Fall TV 2014

I’m a traditionalist, so I am a sucker for how fall tv means hope and curious stuff (not that I’ve fully figured out how new stuff has rolled out just about any time of year now or how cable tv has a weird thing of splitting up seasons so far apart that I can never tell if I’m still in this season or the next season – like how FOX broke up the final season of “Breaking Bad” or how USA or AMC ridiculously break up or spread out one season of “Suits,” “Mad Men,” and “Walking Dead”).  (sidenote: You can always check out the previews/analyses over at Entertainment Weekly (I enjoyed this year’s dead tree edition of the fall tv preview)).

Like how last year, I was so hopeful about “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD.” I’m glad it survived to renewal for a 2nd season, but I fell off the bandwagon well before the half-way mark, and I didn’t get back on, even though I was curious to see how “Captain American: The Winter Soldier” totally hit the reset button on SHIELD (spoiler: oh, yeah, it did, but I’m so behind, I really can’t say what anyway). I’m debating whether to try and catch up; we shall see. I still like Agent Coulson (I’ll still call him “Agent Coulson”), and I’m still curious to see how SHIELD can pull something off.

But, more of my comic affection leans heavily to DC Comics. Ok, I am still not on the Arrow bandwagon, as I’ve noted previously on this blog.  But, I am curious about the newest version of The Flash (even if it is the Barry Allen incarnation again; goodness, even “Smallville” played off the idea of which Flash was on the screen).

Ok, I didn’t watch the pilot episode of “Gotham” until the next night, while on demand. Like Erik Adams over at AV Club observes, this is a very noticeable prequel: we get the (practically traditional now) scene of the brutal death of Thomas and Martha Wayne, right in front of a traumatized Bruce. A tv critic mentioned it similarly (whose name and location is now not in my head): after that scene – in the old Batman movies of the late 1980s and 1990s and the Christopher Nolan trilogy, and the cartoons and comics – we usually make the jump to a future, some 8 to 15 years later, to, say, the “Batman: Year One” era, when Bruce completes his travels and takes the plunge to fulfill his vow for … well the symbol of the Bat. Or the time jump goes to the present, when Bruce is in his prime and dealing with the evildoers of Gotham.

This time, we don’t get that time jump. Nope. We’re stuck in Gotham and Bruce’s immediate traumatic childhood – something that usually doesn’t get portrayed (which is weird enough, if one thinks about it, even after 75 years of Batman). What is Gotham during that period before Bruce takes on the mantle, but after the loss of the Waynes? What even makes Gotham worth the trouble of saving? I’d like to think those are the themes that a prequel series would tackle; I’m just not sure if the pilot episode convinced me that that’s what this series will do.

On the positive side: actor Ben McKenzie’s back on broadcast tv! On a very superficial level (because of course I’d go there): he’s still cute. His “Southland” experience has given him a good amount of seasoning to play a more hardened than expected cop (apparently, his character was in a war – which war, well, who knows anymore, but not so hardened yet, because his character Jim Gordon is going to go through way more bad stuff first). This is the story of Jim Gordon, not quite Bruce’s story – since, in a world without the Bat, guess who’s going to try to fight the good fight in the meantime?

Pro: the first episode looks visually good. I could tell that they were filming in DUMBO (and there were parts of downtown Brooklyn that were closed earlier this year for the filming – I saw the signs!). And, making Gotham persuasively pretty (prettier?) and gritty would be a way to convince me why Bruce still loves this hellhole of crime and madness, no matter how much trauma has been done to him.  Director Christopher Nolan did a nice job of that with his movie trilogy and the “Batman: The Animated Series” did too –  you got some nice cityscape eye candy to play with, use it! And, honestly, what other city was going to be the stand-in for Gotham but… you know… the city that has the old nickname of Gotham?

(my understanding is that Metropolis and Gotham get to fight over who’s the stand in for NYC, and an alternate universe somehow places these two imaginary cities in Delaware/NJ/or wherever. In my imagination, Gotham was NY, Metropolis was Chicago – hence, Smallville, KS, got to be a bus ride away – and Bludhaven got to be – what else? – Newark, as Gotham’s bastard unpleasant cousin).

(or, if one were to take the Christopher Nolan route and digitally combine his favorite cities to make Gotham look amazing…).

But, the danger of a prequel series (yep, looking at you, “Star Trek: Enterprise”!): you could lose me if I keep wondering what the hell? Are you going to hit me with an anvil on the “foreshadowing”? Or you’ll keep disappointing me on the “Oh, I really would like the present/future here, because the past sucks.” For me, in the pilot episode, there were too many moments of “Wait, Batman would pop in right about… now, with the cops in trouble, but, oh, yeah, no, this is still pre-Batman: Year One. Crap.” So far Detective Gordon and his partner, the slovenly Detective Harvey Bullock, are alive, but Gotham is a crazy town, so…

…but I also liked the little Alfred and Bruce moments – the roots of their co-dependent relationship! I’m using the term “co-dependent” imprecisely, I’m sure, but years of Batman cartoons, comics, and movies surely have taught us that Alfred has struggled with being Bruce’s enabler, protector, and mentor, and yet the one who has to convince Bruce to stop being crazy, or try to be a functioning crazy (yes, I’m using the term “crazy” very loosely). 

Actor Sean Pertwee is another one I’ve liked – he livened up “Elementary” last year as the crazy and not that talented Inspector Lestrade. Pertwee so far comes off believable as an Alfred who probably did a stint in British military and/or British intelligence, and as the ever loyal Wayne family retainer.  I liked Donal Logue, and he’s making Bullock into something that resembles a person (not one of my favorite characters from the old Batman: The Animated Series, but he has his moments).

Of the kid characters (ok, I can’t help but call them “kids” because that’s what they are!), Bruce Wayne (played by David Mazouz) is the most curiously interesting: yeah, he’s traumatized, but there’s a sense that he’s already up to something (like, what is he doing on the roof? Not that he’s suicidal, but… is he already doing the experiments on handling fear? Bruce!). He’s smart, already taking into consideration Jim Gordon’s advisement to be real careful about knowing that his parents’ murderer is still out there.

I don’t know what to make of young Selina (a.k.a. future Catwoman),  the street urchin who loves cats or Ivy Pepper (let’s take a guess that she’ll be Poison Ivy – although I had to be reminded elsewhere on the Internet that Poison Ivy had a different real name), as they barely had lines (or in Selina’s case, none). Too soon, I guess.

Jada Pinkett Smith was ok as the brand-spanking new character, Fish Mooney. She came across as someone with that Gotham-special potential crazy. But, on the con side: I was a little disappointed by the rest of the women. While it’s nice that the show has a Barbara after all – whether she will be the future mother of Barbara Gordon (a.k.a. Batgirl/Oracle) and James Gordon, Jr. (the scariest villain – not a spoiler! – in “The Black Mirror“) – well, we’ll see!  Don’t be boring, I suggest. Or at least be more than “the worried, supportive significant other of the cop.”

Renee Montoya – in “Batman: The Animated Series,” she was awesome! (clip!) But, in this tv version – that Montoya’s already thinking Jim Gordon’s on the take? Huh? It’s nice that the powers that be kept her sexual orientation from the comics, but Montoya’s supposed to be a smart detective (and got to be a costumed hero too, not that that’s a spoiler). I expect more from the women of the Gotham world.

In some ways, I can see how this series could be inspired by “Gotham Central,” the comic series about the cops in Gotham, working the hard way while Batman’s around (as even Alan Sepinwall noted over at Hitflix).  But, this is Gotham PD without Batman; what will make this different from any other cop show?

On the other hand – the more I think about it, the more I realize that this is going to have to be the arc of Jim Gordon – how close to the edge will he go? (will he go there?)  If Alfred is Bruce’s enabler (for better or worse), someone’s got to balance it for Bruce, and Jim did give the “there’s hope” monologue in the episode. And, then, how dark can this series go?

As it is, we don’t get very much “young kid grows up to be a superhero” on tv, cartoons, or comics. The prime example is Dick Grayson, who witnessed his parents die, become Robin, and then mature to Nightwing and a stint or two as Batman. But, there are examples where it is clear that Dick managed to be way mentally healthier than Bruce, because Bruce and Alfred learned from their own mistakes with the journey of becoming the superhero. In the meantime, in “Gotham,” Bruce is on his own here – but, he kind of isn’t, if the show finds a way to keep things interesting with Jim Gordon.

“Batman: The Animated Series” and the movies (well, the Nolan trilogy anyway) showed a partnership – if not friendship between Batman and Commissioner Gordon. But, over the years, I think there’s an argument to be made that not only has Bruce Wayne as Batman – the non-super-powered superhero – inspired a generation of superheroes, but so has Gordon – in also inspiring his own daughter, Dick Grayson, and Bruce (not the gun thing, though). What made Gordon keep going without any super powers? Well, I think that way from watching “The Dark Knight Rises,” considering how – again, by now, not really a spoiler – young Officer Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), as the stand-in for all those who admired Batman, spent just about equal time with Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Bruce (Christian Bale). Bruce even thanked Gordon for being there when his parents died.

I think there is something to be said about where one finds one’s heroes. Your hero could be the crazy guy in a cape and mask/billionaire whose pumps money into do-good measures; and your hero could be the guy who gets up in the morning and keeps trying to do the right thing, even if it’s real damn hard to do it. Time will tell if “Gotham” can make that kind of story – be that light in the darkness, and letting Gordon face that.

And, I guess it goes back to the villains. While the Bat-rogues gallery is in prequel form, do we assume that their craziness would be dialed down, assuming Batman wasn’t the reason the supervillains came out of the woodworks? Mooney represents a different kind of criminal or underworld – Gotham’s organized crime world has that veneer of respectability. The likes of Carmine Falcone and Rupert Thorne – in the comics or the cartoons, they’re just out for power and money; it’s not like they’d hang out with the Joker (I don’t think most people would anyway). In the pilot episode, it’s kind of creepy to see Falcone as someone Gordon might have as an ally – or what is Gordon supposed to think, when Falcone is all like “I liked it when your dad was the District Attorney.” Now I’m starting to wonder about Gotham’s legal community!

Edward Nygma as pre-Riddler – was a little interesting, and right now, based on the pilot episode, he is working with the cops (he has a history of going back and forth on the side of the law). But, Oswald Cobblepot – well, I am not a Penguin fan… he was weird and creepy and just plain depressing in the Tim Burton-directed movie “Batman Returns,” played by Danny DeVito. “The New Batman Adventures” (basically a slightly visually different season 4 of the “Batman: The Animated Series”) made Penguin in his more traditional version (the one I think of as the Burgess Meredith one from the old campy tv Batman series – although, I think Burgess Meredith was made to look like the Penguin, not the other way around), as the mobster/”businessman” (which makes more sense than as yet another traumatized/damaged Bat-villain, for a guy who’s also a scion of the older families of Gotham).

As for one more thing on “Gotham”: the so far sinister element of the mob and legitimate government cooperating to maintain Gotham from collapsing on itself – hmm – could be worth watching, because its the crux of that whole question of how did Jim Gordon hang on before Batman gets on the scene. Surely Gordon didn’t compromise – but how else do you get to be a Commissioner? Getting there – getting to a dark (but maybe fun?) tv series is the hard execution, and like Alan Sepinwall said in his post, I agree: I’m not sure if FOX gets that. I give FOX credit for giving us “X-Files” and “Fringe,” and granted, I am not on the “Sleepy Hollow” bandwagon, but if FOX messes up “Gotham,” I could be disappointed.  We shall see!  I like Ben McKenzie, and I’m a Batfan, so I’ll hang on longer. So, we’ll see how this goes; but I’m really not sure how I feel about watching more “Gotham cops get in trouble and not have Batman do backup.”




Brooklyn Book Festival 2014

I had a good time at this year’s Brooklyn Book Festival today.  Great turnout. Of course I bought books; some good deals from the DC Comics table and the Akashic Books table.

I managed to make it to the panel on “Segregation, Class, Race, and the NYC Public Schools,” with panelists Dana Goldstein (The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession), Pedro Noguera (Schooling for Resilience: Improving the Life Trajectories of African American and Latino Males) and David Banks (Soar: How Boys Learn, Succeed, and Develop Character), and moderated by Leah Brunski, a teacher of PS 29.  Really fascinating – and powerful.  It was a packed room in the Moot Courtroom of Brooklyn Law School (a.k.a. Alma Mater law school), hosting the event.

I liked how the panelists got down to the nitty-gritty of the issues. I think we keep focusing on so-called “accountability” without really taking management (i.e., supervisors, the politicians, etc.) into account; we forget that teachers are humans; we forget that New York City is de facto segregated on so many levels; and we really forget that this is a complicated situation with no singular answer (but some of us want a nice, quick answer or something to placate the masses). The panel reminded me that these issues in public school education in New York City are applicable to how we address so many other issues (public housing, social welfare and social justice; and in public service – where we public servants toil and get held accountable without really getting the full accounting).  I’ll get off my soapbox now.

I caught a little bit of the “Comedians as Authors,” where comedians Bog Saget and John Leguizamo were. That was a crowded bunch, standing room at the front of Borough Hall.

I unfortunately missed seeing James McBride, Jules Feiffer, and Jonathan Lethem. I also caught the tail ends of two panels:

–> “Face Your Fears or Else,” which had Lev Grossman (Magicians Trilogy: The Magician’s Land), Jeff VanderMeer (The Southern Reach Trilogy: Acceptance) and debut novelist Deji Olukotun (Nigerians in Space), moderated by Noreen Tomassi, Center for Fiction.  I admit that I’m one of those who know Grossman’s work in Time magazine; his Magician books are still on my to-read list.  The panel’s Q&A reminded me of how hard world-building is.

–> Welcome to Fantasy Island – Scott Westerfeld (Afterworlds), debut novelist C. J. Farley (Game World), and Cara Lynn Shultz (The Dark World), moderated by literary agent and author Seth Fishman, over at the Youth Pavilion – their Q&A was another reminder about the difficulty in writing fantasy.

In a way, I’m reminded if I’m really going to take another stab at writing a fantasy-type story, or if I’ll try something else in November… and that my reading list is expanded as usual.  Writing and reading. Reading and writing…

Well, great stuff at the Brooklyn Book Festival as usual!

(cross-posted over at sswslitinmotion.tumblr.com)

More TV Stuff 2014

I caught the first episode of Ken Burns’ “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History” on Sunday night . I’m going to see if I’ll watch more. Initially, I was skeptical, since I know way more about the Roosevelts than the average American and I wondered what new element or way of storytelling would Burns bring to such a storied American dynasty. But, the first episode was fascinating in how it brought out how crazy Theodore Roosevelt was, with how he believed in concepts of masculinity and honor, and the idea of the warrior (to an extreme), and yet was a scientist and optimist, in overcoming his physical and mental issues (arguably, he was manic depressive, the way he had his emotional ups and downs, and how he used sheer force of will to climb out of personal tragedies and avoid facing internal darkness, and using might to fight for what he thought was right – although the wisdom of that… well, it was the late 19th/early 20th century, so…).

As a side note, I have a theory that you have to be a little crazy to run for president and pursue ambition while in office.

Burns appeared to be using the chronological frame to weave in Franklin and Eleanor, so that would be curious to watch as their further travails and triumphs unfold.

I almost forgot that Dancing With the Stars has its first night on Monday night.  So far, a lot of surprisingly talented dancers than expected. Of course, I barely know who half these stars are, and the ones I do know… well, I wonder how they’ll pull off the dancing! Plus: I’m pretty sure that Alfonso Ribiero will be this season’s ringer! (I think we’re all expecting the Carlton Banks dance from his “Fresh Prince” days; but he was once the kid who did the Michael Jackson dancing in Pepsi commercials back in the 1980’s – yes, I’m that old to remember that).

According to Entertainment Weekly, Amanda Pays will be on “The Flash” on CW – and she had played the love interest  in the old “The Flash” on CBS from the 1990 to 1991 season (ok, yes, I did watch that show for whatever episodes during its one season; my taste in tv was never something to brag about). It’s pretty cool, actually – Amanda Pays hasn’t been on tv in awhile (I actually vaguely remembered her X-Files appearance without checking the imdb page). They already got John Wesley Shipp (the ex-Flash), apparently playing the dad of the new Flash (who is Barry Allen; is anyone ever bringing poor Wally West back on tv? He hasn’t been in The Flash identity on tv since… say, the “Justice League” cartoon, I think? – no, wait, I forgot about “Young Justice,” which is such a mash up of Teen Titans and Young Justice so, yeah, “Young Justice” sounds appropriate to avoid the Teen Titan brand, and Wally was so normal in “Young Justice”)…

So, is CW totally bringing back the cast from the old “The Flash” from CBS? Kind of generous of CW so far! And at least Shipp was has a CW/WB lineage, by having been Dawson’s dad on “Dawson’s Creek.”

Strange how I’m so fascinated by news on “The Flash” when I’m so behind to watch its predecessor (and still ongoing) series, “Arrow.” But, CW and its predecessor WB has a track record with superhero shows (for better (i.e., “Smallville“) – and worse (I’m looking at you, “Birds of Prey” – which couldn’t last more than one season)).

I’m hoping that “Gotham” on FOX will be good – but then again, that may be because Ben McKenzie is back on broadcast network tv (this time, playing young Detective James Gordon; fun fact: he did the voice work for young Bruce Wayne/Batman for the animated version of “Batman: Year One” (which I still haven’t watched)).

I’m not even sure yet if I’ll give “Agents of SHIELD” another shot – but then again, if I’m going to support ABC’s diversity initiative, maybe I’ll give it another try.

I’ve been in the hunt for a new tv franchise and I think I’ve found it in the latest run of Doctor Who, at least to the extent that I’ve been watching the episodes with the 12th Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi. The 12th Doctor is Scottish, curmudgeonly, and – as usual – ridiculous as ever (the last part is one he has been for awhile, in his nuWho incarnations). I’m so glad that BBC America has been airing the episodes at a decent time slot so that I don’t have to resort to pirating or something, so for once I’m not egregiously behind Doctor Who (someday I’ll properly catch up on all the episodes of 10 and 11 that I inconsistently watched). I’m not going to say that the episodes are perfect (I don’t believe that there’s such a thing as the perfect tv show – don’t hate me for that), but they’ve been fun so far (to me, anyway). Time traveling tv has a way of irritating me, so I’ll give Doctor Who credit just for not irritating me too much (probably because Capaldi’s confident acting is keeping me distracted from plotholes, but then I’m not a nitpicky lunatic as some commentators are out there).

I’m also probably biased in favor of Capaldi since he’s one of those British actors who keeps popping up (there’s the hysterical clip from his notorious role as Malcolm Tucker, the profane Scottish political adviser (who will bluntly remind you in properly profane language that he is Scottish) who was in “The Thick of It” and later the movie spin-off, “In the Loop“).  I really do have to watch more of his oeuvre – he has played a doctor before, strangely enough playing with Hugh Laurie (the other doctor of the practice) in “Fortysomething”  (and that show had Benedict Cumberbatch, the future Sherlock Holmes, as Hugh Laurie’s son… it’s like a who’s who with British acting, isn’t it?).

And, years ago, I had seen Capaldi in “Chandler & Co.” – where he was the adviser to the Chandler sisters-in-law, a pair of rookie private investigators who might have been in over their heads, and Capaldi’s character had the strange romance thing with Chandler (the divorced sister-in-law, not the still-married one) – which had aired years ago on PBS’ Mystery. Fun stuff (well, to me it was, anyway). And, so, it’s kind of funny that BBC America has this feature that reflected on Capaldi’s roles – including the one from “Chandler & Co.”

(I also totally didn’t realize that he had been on “Neverwhere“).

This summer, I didn’t watch all that much of “The Musketeers” on BBC America, after the first episode. Granted, I was watching for Capaldi, who was playing the – at best – morally ambiguous and power hungry Cardinal Richelieu. Capaldi was fine, but the whole cast kept weirding me out by the way British actors were taking the Patrick Stewart’s mannerism of being French (a la Capt. Jean-Luc Picard)… oh, and D’Artagnan annoyed me in that first episode (he annoys me in his various incarnations anyway).

This summer, I was also way into the (only four episodes?!) latest run of “Endeavour” on PBS Masterpiece, the prequel series to the “Inspector Morse” and “Inspector Lewis” shows. “Endeavour” still felt a lot like “boy, everyone wants to do a period piece in the 1960’s,” with a Morse meets Mad Men type of crossover, but with tighter mysteries than has been seen in either the Inspector Lewis or Inspector Morse franchises in a long time (both series had some odd plotholes that a truck could drive through, and I can’t even be sure if they could be blamed on PBS’ weird editing). Anyway, young Detective Constable Morse (I still can’t get myself to call him by his first name because the old Morse show made his first name the big secret for years) appeared to be getting some respect from his superior officers and solving bigger cases – and even getting into a serious romantic relationship, and then… cliffhanger. How do you end a four-episode run with a cliffhanger?! (ok, granted, longtime viewers already know what happened to Morse by, say, the 1980s, but it’s really sad how his 1960’s kind of sucked, and his track record of not quite making it with the ladies began so long ago).

This fall PBS Masterpiece is bringing back Inspector Lewis (who was supposed to retire; guess he’s taking the same route Inspector Foyle did in not quite retiring). PBS Masterpiece has a really interesting fall 2014 schedule – or, at the least, I’m on the lookout for Inspector Lewis and the televised dramatization of PD James’ book “Death Comes to Pemberley.”

Hmm. I have a lot to catch up on with the tv stuff, as usual, and gearing up for the upcoming stuff. But,  yeah, tv is awesome. Or something like that.