With shows debuting year-round now and the internet liberating us from the chains of broadcast scheduling, fall’s television premiere season doesn’t quite feel like the mark your calendar affair of yore. Still there’s some great new entertainment coming at us this time of year to gather and enjoy.
There is one trend I’ve noticed in combing through everything—there are a lot of variations on one particular theme. It feels like half the shows on television are an Unusual Genius Helps Authorities Fight Crime (UGHAFC?). It doesn’t mean we should write a show off just for falling into this category—some are doing it very well—only that I’m a little amazed to find the pattern unfolding right under my nose. Some returning UGHAFCs include Sleepy Hollow, iZombie, Castle, The Flash, Scorpion—Grimm mostly fits, although, the authorities are more often tolerated or managed. Some new UGHAFCs are Blindspot, Limitless, Minority Report—Gotham‘s side plot is technically the coming of age for a future UGHAFC. I’m sure you could probably come up with some more examples. I think the strength of UGHAFC shows like Sleepy Hollow, iZombie and Castle is the amount of time we get to spend in the Unusual Genius’ world and how well developed that world is.
I’ve been dutifully consulting my Magic 8 Ball about this fall’s lineup of new and returning shows and thought it only fair to share some results with you. There’s a lot of exciting stuff popping on screens all over and I decided to cut through the noise and find the best possible feasts for the ever dwindling spare eyeball-time. First of all, I’m trying to keep the focus on those shows with some sci-fi/fantasy elements—but there may be some shout-outs and honorable mentions that lie on the fringes. That’s about it, so let me shake this ball and we’ll get started!
Top 5 Harvest of Returning Shows:
№ 5: SLEEPY HOLLOW
(Oct. 1st, 9pm, FOX) Dear Magic 8 Ball (is that how you address these things?), I feel like Sleepy Hollow is poised now to embrace the power of the dark side with wit and and style to become even better. Muah ha ha ha ha! Will the new season mark its entry into the television halls of greatness?! — “Outlook good.”
Watching Sleepy Hollow develop, as it tests its footing on the shaky television landscape, has been enjoyable. Their strongest element is absolutely the man-out-of-time/fish-out-of-water dynamic of Ichabod Crane as he’s forced to face off against magical monsters tied to the American Revolution each week. The handsome Tom Mison, as Ichabod is inspirational casting and he deservedly carries the show alongside the innovative creatures/monsters each week. His back in my day gripes each week, comparing America today to the first days of the nation, are an absolute comedy highlight of the show—and moments like the time he’s handed a gun which he fires once and then tosses because pistols only had one shot during the Revolution—priceless.
As for the rest of the cast—fine actors for the most part—one gets the impression, subconsciously at the very least, that they and the writers are still trying to figure out how exactly they fit into this world. Personally, I was disappointed with the decision to write Ichabod’s wife, Katrina Crane (the lovely Katia Winter), off the show. She felt like the second most solid and interesting character next to Ichabod but it became apparent that the writers didn’t know what to do with her.
The other choice I have reservations about was humanizing the headless horseman. Yes, it’s interesting to find out the monster’s backstory but the resulting manifestation of this personification of doom and destruction feels more effective when its operating out of a removed realm of all but inexplicable evil. I don’t necessarily feel the need to understand the daily emotional motivations of a headless demon (unless they are incredibly fascinating and unexpected). The fact that a decapitated creature from hell wants to kill and destroy works satisfyingly all on its own.
A really great thing to count for the plus column is that, whatever their special effects budget is, they’re using it very well to create some really stunning visuals and excellent creatures.
On the whole, the UGHAFC series had a very good start and it gets stronger and more enjoyable with each episode, even through most of its minor missteps. Considering that they’ve taken a short story by Washington Irving, twisted it with another of his short stories, Rip Van Winkle, and are managing to serve up entertainment that I look forward to each week is quite a feat in itself. I look forward to hoisting a mug of warm mead to the new season of Sleepy Hollow!—(P.S.: Bring back Ichabod’s wife!)
№ 4: iZOMBIE
(Oct. 6th, 9pm, CW) Dear Magic 8 Ball, I had a great time watching the first season of iZombie—will the second season be able to hold up and possibly be even better? — “Most likely.”
iZombie has been adorable fun right out of the gate since starting last season—which is an odd thing to say about anything having to do with zombies (see The Walking Dead below). Versatile Rose McIver is perfectly cast as Olivia “Liv” Moore (get it?!) who became a zombie after getting scratched by one at “the worst boat party ever” on Lake Washington and, after waking a little less than dead, left her budding career as a doctor to become a medical examiner’s assistant at the Seattle PD morgue—which supplies her all the fresh brains her new zombie metabolism craves.
As a viewer, you eagerly follow her through the unfolding plots. Zombies themselves are a conceptually diverse tool in storytelling, allowing for grim commentary on various aspects of modern life. The fresh take that iZombie uses is in identifying with the zombie main character, relating to the isolation and the desire to connect with others—to fit in when you feel like an outsider. Will she let her family get close to her again? Will she get back together with her fiancé? Or will she eat them all as she fears she will? Meantime, Liv is out solving the murders of the victims who come through the morgue as a makeshift UGHAFC “police psychic” because she gets visions from the lives of the brains she eats. Not only that, it’s a delight each week to watch her act in strange new ways because she also takes on the victims’ habits, skills an personalities! (You could almost say she’s the next best thing to Tatiana Maslany’s performance of over ten clones and counting in Orphan Black.)
Her two closest cohorts turn in great performances too. Rahul Kohli as the medical examiner and closest confidant about all things zombie, Dr. Ravi Chakrabarti, and Aly Michalka as Liv’s befuddled bestie and roommate, Peyton Charles, use the elegance of their natural comedic timing even in dramatic service to the more heartfelt scenes. The effect is laughs and “feels” at all the right moments.
After more developments than I can list here during the first season, I’m really looking forward to everything that’s poised to unfold for season two of iZombie!
№ 3: THE WALKING DEAD
(Oct. 11th, 9pm, AMC) Dear Magic 8 Ball. . . astonishment, cringing, canned food, The Walking Dead. . . More excellence? — “Without a doubt.”
The Walking Dead. Holy crap, The Walking Dead. I think we can all agree that this show has pushed television into new territory. I don’t recall seeing or hearing of anything like this on television before. Legit graphic horror as a television show that’s not really pulling any punches—and it’s not just out to shock you, it’s the thinking-person’s horror that’s exploring the nature of life, relationships and defending yourself with anything in reach. Wow. I think this likely helped pave the way for the horrifically gorgeous 3 seasons of Hannibal (til they yanked the plug on that awesome sauce).
This has the most realistic feel of all the entries in this countdown. The reason it comes in at number 3 for me is that it’s just so damn heavy—heavy drama and most times I’m looking for some more levity in my entertainment. If you’re a gloomy Gus, this could be your number one.
The Walking Dead is basically like daily American life with the volume turned all the way up. When hordes of rotting corpses lurk around every corner, hungry to rip you apart and eat you alive, what is it that’s most important to you?—and what are you willing to do to get it and protect it? The Walking Dead reveals the essence of life contrasted against terrifying death on an individual basis that exposes elemental truths of humanity—the good, the bad and the ugly. It questions the true nature of what it means to be strong and to be weak. The surprising and shocking punches these revelations land with sink in like reminders of what we’ve always felt was floating just beneath the surface of our world.
With everything (and everyone!) won, lost, taken and found in Arlington at the end of last season, I cannot wait to see what’s in store for our band of raw threadbare avatars to the richness of the human condition on the next installment of The Walking Dead. (P.S.: Someone please bring back hauntingly beautiful Hannibal!)
№ 2: SUPERNATURAL
(Oct. 7th, 9pm, CW) Dear Magic 8 Ball, I’m addicted to Supernatural. Will my love be returned yet again with a remarkable season 11?! — “It is decidedly so.”
If you were able to take the very best things about the greatest buddy-cop teams, blend that with the cream of campfire ghost stories and then throw open the doors of possibility—you’d have only the jumping off point for the series. It continuously finds ways to keep folding in more—more character dynamics, more storytelling structures, more deep questions tastily sandwiched into monster mayhem. . . If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that they were taking notes from Doctor Who.
The brilliant minds behind Supernatural have successfully built a dynamic that feels comfortable for the returning viewer week to week and at the same time allows for amazing flexibility. Much like The X-Files, one episode may be extremely dramatic followed by one that is practically an hour-long comedy! In fact, I might describe it to a potential viewer as a healthy combo of The X-Files, Ghostbusters and Starsky & Hutch. A sort of on-the-road dude version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, if you will.
The Winchester brothers, Sam and Dean (irreplaceably played by Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles), crisscross the country “saving people, hunting things.” The entire series started as a buddy-cop, road-trip, monster/ghost of the week flavored sort of affair—with the boys chiefly fueled by burgers, unleaded, damsels in distress and the hunt for the demon that killed their mother and Sam’s girlfriend. In those early days, the season-long story arc would take a distant backseat, in their black 1967 Chevy Impala, to each episode’s encounter.
Since then, the Supernatural universe has been massively fleshed out and now each week is most often about another piece in the puzzle for the season’s storyline. The boys have graduated from tackling urban legends come to life each week to taking on hell, purgatory and even a rebellion in heaven over the course of a season.
Every time I think, “Well, that’s it. The end of the series. There’s nowhere to go after that season finale,” they pick up on some unfinished aspect I missed to spin a fresh new season around. It’s a magically delightful sort of 3-Card Monte—”Whoa, I was looking over here while they were setting that up over there!”
They’ve picked up an excellent entourage along the way of reoccurring characters, including my current favorites, Crowley (I can never get enough of Mark Sheppard), the new king of hell, Castiel (Misha Collins is awesome!—he should be cast in everything), a rebel angel who once took over heaven, and now Claire (a very impressive Kathryn Newton) the orphaned teenage daughter of Castiel’s vessel (long story), who brings a fresh new dynamic and energy to the show for each episode she’s in.
One of the remarkable feats that Supernatural has pulled off, quite a few times now, is reaching through the fourth-wall. They’ve done it in several different ways and haven’t fallen on their faces yet—if anything, it has actually enriched the experience of the show each time—extending the definition of “supernatural” in a deeper way that seems to defy the physics of television shows themselves. (Tried a couple different ways of explaining more here—but I don’t think reading about it would give the experiences justice. I would rather not rob you of those first experiences yourself, if you don’t already know what I’m talking about.)
Without giving too much away, the ancient (original?) curse that kept Dean alive in the previous season has consequences that pit the brothers against each other last season. Now, with the setup for The Darkness impending, the new season of Supernatural looks promising indeed.
№ 1: DOCTOR WHO
(Sept. 19th, 9pm, BBC America) Dear Magic 8 Ball, will the new season of Doctor Who be some can’t miss television? — “You may rely on it.”
The idea that Doctor Who isn’t the number one show on everyone’s must-see TV list (or “rather ought to” telly queue?) is a concept I find wholly befuddling. Doctor Who is, quite simply, the culmination of all human storytelling up to now—it is the ongoing saga that has successfully digested all other existing story structures. It’s sci-fi, fantasy, drama, horror, comedy, thriller, western, classical, procedural, ghost, love, family, monster. . . The storytelling lens of Doctor Who is so broadly fine tuned that the lucky and talented writers are able to weave any tale they wish through it. Every episode is a display of magic unfolding. It’s safe to say, if there is any kind of storytelling you like, Doctor Who has episodes for you—and if there are story types you don’t like, Doctor Who may just put them in a new light for you.
To say that Doctor Who is like The Twilight Zone, Star Trek, Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Terminator, Alien, Indiana Jones, and even The Labyrinth and Harry Potter all rolled into one isn’t inaccurate—but it just doesn’t do the show full justice because it’s even more than that.
There are two caveats for American viewers: the first is that it’s a British show—and it becomes far more British the further back in the canon you go. British, meaning that, the pace and construction of characters, themes and interactions can take a moment to adjust to for Yankee brains. It’s just a slightly different perspective on the world that Hollywood rarely shines a light on. The second thing to keep in mind, particularly if you plan to dig into the back catalog, regards the production: producers of the show have always done their best to show all of time and space with whatever limited budget they were allotted. Since the fabric of spacetime is apparently infinite and their budgets weren’t, you can see where they might often fall short—but, if you could forgive some papier-mâché costumes and old cardboard sets you were richly rewarded by the stories. To quote the Doctor himself, “it’s more like a big ball of wibbly–wobbly. . . timey-wimey. . . stuff.” That said, the further decades you go back, the more you can see how it has grown from something akin to filmed children’s theatre into the juggernaut it is today. Additionally—and this is coming from two decades working in digital format conversions—although recent advancements are making it unnecessary, the British have always broadcast television in the PAL format at 25 frames per second, while American eyeballs have been tuned to NTSC at almost 30 frames per second for decades and decades. Even after conversion, what you’re watching can feel “wrong” on a subconscious level to the Yankee brain just because the flicker is different. It took me about six of those earlier episodes to adjust. These days, most entertainment is being shot at standard film speed which is 24 frames per second, a frequency the entire world is accustomed to.
Now that the show has garnered ever stronger international audiences, the “Britishness” has become a bit more universal and the production values have gone way up. You can pinpoint the change to the episode of the first season that Matt Smith took over the reins of the Doctor. The only requirement now is a tolerance for the initially perceived silliness and frequent leaps of faith (fat that comes to life, alien assassins that consume your life’s potential and then leave you to live to death, a police “phone booth” that is a whole world larger on the inside and travels through time and space)—for which you are fully rewarded. After some time as a viewer, the concepts begin to feel much less far fetched—the show succeeds in taking nearly any “wacky” setup and presenting it as honestly valid and valuable.
Last season introduced Peter Capaldi as the Doctor and, while every “regeneration” is traumatic for viewers, this one somehow felt more so. The writers weren’t exactly sure how to write for him yet? It became the Clara Oswald season, which was perfectly fine by me. Jenna Coleman as the Doctor’s current companion is really electric and has delivered some of the most powerful scenes on the show recently. Now the breaking news of this being her last season on Doctor Who is extremely disappointing after she carried the last season. What the future holds after this season is uncertain but I’m sure it will be great—I’m just devastated that this will be the last of Clara Oswald as the companion. So catch her while you can!
I’ve often been moved to tears, fallen from the couch in peels of laughter, cringed with fright and been held breathless in astonishment—frequently in the same episode (“Blink”, “The Girl in the Fireplace” and “Vincent and the Doctor” just to name a few). I expect all of this (and more!) with the new season of Doctor Who.
Returning Honorable Mentions:
№ yeah!: CASTLE
(Sept. 21st, 10pm, ABC) Dear Magic 8 Ball, should I stay loyal to my not-so-secret crush on Castle this season? — “Yes.”
Strictly speaking, Castle doesn’t belong on this list—but I feel the need to give it a shout-out regardless. The fact that it stars Nathan Fillion is practically a qualifier all on its own. The rest of the cast—including Stana Katic, Seamus Dever and Jon Huertas—are fantastically enjoyable as well.
Honestly, if it wasn’t for Fillion, I never would have checked this show out in the first place—procedurals just aren’t my cup of tea—but Fillion as a bestselling crime fiction writer embedding himself with the NYPD?! Had to give it shot—and I’ve been far from disappointed. (Well, that and—full disclosure—I first met Seamus back when I was performing standup with his lovely, funny and talented wife, Juliana Dever [frequent guest star as Det. Kevin Ryan’s girlfriend/wife], years ago and was excited to cheer on his big break with Fillion when the show premiered.)
Castle continues to plumb the writer playing cop—with actual cops!—UGHAFC premise brilliantly. They feature enough stories that blur the lines between the realities of a police procedural and Rick Castle’s love of sci-fi/fantasy to keep me hooked and invested week after week. Episodes like the one with the man who said he was from the future, the one with the artifact that may have been a portal to a parallel dimension or the one about vampires. . . or Bigfoot—the list goes on—are often left delightfully open ended. Am I looking forward to the new season of Castle? You betcha!
№ hope?: AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.
(Sept. 29th, 9pm, ABC) Dear Magic 8 Ball, the special Agents of SHIELD have yet to uncover my devotion. Will they pull it off this season? — “Better not tell you now.”
The fun thing about season premieres (and finales) is that shows typically have bigger budgets to play with. Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD is a good example of that this season. Fan reaction to the show overall thus far has been lukewarm on average. Scripts are lacking strength with some plots and dialogue that can feel forced. Characters are difficult to connect with. The whole thing has a sort of manufactured aftertaste.
Fresh out of the gate this season, the show is looking pretty dazzling but will they be able to connect with viewers who are dying to love them? Being one such viewer, I’m settling in for this season of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD and hoping they finally open up to me.
№ zip-a-dee-doo-dah: THE FLASH
(Oct. 6th, 8pm, CW) Dear Magic 8 Ball, The Flash looks great but I think I’m missing something—should I take another run at it this season? — “Concentrate and ask again.”
There are a lot of folks that are huge fans of The Flash. I am merely a fan. For about the first 10 episodes you watched as the show sort of meandered around, testing its footing to see what tone it wanted, what kind of show it would grow into. It was interesting enough to keep me watching but, even as its direction became more focused in the final few episodes, I still wasn’t finding myself able to really connect with any of the characters. The portrayals all felt a bit too cartoony to me. I want to care, I really do, but I don’t. If I can’t invest in the characters, I can’t invest in the story—and there’s a lot of great story to work with.
To tell the truth, the show is already one of the better options on TV—but, in age of so many series that are able to make significant connections with viewers, The Flash is coming up a bit short. There is so much in the works for the series’ second season, more time travel, parallel dimensions, parallel Flashes. . . It’s all sounding very exciting—I’m just hoping The Flash‘s creators can get me to care.
№ bat: GOTHAM
(Sept. 21st, 8pm, FOX) Dear Magic 8 Ball, Gotham‘s looking good—did they lose some weight? Should we make a date this fall? — “Signs point to yes.”
Very pleased to see that Gotham recognized its shortcomings from last season, corrected course and is off to nice start this fall. Honestly, even after the last Gotham update here on Geekscape, I didn’t think the show was going to make this list. Many times, when a series or franchise attempts to make a course adjustment, creatives’ egos and/or executives’ bottom lines can interfere, making the adjustment not enough or overly extravagant.
So far, it seems Gotham’s refocus is just right—characters are exhibiting a fuller range of emotion and the whole presentation has just the right amount of silliness, inherent in Batman stories from the beginning. The dark whimsy has been blended back in to properly offset and enhance the ol’ Detective Comics‘ native flavor of gloomy dreariness on the palette. Its a balancing act that the comics have been pulling off for decades and you can feel when screen adaptations get wrong. I’m very much looking forward to seeing how the season plays out. Bravo, Gotham creators!
№ hmm: GRIMM
(Oct. 30th, 9pm, NBC) Dear Magic 8 Ball, what’s up with Grimm? Should we be watching the new season? — “Reply hazy, try again.”
Honestly, I really like Grimm. I look forward to each next episode. However, there is something I keep trying to put my finger on that keeps me from fully connecting with the show. My current theory is that there is an “underlying apology” to its presentation—maybe? A sort of, “Sorry we’re not a standard cop show—but we’ve got a really nice secret society of creatures mythology thingy we’re working on that we hope you’ll like!”
Just be true to yourself, Grimm!—be proud of the dorky/geeky genre baby that you are! If you double-down and go whole-hog with what you’ve created, your current audience will become solid devotees—and probably start dragging more people to the party!
The two characters that seem to genuinely inhabit the world of Grimm are Monroe and Trubel—with a shout-out to Bree Turner, as Rosalee, and Sasha Roiz, as Capt. Renard. Silas Weir Mitchell as Monroe, the gentle, awkward and reserved big bad wolf was a surprise hit very quickly. This guy is clearly a professional actor who studied the material he was given and created a marvelously rich character out of it that is my main draw to the show each week. Jacqueline Toboni as Trubel, a runaway who discovers she has special abilities to hunt as a grimm, is another example of marvelous acting chops and has been an invigorating addition. Her take on the character is an excellent fit with the mythos in play.
The real trouble is that it seems the writers too often lean on story constructs better suited to soaps and primetime cop dramas. Even when they try and dive deeper into the secret society and the royals it comes off more like something from General Hospital or The Young & the Restless rather than exciting and mysterious, like a Frankenstein, Dracula, Indiana Jones or Goonies type vibe. I mean, Nick’s longtime girlfriend gains powers and suddenly decides to be evil?! I didn’t get that at all.
The show is inspired by Grimms’ Fairy Tales; I recommend returning to that source material and capturing that magic. Should you watch Grimm? I don’t know—I do—and I wish I could feel stronger about recommending it.
Returning Show Quick Takes!
THE LEFTOVERS — Damon Lindelof, I love you as a human being with excellent taste and a creative soul—but I’ve been burned by your creations too many times to give this fascinating premise a shot.
AMERICAN HORROR STORY: [ANYTHING] — More like Eccentric European Fetish Story and I prefer to get my obscure French vampire sex romps from the source—Gérard Depardieu.
ARROW — A lot of people really love this show and it has clearly done well in the ratings. Maybe you’re one of these fans (or potential fans) but for my palette, I got the impression at the start that this might have that neutered and manufactured flavor to its construction and I have yet to see any clips or segments that make me think I might’ve been wrong. (Yes, I just used “neutered” and “flavor” in the same sentence and am now questioning all the life decisions that have led me to this point.)
ONCE UPON A TIME — I feel so strung-along by this show; like it’s always just about to get good—or even interesting. Once again, I’m just going to give it a few more episodes to. . .
SCORPION — This UGHAFC show is actually pretty neat and fun, I enjoy watching it—however, it’s placed pretty much at the end of my queue each week. I don’t feel like I have to watch it. I really do like it though.
Top 5 Crop of New Shows:
№ 5: HEROES REBORN
(Sept. 24th, 8pm, NBC) Dear Magic 8 Ball. . . Uh, Heroes Reborn? — “Ask again later.”
I was really ready to write this off out of hand but the pilot has me sort of pausing to consider. After the fizzle-out of Heroes the first time around, for its self-important meandering storylines that didn’t come to any interesting conclusions, it looks like we may be in for more of the same. The thing with Heroes is that it somehow makes you doubt if you’re really not enjoying it or just not synched up with it properly. Then once the episode’s been over for a few hours, you realize you really didn’t care about it at all and could’ve better spent that time gardening, researching French poetry or stalking your ex.
I have the feeling that Heroes Reborn is going to be more of the same. However, it’s just good enough to bite your lip and try to hang on for a couple episodes to make sure. It has started out addictive, like the first series (best story line; Zachary Levi’s serial mutant/”evo” killer—worst story line; the girl who can enter a video game with a sword), let’s hope that it’s not ultimately disappointing, like the first series. Damn, this is a special kind of hell. Just get it right, Heroes Reborn!—for crying out loud, just get it right.
№ 4: BLINDSPOT
(Sept. 21st, 10pm, NBC) Dear Magic 8 Ball, the setup ingredients for Blindspot‘s entertainment level seem perfect—maybe too perfect. Is this a safe bet to get into this season? — “Signs point to yes.”
Blindspot sneaks onto this list with a decent sci-fi-adjacent premise and the casting of my favorite part of the Thor movies, Jaimie Alexander, as Jane Doe—a woman who wakes up naked, zipped inside a duffle bag and freshly covered in cryptic tattoos; with no memory of anything. . . except the skills to do everything. . . especially kicking ass. Are you kidding me?!—I’m so entirely in!
Her tattoos seem to point to large scale crimes and attacks that haven’t taken place yet—so, naturally, I’m holding out that she’s actually from the future and her memories were chemically wiped to keep her from playing the lottery, retrofitting a Delorean and starting Skynet or something. So far the show hasn’t backed up my theory yet. Bullocks. Alexander’s performance in the pilot is pretty dead on as, essentially, a newborn in a frightening world, with frightening skills and the frightening realization that she has no idea if she prefers coffee or tea because she doesn’t know what they taste like. The second episode feels a little worrying, like they may allow the super-cool setup to drift into the background as they concentrate on being just another UGHAFC procedural. Let’s hope not. Creators; if that is your intention, take a look at Castle and take notes—they’ve clearly nailed the formula.
I’m already hooked on Blindspot and I’ve got my fingers crossed that they keep me seduced.
№ 3: LIMITLESS
(Sept. 22nd, 10pm, CBS) Dear Magic 8 Ball, will Limitless live up to its name—with entertainment!? — “Outlook good.”
Limitless returns us to the world of the film it’s based on. Chances are, your feelings about the film is probably how you’ll feel about the pilot—and then a bit more. For example; I thought the film was fine but I’m really liking the show so far. If you didn’t like the movie you may really not like the pilot—however, it’s got some good things going for it: great cast, pretty good (and simple) setup and, somehow, the show feels a touch more relatable than the movie did. I also found it rather inspirational; not in the, “I wanna do drugs,” kinda way but in the, “I’d like to reclaim that mental and physical agility I enjoyed as a youth. Do some Sudoku. Hit the gym. Bust out some parkour. Make sure my health insurance is paid up,” sorta way. The lingering feeling at the end of an episode is one of fun—a peek at what the world might be like if it really was your playground.
Some people like the instigating premise of the plot, some don’t. Either way, the strength of the show is in the casting and the clever writing. Jake McDorman plays the guy who stumbles into the super drug NZT. I last saw McDorman in the enjoyable failure, Manhattan Love Story, and he seems to bring a certain relatable sparkle to anything he does—I’m glad to see him again in the lead role here. Jennifer Carpenter plays the FBI agent who must hunt him down and control him to contain the situation. Of course, Carpenter was previously the delightfully scene-chewing sister in Dexter and she brings her relatably pleasing hidden below the surface cocktail of damaged-goofball.
The dynamic becomes the man-boy slacker, who is suddenly made into a super-genius, being wrangled by a woman who may secretly resent having had to grow up. She seems to sympathize and identify with the chemically induced slacker savant and struggles with the conflict of wanting to follow his lead while still following her orders from the FBI.
The danger here is the show falling into that same UGHAFC mold that’s been done a lot lately. If they manage to continue keeping that in the background and focus on telling the journey of a guy thrust into knowing infinitely more than he ever should, that will make for a really entertaining series. It probably helped a lot that the first two episodes are directed by the brilliant Marc Webb ((500) Days of Summer, The Amazing Spider-Man). All things considered, I’m enjoying Limitless a lot more than I thought I would.
№ 2: THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE
(pilot available now, series continues Nov. 20th, Amazon) Dear Magic 8 Ball, can The Man in the High Castle really deliver on the amazing promise shown in the pilot already? — “Outlook good.”
Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle is really rather impressive. I have to admit, while I am a huge fan of the shopping perks that come with Amazon’s Prime membership (anything I want can show up at my door in hours!), I haven’t ever used it to watch anything except for The Addams Family movie and episodes of Hannibal (so good—someone bring it back!) which weren’t available elsewhere. This pilot—which was picked up for series earlier to start this fall—looks like it’ll be the show that finally puts Amazon in my regular rotation.
The show is an engrossingly complex answer to a simple hypothetical question: What if the Allied forces had lost WWII to Axis powers? The story picks up in an alternate 1960s where the US has been split into Nazi and Japanese Empire controlled states. There’s a narrow band of neutral territory between them—and their political scheming against each other—running along the Rockies. It’s within this neutral zone that the mysterious Man in the High Castle is rumored to exist—releasing films of an alternate reality where the Allies won the war. I know, right?!
Adapted from a Philip K. Dick story, I should warn you it’s probably not going to be the feel good show of the fall (take other adaptations of Dick’s works; Blade Runner, Minority Report, Total Recall. . .)—but if they keep working the source material properly, you can bet it’ll continue to be great. That is to say, the pilot is great and very promising already. The success of this initiating episode must be due in large part to the executive producer—who directed that richly visceral adaptation of Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? creating Blade Runner—Ridley Scott.
So it’s already impressive and it’s in excellent hands?—I think it’s a safe bet that adding The Man in the High Castle is going to enrich all our queues with some marvelously engaging entertainment.
№ 1: ASH vs EVIL DEAD
(Oct. 31st, 9pm, STARZ) Dear Magic 8 Ball, I don’t even need you on this one. I couldn’t be more stoked for the arrival of Ash vs Evil Dead! — “Groovy.”
Ash vs Evil Dead?! Are you kidding me? No question—if you can only watch one new show this season Starz’s extension of the Evil Dead franchise is the one. To be fair, the Evil Dead flavor isn’t for everyone but if you’re reading Geekscape this is very likely your cup of tea, even if you don’t know it yet.
That “flavor” is difficult to put into words but here’s a shot: it’s a genuine horror screwball action comedy. It’s what might result if Monty Python teamed up with National Lampoon to produce a Stephen King story. It doesn’t pull punches with the horror or the comedy. You’re knocked out of your seat with frights and laughs.
The key players are back in what they are describing as a natural evolution of the material; prolific producer/writer/director Sam Raimi (Army of Darkness, Spider-Man) and the irreplaceable Bruce Campbell (Burn Notice, The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.) as Ashley “Ash” J. Williams. This time out, they’re joined by another regular Raimi player, Lucy Lawless (Xena: Warrior Princess, Salem) in what sure to be one heck of a badass team up.
I really don’t know what else I can tell you—it’s “you had to be there” entertainment. You could read the excitement of our reaction at the SDCC announcement. It’s the ol’ Evil Dead made fresh and new by the very same hands that made it in the first place—including the one and only Ash, his boomstick and his chainsaw hand! If you want more than that, you’ll have to make it yourself with your own army of deadites! Ash vs Evil Dead, baby! I think it’s going to be like pillow talk for your face.
New Honorable Mentions:
№ ooh: CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND
(Oct. 12th, 8pm, CW) Dear Magic 8 Ball, I know this is kinda outta left field but—should I spend this fall with the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend? — “Most likely.”
This Crazy Ex-Girlfriend stalks her way on here for living in a hilarious world where she can bust out musical numbers wherever she goes. That can technically qualify as fantasy when. . . What? You say you don’t like musical numbers? Ha ha ha, I was once like you. However, I think series creator, star and certified geek herself, Rachel Bloom begs to disagree with your feelings—making her point with her hit, NSFW (without headphones), YouTube sensation: F*** Me, Ray Bradbury. See now how your feelings were wrong? It’s okay—the same thing happened to me. If that video is what she can do with a shoestring indie budget, I’m looking forward to what she’ll might pull off with a Hollywood bankroll—after she has to wash her mouth out with soap! Salacious! Sign me up for a recurring date with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
№ sooner!: JESSICA JONES
(Nov. 20th, Netflix) Dear Magic 8 Ball, Jessica Jones is absolutely can’t miss, right?! — “Signs point to yes.”
Jessica Jones really deserves to be in the top 5 of new shows—Heroes Reborn could easily be bumped to make room for such promise—but, at this point, this really is mostly just promising promise. There aren’t many details out there about what Netflix is doing with Jessica Jones. Marvel fans know it’s the story of an UGHAFC who has mostly hung up her superpowers to become a private eye but exactly where and how this series picks up the story remains to be seen. Netflix has done a fantastic job with Daredevil so the outlook is very good for this new entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m a huge fan of Krysten Ritter since Veronica Mars so I’m super excited to see her in the super title role here. David Tennant as Kilgrave and Carrie-Anne Moss as Harper are just a couple more of the excellent cast. If and when any new shreds of detail emerge you can bet that Geekscape will get the Jessica Jones nuggets to you, just as we have been. I want to put this in my eyes right now!
New Show Quick Takes!
THE MUPPETS — Hell yeah! Already into this all the way. Bit darker than I was expecting—almost like a drama with hilarious frosting. Like a slower paced Aaron Sorkin creation—with puppets.
SUPERGIRL — Man, I hope this is any good! At this time, I have yet to see anything that conclusively tips the scales—and my expectations are low. So, here’s hopin’ you fly, Supergirl.
SCREAM QUEENS — Happened to catch a clip of Scream Queens and found it delightfully amusing. Looking forward to catching up and watching this little gem. Judging by the creators’ former effort, Glee, it should be great for at least a season.
MINORITY REPORT — I’m sorry. I just don’t have any more room—especially for something that appears to have gutted all the fascination out of the original story to make this show just another UGHAFC lightly dusted with sci-fi. What I really wish is that this was another season of Almost Human—damn, that was a good show. . . bad name, good show.