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Friday, July 11, 2014

SUMMER SIZZLES WITH SF ON THE SMALL SCREEN

When negotiations break down in Defiance--


Summertime television used to be the dumping ground for rejected pilots, B-grade series, and re-runs.  Those days are long-gone.  In this age of video streaming, on demand, Netflix, Hulu and a dozen other ways to watch what used to be broadcast over the airwaves, summer is now just one more glorious excuse to put new programming on the home screen.

This summer offers a dazzling array of science fiction and paranormal programming to choose from, enough to delight the geekiest of us.  Just take a look at the SF shows on my DVR list:  DEFIANCE, FALLING SKIES, UNDER THE DOME, EXTANT, THE LAST SHIP.  And the paranormal offerings:  SALEM, DOMINION, THE WITCHES OF EAST END.  For those who love the workings of the mind there is PERCEPTION; for the straight science nerds there is MANHATTAN.  And for those who like to mix their peanut butter and chocolate, there is THE STRAIN, an SF/paranormal/horror hybrid.

That’s a total of eleven new or returning shows to keep me busy.  There are undoubtedly more out there. (But, hey, I have to sleep (and write!) sometime.  

Just in case you haven’t had time to read your TV Guide, here’s my brief run-down on each of the featured shows:

MUST-SEE

--THE LAST SHIP(TNT)—Starring Eric Dane and Rhona Mitra, this drama about a Navy destroyer which may be the last hope of a world dying of a mysterious plague boasts plenty of authentic shipboard action, thanks to the cooperation of the U.S. Navy.  Filming was done aboard the U.S.S. Halsey, the U.S.S. Dewey and the museum ship U.S.S. Iowa—by none other than Michael Bay’s production company Platinum Dunes.  Lots of medical suspense, too, as Mitra’s research scientist character tries to find the cure for the plague. 

--DEFIANCE(SyFy)—Fully realized alien cultures, complicated characters, an evocative setting that is at once familiar and unrecognizable as our former home of mid-America, and the ever-reliable fallibility of human nature.  That is DEFIANCE.  Better than ever in Season Two.

--EXTANT(CBS)—Unknown writer’s script hits Hollywood and sparks a bidding war.  Script ends up in the hands of Stephen Spielberg.  Spielberg, as executive producer, decides on a television series for the near-future SF story, and allows the writer to see his project through.  This is the tale of Mickey Fisher and EXTANT, his story of a female astronaut (Halle Berry) who spends a year in space and comes back pregnant.  The astronaut already has complications in her marriage:  her husband (Goran Visnjic) has sought to ease the pain of their childlessness with a cyborg child, the result of his cutting edge research in robotics and AI.  She has trouble bonding with the, er, child and desperately wants one of her own.  That’s the set-up.  I haven’t yet seen the first episode, which aired this week.  We’ll see if it lives up to the buzz.  But you have to wonder: what is it about this story--an old idea, been done a dozen times in SF—that fired everyone’s imagination?  

CONSISTENT PERFORMERS

--FALLING SKIES(TNT)—The aliens came, they saw, they conquered.  What’s left of humanity fights back with the tech equivalent of sticks and stones under the leadership of a former history professor from Boston (Noah Wylie).  The effects are good, the acting is decent, the intrigues between various alien species scrapping over Earth’s strategic importance, with humans caught in the middle, are fun to follow.  Post-apocalyptic darkness can be entertaining!

--UNDER THE DOME(CBS)—Basically a soap opera with daily weirdness supplied by Stephen King, this “limited series” survives on the strength of its characters.  King’s best writing has always unlocked the dark heart of small-town America, and UTD is no exception. 

--PERCEPTION(ABC)—Eric McCormick’s Dr. Daniel Pierce has a problem.  He’s a paranoid schizophrenic who sees and hears people who aren’t there.  Fortunately, there’s a pill (or several) for that, and as long as his meds are working, Pierce is functional.  He teaches as a neuroscience/ psychology professor at a mid-size university.  And he consults with the FBI, providing insights into the criminal mind.  But the meds have side effects, so Pierce stops taking them periodically.  That’s when his hallucinations start helping him with his cases.  McCormick makes the show, but his boss at the university, STAR TREK NEXT GEN alum LeVar Burton, is always good for a laugh.

--SALEM(WGN)—Hard to say which is more interesting in this period paranormal—the witchcraft or the political maneuvering that surrounds it in the Massachusetts town of witch-burning fame.  Then there’s the sexual tension between John Alden (Shane West), descendent of the town’s founder, and Mary Sibley (Janet Montgomery), leader of the witch’s coven.  Add in a weak-willed Cotton Mather (Seth Gabel)—yeah, wrap your head around that one!—and you’ve got the ingredients for fascinating viewing.

--THE WITCHES OF EAST END(FOX)—Much lighter in tone than SALEM and very easy on the eyes, this show about a family of witches is set in contemporary times.  Mindless entertainment of the guilty-pleasure sort.  But the characters and the acting keep you coming back.

REMAINS TO BE SEEN

--DOMINION (SyFy)—Based on the 2010 film LEGION, which at least had Paul Bettany going for it, this offering pits Archangels Michael and Gabriel and their legions of angels against each other for dominion of Earth.  Gabriel wants to return Earth to its original paradise form—sans humans, who he believes has driven our heavenly Father away by destroying the world He created for us.  Since God is nowhere to be found, that’s not a bad theory.  Fortunately for us, Michael’s on our side.  Oh, and there’s a new “savior” (a human one, this time) for the world.  The problem here is in the actors, all unknowns, who seem a bit thin to be carrying all the weight that’s piled on them.  (And, BTW, SUPERNATURAL had this going on, too. How does God just up and disappear in a fit of pique?  I find that hard to swallow.  Either’s He’s God—and He’s omnipresent—or He isn’t.)

--THE STRAIN(FX)—On the one hand, Guillermo del Toro.  On the other, a virus that creates ugly-ass, ripping, tearing vampires.  It’s a toss-up as to whether this one makes any sense or is just a teen-night gore fest.  The first episode airs Sunday, July 13, so we’ll find out then.

--MANHATTAN(WGN)—Similarly, this show about the scientists and their families living at Los Alamos during the development of the atom bomb won’t air until late July. Still too early to know whether this is a science-y drama, or a soap opera with a cool setting.

AND, OF COURSE, THE MAJOR EVENT OF THE SUMMER!

--OUTLANDER(STARZ)--Okay, technically it’s not science fiction.  It’s not paranormal.  But it is time-travel romance.  The FIRST time-travel romance, the one that started the whole historical time-travel/Scottish Highlander romance landslide that still rumbles through the genre to this day.  I refer, of course, to Outlander, the first in Diana Galbadon’s series of game-changing romance novels set between modern times and 18th Century Scotland.  The book will be brought to the screen for the first time on the premium Starz cable network starting August 9, starring Caitriona Balfe as Claire and Sam Heughan as Jamie.  And you can believe my DVR is set for that one!

Cheers, Donna



5 comments:

  1. Nice recap! I've been watching The Last Ship, although it's pretty much every trope rehashed (except for the semi-incompetent Special Forces guy perhaps). As far as your question about Extant, I think what fired the showrunners' imginations was having Halle Berry LOL!

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  2. Great round-up, Donna! Thank you, thank you for including the networks in the list. :)

    I'm intrigued with Manhattan since I've been driving by the set every day. All I can see is little black houses. It's being filmed at the same location as Cowboys and Aliens (and too many other movies to name), a little movie ranch called Bonanza Creek.

    Saw the first episode of Extant. Some well done space scenes and a good set-up of conflict. The "visitor" to the station was a bit chilling as only a stalker-in-space could be. (Oh c'mon, that wasn't a spoiler. You knew Halle Berry had to have a visitor to get preggers, right?)

    I'm a Dome addict from last season. Love the show, though it has a very King-meets-Lost feel to it. Barbie's (that's a guy actually) character is fascinating. I've yet to learn who he is and what he's doing there. The villainry gets a bit melodramatic at times, but the antics of the dome make for some great drama.

    I'm recording Defiance but haven't watched it yet. The one show I watched last season didn't impress.

    Wanted to see The Last Ship but missed the premier (and I'm really kicking myself now, because I had no idea Eric Dane starred).

    One of my coworkers raved about Dominion but since I'm not a real fan of Angels and Demons tales (with the one huge exception being Darynda's Jones' Charley Davidson/First Grave series) I haven't tuned in yet.

    Someday I need to check out Falling Skies. But every time I see the name, my mind switches gears because Falling Skies is also the name of a racehorse I happen to follow. (He was probably named for the show. Kinda like I named one of our colts for Sharon's novel Echo Eight.) :)

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  3. Color me out of the loop, but I had no idea Outlander was the first time travel romance (and subsequently such a game changer). That explains a lot!

    Here's a title missing from your round up, but probably because it's not on U.S. television, nor did it debut this summer, heh. However, many folks can watch it right now:

    MY LOVE FROM ANOTHER STAR

    MLFAT is a Korean drama and having just finished watching all 21 episodes on DramaFever.com (http://www.dramafever.com/drama/4325/My_Love_From_Another_Star/), I can definitively define it as SFR. I'll be blogging about it on TGE soon. :)

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  4. Under the Dome is about the only thing that's been available to me, and I didn't watch much. Right now I'm watching and enjoying The 100 - dystopian YA. It's not bad, although heavy tones of The Hunger Games meets Lost and Planet of the Apes. My reservation is always the often short lifespans of these series. I just hate to get into things and then see them get cancelled...like the reboot of The Tomorrow People. Sigh.

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  5. OMG, I'm never going to get any writing done. Thanks for the heads up - I think! lol. I'm currently watching Season 2 of Continuum on DVD and loving it.

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