MIND MELD: Current SF/F TV Shows We Are Watching
[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]
This week we asked our panelists the following questions:
Several people bowed out citing the fact they don’t watch TV, or even have a TV (which is laudable yet amazing). I think that’s an indictment on the current state of SF/F on TV…
Here is what they said:
I’m enjoying Once Upon a Time. I do wish ABC weren’t using so much of the Disneyfied characters, though; when Mulan showed up recently, I groaned. I’ve also been known to watch Grimm, though I still have a bunch of episodes from last season on my DVR, waiting for me to get to them. I’m tempted to give 666 Park Avenue a try as well.
Being relatively non-discriminatory I watch a lot of TV, more than is good for me. I try to give a lot of the SF/F shows a try. I was surprised last year at how much I enjoyed Once Upon A Time. This year’s sophomore season is young, but I am still watching. I did not go for Revolution. The premise did not work for me and I missed the premier episode and NBC did not put it up on the On Demand pages so I passed. I still watch Warehouse 13 which is goofy fun, nothing too hard for my mind. I am told Alphas is quite good. It did not grab my attention from the beginning so I passed. The Big Bang Theory is not really SF/F but it is geeky and fun. Grimm (like Once Upon A Time) was quite a bit of fun for me and I am still watching. I saw the recent premiere of Arrow and I will give it a chance. Dr. Who has been fun but it is on hiatus. I enjoyed the recent Eureka but it is done, but I will catch it on DVD. But, the show I seem to like best is the animated Phineas and Ferb. Always inventive and with the occasional song, catchy. I need a pet platypus/spy. I also liked both seasons of Game of Thrones though it appears to have too much gratuitous nudity and sex. And the occasional SyFy disaster Saturday night made for TV movie can be much-o fun-o with the right folks!
I watch very little television, and what little I catch that runs between 22 and 45 minutes (the standard commercial-free running time for a sitcom or evening drama, respectively) possesses little, if any, genre material. It doesn’t help that, regardless of quality, I often grow bored with a series fairly quickly. I’ve been enthralled by the Doctor Who episodes since Chris Eccleston helmed the Tardis six years ago, but trying to keep up with each new episode requires more energy than I’m willing to expend.
The broad inclusion of a number of shows as “genre,” while perhaps signaling that science fiction fans no longer need the more obvious tropes, dilutes the very concept of genre to near meaninglessness. We may embrace Person of Interest as an exemplary sf show, but in reality it’s a crime drama with a few sfnal elements. Similarly, shows like The Big Bang Theory and Community appeal to genre fans, but neither are exactly genre shows. The Big Bang Theory is about people steeped in genre, while Community takes a surreal, intertextual view of its subject matter that appeals to many genre fans. To cite them as “genre shows,” though, stretches such a definition to such a degree that it looks like an image captured by Silly Putty and pulled into something unrecognizable. Sherlock, good as it is, should be considered sf because Holmes texts and Watson has a blog? Please.
On the other hand, I’ve enjoyed HBO’s A Game of Thrones. While the political machinations and familial strife between the Starks and Lannisters became overmuddy during the second season, it nonetheless makes no bones about a fantasy series, and an adult one at that. I’ve met several non-fantasy readers who have offered nothing but unselfconscious praise for it, too— a rarity, given how dismssively non-genre audiences can treat genre shows. Likewise, I’ve been impressed by the depth and complexity of The Walking Dead. I shouldn’t be surprised, considering the strength of the source material, but it also avoids many of the traps too many zombie tales fall into. Its characters hold interest, show intelligence as well as flaws, and even compel compassion even when they’re at their most brutal. And I absolutely love The Venture Bros., which sees Johnny Quest all grown up and a bit of a loser, doing battle with an incompetent archenemy called the Monarch. Its an embarrassment of postmodern riches, and deserving of a large geek audience.
Keeping track of all the SF/F offerings on television seems like more trouble than it’s worth, given that most of the shows currently on TV require a pretty intense investment of time on the part of the viewer. Once you miss more than one or two episodes, you’re stuck with a DVR backlog you’ll have to plow through in order to catch up to the overly intricate plot twists. I think we have Lost to thank for that.
For me, that means following a bare handful of shows just to keep life manageable, and inevitably falling behind regardless. A lot of my viewing happens via Netflix, well after the shows have been aired and, in some cases, cancelled.
I tend to prefer shows that focus on characters, particularly how they react to some of the more creative things that SF/F plots and settings can come up with. I think what makes good SF/F work – in any media – is the exploration of the human condition in settings and situations that are far beyond day-to-day life, using these situations to tell us a bit more about ourselves.
Not to get completely fan-boy here, but one of my personal long-time favorites is Firefly. That show proved you didn’t need a truckload of special effects, brow-ridge prosthetics and massive location shoots to create compelling stories. In barely half a season, Firefly developed some great characters and excellent settings, and had the opportunity to really dive into some awesome themes. Then it got cancelled. It lives on through Netflix, so if you haven’t yet seen it – and I recognize I’m talking to maybe two people who will ever read this piece – go watch it.
Speaking of brow-ridge prosthetics, I grew up on Star Trek, as many of us did – both the original and TNG. What I liked about those shows was the optimism for the future, which is rare to find in most modern SF/F, where dystopia is all the rage. Call me nostalgic, or even cranky, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a televised future where the world hasn’t gone to crap quite yet.
That said, I don’t mind watching a good dystopia now and then. There’s a plethora of them out there, but I’m going to lump Falling Skies and Revolution together due to their survivalist themes and general quality. Both are imperfect by far, but at least they don’t shy away from asking smart questions about how normal people might react to extraordinary events. I think Battlestar Galactica (the reboot, mind you) did it better, but these shows can be worth the DVR backlog.
I’d mention Game of Thrones here, but since I don’t have HBO, I’ll simply state that pretty much everyone I know loves it. Again, if you’re reading this, you probably do too. There’s more, of course – I’d be remiss without mentioning Eureka and the good Doctor, for example, and I can’t wait to see how they handle S.H.I.E.L.D. on TV.
In the end, I think any show with smart writing and good acting can be a worthwhile investment –which is why shows like Terra Nova fail in the end. At the very least, it seems Hollywood has recognized that spaceships, wizards and aliens don’t have to skew to the 13-year-old male demographic all the time.
- Warehouse 13 (on hiatus)
- Haven (just came back)
- Lost Girl (on hiatus)
- Once Upon A Time (just came back)
- Castle (full of Easter eggs for the genre fan)
- The Big Bang Theory (Chock full of genre/comicbook/scifi STUFF what’s not to love?)
- Person of Interest (excellent SpyFy and let’s not forget this post from Gilbert Colon and the Batman parallels)
- Fringe (omfg)
- Grimm (Better and better)
- Revolution (Better than I thought it would be)
- Arrow (Better than I thought it would be)
- Supernatural (Have to see what the Duke boys-er, Winchester boys get themselves into this time…)
- Doctor Who (on break til Christmas)
- The Walking Dead (just came back)
- Comic Book Men (I know these guys. Not them, but, them – if that makes sense)
- Green Lantern (Better than I thought it would be – suddenly pulled until 2013 without explanation this past weekend)
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars (just back and reminding us that being cut in half by a lightsaber is survivable, unlike childbirth…)
- Young Justice: Invasion (Amazing show – suddenly pulled until 2013 without explanation this past weekend)
- Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (Excellent show)
- Ultimate SpiderMan (Probably better for kids, but if you grew up with Marvel, you’ll enjoy it too)
- Avatar: The Legend of Korra (on hiatus after a strong first half-season)
How do I watch all of these shows? DVR, silly…
Filed under: Mind Meld
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