While the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been going great guns for the past decade, the Marvel TV world is in a sorry old state, isn't it? Marvel's Agents of SHIELD was largely unwatchable in its first season until Captain America: Winter Soldier gave it a twist that made it really rather good… until the end of the season. Then it all went to pants in season 2 and I didn't even bother with season 3. It's about to get even worse in season 4, by the looks of it, now that the only two decent characters in the show are going to get their own spin-off series, Marvel's Most Wanted, leaving the dregs behind.
Meanwhile, Marvel's Agent Carter, while having far more engaging characters than SHIELD and the delights of a post-war setting to play with, had soporific, unengaging storylines. As with SHIELD, a tie in with the MCU gave the first season a welcome twist - a glimpse at the Black Widow training programme in Russia, as well as of one of its graduates
But season two was so dull, I didn't even make it through to the end and chances of the show being renewed are slender.
I did say 'TV' but Netflix is different. It's not TV. Except in Eastern Europe.
Season 1 of Netflix's Marvel's Daredevil is one of the best shows the Internet TV provider has so far produced, while Marvel's Jessica Jones actually managed to exceed it, while simultaneously deconstructing all the assumptions of the superhero genre. Very adult, unencumbered by the restraints of network TV, they make superhero TV shows - and many other dramas - look very inadequate.
When originally announced, Daredevil and Jessica Jones were both part of an attempt to do an MCU-style team-up on Netflix, with the first seasons of those shows to be followed by Marvel's Luke Cage and Marvel's Iron Fist to introduce those superheroes, and then by Marvel's Defenders to bring them all together in one big show. However, both individually proved so popular - Jessica Jones was the top original streamed TV programme in the UK last year - that they've both been renewed for second seasons ahead of schedule.
And now, with Iron Fist himself only just getting cast, here's season two of Daredevil, with blind but superathletic New York lawyer Matt Murdock having to deal with the fall-out from his quest against Kingpin last season, as well as his attempts to escape from his old mentor, Stick. But can the second season match the quality of the first, despite losing showrunner Steven DeKnight? Has it been rushed onto our computer screens too soon? And will Daredevil himself be overshadowed by the season's two guest 'superheroes' - The Punisher and Elektra, both of whom have had their own movies?
Here's a good batch of NSFW trailers for you to enjoy. Discussion after the jump: multiple spoilers ahoy, obviously, so probably best if you watch the entire second season first - unless you don't care about being spoiled, of course.
Americans seem to be frightened by pretty much everything. Here's a cartoon that explains the history of American fear:
To be fair, the media does help to make everything in the US seem frightening, so you can't blame them. Fortunately, CBS - the network that likes to conservatively wave a US flag with one hand while firing a 9mm with the other - is ready to first terrify everyone by confirming that everything in the US is indeed very frightening, before reassuring Americans with procedural after procedural that America's finest will catch the baddies.
Fear first, reassurance later. Just trust in the FBI et al and remember to vote against anyone who'd do anything to restrain their unfettered powers. Because then everyone will die. Everyone. They'll just be dead. Because of crime. And maybe the terrorists. And disease. Disease from the terrorists. Who are immigrants.
That's why they gave us Criminal Minds, a show that tries very, very hard to convince us it's about highly intelligent, almost utterly humorless FBI agents who'll protect American lives at all costs from a different dangerous sociopath every week, largely by reciting poetry. In actuality, it's really just mind-numbingly stupid fear-mongering. That hasn't stopped it from milking the fear-reassurance cycle for all its worth for almost as long as this 'ere blog has been running
Of course, American fear doesn't stop at its borders. After all, no one would even think about building a great big brick wall along those borders if there was nothing out there to be frightened of, would they? Taken, for example, is quite a fun little action movie with a refreshingly unglamorous view of prostitution, violence et al, but which nevertheless considers a trip to Paris to be one of the most terrifyingly dangerous things a teenage American could ever consider doing. Yeah, kid, stay in LA. You'll be a lot safer there.
Once again, then, you have to hand it to CBS for trying to milk this literal xenophobia in as efficient a manner as possible with Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, a spin-off from the mothership of fear. Now, this isn't the first time the network has tried to create a Criminal Minds spin-off: Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior has that honour, in which a rapid FBI anti-sociopath reaction force did the Criminal Minds formula just faster and with less blinking, as Forest Whitaker was in the cast. That rightfully died a fiery death in the ratings.
However, CBS is the king of spin-offs, having managed to get four extra shows out of CSI and about seventy out of NCIS. If at first it doesn't succeed, it'll iterate until it gets it right.
So first, as is now traditional with CBS spin-offs, we got an in-show pilot to test the waters for Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders. This features series lead, the faux king of the flag-waving patriots - CSI: NY lead Gary Sinise - and the rest of the potential new show's cast.
That proved popular - or unhateful - enough for the show to go to full season, although either Anna Gunn had enough sense to jump ship first or the powers that be decided that she wasn't hot enough and brought in Forever's Alana de la Garza to replace her.
Now, a full year later and we have the whole thing in its magnificent "Fear foreigners! America is best! Trust the FBI!" glory. The show's basic set-up is simple. Once again, it seems people are bored by Criminal Minds's pensive slowness so we have yet another rapid reaction force out to stop baddies. However, here, the FBI have their own shiny jet that allows them to go anywhere they want in the world to rescue Americans in trouble while simultaneously being as patronising and as racist as possible to everyone they come across.
In this first proper episode of Criminal Minds: Without Jurisdiction, we travel to Thailand - apparently now the top place for murders against Americans, not Chicago - to search for three disappeared American teenagers. Yes, three teenagers have gone missing and before even a bored, overworked US Embassy official can get away from having to deal with lost passports to see if they've simply gone to a local bar, the FBI are swooping in with their mighty jet on a no-expense spared mission to save them from their unknown fate/bar. Imagine what would happen if an American's iPhone battery ran out in Spain at the same time and Find A Friend stopped working. Would the FBI be able to cope, as it mobilised seven divisions to locate him? He can only hope - and that they bring the right kind of charging cable with them because it wasn't clear if he had an iPhone 4 or an iPhone 5 when they set out.
Anyway, before you know it, Sinise, his regulation manly, running underling (Daniel Henney), his regulation nerdy medical girl underling (Annie Funke), his regulation black bow-tie wearing tech underling (Tyler James Williams) and his regulation hot girl/cultural guide (de la Garza) are zooming around Thailand, insulting the poplace. "It's not the Thai police force's job to help Americans in trouble. It's our job," says Sinise. Erm, no, it is their job. You can check. And actually, it's definitely not your job now you're in Thailand.
Meanwhile, de la Garza is advising everyone not to shake hands with the opposite gender because it's taboo in Thailand. Can we not do it anyway, just to show them how backward they are and how great American women are, the others wonder?
Bring them out of the middle ages just like that? De la Garza laughs at their naivety. These people are primitive and always will be. They can't be expected to be as great as the 13th best country in the world for women, even if they do get paid maternity leave, unlike American women.
She should know: she's just spent the last five weeks learning three new languages including Thai, while studying their philosophies of life and death. Look, she'll even do a Criminal Minds-proper and quote some Thai wisdom, which we'll stick on the screen to impress the viewers into thinking they're watching something smart, rather than something insanely dumb.
And then they go off and shoot things, while trying very, very hard to pretend they're smart and can read books without moving their lips.
This feels like the kind of show that's going to fail very quickly. More so, it's going to fail in part because it feels like Team America crossed with Life, The Universe And Everything, with Team Sinise going from country to country, shooting and insulting them in order, like some procedural Wowbagger The Infinitely Prolonged. And how are the foreign sales going to shape up after a season of that?
Still, Criminal Minds - which has the intellect of someone who's had their brain methodically scooped out and replaced by a combination of raspberry jelly and the Cliff's Notes for Keats' Ode On a Grecian Urn - is still going after 10 seasons, so it's entirely possible that something that sticks so close to its formula, manages to get a cameo-blessing from Joe Mantegna and allows Americans to feel simultaneously smuggly superior about their superb law enforcement services and frightened by all backward foreigners everywhere, is going to survive.
The global slave trade, especially the Atlantic slave trade, is one of the most horrifying aspects of relatively recent history. While slavery, of course, was nothing new and was practised in both Africa and the Middle East at the same time as in the US and Europe, it's the numbers involved and industralisation of it that makes it horrifying, with as many as 12 million people enslaved and transported until slavery was abolished by the end of the 19th century.
Yet while the Nazis and the Holocaust have been the subject of condemnatory films and TV shows for decades now, only a few US writers and producers have been willing to do something far harder and turn a similar eye onto the actions of not some other nation but the US itself. ABC's 1977 mini-series Roots was, of course, the most famous:
But since Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained in 2012, the floodgates seem to have opened, with 12 Years of Slave winning Oscars in 2014 and a remake of Roots due this year on History:
Before that, we also have WGN America's Underground, which looks at the 'underground railroad' that helped slaves in the US to escape to freedom, usually in British North America (aka Canada). The story focuses on a few principal groups:
Slaves on Reed Diamond's (Journeyman, Dollhouse) plantation in Antebellum, Georgia, including Leverage's Aldis Hodge and True Blood's Jurnee Smollett-Bell. They're all planning to escape.
A white lawyer (Marc Blucas from Buffy The Vampire Slayer andNecessary Roughness) and his wife (Jessica De Gouw from Arrow and Deadline Gallipoli), who are recruited to run the railroad. Guess who's going to head their way.
Various slavers, bounty hunters and Good Samaritans, including L&O:SVU's Christopher Meloni. Guess what they're going to do with the escaped slaves.
On the one hand, the show takes great pains to be as realistic as possible. While none of the characters are based on historical figures (although Blucas and De Gouw's 'John and Elizabeth Hawkes' could be inspired by John and Esther Hawks), the terrible abuses meted out to slaves, general attitudes towards slaves and so on are all based in reality. The show is even shot in huts and cabins where slaves were housed back in the 19th century. When focused on that kind of detail, the show does sterling work in depicting the terrible inhumanity of it all, even if it is a bit hard for oldies like me to see and hear it all with the continual darkness and mumbling in Southern accents.
On the other, Underground also takes great pains to be as 'with it' as possible, with flashy camerawork, a modern soundtrack, time jumps, slow motion, and dialogue that's often no more than a decade old. Frequently, these are action hero slaves, not real people, and the combination of old and new styles can be quite jarring and works to the show's detriment.
The fact it isn't based on historical figures doesn't help, either, since neither the characters nor the actors who play them are really very three-dimensional. They're representations of ideas, rather than anyone you could care about.
As of yet, we're not yet at the 'underground' stage of the narrative, so it's hard to tell whether it's going to get more interesting as a drama, rather than simply as a demonstration of man's inhumanity to man. It's WGN America, so I don't imagine the show ever becoming great. All the same, a reasonably good start, even if it didn't really make me want to watch any more of it.
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A UK media blog focusing on the best scripted TV from around the world, with daily news, views, exclusive reviews and good conversation. There's a bit of a bias towards the latest and greatest US TV, but we also cover Scandinavian, Canadian, European and Antipodean TV, as well as UK TV ranging from new Doctor Who to old Z Cars, and BBC4 to S4C.
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"For most of us watching the telly of an evening is a way to wind down and relax, but for Rob Buckley it’s his blogging bread and butter. With reviews of cult classics and up and coming US and Brit television shows, The Medium is Not Enough is fast becoming essential reading for TV buffs, with over 50,000 hits a month."
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I'm Rob Buckley, a freelance journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of, although you might have heard me on Radio 5 Live's Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I've edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for trade magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider and the equally short-lived Death Ray and Filmstar magazines; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it "web site for urban hedonists" The Tribe. I'm freelance now and have contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network and TV Scoop.