Cape TV

Normally what I watch on TV can be reduced to Stephen Colbert, the NBA and shows with Gordon Ramsay. This fall season, I've rededicated myself to following a select few new shows. They're all based on DC comics, yes, so maybe I'm not so much getting into TV as I am keeping up with comics. The reboot of all DC Comics continuity was designed to be a jumping-on point for new fans, but it also functioned as a jumping off point for readers like me. My hands washed free of continuity, I had no reason to care about these new characters that had replaced my old favorites.

When I heard that DC was going full bore at a slate of TV shows based on their characters, I was interested. I especially enjoyed how different all the new properties were -- different networks, different genres, different audiences. They all debuted in October and I got my money's worth of Hulu Plus subscription.

The first show to debut was GOTHAM, a Detective Jim Gordon series that takes place before Batman, but post-Wayne murder. The idea is that it's an origin story for everyone except Batman. All of these villains, power structures, reputations and more are being formed in this deeply corrupted city, the lowest point of Gotham history before the realization of Batman.

Unfortunately, as Grantland said, this also means it's a story about people before they did anything interesting. The only interesting thing about these characters is that some day they will be a piece of fabric in the web of the Batman mythos. Right now it's just a little girl hugging a plant. When her mom calls her "Ivy" we're supposed to go "OH I GET IT" but in reality it just makes you cringe.

Yet, I wouldn't call it a bad show. What it is is an up & down show. There are completely joyless episodes where nothing makes me want to stay past a commercial break, and there are episodes where I feel like they're on to something. The most consistent joy you can get from this series is just by looking at it. The series is full of vibrant but saturated sets, luxurious art-deco sets, and character actors hamming it up on a variety of seedy archetypes. Technology is roaring 20's based, except when it needs to stray from it, and the diverse populace of Gotham are doing outrageous theater. It creates an interesting atmosphere, almost a weird crime-fantasy show, as opposed to a DARK KNIGHT also-ran.

The tone occupies this weird space between BATMAN FOREVER and THE DARK KNIGHT -- sometimes it's coldly realistic and subdued, other times a colorful villain murders people by tying them to a weather balloon. Without any caped characters, it's really more of a Dick Tracy show, and that's not a bad thing. I certainly wouldn't want the show to devolve into a realism-based police procedural when it, sometimes, does things that you can't find on TV right now.

The prequel pretense is troubling though and robs it of the drama. We know Gordon will never catch the Wayne murderers, we know Penguin won't ever be killed, we know Carmine Falcone will eventually end up on top of the gang war. These characters are robbed of any suspense. Meanwhile, any originals -- like Fish Mooney -- are almost assuredly going to be killed or written out before the dust in Gotham settles. It's a tough spot to write and I frequently wonder what they can do to make the show vital and unpredictable. That curiosity is what keeps me watching it more than anything.

The 2nd show to debut, and DC's best, is THE FLASH. I'm not normally a CW television show watcher, where everything is just a little bit above low-budget cable and all the principle roles are played by young models. But The Flash works as an optimistic, thrilling, and easy-to-like superhero show. Not a gritty crime show, not dark and foreboding. There's enough wonder and heroism here that it's a genuine joy to watch. It's not heady television with big themes, sure, but neither are a lot of comics. You get joy just seeing characters interact, seeing The Flash pull off some well-scripted stunts, and the occasional one liners from a cast that is entirely likeable. The CW's other superhero show, ARROW, is an unabashed low rent Batman show. A wealthy urban vigilante saving his city because for whatever reason they couldn't/wouldn't use Batman. THE FLASH, then, is CW's Superman -- science fiction powers, high on spectacle, and based on inspiring good over justice & vengeance. I am shocked at how much I've been enjoying the show, the stories, and the performances. It even made me check out ARROW, which I hear starts out okay, gets bad, but then gets really good. I'm currently waiting for it to get good.

In last place is the paranormal themed CONSTANTINE on NBC, based on one of Alan Moore's premiere contributions to DC Comics. What I was hoping this would be was a grimy, character-driven, paranormal procedural. Take the bastardness of House, apply it to X-Files mystique and give him a world and lore built on mythology and magic. All we really get is the aesthetic of John Constantine: the accent, the look, the spells, but there's no charm or soul to any of it. NBC's John Constantine dresses up in his trademark brown trenchcoat and red tie, but it feels like he's playing dress up. The fact that his tie is always slightly undone no matter what makes it feel like a Constantine that is constantly concerned with looking cool. I know that's what it's like when they draw Constantine in the comics, but coolness isn't just a look, it's a demeanor. He should look that way because he just so happened to arrive at it without a care in the world.

There's also the problem of magic. Magic storytelling is always tough, even in the comics, because it gives the writers the ability to write forward motion in stories without any tension. If you need to move a story along or get someone out of a pickle, just throw in some magic spell that we didn't know about before. How do Constantine & friends find out who killed a dead DJ? There's a spell for that (it comes at a cost of a few days of Constantine's life, but I'll be surprised if that ever makes a difference in the show's run.) How do Constantine & friends find out what the villains are planning to do next? Their visionary pal just so happens to see a white tiger right at that moment, and, wouldn't you know it, there's a college radio station with a white tiger mascot.

It's not Deus Ex Machina, but it's close. Magic fight scenes are similarly devoid of any anchor that you can connect to. Participants just point at each other and things happen. A few latin words and the bad guys explode into a portal to hell, or something, because he can do that. He doesn't do it often because then that solves all problems, and magic is mysterious so they'll never explain it. I recognize that it's tough to work within those parameters, but it's hard to forgive when everything surrounding is devoid of life, charm and character.

More than anything, superhero television should have a ton of character to it. They've been refined for decades -- sometimes 70+ years. The work has been done for you, and it's disappointing when their small screen adaptations don't have any of the soul that has driven them on the page for so long.

Loose Leaves 07.23.13

Okay. I think I've calmed down a little.

Some day, I will be able to explain strong feelings in measured, well articulated tones. Until then, I have learned to be emotional and to aim at other people's emotional centers. I am not hoping to become more moderate. I hope that I will always be "an earnest," "as uncompromising as justice," and all that -- but I also know that the last entry was mostly steam. And steam isn't substantial enough, not if I want it to stick around.

I very recently just got off the road. I'll write about that trip some day, when it has gestated in my head for long enough. It was mostly a success, with some outstanding and unfortunate events that make it worth turning into something. But not right now.

Right now I'm listening to SILENCE YOURSELF by Savages because Sufjan went pedantic on their typography. My listening habits this season have split into two branches: stripped, guitar-centric, time displaced 90's alt-rock (Yuck, Hebronix, Wavves) and electronic indie pop (CHVRCHES, Geographer, even something pure pop like Charli XCX who has great production.) I don't think it's because I've outgrown all the folk-descendent music that I've always followed, but there isn't a lot happening in that scene right now. Waxahatchee was the last great one to break through earlier this year, and I'd be hard pressed to think of the break through before her.

Read More

The New Community

Like most fans, I tuned into season 4 of COMMUNITY with trepidation. The first line of the post-Dan Harmon season was appropriate: "Does something feel different?" It was important to me that they acknowledge Harmon's firing. The show had cultivated a relationship with its cult following, and if they wanted to put us at ease that the heart would be intact, they had to acknowledge it in even a brief, metatextual way.

But we're 5 episodes in now, and the feeling that this is not the same show, and never will be, is starting to creep over every laughless half hour. It's not that the show is bad, or even unfunny. It's just no longer a great show, one that I would be eager to show to strangers or recommend to my friends. In their right-headed move to retain their fanbase, they've simultaneously made it a show that's just for us.

Read More

Long Live 30 Rock

Because you never really know what you've got until it's gone.

30 Rock never occupied a revered spot or iconic designation the way other major comedies like The Office or Seinfeld did. That may change now, as critics and the bloggers look back on its 7 seasons favorably and wonder why we didn't celebrate it more while it was still on-going. We all enjoyed it a lot, it definitely had its following, but we took its lunacy for granted. It was a such a circus of a show, tightly loaded from end to end with silliness, that we didn't see the serious worth in it. Neither did the show itself. It was always characterized as a good time, but rarely "important."

I'll miss it as a unique comedic vessel. Without any hint of overarching drama or emotional cores, it was often the home of television's purest absurdity. It was a playground where nothing could be so serious that it didn't warrant parody including, and this is important, itself. A lot of comedy has the mission of making fun of "everything," but that often comes off as an elitist condescension. 30 Rock never felt like it was above the things it was skewering. It was honest and self-deprecating, so that when it would make fun of outrage or controversy, it wasn't looking down on it with disgust. We were in this big stupid muck of life and the media together. It was "Look at us!" not "Look at them!"

Read More

The House Puzzle

I don't even know why I like HOUSE. I know what's good about it -- the dialogue is often sharp, Hugh Laurie is a titan and the show has a sharp style top to bottom. But I don't know what part of it grabbed me so thoroughly that I've been watching it for 8 years.

Not non-stop, mind you. There was a period in the middle, probably season 4 and 5, where I fell out of touch with the gang at Princeton-Plainsboro out of laziness. But when I got back in, during the season that introduced the ridiculously stunning Olivia Wilde (seriously her face is unbelievable I want to say absurd) I fell back into the habit of spending an hour a week watching House solve medical mysteries using only his intelligence, hatred, and bum leg.

Read More

I Watched The Wire

Credit: Mickey DuzyjLate to the party, so that the party is all mine.

I guess I could simply say The Wire is great, that the tension was so well crafted, that nothing on television has ever felt so real and that so much of it hangs over your head long after you finish watching. It paints this extremely detailed, heart-wrenching, terrifying and incisive picture of an American city where everything is connected and everyone is doing their best to get by with varying degrees of morality. But everyone is also reacting and doing things they don't want to because of things they can't control, and you, as the audience member, are the only one with the omnipotent point of view that knows the real problems.

Except even knowing the real problem doesn't mean you have the real solution. Everything is so wrapped up together and fucked up and inescapable that it feels like this slow lurching towards doom is the only place this story can go, with very little exception and wiggle room. I guess that's what gets you the most: It feels like the real world, and the real world is such a fucked up place with small victories and bigger losses. Nothing ever really gets resolved, no one really wins. Situations change, and those come with new baggage that will continue to compromise and cripple any and all hope.

But if you've even heard of The Wire, you've probably already read all kinds of ranting and ravings about how amazing and powerful and important the show was. I don't have anything new to add except an agreeing nod, a subdued "Yep." It is probably the greatest show I've seen so far. But I was particularly interested in its depictions of criminals and criminality.

Read More