Westworld Season Two, Episode Ten

west10Interesting thought- none of the characters, I believe, that we see at the very end of this episode- Delores, Bernard, or Charlotte, are the same people that we saw last season, or even midway through this one; they are copes, duplicates, replacements, Delores and Bernard literally newly rebuilt and hints left that Maeve herself will be soon rebuilt/resurrected back on the island  There must also be some doubt regards MIB William in the coda, too- clearly a host himself now in some unspecified future, as is his daughter Emily, who we saw him murder the week before but here interrogates him for fidelity (always think of Blade Runner‘s VK test with that). What is human? What is real? What, for that matter, of death in this brave new era of immortals?

So we come to the grand finale of a fairly troubled season two, and surprisingly, I do believe they pulled it off – I rather suspected it would be difficult for them to create a satisfying conclusion that would manage to tie most of everything up, but yes, they pretty much managed it. Indeed, it delivered one of those lovely endings that promised all new possibilities for season three but also got me eager for the eventual disc release so I can re-watch this second season and piece it all together with the perspective of hindsight. Indeed, it has me reaching for my season one set that I didn’t manage to watch prior to the second season aired. So I guess job done on all fronts really. Rather reminds me of season finales of Babylon 5 back in the good old days

Westworld has come a long way, when you think about it, and now that I look back across the last ten episodes, its quite an achievement. What impressed me most with this finale is the sheer bravura of it, killing so many characters and concluding quite a number of arcs that I feared they would be tempted to stretch out longer. Indeed, they even managed to get certain hosts out of the theme park altogether, and into the ‘real world’, suggesting all sorts of intriguing possibilities for season three and pushing things forward considerably, something I wouldn’t have expected for another season or two yet.

Setting up Delores and Bernard as opposites, their conflicting worldviews no doubt leaving them as rivals with the possible fate of humanity at stake. Each of them strangers in a strange land, simulacra in the world of real humans. Potentially Delores inhabiting two bodies at once- her newly resurrected normal body and that of the Charlotte duplicate.

I loved all that stuff in the Forge with the A.I. in the guise of poor Logan (a nod to the Architect in the Matrix, surely) explaining its high-concept reasoning about humanity and our natural limitations/algorithms that cast doubt on our own freewill. All that virtual world stuff. Its great. So too was that paradise that some of the hosts managed to escape to- a place I suspect we may yet revisit in the future (should have known that great premise of the Cradle wouldn’t be discarded for long). It rather raises all sorts of questions regards the nature of reality/identity, again, shades of the Matrix films, certainly. And of course we had further questions on what is human. So many layers within layers seem to grace this show, realities within realities with these simulated virtual worlds, so much so I began to wonder if everything we were watching was itself a simulation;  a surprisingly intellectual science-fiction series- yes, confusing, infuriating, confounding but also exhilarating and thought-provoking.

On the whole, while it wasn’t perfect I think it was a worthy follow-up to the first season, and really, season three has been set-up with so much promise, I can hardly wait. I rather suspect that if ever this show runs for five seasons, by that last season the show will be unrecognizable from how season one began.

More Lost in Space (2018)

lost4Well I’ve finished season one of Netflix’s new version of Lost in Space and overall I’d say it was a considerable success. Frankly, I’m more than a little surprised. As I stated in my earlier post about the first half of the season, this show is never going to be high concept/genre-defining material- its light and easygoing but certainly none the worse for that. As it turned out, I honestly believe the second half of the season was stronger than the first and it all came together very well indeed. It told its story, had some great character arcs and teased a continuation with some wit and style. The production design was excellent throughout, and there were a few times that I thought ‘this is how a live-action Star Wars tv show should look like’. 

Whoa. Live-action Star Wars tv-show. Well, everyone knows it’s coming, but how strange to just write something down like that.  I remember when Star Wars films were something special, big event movies on a different level to what everyone else was doing- I remember seeing The Empire Strikes Back one afternoon at the cinema, then going home and seeing an episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century on the telly. I appreciate its an unfair comparison, but it was the Buck Rogers episode where they flew into an asteroid field and the comparison was obvious, the gap between the two was huge. Nowadays the gap between tv and cinema isn’t as large as you’d think, and watching something like Lost in Space is a reminder of that. The sets and costumes were terrific and the effects pretty damn good. On tv. Sure, its Netflix so really it’s in some vague place between tv and cinema really, similar to where stuff like HBO’s Game of Thrones fits. But tv. The gap between tv shows and big cinema genre stuff isn’t that huge at all now (and I suppose Disney making so much Star Wars material lessens that whole Star Wars ‘event’ thing anyway), but still…

If only Babylon 5 could have had budgets and technology like shows have now. I remarked on this to my wife after the last episode of Lost in Space ended. B5 started all these big mult-season arcs and epic sagas on tv -arguably the one biggest advantage tv has over films, is simply running-time and what it affords- but it was hampered by a very limited indie-level production budget and cgi effects that, cutting-edge that they were at the time, are painfully limited now. If only Babylon 5 were made now, on something like Netflix or HBO or Amazon… wow.

I still cannot believe Warners has not opted to redo all the B5 effects in HD and remaster the show completely for a HD release. I’d but that sucker in a heartbeat.

But anyway, I’m rambling. Lost in Space was great fun. Well worth a  watch if you are after something light and easy, and I’m really looking forward to a second season and seeing where it goes from here. Sure, maybe it could have been better had it been more of a n edgier, intense show but it  deliberately wasn’t intended to be that kind of show. Its a great family show and while not perfect, its much better than it possibly has a right to be considering the premise. Quite a refreshing watch, really.

And the robot is great.

Babylon 5’s Jerry Doyle dies aged 60

b5jerryIts getting so I’m almost afraid to look at the news these days.

Well, mark this as another reason why this year seems particularly horrible. The actor Jerry Doyle, who played the space station’s flawed security chief Michael Garibaldi, has died at the age of 60. The show’s creator  J.Michael Straczynski has posted a moving tribute  regards Jerry’s passing, noting that “…Of the main cast, we have lost Richard Biggs, Michael O’Hare, Andreas Katsulas, Jeff Conaway, and now Jerry Doyle, and I’m goddamned tired of it.” 

Jerry’s Michael Garibaldi was a refreshingly realistic character for a science fiction show; he came across as a no-nonsense, working-class guy just doing his job the best he could, with his some interesting character flaws and backstory which developed over the show’s five seasons. At a time when most tv science-fiction featured idealistic characters in utopian futures (dominated of course by Star Trek), Babylon 5 and its characters with individual arcs that changed over the length of the show was such a radical thing, it’s hard to describe its impact back then with the changed tv landscape we experience and take for granted now. Certainly Garibaldi was one of my favourite B5 characters; a little overweight, balding, suffering from drink problems… he seemed to be a ‘real’ guy in a genre dominated by tall, handsome, muscular heroes who always got the women and saved the day. Garibaldi was just doing his job and he didn’t get everything right- he could be a bit of a jerk as much as a hero; indeed in the latter seasons he was frankly a bit of an asshole.

Jerry didn’t have a ‘traditional’ acting background; he moved into acting fairly late, following a career as a pilot in civil aviation and a stint as a Stockbroker on Wall Street. I think his life experiences informed his acting and gave added depth/life to his character. I’ll certainly never forget Garibaldi. Post-Babylon 5 Jerry turned into politics and ran for office in the US House of Representatives as a Republican candidate but failed in his campaign, later having success on a national talk-radio show.

Its funny,thinking about it, the way the world is now, Babylon 5 is more valid and topical than it ever was, with its varied alien races seeking to exist in harmony in the face of interplanetary war, and its ensuing refugee crises and far-right political machinations. It all seems so familiar to the world we live in today. While I don’t think we need a reboot, I thinks its past time Warners remastered the show with updated CGI effects and re-released it to current audiences who might have missed it (the original effects files are long-lost and the show can’t be properly aired in widescreen or HD without replaced effects) .

Well, its a lousy reason to dust-off my Babylon 5 DVDs but I think I shall watch an episode tonight. Here’s to you, Jerry Doyle.

The Expanse: Season One (2016)

ex32016.46:  The Expanse – Season One (Blu-ray)

Blade Runner was originally not intended to have a post-credits crawl-up setting up its scenario- indeed at one point it wasn’t going to be set in any particular place or have any particular date. Instead it was going to drop the audience into its world and leave them working to make sense of it all, but the studio and/or film-makers got cold feet, so we got the crawl up and the ‘Los Angeles, November 2019’ legend that doesn’t really work at all (indeed, it never really did even back in 1982). Maybe they were right to do it, but even in 1982 I missed that brave conceit of letting the audience do some work. The fact that they maintained that crawl-up and setting for the Final Cut version of 2007 quite mystifies me and is the one negative about that otherwise definitive version of the film.

So why do I mention that film again, in a post talking about a new sci-fi tv show? Well, The Expanse does have a short text intro, but otherwise it bravely throws the audience into its remarkable future world and simply leaves the audience to it. It’s a bold gambit for a new series and one that, for me, pays off handsomely. This show refuses to hold your hand; you are thrown into the 23rd Century and its likely four episodes before you really ‘get’ what the show is and the story it is telling. Before that, you are left to it, trying to make sense of the societies and rival factions and who might be good, who might be bad, and whats really going on with the derelict Scopuli.

Bizarrely still not picked up by any broadcaster here in the UK, even now, several months after it aired in the States, The Expanse is the  best science fiction show I have seen in years. With all the channels we have over here now, it is a complete mystery that this show hasn’t found a broadcaster yet. Weary of waiting for the world to make some sense, a few weeks ago I caved in and imported the Blu-ray, surely a sign that some broadcaster was about to announce UK airdates (typically as soon as I got it through the letterbox). And yet no, not even my purchase of the blu-ray set has mystically triggered anything, but you can’t say I haven’t tried. What gives?

ex3My all-time favourite science fiction series is the reimagined Battlestar Galactica series from awhile back. Which at the time surprised me no end, as I wasn’t a fan of the original, am weary of reboots in general and didn’t expect anything special at all. Of course I was completely wrong  -this was one reboot that was a total success. It was gritty and realistic, had brilliant production design, great writing, a fantastic cast and likely the most thematically complex score of any television series, ever. It ran for five great years and actually managed a deeply satisfying end (for me, anyway, although I know some fans were put off by it).

With The Expanse, the SyFy channel is trying to repeat the success and critical clout  that it managed with BSG. The odd thing is, The Expanse doesn’t really resemble BSG much at all- instead, it really harkens back to Warner Bros classic space opera Babylon 5.

I was a B5 nut back when it was first aired. It consumed my life for the five years it was on, right up to a series finale that, yes, brought tears to my eyes. B5 was an underdog right from the start- a low-budget, indie-sci fi epic at a time that Star Trek dominated the tv science fiction landscape.

B5 had cutting-edge CG effects that opened up the scale of what a genre tv series could be, gaining a huge canvas for its space opera of alien politics, ancient evil and intergalactic war. Writer/producer J. Michael Straczynski had a five-year plan, a vision for each season and the arc of an overall story, and barring a few detours he managed to tell the story he wanted to tell. The ambition of the thing is pretty amazing to this day and it remains a remarkable achievement, and it is only the troubles involving some cast departures and a poor season five (precipitated by JMS being told he had to complete the saga by close of season four and then actually getting a season five he hadn’t planned for) that weakens it compared to BSG. But B5 had moments the equal of anything before or since; moments of edge of your seat, WTF brilliance, from great character arcs to plot twists and awesome cliffhangers.

ex2Watching The Expanse, I frequently thought about B5. Its in the realistic sets, the costume design, the multi-cultural feel, the politics, the machinations of rival planets. The Expanse is everything a ‘new’ B5 would be- it’s really how B5 would look if it were made with the technology of today, albeit The Expanse doesn’t actually have any alien empires in it (as yet anyway- who knows where it is finally headed, certainly not me, as I’ve not read the books).

The simplest way to describe The Expanse, particularly as it has adopted the ten-episode series format so popular now, is that it’s a sci-fi Game of Thrones by way of Babylon 5. If that sounds interesting and worthy of your time, then you’d be right. Based on a series of books by James S.A.Corey (actually a pen name for two writers, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) the series benefits from having a solid story with a well thought-out background perhaps richer than you might expect on television. And yes, as it’s based on a series of books, there is evidently some overall masterplan for the story and where it’s going. The first season of the show is based on the first book, Leviathan Wakes, and I’m told it manages to adapt about three-quarters of it, leaving the remainder for the start of season two. It sounds odd, but people who’ve read the books seem to think the break before the end of the first book makes sense. All I know is that the end of season one left me slightly frustrated in a kind of good, “wtf happens next?!!” kind of way that has me itching to turn to the books, but I can see how it works. It leaves viewers curious and eager for more (and thank goodness there is a season two) but manages a rather neat way to close out the season that perhaps the remainder of the book lacks.

So anyway, whats it about? The Expanse is set in the 23rd Century. Humanity has colonized the solar system, but is not united like in, say, Star Trek -this is a more fractured humanity. The United Nations controls Earth, Mars is ruled by an independent military power, and the asteroid belt, home to vast resources that are vital to both Earth and Mars, is populated by working-class grunts eager to break free of what they see are their Terran/Martian oppressors. Tensions are running high as the series opens, with the three factions – “Earthers,” “Dusters,” and “Belters” – on the brink of war.

ex4The Expanse is part space opera, part detective-noir mystery, part political thriller. A young woman named Julie has disappeared, and a run-down/washout Belter detective, Joe Miller (Thomas Jane in terrific form), is assigned to the case. Miller gets drawn into a web of intrigue that spans the solar system and a conspiracy that could threaten all humanity.  The same conspiracy entangles a deep-space officer of a mining ship, James Holden (Steven Strait) whose encounter with a distress signal out at the rings of Saturn drags him and several of his crew into a chaotic series of events culminating in the deaths of hundreds, maybe thousands, and possibly igniting all-out war. As Holden tries to makes sense of it all, his fate becomes entwined with that of Miller, and the two men find themselves working together to find out what happened to Julie and why her fate is central to the entire mystery.

After an initial number of episodes that stumble a little as the show establishes its rather complex web of political machinations and rival power-groups, the series really gets going and proves to be a thrilling and fascinating watch. Indeed, that stumble at the start is actually rather welcome, as the show deliberately drops the viewer into its future-world complete with odd languages and unspoken agendas leaving the viewer having to work at making sense of it all. It is an approach I found quite refreshing, and I have stated earlier its a great move and something that immediately warmed me to the series. Indeed it’s left me keen to rewatch the show now that it all makes more sense to me.

Anyway, I’ll say no more as that would reduce ones enjoyment of the show. I only hope it gets a UK airdate sometime soon/eventually. It really deserves it and it really is strange that it hasn’t been aired here already- maybe when season two nears early in 2017 in the States something will happen. In the meantime, there is always the Blu-ray set from the States (great picture naturally but alas woefully devoid of any extras) to get your fix if the show seems interesting to you. As for me? Those books seem awfully tempting…

 

Agent Carter Series 2 (2016)

carter12016.38: Agent Carter Series 2 (TV)

Ah, it’s that time of year again. I finally catch up with a series backed-up on my Tivo when word arrives that it has been cancelled. Which is a pity, as I quite enjoyed season 2 of Agent Carter and looked forward to seeing some of its outstanding plot-threads resolved in a series 3.

It’s tempting to think that the Meta-Story stuff that Marvel Studios is so accomplished at in their movie series has leaked into its tv stuff, but really it’s more a case of the movie franchise copying post-Babylon 5 television. So anyway, there’s a few arcs that will fail to ever get resolved. Its the most annoying thing about some of these tv series- certainly the ones that get cancelled. Its like what happens at the movies when a John Carter bombs at the box-office; you always have to wonder at whatever happened next and what might have been. So yeah, the lesson here is clearly don’t make anything with the name ‘Carter’ in the title. It stacks the odds against you from the start.

I remember when stories had a beginning, middle and an end, and that was it. Sure there’s some limitations to storytelling with that approach, as ‘bigger’ stories that arc over seasons like in shows like Game of Thrones and Babylon 5 offer unique rewards and possibilities. But yeah, it’d be nice for a show to wrap things up properly without teasing stuff. I’m just about to start watching The Expanse, a well-regarded space opera that has intrigued me for months but hasn’t been aired over here in the UK yet (I finally folded and imported the Blu-ray). It’s really tempting fate as its just one series in with an ongoing storyline in print that could take years to unfold. You start watching new shows like The Expanse almost as an act of utter blind faith.

So farewell Agent Carter, failing some resurrection via Netflix maybe, which I suppose can’t at present be discounted. The show followed the adventures of Peggy Carter after Steve Rogers ‘died’ in Captain America: The First Avenger. A period piece, it had a rather unique feel for one of the many superhero series invading our television, and ‘looked’ great, particularly in the second season which moved Peggy Carter over to LA. Sure it was fairly light but it was fun. I wasn’t convinced by series one, but the second series seemed rather more confident in approach (this view seems to be at odds with wider prevailing opinion though). The cast was likeable and I enjoyed the sense of humour- Agents of Shield grinds on with a withering sense of endless self-importance but Agent Carter never took things too seriously. Set in the period before Carter became one of the founding members of S.H.I.E.L.D. it had a delightful sense of time and place and a sense of where it lay in Marvel continuity.

I suspect that the quality of the show wasn’t the cause for the show’s cancellation. Hayley Atwell had just signed-on to a new series of her own (Conviction) which would have led to inevitable scheduling problems for Atwell shooting any further Agent Carter series.  Viewer figures were down this series so maybe audiences are tired of diluted Marvel on tv (certainly tv stuff can never match the big-screen Marvel outings). Maybe there is just too much comic-book stuff on tv now (I’ve given up on Arrow this season myself, can’t see my interest in The Flash progressing to another season, and I’ve never bothered with Supergirl or Legends of Tomorrow). At least a lack of any series 3 gives me more time for some films or something. God knows there’s plenty other stuff on the backlog. Black Sails, Mad Men

 

 

 

Farscape (1999-2003)

farscapeI well remember the profound sense of loss, anger and injustice I felt when Farscape got cancelled after its fourth season. There is something rather intense about how attached you can get to a tv show, and its characters, over the course of the many episodes and years it is on air. Particularly a show as well-written and challenging as Farscape was.  It was never going to get the audience figures it needed to thrive- it was on the verge of cancellation for some time. But I loved that show.

Farscape was unusual, odd. It was like nothing else on television, more Star Wars than Star Trek, but even Star Wars never pulled things like Farscape did. It was wild, action-packed, funny, shocking, huge. Once the series hit its stride mid-first season, I was hooked. It was a great show, full of surprises, mysteries, odd turns… it was wonderful. Seasons three and four were nothing short of spectacular, and I don’t think television has seen anything quite like that since.  But it was very complex, and every season suffered with the problem of trying to get new viewers in mid-arc in order to keep the network happy. Indeed, I’ll be the first to admit that the very things that fans cherished likely led to its demise. It was just a bit too complex, too wild, too different.

But when the Sci-Fi channel finally pulled the plug it was still a shock.  Farscape had a five-year arc and its cancellation prior to season five robbed its fans, its cast and its crew of the resolution the show, and they, deserved, especially having managed to tell 80% of its tale with the last chapter to tell.  I honestly, fervently believe that it was the worst network decision since the original Star Trek tv series was cancelled.  It was a reminder of how cruel and sometimes short-sighted the entertainment business can be. One more season. Maybe just a half-season. After telling a story for four years and taking up all that time and effort of the fanbase watching it, small that those audience figures may have been, surely the network at least owed something back to that audience? And surely the franchise had more legs and viability in syndication had it got a proper conclusion? Who wants to start watching a show in re-runs if they know it never gets a proper conclusion? I couldn’t figure it out. I even joined in the campaign to bring it back and sent emails to the Sci-Fi network in the US.

These things happen, of course- look at shows like Dark Angel, Dollhouse, Firefly… there are so many shows that get cancelled. Some shows deserve it, some shows deserved more. There have been a few times when I’ve been hesitant to even start watching a tv show for fear of it being cut short. I guess I’ve been lucky enough in the past- Babylon 5 got five seasons to finish its arc (albeit the doubt over season five kind of damaged what it could have been), and the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica managed to find Earth and complete its own remarkable story. Both series got their grand finale, but Farscape was the one that deserved it but never got it. An eventual mini-series/tv movie hybrid sort of summed up what should have been season five in something like three hours, but it wasn’t really what should have been It was something, and we fans, God knows, were thankful for that, but it wasn’t quite the real deal.

I have all the four seasons on DVD- they are up in the loft. Bought back when full-season boxsets were unknown and you had to buy individual DVDs as they were released, three or four episodes at a time (God knows how much they cost me overall), so the DVDs take up some considerable real estate. Of course, it makes it that much more difficult regards actually getting to watch them when you have to climb up into the loft and dig them out of storage boxes. So anyway, I noticed a sale at Zavvi on Sunday, with the complete series on Blu-ray for just £32.99. That’s an absolute bargain if only for space-saving, with the bonus of many extras/commentaries that my initial DVDs didn’t have. So when I do finally get back up the loft the redundant DVDs can finally be given away to whatever needy cause wants them, and in the meantime I have the complete series in one handy box. Frell, yeah!

So I can finally watch the show again, after all these years. It should be interesting. How far I actually get, or how long it will actually take, only time will tell. But I’m looking forward to it. May try to put short reviews here too if I can get to it. And if anybody out there has never heard of Farscape or have heard of it but not seen it, well, if you are willing to embark on a wild and crazy challenging ride in a universe that makes the Cantina scene in Star Wars seem tame, well, I’d urge you to give it a go. It might piss you off. But you might just fall in love with it. Believe me, if you fall in love with it, you’ll be in for a very special experience.

And who knows, there may be more to Farscape yet. Rumours are going around regards a reboot/continuation, set years after the last episode.  Its a strange world, after all, and if its a world with more Farscape coming, then its getting only stranger.

Television > Movies?

bsg7 bsg5American Horror Story. Dexter. The Shield. The Wire. BSG. Boardwalk Empire. Game of Thrones. Mad Men. That’s hardly the start of it. There is a long list of television shows now that are the equal, if not indeed actually superior to, what we see in the cinema.

Back when I was a lad – well, not even anything like that long ago actually- there was a clear difference in quality between television and movies- even ‘big’ shows like the original Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, tv shows created on the back of the post-Star Wars sci-fi boom, were clearly of inferior quality compared to their Big Screen counterparts. There were obvious limitations in budgets and time-constraints that meant that what was on viewers television screens was markedly different to what was on the silver screen. But it went beyond just production values. You’d very rarely, if ever, find an established movie-actor appearing on television, whether it be tv series or a tv-movie. It would seem to be a ‘step-down’. Likewise movie directors wouldn’t work on television projects. If anything, directors would start in television to get experience and work their way up to motion-pictures, seeing the latter as the Big Time and never to return to their humble origins.

bsg4 bsg6Things have changed though. Television is still home to plenty of sub-standard product but some of its quality shows are easily superior to most motion pictures. Actors see better roles for themselves on television than what is available on the silver screen- dramatic, challenging roles with real merit. Even film directors have become used to using their skills on television projects. Mostly this is due to premium cable networks like HBO but even on other, lesser cable channels, or terrestrial networks such as the BBC here in the UK, there is not the old natural perception that ‘made for tv’ means any less quality than a full-blown motion picture, whether home-grown or from Hollywood.

I have just finished watching Hannibal, a prime-time show from the NBC network in the USA. Rarity it may be for that network, it was nevertheless one of the best shows I have ever seen, easily equal to the quality we’d tend to expect from premium sources such as HBO. I’ve never been a huge fan of the various Hannibal-based movies but this 13-part series was easily equal to them. The writing, acting and direction… the location-shooting and the intense soundscape of the music score… it is a remarkable piece of work. Here in the UK it was shown on the SkyLiving channel, aired via cable and satellite networks, so no doubt failed to set ratings-figures alight or gain much attention from tv critics more focused on popular soaps or primetime shows. I only hope its DVD/Blu-ray release will widen its reach, or that I can talk people into giving it a go and perhaps tuning in to the second season next year, because this was really something special. The makers have a five or six-year plan for the series and I’d love to see it manage that.

bsg1 bsg2I recorded Hannibal on my Tivo box, letting the Tivo collect all the episodes each week over the past few months before finally watching them over the past week or two as the showing of the series finale neared. I guess in a way it was like watching it as a DVD boxset, watching it every night or so, and sometimes watching two episodes in a night if time allowed. That way was ideal for following the plot and picking up on clues as the storyline progressed as opposed to waiting for a new episode each week. And of course I was able to skip through the irritating ad breaks. I guess tv chiefs hate people doing this, but it does raise the issue of how people access television content now.  If I had watched the first two or three episodes and decided it wasn’t for me, I’d have stopped and deleted the series from the Tivo, but instead I found it was really excellent and devoured it inside a fortnight, never being subjected to a commercial break.

Many of these series have long complex story-arcs, almost like long novels. Seasons may be self-contained very often character-arcs span multiple seasons and events in, say, season 5 might refer back to events of an episode in season 2. They encourage viewers to pay attention and reward that attention, A two or three-hour movie cannot even approach that level of complexity or sense of reward to the viewer.

I know there were television shows that did it before (particularly here in the UK), but I often think that the tv show Babylon 5 was the first real attempt at this kind of programming. Most tv shows prior to that, particularly network shows, had an established model of individual episodes that pressed a magical ‘reset’ button at their conclusion. That way audiences could miss the odd episode but drop in easily. Shows like Star Trek, The A-Team… pretty much any show, they were all the same. Series creator J. Michael Straczynski had a plan for Babylon 5 from the very start, a five-year arc with a definitive beginning, middle and end, essentially a novel for television in the genre of space-opera, and it pretty much succeeded. It wasn’t perfect and has been bettered since, but it proved to be the model for future genre shows like Farscape, Battlestar Galactica and so many others, right up to current series like Defiance and Falling Skies.

I remember being absolutely blown away by Babylon 5. I’d see things in series one that were brought up in series three or four, or something a character would do or say in series five that dated back to something that happened to them in series two. There hadn’t been anything quite like that before. I would re-watch shows to pick up on something I may have missed, and, Lord knows, I couldn’t miss an episode. I remember at the end of each season the agonising wait to hear if the show would get renewed for another (Babylon 5 was always a borderline success and its fans were always subjected to a real-world renewal cliffhanger equal to any of the shows in-series cliffhangers). The series may have faltered toward the end (the storyline proper had pretty much been condensed to the end of season four due to poor ratings) but the emotional pay-off of the final scenes of the last episode of season five was like nothing I had experienced before. I loved that show.

bsg8bsg10Nowadays most shows seem to follow the Babylon 5 model. They can be victims of it, of course, as once the show is established, it can find it impossible to increase audience ratings. That happened to Farscape and it suffered a painful cancellation, but even its fans have to admit there was little chance of new viewers to, say, season three, having the slightest chance of figuring out what was going on. That’s the real challenge of episodic television like this, how to maintain or even increase viewer ratings with entry-points and the like while maintaining multi-season arcs. I guess DVD boxsets help with this. I missed the initial showings of Dexter, for instance, but I saw the first series one and two on DVD boxset and then followed it from season three onwards on-air, so the shows likely manage to increase viewers through things like that. Of course it also might actually reduce viewing figures, as a lot of people just wait for the boxset anyway, which can prove dangerous to the longevity of the show.

So anyway, this seems a long way of stating the fact that I find many television shows better than what is shown in cinemas now. Its gotten to the point that I watch fewer movies now, and more tv shows, and find the latter more rewarding. Thirty, twenty years ago that would not be the case. But show me any recent social-commentary movie equal to The Wire. Any science-fiction movie of the past ten years equal to the Battlestar Galactica reboot. Anything as endlessly fascinating as Mad Men. Movies have become huge bubblegum entertainment blockbusters, hugely popular, yes, but hardly satisfying in the way so many tv shows are now.  Which is another way of saying I am more inclined to be excited about an upcoming tv series than I am any movie. For all the blockbusters coming to the cinema this year or next, I am more hyped for the return of Da Vinci’s Demons or American Horror Story or Mad Men or, indeed,  Hannibal.  And it seems my Blu-ray shelf is stocked as much by tv box-sets (and I am more inclined to watch and rewatch them) as it is by movies. Unfortunately of course, all these boxsets and series are more time-consuming, which is likely the one negative about them.

But anyway, if you didn’t catch Hannibal on-air, do give the upcoming box-set a go. You won’t regret it- except that you’ll be in for an agonising wait for season two!