Entry for September 27, 2007: SFTV roundup

In addition to hosting Dexter V.H. and meeting Jacqui M.D. during the past week, I've been busy watching the season premieres of various genre television shows.

The BBC's revived Doctor Who (also on the SciFi Channel and PBS; pictured above) is winding down, but David I.S., Janice, and I have felt that the third season (or series, as they say in the U.K.) has been very good, balancing horror and suspense with a sense of wonder and allegorical social commentary.

I like Freema Agyeman as the Time Lord's latest companion Dr. Martha Jones, and the most recent episodes have been suspenseful, as more classic foes have returned. Although spin-off Torchwood hasn't yet transcended its roots in Doctor Who (or The X-Files, for that matter), I've been enjoying it on BBC America.

The other Friday night program that I recommend to all fantasy fans is Nickelodeon's Avatar: the Last Airbender, which just started its third season. This animated series continues to challenge its young heroes as they try to master the elements in adventures loosely inspired by Chinese mythology. I took a quiz to see which character I most resemble. Stargate: Atlantis returns with a cast shakeup this Friday.

On Saturday mornings, Kids WB's Legion of Superheroes has also toughened its young metahumans by introducing DC Comics villain Imperiex, although I'm less certain about the inclusion of Superman (legal difficulties prevent it from using "Superboy") and a clone. Speaking of young heroes, we'll see how faithful the next takes on Spider-Man and Wolverine and the X-Men are in spirit to Marvel Comics' source material.

The Batman has steadily improved, with the quirky redesigns of various villains gradually giving way to better stories after the introduction of sidekicks Batgirl and Robin. This season is off to a strong start with a cameo by Superman (and his supporting cast voiced by the same people who were in the Dini/Timm animated series) and will feature another version of the Justice League (for whom a live-action movie is in the works).

In slightly more mainstream fare, NBC's Chuck on Monday nights was reasonably amusing, although the stereotyping of "geeks" or "nerds" is annoying, especially when those they show are both more physically attractive and less intelligent than those I know in real life. USA Network's Burn Notice similarly spoofs spy shows, but with a bit more subtlety, no doubt due to a slightly smaller budget.

The second season premiere of Heroes was a bit scattershot as existing and new metahumans were shown in multiple parallel storylines. I hope the sophomore show can avoid over-reliance on melodrama. Still, my favorite character remains time traveler Hiro Nakamura, played by Masi Oka. There have been several connections to the Star Trek franchise, including cameos by George Takei, the announcement of Zachary Quinto as Spock in J.J. Abrams' cinematic revival, and upcoming visits by Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura in the original 1960s series.

Speaking of time travel, Journeyman more closely resembles Quantum Leap than Doctor Who, Heroes, or Trek, but feels more like an adult drama. In the series premiere, Kevin McKidd was ruggedly believable (as he was in HBO's Rome) as a journalist who struggles with his new power and tries to convince family and co-workers that he isn't insane, even as he tries to solve the mystery of why he's jaunting through time and how that's connected to his supposedly dead ex-girlfriend.

While I haven't been able to watch much of the SciFi Channel's Eureka (which would be at home at sister network USA next to Psych and Monk), Reaper was one of the better comedies I've seen so far this autumn. The premiere was directed by Kevin Smith, and indeed, the use of slackers dealing with the devil is reminiscent of his hilarious film Dogma. Yes, more stereotypes are used here, but there was a greater self-awareness and quicker timing than on other shows.

On Tuesday nights, I'm usually running my D&D3.5 "Vanished Lands: the Broken Chains" Arabian fantasy game. The six role-players and I skipped this week because we played in Dexter V.H.'s fun D20 Star Wars: Saga Edition one-shot. Next week, the group may have yet another prospective member, Sara.

On Wednesday nights, I had caught Kelsey Grammer's Back to You and Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, but last night's premiere of The Bionic Woman was OK. The lead actors are veterans of other genre shows — Witchblade: the Series, Robocop, and most importantly, the revisionist Battlestar Galactica (which won't return until next year).

The setup was fairly standard for the empowered female protagonist now familiar to watchers of Xena: Warrior Princess, Buffy: the Vampire Slayer, Dark Angel, and a host of other shows. The somber tone, similar to Galactica thanks to shared producers, may turn off viewers otherwise attracted to Bionic Woman's premise, cast, or action scenes, which were better than in the original Lindsay Wagner series.

I'll be recording the latest premiere of Smallville, which will introduce Supergirl while continuing to eliminate older characters. On Thursdays, I've been playing City of Heroes online or running the D&D3.5 "Vanished Lands: Holy Steel" teleconferencing team anyway. Tonight, I'll again be meeting Jacqui and other co-workers for dinner, probably at "Not Your Average Joe's" in Needham, Massachusetts. This coming weekend, my town will have street fair.

On the one hand, like The Batman, I've approved of the gradual shift toward the comic book continuity fans know and love, but on the other, the show's overuse of the "Kryptonite monster of the week" and soap opera aspects have annoyed me. Let's hope that Smallville's own cameos of Justice League members will continue to help it. There are more shows yet to debut, including supernaturally-themed Midnight and New Amsterdam.

Speaking of guest appearances, I've written a retrospective on Star Trek: the Next Generation for co-worker Ken G. at Showbits.net. It's hard to believe that it has been 20 years since I met Janice and other friends such as Dexter, not to mention the premiere of the influential space opera! Feel free to post comments there or at this blog.