Culture Television

TV Bingeing From Vampires to Clones

Photo: BBC America

These past few months I’ve been binge watching fantasy and science fiction TV series with the dedication of an Olympic runner training to break a record sprint; at least one episode per night during the weekdays, and as many as I can on the weekends.

The binge started with “The Vampire Diaries”; a fantasy drama that alternates between cheesy romantic exchanges and blood splattering saturnalias. Indeed, the vampires in this show don’t bite and sip. They clamp and drain. Meanwhile, the love triangle between one doppelgänger high school cheerleader and two vampire brothers is reminiscent of Lana Lang’s entanglement with Clark Kent and Lex Luthor in “Smallville”; that is to say, corny and contentious. Boyfriend-girlfriend dramas aside though, “The Vampire Diaries” is really about the story of two brothers. And Ian Somerhalder as the older Salvatore brother plays the part with great gusto. Overall it’s a very addictive show.

“Game of Thrones” season 7 was a spectacle of fire and ice. All the major players in this sanguinary game finally meet face-to-face, the queens in particular; one displaying the boldness of Artemisia, and the other possessing the scowl of Medea. It was predictably entertaining. Although noticeably, the White Walkers are no longer the creatures of horror that surprised us in season 1. The living are scarier than the dead. Now we wait for the final season 8 to air in 2019.

After GOT I started “Sense8” by the Matrix sisters; thus making the transition from fantasy to science fiction. “Sense8” is a weird show that is very good. It is about a group of eight people from around the world who become telepathically linked. A psychic bond thus connecting them, allows a gang of unlikely friends to become a united cluster. Too bad the show only lasted two seasons though.

Next on the to-watch-list was sci-fi drama about clones “Orphan Black”; where “The Vampire Diaries” focused on brothers, “Orphan Black” was all about sisterhood. One actress plays a dozen clones, each with her own unique personality and background story, including: British punk, depressed cop, soccer mom, tattooed nerd, Ukrainian Assassin, nefarious CEO, bubbly blonde, etc. Actress Tatiana Maslany does a very convincing job; hair and makeup help, but it’s her excellent acting chops that make the different clone characters appear as distinct and believable individuals. My favourite clone in the series would have to be Alison Hendrix, i.e. “soccer mom”; lady of the house, queen of her husband, and empress of the suburb.

Last on this binge list is “Dark Matter.” The premise of the show is that a group of six people wake up from stasis pods aboard a starship and can’t remember who they are; their memories having been mysteriously wiped. In the meantime they call themselves One to Six, in the order of their awakening. The gang is a bunch of mixed personalities: there’s the guy with the hero complex, the woman in charge, the insouciant dude, the zen samurai, the tech girl, and the righteous man. There’s also an android on board; but her databank has been cleared as well. It doesn’t take long for the crew to realize however, that they are notorious mercenaries and wanted criminals by the Galactic Authority. All that said and done, this is a show that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and so is great fun to watch. In other words, “Dark Matter” is “Firefly” with less cowboys. The women rescue the men in this show.

And that concludes my most recent binge watching of fantasy and science fiction TV series. Thankfully there are so many highly rated shows these days belonging to those genres, such that when one marathon ends another can immediately begin.

Culture Television

‘Sense8’ Series is Matrix-Weirdly Good

Photo: Netflix

“Sense8” is a peculiar TV show imagined and realized by the Wachowskis; brains behind the “The Matrix” movies. It is an integrated sci-fi drama with succeeding mysteries, Matrix-worthy action sequences, intense emotional episodes, and convincing adult scenes.

The series follows the lives of eight individuals from different backgrounds and pursuasions, including: bleached blonde Icelandic DJ hopeless and melancholic, German James Bond without a license to kill, trans woman hacker with conservative parents, Chicagoan cop exhibiting a bit of the savior complex, closeted Latino actor who lives with his boyfriend and girlfriend, Hindu pharmacist indecisive when it comes to matters of the heart, Korean businesswoman capable of disarming security in her heels, and Nairobian matatu driver with a sunny smile.

These eight people, called sensates, become inexplicably linked and share a psychic bond. This connection enables telepathic conversations across oceans, and the ability to possess or take over the body of another member of the “cluster” in situations where a particular skill or expertise is wanted; to wit, it is very helpful to have a matatu driver “jump in” during a fast and furious car chase to elude the clutches of the grossly unethical Biologic Preservation Organization (BPO); the head of which, Mr. Whispers, while an appropriately creepy villain, would have withered under the killing gazes of Eva Green.

Though an unlikely group of friends under normal circumstances, the shared bond and expanded perspectives that the sensates now have, allows each to empathize with the reasons and actions of the other; albeit sometimes at the expense of compromising their own principals; as is bound to happen, for instance, when a policeman as honest as Clark Kent and a wrongly imprisoned inmate seeking justice outside of the courtroom share thoughts.

Script wise, “Sense8” is ambitious but deliverable; the lines are crisp and to the point, the settings real, and the storyline logical for its world. There are many memorable exchanges; especially when between persons from vastly different cultures, be it added for comedic effect or to demonstrate the relatableness of human suffering. The actors act well, and a few supporting roles do even better.

The cinematography of the series is blockbuster quality; and no doubt, among the chief reasons Netflix decided to prematurely cancel the show after “23 episodes, 16 cities and 13 countries.” Production costs must have been stratospheric. The show’s opening title sequence alone, a phantasmagoria of places and habits from around the world, must have taken a pretty cluster of diamonds to produce.

To wrap-up, “Sense8” is a stimulating show that addresses multiple human themes with a worthy international cast. It appeals to an open-minded audience, and in particular, to viewers with perhaps a more voyeuristic inclination. While it only lasted two seasons, the series made a mark on the fabric of popular culture and accrued a cluster of passionate fans to boot. Meanwhile, we may look forward to the next projects by the Matrix sisters.

Culture Television

Smallville: From Clark Kent to Superman

Photo: WBTV

“Smallville” is essentially a coming-of-age story about an adopted alien from Krypton, Clark Kent, growing up in cornfield town Smallville, Kansas, to later becoming a rising star reporter at the “Daily Planet” and prequel to Superman. It’s an entertaining TV show worthy of binge watching; yours truly will attest. The series is mainly about relationships, i.e. people drama; though weekly Kryptonited mutants add supernatural thrills in its first few seasons, and later the stakes are upped with the advent of extraterrestrial threats.

Clark Kent is a young man with a great destiny to fulfill, it is repeatedly inculcated. The general opinion is that he was sent to Earth in order to protect good and abolish evil. However honorable and virtuous that may be, his moral high ground outlook, shaped by the wisdom of his parents in a farmhouse where “business” is a dirty word, can at times make him appear as self-righteous and censorious as a Victorian monk. On the rare occasion when he does behave untowardly, his uninhibited conduct is blamed on red kryptonite; effectively capable of turning a sober puritan into a wild libertine. His lack of imperfections aside, Clark Kent is a decent guy and a hero with pretty awesome superpowers: super strength, super speed, invulnerability, X-ray vision, heat vision, etc.

The other characters in “Smallville” can be sorted into three groups: those that pedestal Clark Kent as a savior; those that keep him grounded; and those that want to expose him. It is not uncommon for a character to change sides according to the circumstance. For example, Chloe Sullivan, gatekeeper of the “wall of weird” and Clark’s best friend, has played on all sides. She investigates him on and off in the early seasons; first out of curiosity, then because she is upset with him, and the third time under duress. However, once she realizes his powers and true origin, she understands the significance and henceforth protects Clark’s secret at all cost. Chloe is his trusted sidekick and constant throughout the ten seasons of “Smallville”; the Sancho Panza to Clark’s Don Quixote.

Lana Lang is Clark’s high school crush. There is a “will they, won’t they, they have, no more, perhaps again,” drama that is dragged on for (too) many seasons. Suffice it to say here, lots of longing glances and wistful smiles are exchanged, and brooding countenances assumed during private moments of pining. Ultimately, it’s no secret who Clark Kent (aka Superman) ends up with in the end, it is known; so the “Clana” thing just serves as a very extended distraction with complicating results. The love triangle aside, like most personalities on the show that start out pure of heart, Lana has a “good girl gone bad” story arc; from a sweet, cheerleading damsel in distress she stumbles into a web of deceit and thence evolves into a dangerous woman with revenge listed on her agenda.

When Clark is finally (sort of) over Lana Lang, the next woman to usurp her place in his heart is Lois Lane; a headstrong woman with the audacity of an Amazonian queen. She retorts as readily as a pirate swears; looks for signs of trouble and runs towards it; dresses up in elaborate disguises to infiltrate closed doors; and extricates herself from difficult situations with kicks and choice words. In many ways, unexpectedly but very welcomed, Lois Lane is the show’s primary and reliable supplier of comic relief. Also, she loves teasing Clark and nicknames him “Smallville.”

Given Clark Kent’s overt moral perfection, it is thus understandable why the audience might sometimes find themselves annoyed and react by rooting for the sinners, i.e. the villains of the show. The Luthor family is first rate in this category. The father in particular, Lionel Luthor, is a King Cobra in Armani. As ruthless as a Roman Dominus, a blackguard with a silver tongue, he is the founder and architect of LuthorCorp; a biotechnology conglomerate engaged in the shadiest of cutting-edge research. His son and heir is Lex Luthor, a poker face baddie; cool on the outside, cruel within. Relationship wise, theirs is that of a shark and a crocodile forced together in the same tank. Regardless, the father and son duo do share one passion in common: a mutal obsession of solving the mystery of Clark Kent.

The Clark Kent and Lex Luthor relationship story unfolds not unlike the legendary alliance between Julius Caesar and Pompey Magnus. The two young men start out as good friends; Clark saves Lex’s life after the latter’s car runs off a bridge and plummets into the river. Nevertheless, the necessity for keeping secrets prevents them from ever becoming confidants, and the lies told to hide those secrets ultimately erodes their trust in one another; slowly and painfully turning what was once brotherly love into mutual enmity.

Tess Mercer is last of the main characters to enter the “Smallville” world. She is a highly accomplished individual; studying marine biology at Harvard before becoming Lex Luthor’s protégée and then acting CEO of LuthorCorp. A red siren with Louis Vuitton tastes and mean aikido moves, her piercing glances embodies the phrase “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” French actress and femme fatale expert Eva Green would approve.

Among the most memorable “Smallville” episodes, “Noir” (Season 6, Episode 20) is one of the standouts; a personal favorite. In summary: someone gets shot at the “Daily Planet.” Chloe’s love interest, photographer Jimmy Olsen is knocked unconscious while going through pictures of the crime scene. He has a dream, it’s in black and white, and set in the 1940s. A film noir version of “Smallville” ensues; wherein Jimmy is a reporter, Chloe a sassy secretary, Clark a mystery man, Lois a saucy singer, Lex a powerful man, and Lana the dame to kill for.

Although supposed to take place in Kansas, most of “Smallville” is actually shot in British Columbia, Canada; thus explaining why Metropolis (Superman’s Gotham City) looks more Vancouver than Wichita. The sets are reasonably well done, albeit sometimes to a stereotypical degree: the Kent house is always warm, the Luthor Mansion cold, etc.

As with most coming-of-age stories, “Harry Potter” and the likes, “Smallville” matures with age; turning from a corny white chocolate to a balanced milk chocolate to a complicated dark chocolate during its ten-year run. Overall it’s an enjoyable TV series to watch; fun, engaging, and not entirely predictable. The actors look the part and act well, delivering some very good lines and together make the world they inhabit a believable one. The writers throw in some great twists along the way too; e.g. who is the Red Queen? Anyway, all of this is to say that “Smallville” is indeed worth the 153 hours of your life required to finish the show.

As a side note, “Smallville” kind of reminds me of the original “Star Wars” movies; in the sense that a good and pure young man gifted with rare powers, Luke Skywalker, is raised by simple guardians on a remote moisture farm, and has a great destiny to fulfill. Sound familiar?