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July 2, 2014

Preview: Constantine 1x1 (NBC)

Posted on July 2, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

constantine-keyart-promo.jpg

In the US: Fridays, 10/9c, NBC. Starts October 24

I was remarking only yesterday how DC comics and adaptations in other media now have something of a reputation for gloomy grittiness. When did this start, you might wonder, given how light and breezy the 1980s Superman and 1990s Batman movies were (yes, they were. Don't argue)? Some might argue it was Denny O'Neil's Batman strips. Others might point to the mid-80s decision by DC to try to appeal more to adults than children with its comics, which led to 'Crisis on Infinite Earths'. 

But it probably began with a strand of DC comic-writing that began in the 80s and blossomed in the 90s with DC's 'Vertigo' imprint, which was intended for 'mature readers'. Many of Vertigo's creations are still with us: Shade the Changing Man, Animal Man and Doom Patrol still crop up in DC Comics, although most people haven't heard of them. They will almost certainly have heard of Neil Gaiman's Sandman - indeed, it's the creation that introduced the world to Gaiman and even now, movie producers are trying to come up with a way to adapt it that can feature Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

The other Vertigo character of note is John Constantine. Not truly a Vertigo original - Alan Moore created Constantine as an escort for another future Vertigo character, Swamp Thing, during that mid-80s 'Crisis' - it was nevertheless Vertigo and writer Jamie Delano who turned Constantine from a chain-smoking, trenchcoat-wearing, petty London street thug and Sting-lookalike with a certain knowledge of the occult into one of DC's most popular, authentic and powerful characters in Hellblazer. Since then, Constantine has gone on to fight demons, devils and angels in his own comic, Constantine, as well as heading Justice League Dark. He's even appeared in a movie of his own, played by no lesser and no less an inappropriate actor than Keanu Reeves:

Now NBC, which scored something of a critical, if not ratings success with 'elegant horror' show Hannibal, is trying to branch out into more conventional horror with its own version of John Constantine. Vastly more faithful visually and culturally than the movie, and drawing considerably on Delano's Hellblazer run for its plot, NBC's Constantine is nevertheless a horror show exemplified by the fact that its bad boy protagonist isn't allowed to smoke on network TV in case it sends the wrong message.

Here's a trailer.

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July 2, 2014

Review: The Leftovers 1x1 (HBO/Sky Atlantic)

Posted on July 2, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Leftovers

In the US: Sundays, 10pm, HBO
In the UK: Aquired by Sky Atlantic. Will air in September

TV is filled with death. For many shows, it's their staple. What would 24 or Banshee be without their epic body counts? Would everyone love Game of Thrones as much were it not for its regular game of 'Guess who's going to pop their clogs this season'? Probably not.

In the real world, though, death generally isn't quite as desirable, even if it is inevitable. The effects of someone's death are almost always huge, traumatic and life-changing for those who know them. Religion can provide some comfort for the bereaved. It can even provide some answers as to why death happens at all. TV shows that remember this are few and far between.

So in many ways, The Leftovers is unusual and innovative. Adapted by Tom Perrotta, Lost's Damon Lindelof and Friday Night Lights' Peter Berg from Perrotta's book of the same name, it takes the Christian concept of the Rapture - in which the true believers in Jesus are taken up into the sky to be with God, leaving behind everyone to be judged before Jesus's second coming - and gives it a slight twist. What if 2% of the world's population just vanished, leaving everyone else behind, with no explanation for their departure? What would those remaining behind do? How would they feel? And without angels coming down to explain everything and given that some of that 2% include some very bad people indeed, not just the blessed - I mean, Gary Busey was one of those who disappeared. Gary Busey - could people even be sure it was God and not aliens or some bizarre space-time accident that caused the disappearance?

The answer to this existential dilemma, it appears, is be largely miserable, dull and nihilistic. Strangely, in fact, it seems like the animals have a better idea about what's going on than the humans do.

Here's a trailer. If you're in the US, though, you can watch the whole of the first episode over on Yahoo.

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July 1, 2014

Preview: The Flash 1x1 (The CW)

Posted on July 1, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Flash review

In the US: Tuesdays, 8pm ET, The CW. Starts October 7

Superheroes are all the rage at the cinema right now. In the comics book world, DC and Marvel predominate, but for many years, DC was the only real name at the movies, with Batman and Superman movies galore. However, Marvel has now not only caught up, it’s setting the pace and showing how comics should be adapted. So while DC has gone dark, gritty and important in the past decade, an attitude that the Lego Movie mercilessly mocked…

…Marvel has gone for relatively light, fun movies, such as Iron Man, Thor and the forthcoming Guardians of the Galaxy. DC's movies have also been self-contained, while Marvel has had its superbeings unite in The Avengers and guest in each other's movies and TV shows with aplomb.

But DC is picking up the pace, both at the movies and on TV. The forthcoming Batman v Superman is going to feature not only the eponymous two heroes, it's also got Wonder Woman, Cyborg and various other members of the Justice League lined up to appear, with more movies together and individually lined up if these are a success. And on the small screen, it has the continuing adventures of Green Arrow in Arrow and Batman prequel Gotham lined up for the autumn/fall.

But it's still all a bit dark and gritty, isn't it? However, DC appears to be well aware of its gloomy reputation so it's giving us something a bit lighter and a bit more fun. And since The CW did so well with first Smallville (the Guinness World Record holder 'longest consecutive running sci-fi TV show') and then Arrow and believes that superheroes are the best way to attract male viewers who might have been scared off by all that Gossip Girl and The Carrie Diaries, it seems appropriate for it to be the launchpad for this new show based on one of DC's (literally) lightest characters: The Flash, a character who ends up being able move even faster than Superman, following a laboratory accident.

Indeed, for the past season of Arrow, The CW has been slowly introducing The Flash and his helper monkeys to viewers, inserting him (and them) pre-powers into various episodes, originally intending to turn one episode into a backdoor pilot. It backed off from that idea and instead decided to give him a launch episode all of his own.

And not only is it very good, in some ways better even than Arrow’s first episode, it’s really just what DC is looking for - fun, light and full of crossovers from other superheroes. Just don’t be too surprised if it all seems very familiar and a bit… light.

But first, here’s a dark and gritty (hugely spoilering) trailer - it seems some habits die hard.

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