Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Ugly American 2013 Year in Review: Comic Book TV!

Walking Dead
I haven't watched an episode of Walking Dead since Season 1. I don't even know what season the show is currently on, or whether it is currently on, or could it be on hiatus right now?

I don't know, and I don't care. Why don't I care? If I'm being honest, I pretty much loved every episode of Walking Dead from the first season. Loved em'.

I can't explain why I don't care, I'm way into horror, and I'm way into comics, and I have nothing but fond memories of the Walking Dead shows that I did see. But if you asked me:

"Ryan, would you rather watch a new episode of the Walking Dead, or this documentary on Olivia Newton John?"

I don't know what I'd pick. I'd probably go with Olivia Newton John. I'd be interested to know what the set was like on Xanadu, or the pitfalls of working with a young, pig-headed John Travolta. Plus, I want to get physical, physical, let's get into physical with her. 'Cause I'm Old School.

So I'll give Walking Dead a solid C, sight unseen. Does that seem fair? No. No, it doesn't. There is no "fair" here at the Ugly American. There is only Zuul.

I watch Arrow episodes all the time. I call the show "Melrose Arrow", because that's what it is. It's a big fat Melrosey, Falcon Cresty ball of superhero soap opera.

I'm not particularly into Green Arrow, because he's generally portrayed as a tedious little lefty, which doesn't impress me. And I'm not a fan of soap operas, either. I should never, ever watch an episode of this TV show at any time. And yet, it happens a lot. Every time I get done finishing an episode of Arrow, I think to myself:

"Why do I watch this show?"

And then I sit down a bit later, scroll to see what's on the DVR and then gleefully exclaim:

"Oooh, an episode of Arrow!"

And then I watch it. I watch Arrow differently than you do, by the way. Every time they flash back to Ollie's tour on the island, I just hit the fast forward. Do not care. What's extra awesome is that it never interferes with my ability to absorb or appreciate those things happening in the present. No never, not once. All of those island scenes could have been scrapped....should have been scrapped.

Look, you're not Lost, OK? I'm not entirely sure that Lost was Lost. Just forget the flashbacks and concentrate on showing me guys without shirts, will ya?

Season 2 of Arrow is significantly different. Last year, Mr. Queen had a list of people his father didn't like, and his solution was to bury arrows in those people's faces until they stopped breathing. I was never quite sure how to feel about that. It seemed a little ballsy, and a little real, and I liked that.

If you were on a crusade to clean up your city, you'd probably do better just using your money to run for office and changing things straight up from the inside. But if you were to eschew that option, then the move is not to punch the villains in the solar plexus and wind them. You perforate their faces with arrows until they stop moving. That's reality, and that was season 1, and that felt.....unsatisfying, somehow.

This year, Ollie does his best to not kill anybody, and for a really stupid reason. It's some guilt-ridden jag he picked up in an epiphany over Tommy's dead body. I don't think the realization is earned, and it doesn't really make strategic sense... and I totally like it way better now that he doesn't kill people. I"m becoming a walking contradiction in my old age, I think. I just like the show better when he's not a murderer, even if it makes no sense.

This is a show of hot people doing hot things, and if you can just accept that fact and lay down for it, you're probably going to be OK. If you want to watch Stephen Amell with his shirt off, I totally understand. He's no Jensen Ackles...but he'll do.

I'm in it for Felicity Smoak. That girl is adorable. They have a running bit where she's constantly slipping double-entendres that betray her burning lust for Queen. It shouldn't work, but it really does.

Katie Cassidy is actually so hot it's annoying. What makes it worse is that her character is a train wreck with no redeeming qualities. I'm not interested in her waffling on relationships, I don't buy her leaning the other way as the ultra competent legal eagle, and I super don't care about her booze or pill intake.

Most of the people in the show are irritating, really. I should probably hate it. It's got a pretty strong sense of purpose, though. It's committed to its action elements, and they are strong, in my opinion. I skooch up in my chair and get primed every time he picks up that bow and overdoes his mascara. The fighting is great, (aside from those ridiculous super-strength effects) and especially in season two they've done a good job of ending on cliffhangers and escalating the plots.

The plots aren't particularly good or compelling, though....there's a lot of Occupy/99% excrement in the Sebastian Blood "Save the Glades" plot, and Summer Glau's talents are utterly wasted on sneering in board rooms for the "Corporate Raiders" plot. These things are moving forward, though. It's all very kinetic. That's what probably saves Arrow, I think. You may not agree with all or most of the choices, but it knows what it wants to do and then gets very kinetic with it.

I'm giving Arrow a B+ for its action and sex appeal. There's no real spiritual substance or quality about it, so I have hard time giving it an A. But it's executing its nonsense with aplomb, so I'll tip the cap as far as I can on that.

Agents of SHIELD
Well....it's not terrible. I feel like that's the only review anybody needs, but we all just keep gnawing away at the show trying to figure out exactly why it isn't fulfilling in any meaningful way.

In my opinion, this particular emperor has no clothes because it's all formula and no vitae. I don't think anybody actually cares about any of it...it's just checking things off lists:

obligatory Marvel easter eggs - check
obligatory Whedon-speak - check
obligatory dour bad-ass characters - check
obligatory "whacky" smart characters - check
obligatory flawed characters with "hearts of gold" - check
obligatory soft hearts growing out of their comfort zone - check
obligatory overlap with recently released film - check

And it just goes on and on and on like that. I never feel as though the writers are putting anything of themselves on the page. I never feel as though the show feels willing or able to take any creative risks, or pull any tricks for the sheer joy of it. I never get the feeling that any of these episodes was ever built on the foundation of "Wouldn't it be fun if we did something like this?"

Agents of SHIELD is a victim of our expectations. It dutifully checks all of them off a list, and by doing so fails at each because of the transparent nature of its false face. Its an expensive card from Hallmark with no personal notation - it's expensive, it looks right, it satisfies the minimum requirements of the social contract....but it has no soul. You set that card on the TV for a couple of days to keep up appearances, but really you just want to throw it straight in the trash where it belongs.

There's nothing unprofessional about an expensive Hallmark card with nothing personal scribbled inside. It's not terrible. But that's the best you can say about it.

I don't know if I blame Marvel or ABC or anybody else for producing that patchwork quilt of focus group fodder. That show has to be expensive to make, and I'm sure Marvel feels that there is a lot riding on it. If SHIELD succeeds, it could open the door for a lot more cash cows. If it fails, you run the risk of closing minds and shutting doors. It may not be rational, but I'm sure Marvel is desperately concerned that a SHIELD flop plants the idea that "comic books might work in movies, but they can't sustain a weekly audience" in executive's minds.

When the stakes get that high, you either go for broke or you play it as mathematically safe as possible. That's what Marvel did here. Like I said...I can't blame them, but the results are predictably uninspired.

On the plus side, Chloe Bennet is ridiculously hot.
I call her Chloe Wang, because we go way back, of course. And if I'm going to be perfectly fair, I do tend to enjoy the relationship between Fitz and Simmons, even if we've seen that playbook run 1,000 times before and know exactly where it's all going.

I'll give SHIELD one other nod - Peter Macnicol was absolutely fantastic as the Asgardian poonhound in the "angry stick" episode. That character resisted most expectations. I wish the show would do a little more of that.

I still watch the show when it's on, usually. Sometimes a couple of episodes will stack up before I can summon the energy to plow through them. It's definitely not something I anticipate. But it's not terrible.

Because it isn't terrible, I'm giving Agents of SHIELD a straight C. Because Joss Whedon is attached to the project, I also hold out hope that there could be a swerve down the road that redefines things. Maybe? Right now it looks like a C, though.

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