TV: What I’ve Been Watching

Been watching a bunch of different shows in the sci-fi/fantasy vein lately. Rather than spamming my blog with half a dozen different review posts, I thought I’d throw together a list of my quick and dirty thoughts on each. Presented in no particular order:

The cast of Glitch season twoWu Assassins, season one:

Cheesy kung fu show that’s fun if you don’t think about it too hard. I mostly enjoyed it, but it did falter a lot in the later episodes.

I’m really getting fed up with how ridiculously short most TV seasons are becoming these days. Among other problems, it leads to very rushed stories, and Wu Assassins is a particularly egregious example.

There’s about three seasons of good story here, but it’s all crammed into ten episodes, and it just becomes a mess. Stuff just happens without any explanation of how or why. Characters change sides or evolve into completely different people without any foreshadowing or natural development. Interesting new plot threads are over before they start.

The fight scenes are good, and it’s got a certain kitschy charm, so I’d probably watch a second season if it gets made, but boy this show wasted so much of its potential.

Killjoys, season three:

Dutch and D'avin in KilljoysIt had been so long since I watched Killjoys that I’d forgotten most of the plot, but it doesn’t really matter because there isn’t much of a plot to begin with. Upon being reacquainted with the show, I was once again reminded of how spectacularly mediocre Killjoys is.

The last two seasons are available for me to stream, but I’m not sure I’ll bother. It’s clear by now this show is never going to get any better. In fact it’s slowly getting worse as they continue to gradually write out all the secondary cast members, which were the only thing memorable about the show.

The fact Killjoys survived and Dark Matter didn’t is just tragic.

Disenchantment, part two:

I was a bit disappointed with part two of Disenchantment.

The trade-off of Disenchantment is that it’s got fewer jokes than The Simpsons and Futurama, but it makes up for that with an engaging ongoing plot and good character development. But fully half of this season is standalone episodes that don’t contribute to either. They’ve very forgettable.

A promotional image for Netflix's DisenchantmentOn the plus side, the episode in hell is great, and the cliffhanger is pretty good. Also Jerry is the best.

Glitch, season three:

It had been so long since season two of Glitch that I kind of assumed it had been cancelled. Then one day boom there’s season three on Netflix. I didn’t realize until the last episode this is also the final season of the series.

The good news is that season three is more akin to the second season than the first. It’s well-paced and advances the plot at a good clip, without wasting too much time on soap opera style angst. The acting and character development continue to be outstanding, with Kirstie once again being a particular standout.

The bad news is that it’s a great season right up until the ending, which is a serious disappointment. Glitch’s ending is a complete copy of the ending of a fairly famous video game, and I didn’t like that ending the first time, let alone the second.

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, season one:

I remember enjoying the original Dark Crystal movie when I was a kid, but I’d all but forgotten about it as an adult. I rewatched it before jumping into Age of Resistance, but I have to say it didn’t really hold up from a grown-up perspective.

A promotional image for The Dark Crystal: Age of ResistanceFortunately, Age of Resistance is a more mature take that preserves the brilliant world-building of the original movie while fleshing out the story and characters into something much more meaty and satisfying.

It is not without its stumbles. Like Wu Assassins, it suffers from trying to cram way too much story into just ten episodes, leading to a lot of rushed and unsatisfying story-lines and character arcs. In particular a lot of wins by the heroes come too soon and feel unearned.

While I’m usually a defender of prequels, in this case I do feel knowing how the story ends hurts Age of Resistance. We know the Gelfings ultimately lose, so it’s hard to get excited about their budding revolution. I think it would have been better to sell this as a reboot rather than a direct prequel to the original movie.

On the other hand, the depth of the world-building and the visuals to support it are spectacular, the characters are mostly endearing (Deet is a treasure and she deserves all of the hugs), it hits a nice balance of being both heartwarming and tragic, and the season finale is one of the most spectacular bits of television I’ve seen in a long time.

I definitely want to see a second season, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Revisiting Dark Matter

Over the past few weeks I’ve been rewatching Dark Matter from start to finish. It had been a while since the show wrapped up, and I was missing it.

A promotional image for Dark Matter season threeFor the most part, it’s as fun as I remember. The rewatch hasn’t changed my view of the show in any big ways, but there are a few insights I’d like to share.

On the off chance you haven’t watched Dark Matter yet, do note there are spoilers in this post.

My view of individual episodes changed:

This rewatch did not significantly change my view of Dark Matter as a series. My opinion remains about the same as it always was. It’s smart enough to be engaging, but simple enough to be relaxing. It’s the perfect “comfort food” show.

However, I did find my opinions of many individual episodes changed a bit. When “Built, not Born” first aired, I felt it was possibly the best episode of the series. On the second time through, I still liked it, but it didn’t seem nearly so brilliant. More of a B-.

On the other hand, I wasn’t exactly blown away by “I’ve Seen the Other Side of You” on first viewing, but now I feel like it maybe deserves to be remembered as the high water mark for the series. The ending scene from which it derives its title is just so powerful, and it cuts to the heart of the show’s themes perfectly.

Two and Victor in the Dark Matter episode "Built, not Born"I don’t think I ever fully appreciated the fact that Portia willingly surrenders at the end. It’s not just that she’s beaten; it’s that she wants the redemption that Five is offering her. It shows that there was the seed of goodness in her even when she was at her worst. Portia and Two aren’t completely different people; each has the potential to be the other.

Also, Five is just the best in that scene (more on that in a bit).

Losing One made the show better:

I find it funny that One’s death is something that happened despite the creator’s wishes, because in all honesty I think it’s one of the best things that ever happened to the show.

This is not a diss at One. He was never my favourite of the crew, but he’s a solid character, and I don’t have any major problems with him. But I think his loss moved the story and the other characters forward in important ways.

Two, for example, grew a great deal as a result of his death. Before then, a lot of her screen time was taken up by being One’s love interest, which always felt a bit forced to me. Once he was gone, she really came into her own as the leader of the crew and a force to be reckoned with.

Left to right: Alex Mallari Jr. (Four), Roger Cross (Six), Anthony Lemke (Three), and Melissa O'Neill (Two)Three also developed after One’s death. His constant sniping with One made both characters seem childish, but after One was gone, Three seemed to mature and become a more three-dimensional character.

In general, One’s loss upped the stakes of the show in a big way. Losing one of the core crew made the dangers the crew faces feel much more real, and the story felt more intense as a result.

Maybe all this growth and evolution could have happened even if One had survived, but from my perspective it seems his loss was a net gain for the show. If nothing else, I do feel that One was a bit redundant as a character. His role seems to have been to be the conscience of the crew, but Five and Six also fill that role, and I’d argue they do it better. They seem more sincere in their desire to do good, whereas One tends to come across as someone who wants to do the right thing because it makes him look good.

But the other cast changes hurt it:

This isn’t a new revelation as it bothered me at the time, but it does deserve repeating. The biggest problem with Dark Matter — really its only major flaw — is its constant, jarring cast changes.

As I said, I think losing One was a good move, but the revolving door of new cast members being added and then removed after that did drag the show down. Nyx and Devon were both interesting characters who added something different to the crew, and they were killed off far too soon.

Sally no longer?Adrian annoyed me, so I wasn’t sad to see him go, but that does raise the question of why he was ever there in the first place. His whole role in the story feels unnecessary. Meanwhile Solara had potential but was gone before we really got to know her. Again, why include her at all?

Even with that instability, though, the cast remains Dark Matter’s greatest strength, and one character in particular stands above the rest, which brings me to my final point.

Five is an absolute triumph:

Five was always my favourite part of the show right from the start, but I think it needs to be acknowledged that she’s not just fun or likable or entertaining, but a really important character of a sort we almost never see in fiction and desperately need more of.

Characters like Five are not uncommon. Lots of stories like this have characters that are lovable and compassionate. Lots of stories have nerdy genius types. It’s not too rare to see nerdy geniuses are also lovable and pure of heart.

But they’re always sidekicks. Always. They might be a useful part of the team, but they are rarely if ever the focus. They’re never the ones riding the proverbial white horse to save the day. When the big events are going down, it’s down to the more physical and violent characters to save the day with brute force.

On the rare occasions the nerdy or good-natured characters do get to save the day, it’s usually still by picking up a gun or a sword and turning into an action hero.

Jodelle Ferland as Five in Dark MatterFive is special not just because she’s a smart, compassionate character who gets to play the hero on a regular basis. She’s special because she gets to play the hero by being smart and compassionate.

She doesn’t solve her problems with brute force. She wins by thinking circles around her enemies. She solves problems through kindness and decency.

To go back to “I’ve Seen the Other Side of You” again, it is Five’s compassion — her willingness to see Portia as human and worthy of love and sympathy even at her worst — that saves the day more than anything else.

The world desperately needs more heroes like Five, in fiction and in reality. I love a good onscreen shootout or fist fight as much as the next guy, and I’m certainly not of the opinion fictional violence encourages real violence, but I do think we as a society need to spend more time lionizing people for thoughtfulness and humanity rather than simply their capacity to cause destruction. I love a good power fantasy, but there’s more than one kind of power.

If I had kids, I would make them watch Dark Matter just for the sake of Five. She’s the kind of role-model young people should have in their lives.