Archive for Defiance

REMOTE OUTPOST looks at 3 NEW SHOWS WORTH YOUR TIME

Posted in 2013, Aliens, Based on Classic Films, Clones!, Dystopian Futures, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Psycho killer, Remote Outpost, Science Fiction, TV Shows with tags , , , , , , on July 25, 2013 by knifefighter

REMOTE OUTPOST
By Mark Onspaugh

RemoteOutpostHello from the Outpost, located on a small planetoid that is actually a dead generation starship which is hurtling out toward the edge of the galaxy… And we’re all out of Poptarts™ and peanut butter!

(Note: Some of you may have noticed—and been relieved—that the Remote Outpost went “dark” for a while… We have a lot of sophisticated equipment and prototype AI stuff here to make sure we cover all the best in genre TV.  Sometimes, the equipment achieves sentience and decides we “meat puppets” have to go… It was a long and bloody campaign, but good old Terran humanity triumphed again. Hopefully it will be a long time before something goes worng again.)

3 SHOWS WORTH YOUR TIME

These series have now gone into hiatus, which means you’ll have time to catch up on their first seasons before the second one debuts.  Don’t be like me… (I had to binge-watch three seasons of LOST before getting on that bandwagon!)

BATES MOTEL (A&E)

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A great writer, a great screenwriter, a great director, a great actor—Robert Bloch, Joseph Stefano (THE OUTER LIMITS, 1963-64), Alfred Hitchcock and Anthony Perkins—all worked together to create one of the most memorable and nuanced psychotic murderers of all time, Norman Bates in the classic film PSYCHO (1960). Now this new series seeks to show us what made Norman “go a little mad, sometimes.”  Creator Anthony Cipriano has reverse-engineered Norman, showing us his high school days, and the series is just terrific.

First up is the cast, with Freddie Highmore as the boy who loves his mother.  Highmore has been with us since he was seven, appearing in films like FINDING NEVERLAND (2004), CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (2005) and AUGUST RUSH (2007).  In BATES he channels Anthony Perkins just enough so that we see the man the boy will become… But this Norman hasn’t killed and mummified his mother, yet.  (Norman’s first foray into taxidermy is both poignant and creepy.) And we’re not sure just how crazy Norman is.  True, he does have fugues, but some of his more outlandish experiences (finding a captive Asian girl in a neighbor’s basement) turn out to be true.  You wonder just how much is Norman, how much is his crazy mother, and how much she (or someone else) may be gaslighting him.

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Speaking of mom, that would be Vera Farmiga (JOSHUA, 2007, ORPHAN, 2009, UP IN THE AIR, 2009 and THE CONJURING, 2013).  She’s Norma Bates, and that first name is not one I am crazy about… a little too “on the nose” for my taste.  But she is wonderful—one minute shrewish and shrill, the next loving and nurturing, the next wheedling and cajoling.  This is a woman desperate to protect her favorite son, even though there are those in town who believe Norman is in serious need of counseling.

And yes, I said favorite son.  Norman has a half brother, Dylan, played by Max Thieriot (MY SOUL TO TAKE, 2010 and THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET, 2012).  Dylan’s bad boy with a heart is a fine foil to Norman. At first, Dylan wants to little to do with Norman or their mother—then he wants to move Norman out of the house and away from their mother… But events conspire to draw the three of them even closer together.  (And that friendly little town has a lot of secrets—like the basis of its economy.)  The fact that Dylan is never mentioned in any of the PSYCHO films leads one to believe things will not end well for him.

People are dying to stay at the BATES MOTEL.

People are dying to stay at the BATES MOTEL.

One of the things I love best about the show is the (PSYCHO) house and the eponymous motel.  Like Amityville, the Overlook and the House of Usher), both of these places seem cursed.  One new conceit is that the Bates move there after Norman’s father dies.  So the house is aged and creepy, and the motel is… waiting.  Much of the first season is concerned with getting the place ready for guests.  My guess is that things will get even weirder and darker once it starts booking lots of guests – giving an opportunity for an almost anthology style of storytelling.

 DEFIANCE (SyFy)

defiance_posterNow that there are no (new) Star Trek series running, I am hungry for good SF on TV.  The last shows I truly loved were BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (2004-2009), CAPRICA (2009-2010) and SGU STARGATE UNIVERSE (2009-2011).  While DEFIANCE is not as good as GALACTICA or SGU, it has the potential to become some really good SF TV.

The premise is ingenious—seven alien races collectively known as the Votan flee their system, where the sun is going nova.  They come to Earth in huge arks, somehow thinking our planet is uninhabited.  The citizens of Earth regard them with suspicion and hostility, but allow them to establish some modest colonies while most of the Votan remain in suspended animation aboard the arks.  All is proceeding well until the Votan ambassador is assassinated, and the Pale Wars break out.  Many lives are lost and the war goes on for years… until the ark fleet is blown up! Huge pieces of technology rain down on the Earth, and terraforming devices begin haphazardly remaking the planet and mutating the animals, as well as introducing alien flora and fauna (I hate it when that happens).  Humans and Votan realize they cannot survive this new world, which is now alien to both groups.  Because of debris sometimes falling as “razor rain,” long-range air travel is impossible, and going into orbit is too costly – so both groups are earthbound. An uneasy peace is declared.  The new Earth is deadly and pieces of space debris still fall, bringing death…  but also opportunity for scavengers.

Cast of the series DEFIANCE.

Cast of the series DEFIANCE.

All of this is backstory and told wordlessly (and briefly) in the title sequence.  The series opens with Nolan, a former soldier turned scavenger who combs the frontier with his adopted daughter Irisa, an Irathient girl he rescued in the war.  The Irathient people are orange with white markings—whether these marks are pigmentation, paint or tattoos is not quite clear, but they seem permanent.  Nolan and Irisa are trying to get enough money to get to Anarctica, which is rumored to be an oasis on the hostile planet.  Their pursuit of an “arkfall” leads them to Defiance, a settlement of human and Votan built on the ruins of St. Louis (the arch, somewhat the worse for wear, still stands).  The town is a wild and wooly frontier town, a bit like Mos Eisley in STAR WARS (1977), but with only a handful of alien species.

Nolan is jacked (robbed) by some of Irisa’s people, and is forced to become the peacekeeper of Defiance.  Irisa becomes his deputy, along with Tommy, a human African-American who develops a sexy but tempestuous relation with Irisa.  Defiance is run by newly-elected mayor Amanda Rosewater, whose sister runs the local brothel/bar/gambling hall.  Two more races are most fully represented by power-hungry Datak Tarr and his wife Stahma, both Castithans. Castithans are albino, sophisticated, scheming, fierce and their families all bathe together—their dwellings are white on white, making them nearly the opposite of the Irathients, and these races despise one another—united only in their disdain for humans.  Stahma is a great character, sensuous but crafty, deadly while being vulnerable. The town doctor is an Indogene, a people with pale, reptilian skin and dark eyes and lips (very goth/Cenobite) —they are brilliant scientists and have done both brilliant and terrible things during the Pale Wars—this is true of Dr. Yewl, who follows in the tradition of other great TV sci-fi doctors as being brilliant, crusty and not afraid to speak her mind.

Stahma from DEFIANCE.

Stahma from DEFIANCE.

The town and its people (human and Votan) are rife with secrets and intrigue.  Datak and Stahma’s son, Alak, is a DJ who plays alien covers of old Earth standards from the Arch.  He is in love with the daughter of the richest human in Defiance, Rafe MacCawley, who owns a huge mine that yields both precious minerals and alien tech.

The other races get somewhat short shrift (so far) – one looks vaguely birdlike (the Liberata), another quite apelike (the Sensoth).  There are also Biomen, huge blue warriors who are virtually unbeatable, and the Volge, a warlike race humans and Votans alike fear.  Who smuggled the Volge onto the arks is still a mystery.

Much SF TV is usually confined to a single ship or locale to utilize standing sets.  Green screen has freed up filmmakers to some degree, and Defiance doesn’t feel too claustrophobic.  The principals are all quite good.  Nolan is played by Grant Bowler, a Kiwi whose had roles in LOST (2004-2010) and TRUE BLOOD (2008 -). His daughter Irisa is played by Stephanie Leonidas, who played Mina in a TV version of DRACULA (2006).  Mayor Rosewater is genre fave Julie Benz (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 1997-2003, ANGEL, 1999-2004, and she played Rita on DEXTER) and her sister Kenya is Mia Kirshner (THE VAMPIRE DIARIES on the CW, and was on the Showtime series THE L WORD).  Mine owner Rafe MacCawley is played by Graham Greene (DANCES WITH WOLVES, 1990, TWILIGHT: NEW MOON, 2009).  Datak Tarr is Tony Curran (THE 13TH WARRIOR, 1999, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, 2003, BEOWULF & GRENDEL, 2005, THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, 2008) and his wife Stahma is played by Jaime Murray (HU$TLE, 2004-, WAREHOUSE 13, 2009). And crusty Doc Yewl is Trenna Keating, who doesn’t have a lot of credits, but is one of my favorite characters.

Meet Doc Yewl.

Meet Doc Yewl.

It’s a fairly complex mythology, which is why they are fleshing out the alien characters slowly—Star Trek had many years and several series to refine the Klingons, and I imagine this show could be just as rich, if it stays on the air.  As with many new ventures, this is a cross-platform show, so you can find out more about the characters and their races from the website, or from playing the MMORPG online.

ORPHAN BLACK (BBC America)

orphan-black-featureI do love BBC America.  Once in a while you find a real gem there, like BEING HUMAN (2008-) a show with a mismatched trio of supernaturals (vampire, werewolf, ghost) trying to survive both the human race and their more hostile counterparts.  The original British version is far, far superior to the American one and I urge you to check it out.  Lest you think I am a snob for Brit-TV, I will confess I gave up on COPPER (2012-) during its first season… It was meh (despite my loyalty to my Irish kinsmen), and not half as good as RIPPER STREET (2012-) when it comes to period police procedurals.  Also, LUTHER (2010-) with Idris Elba is amazing.

Which brings us to ORPHAN BLACK—more grounded in everyday reality than BATES or DEFIANCE, it still has a cool, science fiction premise: a young woman unhappy with her life of violence and estrangement from her young daughter is terrified to witness a woman commit suicide by jumping in front of a subway train… a woman who is her exact double.

Sarah and Felix in ORPHAN BLACK.

Sarah (Tatiana Maslany) and Felix (Jordan Gavaris) in ORPHAN BLACK.

Our protagonist, Sarah, takes the place of the suicide victim, using the death of a double to fake her own and get out of an abusive relationship (with a drug dealer from whom she has stolen a lot of money).  Unfortunately, the woman she has chosen to impersonate is a homicide detective with secrets… lots of secrets.

And, it gets worse.  One double? How about several?  Turns out Sarah is just one of several clones.  We don’t know how many, nor who the original is.  But someone is eliminating them, and so Sarah is trying to maintain her false identity, evade the clone killer, win custody of and protect her daughter, and solve the mystery of her own existence.

ORPHAN BLACK works largely due to its star, Tatiana Maslany.  Tatiana was in such fare as DIARY OF THE DEAD, THE MESSENGERS and the TV movie STIR OF ECHOES 2: THE HOMECOMING – all from 2007. But whatever you thought of her in those roles, this is her breakout.  Whether neurotic housewife, crazed Russian, lesbian science geek, French goth or our hero Sarah, she inhabits each role effortlessly and really seems to become someone beyond just a different hairstyle or fashion sense.

Send in the Clones! Tatiana Maslany plays several convincing characters in ORPHAN BLACK.

Send in the Clones! Tatiana Maslany plays several convincing characters in ORPHAN BLACK.

Kudos also go to Jordan Gavaris, who plays Sarah’s foster brother Felix.  Gavaris manages to take the character of outlandish but sensible gay man and make it seem fresh and funny.  Felix goes beyond caricature and is a very real ally to Sarah and her daughter…

ORPHAN BLACK is a mystery and a science fiction thriller.  Like good science fiction, it makes us look at larger issues of identity, individuality, the rights of “manufactured” beings and what it means to be human.  It also has one of the coolest title sequences and theme music (by Two Fingers) of any show currently on.

FINAL NOTE:  While I love science fiction, I can’t stand it if it’s boring.  Those who have read this column before know I gave up on TERRA NOVA.  The same may soon be said of CONTINUUM, the SyFy series about a revolutionary group from the future transported to our time, and the cop who is accidentally sent back with them.  Engaging at first, the show is becoming the same song played over and over.  Unless it turns a corner soon, I will toss it into the metaphorical dust bin.

OUTPOST… out.

© Copyright 2013 by Mark Onspaugh

THE REMOTE OUTPOST LOOKS FORWARD, THEN BACK AT 2012

Posted in 2012, 2013, Alien Worlds, Based on Classic Films, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Prequels, Remote Outpost, Science Fiction, Television, TV Shows with tags , , , , , , , on January 16, 2013 by knifefighter

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 reachedTHE REMOTE OUTPOST.

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THE REMOTE OUTPOST LOOKS FORWARD, THEN BACK
By Mark Onspaugh

Well, the holidays have come to an end at the old Remote Outpost. The freeze-dried Christmas tree has been vacu-packed, the electronic menorah has been powered down and reintegrated into the antenna array, and the powdered eggnog and dehydrated turkey are on order for next year.

Now that the snart herds have moved to the Seventh Crater and the triffids are dormant, it’s time to reflect on that most marvelous technological advancement, television. We’ll try to adopt a more positive air going into 2013, at least on this rainy afternoon. (Besides, a “Worst Of” list would take many times the word count I am allowed.)

5 SHOWS THAT MAKE ME DROOL WITH ANTICIPATION

New shows are on the horizon, and some of them sound just peachy. Here are the ones I am most excited about:

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BANSHEE (Premieres January 11, Cinemax). Alan Ball has become one of those names you look for. He wrote the screenplay for the movie AMERICAN BEAUTY back in 1999, and has since been the creative force behind the television series SIX FEET UNDER (2001-2005) and TRUE BLOOD (2008 – Present). I am a big fan of TRUE BLOOD and recently came under the spell of SIX FEET UNDER (see below). So when I heard Ball was executive producing a new series, I got downright twitterpated. BANSHEE concerns an ex (or escaped) con who poses as the (murdered) sheriff in the Amish community of Banshee. As with other projects with Ball at the helm, the secrets our protagonist keeps are just the tip of the iceberg in Banshee. One of the characters is named Mr. Rabbit, who will be played by Ben Cross. Mr. Cross portrayed Sarek, Spock’s father, in the STAR TREK reboot of 2009. He also stars in the upcoming JACK THE GIANT KILLER (2013), which is NOT to be confused with JACK THE GIANT SLAYER (also 2013)—that stars Ewan McGregor. It looks like it’ll be Brits vs Scots in the land of the giants.

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BATES MOTEL (Premieres March 18, A&E). A psychological thriller that will give background on Robert Bloch’s beloved psycho. Hitchcock’s 1960 film is the initial inspiration, but beyond that, the producers will not be a slave to it or its sequels. The show is not, as one critic suggested, “How I Stuffed My Mother.” Besides Norman’s mother and her lover, the townspeople will also play a role in Norman’s descent into madness, and producers promise it won’t all be black and white, connect the dots. Norman Bates will be played by Freddie Highmore, the young actor so wonderful in FINDING NEVERLAND (2004), CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (2005) and AUGUST RUSH (2007). Freddie has grown up, and actually looks like a young Tony Perkins. Norman’s mother will be portrayed by Vera Farmiga, who promises mother Norma Bates will be both sympathetic and layered. We all know Vera from such films as THE DEPARTED (2006), JOSHUA (2007), SOURCE CODE (2011) and the upcoming THE CONJURING (2013). BATES MOTEL is produced by Carlton Cuse of LOST (2004-2010) and Kerry Ehrin of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (2006-2011).

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DEFIANCE (Premieres April 15, Syfy). A lush science fiction drama where Earth has been remade into an almost alien world by extraterrestrial visitors who were denied permission to settle. After a long and costly war with humanity, the two species now live in an uneasy peace and try to make the Earth habitable for both. Defiance is the name of the town in the ruins of St. Louis, and where our protagonist, Jeb Nolan becomes head sheriff. There he must contend with humans, aliens, military types and various dangerous characters. From the trailers I’ve seen, this will be no cheap-looking, terrible CGI suck-fest. It is tied in with a game, but what show isn’t multi-platforming these days? Hopefully the writing will give us another BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (2004-2009) or SGU STARGATE UNIVERSE (2009-2011).

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BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: BLOOD AND CHROME (Premieres February 10, Syfy). I was around when Glen A. Larson first introduced us to Cylons and humans whose names were the same as some of our more ancient gods and goddesses. I didn’t much care for the show, but watched it because I was starved for SF on TV. When the (then Sci-Fi Channel’s) remake was announced for 2004, I just shook my head and chuckled. I ignored it, until a friend hit me over the head with the DVD’s. I quickly became an ardent fan, and was sad when the (regrettable) ending aired. Now we have a chance to visit that universe again, as we see young “Husker” Adama and his friends in the first war with the Cylons, before the skin jobs made the scene. Like the many incarnations of STAR TREK, I anxiously wait for the chance to geek out in a world that is interesting and well-formed. Here’s hoping it’s as good as its predecessor.

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VIKINGS (Premieres March 3 on History). Cable has often found fertile ground in examining (often in lurid detail) historical events, places or infamous families. DEADWOOD (2004-2006), THE TUDORS (2007-2010) and THE BORGIAS (2011 – Present) gave us all the scandal, gore and sex we were never taught in history class but always suspected (or hoped) was there. While perhaps not wholly accurate, all these shows had/have sumptuous production values, good writing and acting. Now comes the saga of Ragnar Lothbrok, who, legend has it, was descended from Odin himself. VIKINGS will be produced for the History Channel, who brought us that bang-up version of the feud of the HATFIELDS AND McCOYS (2012). VIKINGS was created by Michael Hirst, who created the aforementioned TUDORS, and one of its stars will be Gabriel Byrne, who has been in such movies as STIGMATA (1998), END OF DAYS (1999) SPIDER (2002) and GHOST SHIP (2002). By Odin’s eye I will be there!

WELCOME TO THE PARTY, PAL!

If I’m wrong, I am usually man enough to admit it. Two shows I came late to the party for are THE BIG BANG THEORY and SIX FEET UNDER (2001-2005).

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BIG BANG is shown initially on CBS (on Thursdays at 8pm EST), and then rerun about a billion times a day on TBS and Fox. Even though I love science fiction, pop culture and DC comics (all of which BB has in buckets and bales), I thought the character of Sheldon Cooper (portrayed by Jim Parsons) was just too two-dimensional. A friend of mine is very devoted to the show, and kept tempting me with anecdotes about appearances by Wil Wheaton as an evil version of himself (Wil was the much-loved or despised character of Wesley Crusher on STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, 1987-1994), and a Spock action figure voiced by Leonard Nimoy himself. I finally watched the show for more than one episode, and found that Parsons is quite brilliant. It’s not easy to portray such an unlikeable character and make him endearing. I have to admit, when he approached Penny (about her intending to break up with his roommate) and said, “Please don’t hurt my friend,” I actually teared up. The entire ensemble is terrific, and there are lots of references to physics, DC superheroes, Star Trek, Star Wars and sex —and who doesn’t love one or all of those things?

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SIX FEET UNDER is no longer with us, but lives on in DVD form. Created by Alan Ball, it revolves around the Fishers, a family who owns a small but honest funeral home in L.A. Patriarch Nathaniel Fisher is killed in a bus crash while driving one of the family hearses. Though dead, Nathaniel often appears to council or annoy one of his family, and is played by the amazing Richard Jenkins (THE VISITOR 2001, CABIN IN THE WOODS 2011, JACK REACHER 2012). His family includes son Nate (Peter Krause of THE LOST ROOM, 2006 and currently on the NBC drama PARENTHOOD), son David (Michael C. Hall, now the star of DEXTER), daughter Claire (Lauren Ambrose of the recent remake of COMA 2012) and wife Ruth (Frances Conroy of AMERICAN HORROR STORY). Each episode begins with a death (not always the one you expect) and that corpse’s impact on one or more of the family and/or staff. At times, the deceased will interact with a character. In addition, a huge funeral home conglomerate is trying to put the Fishers out of business, and each member of the family has secrets that are coming to light.

IT’S SO HARD TO SAY GOODBYE, FAREWELL, AUF WIEDERSEHEN, GOOD NIGHT

Two of my favorite shows are saying “adieu” this year (inarticulate sobbing here)…

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One is FRINGE (Fox, Fridays 9pm EST), which began in 2008 as a sort of new take on THE X-FILES (1993-2002) but evolved more into a love story and a search for redemption. Though complex, I never felt lost in the mythology as I came to be with THE X-FILES. The central core of characters Agent Olivia Dunham, Peter Bishop, Walter Bishop and Astrid Farnsworth are all wonderfully played by Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, John Noble and Jasika Nicole, and ably supported by Blair Brown as Nina Sharp, Lance Reddick as Philip Broyles and Leonard Nimoy as Dr. William Bell. Noble as Walter is one of the great characters of recent SF TV, a genius and mad scientist who had parts of his brain cut out so he would not become evil and callous, unlike his counterpart on a parallel Earth. The elective surgery has left a man with a taste for sweets, inappropriate sexual banter and a craving for LSD and music of the 60s and 70s. If you never gave this series a try, do so. I, for one, will sorely miss it.

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BREAKING BAD took one episode to hook all of us here at the Outpost. It concerns a high school chemistry teacher who discovers he has cancer. Looking to make money to pay for his treatment (and to take care of his family once he is gone), Walter White (the just awesome Bryan Cranston, once the father on MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE 2000-2006) turns to making meth with a former student, Jesse Pinkman, portrayed by Aaron Paul. And he’s real good at it. His product is so good it’s soon drawing the attention of tweakers, dealers, cartel members and DEA agents. Complicating matters is the fact that his brother-in-law works for the DEA, and is not the lunkhead he seems to be. What is fascinating is how Cranston essays a good man who gets into a dirty business, and transforms over time from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde… This is not only someone who becomes evil, he enjoys it. BREAKING BAD airs on AMC (the last episodes of the final season will be airing soon), but you’ll want to watch it from the beginning.

I’ll close out this year-end wrap-up with a list of shows I think are well worth your time:

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BOARDWALK EMPIRE (HBO) —A bloody and dark series about Atlantic City in the 20s and the rise of organized crime, with Steve Buscemi at the center of it all.

GAME OF THRONES (HBO) —Warring kingdoms, sex, gore, dire wolves, dragons and things undead. What’s not to love?

THE WALKING DEAD (AMC) —A wonderful series where the living are just as important as the living dead, with brilliant makeup, effects and many WTF! moments.

JUSTIFIED (FX) —A Federal Marshall returns to rural Kentucky in this bitchin’ series from the mind of Elmore Leonard. Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins are lawman and outlaw who were boyhood pals. Brilliant.

SONS OF ANARCHY (FX) —Hamlet on Harleys. Also brilliant.

ARROW (CW) —Green Arrow without the Smallville soapiness.

THE NEIGHBORS (ABC) —A very human family moves to a cul-de-sac filled with aliens. The seemingly one-joke premise continues to be inventive, delightful and hilarious.

BOB’S BURGERS (FOX) —My favorite animated show. Unattractive characters (literally) and hilarious send-ups of family sitcom sweetness.

SHAMELESS (SHO) — The saga of the Gallaghers, who are grifters living by their wits in Chicago. Many of their efforts are often derailed by the worst of the lot, their patriarch, played by William H. Macy. A U.S. version of a Brit show, and hilarious.

LUTHER (BBC America) —Idris Elba is amazing as a British detective in this dark and inventive series.

FACE-OFF (Syfy) —The only reality show I watch—sure, some of the drama is manufactured through writing and editing, but the contestants come up with amazing effects makeup—without CGI!

© Copyright 2012 by Mark Onspaugh