Blog-Versary Guest Post – NERDGASM: The Televised Year in Review, Gordon and Greyson
Cindi and I thought it would be nice to have some television thrown into the mix of Blog-versary this year, especially when some of the television is based on books, graphic novellas and comics. It’s a nice marriage on our book blog.
Gordon and Greyson are a dynamic duo – that’s their story and they’re sticking to it – who have spent the last 18 years discussing their often aligned, sometimes opposing, but always insightful, pop-culture viewpoints with each other, and anyone within earshot. They have a geeky-bent with a particular affinity for the fantasy realm encompassing graphic novels, TV, film and books. They have finally been convinced to widen their audience, much to Greyson’s horror, and will be writing a piece for On Top Down Under’s Blog-versary sharing their insights to the year’s most interesting geek pop-culture TV releases/finds.
Nerdgasm:The Televised Year in Review
A huge thanks to the wonderful peeps at OTDU for having us and for that wonderful introduction. This being my brainchild, I (Gordon) have taken the lead on today’s post. Our aim is to give a (quick) wrap-up of the most noteworthy shows on the geek TV calendar this past year, and given our alias, Greyson and I feel it’s only fitting that we start 2017’s wrap-up discussing the season’s most-anticipated superhero series’ The Defenders.
In the battle for best superhero universe TV series, the gong, in our opinion, goes squarely to Marvel. Seasons 1 of Jessica Jones and Daredevil, which were released in 2015, are both great shows. Jessica Jones is one of those rare superhero phenomena we would recommend to both fans and people who don’t typically enjoy the genre. Her powers are really only an aside for her character and the plot. Hoping to continue the momentum, Marvel then released Luke Cage’s season 1 in 2016, with a little disappointment from Greyson and I. As Greyson pointed out, the lacklustre is mainly owed to a superhero who is too strong and ‘villians’ who are too weak. Most of the season was spent trying to figure out how to stop Cage. Once they worked that out, it got more interesting. Season 2 of Daredevil didn’t disappoint (I was worried about their treatment of Elektra – a favoured character of mine, but they did her great justice in the end) and lead nicely to the Iron Fist which was released early 2017. The Iron Fist (or “Mister Fister” as he affectionately became known to my husband, Mr Gordon, and I) has received some negative reviews much to our surprise. I don’t disagree that the start held great promise and Rand’s character became a little two one-track at the end, but David Wenham, AKA Harold Meachem, is surely enough to compensate?
We found the show entertaining and, on the whole, well done, including the much maligned fight scenes. We know there were calls to change the heritage of Danny Rand, but we agree with the creators that to have changed that would have compromised the original storyline and that it works as it stands now. Which lead well into The Defenders.
The Defenders, for those unfamiliar with the comics, are like a smaller-scale home front version of The Avengers. In this reincarnation they encompass all the characters mentioned above; Jessica Jones, Luke Cake, Daredevil (Matt Murdoch) and The Iron First (Danny Rand). Their nemesis is an ancient malevolent society with fanatical members and ties in high places called The Hand (making Daredevil and Iron First’s storylines a must if you wish to gain the full background) run by five factions the ringleader of which is Alexandra, played by Sigourney Weaver. Weaver does a good job at implied menace with relatively little screen time. In fact a downside for me was that we never got to realise the full extent of her evil. But when bringing together so many strings, something has to give. We felt that this also lead to a slow start with a lot of time needed for the build-up of why/how the unlikely team assembles. But the treatment of the Marvel universe as a whole, even including references to the Avengers films (a fantastic excuse to bring New York into disarray for the purposes of the story), is really well done. It is all deserving of a more in-depth exploration than can be given here. I feel a future post coming on…
Ultimately though we must mention the high excitement held around the next step for the Marvel franchise, and that is the series due to air next month, my most favourite super hero of all time… The Punisher! (And you thought I was going to say Babs didn’t you..?) A morally un-ambiguous character with no time for existential BS and whinging (here’s looking at you Foggy). BRING. IT. ON!
And now let us observe a minute’s silence for Greyson’s favourite superhero, Nightwing, who is also set to be appearing on our TV screens again in a re-incarnation of The Titans in 2018. Sadly though, the DC TV universe camp doesn’t have the best track record for awesomeness of late, so please be sensitive to the fact that Greyson’s hopes and dreams are likely going to crash and burn in 2018…
Moving deeper into the Nerd-o-sphere we must talk about the pinnacle of geek TV culture… Star Trek. The latest series currently airing (once a week and killing me with impatience) is Star Trek: Discovery. Set roughly 10 years before Kirk, this series follows First Officer Michael Burnham and her part in the beginning of the Klingon War. It is set in the original timeline, unaffected by the recent films, though it has taken on the action-adventure style of the movies. It’s an interesting amalgamation of the traditional tone of the series’ and the new films. It straddles both, though with less science and more grit (spoiler alert: there’s swearing!). It certainly nods to the utopian ideals of The Federation but has taken a pragmatic approach to a nation at war and the flaws often associated with history’s (in)famous main players. The show also tackles religious and political fervour set in both the Klingon and Vulcan cultures. The meeting of Vulcan and Human cultures has oft been explored in Star Trek, particularly through the character Spock who has a Human mother, Amanda, and Vulcan father, Sarek (played wonderfully in this series by James Frain). Discovery takes it one step further with Burnham. She is a full-blooded human raised on Vulcan by Spock’s parents. The relationship between adopted father and child is one of the highlights of the series for me so far, along with the diversity of the show. Star Trek has always been known to set the standard for diversity on TV and, when combined with Netflix, this latest series is like the original on steroids! The lead is played by Sonequa Martin-Green, a person of colour, and the character herself was I feel set to be gender fluid given her name – Michael – and androgynous look and lack of gendered pronouns used in the first few episodes. I loved how no bold statement was made about it, until that all came crashing down as they declared the character female in a very awkward (and unnecessary IMO) scene between Burnham and her roommate, Cadet Sylvia Tilly. Cest la vie! I was also very excited to see another female captain, played by Michelle Yeoh. Yeoh took a fantastic part and her relationship with Burnham was another standout for me. Without spoiling anything, this dynamic was broken and just when I worried about the replacement character(s), some interesting and enjoyable characters and relationships have emerged. Included among them is an openly homosexual couple, which I think was necessary for the franchise to give credence to Sulu’s character who was sticking out as tokenistic on his lonesome. The show is ground breaking also in that it, even if only briefly, covers male sexual assault (by a female). All-in-all I am waiting until the entire series has aired before making a final judgement (I am also waiting for my less-committed-trekie partner, Greyson, to catch-up and watch it and give his opinion).
We never thought we would say this, but moving on to an even Nerdier show (than Star Trek. WTF?!), we come to Mr Robot. Now Greyson and I have consulted our resident IT expert, Mr Gordon, and he has told us that as far as the tech-speak in the show goes, it’s very authentic (backed up by internet chatter Greyson informs me). A nice reprieve given the typical high-octane misrepresentation of hacking in TV and movies – Greyson likes to recall a particular scene in the 90’s movie Hackers where one character points his tablet at a random helicopter, presses a few buttons and causes it to crash.
Mr Robot however is not just a show for the IT crowd. It is gritty, surreal (love that all references in the show to the main antagonist are simply, “Evil Corp”) and lends an interesting take on drug addiction and mental illness, even if it does take some liberties with the latter (I may not be an IT professional but I am a student in the mental health field and I have to suspend my belief for entertainment purposes on this one at times). Having gone in without reading anything about the show, I was pleasantly surprised to see Christian Slater in the cast. He takes a top part, even though when I first spotted him he just looked like a bum on the subway and I was unsure it was him, which made my husband suspect he wasn’t a paid a cast member at all and was accidentally caught in the shot as himself – meow! (Clearly Mr Gordon was not a Heathers fan). Rami Malek as the lead, Elliot, is perfect. In fact we feel the show’s succuss rests squarely on his shoulders. The entire cast really is fantastic though (a trait necessary for a show to ascend to the top level, which we feel Mr Robot does). Honourable mentions though must also go to Carly Chaikin (Darlene), Martin Wallström (Tyrell Wellick – any Skarsgård fans take note), and Stephanie Corneliussen (Joanna Wellick) who takes an especially menacing part. As fantastic as the show is, it is not for everyone. Mr Robot can be slow at times though, as Greyson points out, but it always pulls you back when it lulls. It is also quite dark and occasionally (sometimes surprisingly) violent. The show should come with a lot of trigger warnings. Also worth noting are some decidedly non-mainstream themes in the show, all of which I enjoy. BDSM and gay-for-pay briefly feature, and to great effect IMO, but fans of the BDSM lifestyle may be mildly annoyed that it is, once again, used for its negative connotations – a gripe I have with motorcycles too btw (why is it that motorcycles are almost exclusively used by “bad guys”?? Notable exceptions being Wolverine (though that’s debatable) and Captain America. But I digress…) There is also a genderqueer character, who we really enjoy. Mental illness, social awkwardness and disconnectedness are constant themes and I like the strong message the show sends about our modern society. If you are a fringe-dweller and/or an anarchist at heart, this show will speak to you. Season 3 is currently airing and I recommend that if you plan to start watching the series, catch-up on season 1 and 2 first.
Moving across now to the fantasy genre, The Shannara Chronicles is a TV series based on the book series by Terry Brooks, and is well worth a mention in today’s post. We think of it as Lord of the Rings meets Twilight… ok, that sounds like a bit of a put-down, but it really does contain the intricate race and world building of Lord of the Rings combined with the teen angst of Twilight, with some visuals and vibe borrowed from The Never Ending Story too. There is a little something for everyone in this delightful show set in a future Earth, and I am particularly enjoying the bi-sexual escapades of Eretria, which have really ramped up in season 2 (currently airing). Greyson’s standout of the show is Manu Bennett who plays the druid, Allanon, and was a favourite actor of Greyson’s in his beloved Spartacus. Bennett takes a commanding role and we are pleased to see that his Kiwi (New Zealand) accent isn’t watered down in the series. Given that it is based on young adult books, the show never reaches the depths of despair we see in a lot of television series these days, which is both a positive and negative depending on your bent. The timeline on the show is often a little clunky too, something we feel is likely a hangover from being a book adaptation and not having the time to devote to the full detail of the original.
Speaking of depths of despair, no geek write-up is complete without at least mentioning Game of Thrones. Now, as a popular series which has transcended the geek-space into the mainstream, it has been much written-about, which is good because Greyson and I don’t have a lot to say on the subject – well, regarding season 6 of the TV series at least. Before you begin to question our sanity, allow me to elaborate… You see, Greyson has been a fan of the books for years. GoT is his favourite book series (no mean feat), and was introduced to him by his brother, ‘Wayne’. So much is Greyson’s emotional attachment to GoT that he was warned by Wayne that at one point he will want to throw the book across the room, and were it not for him being at work when he read that chapter, he would have! (For those intrigued, this was the Red Wedding). Greyson has been warning us all cryptically of winter coming for many years now, but not only has his favourite cult series been co-opted by every person and his dog now, it has been at the expense of the books. He has gallantly refused to watch past the books in solidarity for the purity of the written version. So, this means Greyson has not watched season 6. Then what of my opinion..? I’m not sure I’m the best to comment either as I am not a true GoT devote. I can hear the gasps of horror even as I type this. I struggle with the infanticide and unrelenting hopelessness of ever liking a character (they had better not touch my Jaqen H’ghar! – I’m a Tom Wlaschiha fan – season 1 of Crossing Borders is a great show btw). So, I follow mainly from afar. No, I’m afraid you would do best to google other’s reviews of GoT season 6. I will dedicate a post one day to the franchise in general though, as Greyson really is a huge fan of the books and, between you, me and the brick wall, I think his will to wait for George R. R. Martin is waning… so, stay tuned!
Back to something a little lighter now; the surprise gem that is The Santa Clarita Diet. A quirky black comedy (my favourite kind) with some serious geek-cred. A comedic take on the zombie genre, the show supposes what it would be like if an ordinary, suburban family were to suddenly become afflicted with an un-dead parent. I won’t lie when I say that Greyson was less than enthused when I made us watch this show, but it won him over with its awesomely random comedy (the morgue scene has officially won our best comedic scene in recent TV history). I know we say it a lot but the success of this show is really owed, once again, to the quality acting and comedic timing from all the cast, without which the show would feel B-grade. Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant really make the show. They work superbly together. Special mention goes to Nathan Fillion and Portia DeRossi (who channels her Veridian Dynamics days), whose appearances were short but sweet. We’re hoping season 2, slated to air in 2018, will provide some more answers posed in season 1. Can’t wait!
Now, another step, ok running leap, further down the “possibly too weird for Greyson but I’ll make him watch it one day anyway because I know he’ll secretly enjoy it” category is Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. I am a huge fan of the book, which was written by Douglas Adams who also wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (but trust me when I say Dirk Gently is weirder – and nerdier – but no one who hasn’t read them both ever does believe me). It was then with some trepidation that I watched season 1 which aired on Netflix October 2016. Convinced by my husband, who is always keen to enable my extreme weirdness (can you say true love or what!), we watched the first episode. It was like being hit in the face repeatedly with a wet fish, but in a good way… I think. At the end we both sat there stunned thinking, “what the f*ck did we just watch??”
Do not fear. All becomes clear as the show unfolds. Elijah Wood stars in this series and does a terrific job, as does Samuel Barnett who plays Dirk. In fact, the entire cast is fantastic and I feel Fiona Dourif, as Bart Curlish, deserves special mention. Move over Harley Quinn, Bart Curlish is the new fangirl alter-ego ambition! (It’s an easier look to achieve too).
For those who have read the book, the show is not a re-hash but a continuation. It is its own awesomely-strange storyline and contains an interesting over-reaching plot of the how/why of Dirk, which I find particularly interesting. This plot line is set to continue into season 2, which has aired in the enlightened world but has yet to hit Down Under (story of our lives). In short, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is a unique show with crisp detail, tight editing, good scripting and great acting. We love it when all these things come together as it can be a big ask. Very few television shows, in our opinion, reach the top level like this and fewer still that maintain it to the end (Sons of Anarchy and Breaking Bad being two in recent times that come to our minds). And this bring us to the best, in our opinion, series of 2016, and our most anticipated release of 2017…
…Stranger Things. Now, where to start… For those who haven’t seen it (stop reading immediately and cue it up in your watch list asap!), it can really only be explained by Greyson and I as a (sci-fi) thriller and …now I’ve had to trawl through my txt history to find Greyson’s exact words here… “is like E.T. meets the Mist without the suicide pact at the end.” (The Mist reference is to the movie, not the book or the TV series, which we have yet to watch btw – if you’ve seen the show, let us know if it’s any good) Now, having seen the series myself, I do agree with the analogy, but think it goes further. Set in the 80’s with a terrific cast (Wynonna Ryder, David Harbour, Matthew Modine and some fantastic new talent), it has nods to E.T., Alien, Star Man, The Running Man, Nightmare on Elm street, just to name a few. With strong, but non-preachy, themes on bullying, social exclusion, embracing difference (read: David Harbour’s impassioned 2017 SAG Awards speech) and parenthood being set against a suspenseful, slow-moving (at first) and often quite frightening storyline, Stranger Things has broad appeal despite its sinister content and cult-classic feel. There’s not a lot of detail we can go into unfortunately without giving away the plot, however we can say that our only criticisms (doing our best not to give spoilers) are:
- PTSD is not accurately portrayed (or seemingly not portrayed at all) at the end of the series, though this does appear to be resolved in the second season, if the trailers are anything to go by.
- Forget Barb, we’re most upset by Benny!
- ‘Should I Stay or Should I go,’ by The Clash has taken on some scary meaning to us now.
As you can see, our criticism really is non-existent. Greyson has re-watched the series twice now and, the most glowing review of all is the fact that two socially awkward geeks have arranged a catch-up for the season 2 premiere this Friday night!
Now, we could go on for days discussing all the awesome (and ordinary *cough* *Wynona Earp* *cough*), shows that have appeared on our small screens this past year, but we have snacks for our Stranger Things premiere to plan! Catch us again next time to bore, I mean excite, you with more of our witty insights…
Gordon and Greyson.