In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, NBC
In the UK: Not yet acquired
Entering people’s minds is something that TV and film likes to do. I don’t mean the minds of the audience and I don’t mean it metaphorically – I mean it’s a medium that likes to visually recreate the thoughts and dreams of characters and make them a world that other characters can enter. In this genre, film has given us the likes of Brainstorm, Dreamscape, A Nightmare on Elm Street and, possibly best of all, Inception.
Reverie is an even more nonsensical, formulaic affair than the average piece of NBC sci-fi, giving us Sarah Shahi (Life, Fairly Legal, Person of Interest) as a former hostage negotiator who’s dropped out of the force. Why? BECAUSE THE ONE PERSON SHE COULDN’T SAVE WITH HER SKILLS WAS HERSELF. And her sister. And her niece. Basically, it didn’t go well.
Anyway, old pal Dennis Haysbert (The Unit, 24, Incorporated, Backstrom) comes a knocking at her door one day. He’s gone private sector and now works at the stupidly titled ‘Onira-Tech’ (it’s Greek, darling), which has developed a new dream manipulation-virtual reality technology that allows people with a bit of cash to tailor-make their own dreams. Trouble is, loads of people are now in comas because they apparently don’t want to leave their dream dreams and any attempts to wake them will probably kill them.
Fortunately, version 2.0 of the tech is in the offing and that allows people to share their dreams with someone else. Will Shahi be willing to use the experimental tech as well as her hostage negotiation skills to talk the dreamers down and out of their self-made utopias? And will it mean she’ll have to face her own mental demons to do so?
You betcha. Unfortunately, it’ll make you fall asleep when she does.
Cast your mind back about a decade. Remember Heroes? Remember the first season, where two of the ‘heroes’ went around collecting other people’s powers? How we longed for the final showdown to see them face off against each other and use all their abilities to the max.
Then we got this.
Oh dear. It’s more or less what killed the show. People stopped caring after that. If you promise spectacle, you’d better deliver.
Whatever the reasons for the letdown, whether it be a simple lack of creative ambition, a failure to understand superheroics or the rumoured last-minute salary hike demanded by certain cast members that led to a massive budget cut, Heroes didn’t deliver.
Meanwhile, The Flash has just delivered. Apparently. I gave up on it at the start of this (fourth) season and nothing I’ve heard about it since then has made me think I’ve made the wrong decision. Except for this – a somewhat unexpected fight scene that not only tops the ‘single shot’ Daredevil hallway scene, albeit less acrobatically…
…but finally gives us a hint of what that Heroes season one finale could have been like, even if it is all a bit one-sided. Spoilers ahoy, obviously.
Marvel’s The Avengers was one of the highest grossing movies of all times. Small surprise therefore that Marvel should attempt to reproduce its unique superhero formula on the small (laptop) screen with its Netflix series, giving us four individual superheroes in their own shows before finally bringing them together in a fifth show – The Defenders.
And here we are at last. Two seasons of Daredevil (one excellent, one poor), one season of Jessica Jones (excellent), one season of Luke Cage (weak) and a season of Iron Fist (I’ve watched it three times now, so screw you, haters) has allowed some of the supporting cast to move around a bit, but here we finally are, getting all four superheroes interacting with each other, teaming up and even sometimes twatting each other with sticks.
The show picks up a few months after the other shows. Daredevil (Charlie Cox) is ostracised from his former legal partner Foggy (Elden Henson) and would-be girlfriend Karen (Deborah Ann Woll), and a bit mopey after his ex-lover Elektra (Elodie Yung) was killed by some immortal ninja called The Hand. He’s hung up his costume and is now trying to lead a normal life as a lawyer, mostly doing legal work pro bono for the downtrodden. But Foggy is looking out for his former friend and his new boss Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) might have some legal work for him, too – looking after a certain private investigator friend of hers called Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), who’s bound to get into trouble sometime soon…
Not yet, though, since she’s still buried in a bottle, following her murder of mind-controlling rapist David Tennant. Thankfully, she’s managed to brush off both the legal charges and infamy that came with that, but she’s not ready to take on any new clients yet. That is, until a woman comes to her door asking her to track down her missing architect husband and she starts to get threatening phone calls.
Meanwhile, Jones’ former boyfriend Luke Cage (Mike Colter) is just getting out of prison, thanks to some nimble legal work by Foggy, and has to work out what he can do to look after the people of Harlem, particularly the young black men who are succumbing to the allure of crime in his neighbourhood – particularly that instituted by a white clad man known only as ‘the African’ (Babs Olusanmokun).
Could it all have something to do with the errant billionaire Danny Rand (Finn Jones), currently off hunting down the Hand in the Far East with girlfriend and former Hand-member Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), following the Hand’s apparent destruction of the seventh city of Heaven, K’un-Lun, which Rand was charged to protect, being the immortal weapon known as The Iron Fist?
You betcha. And you can bet that somehow it’s all going to involve their various storylines intersecting at some point to fight a common enemy – Sigourney Weaver, as well as some ‘Big Bads’ from previous seasons.
Of course, the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t the only time that a whole bunch of superheroes with independent lives ended up uniting to defeat a baddie: the once much-adored Heroes did the same thing on the small screen. I say once because as soon as everyone got together, the whole show went to pants.
So the question is: is Marvel’s The Defenders more Avengers or more Heroes? Answer coming up after the jump. Spoilers ahoy and liable to smack you in the face.
In the US: Wednesdays, 9pm ET/PT, CBS
In the UK: Amazon Video. Starts Monday 17th July
Armageddon was one of those early Michael Bay movies that not only hinted at the horrors that would greet us when the Transformers series would arrive like a careening HGV through the sides of our homes but was in its own right irredeemably dumb. In case you’ve blanked it from your memories, allow me to remind you: there’s an asteroid coming towards the Earth and only a crack team of miners can save the planet – by landing on the asteroid in a spaceship and blowing it up.
Scientifically, politically, logically, narratively and adverbially, it was complete nonsense in every regard, but it was at least fun and it did such good box office, it was only natural that someone, somewhere, somewhen would decide to make a TV series of it. Salvation isn’t an official sequel, but not only are the basics of Armageddon all there, the writers have actually seen Armageddon and aren’t afraid of letting you know it – and that they think their show is better.
In the US: Sundays, 9pm E/P, Starz In the UK: New episode available every Monday
By all rights, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is a novel I should have in some lovingly crafted Folio Society edition, situated in pride of place on my bookshelf or on a small shrine. Pagan gods? Check. American setting? Check. Neil Gaiman? Check and double check – after all, I spent most of my university days not just avidly reading Gaiman’s comic book works, particularly Sandman, but looking like its titular character, too. This is basically a photo of my sister and me in the early 90s.
Imagine the confusion and fear among knowing bystanders when we met up.
And yet, somehow, American Gods passed me by. I’ve not read it; I’ve not even listened to any of the audio books of it. I don’t even want to, despite very much enjoying Gaiman’s work on Doctor Who and his novel (co-authored with Terry Pratchett), Good Omens. Odd, hey?
A new TV show, though – one co-showrun by the marvellous Bryan Fuller (Heroes, Hannibal, Mockingbird Lane, Pushing Daisies)? Maybe that’s more my speed now?
So, sign me up, but don’t expect comparisons with the original, only answers to the thorny question of whether it’s a good TV show or not.
The story follows the fantastically named Shadow Moon (Hollyoaks’ Ricky Whittle), a con serving a three-year prison sentence who’s released days early when his wife is killed in a car accident. Trying his best to make his way home for her funeral, he encounters obstacle after obstacle, until he comes across conman ‘Mr Wednesday’ (Lovejoy‘s Ian McShane) and his luck mysteriously changes. Maybe that’s got something to do with the leprechaun (The Wire‘s Pablo Schreiber) he also meets. At least, he says he’s a leprechaun, but he’s mighty tall, so Moon has his doubts. Probably not because of the height, though.
Discovering his wife wasn’t quite who he thought she was, Moon is tempted by an offer of employment as Mr Wednesday’s ‘heavy’, but before he even starts, he’s discovering that Mr Wednesday has some very, very odd, very nasty, sometimes completely faceless enemies.
And that’s basically the plot of the first episode, which really isn’t that inspiring a piece of work. Not much happens other than establishing that Moon is rather similar to Luke Cage in terms of personality, if a bit less indestructible and without half the charm or catchphrases. There’s also little of the fantastical about it until the end, and what there is, largely doesn’t work, Schreiber’s leprechaun (who may be from Ireland. Or Russia) being an amalgam of stereotypes about Irish people being drunkards and fighters, rather than anyone liable to lead you to the end of any rainbow. I imagine that later episodes will be where we discover the rather important central conceit of the series that there’s a war between New Gods (such as technology) and Old Gods (such as Odin) being waged in America. That sounds more interesting, doesn’t it?
But there are some things that work. Ian McShane is obviously marvellous as the scheming Mr Wednesday (“Today’s my day” – gosh, I wonder who he might be), but what really lifts American Gods out of the ordinary – at least at this stage – is the mise-en-scène. Hovering here in roughly the same orbit as season 2 of Hannibal (ie not quite as perfect as season 1 but not as far up its own arse as season 3), American Gods does have some truly lovely and sometimes disturbing visuals, as well as the equally unsettling, jazzy dissonance of Brian Reitzell’s musical compositions. As it’s on Starz, there’s also quite a bit of the Spartacus gore along for the ride, too, with some blood tableaux that are often breathtaking.
Without those, there’d be little to mark out the show from any other piece of generic fantasy, though. There’s almost nothing of Gaiman or Fuller’s wit and wisdom in any of the dialogue and where it gets fantastical, it’s often in ways that make you scoff rather than wonder.
Gaiman says that a lot of the first episode is new but still in keeping with the book, so I’ll give the show the benefit of the doubt for now and hope it gets better in later episodes as they return to the original text. There’s also a top cast of guest gods due later on (Crispin Glover, Kristin Chenoweth, Peter Stormare, Gillian Anderson, Orlando Jones, Corbin Bernsen, Jeremy Davies), which should make that task a whole lot easier.
But this isn’t the way back into either Gaiman’s or Fuller’s works that I was expecting. Still, maybe we shouldn’t expect miracles.