Saturday, December 10, 2011

The US Bill of Festive Meh

[Spoiler Warning]

I don't know if some of the executives in charge of the SyFy Channel are British, but the station seems to pride itself on its Christmas specials - episodes with a festive theme. Other US TV shows have Christmas episodes, but some of the more 'popular' SyFy shows have had specials, possibly apocryphal tales, which are standalone. This year's event took place on December 7th - a traditionally extra special 13th day of Christmas. Last year, SyFy delivered a steaming pile of shite. This year wasn't much better.

What was essentially the season finally of Haven proved to be a real low point in the series. It was filmed in July and was essentially about a magic snow globe. It was too simple an idea to screw up, therefore it actually hung together reasonably well. It was pretty dire though in all other departments and it helped make my mind up about one thing I won't be doing in 2012 - watching this ridiculously bad TV show ever again.

Next up was Eureka and billed as the opener for season five which starts in earnest in 2012; it was also a festive romp and sat outside of existing continuity. It was essentially a very similar story to the one in Haven, but had a bigger budget and an array of different kinds of animation. I struggled to like it and thought it was a little too quirky, even for the inhabitants of the quirkiest town in the USA. It did however feature a short teaser for the final season of a show that I think has proved to be too expensive for SyFy to make; Eureka is popular, just not that popular and killing it now saves us a few seasons of dwindling cast members and even crappier special effects.

That was two down and after 2010's Warehouse 13 load of Yuletide droppings, I started watching the 2011 special with as much expectation of a man with rotten teeth visiting the dentist from Marathon Man. I really shouldn't have worried...

The production values of W13 are on a level with Haven. Piss poor CGI is the new wobbly sets and W13 has always been able to counterbalance its small budget with some pretty good stories. Yes, like any US fantasy series, it has its fair share of pooh masquerading as 42 minutes of dramedy, but sometimes it just blows you away with its inventive stories, twisting sub plots and frankly four of the most likeable characters on TV. It also provides at least one laugh out loud (or LOL) moment every week, even in episodes where tragedy is layered on more tragedy. The Christmas special was no exception; it had plenty of bad CGI, a nasty subtext, some clever twists and plenty of LOLZ; it was also a brilliant antidote to the season finale that firmly established W13 as a show that you really can't second guess (for long without having egg on your face).

This year's Chrimble treat was a brilliant re-imagining of It's a Wonderful Life with Pete finding himself in a world where he never existed and a warehouse being run by its biggest enemy. It also felt like an homage to the first ever episode in that Pete has to assemble his old team despite them having no idea who he is and all showing obvious signs that not having him in their lives has drastically altered reality. I was utterly blown away and believe that W13 is now entering a period where it will struggle to better. The last half a dozen episodes have oozed confidence and like any good TV show - never mind the quality, feel the width!

It's also a great standalone episode and could even act as a jumping on point for people who fancy something new. Of course the one thing that makes that suggestion wrong is the state of everything at the end of the season three finale; but this is the Warehouse and if Artie can't turn back time, he'll have another artefact that will be just as effective.

***

Dexter is looming towards its series finale in a season that has reconfirmed my belief that this is the best thing on TV. It's a show that rips your funny bone out of your arm and stabs you with it while you laugh hysterically as you bleed to death - there is so much work going into a show that is both grizzly, full of pathos and berserkly (I know it's not a real world but I can't think of anything similar) funny.

Yes, in many ways it has almost become a parody of itself and sometimes things change in the background so quickly it leaves you feeling slightly cheated. There's never any explanations for the minutiae such as whatever happened to Dex's nanny or how come Angel developed a 20-something sister; there's also the police politics thing and all of these things give the impression that the story has picked up a fair old while since the end of the last season; yet other things seem to be as new as they were in aid previous season - Harrison's age, Deb and Quinn's relationship. Sometimes the mixture of iconoclast and moral ethics can almost be too preachy - this is a man who is a serial killer, yet the series seems intent on humanising rather than dehumanising him - but deep down you just accept this is a very black comedy adventure series where the hero just happens to be worse than the villains.

The superb thing about this series of Dexter is the lack of Dexter kills; all the focus is on his inner demons all having a say in how he lives his life. With two more seasons having been commissioned the chances of anything bad happening to our 'hero' himself is remote; but his loved ones is a different matter. This series has seen Dex facing up to death on several occasions and it's obvious that both threats had profound affects on him - one because of survival and the other because of unexpected death. The extremely clever plot - most people I've talked with about it are miles out with their perception of the series and what it's doing and trying to say - hasn't finished twisting either. I know nothing of the upcoming finale; I've avoided the net and spoilers - not that there are any - and I'm left with the feeling that two regular stars are going to die before the curtain on this season is brought down.

With two to go, the series antagonist - The Doomsday Killer - looks like he's planning on going out with a bang; literally and metaphorically. The police know who he is - but trust me that's only half of it - and it's the usual race between Dex and the cops to kill the bad guy first, except Dex has been so preoccupied with being normal he's not keeping up. Meanwhile, Angel has stumbled into TDK's line of sight; Quinn has gone off the rails so far that it's being set up like they plan a big exit for him; Leguerta has become the uber-bitch from hell and between her and the assistant commissioner things have become intensely illegal and Deborah, the wonderfully foul mouthed adopted sister of Dexter has been propelled into a position she can't possibly cope with and is on the verge of blowing an important gasket. Angel and Quinn are the two who appear to have limited time left on the show, my guess is that Laguerta and Deborah are going to be the two to fall. The newly promoted Captain will take the can for the cover up she's running and I think Dexter's personal tragedy is about to get even worse; I think Debs is going to die a hero. It will be terrible. It will also be, in her own words, fucking brilliant.

American Horror Story has been acceptable US drama. It's been hit or miss for a while, but with the announcement that each series will be about a different haunted house, it suddenly sprang into life. It has a lot of flaws, but generally it has been weirdly entertaining - literally - and I think the living Harman family members have already been shown a way to win this battle, Ben just hasn't realised it yet.

The tenth episode, arguably the best, wasn't so much creepy as unnerving; we both guessed what was happening, but it made it no less shocking, especially what make up did with Violet. The house surely must be destined to burn...

***

In Georgia, the first half of the tortoise paced second season of The Walking Dead or Egg of the Dead, came to a shocking, but pretty much expected conclusion. I am more than aware that this is a series focused more of the dystopia of the surviving humans rather than the 'zombie' side, but it doesn't have to have the pace of the dead and it really needs a likeable character - with the exception of Dale, none of these bastards is at all nice and sometimes it can get a little too much.

***

Meanwhile back in Blighty, Misfits just continues to astound. Howard Overman is a genius. Nuff said.

***

This year's Dr Who Christmas special is bound to be fuelled by hype and fail to live up to expectations. What I'd like to see from one of these throwaway pieces of frivolity is a story that is good and not necessarily about bloody Christmas.

I was talking Who with a mate the other day and I said it would be nice if they broke one of the golden rules and have the Doctor meet one of his future selves. It doesn't have to be carved in stone, because of the wibbly properties of time, but it could help develop the story. Move it forward, say?

***

We should all remind someone younger than ourselves over the next few weeks that TV was once had limited choice and yet Christmas was a time you simply didn't miss TV. Now, you can and not even notice.

1 comment:

  1. I no longer watch TV.

    In my opinion a television is a lightbulb with pretensions.

    ReplyDelete