Internet TV

Review: Travelers (Canada: Showcase; UK: Netflix)


In Canada: Mondays, 9pm ET, Showcase
In the UK: Acquired by Netflix

Given that Canada, Showcase and Brad Wright have been so central to science fiction television, particularly time travel shows, in the past few decades, we shouldn’t be surprised that with the US lining up the likes of Timeless, Frequency, Time After Time and Making History, all three have decided to get in on the act to produce something similar but different.

Travelers flips most time travel stories on their head by having travelers coming from the future to our present in order to prevent a terrible disaster from occuring. So far, so identical to Showcase’s own Continuum. The difference here is that the time travelers are (apparently) the good guys and they’re from the far off future, a future so distant the human race is in danger of extinction, something they’d quite like to prevent by changing things now.

But most important of all, they can’t actually physically travel through time. Instead, provided they know the exact time and place someone is going to die, they can project their minds back in time into the ‘host’ and take over their body à la Chocky and Quantum Leap.

Travelers‘ first episode, written by Wright, is mainly establishment of the lives and families of the hosts who are shortly going to die and be replaced by an ‘elite unit’ of time travelers. We have the learning disabled Mackenzie Porter (Hell on Wheels, Blackstone); douche high school quarterback and cage fighter Jared Paul Abrahamson (Awkward); abused single mum Nesta Marlee Cooper (Heroes: Reborn); and drug-addicted college student Reilly Dolman.

Chasing after them after he becomes aware of some ‘odd traffic’ on the dark web is FBI agent Eric McCormack (Trust Me, Will and GracePerception). 

Then, of course, the time travelers turn up and the show then becomes about the differences between the hosts and their new inhabitants, who can fight back, don’t have an addiction, aren’t learning disabled, aren’t complete dicks and so on. And despite having done their research, the time travelers still have a huge culture gap to navigate, from the little things such as text message slang and not answering the front door naked through to quite big things like how people talk and discovering that people lie on social media and that maybe one of the hosts isn’t who she claimed to be online.

Shot in the style of Wright’s previous big offering, Stargate UniverseTravelers is an edgy and surprisingly intimate affair, trying its best to make all of this not ridiculous, something it does pretty well. To be fair, though, there’s actually precious little about the time travelers’ mission so it’s hard to tell if something extraordinarily silly is round the corner. Instead, it’s mostly about changing behaviours and what happens if someone starts acting very differently from how they used to behave – and whether other people will allow that or get suspicious.

Basically, it’s a science-fiction spy show with a whole bunch of sleeper agents suddenly being activated. It’s The Americans but with a different kind of time travel. Hopefully.

The characters and stories are engrossing, McCormack is as pleasing as ever and everyone, particularly Porter and Dolman, does well with what they’ve got. There’s even an appearance by ubiquitous former Huck Finn and Continuum regular Ian Tracey.

There’s a big twist at the end that will be entirely ruined if you watch the trailer below, but Travelers is definitely a very promising first start to a series that’s also got a big chunk of Netflix co-production money behind it. I’m hoping for great things, but we’ll see how it goes.

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Weekly Wonder Woman

Weekly Wonder Woman: Wonder Woman #48, Superman-Wonder Woman #25, Superman #48, Titans Hunt #4 et al

The observant will notice that last week, Wonder Woman did a bunk and didn’t bother turning up on this ‘ere blog for her weekly round-up of comic book appearances. I don’t know why. Was it something I said?

Well, obviously I do know the real reason, as Wonder Woman is a fictional character – it was my usual end-of-month workload meaning that I didn’t have time. So I figured, what the hell, I can just roll them over to next week, forgetting, of course, that the end of the month is also now when DC Comics unleashes a deluge of Wondy titles upon us. Oops. That’s my morning gone, then.

So after the jump, in perhaps sketchier detail than I would like, you’ll find looks at: Aquaman #48, DC Comics: Bombshells #28, Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year 5 #5-6, Justice League of America #7, Sinestro #19, Superman #48, Superman-Wonder Woman #25, The Legend of Wonder Woman #11-12, Titans Hunt #4 and Wonder Woman #48. As a little bit of a game, guess which old school Wonder Woman villain and villainess make their return, as well as which old school Wonder Woman favourite made no fewer than two returns in those titles.

It’s also been a busy fortnight for Wondy in other media. We’ve had the unveiling of a new trailer for Batman v Superman, in which it’s revealed that rather than flying herself or using an invisible jet, movie-Diana uses Turkish Airlines to get about. 

Whether that’s an indication that the Amazons still live in the Themyscira of Asia Minor, rather than Paradise Island, or whether it’s simply because Turkish Airlines is the movie’s official airline partner (that’s a thing, apparently), I can’t say, but we’ll find out in March.

We also have the news that Cartoon Network is working on a new series of 11-minute episodes of Justice League Action that will feature not only Kevin Conroy as the voice of Batman again, but also the rest of the Trinity – no word on who’s doing Diana’s voice, though. Surely, Susan Eisenberg’s a shoo-in?

JLA

And on top of all that excitement, we’ve got a trailer for the next animated DC movie, Justice League vs Teen Titans. Guess what happens in that.

Continue reading “Weekly Wonder Woman: Wonder Woman #48, Superman-Wonder Woman #25, Superman #48, Titans Hunt #4 et al”

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Canadian TV

Review: This Life 1×1 (Canada: CBC)


In Canada: Mondays, 9pm, CBC

There are certain themes for drama that are quite hard to base a series around, for the simple reason that they aren’t really very enjoyable. Some ideas, particularly the more escapist ones divorced from real life, are fun to start with and it’s up to the programme makers to see if they can make them less fun (eg travelling through space and time with an ancient alien in a police box that’s bigger on the inside than on the outside); other ideas, particularly those close to home, are miserable and it’s up to the programme makers to see if they can somehow entice viewers to watch.

Cancer’s one of those topics that really has to woo viewers. If you don’t believe me, try listening to one of the current crop of interviews with Toni Collette and Drew Barrymore as they try to explain how much buddy-buddy fun and ‘girls night out’ Miss You Already is, despite being about breast cancer.

Canada’s This Life suffers from a similar problem. An adaptation not of the iconic 90s BBC Two show but of ICI Radio-Canada Télé’s French-language show Nouvelle Addresse, it sees Torri Higginson (Stargate Atlantis) playing a 40-something single mother who writes a popular newspaper column about being a 40-something single mother (what’s up with all the heroic 40-something parental newspaper columnists in the colonies, by the way?). 

She’s a bit dull and consumed with her family, rather than herself, as younger, free spirited sister Lauren Lee Smith (The L Word, CSI, Good Dog, Mutant X, The Listener) is happy to point out to her. So she decides to carpe diem, perhaps even go out with that new high school principal who seems to be into her (Shawn Doyle from Endgame). 

Except then she discovers that the cancer that she’d thought had gone away six months earlier has returned, and this time it’s terminal. She has less than a year to live. Now she needs to prepare her kids for when she’s not around, while deciding how she’s going to spend her final year on Earth.

Want to watch it yet? Of course you don’t. It sounds miserable. And often it is. You’d practically have to be inhuman not to be weeping buckets when Higginson gets her diagnosis and prognosis.

This Life attempts to make itself more palatable in a number of ways. Firstly, it gives us Lauren Lee Smith. She boxes in her spare time and does the Walk of Shame so regularly, she even has spare dresses in her office. She’s even toying with having a regular threesome with her latest one-night stand and his girlfriend.

Then there’s Higginson’s teenage children, who have their own things going on, involving boyfriends and girlfriends (or lack thereof), school work, squabbling, etc.

Still not persuaded? 

Fair enough. None of that is really that appealing or as fun as it thinks it is, either. Neither does This Life really establish in this first episode why you’d want to watch a show that ultimately is going to be about someone slowly and painfully dying, leaving her children alone. After depicting Higginson wanting to seize the day before she finds out her cancer is back, and then taking the ‘gut punch’ of the episode title that stops these plans in her tracks, it’s unclear if she’s going to properly seize the day for the rest of the series or simply start going to lots of lawyers and investment brokers to try to establish a legacy for her kids.

Maybe it’ll be uplifting, maybe it’ll be depressing, but given Nouvelle Addresse has lasted three seasons, I’ll bet on option one. This Life also has a strong cast, with Higginson particularly good, and some good direction.

It’s just it’s a programme about someone dying of cancer, without much to relieve the pain. And that could be too close too home for a lot of people.

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US TV

Review: The Red Road 1×1 (Sundance TV)

Redroad

In the US: Thursdays, 9pm, Sundance TV

Sometimes, as I watch global TV from the vantage point of my extinct undersea volcano, I begin to feel a bit like Russell Crowe. Not good Russell Crowe like in Gladiator or Master and Commander but Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind.

Making connections. Making connections everywhere. That’s me.

Case in point – yesterday, we had a look at Australian TV series Secrets and Lies, which stars Kiwi actor Martin Henderson as an everyday guy whose life takes an extraordinary turn for the worse when he comes across the dead body of a child while out running.

You might think the fact that it’s being remade by ABC in the US is the global connection. But no, because at precisely the same time, in the US, Martin Henderson is an everyday guy whose life takes an extraordinary turn for the worse when someone else comes across the body of a child. The only difference in this regard between Secrets and Lies and Sundance TV’s The Red Road is that Henderson is a house painter in the first story, a cop in the second.

But that’s not connection enough. Because in Secrets and Lies, Henderson takes his top off – a lot. Which would be nothing except for the fact that in The Red Road, which is set in the Ramapo Mountains in New Jersey and involves the Ramapough Mountain Indians, Jason Mamao is an ex-con Indian who knows about the kid. Jason Mamao, as we all know, started his career on Baywatch: Hawaii and Stargate: Atlantis, before achieving greater fame on Game of Thrones and from there, Conan. And he’s very famous for taking his top off – in fact, he’s so well known for it, he’s actually sick of it and turned down a lead role in Guardians of the Galaxy because he’d have to take his top off a lot in it.

Coincidence? I think not. It’s all part of some greater puzzle I can’t quite see yet.

As for the show itself, The Red Road, like Sundance first’s scripted effort Rectify before it, is a slow burn. A very slow burn. It takes an awful long time before anything happens in it, instead largely consisting of Henderson dealing with his alcoholic almost ex-wife and his teenage daughter, who’s taken up with Mamoa’s teenage brother, something Mrs Henderson doesn’t like at all.

Mamoa drives around a lot, growls a lot and is actually surprisingly good for someone who normally just has to take his top off; meanwhile, Henderson just has to look pained a lot and upset that everyone is being a colossal dick to him while he tidies up their messes. His accent’s a bit wobbly, too.

However, once ’the incident’ occurs, the show does pick up considerably, and the relationship between Mamoa and Henderson, which doesn’t exist until the end, is likely to prove the lynchpin of the whole piece. I’m going to hold off until episode two before saying whether it’s more than just a slightly more realistic depiction of modern Native American life than Banshee offers. It’s certainly got potential and it goes along a greater clip than Rectify did (thankfully).

Does it really do anything new or take us to any good places? Not yet. But it might.

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UK TV

Review: Atlantis 1×1 (BBC1/BBC America)

BBC1's Atlantis

In the UK: Saturdays, 8.25pm, BBC1. Available on the iPlayer
In the US: Saturdays, BBC America. Starts November 23
In Canada: Space. Starts October 12

Ever since Plato first mentioned it (and perhaps even before that), people have been fascinated by the story of Atlantis, a fabulous city that eventually sunk beneath the waves at the behest of Poseidon. Depending on who you talk to (and leaving aside some of the more exciting and loonier of theories), it was either a morality tale that Plato entirely fabricated or a memory of a genuine place, possibly even the Minoan colony on Santorini, which was destroyed c1600BC. Finding, locating and exploring it have been dreams of men and women ever since.

Equally, TV has been fascinated by both Atlantis (witness BBC1’s recent drama-documentary Atlantis, Stargate: Atlantis, Aquaman, The Man From Atlantis et al) and Greek myth (I ran down a big list of them a while back, if you’re interested), so it seemed natural that sooner or later there would be a show that united the two*: in this case, Atlantis from the producers of Merlin and the creator of, surprisingly enough, Misfits.  

However, as we discovered with Xena: Warrior Princess, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Clash of the Titans, Wrath of the Titans et al, there is something of a temptation as soon as the setting is ‘BC’ and Greek myth and/or history is involved to take 2,000 years of history and countless cultures from across the Mediterranean and squish them all into one big lump.

So brace yourself purists, because here we find a (seemingly) modern day guy called Jason (possibly of the Argonauts) sent back in time to Atlantis, a city that looks very craggy and North African and almost everyone dresses like they’re in a Sinbad movie (or even Prince of Persia or Sky1’s Sinbad). There he meets Pythagoras (sixth century Greek philosopher and mathematician from the island of Samos) and Hercules (Roman name for the Greek hero Herakles, who in myth lived around the 14th and 13th century BC and pretty much everywhere in Greece except Atlantis).

Surprisingly, Atlantis is ruled by King Minos (13th or 16th century BC ruler of the island of Crete) and he has to preside over a tribute of Atlantean victims (originally, victims demanded in tribute from Athens by Minos in return for continued peace) to a half-man, half-bull creature called the Minotaur, who was a man cursed by the gods for some reason (actually, the son of Minos’ wife Pasiphaë, who had a passion for bulls, after Minos decided to keep the bull Poseidon had given to him especially to sacrifice). Guess who’s going to have to kill it? I’ll give you a clue – it’s not Theseus, future king of Athens.

Sigh.

Nevertheless, for all that messing around with myth, Atlantis is a relatively fun but flawed piece of Saturday night family entertainment that’ll probably keep me watching for a while, at least. Here’s a trailer – minor spoilers ahoy after the jump:

Continue reading “Review: Atlantis 1×1 (BBC1/BBC America)”