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?

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!

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!