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Penny Dreadful (2014)
Set in late 19th Century London, this Gothic horror revolves around a gentleman who, in the search for his missing daughter, assembles a team of experts in various fields. By the looks of it, the main antagonist seems to be an Egyptian vampire, and the protagonists an American gunslinger, a mad scientist and a witch.
The imagery is bleak with the exception of the colour blood red, and something tells me there will be a lot of lightning storms as the season progresses. There is full frontal nudity, disturbing scenes, violence and corpses everywhere, so this is not for the faint-hearted.
The acting seems okay, but the script is laden with the heavy prose of the era. Maybe they wrote it like that on purpose, to further promote the Gothic feel of the show, but the result is that the grandiose lines and mysterious ambiguities that were verbosely dramatized felt out of place and tacked-on.
Other than that, the pilot was promising. The good stuff is; several intriguing characters, good production values, a gloomy atmosphere and thanks to the "all-star" or superhero-ish nature of the show; great potential for entertainment.
Almost Human (2013)
A well-thought out sci-fi police procedural
It is 2048 and Detective John Kennex has a reason to be rather sceptical towards androids, but due to regulations is forced to have one as a partner. He is back on the force after an extended restitution period surviving an ambush, sporting a synthetic leg. After an "accident" that destroyed his assigned android partner, he requests a new one and ends up with a model that was discontinued because of some unfortunate episodes. They were designed to be as close to human as possible, with all that entails.
Thematically, the first two episodes explores mainly how Kennex warms up to his new partner Dorian, and I suppose this will be a recurring theme given the name of the show. The plots are well thought-out, designed to explore the world while we get to know the characters better. The action is OK; except that it appears that the police don't hesitate much before shooting twentyfive years from now, the tactics and policework are the same as now... although with more fancy equipment. There is some humour, too, and in the pilot we get some hints on the back-story that will surely be explored further as the season progresses.
Most of the humour is through character interactions, and I think most of the characters are enjoyable and distinct enough at this point.
I am a fan of self-contained episodes, but any TV-show must have a central storyline that progresses season by season - and in many cases a season arc is also desirable. In this show, the central storyline which is hinted at in the pilot is in my opinion not strong enough to draw people in on its own - criminals got intel on him and ambushed him... but so what? The world, however, is interesting enough and so are the characters and the sci-fi themes.
I recommend this show because the self-contained episodes 1 and 2 are entertaining enough to catch my interest. If you are a sci-fi fan or just like action-filled police procedurals, you will probably feel the same.
The Blacklist (2013)
Excellent thriller procedural, but with some logical flaws
The pilot sets up what seems to be a fresh take on the police procedural where a peculiar character aids police investigations. The action, the dialogue, the little we got of character development - all this was good.
However, there were two scenes in particular where logic was thrown out of the window, and without them I could have ended up on a solid 8. The first were stretching credibility a bit thin when fake "haz-mat" crew ambushed a police car convoy evacuating a girl thought to be the target of kidnapping. Apparently, Spader's character Eddington informed the episode's bad guy not only that the police was going to move the child, but also where, when, which roads they were going to take and which car in the convoy contained their target... before the police knew about the kidnapping plot.
The second scene that kicked me out of the state of "suspend disbelief" was where Boone's character Keen upon having her husband threatened and almost killed by the foreign bad guy (being a useless wreck repeating "it's going to be alright") ran into Eddington's holding afterwards and tortured him by puncturing an artery in the neck with a pen in order to get info. Then she went back to her home and spent the rest of the evening crying and trying to scrub away the blood. Eddington survived well enough to escape the hospital the next day, by the way. This was the dumbest, most inconsistent chain of events and the worst editing/directing I have seen in quite a while.
A show like this really can't afford scenes like the above. If there's more of them in the second episode and beyond the show goes from a clever Criminal Mastermind Works With the Police -show to a lighthearted comedy procedural like Castle or Psych.
And that is clearly not what the showrunners want, because the rest of the pilot was rather thrilling and well done.
Sleepy Hollow (2013)
Good dialogue, good acting, good script
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a classic horror story in the true sense; written by Washington Irving in 1820, it probably inspired other fantasy and mystery writers throughout that century and to our day.
This 2013 adaptation is of course also a classic mystery/fantasy horror, but it moves the action from the late 18th century to modern day - and that I must say appears to be a very good move.
It allows the showrunners to put humour into the mix, and they are free to rewrite history as well as the story it is based on. The two main actors have good chemistry and the main story arc was efficiently set up in the pilot.
So all in all; well done! I look forward to watch the next episodes to see what kind of show this is going to be; one long main story, or self- contained episodes. Both have merit in their own ways.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)
Light-hearted, entertaining superhero show
The first half of the pilot was rather rushed and had some very obvious shortcuts in the form of exposition. There was little character development, instead the characters were introduced as little more than archetypes with a distinct function within the plot. The second half had some nice action sequences, some humour and looks to set up the show as "the new Warehouse 13".
None of that is bad.
I suspect the pace will be calmer, more deliberate, the exposition disappear, the characters will be fleshed out, and since Warehouse 13 (and Chuck)lost its light-heartedness and humour in the later seasons, SHIELD may fill an empty space in its place.
There is potential here, if the showrunners keep true to form and aim for that light entertainment action niche. I hope that is what happens; only time will tell.
Orphan Black (2013)
Suspenseful and believable science fiction
I have seen the first few episodes and I like this show. It has some interesting characters discovering the plot along with us, and this creates suspense and some humour along the way. It does not rely on CGI at all so that is not a concern, and the acting and dialogue are both "personified", adding to the realism.
Usually, "realism" is not the first thing you look for in a science fiction show, but Orphan Black is not set in the distant future in a galaxy far far away but here on earth right here and now. The science fiction premise is that of scientific experiments on humans that for all the general public knows could be going on right now in the real world. In this show, the consequences of this science is explored to its full extent, making Orphan Black "true science fiction".
This means that the show could have been written by Phillip K. Dick, and that is a good thing.
Orphan Black is a science fiction show that may appeal to other demographics as well because of its down-to-earth storytelling, so could this be the TV-show that "saves" the genre?
Hemlock Grove (2013)
The pilot confused me.
Not so much because I didn't understand what was going on, more that the show used all the Gothic tricks in the book and I couldn't identify a storyline. The acting, the dialogue, the cinematography all seemed good, though, so I decided to watch the second episode - give it a second chance.
The second episode toned down the imagery and symbolism quite a few notches and I got a much better hold on each of the characters. There is a lot of foreshadowing to things that are going to happen in the future, but we aren't actually told what that is. If someone asked me what the show is about, I would have problems answering with brevity.
I try to anyways: It's an atmospheric, character-centered show about mythological creatures living (extra)ordinary lives in an ordinary town.
Yes it's been done before but not like this. I immediately wanted to watch the next episode after finishing episode two.
7/10 with potential to rise.
Funny and entertaining
There are several scenes in the pilot that are downright funny, and those are the best parts of the 30 first minutes of this series. The rest of the episode has much to be desired, so this isn't a quality show by any means. I still give it a 6/10 because of the entertainment factor, and quite frankly that is what the show aims at. It is a comedic take on the zombie genre, just like the Zombieland movie.
The comparison between the two stops there, though. I understand where many of the more critical reviews are coming from when they object to the use of that name and its characters in this series - it's a cheap marketing trick. I don't feel attached to the original, though, so to me it doesn't really matter that it shares the name, characters and some plot elements of a movie I liked. I am sure the series will stand on its own given the time to do so.
I just hope that they don't keep the "travel around looking for survivors who die horrible deaths" trope for too long, though, because it is limited how many novel accidental deaths it is possible to come up with before it becomes old.
So all in all I enjoyed the pilot; the repetition worked this once. If you're looking for dark humour and light entertainment, I recommend watching the pilot of Zombieland: The Series.
The best sci-fi series since Battlestar Galactica (04) and Firefly (02)
Continuum is a series about a cop travelling back in time from 2077 to 2012, chasing a terrorist group that escaped execution. She has superior technology in the form if implants and a "smart catsuit" that influences the plot and subplots, so this is true science fiction rather than futuristic action that is so popular to call "sci-fi" these days.
Note: this is a review of the first season + s02e01. Serious spoilers ahead!
When watching the pilot, I nearly turned it off after about 10 minutes because the setup to how the main characters ended up in our day was so rushed and badly done that I was eyerolling constantly (especially the "emotional" scenes with the protagonist's children/husband - I mean, I don't know her yet why should I feel sympathy? It was painfully obvious that the director wanted to show me that she loves her family). Luckily, I continued watching, and it quickly improved in pace and quality.
I have read many of the reviews here and some of the discussion going on, and many are confused by the morally grey areas of the characters. I find that intriguing and this is the series' strong point:
Kiera has a personal motive to go home to her future, but she is also a believer in the system of government that she is a part of and fights for what she believes is right. In my interpretation, her resolve to both causes are diminishing gradually, though. The same could be said about the terrorists and their resolve to change the future so that corporations do not take over government and abolish democracy. This theme should be obvious very early on in the series (the two first episodes should be enough to understand this), so I don't feel it is particularly intrusive in a review after the airing of season two, episode one. It is after all the main plot-driving conflict in the show!
The weak points are a) that the series is a bit repetitive and formulaic in execution - the terrorists terrorize, Kiera helps the police finding them, but in the end they remain at large - and b) that the relationship between Kiera and the 2012 authorities remain stagnant and quite a bit unrealistic.
What makes Continuum better than shows like Revolution, Outcasts and Falling Skies is that the antagonists have a reason to be antagonists (other than providing the plot with a conflict) and the plot lines of each episode (and the whole series) is based on an action-consequence logic rather than the necessity of plot development. Thus, the characters are believable and the stories we are told interesting to watch.
A mix of Fallout, Star Trek, Mad Max and Alien Nation
Watching the pilot, I smiled, smirked and laughed a lot. Not because this show is that good, but because I recognized so many influences from games, TV-shows and movies I have enjoyed before. First and foremost of those is the game franchise Fallout. The mutants, the gritty post- apocalyptic survivor town, the cynical characters, the raiders/bandits. It is all there!
I have seen it all before and it is SO full of clichés; overused character types, crime boss families, forbidden teenage love, mysterious past lives...
Yet, this isn't really a problem as long as the writers know that what they are doing is not serious drama. I had a good time watching it despite the simplicity and "teen" feel to it all. I fell out of my highly trained state of suspension-of-disbelief a couple of times due to overly cheesy scenes, poor acting/dialogue and some predictable plot twists, but for the most part I didn't have to strain too hard.
Overall, an enjoyable pilot with great potential for entertainment.