To all our American friends: Happy Thanksgiving!
And to all our Canadian friends: sorry we’re a month late. But Happy Thanksgiving anyway!
To all our American friends: Happy Thanksgiving!
And to all our Canadian friends: sorry we’re a month late. But Happy Thanksgiving anyway!
Snooty and Goon talk about hunger, games, and the titular issues of going solo in this week’s rambles.
Okay, okay wow, just wow. That was just, so freaking wow!
Okay, fanboying out of the way, lets get to this. Although to be honest, this is gonna be a hard review. I loved “Day of the Doctor, from start to finish. So many call backs to classic Who and new Who. In the humble opinion of this Goon, there is very little wrong with it.
Little background on me and Doctor Who. I have been watching since season 1 of the new series, and since then I have watched everything of the new stuff and as much of the classic stuff I have been able to find. So, I do know a bit of what I speak of. There, now that I’ve got my geek credentials out in the open lets move on.
I am just gonna open with this, I flat out loved “Day of the Doctor,” it was amazing from start to finish, and John Hurt was fantastic as the War Doctor. What was great about this was that we actually got to see the Time War, or at least a little of it. Up until this point, we have only ever gotten hints and bits of what the Time War was and its effects, which was great. It established the Time War as this horrible and unknown event that had such a dramatic effect on the Doctor. This was great set up for the anniversary special, even if that wasn’t intended at the time, but we will get back to that later.
So before I go any further, there is one thing I need to bring up about this special. When last we left the Doctor and Clara, they were stuck in the Doctor’s time stream, but when we catch up with them now, Clara is a teacher at the same school that Susan went to, and Ian and Barbara taught at, fantastic call back to the pilot episode here, and at the end of the day rides off to see the Doctor. To me this left me with questions, I want to know how they went from being in the Doctor’s timeline to here, while this doesn’t in anyway take away from how great this was, I strongly feel that this is something that should have been explained. There was some mentions to this as Eleven and Clara interacted with the past Doctors, asking about whether not she remembered any of his past, but was never actually explained. I question the reason for this, I am sure there was one, but I am not expecting an answer.
Clara and the Doctor were at their finest here, the scene of her riding the motorcycle into the Tardis, and closing the door with a snap of her fingers, was amazing. All their interactions throughout the special were fun to watch. Clara started out as a rather bland companion, nothing bad but not great either, but she was so great in this episode. She was clever, brave, empathetic, and just all around amazing. Her friendship with the Doctor is strong as ever, and extends to both his present and past lives. Her scenes talking to Hurt’s War Doctor, were a fantastic moment for her character. I would have liked to see a bit more of her interacting with Tennant’s Doctor, but you can only fit so much into a limited amount of time. Overall, Clara was fantastic in the role she played. Smith was in top form as well, he played his role perfectly and was the same Eleventh Doctor we know and love. His interactions with Clara, U.N.I.T, and past selves were played perfectly. His little joke about having a job and everything that went with it was a perfect little gag to run through the episode.
Moving on, John Hurt. Ever since he was introduced in that brief shot in the last season finale, I have been ever so eager to find out more about him, what his role in the events of the Time War was, and just what it was he did to end it. And I was not disappointed. The war scenes were amazing, they perfectly showed the devastation of the Time War, and just how crucial the Doctor’s role in it was, it seemed that even his own people were afraid of him when we saw the council. His scenes with Billie Piper were great, everything he showed while agonizing over the, how conflicted he was with what he had to do, Hurt showed this amazingly. Later, when another way is found to end the war, the relief and joy he shows, I can’t even express how fantastic that is. Hurt was amazing for this role, and he did everything perfectly.
Let us say we talk about the big thing for this, the one thing that everyone hasn’t shut up about, David Tennant is back! Like everyone else, I was thrilled to see this, while not my favorite Doctor (that is and always will be Eccelston) he was fantastic in the role. This was obviously a Tenth Doctor from between the specials, given his lack of a companion, which honestly I was a bit sad about. It was nice to see the conflict that was shown between him and Queen Elizabeth in the season 3 episode played out in front of us. I have always been wondering about that, and was upset to see that it wasn’t resolved before Tennant left the show, so it was nice to see that little plot point tied up. Overall, Tennant delivered a fantastic performance, as per usual. Even with being out of the chucks and suit for a few years, he played his role as if no time had passed. The only part I was upset about was that we didn’t get to see him and Billie Piper interacting, as I think its safe to say that is what most of us were looking forward to seeing, but his on screen time with Elizabeth was a joy to watch, and she played the companion roll very well in the place of on his actual companions.
Getting to big thing, seeing the three Doctors interacting with each other. This was of course the best part of the episode. Smith, Tennant, and Hurt played off each other so well. Watching them jump from being uncomfortable with each other, to joking and comparing similarities, to flat out hatred and rage was all amazing. Eleven and Ten’s reaction to the War Doctor was great, it was equal parts hatred and empathy. They hated him, and by extension themselves, for what he did during the war, and thus also felt pity for what he was going through, and what he would have to do. What was best about this was Hurt’s Doctor reacting to these “young” men around him, while at the same time, both of them being older than him and that being constantly reminded of that.
Okay, to sum that all up. All the actors played their roles amazingly. The dialogue was great between them all, they delivered their lines fantastically and were able to play off each other amazingly well, as if they had been working together for years.
Moving on to the story for this special. We see it split, we have the War Doctor in the final day of the Time War, ready to end it all. Seeing Billie Piper as the machines A.I. was great. While I was sad to not see her playing Rose, her character was great, and we got to see Piper doing something new in the series, and she did it well. The A.I. opens holes in time, allowing the Doctor to meet his past/future selves to fully understand the outcome of his choice while at the same time we see Eleven and Ten working to thwart an alien invasion. I am gonna be honest here, this was a part of the episode that was less than amazing. The War Doctor/fall of Gallifrey was great to watch, but the shapeshifting invaders just seemed blah. It was if that was there more to just bring in U.N.I.T and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart’s daughter, which was again a nice call back to a classic Who character, and admittedly did lead to an amusing opening scene of the Tardis being airlifted across London. But the entire thing amounted to nothing. The Doctor’s left with negotiations going on over the fate of the planet, and that was it. We never saw the resolution of that story. It seemed to solely act as device to introduce plot points that were later used for the Time War story and to wrap up the Ten/Elizabeth thing. While this plot was amusing to watch play out, it seemed unneeded, they could have easily expanded on the Time War half of the story to fill in any gaps.
Now the Time War story was amazing. We saw the Doctor realize what it was he actually did. He didn’t kill his species, he saved them. We saw the Doctor finally find some peace that has been eluding him for so long. The scene of the Doctor’s, all thirteen of them, flying in to save Gallifrey was amazing. Even if it was just stock footage used, seeing every incarnation of the Doctor, including the future one, working together was enough to give me chills. It changed everything we have known about the Doctor up until this point. A defining aspect of his character in this new series was that he was the last of the Time Lords, that he had killed his people, and now we discover he saved them. The final scene of all three of the Doctor’s looking at the painting, all of the at peace with themselves, even if only for a moment, brought a smile to my face. Hurt walking into this Tardis, which I loved the look of by the way, and regenerating into the Ninth Doctor we know and love was amazing and Tennant’s closing line “I don’t want to go,” was a heart wrenching call back to his last appearance in End of Time. I teared up, not gonna lie. Moffat’s a bastard like that. Perfect send of for these two characters.
The final moments, seeing the Doctor with the curator, played by Tom Baker, was a perfect way to end this. The not so subtle hints that this is the Doctor somewhere in the future was great. Obviously a shout out to fans of the classic series, who Baker was a fan favorite Doctor of, and a nice nod to the future of our favorite alien. In the end we finally see a character we have come to love no longer haunted by his demons, and with a brand new goal, to find his home. The closing scene, of Eleven standing in line with his past lives, staring up Gallifrey. Perfect way to end this. Fifty years of history shown in a single, perfect, moment.
Overall, I can’t even begin to describe how amazing this was. Everything you read up there, that was just a tip of the ice berg.
Two steps forward, one step back. That’s my glib review of Almost Human’s second, shaky-but-positive step.
To its credit, this episode avoids some of the mistakes of the pilot, eliminating the convenient police incompetence needed to move its plot forward and relying instead on a gruesome, visceral mystery worthy of its Blade Runner-esque setting. Someone in Neo LA is making sex bots with human skin, which is illegal in addition to being horrific, so it’s up to Kennex and Dorian to track down the culprits and reunite a little boy with his kidnapped mother. I’ll be honest, for the first half-hour, I was wondering if the Albanians were simply scooping out human women’s brains and replacing them with hard drives to make the ultimate sex worker. It wasn’t quite that grim, but only just.
Kennex’s and Dorian’s relationship is developing into an amicable partnership. They tease each other, they worry about each other, and they get on one another’s nerves. The progression feels a little fast, but if Fox is developing this show to be more in line with traditional police procedurals, it makes sense: characterization and serialization will probably take a backseat to the COTW (as Goon puts it in his Castle reviews—go check them out). That’s not to say there won’t be either of those two elements. The introduction of the Insyndicate in the pilot proves as much. But we’ll probably be in for a lot of one-off episodes scattered between plot-heavy episodes. Don’t be surprised if the show’s seasonal pacing starts to resemble that of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. It’s not a bad path to take, and hopefully it won’t take the Law and Order route of being boring and repetitive for twenty seasons.
The major issue with this episode is one of pacing. We’re introduced to the episode conceit in an interesting way: a sex bot designer is murdered for investigating the competition, and the criminals cover their tracks immaculately. Then we’re treated to about twenty minutes of plodding investigation scenes, watching detectives watch screens or asking questions that go nowhere. The climax of the episode offers us a fantastic breaching scene, but first we have to go through the rigmarole of a fakeout bust at the Albanians’ club. If you’re looking for ways to fill the time, show, you can always just leave us with Kennex and Dorian. They’ve got enough chemistry to carry more scenes together. Or maybe you could develop some of your side characters, because right now all I know of the brunette detective is that Kennex is vaguely attracted to her, maybe.
But the show’s design continues to exceed all expectations. More than just the visual appeal of the show, its design team and writers have collaborated to imagine some genuinely clever criminal technologies: facial spray that obscures identities on camera, and a DNA bomb that contaminates an entire crime scene, are the kinds of things I want to keep seeing in this show. It’s always the little cleverness that makes or breaks a sci fi show like this, and so far it’s making Almost Human.
In fact, the world-building in this show is so far much more interesting than its plots; for all its gussying-up, tonight’s episode mixed classic staples of police fiction like the dead prostitute and the kidnapped woman, neither of which is going to win any Pulitzers. But an underground lab that clones skin for synthetics? Very imaginative. More important, though, are the questions of synthetic rights and motivations that this episode raises. Dorian, with his emotional processes, is clearly uncomfortable with the legalities surrounding synthetics. The scene where he and Kennex interrogated the sex bot was wonderfully uncomfortable; all throughout, Dorian is constantly reminded that he’s property, not a person. Juxtaposing his discomfort with an android possessed of childlike intelligence made it that much better. I like that there weren’t any easy answers regarding androids’ place in this new society, and I’m hoping to see more facets of that issue. Keep this up, Almost Human, and you’ll leave Sleepy Hollow in the dust.
Oh, who am I kidding? You’re already way better.
Science Fiction has had some hard years on television in the last decade. The space operas of the late 90s are long gone, having experienced their death knell with the cancellation of Firefly and (mercifully) Enterprise. Dystopian series rose to take their place, but even those are struggling: Revolution is wildly uneven in quality, and other, more gimmicky shows like Life on Mars and FlashForward are cancelled before their conceits can fully catch on. But urban fantasy is winding down (as evidenced by NBC’s utterly insane Dracula), which means that more speculative sci fi is poised to make a possible comeback.
Is Almost Human part of that comeback? Well…almost. The visual design of Neo Los Angeles looks superb: dark spires twist into the backdrop sky, complete with flying cars darting between them. The show pays homage to Blade Runner in its city design, its noir feel, its underground Chinese black market medicine, and its text opening, by borrowing the best parts of Ridley Scott’s visual choices and updating everything else. It’s also impossible not to remember the oft-underrated Alien Nation in this show’s premise, which is a beat cop paired with an unusual partner (here a “synthetic” instead of an extraterrestrial). Little touches to the show’s world, like a floating touch interface for phone messages, make it feel like a genuine glimpse into the future.
Unfortunately, the writing for the series couldn’t be more backwards. Karl Urban plays John Kennex, who is clearly the bastard child of every tough cop movie of the 70s. He’s gruff, unorthodox, brutal with his suspects, and distrustful of bureaucracy and new technology. He doesn’t care about odds, or procedure, when his partner’s life is on the line. He’s a walking, talking, throwback cliché, and it really hurts the first hour of what could otherwise be a really great series.
This isn’t an indictment of Urban’s performance. I like him as an actor, and he’s perfect for the tone of the show. But for all the chances Fox is taking on the special effects for this series (and they’re extensive as hell, which means they’re also expensive), they sure aren’t stretching themselves plot-wise. A vicious terrorist organization called the Insyndicate builds a bio-weapon that only targets cops so they can break into an improbably-sized evidence warehouse to recover a mysterious object (revealed to be another synthetic) taken as evidence from a previous bust. The Insyndicate puts a man inside the station to take down the police’s MX-series synthetics and then tries to pump their bioweapon into the station, which would seem cleverer if the police weren’t completely incompetent: it takes outdated synthetic Dorian to decode a damaged file that proves to be the key to the mystery, making the police’s entire tech department look like incompetent boobs. Likewise, the Insyndicate lands a flying car (or future-helicopter, whatever) on top of the police precinct without so much as a blink from a single cop. Did they skimp on roof security, or can anyone land there? Maybe future roofs double as parking lots. Still, it seems silly.
Despite the weak plot, a bright spot shines through in Michael Ealy’s synthetic cop Dorian. Taking the calm collectedness of Brent Spiner’s Data, but leaving behind the search for humanity, Ealy plays his character like a man (or man-bot) at peace with who and what he is. His model is infamous for its unreliability, as everyone reminds him, but he seems so affable and competent, I think he’ll be the surprise delight of the series. Dorian could have been another in sci fi’s endless parade of robots longing to be human, but instead, Ealy comes off as likeable enough to justify John Kennex’s gradual acceptance at the end of the episode.
I see a lot of potential in Almost Human. It’s got some serious growing pains to get out of the way before it becomes a good show—chief among them being a need to leave behind police procedural clichés and embrace the possibility of future crimes—but it’s good enough at the moment to merit sticking around.
Sorry for the hiatus. Boilerplate review for last week: this show isn’t getting less ridiculous anytime soon. Nice to see Captain Irving fully on-board with the supernatural battle. Glad to see John Cho back.
So, this week…
Are portable generators hard to come by in Sleepy Hollow?
As a failed writer, I understand the need for plot convenience better than most slack-jawed television viewers (hello, fans!), but when a show goes out of its way to demonstrate its characters’ utter fucking stupidity, I get frustrated. Then it goes and layers on completely unnecessary pathos, which just makes it feel trite.
Let me cool off for a few minutes by talking about what worked. First, the return of the Hessians is a good move. For as ridiculous as this German demon-worshipping cult is, Sleepy Hollow makes them a credible, insidious threat. They’re everywhere, they’ve had hundreds of years to prepare, and they seem much more combat-ready than the Freemasons (who paid for their gentlemanly ways with their heads). As much as I like John Cho, these Hessians are clearly the go-to henchmen, and their numbers in Sleepy Hollow will likely be endless…or plot-appropriate, I guess.
Next, Irving and Jenny’s team-up. These characters have been relegated to plot devices in past episodes, providing support to Crane and Mills as needed before neatly stepping aside. Seeing both of these characters fully enter the fray felt like an itch I never knew I had finally being scratched. Irving, after his close encounter last week, proves a remarkably genre savvy captain, actually calling for tactical backup when the situation demands it; I nearly kicked a hole in my television when I thought he and Jenny were trying to stop the Hessians’ assault on the power grid by themselves. Likewise Jenny provides an insider’s look at the supernatural side of Sleepy Hollow, knowing who to talk to, and proving herself ready for the field as she and Abby hunt down some legitimately scary monsters in the tunnels.
And the interrogation scenes? Brilliant. Bringing John Cho back as a “necromancer” (a term forever colored by my history with Dungeons and Dragons) to speak for the Horseman was executed in a genuinely creepy, ominous way. Having Crane speak directly to the empty neck of the Horseman while dubbed John Cho spoke kept the scene tense and unsettling, and demonstrates how good the show can be when it’s at its best.
Unfortunately, the rest of the episode is a train wreck. The pacing is completely wrong: we don’t get the main title sequence until fifteen minutes of ponderous, meandering setup that had me checking my watch with every cut. Moreover, the flashback scenes continue to be well-produced and well-staged, but ultimately empty. I couldn’t care less how Crane and Katrina came together. He has a psychic witch wife; let’s leave it at that and move forward.
Which brings me to my first of two huge points against this episode: they made Death suck by tying his past to Crane’s on a personal level. Death was terrifying because he WASN’T a man; he was an unstoppable demonic force that couldn’t be reasoned with, couldn’t be bought or intimidated or deterred. Now he’s a jealous ex-lover with a vendetta against Crane, which is so pat and rote it hurts. With this twist, the Horseman goes from being a horrific alien threat to being Crane’s butt-hurt bro. What a letdown.
The second point: our main characters are idiots. Irving and Jenny realize almost immediately that the Hessians will target the sunlamps keeping the Horseman imprisoned. And then they do absolutely nothing to warn Crane or Abby. There is no real reason for Captain Irving to lead the tactical team other than it gives his character something to do so Crane and Abby can have alone time with the Horseman. Why in the hell wouldn’t he pick up as many gas generators from a hardware store as he could carry and bring them to Thomas Jefferson’s anti-demon prison (which, by the way, is still less ridiculous a phrase than ‘George Washington’s secret bible’)? Why wouldn’t he warn the pair?
And on the subject of stupidity, why would Abby and Crane just LEAVE JOHN CHO SITTING UNATTENDED IN THE ROOM WITH DEATH? Our undead helmsman deliberately spelled out the dangers of putting him in the same room as the Horseman. They’ve got him strapped to a chair; why not just drag the chair out of the room when you’re done talking for the moment? Because lazy writing, that’s why.
I love the atmosphere of Sleepy Hollow. As a show, it’s doing things we haven’t seen on network television in a while. The only show close enough to compare is Supernatural, and that’s in its final season (again). I want to like it. I do. But the difference is, Supernatural in its first season was a good show. It had clever writing and likeable leads and a good villain. Sleepy Hollow only has one of those: its writing is uneven and scattershot, and its villain just became a lovesick whiner. Next time you write a plot for your Hessians, Sleepy Hollow, run it by a five-year-old and make sure he couldn’t immediately foil it with a single suggestion. Either that, or establish portable generators as the most elusive commodity in your stupid universe.
Sorry for the hiatus, folks. Boilerplate review for last week: I loved it. This show has gone to amazing lengths to flesh out Barney Stinson the womanizer into a real human being while still keeping him true to his character.
And this week we’re right back to Barney being a living cartoon. It’s not necessarily my favorite style of Barney’s character, but when other characters pitch in to help carry the conceit, it can be downright hilarious. And James (Wayne Brady!) helps make the battle for Loretta’s affections fun and creepy at the same time.
Barney’s parents have been a humanizing element for him throughout the show’s run. Faking a family for his mother’s benefit (4×15, “The Stinsons,” natch) and tracking down his father (the inimitable John Lithgow from 6×19, “Legendaddy”) were huge curveballs thrown by a largely two-dimensional character, and I’m glad we’re seeing a continuation of his struggle to come to peace with his non-idyllic family situation. He’ll never have a normal family, but as his and James’ Leave It To Beaver fantasies demonstrate, normal is overrated…and kind of unsettling. With James’ marriage over, I’m actually glad to see his father (Ben Vereen, playing the most easygoing minister I’ve ever seen on TV) end up with Loretta. It’s a happy ending. Just not necessarily Barney’s happy ending. His support of the two—with another elevator breakdown and a silver tray to set the mood—is exactly the kind of sweet gesture you’d expect of a sociopath.
Flipping to the B-side, we see one of the funniest plots threads the show has ever run come to a head with a brilliant display of “Zabka-tage.” Before I watched this show, the name William Zabka would have meant nothing to me. But thanks to Barney’s backwards understanding of protagonists (also introduced in 4×15, “The Stinsons”), I want the man who carries 2000 signed headshots in his trunk to have his own show. When he was reintroduced earlier this season, I was worried Zabka would be relegated to a background joke, a reference to the show’s continuity and nothing more. But this episode catapulted Zabka into one of my favorite guest stars. His flashback of being booed by his own mother via phone had me falling off my couch with laughter. Like Wil Wheaton, Zabka has survived being a child actor of the 80s. I hope this isn’t the last we see of him.
Without his sister, Ted is left with only half of the Mosby Boys to crack the case of the ruined Gretzky photo. Radnor is great at channeling Ted’s not-so-inner douche, and he gets some great moments, bemoaning the loss of his calligraphy ink and interrogating his various suspects. It’s nothing new, but at this point HIMYM is taking a few victory laps, letting their characters be themselves. We’ll see plenty of desperate, lovesick Ted before too long.
My disappointment with this episode was in its neat wrap-up of Daphne’s story. I suppose I should have guessed, but I didn’t really expect her story of racing to see her daughter’s Model UN speech to be true. It wasn’t bad. In fact, her daughter’s chant of “Drill, baby, drill,” was an adorable nod to Daphne’s earlier mantra. But I guess I expected something more to come of it. Otherwise, the car stuff this episode was largely forgettable, with a few chuckle-worthy gags (the oranges). It’ll be nice to have Marshall at Farhampton, though, if only to move his and Lily’s story forward.
Next week is the rhyming episode. I…don’t know how to feel about that yet.