannot be ignored. I know few people who would say that the current state of society is great. I’m not going to make the obvious MAGA reference, but I know few who are happy. And the returning of Christ is the equivalent of daddy making it all right again. Whether one hates gay people or their persecution, whether one champions the separation of races or complete integration, or so many other societal controversies, the return of God satisfies the culmination of all of these conflicts. To have a higher power descend and give a clear indication of what should and shouldn’t be? Holy fuck, how satisfying would that be? Not to everyone obviously, but most of us feel that we are living right with God and that those who oppose us would be wrong, so having an actual emissary of God come down and give us a definitive answer would be a fantasy of almost anyone who believes in a JudeoChristian structure of the universe. The premise of this show is an extension of the revenge genre, except the viewer doesn’t have to accept the role of revenant. I am not the aggrieved one, but I find satisfaction in justice being done.

Given that attractor, the show itself never commits to what is wrong and what is right. Rightly so, as how could anyone who is not an omnipotent God could ever say that. Instead, it examines what that question would do to the cast, in particular, and to society in the broader sense. This is the central mystery. As much as I love shows like Lost that make me question what the island actually was or the Expanse that makes me wonder what the alien molecule is, what bigger mystery is there than, am I actually living my life right? When judgment comes “like a thief in the night”, will I be found lacking? Shit, you don’t get much more suspenseful than that. I mean, I love watching TV, but my existence is going to end sometime and what then? This show is actually ballsy enough to present that question to its viewers, and that ultimate, end-of-the-world shit is what makes this show fascinating for me. As Al-Masih says at the start, “This is the end of history”, and what the fuck is more final than that. This isn’t just for the people in the show, but it speaks to the audience itself. One can’t help but think, while watching this show, with the way I’m living my life right now, if it were all to end right now, how would I be judged? And it’s been a long time since a show has confronted me that directly. And I love it.

The Good Place

I was going to write about Messiah, the Netflix miniseries, but with the phenomenal NBC series, The Good Place, coming to an end, I felt compelled to speak a little about that. I’ve been contemplating exactly what to write about this show, and, honestly, it’s not easy. Mainly because I like this show so forking much. I don’t, in general, like sit-coms. I’ve been watching TV since the 70’s, so I’ve seen the entire run of M.A.S.H., of All in the Family, of Happy Days (yes, I saw them “jump the shark”) and the list goes on and on. Sit-coms have barely changed at all. I’m willing to bet I could find jokes and storylines from The Dick Van Dyke show or Gilligan’s Island that play almost verbatim on Last Man Standing or Modern Family. Don’t believe me? There’s an entire website dedicated to listing all of these worn out, over used tropes. With few exceptions, sit-coms are lowest form of television, their position only recently usurped by the worst of the worst, reality based shows.

I started watching The Good Place on the recommendation of a good friend of mine, who shares my love of television, and even then I was hesitant. But, what the hell, it’s only a 30 minute show. How bad could it be? By the end of that half an hour pilot episode, I was hooked and I’ve been a dedicated fan ever since. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and see it. See it now and let me tell you that the less you know about it, the better. The story follows four individuals that have died and found themselves in “the good place”. Elenor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell of Veronica Mars and Frozen) is a basic girl from Arizona and the first character we are introduced to. Along the way, we meet Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper of Midsommer and the Electric Company), a philosophy professor from Senegal, Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil of Freshly Squeezed and The Misery Index), a British socialite, and Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto of Supernatural and iZombie), a Taiwanese monk who has taken a vow of silence. These four souls are guided in the afterlife by Michael (Ted Danson of Cheers and Becker), an “Architect” of the good place and Janet (D’Arcy Carden of Broad City and Barry), who is sort of a programmed guide to help the humans. Not a Robot!

The cast is great, each one portraying their character with enough strength to express their individuality and not just become part of the group. I’m not going to weep once the show is over (well, maybe just a little), but I’ve really developed an affection for these fictional characters, as only the best shows can inspire one to do (I’m looking at you, Buffy Summers!). The writing is smart, weaving philosophical concepts into the jokes, without being pedantic. It’s heart-warming without being sappy and deep (we’re pondering the freakin’ afterlife here) without being cerebral. While the Christian framework from which the story takes place is thinly veiled, it doesn’t let itself get bogged down in religion. God and the Devil are never mentioned, angels and demons are mostly referred to as Architects, Heaven and Hell as the Good Place and Bad Place respectively. Even purgatory gets included as the Medium Place. One of the reasons I didn’t mind bumping my piece on the show Messiah is because the Good Place fits in with the whole theme of using religion as a major plot device, though they have chosen the path of comedy, rather than drama.

As a visual artist, I have to give a special shout out to whoever did the sets and costumes on The Good Place. They are spectacular, some of them being so over the top that I was distracted from what was actually going on. The show itself was created by Michael Schur, who also did The Office and Parks and Recreation, so the type of comedy is really no surprise. In researching the show to write this piece, I learned that he based a number of the premises and cliffhangers on the show Lost, which came as a total surprise to me. There is nothing I don’t love about this show, including, unfortunately, its all-to-short, four season run. In the wise words of Elenor, “Every human is a little bit sad, all the time, because you know you’re going to die. But that knowledge is what gives life meaning.” While I am sad to see it go, the ending is one of the things that makes this show so special.