Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Why So Sad Science Fiction TV?

Dark Matter
A malaise has taken over futuristic television. Catching up on your fave science fiction series can leave a fan feeling down. We’ve lost hella faith in humanity over the last few decades.

When I was kid the message from Star Trek shows was, hey humanity made a few mistakes along the way but we became the greatest race in the galaxy! HIGH FIVE.

Star Fleet wasn’t technically the armed forces—although they seemed to go to war a lot for supposed pacifists. But nobody was forced to enlist: people lost their minds trying to get into the Academy.

Star Trek: The Next Generation
The Federation presented as the coolest cult ever, where nobody minded wearing spandex to work and audiences were fervently on board (excuse the pun) with a future where humanity was the teacher’s pet. Or to be more precise, Q’s.

Now the Federation has a dodgy record with multiple cover-ups and a lot of internal issues—Section 31’s wet work for starters—not to mention god-awful xenophobia/alienophobia incidents over the years. 

Star Trek Discovery
The downhill slide into a pessimistic, messed up vision extends way beyond Federation borders. Sucky versions of the future dominate recent sci-fi TV offerings across the intergalactic, multiple realities board.

Sure, a few humans reluctantly battle on in a hero-esque way but overall our rep aint good. I mean you can’t even trust the Jedi’s these days (but that’s a whole other post).

Here are half a dozen reasons sci-fi is taking a break from hopefulness. If Sci-fi TV were a person they’d be wearily sitting on the curb having a smoke, all the while knowing cigarettes can kill.

Humans Are Worriers

In a way, sci-fi is a form of therapy. The cultural subconscious worries about robots and AI and pollution and corporations sucking us dry(er), so we work through those issues with dark AF visual storytelling.

Black Mirror
Sci-Fi doesn't tell anybody to lighten up. Instead it agrees we should buckle down.
Television lets us explore terrible fears through the filter of the screen, satisfying doomsday worries and making that bomb shelter seem a legit investment.

The Colony

We Respect Gritty Entertainment

Science fiction as a genre has enough trouble being taken seriously (google sci-fi ghetto if you’re not clued in on the discrimination), so optimistic sci-fi television would be a hella hard sell on two levels.

Electric Dreams
We live in a world that views optimism as a form of self-delusion. We scoff at the idea of happy endings and nod sombrely while people are chopped up onscreen. In terms of the future, we expect governments to betray most of the universe.

The Expanse

The Present Day Isn’t Selling The Hope

We def don’t trust governments. In the past most looked after their country’s citizens and ignored everyone else—now they don’t even do that (example, AMERICA). In the future, we’re not expecting a lot of empathy.

And by a lot, I mean any.

Corporations are also a massive sci-fi issue. People are the product businesses haven’t quite locked down yet. Sci-fi television says hey, give it time.

Altered Carbon

And We’re Suspicious of The Sell

If a story presents a sweet future, utopia turns to dystopia pretty damn fast. The cost of paradise is always revealed to be brutal. Sci-Fi is pro paranoia. The worst-case scenario is usually legit.

The 100
The rich are mean and discrimination is always a thing. Always. The poor lose rights and we find new groups to treat as less than human, like clones, robots, and aliens.


Humanity Is Cruel AF

Whether it’s an alternate timeline or a parallel universe, psychos always have the upper hand. Kind people are still around but they’re rarely (if ever) in power, and are generally persecuted, whether psychologically trampled or physically tortured.

The OA
The feel is always that humanity could have/should have been better, and that even in alternate versions of reality, we still mess up big-time.

The Man in the High Castle

We’re So Basic, Time Travel Is A Thing

A lot of shows kick off with the premise humanity is screwed—and it’s humanity’s fault. Like, it’s inevitable we mostly die: plague, pollution, nukes, whatever. Point is we decimate ourselves. (Although to be fair sometimes aliens help us with our demise. Mostly it’s just us, though.)

Don’t get me wrong, many time travel shows are awesomely plotted but it’s worth noting the audience instantly accepts the idea society inevitably kills itself off—wittingly or unwittingly (mostly wittingly). 

12 Monkeys

In Conclusion…

Sci-fi TV is telling us we don’t trust ourselves, or other races/species we meet, or make. That humanity en masse will generally choose cruelty over kindness; that in the future heroes are sparse on the ground, and usually reluctant. 

While I get where this is coming from—and a lot of it is truly innovative, brilliant television—fingers crossed our cultural subconscious flips a little. I’m game, now and again, for small screen depictions of a future dosed up on delusional optimism. Science fiction is the greatest way to explore not just society's fears, but our hopes too.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Wayward Sisters Guest List

The news of a Supernatural spin-off focused on female hunters made me wonder which female characters from SPN's past might make an appearance...

Here are a dozen I would love to see pop in for a return visit. Some are from way back when, aka season one. (Hey if they still come to mind, I call that staying power!)

A few are dead but when did that ever stop anyone in the Supernatural universe?

12. Bela (Lauren Cohan)

Oh, she's fun. A sassy con artist for whom double, triple, quadruple crossing (if that’s a thing) is no big deal, Bela is a complex character with a tragic past who would probably enjoy a vacay from hell by now…

11. Cassie (Megalyn Echikunwoke)

We never saw Dean’s ex Cassie again after the first season. Such a pity because Cassie is a reporter and they are always handy to have on board any Scooby Gang! And she knows about the supernatural world too.

10. Linda Tran (Lauren Tom)

I really like how Supernatural shows a lot of respect for female characters that are moms. Prime example: Mrs. Tran. She survived a year of torture, took her son on the run, and even protected him when he was a ghost.

9. Ruby (Katie Cassidy)

I know a few actresses played Ruby well, but I’m a Cassidy fan. Deceitful and silver-tongued, Ruby was manipulative enough to make lies seem truths, and vice versa. The ethically unreliable can equal great plot twists.

8. Anna (Julie McNiven)

Aka the Angel Radio Girl, Anna’s convictions make her unpredictable. A powerful angel, yet celestial amnesia (now a thing) meant she’s lived as a human too. Technically she died while time travelling, so um, workable?

7. Pamela (Traci Dinwiddie)

Currently residing in heaven, she still has a soft spot for the Winchesters, and would likely leave paradise to help out a new hunter crew. Pamela’s psychic abilities would be a useful tool, and her character is a lot of fun.

6. Dorothy (Tiio Horn)

I’m a big Tiio Horn fan. Combine that with the potential for Wizard of Oz references, and how could you pass this up? Last we heard Dorothy’s the ruler of Oz, but everyone needs a holiday (or quest) now and again.

5. Sarah Blake (Taylor Cole)

Sarah is the first girl Sam connected with in season one. She was brought back in season eight only to be killed by Crowley. Such a waste! She had a daughter, so maybe that could offer potential plots for her return?

3 and 4. Ellen and Jo (Samantha Ferris and Alona Tal)

An awesome mother-daughter hunter duo, but obviously in a pinch an appearance from either is a-okay! Yes, both deceased, but maybe they could be like Grams in Charmed, and mentor from beyond the grave.

2. Charlie (Felicia Day)

Charming Charlie as I call her was an integral part of Supernatural and frankly I wish they’ never killed her off. Maybe there is a spell-related way linked to her time in Oz to get at least a shadow of her back onscreen? (Fingers crossed.)

1. Meg (Rachel Miner)

I know she left the show for health reasons, but I still wanted to shout out to my fave all-time Supernatural character! Nicki Aycox was great as the original Meg, but I adore Rachel Miner’s portrayal of the disturbing AF demon.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Teen Wolf Times One Hundred

In today's saturated TV market Teen Wolf deserves kudos for keeping fans engaged across six seasons. Holding viewer interest for one hundred episodes? Epic achievement. 

Below are fifty reasons I watched and enjoyed every instalment of the series, in no real order except for first place, of course!

50. Modern Gothic Aesthetic

People often argue that it is not sustainable to produce music video level visuals in a TV series. Teen Wolf took that challenge and created stunning moody, gorgeous footage: lots of shadows and cold blue feel. The lighting was regularly outstanding and the cinematography more adventurous than most US television shows.

49. Power Is Addictive

The show was big on reminding viewers how dangerous it is to crave, and rely on, power. From the messed up Alpha Pack, to Jackson, Leo, and the Desert Wolf, a lust for power—whether social or supernatural—eventually destroyed lives.

48. Everyone Became A Victim

In a refreshing twist, at some point all series regulars were powerless. No matter how strong or brave, they faced outer or inner struggles they couldn’t (in the moment) overcome. It seemed like Scott was powerless on more occasions than most series leads.

47. An Actual Successful Adaptation

Remember the horror of terrible TV remakes? (Looking at you 90210). Teen Wolf was inspired by an iconic movie, but clawed its way (pun intended) to a fresh, modern take on the concept.

46. People Die

Life was a battlefield for supes, especially in Beacon Hills. The show didn’t sugarcoat the downside of life or death conflicts. Alison, Aiden, Boyd, Erica, and Brett’s deaths were the tip of the iceberg. No character (except maybe Scott) proved safe.

45. Parents Who Aren’t Morons

Teen shows regularly portray parents as idiots. I really dislike this trope, and I loved how the parents here, on varying levels, engaged with their children’s battles. On occasion a mom or dad even saved the day. To me, that’s realistic.

44. Coach

Wow. This guy. The coach of the school’s lacrosse team and all-round politically incorrect individual, somehow Coach was deeply lovable. Possibly because he cared about the kids on the team? (Well, everyone except Greenberg.) Coach’s dialogue was hilariously outrageous—and he saved Jackson in the finale too.

43. Wild Editing Pace

I used to count cuts per episode when practicing scriptwriting and pacing. During adrenalized sequences the editing would speed up, but also became less paced, so the audience (probably unconsciously) picked up the erratic vibe. Loved the infusion of energy.

42.  How To Lead

What constitutes good leadership is a question addressed both in high school (most noticeably on the lacrosse field) and in the supernatural realm. On the alpha front, Derek does an awful job with his pack, Peter is worse, and don’t get me started on Deucalion. Scott, however, becomes a True Alpha through character alone.

41. Lydia’s Screams And Scott’s Howls Are Spooky AF

My fave of the sound effects. (Teen Wolf made wonderful use of amplifying or muting audio elements to create atmosphere.) Scott’s alpha howling to subdue another creature was chilling. Lydia’s banshee wails were off the freakin’ charts. Loved the creepy energy.

40. Carefully Crafted Sense of Style

Lydia’s wardrobe was an example of great costuming. While growing as a person, her style evolved but certain elements recurred in her wardrobe. Alternately I kind of love how Stiles never figured out how to dress well. A total disregard for fashion matched his personality!

39. Lack of Male Entitlement
The women of Teen Wolf set their own personal and sexual boundaries, and when they laid down the law the male characters listened. Those who didn’t paid for that attitude. Entitlement was not okay in this version of reality. Female characters weren't judged for their sexuality, and the women were often dominant in their relationships. Side note: Alison is a year older than Scott, and more experienced in terms of dating and relationships. Often the main couple in teen TV shows includes a super-innocent female lead, younger than the male lead; this was a great turn-around.

38. Disastrous Parties

The black light Halloween party at Derek’s place was crashed by Oni demons, the party at Scott’s crashed by The Wild Hunt’s Ghost Riders. Lydia’s weird birthday had everyone hallucinating, and OMG the lake house parties (those never end well on any teen show). Despite the lack of success, these kids kept throwing parties. Fighting!

37. Chris Argent

Love this guy. A hunter of supernatural killers, after his wife and daughter died he turned on his sister and father when they lost their moral compass, helping the supernaturals because at heart he’s a protector of the innocent. Plus, he had a droll sense of humor. So cool.

36. Supernatural Teens Making Idiotic Decisions

The teens of Teen Wolf weren’t an all-knowing, super-hip crew. This lot had me facepalming (and laughing) with their stupid but authentic choices and awkward moments. The secondhand embarrassment was real.

35. The Nogitsune Plot

Kira’s family’s addition to the cast brought the Nogitsune plot into play, an epic storyline, entwining myth and discrimination at an American internment camp. And woah the Nogitsune/Stiles twist.

34. Money Doesn’t Grow On Trees

Financial troubles hit the single parents of Beacon Hills hard: hospital bills from supe attacks and time spent in the supernatural psych ward added up. Pre peak GoFundMe, this was a cold, hard dose of realism.

33. Visions

Dreams, visions, hallucinations, repressed memories, sleepwaking, psychic manipulation, and fugue states: the show constantly crossed back and forward between what was real and what was not. Cue mind-bending scenes.

32.  The Opening Credits

Simple, sleek, dramatic and beautiful; always on a black drop, getting darker and creepier each season.

31. The Cops Don’t Suck

Sheriff Stilinski ran the Beacon Hills police, and dealt with dodgy officers harshly. While this isn’t always true in real life, I liked the positive portrayal. Deputy Parrish was also a Hell Hound and having supes—and the supe-aware—on the force made for well-rounded characters.

30. Gritty Sets

Much of the series took place in tunnels, warehouses, and abandoned buildings: think exposed beam, peeling paint, and worn out surfaces. A lot of texture. The baddies also had wild lairs (shout out to the Dread Doctors). The eye was never bored.

29. Things That Grow

Many plants were symbolic, or physically/psychologically/magically transformative. From mountain ash to wolfsbane, nature had power in this world. The Nemeton (a magic tree stump bought into the story by the wonderful mentor Deaton) was used to great effect in the story.

28. Bianca Lawson Appeared

From a slayer on Buffy The Vampire Slayer to roles in Pretty Little Liars, Secret Life of an American Teenager, and The Vampire Diaries, Bianca Lawson in the credits is a sure sign a teen series is approaching cult status. (Here she plays a druid.)

27. Vulnerability Is Lit

They faced a fear, or acknowledge unhealthy behavior to move forward. The series focused on personal growth, whether issues were supernatural or everyday. Characters admitted they needed help, showing it’s not just okay but kind of awesome to express vulnerability, no matter how tough, clever or cool you are.

26. References To Literature

Everything from Sun Tzu to Heart of Darkness scored a mention, whether in school classes or casual conversation. Teen Wolf promoted the idea it’s cool to be a well-read teen.

25. Shifting Alliances

Shows where people play double agent, or cross sides are the best. Werewolves rebelled against their packs, and hunters like Argent changed sides for ethical reasons. Enemies made short-term alliances to battle villains. Good times.

24. Prejudice Is Presented As Ludicrous

Teen Wolf reall-y didn’t like prejudice in any form. Prejudiced characters were shown as somehow broken. And the plot usually showcased the idea prejudiced people not only damage others, but damage themselves as well.

23. Genocide and Hit Lists

Any plotline that strayed into supernatural cleansing was sobering because it explored the sensation of being hated, judged, labeled, and punished for who you are. A somber metaphoric way to make young people understand the horror and atrocities of history.

22. Fire And Energy Powers

Most notably, Kira and Parrish’s supercool supe identities. Watching them burn it up onscreen (pun intended) was epic: Parrish as a hellhound, and Kira as a Thunder Kitsune.

21. Amplified Angst

Nothing like a teen werewolf to bring the angst to the party. Isaac was a prime example of awkward and clueless, angry and traumatized—and he wasn’t the only one. Cora had some rage goin' on too.

20. Empathy Over Intellect

Confession: Not Scott McCall fan, since he was never the sharpest tool in the shed. But the show played on the premise heart matters more than intelligence, and the other alphas highlighted why McCall was so popular. To quote Baron Acton, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

19. The Power of Grief

Alison’s guilt allowed her to be manipulated. The power of grief, especially partnered with guilt, regularly propelled the story. Heightened emotion skews judgment, and Teen Wolf used that anomaly to push the story in certain directions.

18. Excellently Adrenalized

From fight scenes—verbal or physical— to chases, this series kept the blood pumping. The suspense was also high, and never once did the pace bore the audience.

17. The Diverging Mom Opinions

Teen Wolf broke the clueless mom mold. Melissa, Noshiko, Mrs. Argent, and Mrs. Martin are highly capable—in different ways. And despite holding opposing philosophies as to the right path, they always acted in what they believed was their kid’s best interests.

16. Being A Werewolf Sucks

Instead of portraying the supe life as hella cool, the show took a dark path: cons of lycanthropy were up there with the pros. The pack structure left less powerful wolves open to abuse. Hunters were a problem. And loss of self-control on full moon threatened a body count.

15. Recognizing Boundaries

A recurring theme: how to know when to respect them, when to question them, and when to cross them. (Includes the setting of boundaries between the children and parents. A lot of the show is about the transition to adulthood and how that impacts the family dynamic.)

14. We Got A Mantra

“Three things cannot long be hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.” Thanks Satomi.

13. Don’t Protect People From Life

Many plot points arose from trying to protect friends, family, lovers or strangers. It’s implied repeatedly that making decisions for others is a way of underestimating them, and rarely ends well in the context of the story.

12. Always A Price

When Scott’s pack breaks the laws of the supernatural world, there is a price. Nothing is for free in this created reality. Acts of mercy and acts of persecution have both short-term and long-term repercussions: expected, or unexpected, deserved or undeserved. I like that balance.

 11. Violence And Revenge Are Addictive

The Darach lost herself in the quest for revenge, as did Monroe. Many characters—human and supe—developed a taste for violence, offering justifications from skewed perspectives, moving from defenders to persecutors.

10. Sense of Humor

Amidst all the intensity and drama, Teen Wolf infused comedy to balance out heavier material. Shows like Veronica Mars and Buffy The Vampire Slayer had previously made it clear how well this style of emotional cocktail worked with teen audiences, and Teen Wolf took that lesson to heart.

9. From Funny To Whacky

The best whacky moments came from Stiles and Coach but everyone—Liam, Lydia, Malia, even Derek—got to deliver real zingers. Ex-villains, like Peter, really upped the whacky factor when they joined Team Pack Scott.

8. You’re Gay? No Big Deal

Because it shouldn’t be: onscreen or off. Girl on girl wasn’t a focus for the show, but guy-on-guy got a lot of screen time. (Side note: So wish Kira had come back dating one of the Skinwalkers in the finale.) Jackson was the star athlete and school bully—with a gay best friend. Likewise, Mason being gay was a non-issue with his best friend Liam. When the twins enroll at school and one of them is gay, no big deal. Gay couples on the show (like the lovely Mason and Corey) were treated the same as hetero couples: just people in relationships. Love is love in Beacon Hills.

7. Mental Health

Not so much the local psychiatric care facility—which was like something out of the Dickensian era of fiction, combined with discrimination against supernaturals—but portrayals of depression, anxiety and PTSD. Liam had Intermittent Explosive Disorder, Stiles and Scott experienced panic attacks, and many characters displayed symptoms resulting from trauma.

6. Modernizing Myths

Teen Wolf took a series of fabulous old tales, creatures from historical myths, and gave them modern, creative spins. The greatest was the re-interpretation of a banshee. Lydia’s sound-based psychic visions, attraction to scenes of impending tragedy, and sonic warrior skills were an eerie, creative take on an old tale. A close second was the interpretation of The Wild Hunt.

5. The Ships

Oh, the ships. My faves were Stiles and Lydia, Melissa and Argent, and for some reason Malia and Theo—if he went on a redemptive path in a ten year flash forward. Plus I want a Jackson and Ethan spin-off that’s like James Bond meets Supernatural if the Winchesters were hubbies instead of brothers.

4. Teamwork

Teen Wolf is about working together to survive. Usually beating a big baddie takes a few tries, culminating in a plan that requires a number of the pack to succeed. Along the way various members (or almost members) of Scott's pack piece together clues, and keep moving forward.

3. It’s Legit Okay To Be Afraid
At some point many characters admit they are deeply afraid. I love that almost everyone is presented as a relatable person. Sometimes they hide, or run from potential conflict. Other times they face what’s happening, but screw up, overwhelmed by fear—and that’s okay.

2. Stiles

Or should I say, Mieczyslaw Stilinski. The best friend sidekick, he’s introduced as bumbling and kindhearted, clever but erratic in terms of focus. Unlike most of the cast, he stays human (well, aside from a possessed period). Over the seasons he proves an integral part of the pack, ending the series in training for the FBI.

1. Lydia

Her transition from vicious Queen Bee to formidable leader is a riveting journey. She stops pretending to be stupid, and starts taking care of people, even risking her life, and tackles the discovery she’s a banshee head-on. Lydia is indomitable, and one of my fave female characters to grace the small screen.

Thanks for the good times, Teen Wolf Team! x