Friday, January 29, 2010

Colouring the Void

Engage Nerd Mode:

Lost is back. I got really quite excited about it. After the completely bonkers season 5 (the series that saw 3 million viewers jump ship, when they really probably shouldn't have), I, like many others, had theories, but no real idea of where the new and final series would go.

I sat in the pub the other night and tried to tell my mate about it without giving anything away and came to the conclusion that I really couldn't say much at all without either confusing the issue more or giving away what is essentially... you see I can't even say that without giving it away!

I opted for the sentence, "Farraday's experiment worked, but don't let that simple fact make you think you can work it out - you won't." I would, however, recommend that people try and watch Lost S06E00, which is the 5 series recap, made by the production team as opposed to the network. It clarified points that I'd overlooked or forgotten about.

One thing I will say about the return of this bewildering series - something gets explained, something that many people will think wouldn't be revealed right until the end...

Moving on...

As much as I love Lost and have been caught up in a lot of the hype and the discussion, there are actually two other US TV series that I'm actually enjoying a damned sight more. One of which I'm almost embarrassed to admit.

The Vampire Diaries looks like it should be a load of smouldering diarrhoea; it's produced, written and probably catered by Kevin Williamson, he of Table for Five and Scream fame and it initially feels like Smallville with vampires. In fact, at the 40 minute mark in the third episode I was ready to give up completely on this. Then, in the final couple of minutes of that episode, it went a bit Buffy and suddenly it's this quite brilliant TV show. There are the obvious comparisons to Twilight, but this pisses all over that franchise - big time. There's a great mix of characters, especially the lead vamps - Damon and Stefan; one is all conscience, while the other is all bad. The girls in the series are all suitable fit and typically high school types (albeit all of them are in their 20s) and there have been a number of very interesting little sub plots develop that you just wouldn't have expected on first viewing. This programme has an incredible amount of depth and should be persevered with.

But, probably the favourite show in the Hall house at the moment is Fringe.

This JJ Abrams concept first appeared last year and was heralded as an X Files for the Noughties, which is essentially how it started. A team of FBI agents, with a couple of 'consultants' try to work out why some weird and wonderful things have happened and investigate this new phenomena called 'fringe science' - or trying to make the impossible possible.

The thing is, like Vampire Diaries, I was ready to give up on this show, but that was after 16 episodes of a 23-part run. It started very promisingly, but soon descended into a plot that seemed to be going nowhere fast and brought out all the worst sides of the lead character, Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv). Her two main cohorts - Peter and Walter Bishop were polar opposites; Peter the son of the latter, was depicted as this potential genius who has spent best part of his adult life involved in some dodgy dealings - he is quite dislikeable. Whereas his father, Walter, is the single greatest TV character of the last ten years - this guy pisses all over Tony Soprano or any other iconic character of recent years. Walter Bishop is barking mad, is very probably partially responsible for all of the weird shit happening and comes across as a Shakespearean mad professor. He was the only really good thing about the series when it started and now that it has become must see TV, he's still the best character in it, but he's developed so much.

It all started very X Files, a mystery of the week, with mystery people in the background; the hint of alien conspiracies and the ominous feeling of terrorism from beyond the normal; but the scene-setting was very heavy handed, some of the supporting characters were weak and it just didn't offer enough intrigue to keep you watching. Then it was like someone high up at Fox said the the production team - 'Jazz this fucker up or it gets canned!' So after wandering about seemingly aimlessly for 12 episodes, everything moved up a gear; the dull and irritating subplots from the first story arc were quickly dispensed with, almost clinically. Less emphasis was placed on Peter Bishop's dodgy dealings, while more was placed on him actually being a nice guy, with usefully dodgy friends. Olivia was allowed to take the spindle from her butt and Lance Reddick; the boss, was given some new dimensions and unusually, unlike Mitch Pelegi's character in X Files, is always 100% behind his team, no matter how crazy the situation seemed.

In some circles it's called jumping the shark and it rarely works, but what Fringe did was not just jump the shark, it raped it, killed it and then ate its corpse. As season one was reaching its climax, they did something almost never done in the history of US TV drama - they told you what the plot was; they revealed the entire raison d'etre for the series and they set it up not so much as a whodunnit but as a preparation for the coming storm.

Walter Bishop and his partner William Bell (played by Leonard Nimoy) were the leading lights in Fringe Science back in the 70s and 80s and they not only discovered there were other parallel worlds, they found out how to travel between them. The two main realities - ours and the one that Bell currently lives in - are essentially now at war. The world on Bell's side didn't suffer the same September 11 disasters, because it appears to be technologically far more advanced than our world; but it also appears to be considerably more hostile, aggressive and unfriendly. Now they have discovered that our world exists, they want to infiltrate it and eventually conquer it. But, with all that out in the open, where can the series possibly go for its mystery elements? Well, it isn't as simple as just walking through a doorway; only certain people can do it without serious side effects and because the barrier is incredibly unstable, neither side knows for sure what atrocities might happen where the worlds collide. All we know is that they're coming and we don't know when.

There's a stack of bubbling subplots involving Peter's true origin; the bald watchers; the strange symbols and Olivia's own dark and secretive past. Plus, there's a couple of unexpected deaths; that you really didn't see coming. Fringe is totally insane - it has a Fresian cow in it; Walter takes more drugs than I could imagine and Anna Torv is damned sexy, yet made out to be quite a plain Jane - but you have to watch it to realise just how mad it is. It's an ace series that reminds me in many ways of Babylon 5; another series that started poorly and became something so much better.

While the above two just get better and better, Heroes is crashing and burning without any fear of redemption. I am so disappointed by this series because it could have been so good and I think it would have been very good had it had a decent comicbook writer at the helm or even just as technical consultant. As it reaches its climax, I'm praying there isn't some kind of massive Facebook rebellion that convinces SyFy to give it another series. It has to be the most inconsistently written series on US TV (apart from Smallville).

Let's not forget us crazy Brits; there are two series on at the moment that shows in completely different ways why some US drama is unmatchable, but some UK produced shows will never be equalled over there either.

Skins is back and is as dark as Newgate's Knocker. It's too early to tell if it's going to be another classic, but the impression I have from the first two episodes is that realism has taken hold big time in Skins World. On the surface what seemed like a new, lighter, bunch of replacement college kids has changed into something that suggests that our younger generations will be considerably more feral than we'd like them to be. Enjoyably harrowing!

Being Human reminds me of a bad sitcom and I think that's the tone which the producers and writer are aiming at. If this was a US show it would be set in a fuck off fantastic penthouse suite and the werewolf and the vampire wouldn't be lowly hospital porters and that's why Being Human works; because however fantastical the characters are they're sort of believable, and they live in the real world, a place we know is full of real monsters - so it's no surprises that our 3 heroes are far more likable than most of the humans in this series.

Apparently, Being Human is a mega successful show for the BBC and especially for BBC3. Let's just hope it keeps it's head!

That's it. I have nothing left until next time.

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