Sleuths and con artists abound in 2012 TV

This past year was a busy one for genre television. I had meant to post my first impressions of the new fall season, but I struggled with how to organize it: short lists, or detailed analyses? By subgenre, night of the week, or network? At least a few additional months have given me perspective on the shows I like most and least.

Janice and I tend not to watch a lot of reality shows, situation comedies, crime dramas, or serialized soap operas, so you’ll have to look elsewhere for reviews of those types of shows. In live-action TV, we do watch some procedurals, with Masterpiece: Mystery and the second season of the modernized BBC/PBS Sherlock as favorites.

Matt Smith and Benedict Cumberbatch
Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes

The competing Elementary is decent, if not quite as brilliant as its British forebears. Castle has managed to balance humor and drama, as has White Collar, even though both have occasionally veered too far into gruesome melodrama on the one hand or silly romance on the other. At the same time, I look forward to the goofy shout-outs to the 1980s and ’90s in Psych.

I’d put do-gooder capers such as the original Mission Impossible in a closely related category. This includes the recently canceled Leverage (whose tabletop role-playing game is the best implementation of the Cortex system) and Hu$tle. I haven’t been following popular detective shows such as Bones and the remake of Hawaii Five-O.

In the related genre of supernatural crime fighters, I thought that the canceled Awake was decent. I prefer Grimm, which has inherited some of Buffy: the Vampire Slayer and Angel‘s writers and style, to the fairy tale soap Once Upon a Time.

Fringe is in a league of its own, with the mind-bending perspectives of Farscape and the procedural style of The X-Files. I’ll miss Fringe, which is at least going out strong. I haven’t been following Supernatural.

On the slightly more realistic side, thrillers such as Homeland, Person of Interest, and Last Resort have been pretty good, but I dropped Nikita, which of course outlasted much of its competition. What have you been watching?

Coming soon: More SFTV, animation nation returns, and books and games!

Fantasy and mystery TV, summer 2011

Mysterious wallpaper

I hope that those of you in the U.S. had a good Independence Day weekend. Among other things, Janice and I attended the holiday and 300th anniversary celebrations in Needham, Massachusetts, including the fireworks display, parade, and fair. Fortunately, we managed to avoid the thundershowers that had been forecast.

Just over a week ago, Janice and I caught up on some recorded videos, including Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Macbeth, and some animation (which I’ll review later). Each was good in its own way.

Disney’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice, starring Nicholas Cage and Alfred Molina, is loosely based on the classic animated short in Fantasia. While not quite as gonzo as National Treasure or as franchise-igniting as Pirates of the Caribbean, this movie is decent young-adult fantasy entertainment in the style of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, with a dash of modern wizards Harry Potter and Harry Dresden.

Jay Baruchel is appropriately nerdy as a physicist who stumbles into a long duel between Cage and Molina’s spellcasters. They are former students of Merlin alienated over the affections of a third student, played by the attractive Monica Bellucci. Star Trek: First Contact‘s Borg queen, Alice Krige, is Morgana le Fay, and Teresa Palmer, who was almost Talia al-Ghul in George Miller’s aborted Justice League: Mortal, plays Beruchel’s love interest.

The plot and script are predictable, but some of the visual effects are clever, and Cage gets to be his droll self as seen in other genre flicks such as Ghost Rider. I’d give Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which is rated PG for violence, a B-, two out of five stars, or a 7 out of 10. It’s fine as a rental or to catch on cable television as we did.

A bit more highbrow was the three-hour production of Macbeth, or “the Scottish play,” starring Star Trek: the Next Generation and X-Men‘s Patrick Stewart as the ambitious murderer and king. This adaptation, whose modern setting resembles Russia in the 1920s and 1930s, first ran on stage before being filmed for the PBS.

Kate Fleetwood plays an equally ruthless (and guilt-ridden) Lady Macbeth, who is younger than the onetime military officer but a good match for him to the bloody end. The soliloquies are muted but no less effective, and the script closely follows Shakespeare’s. I thought the weird sisters were nicely disturbing, in an alternative music plus Doctor Who sort of way, although their enunciation was a bit muddled.

I’d give this version of Macbeth an A-, 8.5 out of 10, or four out of five stars. There was a brief interview with Stewart after the broadcast of the play, giving some insights into the directorial and acting choices for this interpretation. I can easily imagine it being required viewing in high schools.

Janice and I have also been enjoying PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery, including the latest adaptations of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot stories. The Belgian detective is still faithfully depicted by David Suchet, and the latest batch of episodes has refrained from making too many changes to the original mysteries. We’re also looking forward to more Miss Marple, Inspector Lewis, and newcomer Aurelio Zen.

Elsewhere on the dial, I’m glad for the summer returns of the buddy crime solvers on USA’s White Collar, TNT’s bluesy Memphis Beat, and the capers of TNT’s Leverage. I just learned that Hu$tle, a British show about do-gooder grifters, had four more seasons/series than what I had seen on U.S. TV.

Going back to fantasy, I’m disappointed that Starz canceled Camelot, which suffered in comparison with the more popular Spartacus and HBO’s Game of Thrones. I liked Camelot more than the recent takes on Robin Hood or the later Merlin series. We’ll see whether the planned shows about Vikings and pirates are any good and continue the latest revival of swashbuckling bodice-rippers on TV (such as Showtime’s Borgias).

Summer SFTV


The summer 2009 genre television season has picked up, including SyFy’s lighter conspiracy series Warehouse 13, TNT’s returning capers on Leverage, and Disney XD’s Silver Age-style Spectacular Spider-Man. Because of time constraints, I’ve dropped the computer-animated Iron Man and Bible-inspired Kings from my viewing schedule, and although several friends have recommended Lost, I’m  leery of making a commitment to yet another continuity-driven show.

This week promises an embarrassment of riches, with BBC America showing the wellreceived Torchwood: Children of Earth science fiction/horror miniseries and the beginning of the end of David Tennant as the eponymous time traveler in Doctor
: Planet of the Dead.
I’ve been a fan of that long-running franchise since high school and look forward to the good doctor’s next incarnation.

In addition, G4 will be covering the annual San Diego Comic-Con, which has become more noteworthy lately for film previews than for comic books and graphic novels. On DVD, I’m looking forward to the releases of Watchmen, The Middleman, Coraline, Pushing Daisies
Season 2, and Green Lantern: First Flight. I have yet to see Hulk vs., Quantum of Solace, and Tale of Desperaux.