Autumn 2011 genre TV, Part 1

Campfire by Matt Rhodes
Campfire tales

Now that we’re a few weeks into the new television season, here’s my look at the latest crop of genre programs. As a disclaimer, note that I tend to watch science fiction, fantasy, superheroes, and suspense over mainstream dramas, reality shows, and situation comedies. That’s not to say that I don’t like humor, romance, or competitions, but I prefer them in smaller doses compared with speculative fiction.

Many of my friends have stopped watching multiple series as they’re broadcast, instead preferring to watch a full season at a time via Netflix. For now, I still like variety and timeliness more than delving in depth into one show at a time, but I do think that video on demand will become more prevalent. I hope that niche shows like the ones I enjoy will continue to be made, even if genre TV shows already have a high cancellation rate.

This year, I’ll group shows by night of the week rather than subgenre. As always, I welcome your reactions and recommendations!

On Sunday nights, I’ve been running my “Vanished Lands” fantasy campaign, using Pathfinder, Skype, and an online dice roller. The eight role-players across the U.S. have had difficulty achieving quorum lately, but I hope that our gaming group will eventually get back to a regular schedule.

This past summer, I enjoyed the do-gooder capers on TNT’s Leverage and the British sleuths on Masterpiece: Mystery, and I look forward to the eventual return of Sherlock on PBS/BBC America. While many of my peers will be watching football or Fox’s animated comedies, I’ll probably record ABC’s Once Upon a Time, which is part of a wave of modern supernatural shows inspired by fairy tales.

Showtime’s Homeland is a strong Manchurian Candidate-style thriller with a strong cast, including Damian Lewis, Claire Danes, Mandy Patinkin, and Morena Baccarin. I’m not sure I’ll continue watching Homeland, but it does a good job of keeping viewers guessing whether Lewis’ returning prisoner of war has been turned traitor or if Danes’ intelligence analyst is merely paranoid.

On Mondays, I’m hosting and running the “Vortex” homebrew space opera, using FATE 3e Starblazer Adventures and Bulldogs (as well as any science fiction RPG I can borrow ideas from). Two teams of about six role-players each meet for our face-to-face sessions on alternating weeks, not including dates we’ve had to skip for holidays or travel.

SyFy’s Alphas has managed to succeed where Heroes, The Cape, and No Ordinary Family stumbled — showing a dysfunctional family of metahuman vigilantes in a semi-realistic setting. It has more in common with the better X-Men adaptations than with the more campy The Cape or even Smallville. Although Alphas is low-budget and low-key, I look forward to its return next year.

Speaking of SyFy, Warehouse 13 (which is apparently in the same universe as Eureka and Alphas, thanks to Lindsay Wagner’s crossovers) was still fun, even as it spent more time exploring characters and intrigue than MacGuffins.

Other genre veterans can be found on Castle, which mixes police procedural, fanboy homages and parodies, and the occasional romance. Firefly/Serenity‘s Nathan Fillion and The Spirit‘s Stana Katic solve often bizarre crimes in New York City.

J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg got a lot of attention for Terra Nova, their postapocalyptic family drama with computer-generated dinosaurs. However, I found the first few episodes to be predictable and contrived, owing as much to Earth 2 as to James Cameron’s Avatar. I’d prefer less focus on annoying teenagers and random encounters with dinosaurs and more gradual buildup of time-travel mysteries and the larger world.

Coming soon: Tuesdays on the telly and more travel!

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2 thoughts on “Autumn 2011 genre TV, Part 1

  1. yep — a lot of what I watch shifted to ex-Quikster :-)
    Since I’m not watching too many things real-time, am I somehow hurting a show’s ratings…?

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  2. Dave, there has been a fair amount of discussion online about Nielsen ratings and services such as Netflix. Since the current TV ratings system extrapolates the U.S. public’s viewing habits from a relatively small sample — and it now supposedly includes streaming video — many TV fans feel that the market data isn’t reliable.

    However, networks do base their decisions largely on these ratings, and DVD sets may come out well after a promising genre show is canceled, too late to keep it on the air. For popular shows, such as Game of Thrones, I don’t think you need to worry, but for shows “on the bubble,” letter-writing campaigns, social media posts, and encouraging friends to watch them live might be helpful.

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