Category: TV

The Gifted

In the wake of Inhumans it seems like there’s a new contender for worst looking Marvel associated TV show with the release of the latest trailer for the upcoming show The Gifted.

The Gifted is according to executive producer Matt Nix set in an alternate timeline to everything else from Fox that’s been X-Men related, fully embracing the inherently confusing Marvel comics narrative device of alternate Earths and time lines.

The series centres around Lauren and Andy Strucker (Natalie Alyn Lind and Percy Hynes White) two teenagers who discover they’re mutants in a rather dramatic fashion. Which is problematic because their father Reed (Stephen Moyer) works for a faction of the U.S Government that hunts mutants. Meanwhile Lorna Dane aka Polaris (Emma Dumont), John Proudstar aka Thunderbird (Blair Redford), Blink (Jamie Chung) and Eclipse (Sean Teale) are a group of mutants trying to survive in a world where mutants are hunted and feared and the X-Men no longer exist.

The group of mutants here are alternate versions of the same mutants seen in the dark future of Days of Future Past, with the exception of Polaris. There’s nothing wrong with this as Blink is one of the best characters in Marvel’s vast X-Men universe, Blink was heading up the Exiles after escaping from the Age of Apocalypse reality, so it’s disappointing that the character will undoubtedly be underserved by the series for reasons that will become clear.

There’s definitely a lot of potential in the ideas of The Gifted, especially given the very pertinent real world parallels of bigotry, prejudice and hatred towards certain people just because of who they are. That potential is going to be hobbled by several things though one being The Gifted is on Fox rather than Netflix or HBO where writers would be able to actually engage some of the political issues the show is clearly bringing up, another is the same problem that threatens to hobble Inhumans, a TV show about a group of people with powers is very hard to pull off for budgetary reasons.

From what’s been shown so far The Gifted is like a slightly less cheesey Mutant X, which itself was essentially an X-Men show in everything but name, in fact it was so similar that Fox sued Marvel and the production companies before they filed a counter suit and then came to a settlement later.

So whilst it’d be great to see a TV show that features multi-layered fleshed out characters with engrossing character arcs and a narrative that deals with important themes that have very real parallels and features characters with powers, that’s something that the X-Men films have majorly struggled with or not even attempted and they’ve been mega budget productions. The fundamental problem with any TV show that features characters with powers is the writers are generally bound by budgetary restrictions into using those powers sparingly because showing them being used is an expensive and timely endeavour from a production perspective.

Marvel’s Netflix shows have managed to get around this by featuring characters that have powers that are easier to portray on screen because they are much more grounded and generally require more fight choreography than extensive and expensive digital effects work. There’s a big difference between Luke Cage throwing people around and shrugging off bullets and a character like Blink creating portals and teleporting or Polaris using her powers of magnetism to throw vehicles around. There’s no doubt that they could be done, and done impressively, but there’s a definite sense this show doesn’t have the budget to do it and when a show that features powers doesn’t have the budget to do them properly it becomes unintentionally comedic or it has to not take itself seriously and have a more comedic campy tone like DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.

Marvel’s Inhumans

The first trailer for Marvel’s Inhumans is here and, well, it doesn’t look that great really.

Whilst they might not have the high profile of the X-Men or Spider-Man Marvel’s Inhumans have been around for decades first appearing in the 60’s. The origins of the Inhumans are a little convoluted but simply put they’re the result of genetic engineering by the Kree (an alien race) on primitive man in the hopes to use them against their foes the Skrulls (another alien race) in a war. The Kree abandoned their plans and left the Inhumans behind on the Moon. Completely seperate from the rest of humanity they developed their own advanced society in the city state of Attilan.

Whilst the enigmatic Black Bolt (Anson Mount) might be the King of the Inhumans, capable of levelling a city just by whispering, Medusa (Serinda Swan) is Queen of the Inhumans and no mere trophy wife either.  Medusa is not only a central figure within the Inhumans society, acting as interpreter for the silent Black Bolt (communicating via sign language) and helping conduct affairs of the state, she’s also a skilled and capable fighter. Medusa’s lengthy hair has greater tensile strength than iron wire and she can control and manipulate it at will. She can lift, hold and move objects (including people) using her hair and also use it for precise tasks like picking a lock. You’d never know any of this from what you see in the trailer though as there’s no indication she has any powers, or any importance, at all. She doesn’t even speak.

What’s really interesting is the poster for Inhumans gives the impression that, understandably, Black Bolt, Medusa and Maximus are the main characters of this series but the trailer, the first trailer which will impact the first impression that potential viewers have, utterly fails to show why Medusa is on that poster.  Whilst it’s out of context it does seem to be indicating Medusa is basically helpless before Maximus who seemingly subjugates with no problems at all.

Marvel is pretty appalling at representation for anyone who isn’t a white guy in their on screen universe. Medusa in Inhumans could be a prime opportunity to add another ‘strong female character’ to Marvel’s on screen presence (granted it’s a white woman) but the trailer utterly fails to give any impression that she matters at all in the world of the Inhumans, that’s besides the complete absence of her powers.

Black Bolt’s treacherous brother Maximus (Iwan Rheon) gets the main focus of this first trailer but the stand out by far is actually Lockjaw, the huge teleporting dog that serves as Black Bolt’s guardian of sorts. Inhumans could be a great drama about a royal family that just happens to have strange abilities/powers but this trailer doesn’t do a good job of selling it. There’s a definite sense that it really doesn’t have the budget to do these characters properly given their visual effects intensive powers.

There’s a lot of noise about Inhumans being shot on IMAX but there’s little evidence as to why it’s been shot on IMAX, almost everything about the first trailer looks amateurish, bland and low budget in a bad way. Whilst the marketing seems to be trying to make it seem like ‘event’ TV the actual trailer does the opposite.

Blood Drive

In the opening scene of Blood Drive Grace (Christina Ochoa) stabs a would be rapist in the groin and then feeds him head first into the meat grinder in her cars engine, an engine that runs on blood.

Welcome to the mad, lurid and sleazy world of Blood Drive created by James Roland.

Arthur (Alan Ritchson) is the one good cop left working for Contracrime a privatised police force that brutalises citizens without hesitation in a dystopian 1999. This is a brutal America where gas prices are extortionate, water is strictly rationed and life is cheap. Following a hunch results in Arthur stumbling on a crazy world of deadly races overseen by the vaudevillian host Julian Slink (Colin Cunningham). Arthur soon finds himself paired up with experienced driver Grace against his will.

Meanwhile Arthur’s partner Chris (Thomas Dominique) finds himself in a whole other kind of trouble after joining fellow officer Aki (Marama Corlett) the pair stumble upon some disturbing truths about the owners of his employer Heart Industries.

Blood Drive introduces numerous characters, including the drivers of several vehicles in the race, with the exception of The Gentleman (Andrew Hall) and The Scholar (Darren Kent) most are just in the background of the ensuing madness. Grace is the archetypal bad ass hot girl anti-hero, her motivations for being in the race might be coming from a good place (earning money to help her sick sister) but she has absolutely no qualms with killing anyone that gets in her way. Anyone could end up being fuel for her car. Whilst Arthur is the rugged square jawed good guy in a world gone bad and his sense of morality is distinctly at odds with the situation he finds himself in.

 Ochoa and Ritchson are clearly having fun and the pair make for a good odd couple. Meanwhile Cunningham embraces his role with impressive gusto. Dominique meanwhile seems somewhat removed from the craziness the other characters find themselves in, how, or if, the characters will be reunited remains to be seen.

Coming across like the bastard son of Roger Corman’s Death Race 2000 the refreshing thing about Blood Drive is the way it commits itself  wholeheartedly to its concept and aesthetic. With an ever expanding number of TV shows eager to get your attention it’s pretty rare to find something that doesn’t even try and go for some sort of mass appeal in anyway.  This is lurid, crass, sleazy, bloody, exploitative TV which you will either love or hate.

There are a lot of ideas here, that’s besides the idea of cars engineered to run on blood. The whole thing comes across a little like a brain storming session between 70’s drive-in fans in a dive bar. The trailer promises “Cannibals. Monsters. Cults. Lawmen. Nymphos. Amazons”.  Blood Drive embraces the comedic potential of splatter like Peter Jackson’s Brain Dead aka Dead Alive or  Ash Vs Evil Dead. The race itself is just the narrative frame work for everything else. Although it should pretty obvious Blood Drive is in no way a ‘serious’ dystopian TV series like The Handmaid’s Tale and any criticism for failing to ‘address things’ is spectacularly missing the point.

Exploring the new frontier

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HBO’s latest big venture Westworld arrived recently. Based on the 70’s film written and directed by Michael Crichton (and featuring Yul Brynner in a memorable role as a robot cowboy gone haywire).

Westworld was in the media spotlight long before its first episode aired after a contract for extras was highlighted for being rather creepy now it’s in the spotlight again with stars defending things seen in the premiere episode.

Set at some point in the future Westworld is a vast theme park of sorts which represents an Old West town and the surrounding area. The park is populated by incredibly lifelike robots/synthetic beings called Hosts. Westworld is the creation of Dr Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins). The series introduces various characters, some are people that work for Westworld in some capacity like Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) one of the technicians that works on the Hosts that populate the park, some are Hosts like Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), Maeve (Thandie Newton) and Teddy (James Marsden), whilst others are patrons of the park like The Man in Black (Ed Harris) and his polar opposite William (Jimmi Simpson). These are just some of the characters that feature.

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Visitors ,called Guests, are free to live out any desire they have with no judgement or consequence. The Hosts exist to accommodate their desires, whether this is being a brutal sadistic murderer, a violent rapist or something else. The Hosts though have no memory of what they are subjected to due to being wiped, monitored and recalibrated as necessary by the the parks technicians. Also Hosts generally speaking can’t harm Guest ,though they might attempt to, because their guns don’t fire real bullets. This enables Guests to engage in the thrill of a gun fight with no risk of real injury.

The various Hosts in the park are all playing a part in numerous overlapping looping narratives which the Guests can take part in. Once the narrative loop comes to an end it restarts with the Hosts involved completely oblivious to having done the same thing numerous times.

The first episode, and indeed the series as a whole, has more than a little in common with Charlie Brooker’s acclaimed series Black Mirror given that it deals with the darker uses of technology and how they impact people and society, Dolores’ story is a prime example. Dolores is part of a narrative loop involving Teddy but The Man in Black it turns out has been taking part in this loop for years. Each time it culminates in Teddy being killed in some way by The Man in Black and Dolores being brutalised and raped by him, the screaming Dolores being dragged off by her hair into a barn before the door slams ominously shut behind her.

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Only Dolores isn’t being brutally raped in the context of the world presented here because Dolores isn’t a person with rights or bodily autonomy. Dolores is a thing. A synthetic person subject to the whims of the parks Guests. The problem with this is the presentation to the viewers at home is exactly the same because Hosts by definition look exactly like real people. This is basically rape by proxy. More than that it suffers from familiar problems that usually arise when sexual assault or rape features in a TV show, deferred consequence for the transgressor to build dramatic tension and deliver catharsis at a later date and glossing over the aftermath for the victim.

The first episode ,which focusses primarily on Dolores’ loop, ends with her naked in the technicians lab (for some unexplained reason Hosts are always naked in the lab when taken for diagnostic maintenance) looking glassy eyed into the camera as engineers question her in a diagnostic mode. This visual is powerful because the viewer has the burden of knowledge of what Dolores has been subjected to repeatedly even if she doesn’t and the Westworld employees are completely indifferent to the suffering.

The long play for Westworld is the Hosts through something in their latest software update (possibly intentional on Ford’s part) is leading them to actually gain full awareness remembering all the horrific things they’ve been subjected to by the Guests over the years via flashbacks and dream like hallucinatory episodes. Dolores it’s revealed is the oldest of the Hosts in the park and is it seems being set up as the leader of the Hosts rebellion against their human oppressors, whilst Maeve, who in episode 2 “wakes up” whilst in the lab, is set to play a big part too.

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Whilst this undeniably fertile ground for an interesting multi-layered character drama it’s yet another example of relying on the well worn plot device of women’s sexual assault, rape and trauma being utilised as a catalyst for revenge and empowerment. This was the basis of I Spit on Your Grave back in 1978 and I’m sure it wasn’t the first example. You can’t help but think writers seem to not know how to write empowered women in TV drama without their empowerment being the by product of some man’s malevolent transgression.

The idea that Westworld employees are seperated into different departments, with animosity between the workers of different departments, is prime for exploration as one of the most looming questions about Westworld is how does the place function? Does it have opening hours like a normal theme park? How many departments are there? How do they repair the Hosts damaged by Guests? Are there any animals besides the synthetic horses? Why would anybody take their children to Westworld? Why are there no child Hosts? How do the visitors function outside of the park where they have to revert to behaving in a normal civilised manner? How do the people that work at Westworld function in the real world? Those are just a handful of questions Westworld prompts.

A big part of Westworld is the idea that the only difference between modern, or in this case future, society and the savage primordial past is the thin veneer of civilisation, something which can be stripped away easily given the right circumstance. Swedish series Akta Manniskor explored the same themes regarding technology, A.I and the impact it has on society in a much more grounded manner, the series was remade in English as Humans which changed the story and some characters.

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AMC’s Preacher

Preacher written by Garth Ennis, with art from Steve Dillon and covers by Glenn Fabry which were originally published via Vertigo Comics 1995 – 2000. A kentucky fried road trip across America centred around preacher Jesse Custer who has lost his faith , his fiery gun toting ex Tulip and a hard drinking Irish vampire named Cassidy. Custer, the preacher for small Texas town Annville, soon becomes the host for an entity named Genesis (the offspring of an angel and a demon which has escaped from Heaven) which gives him a terrifying new power, The Word, allowing him to make people do whatever he wants. Custer wants answers so sets out to find God. Literally.

The comic became notorious for its black humour, bad taste and general misanthropy and offensiveness, along with its particularly anti-religious story.  Preacher also featured great characters though including one of the best antagonists in American comics in The Saint of Killers and underneath it all it’s an engrossing story about faith or lack thereof, love, friendship and family.

Now after years of being the subject of numerous attempts to turn Preacher into a film or a TV series now AMC (the home of the smash hit The Walking Dead based on the comic by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard) has actually done the previously thought impossible and made Preacher into a TV series…………………….sort of.

The result of a collaboration between Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg the series features Dominic Cooper as Jesse Custer, Ruth Negga as Tulip and Joseph Gilgun as Cassidy.

Films or TV shows based on source material like a book or comic are a distinctly tricky thing to get right. TV and film is a different medium to prose or comic book panels but at the same time changing too much can alienate the fans you’re trying to win over and also dilute what makes the source material so good in the first place. There’s some extraneous material in the 70+ issues of Preacher, some of which could easily be excised without really effecting the main story and some of it is undeniably dated given it was written 20 or so years ago so changes are inevitable when bringing it to life on screen.

A good example of a TV adaptation is The 100 based on the book series by Kass Morgan. The show takes the core premise but runs with it in an impressive manner quickly jettisoning its cliched teen love triangle subplots for far meatier fare . The recently ending third series of the hit show barely resembling the first due to well written character arcs and narrative.  Less good examples being Lucifer and iZombie (both also based on Vertigo comics) which barely resemble their source material and not in a good way.

AMC’s Preacher seems tonally confused though, as though it’s not really sure what it wants to be.

Gilgun and Negga are excellent as Cassidy and Tulip.  One being introduced in a frenetic bloody fight in a plane 30,000 feet up in the air, whilst the other in an intense claustrophobic  fight in a car ploughing through a cornfield. These scenes could easily be straight out of the comic, they’re well shot, raucous and unafraid to get bloody, especially in Cassidy’s case. Negga’s Tulip in particular stands out as being a feisty, defiantly independent and capable and will likely be winning scores of fans. Where the show stumbles is in how it presents Jesse and his life in Annville.

Cooper’s Jesse doesn’t really get a whole lot to do besides mope around dealing with his parishioners, listening to the mindnumbing minutiae of their lives, and do a little verbal jousting with the local Sheriff Hugo Root (played by W. Earl Brown), a character who has been majorly toned down from the comic where he is a belligerent hard ass racist.  The only thing of note is a bar fight he gets into with the father of a child he tries (but fails) to help. Whilst trying to establish Annville and Custer as a preacher before everything goes crazy is understandable, it’s just not done very well and it really doesn’t make for interesting viewing at all. Especially in contrast to the intensity of the scenes featuring Tulip and Cassidy.  Cooper definitely seems like he might grow into the part but going by the first episode he definitely comes across as the least interesting character of the three which is a bit of a problem since Jesse Custer is supposed to be every bit the badass that Cassidy and Tulip are.

Whilst AMC’s Preacher isn’t as awful as it could’ve been compared to the likes of Lucifer at the same time it’s not exactly great either. There’s a feeling that Rogen and Goldberg may have filed the sharp edges off Ennis’ story a little too much in their endeavour to get the show made. One of the things that really stands out is the way it’s heavily implied that the thing that eventually bonds with Jesse is of alien origin, which would fundamentally change the whole story but explain how they managed to actually get the show greenlit on a network that has a problem with profanity, so Preacher’s outright blasphemous view of religion (especially Christianity) surviving seems highly unlikely but if you take that away you have a completely and utterly different story.

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