Thursday, June 15, 2017

TELEVISION THURSDAY

I’ve been catching up on my comics-related television viewing these past several weeks. At this point, I’m current on every show save for Agents of SHIELD, Arrow and iZombie. Which would be a whole lot more impressive if you don’t take into account that I have twelve episode of SHIELD to watch, nine of Arrow and roughly 34 episodes of iZombie. My goal is to watch all of these episodes before Labor Day. A person has to have dreams.

What you’ll be reading today are my random thoughts on Iron Fist, Legion, Legends of Tomorrow, Flash, Supergirl, Lucifer and Gotham. Of these seven series, Legion is the only one that might not get me back next season.

Because I don’t know what I’ll be telling you until I actually get to the comments, let’s assume there are

SPOILERS AHEAD

That way, no one gets hurt.

Iron Fist [Netflix] got mixed reviews from a lot of my friends and I see where they’re coming from. Some of the episodes dragged and the litany of bad decisions made by characters got tiresome. I think the season would have been better and tighter at eight to ten episodes instead of the thirteen they did.

I don’t understand the uproar over Danny Rand being white. He was white in the comics and one of things I like most in the series is how out of place Danny is in both his native land and in K'un-Lun. Does every martial arts character have to be Asian?

Finn Jones was decent as Danny Rand. The various actors playing the messed-up Meachum family got a little chewy with the scenery from time to time. I liked Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing, but she did come off as a little naive.

The stand-out performances were...

Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple. As always, Claire’s our real-world anchor to the weird and stormy seas of the lead characters in this and other Marvel/Netflix series.

Wai Ching Ho as Madame Gao, who is honestly terrifying in Iron Fist in a way she never quite managed in Daredevil.

Carrie-Anne Moss as the complicated Jeri Hogarth. Her character was a horrible person in Jessica Jones, but we got to see another side of her here.

I’ll add that I love the idea of Danny Rand being in the Defenders if only on account of he’s the only member of that team with money. Snazzy headquarters, anyone? Also, if Misty Knight should lose her arm somewhere along the line, Rand Industries has the clout/money to get her a Tony Stark-designed replacement.

                                                                            

I stuck with Legion [FX] through the entirety of its eight-episode first season, but it became a chore around the fifth episode or so. The Internet Movie Database describes it:

David Haller is a troubled young man diagnosed as schizophrenic, but after a strange encounter, he discovers special powers that will change his life forever.

Legion is based on New Mutants comic books by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz, two creators for whom I have great respect. But, here’s the thing, outside of being fascinated by some of the duo’s storytelling techniques, I didn’t care much for that run. Doesn’t mean it was a bad run - it wasn’t - it simply didn’t resonate with me. That happens.

There’s some excellent acting on this show: Dan Stevens as Haller, Aubrey Plaza as Lenny Busker, Rachel Keller as Syd Barrett, to name but three. Some of the manifestations of Haller’s powers and those of other mutants are interesting. However, I would have preferred writing more to the point and with fewer unanswered questions. I’m sure other viewers like the series for the very reasons I am only so-so about it.

I’m not bailing on Legion yet. When the second season debuts, I’ll watch a few episodes and see if it works better for me.

                                                                                   

The CW’s Legends of Tomorrow is one of my favorite shows, despite featuring one of my least favorite comic book and science fiction themes: time travel. Specifically, time travel in which there is an ever-present threat that reality as we know it could become undone. Time travel is messy. If I want messy, I can look around my office.

It’s the characters that endear Legends to me. Dominic Purcell as Mick Rory is my favorite and, though he often stumbles, his story is a redemption story and redemption stories are favorites of mine. After Purcell, Caity Lotz’s Sara Lance is my second favorite. Hers is also a redemption story mixed with a story of her embracing her identity as a gay woman without hesitation and spiced with most of the sexual comedy in the series. Like her male teammates, I am in awe of Sara’s moves.

Special mention should be made of Wentworth Miller’s Leonard Snart. He has played Snart in the “present” time as an often untrustworthy teammate and played him in “past” times as a vicious criminal and killer. He’s no longer a series regular, but Legends and other CW shows keep finding ways to feature him.

My favorite moments of the just completed second season:

Mick forms a bond with General George Washington while rescuing the father of our nation from the British. Back in our own era, time’s undergone a slight reality hiccup. There’s now a statue of Mick in Washington D.C.

The second season cliffhanger. Despite defeating the main villain and saving reality, the Legends kind of broke time themselves. They emerge from the timestream into Los Angeles 2017 and find the city has been overrun by dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs. How could I not love this series?

                                                                                   

Supergirl [CW] is another favorite of mine. I think the strength of the show is in the relationships. We’ve seen bonding like nobody’s business. We’ve seen unlikely romances blossom. We’ve seen lovable Teri Hatcher as one of the most vile villains ever, which is saying a lot in a show that also has Brenda Strong as a xenophobic Lillian Luthor. And when Melissa Benoist (Kara Danvers aka Supergirl) makes with that smile, I can’t help but smile myself. I love this show. That said...

What struck me most about the last few episodes of this season was how many of the regular and recurring characters should absolutely lose their jobs. I hope they’re working on their resumes.

Lynda Carter’s President Olivia Marsdin is revealed to be an alien. She’s not from Kenya. She’s from another planet. She seems to be a good and caring president, but I can’t get past the fact that she has no legal right to hold that office. If the show had said that she was born in the United States to alien parents living here, I could have accepted some wiggle room. But, no, not only should she be removed from office, but any character who knows she’s an alien and doesn’t expose her is also in violation of the law.

Chyler Leigh’s Alexandra Danvers disobeyed a direct order to fire on Teri Hatcher’s flagship to save her adoptive sister. This gave a mind-controlled Superman time to destroy the weapon that was to be used against the ship. Which probably resulted in the deaths of a few more civilians on the ground.

Detective Maggie Sawyer [Floriana Lima] busted a killer out of jail to save her girlfriend Alex. Understandable, but still an act I’d expect Internal Affairs to look at.

Then you have Kara writing stories involving Supergirl without her editor knowing she’s Supergirl. And James Olsen [Mehcad Brooks] moonlighting as a vigilante while running a media empire. And Wynn Scott [Jeremy Jordan] working with Olsen without the knowledge of his bosses at the DEO (Department of Extra-Normal Operations).

Wait a minute! Six friends with job problems? Maybe they can spend most of next season hanging around a coffee shop.

I kid because I love this show, though I do believe at least some of the above situations need to be addressed. I’ll end my look at Supergirl by mentioning two of my favorite moments.

The scenes of James Olsen bonding with a young alien refugee made my heart sing. It’s like he’s Jeff Pierce’s brother from another mother. Ditch the Guardian costume and let James be a father figure for other alien kids in need.

Cat Grant [Calista Flockhart] knows Kara is Supergirl and, clearly, has known this for some time. I already loved this version of Cat. Now I love her even more.

                                                                             

The Flash [CW] was probably the hardest series for me to watch this past season because it has a remarkable cast of characters I have grown to love and because it has also been my favorite super-hero show in previous years. However, this season was all about things I don’t like: smart characters making bad choices again and again, and time travel gone horribly awry.

There were flashes - pun intended - of genius in such things as the Gorilla City two-parter and the musical episode. However, we also got way too many super-speedsters and the inadequate replacements for our beloved Caitlin Snow [Danielle Panabaker] in the forms of Julian [Tom Felton] and Tracy [Anne Dudek]. Julian had a limited shelf life as an antagonist and is reaching his expiration date as an ally. Tracy has never brought much to the ensemble.

My hopes for the Flash’s next season: no more time travel, no additional speedsters and less screen time for the ones we already have, more stories dealing with Barry Allen [Grant Gustin] and Joe West’s [the sublime Jesse L. Martin] police work, and some better grooming for Cisco Ramon [Carlos Valdes]. And one really terrific Earth-One/Earth-Two story that gives the lead role to the wonderful John Wesley Shipp as Jay Garrick, the only super-speedster I find as interesting as Barry. And since I’m racing for the stars here, how about an Caitlin and Iris West [Candice Patton] story that can pass the Bechdel test?

One more crazy thought. After multiple seasons of the Barry Allen, Barry Allen soap opera, maybe the show could takes a page from the Spirit stories of Will Eisner and do multiple stories wherein the Flash isn’t the main protagonist of the story. The series needs a Gerhard Shnobble or two.
                                                                             

Lucifer [Fox] continues to be a delight. It has one of the finest casts on television with Tom Ellis [Lucifer], Lauren German [Chloe Decker], D.B. Woodside [Amenadiel], Lesley-Ann Brandt [Maze], Kevin Alejandro [Dan] Scarlett Estevez [Trixie] and Rachael Harris [Dr. Linda Martin] delivering solid and often amazing performances week in and week out.

The season-long arc of Lucifer’s mom [Tricia Helfer] escaped from Hell and plotting her return to Heaven was brought to a satisfying conclusion. Then, with the Lucifer/Chloe relationship on the verge of moving forward, we got a cliffhanger so surprising it forced me to sit back and go “Wow!” This from a guy who has often decried the prevalence of cheap cliffhangers on TV shows.

                                                                                

Gotham [Fox] continues to be a trigger show for Batman fans who have trouble accepting and understanding it takes place in a reality far removed from most comic-book continuities. It’s been my feeling that Bruce Wayne never becomes Batman in this reality and, instead, saves Gotham as Bruce Wayne. This despite the clumsy final scene of this season. More on that in a bit.

What Gotham has going for it is some of the best acting on TV and a fearlessness about taking its characters down unexpected paths. Most of the characters are flawed. Many are just bad people. But I am constantly impressed by seeing heroes exhibit moral failings and villains showing positive qualities.

Gotham keeps me guessing. The two-hour season finale had surprises almost every act. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Favorite performers? This season, I would say it’s been Donal Logue and Camren Bicondova. Logue’s Harvey Bullock has been a redemptive character this season. Bicondova’s Selina Kyle has been that tough kitten you want to cuddle but who keeps trying to claw you. So many bad choices for such a beautiful soul.

Character I most want to see be not dead? Jada Pinkett Smith’s Fish Moody. Oswald Cobblepot [the great Robin Lord Taylor] could use a mother-figure in his life. His reconciliation with Fish rang true to me. I want more moments between them.

That last scene? Yeah, yeah, I know fandom is orgasm-ing from that scene of a masked Bruce saving a family not unlike his own from a mugger in an alley. How odds-defying that Bruce just happens on a scene that mirrors the greatest tragedy of his life and brings it to a much happier conclusion. So odds-defying that, for me, it came off as cheap manipulation of that portion of the audience that has never stopped kvetching about the darkness of this series.

Sometime before the fall premieres, I hope to bring you my thoughts on Agents of SHIELD, Arrow and iZombie. In the meantime, come back tomorrow for another session of Free Comic Book Friday.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

6 comments:

  1. I liked IRON FIST a lot more than a lot of people apparently did, though it did have problems, and can't touch my current favorite Marvel Netflix show (LUKE CAGE). I had no problem with Danny being white, either, and I found it odd that so many reviewers I read referred to this as "whitewashing"- surely, that term can't apply when the character was, in fact, originally white. I was far more disturbed by the complete absence of any Asian characters who were not martial artists/cultists/mystics/etc. Still, overall, I found the series entertaining. I didn't mind the pacing, personally- it just seemed like old fashioned television show pacing, rather than something designed for binge watching (since I don't like to watch more than two or three episodes of the same series in a day, that was fine with me).

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  2. The one real mistake I see in Iron Fist is in leaving Danny Rand unaware of Harold Meachum's role in his parents' deaths for so long. To me, one of the most powerful images of the wonderful Roy Thomas/Gil Kane origin story is ten-year-old Danny Rand's determined face as he tells the monks of K'un-Lun, "I want revenge, mister!" We believe that drive propelled and fueled him in his focus and study to become the Iron Fist. It's what propelled him past the best warriors K'un-Lun had to offer. It's not that he's a "Mighty Whitey" -- it's that he was driven by his burning need to avenge himself upon his parents' killer. The loss of that motivating was a very bad decision, in my opinion, on the writers' parts.

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  3. If you hate characters making bad decisions, boy howdy, are you gonna hate 'Arrow'!

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  4. I still can't believe you liked the season finale of GOTHAM as much as you did. Not for any of the things you mentioned, but one of the things you didn't mention. Considering Bruce Wayne's origin and back story, I thought what happened between him and Alfred at the beginning of the two-hour finale was wrong and tone deaf.

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  5. I'll be curious to read your thoughts on Agents of SHIELD and their take on Ghost Rider, which I absolutely loved. Mark me down as another that doesn't get the whole Iron Fist controversy, too. I thought the show's "double outsider" status for Danny, where he didn't fit into either culture, was handled well.

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