Series Retrospective: ALIAS – ‘The Two’ (3×01 – Review)

In 2018, we began a deep-dive TV review series looking at J.J. Abrams’ Alias, which ran from 2001-2006. Over the next year, we’ll be looking at Season Three’s 22-episode run in detail…

You could make a strong argument that Alias peaked at the tail end of its second season, and from The Two onwards the journey of J. J. Abrams’ series is all downhill.

There is merit to that but it isn’t precisely fair. The Two is a solid reestablishment of Sydney Bristow as a character and the re-conceptualised series as a concept, triggering the first half of a third season which ultimately consumes itself but starts out heartily, with a fascinating new mystery surrounded by a revived and re-developed set of character dynamics. Penning this opening episode, if not directing as he did the Season Two barnstormer of a finale The Telling, Abrams sets the stall for Alias to come. This is a soft reset of the show, one designed to follow through on the structural changes established after Phase One. In previous reviews, we talked about how Alias spent the rest of the second season moulding itself around a mid-season explosion of the series’ initial idea. The Two is a response to that.

The Two could not have functioned in the manner it does if Phase One had taken place at the end of the second season, as was rumoured to initially be the plan. SD-6’s collapse would have triggered a third season which began with Arvin Sloane as the villain, and much of what happened at the end of Season Two likely would have taken place in the first half of Season Three, with one key difference: no Lena Olin, who had rejected the opportunity to reprise her role as Irina Derevko after her one season stint as a regular. Given how awkwardly Season Three has to write around Irina’s absence, try and imagine the cluster of post-Phase One, pre-The Telling episodes without Irina. They would never have worked as well as that last third of Season Two does, however fractured and galloping the storytelling might be.

Given Alias detonated Sydney’s role as a double agent halfway into the previous season in order to streamline the series, The Two has the space in many ways to do just that. It attempts to provide a rough template for the new season to follow.

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The Good, Bad & Ugly of Sci-Fi TV – Kenneth Johnson’s V

In a new series looking at classic sci-fi TV, Jeff Fountain takes us back on a near four decade journey through the various incarnations of Kenneth Johnson’s alien invasion drama, V

In 2020, television is enjoying another golden age.

Network TV, once the king of the small screen, has now been pushed aside for the most part for streaming services, giving viewers an endless supply of choices, with shows looking more like mini-movies than anything. Science fiction has also enjoyed this renaissance but it wasn’t always that way. Decades past are littered with failed attempts, outright horrific shows and some things that never grabbed an audience.

One of said shows was V, and its birth in the ’80s led to a strange and bizarre path that was both fascinating and frustrating to watch.

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New Affiliate Podcast: MOTION PICTURES – ‘The Reality of Comedy’ (Borat)

Brand new affiliate podcast.

In the latest episode of Motion Pictures, A. J. Black co-host Carl Sweeney in this episode are discussing comedy on the eve of the release of Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm.

We go back to 2006 to examine Borat, the first movie from Sacha Baron Cohen featuring his Kazakh creation, as we try and get to the nub of Cohen’s fearless mirth making. What is his comedy saying? Why is he saying it? And will he be able to repeat the trick?

Plus! We catch up a little on the events in the Covid-cinema world after our previous episode…

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LOVECRAFT COUNTRY: a hot, glorious mess of cosmic horror, social justice and Afro-futurism (Season 1 – Review)

Where do you even begin to start when examining Lovecraft Country? Misha Green’s series feels like an apogee of black-fronted genre television, a show which throws everything but the kitchen sink at its audience.

One recurrent aspect of Lovecraft Country across the ten episode run (which has felt like twenty given how much Green and her writers have packed in) is how acutely aware everyone involved in the show is about what the series means. This is not just just a drama. This feels like a statement. It feels like television reparations for decades of TV shows and movies that Lovecraft Country takes an enormous cue from, all of them almost exclusively fronted by white casts with low threshold of ethnic diversity, particularly in American storytelling. Lovecraft Country confidently, with fulsome sass and stylistic vim, barges onto the scene with a concoction of high concept Afro-futurism, cosmic horror, social justice power and emotional melodrama. It does so unapologetically.

It makes for quite a ride, frankly. Green, backed by two very different showmen in Jordan Peele and JJ Abrams, adapts Matt Ruff’s episodic and almost anthological source material relatively faithfully, revelling in some of the more striking and powerful storylines – particularly Ruby’s Mr Hyde-style transformation, powered by racial commentary, that is delivered with icky, brutal gore in Strange Case (it was my favourite story in Ruff’s book and the show does it justice). Along the way, Green is unafraid to throw new juice in the mix, such as Atticus Freeman’s backstory as a GI in Korea, brought to live in what for me is Lovecraft Country’s finest episode, Meet Me in Daegu, and strings together a myriad of narratives and ideas with real bravado come the season finale. Not all of them stick but Lovecraft Country is never less than pulsing, pulp entertainment of the highest order.

It is, frankly, a complete hot mess, but I mean that in the kindest possible terms.

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I AM GRETA preaches to the progressive converted (Review)

★ ★ ★

Greta Thunberg is, to put it mildly, what we might describe in the U.K. as a ‘Marmite figure’.

To others, polarising would be the better word. Ever since Thunberg sat down in the middle of her hometown of Stockholm with a painted sign saying (in Swedish) ‘School Strike for Climate’, removing herself from education to raise awareness about climate change and global inaction, she has won almost as many detractors as fans. Nathan Grossman’s film, you suspect, wants you to believe more of the world is with Greta and her cause than the opposite. I Am Greta is not exactly a hagiography but it is sympathetic, on multiple fronts; a documentary that follows the 15-year old girl with Asperger’s Syndrome on a remarkable journey over less than three years, but which oddly feels longer.

The issue with I Am Greta, no matter how openly it presents its protagonist, is that it won’t do precisely what Thunberg is devoting her life to: changing minds.

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London Film Festival 2020: AMMONITE

★ ★ ★

If one were to be slightly facetious, an alternate title for Ammonite might be Portrait of a (Cornish) Lady on Fire.

What rubbish! Mary Anning was from Dorset, I might hear you cry, and you would be correct. Francis Lee’s follow up feature to the low budget but hugely well-received God’s Own Country plays, however, in much the same wheelhouse as Celine Sciamma’s feminine potboiler which has taken the film world by storm over the last year (I need to give it a second watch as it left me powerfully indifferent). Comparisons between both films will be evident, as Lee’s semi-historical narrative dials into the lovely story between Kate Winslet’s brittle palaeontologist Anning and Saorise Ronan’s depressed city wife Charlotte Murchison – a scientist herself in real life but portrayed more for dramatic effect here as the spouse of a paleontology ‘tourist’ and wealthy boor.

Historical accuracy isn’t first and foremost the point of Ammonite.

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Podcast Review: COLORS OF THE DARK – ‘The History of Splatstick with Ryan Spindell’

Who here listened to Shock Waves, Fangoria’s leading horror podcast, on a regular basis?

It was a fun show from largely the triumvirate of Dr. Rebekah McKendry, Elric Kane & Rob Galluzzo that explored all angles of the horror genre, replete with interviews from those in the business. Sadly, it seems to have been quietly abandoned following scandal for Fangoria during lockdown it is steadily working to overcome, including the actions of their owner Cinestate and accusations levelled at Galluzzo that has seen him quietly slink from the public space. Shock Waves appears to have been sacrificed at the altar of these issues and, subsequently, a new show has been forged from largely the same DNA – which brings us to Colors of the Dark.

With McKendry & Kane in tow, this could be named Shock Waves II. It feels, in many respects, a natural continuation of a similar format.

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First Impressions & Third Time Lucky? STAR TREK: DISCOVERY – ‘That Hope Is You’

Come the end of Star Trek: Discovery’s much anticipated third season premiere, That Hope Is You, I was left wondering if the title referred to protagonist Michael Burnham in more ways than one.

As premieres go, this one takes a calculated gamble. In solely featuring Burnham’s journey, having blasted her way 930 years into the far future ahead of the titular USS Discovery following the histrionic climax of Such Sweet Sorrow, writer and showrunner Michelle Paradise (alongside co-writers Jenny Lumet & CBS/Paramount Trek uber-producer Alex Kurtzman) operates on the assumption that Burnham continues to be the primary reason we’re tuning into Discovery. Has any premiere of a Star Trek season structured an opener quite like this? It had more in common with Lost’s Season 3 premiere A Tale of Two Cities, for me, which doubled down on the show’s principal protagonist Jack Shepherd as he was thrown into the unseen world of the Others on the mystical Island, with much of the supporting cast having to wait their turn an episode, or even two.

Given how Discovery’s playbook across Season Two very much aligned with the Bad Robot stable of serialised television, this comes as no surprise. Kurtzman is of that aegis, forged as a producer on shows which advanced serialisation across the 2000’s in genre television following the millennial boom in prestige cable drama, and under his overall direction Discovery has rarely embraced the Star Trek structural model of old. Star Trek: Picard was of similar stock earlier in the year, with only the recent Star Trek: Lower Decks defiantly returning to a largely stand-alone episodic format in line with The Next Generation-era. Opinions on which style better suit Star Trek vary far and wide but Discovery, a show which thanks to all kinds of behind the scenes changes and course corrections has struggled in its own skin, has always had one eye on being Star Trek for a new era.

That Hope Is You, by that definition, straddles the middle. It is defined by examining the future yet remains, stubbornly, partially stuck in the past.

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New Horrified Article: HORROR IN THE BRITCOM – ‘Only Fools and Fridays’

New article for Horrified Magazine!

Horrified is a new kid on the block but is producing some fine work in the realm of British horror, both in terms of analysis and original fiction, so I was delighted when the editor, Freddy, was keen on my pitch for a recurring series called ‘Horror in the Britcom’, unpicking the intersection between horror and comedy in British sitcoms…

For this second piece, I’m talking about an unexpected offering in the realm of horror, Only Fools and Horses

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The Cool, Scrappy Underdogs: STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS (Season 1 – Review)

Conventional wisdom, ever since the very first Star Trek series in the 1960s, suggests that new shows take three seasons to find themselves. Lower Decks is now the first new Star Trek show to bust that myth.

The Next Generation only stopped trying to be The Original Series, and levered itself into the 1990s under Michael Piller while balancing a measured tone with space bound escapism, after two profoundly awkward seasons that have dated far more readily than the 1960s show. Deep Space Nine emerged from a staid chrysalis two seasons in once Ira Steven Behr engaged serialised storytelling alongside pulp adventure. Voyager, by its third year, tried to combine ongoing story arcs with recurring villains and a more consistent balance of episodes. Enterprise galvanised itself under Manny Coto after two lacklustre seasons, even if it was too little too late despite widespread and exciting changes. We will soon know if Discovery, under Michelle Paradise, has pulled the same trick – but the omens look good.

What do all of these examples have in common? By and large, a strong creative force at the helm at the point these shows found their feet. Voyager’s best years were arguably when Brannon Braga was heavily trying to shape the series, even if it lacks the same powerful creative as DS9 or ENT. Mike McMahan is that force but, and here’s the difference, he’s been around since day one. Lower Decks is very much his baby, to a degree previously unheard of in Star Trek. We might need to track back to Lower Decks’ chief inspiration, The Next Generation, to find a show which was so deeply tethered from the beginning to series creator Gene Roddenberry, and even then its success is attributable to many different cooks stirring the broth. Lower Decks is McMahan’s vision and you feel that from the very beginning.

There is little doubt the resulting show is an acquired taste but this sojourn into sweet-natured comedy is hugely faithful to Star Trek lore, imbued with a love of the subject matter, and hits the ground running without the identity crisis every Star Trek series that has preceded it faced.

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