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Posts Tagged ‘tv’

Miss Sherlock

You remember some years ago, when Elementary premiered and people were so excited about the casting of Watson as an Asian-American woman?

Meet Miss Sherlock.

It’s a Japanese adaptation — live-action, not anime — where both leads are women. Even now, it’s still vanishingly rare to watch a woman get to be the character so brilliant everybody puts up with her complete lack of manners; add the layer that it’s a Japanese woman, and the effect is kind of startling. She barges into someone’s apartment with Watson (or rather, Wato-san) chasing after her wailing “SHOES!!!!”; after Sherlock, with clear irritation, takes her shoes off like a civilized human being should, she winds up storming out barefoot while Wato-san chases her again yelling “SHOES!!!!”, this time for the opposite reason.

There are so many mystery shows on TV these days that any given one tends to live and die not by its clever plots, but by its characters and their dynamics. I really like both of the main actresses here. Wato-san is adorable, and though she doesn’t measure up to Sherlock’s genius, she gets to have a personal life outside of being Sherlock’s designated apologizer. And Sherlock herself is elegant and sharp, with a ferocious smile. But when a villain starts monologuing about their reasons for the crime, Sherlock collapses onto the nearest couch with her hands over her ears and an expression that says “poke me when they’re done.”

I also like several of the side characters. Inspector Reimon, the Lestrade stand-in, is nice but not all that memorable, but my sister and I instantly shipped with Wato-san with his sidekick, Shibata, who is perfectly competent and has no patience with Sherlock’s b.s. — quite understandable given that he often takes the brunt of it. By contrast, Hatano-san, aka Mrs. Hudson, manages Sherlock quite nicely. Mycroft isn’t notably Mycroft-y — he’s fine, but not more brilliant than his sister — and, well, I won’t say anything about Moriarty, because spoilers.

The plots themselves range around a bit in terms of quality. Mostly good, but toward the end of the season it falls down a bit; Sherlock commits one unforgivably stupid mistake, and the villain’s ability to mess with people gets cranked up beyond plausiblity. Also, it is occasionally more gruesome than I expected, so if that’s an issue for you, be warned. (Not slasher porn levels of gruesome, just “wow, I didn’t expect you to show that wound directly and then shove somebody’s hand in it.”) But I very much hope they get a second season, because I would happily watch another eight episodes of this.

We watched it on HBO’s app; not sure where else it might be available. For those who are interested. 🙂

Star Trek: Discovery (no spoilers)

My husband and sister and I watched the first episode of Star Trek: Discovery when it aired, but declined to subscribe to CBS’s streaming service to get the rest of it. I was uncertain whether I wanted to watch the rest anyway, because on the basis of that first ep, I had a bad feeling the show was basically Star Trek: Grimdark. But my husband went ahead and bought the discs when they became available, and I figured, fine, I’ll give it more of a chance.

It is not Star Trek: Grimdark. It is, in fact, an active and wholehearted rejection of that concept.

Now, it would be fair to say that it’s Star Trek: Gritty. There is a lot more blood and gore and sex here than I expected, a lot more characters making morally questionable choices or getting into conflicts that cut all the way to the bone instead of being resolved in a scene. There is a war on, and it feels a lot more like a real war than anything else I’ve seen in Star Trek (full disclosure: I haven’t seen a lot of it, precisely because the surface-y nature of a lot of its conflicts has left me unengaged). But in the long term, the first season is about being put in situations where it feels like you’ve got to compromise your principles in order to achieve your goal, and saying: No. I will find a better way.

Which I really, really appreciate.

The show also has much better long-term plotting than I expected out of a Star Trek offering — most of their previous shows being heavily episodic in their structure. This one is Arc-Plot Ahoy!, which lets it pull off some narrative stunts toward the end of the season that genuinely impressed me. Mind you, that’s coupled with a number of premises that are pure grade-A Science Cheese, to an extent that made me roll my eyes even though I knew coming in that Star Trek is not the place to look for anything resembling actual science . . . but I can forgive that for conflicts and characters I’m invested in.

Its other flaw is that I just really don’t care about the Klingons. Which is a problem when they’re a goodly chunk of the plot. But every time the scene cut to their internal politicking, I felt myself tuning out. I don’t find their society interesting, and I think the extensive use of the Klingon language contributed to the problem; because it was designed to sound weird, it contains a high density of difficult-to-pronounce sounds, which means that every single Klingon actor delivered their lines in essentially the same ponderous tone. Combine that with massive prosthetics, and you have a recipe for flattening their ability to act into a pancake of boredom.

But whenever it got back to the Federation characters or the people around them, I checked right back in. And I especially liked the sheer number of women and people of color — many of them human women and people of color, rather than using aliens as proxies for real-world diversity. I loved the fact that Admiral Cornwell is a woman over the age of thirty who actually looks like she’s over the age of thirty: she’s not cover-model beautiful and botoxed to hell and gone, she’s an ordinary-looking middle-aged woman just like all the ordinary-looking middle-aged men who manage to get jobs on shows like this. I loved Tilly being socially awkward and fantastic. I loved that when we get to the Orions, there are scantily clad male dancers as well as female.

I have no idea what they’re doing with the plot of the second season, but I am definitely interested in watching it.

Ridiculous Legends of Monkey

Just inhaled the first season of The New Legends of Monkey on Netflix, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

It’s loosely based on Journey to the West, insofar as it has the recognizable characters of Tripitaka, Monkey, Pigsy, and Sandy, and characters heading vaguely west in search of some kind of important written thing — and that’s about where it ends. The setting makes no attempt to be Ancient China; it’s best described as “vaguely post-demon-apocalyptic wherever.” The show was filmed in Australia, and about half the characters have distinct Australian accents. The main actress (because Tripitaka is female here) is of Tongan ancestry; Monkey’s actor is of Thai ancestry. The cast overall is mixed enough that I’m pretty sure the show’s creators had no pre-set notions of what ethnicities they wanted in which roles, and just cast whomever appealed to them.

If so, it was a good decision. The central characters are mostly great (the exception being the villains, who are a little weak) — I particularly adore Sandy, likewise female, who strikes the note of being a little off-kilter without obxiously “look at how crazy I am!” The setting is 500 years after the gods disappeared; demons rule the earth now, and humanity’s only hope is to find and free Monkey, and then get him to show them where he hid the seven sacred scrolls. But the way Monkey is remembered may not be exactly what he’s like in reality . . .

The show is ten episodes, each less than half an hour. You can watch the whole thing in a long evening — I know because that’s what we did. It’s fun and good-hearted, and I hope they do more!

More TV

Since a number of people seemed to like my previous post about TV shows I’ve been watching, I thought I might as well do a second one. This isn’t all stuff I’ve watched in the interim; quite a lot of it is stuff I watched before, and didn’t remember when I made that first post.

Powerless — another exhibit for the display case of “things I like get canceled,” this was a short-lived show about ordinary people in the DC world, set at a division of Wayne Enterprises responsible for making products to protect people against the fallout of the superheroic battles all around them. I’m a sucker for that kind of premise, and the characters were reasonably engaging; I enjoyed this even though the half-hour comedy format is one I often bounce off. But they didn’t even get to air all of their filmed episodes before the network pulled the plug.

Emerald City — speaking of things that got cancelled . . . man, this one was weird. I’m not even sure what I think of it. Is it good? Is it bad? All I know is, it had me intrigued. I initially dismissed it as “let’s grimdark up Oz,” but that sells the show short. There’s some fascinating worldbuilding around how witches fit into the setting, with the Wizard trying to suppress and control magic in favor of science, and I think I’d have to watch the show again to say for sure whether I think it did an interesting job delving into the complexity of a conflict where both sides have their points, or was just so muddled it couldn’t figure out what it was trying to say. Lots of great visuals, though, and I really liked the actress playing Mistress West.

The OA — speaking of weird-ass things . . . I really liked this one until very near to the end. Then it fell into one of my least favorite pits, which is the trick of going “is this stuff real or is the character just crazy?” And then it tried to waffle back from that edge, and bah, it kind of fell apart. But they’re apparently doing a second season? So I may give it a try. The premise is that a blind girl reappeared after going missing for years, and now she has her sight; she will barely talk to her family about what happened, but she gathers a group of random people together and tells them her story over a period of many nights, saying that she needs their help to rescue someone. I found all the flashback stuff about her absence surprisingly compelling, which is part of why I was annoyed when the show tried to pull that rug out from under me. It also didn’t help that the climactic bit of the final episode wound up looking a bit too much like a flash mob performance — I just couldn’t take it seriously, even though I’d liked that element before.

Travelers — like The OA, this is a Netflix show. People are sent back in time to try and prevent the calamity that created their future; it’s a common premise, but this one has several twists. To begin with, only their spirits are sent back, and they can only occupy the bodies of people who are about to die. Also, there are quite a lot of them, being inserted into the timeline in different positions where they might be able to influence events, receiving orders sent from the future . . . which sometimes conflict or change without warning, because the future has its own politics going on, complicating the lives of the “travelers.” I liked the dynamics that created, and I liked that the historical records used to decide where to send the travelers are not always accurate; one of the main characters finds himself in the body of a heroin addict, with all the associated complications, and another discovers that the entire known persona of her host body was pure invention, made up as part of a social therapy exercise. This also will have a second season.

People of Earth — haven’t seen the second season of this one yet. Another half-hour comedy show, this one about a support group for people who believe they’ve been kidnapped by aliens. It’s frequently surreal, but does a great job with the social dynamics of the group — and with the social dynamics of the aliens, who are in fact 100% real, and have their own workplace woes. It got surprisingly dramatic in a few places, which is part of why I liked it.

Riverdale — ALL THE DRAMA. Initially this looked like they grimdarked the Archie comics, and they sort of did, but the better comparison might be Veronica Mars. It starts with a murder and revolves around the characters trying to figure out whodunnit, with several heaping shovelfuls of over-the-top family twistedness — seriously, the Blossoms read like something straight out of V.C. Andrews. Competition for the title of Worst Parent in Riverdale is fierce, yo. But kudos for the writers apparently deciding that they really aren’t interested in the Archie/Betty/Veronica love triangle, and especially aren’t interested in making Betty and Veronica catfight over Archie. In fact, the younger generation are overall much better people than their parents are.

The Gifted — just started this one. Dystopian end of the X-Men universe, with the actual X-Men gone and mutants subject to horrific laws. It feels more than just a wee bit topical these days, especially since a number of the leading mutants in the story are people of color, and then you’ve got the white family whose father used to be on the enforcement side of that divide until his own kids turned out to be mutants, so now they’re finding out how the other half lives, so to speak. Not a cheery show, but I like the characters so far (three eps in).

Stitchers — watched more than a season of this, but drifted away when I realized I wasn’t all that invested. Core premise is silly SFnal cheese: a secret government agency has figured out how to hack into the brains of recently-deceased people and read their memories (in fragments) to solve their murders. But other than that it’s basically a police procedural with a layer of metaplot on top. It was fine to put on in the background while I did other things, but eventually I decided that if I wasn’t going to pay attention to it, I might as well stop.

Continuum — ditto this one, though I didn’t get in as far (I think only four or five eps), and might give it another shot, especially if anybody here recommends it. More time travel, but the characters didn’t engage me as much as the ones on Travelers did.

Once Upon a Time — this was my background show for a good long while. It’s . . . not actually good? And continually frustrated me by its common failure to actually get full value out of even its good ideas? I was basically there just for Hook, and that mostly because Alyc used him as the casting for an NPC in the game she’s running. But even with him, there was so much narrative potential left on the table — in part because this is the show that made me realize I’m getting very tired of the “dual timeline” format, flashing back and forth between Then and Now. Not only does it produce weird constraints on account of the writers trying to cram more and more into the backstory, but it means that any given episode can only devote half of its attention to either Then or Now, with the result that they’re both underdeveloped.

Quantico — speaking of the current ubiquity of the dual-timeline format. This show can be summed up to L5R fans as “what if the Kitsuki Investigator school was actually run by the Scorpion?” Toward the end of season one it got too over the top for my taste, and of course I doubt this bears any resemblance to actual FBI training. On the other hand, I loved how many women of color were in it, so if that’s a selling point to you and you don’t mind recrackulously over-the-top drama, check it out.

So. much. TV.

I watch a surprisingly large amount of TV these days, because there is so much out there, and so much of it good. But I wind up almost never posting about any of it, because I have all these thoughts and then I don’t get around to writing the big long in-depth post. In lieu of that, have scattershot thoughts about things I’ve watched in the last year.

* I didn’t like the second season of Supergirl quite as well, due in part to me having zero interest in Mon-El. But man, that show is not remotely shy about wearing its politics on its sleeve, with episode titles like “Resist” and “Nevertheless, She Persisted” and plots about protecting resident aliens from attempts to deport them. So even though they have the occasional episode where everybody is phenomenally stupid in order to give Mon-El a chance to look smart (seriously, that one was so bad), it is balm to my soul.

* Frequency has hooked me surprisingly fast, with some good dialogue and a clever twist on what might otherwise be a bog-standard serial killer investigation plot: because the SFnal conceit is that the cop heroine is in communication with her cop father twenty years in the past, when she has him follow up on a lead, half the time she winds up changing the evidence out from under her own feet, e.g. going to a suspect’s house only to find out that in the new timeline he moved away nineteen years ago. Also, it turns out to be based on a film — but among other changes, they turned the father/son setup into father/daughter instead. Woot! Sadly, because everything I like gets canceled, there’s only thirteen episodes of it. (Currently we’re seven in.)

* The Defenders was decent, but distinctly uneven, in no small part because my god Danny Rand is just. not. interesting. (As I said on Twitter a while back, Iron Fist bored me so intensely that I didn’t even get far enough in to hit the unfortunate racism.) And unfortunately, he’s kind of at the center of the plot. On the other hand, watching the script take the piss out of him at absolutely every opportunity was kind of entertaining. And you could make a fabulous montage just of the reaction shots from Luke Cage and Jessica Jones.

* I have no idea what they’ll do with the second season of The Good Place, but dude, somebody made a comedy show ABOUT ETHICS. Like, actual philosophical discussions of what constitutes ethical behavior and how the various models of that differ. I am so there. Again. (I can’t believe it got a second season.)

* The Musketeers is far more entertaining than I expected it to be (though admittedly, my expectations went up when the opening credits told me it had Peter Capaldi). Of course it bears only a general relationship to the novel, being an episodic TV series, but it doesn’t have to warp the concept too far out of shape to work; the basic engine is the running political conflicts between the King’s Musketeers and the Cardinal’s Guards, with invented incidents to keep that rolling along. Capaldi is an excellent Richelieu, obviously scheming and ambitious without being a one-note villain (sometimes he and the Captain of the Musketeers work together). And the episodic format gives them some time to explore the individual characters. Much to my surprise, Porthos — usually my least favorite of the set — is really good here, in part because the actor is black and that is relevant to the character’s life story. A Porthos with depth, rather than just being the drunken comic relief? What is this madness??? Also, it’s doing reasonably well by its female characters, including making sure that the invented incidents have women in them, so you’re not limited to the recurring trio of Constance, Milady, and the queen. Yeah, okay, so I’m pretty sure Constance bears only the most passing resemblance to her novel incarnation — but since I like this version of her and have no particular attachment to the novel incarnation, I’m fine with that.

* Ascension was interesting, but flawed. Basic concept: A generation ship got sent out in the ’60s and is now halfway through its 100-year-journey, with tensions rising. The worldbuilding was intriguing, even as I wanted to beat characters about the head for some parts of it (seriously, who thought class stratification in a society that small and enclosed was a good idea?), but the end felt like it was a cliffhanger for a season 2 that, as near as I can tell, not only doesn’t exist but was never intended to.

* I feel like the seventh season of Game of Thrones was distinctly better than the sixth, transit time silliness notwithstanding. It registered on me as a better balance of major plot movement and the little dyadic interactions, which have always been one of the show’s strong points: the writers’ ability to put two characters together and have a fabulous scene happen, whether the flavor is hilarious banter or a flaming train wreck. Plus, Olenna Tyrell may have claimed the title of Most Badass Moment for the entire series. I mean, it was horrible. But it was also this phenomenally powerful, vicious interaction that played out as a quiet conversation between two people alone in a room, without any action spectacle whatsoever. Kudos.

* I enjoyed the first season of Lucifer, but the second took off like a rocket. Seriously, were the writers on a sugar high all season long? They just cranked everything up to eleven, and the result came to life for me in a way the earlier episodes hadn’t. I’m sad they lopped off the last couple of episodes to put them on the beginning of season three, because it meant I got less of what I was enjoying last spring, but from a narrative standpoint I can absolutely see why they did. That comes back in a few weeks and I’m looking forward to it.

* Also, more of The Librarians. One of the few things I fell in love with that hasn’t gotten canceled, even if I don’t think the third season was quite as good.

Has anybody else been watching these? Any recs for shows you’ve been enjoying? I’m primarily interested in stuff that is either SF/F or historical, and skewed more toward the “fun” end of the spectrum than gritty greasy grimdark. I am almost completely burned out on police procedurals, unless they’ve got a strong metaplot or a substantial twist from the usual model.

Safe Haven

Over the past few months I worked my way through the five seasons of the TV show Haven. In its core structure, it’s basically Yet Another Procedural: each week there’s a mystery, the heroes investigate, the mystery is solved by the end of the episode. But the premise of this one is speculative — an FBI agent discovers weird things going on in a small Maine town — and spec-fic shows usually pair their procedural-ness with at least some degree of metaplot, which I find myself really craving these days. So I figured I would give it a shot.

And for the most part, the structure is indeed conventional. Weird Thing Happens. Audrey Parker (the FBI agent) and Nathan Wuornos (the local cop) investigate. The problem is inevitably being caused by the Troubles, a set of supernatural afflictions that plague many residents of Haven. Our heroes find the Troubled person responsible —

— and then they help that person.

I mean, every so often they do have to arrest somebody or it even ends in death. But overwhelmingly, the focus is on solving the Troubles, not punishing them. In many cases, the person responsible doesn’t realize they’re the source of that week’s weird thing; when they do know, they’re often terrified and unable to stop their Trouble from hurting people. These supernatural abilities trigger because of emotional stimuli, so week after week, you watch Audrey untangle the threads of someone’s psychology until she figures out that they need to accept the fact that a loved one is gone or reconcile with an estranged friend or admit the secret that’s eating away at them, and when they do, their Trouble lets go.

It is amazingly refreshing, after all the procedural shows I’ve seen that involve people with guns using those guns to solve their problems. (There’s a key moment late in the series when the entire Haven PD gets sent out to manage a big outburst of Troubles, and they literally get a speech from the police chief about how the people causing problems aren’t the enemy and need to be helped, not beaten down.) In fact, it’s so refreshing that I was willing to forgive the show’s other flaws. The scripts are often no better than okay, and for the first four seasons the characters are remarkably incurious about the metaplot: they accept that the Troubles show up every twenty-seven years, Audrey is somehow connected to them, etc, but it takes them forever to get around to asking why, much less making a serious effort to find the answers. (In the fifth season the show dives headfirst into the metaplot, and the results are less than satisfying.) Furthermore, if you’re looking for characters of color, you basically won’t find them here. Haven does a pretty poor job in general with secondary characters, often getting rid of them after one season; I can only think of two people who get added to the cast after the first episode that stick around instead of getting booted out of the plot.

But the character dynamics are pretty engaging, some of the episodes have a pretty clever premise . . . and it’s a show about helping people. About resolving problems through addressing their underlying causes. About how, if somebody has a Trouble but they’ve figured out ways to manage it without hurting anybody, you clap them on the back and move on to someone who’s having more difficulty. There’s a good-hearted quality to the show’s basic concept that kept me interested even when I could have been watching something with better dialogue but less compassion.

More compassion, please. We need it.

How much do I love SUPERGIRL? Let me count the ways.

You know how there are those shows that are kind of structurally or ideologically broken, but you sort of don’t care because the banter is so good?

Supergirl is kind of the opposite of that. On a script level, it’s pretty mediocre; the dialogue often clunks and the characterization can be inconsistent and the plots rarely have clever solutions. But I find myself just not caring, because it’s doing so many other things to make me happy. It is the candy-colored cheerful superhero show that I wanted The Flash to be for me, without all the problems that made me bounce out of that one.

Case in point: the first season of The Flash basically had two female characters, Iris and Caitlin. Neither of them was particularly interesting; Caitlin’s plot revolved around her dead boyfriend and Iris was a pawn, lied to for no good reason by her best friend, infantilized by her father, rarely if ever given a chance to affect the story in a meaningful way. Supergirl, by contrast, is so stuffed with women they’re coming out at the seams. This is not one of those shows with a central female character and then a bunch of dudes. You have Alex Danvers, Supergirl’s adopted sister (and if you love rock-solid sister relationships, dear god this is the show for you); Cat Grant, her prickly and influential boss; Astra, her aunt and antagonist; Allura, her mother, appearing in both flashback and computer simulation; Lucy Lane, Lois’ younger sister and Jimmy Olson’s ex, who the show is smart enough to give a role to beyond “Jimmy Olson’s ex”; the villains Livewire and Indigo and Silver Banshee, who all play a role in more than one episode; Eliza, Alex’s mother and Kara’s foster-mother, a biologist who nerds out when she meets another alien; Miranda Crane, a senator with anti-alien views; they even have the (offstage) president be a woman (and if the show’s writers weren’t thinking about Hillary Clinton, I’ll eat my laptop). These women talk to each other. They talk to each other so much that they get to have nearly every kind of relationship; they’re family and friends and rivals and co-workers and mentors and allies and enemies. (Not lovers, though — I can’t recall any lesbian relationships, at least not in the first season.)

The show is overtly feminist, too. I wouldn’t call it a triumph of complexity in that regard — see above comments about the writing being not all that good — but from time to time it goes straight at the familiar issues, the way that women’s achievements get downplayed relative to men’s, the way that women are held to standards men don’t have to meet. Clark Kent is an offstage presence, only appearing briefly a couple of times (and then always in silhouette), or conversing with Kara in text messages. In this canon, Kara was supposed to be the protector for her younger cousin, but circumstances caused her to arrive on Earth years later and younger than him; the growth of Kara from feeling like she’ll never live up to Kal-El’s reputation and achievements to someone who wins his praise and respect is really satisfying.

AND LET’S TALK ABOUT THE ETHICS. As in, this show has some. You may recall that ethical failings are a big part of why I wound up noping out of The Flash; I just about punched the air when this show made a point of addressing those issues. You literally get one of the characters telling Kara that due process and human rights matter, and that running a “secret Guantanamo” (actual phrase from the dialogue) is 100% not okay. And Kara acknowledges this! And then they do something about it! I called Astra an antagonist; I chose that word instead of “villain” because her situation isn’t black-and-white, and the show is capable of acknowledging that she’s pursuing good ends via bad means. There’s another antagonist in a similar position, too. I love that kind of thing, and seeing it here makes me really happy.

It still has shortcomings on a higher-than-script level, mind you. The racial diversity is just barely better than token, and queer representation is basically absent. And while the show nods in the direction of the problems posed by having superpowered people around, it doesn’t really delve into them. But I can watch it and have fun without constantly being frustrated, which is exactly what I was hoping for. And every so often it rises above itself with some really good dialogue or a great plot development — which leaves me hopeful that season two will improve on the first.

Behind the cut there be spoilers!

(more…)

Today’s media thought

I’ve been watching Elementary, and I figured out why I subconsciously keep expecting Sherlock to relapse: because his drug addiction registers on Writer Brain as Chekhov’s gun, and therefore I expect it to go off eventually. But at this point (halfway through season three), I suspect that’s the point the writers want to make. An addiction is Chekhov’s gun . . . and you have to live the rest of your life with it sitting on the mantel, begging to be fired. Whether this is a suitable analogy for addiction or not, I can’t say — I have fortunately never struggled with that myself — but I’m pretty sure that’s the thematic point they’re aiming for. Which I do find interesting.

(What do I think of Elementary as a whole? I think I would like it better if it weren’t a Sherlock Holmes adaptation, because I often find it disappointing in that regard. Their Moriarty is fabulous, but sadly underused, and their Mycroft was not just a resounding disappointment but an active detriment to the story as a whole. But where it’s doing more of its own thing, I think it’s decent. Not hugely compelling for the most part, but acceptable background entertainment.)

How to bore me in thirty seconds flat

I needed to be doing some random stuff on the computer this morning, so on a whim, I put on the first episode of Rizzoli & Isles, which is Yet Another Police Procedural, though with two female leads.

First thing I see: a bound and terrified woman, in the clutches of an unknown villain.

Which led me to ask on Twitter, What percentage of police procedurals open their pilot ep with a woman chased, crying, screaming, or dead?

Because seriously — at this point, that is the single most boring way I can think of to open your show. Also problematic and disturbing, but even if you don’t care about those things, maybe you care about it being utterly predictable. There is nothing fresh or new about having the first minute of your police procedural episode show us somebody (usually a woman) being victimized. I said on Twitter, and I meant it, that I would rather see your protagonist file papers. I might decide in hindsight that the paper-filing was also boring . . . but in the moment, I’d be sitting up and wondering, why am I seeing this? Are the papers important? Or something about how the protag is approaching them? Because it isn’t a thing I’ve seen a million times before.

The only thing that brief clip of the victim gives us is (usually) a voyeuristic experience of their victimization. They don’t make the victim a person, an individual we get to know and care about. They rarely even give us meaningful information about the crime, except “this person died from a gunshot/strangulation/burning alive/whatever” — which is info we could easily get later in the episode, through the investigation.

There are exceptions, on a show or individual ep level. But the overwhelming pattern is: here’s some violence for violence’s sake, before we get to the actual characters and the actual story.

I decided last year that I was done with the genre of “blood, tits, and scowling.” I think I’m done with police procedurals, too. I won’t swear I’ll never watch another one, but they’ve just lost all their flavor for me, because I’ve seen so many. And because I am so very, very tired with those predictable openings.

A blast from my eleven-year-old past

I somehow managed to miss the fact that they made a Shannara TV series. But it aired on MTV (and will be getting a second season), so I decided to give it a shot.

Watching it is . . . interesting.

More precisely, watching it is like taking a trip in the Wayback Machine to my eleven-year-old brain. These were the first adult fantasy novels I ever read, purloining them off my brother’s bookshelf — my first introduction to high fantasy. I keep thinking of Benedick’s line from Much Ado About Nothing: “Is it not strange that sheep’s guts should hale men’s souls out of their bodies?” Back then, capital letters could hale my soul out of mine. The last descendant of the King of Shannara has to use the Elfstones to help a princess take a seed from the Ellcrys to Safehold, where she’ll immerse it in the Bloodfire and renew the Forbidding that keeps Demons out of the world — yyyyyyyyeah. Nowadays that mostly sounds goofy and artificial to me, but back then, it was awesome.

The TV series doesn’t do a whole lot to restore that power. For me to care about a Destined Hero, I need to care about the characters, and neither the writing nor the acting here is good enough to really compel me. The show also has a certain look to it that I don’t have a good name for, but it’s a lesser version of the same thing that drove me straight out of Reign after a single episode; people look like they’re wearing costumes instead of clothing, and furthermore they look like they’re about to burst into the latest auto-tuned pop hit. One of the reviews I saw gave it a tepid recommendation to those looking for a “teen-friendly Game of Thrones,” and that feels apt. I have trouble telling the two female leads apart, if the camera angle doesn’t show their ears: one’s an elf, one’s a human, but they’re both generically pretty dark-haired young women wearing MTV’s idea of fantasy chic. Their hair is too clean and well-brushed, nobody ever has more than cosmetic smudges of dirt on them, and the entire thing feels like it’s made out of plastic.

Which isn’t to say it’s complete crap. I stopped reading Shannara ages ago, so I had no idea the setting is technically our world, post-magical-apocalypse. That’s an interesting twist on the epic fantasy thing, and sometimes you get the characters riding past the crumbling remnants of modern technology and architecture. I also give them points for having racially diverse elves — and most of the characters we’ve seen so far are elves. On the other hand, no points for Obvious Romani Parallel Is Obvious and Offensive: really, Brooks? We needed a clan of itinerant sexist thieves? The show intermittently entertains me, but it hasn’t yet (as of the first three eps) risen above the status of “thing I can put on on the background while I do other stuff because its plot isn’t complex enough and its performances aren’t compelling enough to really require my attention.”

I don’t much expect it to do so, either. But still: it’s interesting to revisit my eleven-year-old brain, and to muse on what she used to think.