Friday, September 26, 2014

Five Things on a Friday: Scoping Out the New TV Season

Glory hallelujah, it's finally Friday!  Looks like it's gonna be a good one, too.  My New York Giants laid 45 on Washington last night, this weekend is my daughter's birthday, and if the Football Gods are good, Army might even win one this weekend.

It’s also finally fall, which means we've got a ton of new TV out there.  I haven’t seen it all, but I’ve liked what little I’ve seen so far.

Let's get to it.
1.  Gotham
Fox’s new non-Batman show Gotham has gotten much better reviews than I’d expected.  I’d not have through taking Batman out of a show about Batman would be a good idea, but I enjoyed the series premier and have every intention of watching next week’s episode.  
Laura Vandervoort played Supergirl
on CW's Smallville.  CBS just greenlit a
new Supergirl series
as well.
As with the CW show Smallville, it’s hard to see how Gotham can keep itself going for more than a season or two.  It’s a prequel show with a finite lifespan by definition.  The best part still seems to be the part the show’s skipping over, i.e. Bruce Wayne’s epic lifelong crusade of vengeance against the crime that killed his parents.  The show’s first scene sets up this crusade as its primary story-question, so how can we ever fulfill its promise without seeing the hero in action?  I doubt that we can.
Still, there’s definitely something to the show.  Jim Gordon’s character is compelling, and I’m already afraid for his fiancé Barbara because we know that he names his daughter Barbara, and I’m pretty sure Barbara Gordon wasn’t named for her mother.  Moreover, Gotham strikes me as the kind of show that will kill off a love interest in the name of its protagonist’s motivation.  That’s a cheap move compared to the challenges of showing the evolution of a real adult relationship over time, but it’s also in keeping with the ethos of the show’s backstory, so I suppose we can’t complain.
Gotham is on Fox.
For what it’s worth, I also really liked the Penguin.  When he goes crazy and starts whacking people, I’m going to cheer.
2.  Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The Absorbing Man started as
a villain in Thor.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. also started off well.  We got a look at the Absorbing Man, but even more than that, the show now has a grittier feel that’s simply more entertaining.  I’m still not a fan of the show’s music—it always tries to hit heroic notes at times I think it ought to be building tension—but even there, it really only got on my nerves once during the season premier.  Plus, they seem to have spent a little more time with the show’s fight choreography and in consideration of how its characters move through their world.  That effort was badly needed.  
Both the CW’s Arrow and Fox’s Gotham make excellent use of their surroundings.  Arrow uses parkour, making its heroes heroic by virtue of the very way they move.  Starling City doesn’t just have streets and buildings, it has rooftops and alleys and obstacles of every kind.  Oliver and company never simply walk, drive, or run.  They vault across empty spaces, swing from heights, and race motorcycles through complex terrain at night at high speed.  Half the show’s tension derives from the way its characters use the terrain in which they find themselves.  Similarly, a substantial part of Gotham’s menace derives from the way the city itself seems to hulk over its characters, informing the mood of the entire piece.  I don’t know if Gotham’s plotline is going to work over time, but its setting is excellent.
In its first season, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had a lot going for it.  But with the exception of Ming Na’s Melinda May, its characters all had poisonously generic good-looks, and its settings were universally clean and well-lit.  In many ways, the show felt almost like a sit-com set on a private plane.  It was sometimes entertaining, but it rarely felt dangerous, especially given that super-heroic score.  Thankfully the new season looks grimmer, it’s been physically darker, and if there’s less in-your-face S.H.I.E.L.D. technology, the technology that we have seen popped far more effectively.  There were exactly two instances of S.H.I.E.L.D. super-science in Tuesday’s episode—Ward’s prison and the quinjet turning invisible at the episode’s end—and both of these corresponded with fundamentally important plot points.  That’s better storytelling than we saw last season.
 Adrianne Palicki is joining the cast of S.H.I.E.L.D. as
Bobbi Morse, aka Mockingbird, later this season.  In the
comics, Mockingbird is ex-wife to Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye.
I’m excited for the new season of S.H.I.E.L.D.  I’m excited to see what happens with Melinda May and Agent Coulson, I’m excited to see how the Fitz/Simmons plotline plays out, and I’m curious to see how Marvel’s going to wrap the Inhumans up in all of this.  
I say that because the new season’s tagline, “What will they become?” is an obvious reference to the Inhumans’ transformation process “terragenesis”.  Inhuman children are exposed to the Terrigen Mist and allowed to mutate, becoming superhuman—often grotesquely so.  Hence, Flowers’s question at the end of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1: “What will I become?”  An inhuman never knows what he or she will become until after the transformation.  “What will I become?” is therefore the fundamental question for all Inhumans prior to transformation.  It’s the new season’s question as well, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
3.  Hair Metal Interlude

“The problem is that Putin’s Russia today is ready and willing to go to war. Europe and the West are not ready and not willing to go to war. There is no leadership in Europe or in the world able to stop Putin. Afterwards, we will be surprised that new territories are taken, that new countries are partitioned, and it will be a lot more costly and too late maybe to solve it.”
5.  Family Stuff
My daughter Hannah turns eleven this weekend, and we’re celebrating by heading to the Milford Ice Pavilion for some high-quality ice skating.  Hannah’s been taking skating lessons for a while now, so more than anything, I think this weekend’s trip offers her the chance to show off in front of her friends.  She’s just now entering the age where that becomes a major thing, and especially for girls, finding some status in you peer group is a serious issue.  
I worry less about Hannah than I might because—like me—she’s both self-confident and slightly introverted, and that means that she only rarely worries about what other folks think of her.  But still…  We are slowly, inexorably heading into her teenage years, and some social awkwardness is inevitable.  I hope we can steer our kids around the curves, but I’m cognizant of the fact that they have to do the majority of the driving for themselves.  
More than anything, what I want is for Sally and me to model a healthy, mutually productive adult relationship in front of our kids.  For better or worse, most kids turn out pretty much exactly like their parents.  This is maybe not so true professionally, but personally and socially, we behave as we’ve seen our role models behave.  To put it in Leadership lingo, organizations tend to take on the personalities of their leaders.  Parents lead their families, and kids follow their parents’ example.  I therefore hope first and foremost to live a happy, healthy life because that’s the kind of life I want for my kids.  For Sally and me, that means breaking some bad cycles from our parents’ legacy, but that’s the essence of life.  We want to keep and reinforce the good while changing or avoiding the bad.  This is the most important thing in my life, and at least in this one thing, I feel like we’re doing okay.

That's all I've got!  Have a good weekend.

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