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!

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Skyfall review — Bond is back!

I hope that those of you in the U.S. had a happy Thanksgiving. I visited my in-laws in Upstate New York, where I fought a bad cold, ate too much good food, and watched my nephews play lots of video games.

Taking a step back, on Tuesday, 20 November 2012, I met Thomas K.Y. & Kai-Yin H. for dinner at Erewan of Siam on Waltham’s Moody Street. We then joined Beruk A. at the Embassy Cinema for Skyfall, the latest James Bond film. We all liked the British superspy’s latest adventures.

The latest James Bond flick
James Bond has returned

After a four-year wait, the movie launches right into action, with 007 pursuing a stolen hard drive in Istanbul. Bond fights an enemy agent atop a train and is shot, then Adele’s retro theme song plays amid the usual psychedelic images of gambling, guns, and dames. Skyfall reintroduces some of the franchise’s gadgetry and humor, paying tribute to its 50 years of cloak-and-dagger fantasies.

Blond and beefy Daniel Craig is still believable as the resilient man with a license to kill. Even if he wasn’t my first choice to inherit the role, in Skyfall, Craig properly shows the physical and emotional toll of being Ian Fleming’s master assassin (it’s hard to believe that he’s my age).

In Skyfall, Craig carefully balances the grit of Sean Connery and Timothy Dalton with the slickness of Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan, coming close to George Lazenby’s short-lived portrayal. Craig is still closer to Connery, but given current moviegoer sensibilities, that’s for the best.

Director Sam Mendes adds a good amount of character development while including exotic locales, one fight in silhouette and another with menacing komodo dragons, and even a glimpse of Bond’s ancestral home in Scotland, the titular Skyfall. (I find it interesting that, like Sherlock Holmes, another quintessentially English hero, Bond is actually part French.)

Skyfall‘s cast is a mix of old and new, young and old. Among the relative newcomers is Ben Whishaw as the new “Q” or quartermaster, now an impudent hacker. Naomie Harris is the winsome agent Eve, and Berenice Marlohe and Tonia Sotiropoulou are Bond’s stunning lovers.

By contrast, Craig gets seasoned support from Judi Dench as his boss “M,” Ralph Fiennes as ambitious bureaucrat Gareth Mallory, and Albert Finney as Skyfall groundskeeper Kincade. Javier Bardem, no stranger to weird haircuts and homicidal characters, chews the scenery gleefully as villain Silva. As with the best bad guys, Silva’s motivations are a dark mirror of Bond’s own.

I’m a longtime Bond fan, so I won’t give away any “spoilers.” Of the recent run, I’d put Skyfall slightly above Quantum of Solace, if a bit below 2006’s Casino Royale, which tautly and successfully rebooted the series in the post-Austin Powers and Jason Bourne era.

Overall, I’d give Skyfall, which is rated PG-13 for violence and sensuality, a B+, three to four out of five stars, or an 8 out of 10. I’d definitely recommend it to fans of James Bond and action movies.

Of the trailers we saw, I’m most interested in Quentin Tarantino’s over-the-top western Django, Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln, and of course, Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit [Part 1 of 3]: An Unexpected Journey. I also plan to screen some remastered Season 2 episodes of Star Trek: the Next Generation and the unconventional Rise of the Guardians soon.

Autumn 2011 genre TV, Part 3

Cartoon Network's Young Justice
DC/Cartoon Network's Young Justice

In the first two parts of my look at the new television season, I looked at the mysteries and thrillers that fill many weeknights. Fridays are different, however, with more speculative fiction than any other night. Cartoons, conspiracies, and fantasy worlds abound!

Cartoon Network has been burning off the final episodes of the fun and retro Batman and the Brave and the Bold, followed by the darker Young Justice, lone space opera Star Wars: Clone Wars, and the cool reboot of Thundercats. There have been decent reboots of G.I. Joe (Renegades) and Transformers, but I haven’t had time for them.

I’ve been less impressed with G4’s late-night Wolverine and Iron Man — they have many of the worst weaknesses of both Marvel and anime, such as static scenery, long internal monologues, stereotypical (and worse, bland) villains, and improbable action scenes punctuated by shouting. I’ll give the latest incarnations of the X-Men and Blade a try, however.

I lost Marvel’s Iron Man: Armored Adventures and Fantastic Four in the scheduling shuffle, and I still miss the canceled Spectacular Spider-Man and Sym-Bionic Titan. Cartoon Network/Boomerang has been rebroadcasting Samurai Jack, and the Hub has been showing the superlative Batman: the Animated Series.

In yet more animation, I’m looking forward to Nickelodeon’s fantasy Avatar: the Legend of Korra and the computer-animated Green Lantern and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as well as to the recently announced Beware the Batman. The computer-animated Tron: Uprising, How to Train Your Dragon, and Kung-Fu Panda movie tie-ins should also be coming soon.

As I’ve noted before, Disney/Marvel may have the lead in print comics and live-action movies (see The Avengers trailer), but Warner Bros./DC is holding on with TV series and direct-to-video releases such as the upcoming Batman: Year One and Justice League: Doom. To be fair, Marvel‘s Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and Super Hero Squad have been renewed, and Ultimate Spider-Man (and a live-action Hulk, Cloak & Dagger, and A.k.a. Jessica Jones) is in the works.

Speaking of live action, spy spoof Chuck, cryptozoological Sanctuary, and alternate reality drama Fringe have all moved to what used to be called “SciFridays.” My DVR will be working hard from 8:00 to 11:00 p.m.! As with Smallville, I’ll enjoy the cameos on NBC’s Chuck to the show’s approaching end. SyFy’s Sanctuary has been uneven in tone, but Fox’s Fringe is still going strong, in my opinion.

Torchwood is over for now, and I haven’t yet caught A Gifted Man. I’ll try to see Grimm, which combines the modern supernatural aspects of Once Upon a Time with the procedural spoof elements of Dylan Dog (which I recently rented and enjoyed). Less fantastical but more gruesome is Spartacus: Vengeance, which lost its original star Andy Whitfield and whose third season I plan to watch.

On Saturdays, other than the annual Christmas special, Whovians will have a long wait for new Doctor Who episodes — until late 2012. I’m also looking forward to the eventual return of BBC America’s Being Human, if not the Americanized SyFy remake.

A few updates: After my previous posts on the current TV season, I saw that laid-back Southern crime drama Memphis Beat has been canceled, as well as the latest Charlie’s Angels, which I had already dropped. David I.S. has picked up Terra Nova and American Horror Story just as I’ve dropped them from my busy schedule, but there are only so many hours in the week!

Autumn 2011 genre TV, Part 2

Thrillers and superspies
RPG sourcebook related to midweek genre TV

Continuing my look at the new television season, on Tuesdays, Janice and I have been watching Top Shot on the History Channel. We like the use of a range of archaic weapons, if not the cutthroat competitiveness of some participants.

In addition to catching up on genre shows recorded on Sundays and Mondays, I look forward to the eventual return of the sleuths on White Collar and Memphis Beat. Janice is taking a yoga class this fall.

I haven’t added comedies such as The New Girl or Two Broke Girls to my viewing schedule, but I liked what little I saw of them more than the Mad Men-inspired Pan Am or even the already canceled The Playboy Club.

On Wednesdays, most of the shows I’ve watched in the past few seasons are not returning: Reaper, Eastwick, and Human Target, to name a few. I still occasionally watch food TV such as Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives and Man vs. Food NationBitchin’ Kitchen is my current favorite.

The goofy sleuths on Psych return tonight. If you liked David Lynch’s surrealistic Twin Peaks (whose cast had a reunion on Psych) or the psychosexual horror of some of True Blood, you’ll probably like FX’s American Horror Story. It’s a bit dark for my tastes, but it’s better than most of the schlocky “reality” programming on SyFy or the History Channel.

On Thursdays, I’ve dropped spy show Nikita, which of course then got renewed. Also last season, I watched Undercovers, which got canceled, but not Covert Affairs, which also got renewed. I wasn’t impressed by the latest version of Charlie’s Angels, whose actresses are less jiggly, glamorous, or interesting than their predecessors and who are hampered by weak scripts.

I have picked up Person of Interest, created by Jonathan Nolan, brother of The Dark Knight director Chris Nolan. Like that movie, it explores the implications of ubiquitous surveillance, and it’s a paranoid post-9/11 technothriller similar to the aforementioned Homeland. The distrustful team of a computer genius and a former commando inserting themselves into the lives of people who need help reminds me of The Prisoner, The Pretender, and Human Target.

I’ll save Friday, which is the most crowded night of the week for genre TV fans, for an upcoming post. What are you watching?

Transitions in TV thrillers

Cast of the late Fox thriller
Human Target's TV cast

Continuing my look at seasonal television turnover, espionage has fared slightly better than live-action superheroes. I was disappointed, but not surprised, by the cancellation of Human Target, which was a fun throwback to the action shows of the 1980s.

I had already dropped Undercovers and Nikita and was somewhat surprised that the latter (the fourth version of the waif turned assassin) got renewed. Spy spoof Chuck, which I’ve kept watching just as I stuck with Smallville, managed to avoid the axe one final time, and we’ll see whether the Charlie’s Angels remake is any good.

In related genres, conspiracy dramas V, The Event, and Survivors joined Flash Forward and Dollhouse in cancellation. I had kept up with the V remake, although the alien invasion plot took a long time to develop suspense. Speaking of aliens, Spielberg’s Falling Skies and time-travel Terra Nova are getting a decent amount of prelaunch hype, but we’ll see if they can avoid similar disappointment.

Cryptozoology and weird science fans still have Fringe, Sanctuary, and Warehouse 13, which may even have a steampunk spinoff. I thought that the season finale cliffhangers of Fringe, Chuck, and Castle were all pretty good this year.

Comedic procedural Psych and related caper shows Burn Notice, White Collar, and Leverage are similar to Castle but no doubt managed to hang on because they’re on cable, which has more modest audience expectations. Breaking In, which featured Reaper and V‘s Bret Harrison, wasn’t so lucky.

It’s too soon to say whether this autumn’s batch of shows will do any better, but let’s hope the best rise to the top in the networks’ game of trial and error.

Coming soon: Space opera, animation, and fantasy on TV!