REMOTE OUTPOST Takes a Look at
THE FALL 2012 TV SEASON
Written by Mark Onspaugh
You find yourself on a barren and desolate world, light years from anything or anyone you know… Without much food or water, your oxygen running low, you strike out for the distant hills… After days of torturous climbing, you see an oasis below. An installation of Quonset huts bedecked with hundreds of television antennae. Congratulations, Traveler, you’ve reached… the REMOTE OUTPOST.
OUTPOST UPDATE: By now you’ve probably seen the President’s address, the various news specials and viewed the onsite footage. Since it’s been declassified, I can tell you the Outpost had been infested with Tofugitives. As you know, this is a plague of giant, sentient slugs that target populations of carnivorous, T-bone eating humans; consuming them and producing soy-based replicants nearly indistinguishable from the original. Since many on my crew are often in a somnolent state or snorting Snart, it was impossible to determine there had been an outbreak until the Outpost was overrun. But everything’s… everything’s fine, now… send your research ships… and tourists… yes, lots of tourists… the more, the better. And some blocks of tofu would be… most appreciated, humans… er, friends.
And now, on to today’s exciting column.
WHAT’S NEW IN GENRE TV, ANYWAY?
Well, it was just like Christmas at the Space-Orphanage: a few gifts around the tree, some disappointing, a couple surprisingly wonderful, and the rest a pile of used astro-diapers, steeped in a puddle of tears and hair torn out in frustration.
REVOLUTION (NBC, Mondays at 10pm EST)
The network is touting this as a breakout hit, and probably think they’ve caught lightning in the LOST (2004-2010) bottle. The show was created by Eric Kripke, who also created SUPERNATURAL. The series concerns an inexplicable catastrophe that shuts down all electrical power. Nothing works, and the pilot had planes falling from the skies as cities went dark. We pick up some fifteen years later, when some have created small, rural communities and others are forming fascistic attempts at a new world order. And, certain people have a strange medallion which sometimes lights up and powers any machinery or devices in the immediate area. I have to admit I bailed on SUPERNATURAL in the first season, because I just never felt invested in the Brothers Winchester, much as I wanted to be. I found the same problem with REVOLUTION. I love science fiction, and desperately hope for something as engaging as the best of the STAR TREK universe, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (2004-2009) or STARGATE: UNIVERSE (2009-2011). I just found the villains on the show to be over-the-top mustache-twirlers, and the heroes tiresome and (frankly) boring. But, I have been wrong before. I gave up on STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE (2001-2005) early on because of the characters, then a good friend told me how terrific the story arcs were in later seasons. And you know what? He was right. If such a person tells me I missed the boat on REVOLUTION, I’ll rent the DVD’s.
AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM (FX Channel, Wednesdays at 10pm EST)
I loved the first season of AMERICAN HORROR STORY – it was fresh and inventive, had engaging characters and some genuinely scary and creepy moments. I applauded the idea that each season would bring a different setting and story arc, though some of the actors would be the same. ASYLUM bounces back and forth between a couple visiting an abandoned asylum and running afoul of a serial killer called “Bloody Face,” and the same asylum in its heyday in the 60’s. Besides serial killers and a Nazi doctor a la Mengele (and H.G. Wells’s Moreau), the first two and a half episodes had an exorcism, alien abductions and a nun possessed by the devil. The cast has some terrific actors, including Jessica Lange as Sister Jude, James Cromwell as Dr. Arden and Zachary Quinto as Dr. Thredson. Maybe I am just tired of hospitals and asylums as a setting for horror stories… It could be the torture aspects, which I have never been crazy about (and were lacking in season one)… But… Watching the episodes I had TiVo’ed just felt like homework, which is a bad sign. It may be that there are just too many elements – Nazis, aliens, demons and nuns? I’d love to see creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk develop a series about alien abductions in the 60’s – that would probably be scary as hell… Or just nuns and demons… Or just Nazi experiments in creating animal-men… Again, if I find later I have given up prematurely, I will re-check it out.
I had been looking forward to this series, because I am a big fan of Andre Braugher (HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET, 1993-1998, THIEF,2006 and MEN OF A CERTAIN AGE, 2009-2011) and the series was created by Shawn Ryan, the man behind the awesome series THE SHIELD (2002-2008). If that ain’t enough cred, Robert Patrick is just terrific as Master Chief Prosser. Patrick was the living metal Terminator in TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (1991) and Agent John Doggett on THE X-FILES (1993-2002). LAST RESORT concerns the USS Colorado, a nuclear sub commanded by Captain Marcus Chaplain (Braugher). The sub picks up a contingent of Navy Seals with a prisoner. Soon after, they are commanded to nuke Pakistan. Since the orders come from a secondary relay, Chaplain refuses. Then the U.S. fires on the Colorado, trying to destroy it. Chaplain commandeers a remote island and declares a 200 mile barrier around it until they can sort things out. To prove his point, he fires a nuke at Washington, its actual course taking it out to sea so no one is killed. The show is filled with conflict, both on the sub and the island and back home. Has there been a coup? Who can be trusted? Loyalties and alliances constantly shift and dangers come from within and from without (including the islanders themselves). I don’t know where the show is going, but it’s very, very engaging, and that’s what I want more than ever. Homework? Not this one.
Another pleasant surprise, although the trailer had sold me. Many think this is a SMALLVILLE (2001-2011) version of the Green Arrow, and it’s easy to understand why. SMALLVILLE had its own version of the Green Arrow. He was also an incarnation of GA where Oliver Queen is shipwrecked and develops his archery skills to survive until he is rescued. But that Oliver was embroiled in SMALLVILLE’s brand of soap opera teen angst, which often took precedence over the action. This version of the Green Arrow is much grittier. Here, Oliver is a shallow playboy who convinces his girlfriend’s sister to go with him on a pleasure cruise on his father’s yacht. The yacht goes down, and only Oliver, his father and another man survive. Knowing they only have limited rations and Oliver is no fighter, his father gives him a journal outlining the corruption in Starling City before killing the other man and taking his own life. Oliver is helped on the island by a Chinese sort of Robinson Crusoe and undergoes a profound change. Upon returning, he pretends to be the shallow billionaire playboy, but by night he dons the Lincoln green and goes after the people on the list… And this Green Arrow kills! Finally, a superhero with lethal skills going the distance. (I’m lookin’ at you, Wolverine!) Mind you, I wouldn’t want to see Superman or Batman killing people, but Queen as a murderous vigilante brings a whole new level to the story. Stephen Amell is quite good as Oliver, and his girlfriend is an attorney named… Dinah Lance. Black Canary, anyone? Hmm, maybe – she already mentioned to Oliver that she regretted wearing fishnets to a Halloween party… Green Arrow and Black Canary? Yes, please!
I know as a galactic pilot and critic I should take one for the team (that being you Earthers), but I just couldn’t bring myself to watch this. I could barely make it through the promos, and this did seem like a SMALLVILLE-ified version of the series made famous in 1987-1990 with Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton. I guess partially because the “beauty” in this case is Kristin Kreuk, who played Lana Lang in SMALLVILLE. If you love the show, let me know. Otherwise, let’s pretend it’s not even on and move on…
Another show I looked forward to because I loved THE MUNSTERS (1964-1966) as a kid and this was Bryan Fuller’s take… Fuller created DEAD LIKE ME (2003-2004), which is still one of my all-time favorite series. I knew this would be a grittier take on Herman and his family, because I had read that Eddie “wolfs out” and kills several members of his Scout troop. (Hmm, another show made attractive by murder… Paging Dr. Freud!) Anyway, I didn’t want to read anything else, and that was both a blessing and a curse. This is actually a version of the Munsters where they have been liberally mixed with THE ADDAMS FAMILY (1964-1966) – these Munsters look perfectly human, but also know they are special. There is a nice sight gag when we first meet Herman – standing in the shadows, a hanging lamp behind him alters his silhouette into the block-headed and bolted Monster we all know and love. Herman is played by Jerry O’Connell, who was a lot of fun in SLIDERS (1995-2000) and seemed more famous in later years for marrying Rebecca Romijn (“Mystique” in X-MEN 2000), but he is quite good here. His Herman only has one piece of “original” equipment, his heart, which is giving out. He is afraid a new heart will change him. Lily is played by the wonderful Portia de Rossi, so damn funny in BETTER OFF TED (2009-2010), and her first appearance is right out of Ray Bradbury, as spiders spin a gown on her shapely form. Grandpa? Eddie Izzard. Man, I’d tune in just to watch Izzard alone. His grandpa looks like Eddie, but can morph into a bat-winged demon (part gargoyle, part Nosferatu) to feed. The pilot was sly and well written, and underneath was the running thread of love and family unity… and people… people who feed on people, being the luckiest people in the world. I was ready to make MOCKINGBIRD LANE part of my week, but sadly, this is an unsold pilot, aired to recoup some network bucks… Sad, because the writing, acting and production values were all top-notch, including the cameo by Spot at the end, which was just killer. Oh, well…
ANIMAL PRACTICE (NBC, Wednesdays at 8pm EST – Canceled)
A word about this show, which has already been cancelled while dreck like the NBC sitcom WHITNEY survives like some malignant virus. ANIMAL PRACTICE concerned a vet who didn’t like people and his best friend, Dr. Rizzo, a small capuchin monkey in her own lab coat. Tyler Labine was also in the show (if you haven’t seen him and Alan Tudyk in TUCKER AND DALE vs EVIL, 2010, you’re missing a true gem), and it was pretty off-the-wall. Not a show that would be deemed a classic (not yet), but damn, that monkey made me laugh – every… stinking… episode. TV needs more monkeyshines, less Whitney.
Final Note: My favorite shows currently are THE WALKING DEAD (AMC, Sunday nights at 10pm EST), SONS OF ANARCHY (FX Channel, Tuesdays at 10pm EST) and BOARDWALK EMPIRE (HBO, Sundays at 9pm EST ). All are just terrific, and each is well written, acted and produced – well worth your time. I also have high hopes for the SyFy series DEFIANCE, coming in the near future.
© Copyright 2012 by Mark Onspaugh