Wow, Legion was Just SO GREAT, Wasn’t It?: Part II
Okay – six months later(ish). I’m sure we’ve all recovered from Legion, and everyone’s looking for something new, right? Right. Before we dive in, I’ve realized I’ll need to do a few things I haven’t done before, because these times we live in, they are unusual. So all that being said, hold on to your butts.
I don’t know if I’ve been exceptionally lucky this time around in the shows I’ve taken the time to watch, or if television is getting better recently, but I haven’t really found anything that I would describe as bad lately, nor anything that I’ve watched that I would actively caution against. Yes, there’s plenty of blah out there, to be sure. But this list is surprisingly – and refreshingly – light on the bad.
I’ll start with the worst, I think – Salvation, Will, and Midnight, Texas. None of these are irredeemable – Salvation is about obstinate geopolitics in the face of a world-ending catastrophe in the form of an asteroid. It’s more spy/conspiracy thriller than apocalyptic thriller (a note, not a criticism), and the main character is frequently rather insufferable (definitely a criticism), but aside from that, it’s entertaining, if rather silly.
Will answers the question I know we’ve ALL been wondering – what would Shakespeare be like if there was rock background music, and he was secretly a (reluctant) Catholic spy (and also pretty insufferable; so, so dumb….). It grew on me as the season went on, to be fair, and I like the idea of Shakespeare drawing inspiration from quotes and events around him, though that part is also hella contrived. The music was jarring, at first – “London Calling” playing against contemporary sets and costumes, for instance, and every now and again, they actually break into song and dance, which is really just absurd – but it was enjoyable. Colm Meaney’s always worth watching, I figure, and there were definitely clever aspects of the conceit. Feel free to skip it, if you want, but there are worse ways to spend your time, as well.
Along the same lines, Midnight, Texas is pretty much a standard, formulaic interpretation of “let’s put a whole bunch of paranormal people together in a small town in Texas” kind of thing. It’s fun; it’s what it promises to be; it doesn’t force you to think – at all – and the lead is slightly less dumb than in the others, though still pretty much an utter moron. I’m going to keep watching it, but as I think I’ve made clear, I’m pretty much trash when it comes to my TV viewing habits, so take that for what it is.
One show that I haven’t done much yet, and I’m not sure at all how far I’ll go with it, is Blood Drive. I watched the first episode – basically, it’s a dystopian police drama set in a futuristic 1990s when gasoline has run out and the wealth gap has grown so astronomically that poor people can’t really even afford water, which is rationed at ATM-type things, presumably because it’s so scarce. However, some people have found a way to make cars run on human blood, and they compete in a race across Arizona/Nevada/Desertville, for some prize of money, I think (it’s been a while since I watched the first episode, which is all I’ve seen so far), and our cop hero happens upon them at the beginning of one of their races, sees them feeding people into their car engines, and ultimately gets roped into joining the race or dying.
Now, you might think this show sounds like exactly the kind of thing I’d want to watch – I certainly did. It’s absolutely campy enough – there’s never a moment where it doesn’t recognize what it is. But I also realized, while watching the first episode, that to me, it doesn’t really feel like it adds anything, either. Obviously, it’s heavily influenced by the grindhouse exploitation movies of the ’60s and ’70s, and in many ways, is absolutely a fitting homage to that style, and does quite a good job of it. But I couldn’t help but feel that that wasn’t enough.
For example, they made a point of going over the top in all aspects, even showing people having sex with black censor bars across the screen. To me, at that point, you may as well just show it, rather than censor it. Like, I get that it’s on Syfy, and I get that that’s probably a part of the genre, too, but the classic exploitation films were, to some extent, aimed at pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable, and they challenged the notion of what we, as a society, are willing to create and consume. With Blood Drive, I essentially felt as though it was needlessly and senselessly derivative, without adding anything of value to the genre. Maybe that will change when I watch more of it, but I’m not terribly optimistic about that, nor do I have any idea of when I might continue the series.
Moving on now to better TV shows.
There are two in my ever-favorite category of “surprisingly good”. I always enjoy finding shows that I expect will be awful that turn out to be not-awful. This time around, first and foremost, we have Imaginary Mary, which is about a woman (Alice, played by Jenna Elfman) who finds herself conjuring up her imaginary friend Mary (voiced by Rachel Dratch) to help deal with her insecurities as she finds herself falling in love with a divorced father of three. The show was cancelled after the first season, and I’m clearly in the minority opinion, but I found it to be entertaining, I thought the Mary character was fun, and like I said – it was better than I thought it would be, which always raises its esteem in my eyes. So check it out if you want. Or not. Whatever.
Second is a drama, Famous in Love, about a small-town girl who essentially stumbles into a career as a movie star, and looks at the tangle of love- and professional-interest conflicts that she finds herself in. It’s pretty much a soap opera about a twenty-something fantasy of what it’s like to be the star of a teen drama mega-popular movie franchise, but I found it oddly compelling, if not terribly well-written. Escapism has an appeal though, right?
Now, before we move on to the good, I need to do the first of the things that I don’t normally do, which is revisit something I discussed previously. A while back, I brought up Wynonna Earp (“what if Wyatt Earp was cursed so that his descendants had to constantly kill his victims?”), and I mentioned at the time that it was surprisingly good, despite some flaws. I’m upgrading that to a “you probably really should watch it, if you’re interested in Weird West-style stories”; as it’s gone through its second season, I found myself constantly surprised and impressed with where the story has gone, not at all being the predictable “woman-fights-growing-evil” story I had expected (though there’s plenty of that, as well, of course).
Okay, on to the good. There’s a bunch. American Gods was great; if there’s one thing on this list you start watching, watch that one. Dear White People was great. If there are two things on this you start watching, watch American Gods and Dear White People. (To make sure we’re all caught up – American Gods is adapted from a Neil Gaiman book, and essentially follows a recently-released convict as he gets caught up in a brewing war between petty and petulant gods, who are very much real, and all on their way to Wisconsin, for some reason. Dear White People, on the other hand, is a mostly-comedy about a college radio-show host who takes up issues of race and how they affect people’s behavior, while working to find her own identity as a black feminist dating a white guy. Strong female characters abound.)
Likewise, for more on strong, if flawed, female characters, you could always turn to GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling), based on the pro wrestling league of the same name started up in the ’80s. Alison Brie plays a struggling actress who finds herself in a new project as a wrestler; she’s also something of an awful person, at least in the beginning, and ultimately finds a new power and voice for herself, along with the other women. It’s somewhat predictable in execution, but don’t let that stop you.
Also high on the list is Girlboss, a loose (“real loose”) retelling of the founding and story behind Nasty Gal. This one was also cancelled after one season (that happens a lot to shows that I like, by the by, so either I’m a really bad judge of quality TV, or everyone else is, and I’ve never been able to figure which, though almost certainly the former). Regardless – I thought the show was great, on the whole, and the main character didn’t try to be particularly likable, which I found to be rather refreshing and good to see, given how often that’s not the case.
Along those lines, we also have The Bold Type, about 3 twenty-somethings working at a fashion magazine in New York, and all the crazy shenanigans they get up to as they navigate a professional life, dating, and so on. It’s been good; it’s been fun; but I can’t help but be distracted by how often their boss – the editor of this major magazine – seems to be sucked into their personal lives and issues, which just strikes me as, like, “how does she have time to care that much?”, basically. But yeah, it’s good.
I’ll briefly mention I’m Dying Up Here, about comics trying to make names for themselves in Los Angeles in the ’70s. It’s definitely a drama, which is nice – it’s not just a comedy about comics, but rather about the pain and difficulty and so on that many of them have. Because of all that, of course, it can also get pretty heavy. But on the whole, it’s been good.
Finally, another deviation from normal, accompanied by a spoiler alert – The Gong Show. As some of you may be aware, back in the ’70s and ’80s, there was a game show called The Gong Show, where people would come up and perform rather eccentric and unusual acts; things that, while possibly displaying real talent, they couldn’t easily find a stage for elsewhere. The main gimmick, of course, was that if the judges didn’t like their performances, the judges would ring a giant gong, and the performer would be eliminated. Well, they brought it back, in all its weirdness, this year. First, I would say that it’s definitely been entertaining. It’s an amateur-ish variety show, with some very, very strange acts, which is just pretty hilarious all around. But second, you might be wondering “a spoiler alert, for a game show?” Well, yes; because arguably the most impressive thing about this show, for me, has been the host, Tommy Maitland. And here’s the spoiler – most people agree that it is, in fact, Mike Myers playing the part of Tommy Maitland, which I could not possibly have guessed, based on his look and more importantly, his performance. I’ve always associated Mike Myers with Austin Powers, and Austin Powers with atrocious, but funny, overacting. Seeing him in this role, where his tendency to go over the top fits in perfectly with what he needs to do, has given me such a greater appreciation for his skill. The quirkiness of the acts that they get would have been enough for me, of course – this kind of game show is exactly the kind of thing I would enjoy – but seeing him so perfect in this role has really cemented it for me. It’s goofy; it’s absurd; it’s got some actual real talent periodically; it’s kind of great.
So yeah, that’s most of what I’ve been watching lately. As always, your thoughts on my terrible choices are welcome, and I look forward to writing the next novel, probably towards the end of the year.