The New SyFy Channel

the-expanse-series SyFy is headed to space, and it seems as though they're serious. Last week, they announced a 10-episode pickup of The Expanse, a series that will adapt (presumably) the first book from James S.A. Corey, . In the wake of the announcement, I've seen a lot of complaints from fans, noting SyFy's general track record with shows. Despite the last five years of distancing themselves from harder SF stories, this falls in line with the direction the channel is trying to lurch itself towards, shaking off their reputation for something better. It's about time, too.

The Expanse is a good move for SyFy and the announcement that they've picked up the TV show fills me with quite a bit of optimism for the direction of the channel's future. Over the last couple of years, the channel has been talking quite a bit about returning to space, with news over the last couple of years of shows such as adaptations of Larry Niven's novel Ringworld and Sir Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End and shows such as Ascension and Defiance. So far, only Defiance (after a really long development period) has aired, and then, to tepid reviews and ratings. But, it's a start, and shows that the channel is starting to think about bigger, more serious projects.

In the mid-2000s, the show was indisputably one of the better outlets for speculative fiction on the small screen: long-running shows such as Stargate SG-1 and its spinoff, Stargate: Atlantis collectively ran for fifteen seasons, while Farscape and Battlestar Galactica, two very ambitious space dramas, had fairly good runs before being cancelled. With the cancellation of Ronald D. Moore's Galactica in 2009, the channel seemed to get nervous about shows set in space. Galactica's ratings had nosed down over the last two seasons (most likely due to some of the narrative stunts they took), and its follow-up successor, Caprica, set decades before, never found its voice or ratings, and was cancelled a year later. A third follow-up, Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome, died a slow death as SyFy executives waddled on the decision to release it to the web or to television. Ultimately, it was burned off on YouTube, effectively ending the franchise for the channel. A third Stargate entry, Stargate: Universe, a grown up, broody and excellent entry never quite captured the same attraction as its predecessors, and ended with a frustrating cliffhanger at the end of Season 2.

SyFy pivoted, perhaps seeing the successes rival networks enjoyed with shows such as True Blood, and went in an urban fantasy and Sci-Fi lite direction. It's not really any surprise: the darker stuff hadn't really succeeded, and shows such as Eureka had done really well. Alphas, Warehouse 13, Lost Girl, Bitten and Being Human have all been developed, and dominated the network's offerings since 2009, alternatively earning praise from fans who enjoyed that type of story, and derided by those who missed the shows set in space.

All the while, SyFy expanded their offerings into reality TV, as well as the frequently-derided WWE on Wednesday nights. Often, their placement on the schedule has been explained as money makers for the channel (or, laughably, that it's a type of fantasy in and of itself), which in turn support the programming of the other scripted shows. I don't know that I've ever met anyone who's actually watched WWE on the channel.

Meanwhile, a revolution in scripted television erupted from various premium and network channels. TNT's Falling Skies, Fox's Fringe, CBS's Person of Interest, AMC's The Walking Dead, and HBO's Game of Thrones all came out, as well as show such as Awake, Under the Dome, Terra Nova, Revolution, Agents of SHIELD, Almost Human, Arrow, Orphan Black and Outcasts, to name a couple, while in non-Science fiction offerings, there's Once Upon a Time, Grimm, Supernatural, Sleepy Hollow, American Horror Story, Vampire Diaries, and others. Science Fiction TV, once largely limited to the SyFy channel, found new homes. While not all have been successful, it shows that there's a new appetite for speculative works on the small screen, and that such shows can not only do well, but do really well. SyFy, while it's had some success with their current offerings, hasn't had any hits on the same scale. They easily could have, with the right mindset.

Major projects such as The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones aren't easy projects to bring to television: they're big, elaborate, and cover subject material that's far from the material that SyFy was putting out between 2003-2008. They're ambitious (and I'll throw Person of Interest in there, too, as an example of what network channels *can* also do.) and have received a disproportionate amount of praise from critics and fans alike, all the while seeing their ratings go up as viewers keep watching.

It's clearly a balancing act: Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead take on popular properties and subject matter, all the while they're fairly well written and scripted. Others miss out: Awake, while fantastic, never caught on. Terra Nova was silly and stupidly expensive. Fringe lasted on critical glee, but wanted for viewers. Others just do really well with the right combination of characters and story, building year after year: Supernatural is well into its tenth year, and has a spin off in the works, while Arrow doesn't seem to be going anywhere but up (and also has a spinoff in the works).

SyFy's clearly got the vision for ambitious projects, but they're held back; from themselves. It's a business, and accordingly, the material they're turning out needs to be successful. However, it's always seemed as though this very risk-adverse mindset percolates down into what's being picked up. They say that you never make the shot that you don't take, and the channel has been on a course where they're only taking shots where the basket is five feet off the floor. Until Defiance, it's seemed that there's no sense of risk to the shows that they've tried, but rather gone back to the well time and time again for material that is proven to run with a certain audience.

In many ways, SyFy pivoted one way, anticipating an audience that they wanted to grasp, only to end up missing an audience that's since moved beyond the SyFy walls. Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, Orphan Black and Doctor Who have become the destination shows that would make a dynamite portfolio for a dedicated genre-channel. Even the ambitious Defiance feels like it's a compromise, existing only due to the momentum that a $100 million show causes. They've got a season 2, but the show won't take off until the show becomes something a bit more interesting. Shows such as Helix have demonstrated that they're ready to bring back some serious scripted drama.

Recently, SyFy seems to have realized something was up, and has been shaking off like a wet dog. VP Mark Stern, who oversaw the Battlestar-Defiance years at SyFy, and who's been replaced by Bill McGoldrick. McGoldrick shift earlier this year has come with a lot of talk about bringing SyFy back. In an interview with Adweek, he noted that they've realized that scripted drama is what the channel's reputation lives and dies by. The current reputation? Wounded from reality TV and crappy films. But, with the rise of shows such as Game of Thrones, they're starting to see serious offers for new shows, one of which was apparently The Expanse.

If there's a show that'll demonstrate that the channel is serious about bringing back 'proper' science fiction, it's Leviathan Wakes. The show has just about everything: spacecraft, epic world-building, military science fiction, conspiracies, and a huge cast of interesting and diverse characters. It's large, hits all of the right notes, and it comes with a built in audience of readers who've made the books hits. The first novel was nominated for the Hugo Award, and along with a bunch of shorter entries in the series, an additional three novels were ordered after the first three. The fourth book in the series, Cibola Burn, hits this summer, this time as a more expensive hardcover novel (as opposed to trade paperback, like its preceding three books.)

Moreover, SyFy seems to realize that story's paramount. Rather than putting together a pilot and worrying about ordering a full, 22-episode season, they've committed to a run of ten episodes - enough time to tell the story, but not so much that they'll have to really stretch their special effects budget. In addition to The Expanse, SyFy has recently announced a limited 12 Monkeys series and Ascension, a limited series about a group of colonists, all the while cutting back on the B films.

Most of the complaints genre fans have had about SyFy are true. The channel's shifted direction and gone the safe route, and accordingly, they've really missed out on both the opportunity to do great things, but also hitched themselves to the wrong horse, one that's slowly running down. The Expanse has the potential to be an innovating move that can get the channel restarted with good stories, and can bring back an audience that they really want to attract. Already, shows such as Alphas, Being Human and Warehouse 13 have been wound down and ended, while SyFy is keeping shows like Lost Girl and Haven (which picked up a 2-season, 26 episode order) to have a balanced set of offerings for the foreseeable future. If you're going to shake off a reputation, you've got to start somewhere.

There’s also a level of caution here. I don’t think fans should expect a return to the same SciFi channel that existed in the early 2000s. The landscape has changed, and accordingly, so has viewer tastes and viewing habits. Hopefully, we’ll be seeing a new channel that takes both storytelling and genre seriously, recognizing exactly what makes a good show that’ll not only do well season to season, but help the channel’s reputation and build on its audience year to year, which will mean more excellent projects will be attempted. More importantly, SyFy needs to learn to take risks. Even for projects that aren’t necessarily successful, the effort not only counts, but helps all involved figure out what to do next, in theory making things better in the future.

The Expanse is far from certain: it's an ambitious project to run, and likely expensive. But, I'm optimistic. It's got just about everything that science fiction fans have been asking for, and in an adaptation model that's worked in the past. Let's hope that the show-runners will do the books justice, but more importantly, tell a great story.

Can't Wake Up: Awake

The show opens with a calm moment, as lights pass over the grass on the edge of a road and just before a screech signals imminent disaster. It's this moment that sets up the entire premise of Awake, starring Jason Isaacs (whom most people will remember as Lucius Malfoy from Harry Potter). At the wheel is Michael Britten, a homicide detective who's about to have the worst imaginable tragedy: he collectively loses his wife and son in the accident. He's a man between two worlds: in one, his wife is alive, but his son has perished. In the other, his wife has died, but his son still lives. Britten lives each day by alternating: going to sleep in one world means waking up in another.

The pilot episode for Awake is stunningly brilliant: it's beautifully shot, directed by David Slade, with a great eye towards the visual styles that separate out the two worlds. One is soaked in bright shades where Britten's son is alive, while the other is clad in darker, moody tones. To keep them apart, Britten wears a wristband that corresponds with the two worlds: red for his son's reality, green for his wife's.

The premise of Awake has an incredible amount of potential: In each world, Britten works with a psychologist in each world, trying to figure out why he's experiencing each reality, and trying to cope with the idea that each presents to him: the other world is most certainly the imaginary one, a construct in his mind designed to cope with the loss of one of his loved ones. There are a number of elements touched on here in the show: trying to remember which world he's working in, trying to move on from the accident, and above all, trying to continue on with his life. Britten comes to the determination that the only way to move forward is to accept the situation: where this is the type of problem that would be the first impediment in front of the character, Awake looks elsewhere for story ideas.

This is the crux of where Awake has turned from what could be an interesting genre television show, and into the potential for a great one: it takes on some very heady issues: what is the real reality, how do you come to terms with losing the people important to you, and how do you react to trauma? It's delivered with smart writing and fantastic acting, scenes that had me at the edge of my seat while watching it a couple of weeks ago.

The high quality of the show reminds me of some other high-concept shows: NBC's 2009 show Kings, and ABC's 2007 show Daybreak. Unfortunately, both shows had limited runs: they ran for less than a season before they were cancelled due to low audience numbers, and I worry that this same fate might befall Awake before it gets a running start. Hopefully, excellent reviews in the New York Times, NPR, LA Times and Hollywood Reporter will help give the show the critical legitimacy to push it up over the edge.

What I have enjoyed so far in the show is that there is no clear or easy answer for Britten that has been painted out by lazy writers: the characters here are ones that are well crafted, and it's painful to think of what might happen to them, much like George R.R. Martin has demonstrated with his own characters and their inability to remain alive. Awake has an excellent cast that makes me dread some of what might be coming up for them. This also isn't one of the numerous LOST clones, trying to shock the audience into sticking with the show: questions and possibilities arise throughout in ways not seen since that show, but here, it feels far more organic, rather than the product of a writer's room.

Regardless of the length of Awake, it's something that I hope remains around because of the fantastic writing and acting that we've seen, not just because I'm looking to get to the end of the story. This is television at its very best, and for that reason, it's something that you should check out tonight when it airs at 9pm.

BBC's Outcasts

The BBC has a new show coming out on February 7th by the same people who've produced MI-5, Hustler and Life on Mars, titled Outcasts. The premise is one that reminds me very much several shows, with the seriousness of Battlestar Galactica, the western elements of Firefly and the exploration of the unknown from the novel Coyote. I don't usually get excited over previews and the random plot synopsis, but this time, I'm totally there, all the way through. [youtube=]

I've generally been impressed the BBC's track record with shows. Life on Mars is one of my absolute favorites in the speculative fiction genre, at least when it comes to TV, not to mention Ashes to Ashes and the occasional Dr. Who episode and one-off thing that they do. There's been some missed (Torchwood and Primeval, for example), but on the whole, they know how to put together an interesting story, and carry it through with little baggage that U.S. series seem to have.

The story here intrigues me more than most shows:

Time: our future. A fleet of anti-matter transporters departs Earth for a newly discovered, life-supporting planet in a distant galaxy. Those on board have one simple objective: to build a safe new home on this planet: Carpathia. Led by President Tate and his core team of Stella, Cass and Fleur, they took charge and settled here alongside Expeditionaries Mitchell and Jack. Years on and they are settled in the town of Forthaven on Carpathia, they are confident of their ideals and optimistic about the future. They work hard to preserve what they've built on this planet they now call home, having embraced all the challenges that come with forging a new beginning. But while they try to avoid the mistakes made on Earth, inevitably these heroes cannot escape the human pitfalls of love, greed, lust, loss, and a longing for those they've left behind. As they continue to work and live together they come to realise this is no ordinary planet... Mystery lurks around them and threatens their fragile peace. Is there a bigger purpose at work? Gripping, fast-paced and full of surprises, Outcasts features a cast of established actors and dynamic young stars and seeks answer to the critical question: how do you create a new and a better world?

There's some hints to greater things at work here, much as we saw towards the end of Battlestar Galactica, amongst a bit of a background of some of the modern realistic science fiction that's out there. One preview shows a human jawbone fossilized on Carpathia, and it'll be interesting to see what happens there. In the meantime, it appears that this show falls more into the space opera catagory, of which there's been very little of recently.

Space Opera on television has become a very rare thing: Babylon 5, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, Farscape, and more have all had their runs, while Stargate Universe is still out there for at least ten more episodes. A number of science fiction shows out or about to come out seem to be focused more on Earth: Fallen Skies, coming out this summer, is an alien invasion show, while Fringe deals with alternative universes. Terra Nova has time travel and dinosaurs, The Walking Dead: Zombies. This is without counting the random grouping of superhero shows that have just come out. While there's a glimmer of hope for SGU to continue, Battlestar: Blood and Chrome is set to come out later this year, and there's the hope that Slingers will be picked up for a pilot and become a TV series down the line. Outcasts stands out in a very small field just by virtue of its existence, and from the trailers and pilot episode, I've really liked what I've seen with it.

I miss the shows set off on far away worlds, the visuals of a spaceship gliding through space and the various problems that the characters find themselves in. Stargate Universe was a welcome addition for that reason, and a number of the modern and unconventional shows such as SGU, Battlestar Galactica, and Firefly had a great take on how life in outer space would work, and various problems that people out find themselves in and solve.

So, here's hoping that Outcasts will hold up to the initial impressions and previews.

The Way of the Firefly

The Syfy channel, via Craig Engler, has just announced that they're ending Stargate Universe after they finish out the next ten episodes of the current season, effectively stopping the franchise on the television. It's a shame, because SGU has rapidly become one of the more interesting and compelling science fiction dramas on television, and it was doing good things for the franchise, taking it in a very interesting direction.

Unfortunately, it's also not a surprise. Going out on a short limb, the ratings for the show have been pretty low, on par with what Caprica was getting, and it seems that unlike in prior years, with a solid block of Stargate SG-1/Atlantis and Battlestar Galactica, the combined efforts of Starate Universe and Caprica on a Tuesday night didn't have the same effect on audiences.

There's a recurring lesson here: the reasons for a show getting cancelled are generally up to audience numbers, and fans, just as much as the channel are on the hook. In every instance of a cancelled science fiction show, low ratings have been generally been a universal factor: Firefly, Life on Mars (US), Stargate SG-1/Atlantis, Kings, Battlestar Galactica and Dollhouse are all examples. Off the top of my head, the only shows that haven't been canceled only because of ratings was Babylon 5 (which almost didn't make it) and LOST, (which saw its release altered to lower numbers of episodes per season). The circular logic kicks in as fans don't stick with a show, and the home channels don't do enough to keep them.

In this instance, Stargate Universe had an incredible uphill battle to keep going for even a season. The show as a whole is very much against the grain when it comes to the style of shows that its predecessors were, and opted to go for the darker, edgier route that Battlestar Galactica had gone. It's increasinly appearing that Battlestar was an oddity, which has darker implications in and of itself. Given the dropping ratings and low audience numbers for the show, I can't get too angry at SyFy for cancelling the show. Like any channel, it's a business, and when things get unprofitable, it's impossible to keep them going in that type of environment. For all of the arguments about new media such as Hulu, on demand viewing and the like, Engler has talked a lot on his twitter feed about how there's no model yet for payment, and that a lot of these types of things are still playing out. This is all within an increasing environment where piracy is on the rise, which further impacts a show's audience. (I think that this is a bit of a lesser degree than argued though).

Stargate's long been a favorite franchise of mine, and Universe especially so. They've done some cool things with it: brought on John Scalzi as a creative consultant, brought in a very cool cast, and told some stories that are amongst the best that I've seen in the franchise. There's some great, real-world science things brought in, and a take on military science fiction and characters that makes quite a lot of sense to me. Even the visuals have been fantastic.

The moral of the story comes down to the fans. For all of the rage that's directed at the SyFy channel, it's a bit misguided: they're certainly not going out to cancel major projects that they've sunk a lot of money into. At the same time, as the channel works to put on more and more B-movies for their weekend shows and fairly mindless shows such as Warehouse 13, Sanctuary and Haven, I wish that they would find a way to make some of their investments work better for today's audiences, and use these new means to bring better, compelling and interesting science fiction to the small screen.

The next one on the horizon is Fringe, moved ominously to Friday night (and which moved episode is titled 'Firefly'), which has also seen diminishing numbers. Hopefully, with ten episodes to go, SGU will be able to end on a good note, with a bit of proper closure. Hopefully, they'll get home and remain as brilliant as they've been for the past two years.

The Walking Dead

The striking thing that I noticed about The Walking Dead's first episode, 'Days Gone By' is the stark, minimal feel to a post-Zombie world. There's no music, just the footsteps, birdcalls and buzzing of flies that hang in the air as the action moves forward. The TV show, which has thus far broken all viewer records for the host channel AMC, seemed like an almost guaranteed hit for the channel. The reasons for the success extend beyond the inclusion of zombies, but because the show is something that resonates with a modern audience.

Zombies have been on the rise in recent years: major film productions have been popular, such as 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, (And of course, the George Romero films that have come out) in addition to books such as Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker, World War Z (And The Zombie Survival Guide, both by Max Brooks) John Joseph Adam's Zombie anthologies, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Seth Grahame-Smith (and Jane Austin), with The Walking Dead remaining popular in print form, and now jumping mediums to the small screen, where it seems like it’s well suited for television.

As an adaptation goes, The Walking Dead is off to a decent start. Rather than giving into the impulse to make a show that was high on action and rapid pacing, the show’s creators have gone in the opposite direction: Days Gone By, much like the comic, is paced slowly, and the end result is a fairly slow episode: in any other context, I would have found the show fairly boring – there’s plenty of suspense, but one major element (the whereabouts and wellbeing of Grime’s family) is revealed fairly early on. The first major encounter with a mass of the undead doesn’t happen until the end of the episode, in a particularly frightening scene as Grimes and his horse are surrounded.

As it stands, The Walking Dead is possibly one of the better takes on the zombie genre thus far: the message and point of the show isn’t about the undead themselves, but the world around the survivors. Zombies stories have been rife with allegory, and both print and motion picture versions do exactly that.

A standout moment in Sunday’s episode saw some discussion as to how people hadn’t prepared for the events that transpired. Given the political climate present in the country at the moment, it’s not a hard leap to imagine. Zombie fiction tends to lend itself well to a libertarian dream of a more down to earth rule of law, without the worries of infrastructure and government, living on one’s own wits and instructs. Then there’s the guns.

The decline of the U.S. economy is something that has been at the forefront of political and economic news for almost two years, and I can’t help but wonder if shows such as Jericho (cancelled after a season and revived, only to be cancelled again) would have better succeeded if it had aired just a couple of years later. Other shows that have reflected the political feelings of the day have done well critically, such as SyFy’s Battlestar Galactica, HBO’s True Blood or Fox’s 24. While this isn’t a singular contributing factor, relevancy is something that a public audience will relate and respond to.

Here, amongst the shambling zombies, there’s a good set of themes that the series seems to have picked up on and incorporated into its storylines. In addition to the rise in popularity of the zombies themselves, The Walking Dead has an exceptionally bright future. Indeed, it’s already been renewed for a second season to follow up the first six episodes that compose the first season.

While the zombie bandwagon has been an easy thing to jump on - the popularity is only going to peak from this point on - The Walking Dead is a good example of both an adaptation and of the use of zombies. The original comic book seems to have translated very well, with creators understanding the overall picture and changes needed for the small screen. Like any bandwagon, there have been a number of stories, films and comics that have included zombies to some extent, with widely varying levels of quality. The focus, for some of the best stories, it seems, should be not on the zombies themselves, but on the people that they effect. While I've tried to avoid fanboying the craze, the show offers a quality story, rather than gimmicks to help it succeed.

Beyond the successes of a zombie show (the first that I’m aware of), the introduction of a well executed and received genre show is a very good thing, especially in the middle of a television season that has been lacking. The Walking Dead is looking to be a compelling and interesting drama. Thus far, it looks like it’s lining up to do just that.


Sherlock Holmes seems to be all the rage at the moment. A major studio film has been released, an anthology by John Joseph Adams, The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes has been published, and one of Fox's top shows, House, MD, has a number of connections to Arthur Conan Doyle's famed detective and sidekick. There's a new version out, one that's possibly the best version that I've yet to see: Steven Moffat's Sherlock.

Set in contemporary London, the story of Sherlock Holmes has been reset to exist in the modern day. The titular Sherlock Holmes (brilliantly acted by Benedict Cumberbatch) is a self described sociopath, and a consultant for the London police. He's joined by John Watson (also brilliantly acted by Martin Freeman - who's also portraying Bilbo Baggins in the upcoming adaptation of The Hobbit), an Afghanistan war veteran who rooms with the troubled detective. The series, composed of three hour and a half long episodes, are amongst some of the best that I've yet to see in television. Where Hugh Laurie's House has allowed for a good update of the character, Cumberbatch's returns straight to the subject matter of crime and puzzles. Fortunately, there is a second series planned, although with Freeman's work on The Hobbit in a year, it would be interesting to see if there's an impact.

The first episode, 'A Study in Pink' sees the meeting of Watson and Holmes amongst a rash of suicides in London as several people are found dead after taking a poisoned pill. As the two get used to one another, Holmes deduces that a single person is responsible for the murders, and works to track down their elusive prey. The second episode, 'The Blind Banker', sees a break in at a major bank, where nothing has been taken, but with a symbol spray painted to the wall of a secured office. As the two investigate, they move further into a world of international organized crime and Chinese gangsters. The last episode, 'The Great Game', sees Holmes locked in a psychological battle with his nemesis, Moriarty, with a series of challenges and crimes to solve in an ever shorter time period.

It's worth noting once again that Benedict Cumberbatch owns Sherlock Holmes. His portrayal of the character is spot on, with more similarities to the modern adaptations of Laurie and Downey's own takes on the character, where he's psychologically tuned, observant, and socially clueless. Cumberbatch nails every element of his character, even if he looks more like Neil Gaiman in my own mind than what I've envisioned Holmes to be.

It's curious that Holmes has popped up in a number of places lately. The stories have been incredibly popular throughout their publication history - Holmes is the most adapted character, ever - but it seems like he's popped up in a number of high profile areas lately. Sherlock did incredibly well on the BBC; a second series has been commissioned (and after the ending of Series 1, it's needed!), while the film has spawned a sequel, which is due out in the next year or so. At the same time, House, MD, is well into its seventh year. Personally, I'm hoping that we'll see a House hallucination of the famed detective at some point.

I think Holmes works well with any time period that he exists in. Doubtlessly, we'll see future adaptations of the character (I wonder how many science fiction stories have included him thus far), because the things that make him tick are really timeless. It's not the technology, the settings or backgrounds of Holmes, but the awareness of observation and superior cognition that he displays that fits everywhere. Add in a good look at the character and recognizing that it's not the hat and pipe that defines him, but the social ticks (the modern motion picture versions attribute Aspergers to the character, at least in part) that are more recognized in the modern day. Here, we see Holmes work well with cellular phones, city maps, computers and the like to solve his crimes.

Moffat's Sherlock is one that's destined for recognition, and I hope that it'll become as recognizable as some of the other classic versions. It's a fantastic drama, and the next series will be well anticipated. It’s exceedingly well thought out, acted and shot, and represents the best of what television can do with a familiar character.

It's Not The Destination That Matters, It's the Journey: The Finale of Lost

After six years, Lost has finally come to an end. What started out as a surprising beginning, ABC's surprise hit was a show that defied tradition, genre and storytelling to create what is possibly one of the better television shows to have ever been released. After a hundred and twenty one episodes, the show has long remained a favorite, even when it was having its off moments, because of the detailed storytelling, characters and references within the show. Lost is a novel, simply put, and no singular part really takes away from that as a whole. Because of this, the lackluster finale that finished off the show really doesn't ruin anything for me.

Since the beginning of the show, when Jack awakens in a field, it's been fairly clear that there's quite a bit more to this show than most others out there. The large ensemble cast, the strange events and discoveries and obscure references to mythology, literature, religion and free thought have grown significantly over the drama's run on television. One moment stood out for me in the first season, when John Locke, teaches Walt how to play backgammon, holding up a white and a black stone.

This has long been a cornerstone of the show, opposites, balance, good vs. evil and chaos vs. order, and it has been embodied in a number of different elements throughout the show, in the personalities of the characters, the actions that they take, and the events that have occurred on the island. Within this larger theme and storyline, the survivors of Oceanic 815 wage their own stories and struggles, which in turn fits into the story of the island, and all that it embodies. Lost is a very literary show, one that is both intelligent and well structured, only hampered in its execution.

The finale, The End, was underwhelming at best. There was no great reveal that helped to tie up storylines, and nothing that fundamentally changed the characters beyond what had happened in the show already. Essentially, the last two hours was the combined momentum from the show coming to a halt. While this was to be expected, it did so in a lackluster and uninspiring way. Throughout the show, a conflict has arisen between Jack Shepherd and John Locke, who respectively represented empirical science over emotional religion (or something similar), with an eye towards logic over chaos and presumably, good over evil. There has been some absolutely terrific storytelling, and a very cool reversal of roles between the two characters over the course of the season. While an ultimate conflict was building over the entire show, the end, with a quick fight, and with Locke being shot in the back by Kate Austen, there was little significance or even forward movement for any of the characters.

Furthermore, a big answer for one of the more pertinent questions regarding the nature of the island was discovered much earlier on, when Jacob explained that the island was essentially a cork, holding back a great evil, and his job, as a gatekeeper, helped keep the world in balance. Indeed, the visual symbolism between he and his brother is marked by the clothing that they wear, and the personalities that they have, which mirrors what Jack and Locke exhibit. In a very cool way, the characters fill roles that are much larger than themselves, fitting into fates that are beyond their control, and with plenty of literary significance to have continued discussion over for years to come.

What the finale did do was put a couple of the show’s elements at odds with one another. On one hand, it becomes clear that the story is somewhat preordained, that everybody will end up where they end up because of an afterlife or fate, or some invisible hand, while on the other hand, the show is one that is largely driven by the actions that the characters take throughout the show, which allows for one side to be disappointed – which may very well be the point – when fate wins out, or the characters beat their fates. Lost does bounce between the two, but ultimately comes down on the side of fate, which is more disappointing, because ultimately, the characters, while they might have improved themselves, they ultimately don’t affect any change on the world that makes their struggles worthwhile.

However, it is the character’s journeys that make the show worthwhile, and in the end, it’s not the end that matters, but the way in which they got there. Every character present in the show has changed somewhat – they arrived at the island broken people, and ultimately, the island healed them, allowed them to find closure, all the while providing them, and the viewer with a series of complicated, interesting stories that range from alternative history, philosophy, science fiction and quite a lot more. Lost has been quite a ride from beginning to end, and the lackluster finale to the show serves as more of an epilogue, rather than anything that is directly related to the story, and is something that provides a bit of an ambiguous, thought provoking ending, which is probably the best thing the show could have hoped for in the first place.

Stargate Universe Joins the Stargate Universe

The shared groan that my girlfriend and I shared as the end title card for the last episode of Stargate Universe’s first season, Incursion (Part 2), has become a familiar reaction to the ending of each episode of the series that we've been watching, and reminds me of the reaction that I've generally had for the season enders for Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis, as well as Battlestar Galactica. The ending to SGU's first season was shocking, frustrating, and ultimately, a fantastic end to a really strong season for the Stargate franchise's latest television entry.

The SyFy channel has a really annoying habit of leaving a viewer hanging, and it was something that largely characterized SG-1, with a small story arc that would be resolved within the first couple of episodes of the next season, and while it's annoying, it's a good way to make people really look forward to the upcoming season - already, I'm eagerly awaiting September, when new episodes return to the small screen. The finale demonstrated that the franchise, with its much darker nature, can continue to tell a good story, but also link back to the regular Stargate franchise and storylines that had been started earlier on, something that was a welcome surprise.

The start of Stargate Universe led me to believe that much of the storylines would be somewhat ignored, pushed to the side for some background context for the characters, but that was it. As the story has progressed since that first, fantastic pilot episode last October. The show has taken a couple of hits with its characters and some of the smaller elements, but overall, it has come out the other side in good form, telling some truly fantastic stories, and leaving the audience really wanting a bit more as the story of the crew of Destiny shows that there are some pretty cool things planned.

The surprising element that I've found over the course of the show was the connections to Earth, and the recent reintroduction of older storylines that had begun to creep in at the end of SG-1's run, namely, with the Lucian Alliance. While it's pretty clear that the show is going to remain on Destiny for now, and that much of what we've seen thus far will continue, the introduction of other storylines gives this show something a bit different than what we've seen in other shows, like Star Trek: Voyager and to a lesser extent, Stargate: Atlantis. The ongoing storylines that we've seen show that some of the groundwork that was set up in SG-1 will still apply, and unlike in Atlantis, where a whole new story arc had been put into place, with some of the prior story elements coming in only occasionally. Hopefully, this new approach will work better, resulting in a series that lasts for longer than Atlantis fared. SG-1 demonstrated the lasting appeal of the show, and thus far, nothing has been able to replicate that.

Universe also shows that the franchise can move beyond SG-1 by incorporating more mature and darker elements to it. SG-1 was a fairly lighthearted affair most of the time, but Universe can be downright grim, but it maintains much of the fantastic storytelling and characters that the Stargate franchise is known for. This makes quite a bit of sense, given the prior successes of Battlestar Galactica, and that as the surrounding times change, the context for the show changes as well. The original Stargate came out in 1997, preceded by a movie, with the United States facing off against an evil empire that wanted to enslave humanity, just seven or so years after the fall of the Soviet Union, where the United States faced off against a singular power that threatened its influence in the world.

Universe seems to mirror that change in politics, with the crew of the Destiny moving into an ambiguous world where the enemy is not clearly known. While I doubt that it is an example of the show's creators explicitly going out and looking at political science and social theory to help construct the show, it is a good example of how the show, and the entertainment arts are generally influenced by the world around them. I think that this is the key element that allows for something to become relevant, notable and ultimately successful, because an audience will respond to something that they themselves can understand and perceive.

The good thing in all of this is that the show has come around full circle, leaving a lot of the familiar elements of the prior shows, where it finds itself in the middle of larger storylines that had been in progress. Universe, which had tried to largely escape from the rest of the franchise's image, has come back, serious, determined and ready to take them on. The Goa'uld ships look better than they ever have, and the villians are just as evil and ready to kill people, but without the costumes and things that made the show a little more difficult to take seriously. In short, Universe is the grown up Stargate SG-1.

The good thing in all of this is that the show has come around full circle, leaving a lot of the familiar elements of the prior shows, where it finds itself in the middle of larger storylines that had been in progress. Universe, which had tried to largely escape from the rest of the franchise's image, has come back, serious, determined and ready to take them on. The Goa'uld ships look better than they ever have, and the villians are just as evil and ready to kill people, but without the costumes and things that made the show a little more difficult to take seriously. In short, Universe is the grown up Stargate SG-1.

As such, this was one of the strongest points of Battlestar Galactica, and with the follow up show, Caprica, and it remains a strong, if somewhat subdued element with the new show. As such, it is a good thing for the franchise, giving the show relevancy and some new ground to cover for the characters in the show. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind: I’ll be tuning in for Season 2.

Strung Out on Heaven’s High: Ashes to Ashes Finale

Ashes to Ashes, the follow up show to 2006’s Life On Mars, ended on a high note, finishing out the series and presumably the entire franchise, answering some questions lingering from Sam Tyler’s experiences in 1973. At the same time, Ashes to Ashes has continued an interesting story, pushing the stories to the extremes of the medium, and providing a genuinely surreal experience for the viewer.

In 2006, Sam Tyler, a Manchester DCI, was hit by a car and awoke in 1973. Discovering the reasons for his abrupt time travel, he returned to the present, only to commit suicide and return to the land of Gene Hunt and his band of lawmen. Ashes to Ashes picked up the pieces shortly after Tyler’s death, with police officer Alex Drake receiving a bullet in the head, propelling her back to 1981, where she navigates the past once again to try and figure out just what is going on.

The show had a lot to live up to: Life on Mars, likewise named for a David Bowie song, provided one of the more interesting, exciting and thought-provoking show to hit the airwaves. A gripping look at changing values in a country that has changed dramatically, the show did exactly what good science fiction should do: present a story in different contexts. In this instance, it does it quite literally, but the original show introduced an element of surrealism to the storyline, something that Ashes to Ashes has continued.

A sense of the surreal has been a larger part of Alex Drake’s storyline. A police psychologist, she was an investigating officer when it came to Sam Tyler’s case, and throughout the show, recognizes that her surroundings aren’t real, whereas in the prior show, there was an element of uncertainty to Sam’s predicament, right to the very end. Life On Mar’s finale revealed that Sam had been killed, and Ashes to Ashes does a fantastic job carrying the momentum forward, delving further into the franchise’s mythology, characters and story.

One of the best points about the show was the return of Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister), Ray Carling (Dean Andrews) and Chris Skelton (Marshall Lancaster), and newcomers Alex Drake (Keeley Hawes) and Shaz Granger (Montserrat Lombard) who brought back a fantastic performance and new direction for the storyline. Rather than repeating the successes of its predecessor, which mainly focused on procedural elements (as well as Sam trying to return home), much more of the back story to the cast is brought in, and it’s clear that Gene Hunt has remained at the forefront of the action, metaphorically and literally.

While I’m not convinced that Ashes to Ashes had a better ending than Life on Mars, it was a good one, wrapping up where Life On Mars left off, and making it clear that Life On Mars was just one story in a much larger one. Gene is revealed to be something of a main figure in a purgatory for deceased police officers, helping them settles the major problems that they all faced before releasing them from that existence. The world of Gene Hunt is one of the restless dead, and he is their shepherd, acting out all of his own flaws and insecurities in the meantime.

In the run up to the finale, the surrealistic elements really come to their proper form, as Chris, Ray and Shaz begin to realize that their lives aren’t what they seem, and the points where they watch their own deaths is an interesting one, revealing much that’s been build up around the characters over the past three seasons.

I’m rather sad to see the show go away, and with the reveal at the end, it’s pretty clear that this franchise is largely at an end, something that I both applaud and lament. On one hand, it feels as though this sort of storyline really could have used a third series to better build up the suspense and tell some interesting stories. I would have loved to have seen a series set in the 1990s (which is coming up on the 20 year mark soonish), but at the same point, the BBC has had the foresight to really end the show before running it into the ground, something that American channels do only inadvertently when they can’t figure out how to market a television show to an audience. Life On Mars is a particularly hard one to sell, and here in the U.S., it failed to garner a second season, although they did do a decent job adapting the story – until the end.

The main problem with the Ashes to Ashes ending was that we already really knew what had happened to Sam: he’d died, and returned to the sort of dream world, and the revelation that Gene Hunt was a specter of coppers deceased really isn’t the surprise that it should have been, all things considered.

With that in mind, the final episode was far more intriguing than anything that I’ve really come across in U.S. mass media, and very rarely can something as interesting and surreal (Twin Peaks, Pushing Daisies, and LOST) as Life On Mars and Ashes To Ashes come onto our television screens. It’s a real shame, but at the same time, it’s good to treasure those shows as they do come across.

The Reboot

Earlier today, science fiction author John Scalzi unveiled a long-standing project that he's been working on for a while, a sort of reboot of a novel called Little Fuzzy by H. Bearn Piper, entitled Fuzzy Nation. While the book is still being written and shopped around, it's likely going to hit shelves at some point in the near future - Scalzi is a Hugo-award winning author, written a bunch of good books, has an insanely popular blog and is a creative consultant for SyFy's Stargate Universe, a reboot in and of itself. The idea behind this book is that it's a complete reboot, using elements of the original, but in and of itself, is an entirely new story.

Scalzi's announcement earlier today is an interesting one in the current state of the entertainment industry, where sequels have largely been changed out for reboots: taking old subject matter and updating the story, characters and other elements that are familiar with an audience. Most recently, the movie Clash of the Titans has been released to theaters, a take off of the original story, with its own elements updated, with modern actors and special effects to provide audiences with a fairly mindless pre--summer blockbuster.

The major reboot of our time, which likely started up this process is SyFy's Battlestar Galactica, where Ron Moore took on the major story elements from the original 1978 television series and reworked everything: the titular ship, some of the characters and background elements remained, but the larger story grew on its own with changes to other characters, the tone of the series and so on. The result was fantastic: the original show, which has been largely seen as something between Star Wars and Mormons in space, has taken on an entirely new mythology, message and feel that has not only brought the show to modern audiences, but has done so successfully.

There is a quote from a television series regarding art (the show was Law and Order: Criminal Intent - the context doesn't diminish the significance here), that fits with this situation: Art is a product of the time that it is created in (paraphrased). This is something that can be applied to any number of paintings, films, television shows, and now, books.

The purpose of a rebooted franchise or singular film is not necessarily to improve upon the original, but to bring it to the attention of modern audiences. While in some instances, this could be achieved by merely bringing out the film in a big sort of re-release on an anniversary, oftentimes, there are things that have become dated in their visual effects and/or stories. As stories are created within their own time, they are influenced by a number of other elements surrounding them: global politics, the state of their country of origin, and so forth, and as such, these stories, which might have been relevant at the time of their creation, become dated because the context in which they are relevant is no longer around.

One very good example of this is the Star Wars franchise, wildly popular from the beginning, with allusions towards World War II, Vietnam, good and evil, all within a specific time and climate in which the United States maintained ongoing hostilities against the Soviet Union. It was a time where there was a very clear-cut picture that could be painted, whereas nowadays, the picture is far more convoluted, with any number of problems cropping in. As such, when the prequel films The Phantom Menace, and Attack of the Clones hit the big screens in 1999 and 2002, they entered a very different world, and societal context, and as such, the stories suffered. Revenge of the Sith was somewhat of an outlier here, where there were some more relevant themes throughout the film, and because of that, the film was stronger than the prior to. Another notable example of where a major franchise has failed is the recent Superman Returns, where the creators attempted to bring around the nostalgic feel for the classic character. It just didn’t work in the modern day.

Battlestar Galactica, on the other hand, demonstrates where an established franchise can be improved with time. With the modern version came a much darker attitude, terrorist bombings, secret agents, all elements borne out of the feelings in the United States after September 11th, 2001. Galactica transitioned well, because it was an entirely new story, but because of the major changes, it succeeded. For that reason, the proposed sequel shows likely would have failed.

Essentially, there is a major difference here between bringing back a show for nostalgic purposes, and for bringing back a show or established franchise to essentially wring more money out of a fan base, and even to resurrect an old story because there is some genuine elements to it that can stand to be updated for a modern day and age. Star Wars largely failed on the story front because it was too caught up in trying to bring back the original feel and themes behind the original. The new Star Trek succeeded because they captured a modern look and feel that younger audiences could identify with, and Battlestar Galactica fell in with a fantastic look and feel, in addition to a very good story.

Scalzi has experience with reboots already, with his work on Stargate Universe, which is arguably a reboot of the Stargate franchise, of the two preceeding shows, Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis, which is, in and of itself, a great case study within a franchise. SG-1 worked well, for a number of reasons - great cast, momentum, fun stories, and so on, while it was cancelled because it stuck with the formula for too long. Atlantis failed for the same reason: it was too much like SG-1. This new show, Universe, has succeeded thus far because it takes a step beyond the safe territory by taking cues from Galactica. Thus far, it's largely worked, and the show is easily stronger in the story department than the original show.

This brings in the question of reboots as superior to their originals, which is a fairly ridiculous notion to begin with. Inherently, films are different because they have different stories, characters, attitudes and contexts during production that makes them largely different entities, especially where reboots are concerned (less so for Prequel/Sequels/Threequels). Because a reboot seeks to bring back an old story, but different, there really shouldn't be any sort of expectation that a prequel has been brought in only to be better than the original: it should be brought back to update the characters in a very different context, which will hopefully in turn mean that the story is more relatable to a modern audience. Hopefully, Scalzi will be able to transition this into the literary world: it should be interesting.

The Pacific

Last Sunday, HBO began their World War II miniseries on the Pacific Theater of Operations, simply titled The Pacific, as their long awaited follow-up to Band of Brothers. Band of Brothers was one of my earlier influences in the history field, and ever since high school, seven years ago, I've been awaiting for such a follow-up, which has been worked on in the ensuing years. The series already has paid off in the long wait between 2002 and now. In the past couple of years, I've graduated with two degrees in history (one was specifically in Military History), and as such, my views on commercial history have changed a lot since I first saw it.

The Pacific follows three soldiers, Robert Leckie, John Basilone and Eugene Sledge, and where Band of Brothers is based off of the book by the same title, this series is following the memoirs of Leckie and Sledge (Helmet for my Pillow and With the Old Breed, respectively), while Basilone is a well known figure in the Pacific War history. As such, the series has a somewhat different feel, apart from the differences in location and military units. Instead, the series has started off with much more of a personal story, rather than the story of an entire unit.

The Band of Brothers comparisons is something that the Pacific will be unable to really escape from, and that carries with it a need for some changes in how the stories will be told, as well as certain expectations with its appearance and what sort of story that it will be telling. To be bluntly honest, this isn't a historical story in the slightest - it features real stories and actions, but care should be taken to remember that primarily, this is a dramatic war movie, stretched out over ten nights. It'll be highly accurate, with a lot of care in that department, but history it is not.

What I really appreciate about this sort of series is the ability to get younger students (upper high school and the like) interested in World War II history, which in turn can act as a sort of gateway to other conflicts. In my own studies, I was highly interested in the Second World War, for all of its complexities and differences, and things to study. It's something that continues to fascinate me to the present day, and I'm sure that I'll be fascinated for a long time down the road. Band of Brothers, when it was released, most certainly hooked a number of people, getting them interested in the character stories, and going from that point onwards to other happenings.

This miniseries focuses extensively on the Pacific theater, with the Marines who fought in the island hopping campaigns that dug into Japanese territory. While the European theater has been extensively covered with movies, the Pacific has had a lesser degree of interest, for whatever reason, and I'll be interested to see how well this comes off in the series. From the first episode, it's clear that there's quite a lot of attention being paid to the characters and their own stories. This first episode is centered around Robert Leckie and the 1st Marine Regiment as they land on the first engagement at Guadalcanal as part of the Battle of the Tenaru, the opening actions for the Guadalcanal campaign. The U.S. Marines landed and secured the islands, but were surprised when the Japanese defeated their supporting ships off shore. The Marines secured the airstrip on the island, and engaged Japanese soldiers on August 21st, in the middle of the night, when the Japanese came across their lines. The first assault was turned back, and the second attack was once again turned back by mortars and heavy machine gun fire. In the morning, the U.S. Forces counter attacked, and over the course of the 21st, the US killed most of the Japanese forces, with just a handful withdrawing.

This first episode shares a pretty limited view of this battle, with Robert Leckie taking part in the first assault over the night and through to the next day. Leckie was part of this battle in real life, as a machine gunner, and the episode captures, fairly effectively, the horrors of that first engagement, from both the determination of the Japanese soldiers in the 17th Army (attacking or committing suicide after they were injured, taking American soldiers with them) and the measures that the U.S. forces took in retaliation.

The Pacific is very different from Band of Brothers, as the Pacific Campaign was vastly different than the European one. There were numerous lessons to be learned in these differences, and I'm eager to see how the remaining aspects of the campaign play out for this series.


Last Friday, the final episode of Dollhouse ended, leaving viewers with the end of a story, but like with Firefly, the feeling that there was more to tell. While it certainly wasn't as much fun as Joss Whedon's other short-lived wonder Firefly, it outstripped it with potential and stories that really felt like they were going places. Dollhouse is a show that will be missed immensely, and while I was thrilled to see it get a second season, and even happier that the production team was able to get the story wrapped up fairly neatly, there is the inevitable pang of the loss of a good science fiction television show.

From the start, Dollhouse has had a rough time, and it is a bit of a wonder that the show made it as far as it did. Delays, reshoots, the show almost never made it out the gate, and slowly limped along from first to second seasons, before the plug was finally pulled. After watching the first episode, I was reminded of one of my favorite science fiction novels, Altered Carbon. In Richard K. Morgan's first novel, an implant (a stack) is used to download a person's consciousness and place them into another body as needed, opening a whole world of possibilities for characters and stories. In this instance, it was a noir-ish murder mystery set in the future, with a rich patron hiring the protagonist, Takeshi Kovacs, to find out why he killed himself.

Dollhouse falls much within the same sort of hard science fiction cyberpunk that Altered Carbon occupies. Some of the plot parts are the same, but at the same time, Dollhouse seems to be very typical of a Whedon show: where possible, there's a constant reminder of a message that is being put forth by the story. In a way, it is one of the best cautionary tales that I have seen in a very long time, becoming a model of what science fiction should be: a modern day story, wrapped up in an environment that is just out of context enough for an audience to extrapolate some sort of message from the show. It worked well in True Blood, with the issue of same-sex marriage and relationships, and with Battlestar Galactica, for several issues, such as the Iraq War, torture and wartime conduct.

Dollhouse certainly had its ups and downs. The first half of the first season followed an active mission of the day, which worked marginally well. It helped introduce the concept of the Dollhouse, but did little to really delve into the main storyline until the very end of the season, and things really didn't kick in until viewers hit the unaired episode, Epitaph One, on the DVD set, when the real stakes of the show are laid out: the technology of the Dollhouse will spell the end of the world, if unchecked. Unlike the world that Altered Carbon and its sequels, where there seems to have been a progression and maturing relationship between technology and society, Dollhouse's work demonstrates the raw, unchecked and irresponsible power that technology can have in the place for those who aren't ready to wield it. As has often been quoted from Spiderman: With great power comes great responsibility.

In a way, Dollhouse is the perfect story for the last eighteen months. For anybody who has followed the news in the United States, the entire world has fallen onto hard times because of the sheer power that has been wielded by lending firms, largely motivated out of greed and profit. While this crisis hasn't turned a large part of humanity into mindless zombies, it is an example that so clearly resonates from the TV show, on an even deeper level: corporate greed, a theme that permeates so many other science fiction novels, television shows and movies. Paolo Bachgalupi's The Windup Girl, Duncan Jones' Moon, and even elements of J.J. Abram's show Fringe share this story element, amongst many others in the genre, helping to demonstrate that science fiction is an incredibly relevant and important segment of the arts.

While I don't know that Dollhouse rises to the absolute top with the acting and some of the stories, the overall storyline and conception of the show bring it to incredible heights. Not only is it a cautionary tale towards the problems with technology in the wrong hands, it examines other important themes and storylines: the role of consent and individuality, but even the deeper themes of the soul: what is personality, and can it be replicated, duplicated and swapped out like a machine part in a person? Together, these major themes hold up the show and propel it much further than most science fiction shows ever make it. Unfortunately, while the baseline ideas of the show are amongst the best that the genre has to offer, the show faltered in its execution: the slow start to the show, the wooden acting from some of the actors, and the unfinished potential that was shown as the producers rushed to tie off the show. There are hundreds of stories left untold, after watching the finale, Epitaph Two, and I would like to see more from this world, even in other mediums.

While lofty space epics can be fun to watch, with long lasting storylines that bring on years of stories, I don't know that I've actually seen a television show that takes on such personal issues. Dollhouse was the best sort of science fiction series in the way that it acts as a mirror: we see ourselves and how the world functions in very terrifying ways, showing us what is plausible, possible and even probable.



While last week's start to Caprica, SyFy has launched its second show in its Battlestar Galactica franchise, looking to the roots of the conflict that forced out the Galactica and a small group of refugees across the stars. For me, Battlestar Galactica was an incredible effort, a show that helped redefine science fiction storytelling for the television, and did so in grand style. Following it up would be an incredibly difficult task for the show runners, given the complexity of Battlestar's stories, but also in the fact that the audience would be entering a show in which they knew the ending, and would undoubtedly disappoint some viewers with unveiling some of the more shrouded elements of the show's past. I think Caprica will be a good success for the SyFy channel, and with the pilot, they have demonstrated what is most likely the most important thing with a sequel: creating a new story and mythology, rather than trying to recreate the prior show's success by running it through a photocopier. Caprica shares some vital links to it's predecessor show, through some of the vocabulary, locations, characters (The Adams or Adama family in particular) and through one of the main elements of Battlestar Galactica, the Cylons. What impressed me the most was not so much the continuity of the two shows, but the continuity of storytelling. In the early seasons of Battlestar, critics praised the show for its examination of real life issues in a science fiction background, such as the use of torture in the midst of wartime, military and civilian relations, and the use of terrorist bombings against two sides of any issue. This was a strong element, coupled with other, loftier issues, such as gender identity in science fiction (and in television in general), religion and the responsibilities of leaders. Caprica seems poised to take the helm with this style of storytelling, and where Battlestar was a product of current events out of 2001 through 2003, SyFy's new show is the product of the past decade. Where Battlestar Galactica was primarily focused on the survivors of the colonial holocaust and their search for a new home, Caprica is not necessarily limited by those same constraints, instead able to focus on an entirely different set of issues, all the while putting forth a story that will help examine the underlying society and events that preceded the human/cylon war. From the pilot alone, it looks like there will be an entirely new set of stories to tell, themes that Battlestar never touched on, which gives Caprica (thus far) an entirely different tone and feel; themes such as religion and society, immigration and racism and the conflict between a learned, modern society and the tug of older, established belief system. All of these are stories that are highly relevant in today's society, given the hostility of extremist jihadist movements in the Middle East towards the West, but also our own societal growth spurt with the digital revolution. One scene that stuck out for me took place shortly after a train bombing killed a number of people, and brought together two families, the Adams and the Greystones, both of whom lost family members in the blast. The bomb was triggered by one of Zoe Greystone's friends, who shouts out: "The one true God shall drive out the many!". Extremism has always existed within organized religion, and it is a particularly notable topic considering the age that we live in today. This particular storyline, expanded upon in the pilot, is one that I hope will remain in the show, as the creators work more towards unveiling the vast differences in the different planets of the colonies. Already, viewers can see that there are many sides to the issue, from the legal standpoint to the cultural impact that such violence brings to the table. At some point on the franchise's canon, the colonies will be united under one government, and at this stage, there's clearly quite a bit more in the way of problems between the planets - this was an issue that was only touched on for a couple episodes in Galactica, but it seems to be brought up to the forefront, not only with the religion aspect of the show, but also with the perceptions of others in the form of racism. In this set of worlds, we see a society that is not too dissimilar from our own. While we're on only one planet, issues with race and religion are prevalent within the United States, as well as across the world, and Caprica shows us that even in space, we will be just as dysfunctional as we are on the ground. This is the primary strength of science fiction: to examine the world that we live in by taking our everyday problems and taking them out of context, putting them into new stories so that people will read or watch and think about problems in new ways. This has been a trait in the genre for a long time, and Caprica is a shining example of a continuing example of this, much as Battlestar Galactica was when it was first launched. While I still have some doubts that the show will live up to Battlestar, it's clear that it's already well on its way towards doing so, because of the changes that the show's production team have made. Where Battlestar Galactica showed us what would happen to humanity in its darkest hours; Caprica will show us what happens when we are at our best, and between the two shows, it will show us the distance that we can fall, and just how much we can lose.


I came across a 'Sizzler Reel' for a project known as Slingers the other day, and I have to say, it this project doesn't get made as planned, I will be very, very unhappy. A couple of plot summaries have appeared, and the gist of the show is that it takes place in 2263 A.D., following an interplanetary war. The show is about a group of people onboard a spacecraft and use it to conduct a number of high stakes heists around the galaxy while on their way home.

There's a couple of reasons why this has had me absolutely giddy over the past couple of days. I've posted up links and shown a number of friends, who've shared much of the same excitement. When watching, I was reminded of Joss Whedon's now defunct show, Firefly, as well as a bit of Ocean's 11. While only a short clip/trailer, I think that this sort of thing has an incredible amount of potential for a television show, and hopefully one that can help fill out the real lack of space shows on the television at the moment.

I wonder why we don't have anything nearly as compelling as this on the television right now, with horrible shows such as FlashForward and Heroes on at the moment. This reel has humor, what looks to be an interesting story, good production values and a well concieved world in which it can play. After just three minutes, I'm left wanting more, in a very bad way, and have been absolutely thrilled to see the incredible amount of press that the clip has generated. According to the creator, Michael Seizmore, talks in LA have been moving forward, most likely to the massive positive response to what we've already seen.

To some extent, I hope that no networks pick this up, but that a show like this will screen only on the internet, such as Joss Whedon's previous effort, Dr. Horrible's Singalong Blog, which did quite well. Interference from a network, worries about stories and ratings in a time when these are becoming even more irrelevant or convoluted makes me worried that something like this won't succeed on a major network. At the same time, I'm worried that my own expectations have been raised to an unrealistic level for something like this, and I know that I need to dial it down, lest this is never picked up at all. The creation of this as a show is far from certain, as it still needs to be picked up as a pilot, then it has to be picked up as a show, and so on.

Still, there's this little bit of enthusiasm for something that's essentially just starting out. Already, there's been a fantastic response from a number of SF websites, including io9 and the SciFiWire, and already, there's a growing number of people who want to see this made into a series or something larger. I have to wonder if this is how shows will be made in the future, with small teases to a mass audience to build up support, with networks building an audience before the show is even created. This is easier for some of the more established franchises, but for a small independant production as this seems to be, it's remarkable.

Regardless, I'm thrilled to have seen it. Even if it's never made into a longer story, this short tidbit was the best 3 minutes that I've spent in a while. Hopefully, more will come in the next year or so. If so, I'll be there watching.

Top Geek Things of 2008

It's coming up to the end of the year, and looking back, 2008 has been a very fun year for geeks everywhere - in books, television programs and films, among other things. Over the past couple of days, I've been thinking back over the year to see what was the best and worst of 2008.

The Best:

Starbuck returned from the Grave; The Fleet reaches Earth. (Battlestar Galactica Season 4)

The third season of Battlestar Galactica was a little rocky in the middle, but the last episodes set up a real bang. Starbuck was presumably killed, only to turn up during a major confrontation of the Human and Cylon fleets. Season 4 opens even bigger, with one of the best space battles that I've ever seen. Our four new cylons are freaking out, Starbuck's back and everything culminates in the discovery of Earth in episode 10.Galactica has long been one of my favorite shows, and with a certain end point in mind, Season four was where Galactica got somewhat back onto the tracks, with a fairly tight story arc, only to get to another long wait for the final ten episodes. It's been well worth it though.

Pushing Daisies... back from the Grave, and back to it

After a long hiatus due to the writer's strike (more about that in a bit) my favorite show of 2007-2008 came back with a new set of episodes. There are not enough good things that I can say about this show. We left off last year with Chuck learning that it was Ned that killed her father, only to end up at the end of this season with him being awoken. It was another season of fantastic storytelling, character development and extremely fantastic dialog. Unfortunately, the show has been axed due to low ratings. Fortunately, Bryan Fuller will be going to Heroes for the latter half of Season 3.

Lost Gets Better - Again.

Here's the situation. LOST season 1 blew everyone away. Season 2 drove them away. Season 3 brought some people back, and Season 4, everything got interesting again. This season was the best since Season 1, in my opinion. We had several new characters (my favorite was Daniel Faraday, the physicist), and a couple people killed off. We started seeing flash-forwards, where Jack has a beard and addicted to pain pills, Hurley's in a mental institution and Sayid is channeling Abram's Alias. Oh, and they get off the island. Then the island vanishes.

I have Leonard Nemoy's DNA? (The Big Bang Theory)

This show started in 2007, where I was annoyed by its laugh track and annoying characters. But this year, I started watching it and enjoying it. While it's certainly a very stereotypical portrayal of nerds and geeks, it's fun, because the creators have put in place a series of fun characters, and the writers make some jokes that are actually funny. This week's episode was absolutely priceless, when Sheldon gets a napkin signed by Leonard Nimoy. Now, if they'll just ditch the laugh track. This show's likely to be around for a while longer - it's been getting better and better ratings as the year goes on.

Back in a Nick of Time (Life on Mars)

One of my absolute favorite shows of all time was Life on Mars. Up until this year, it was only a BBC drama, until ABC picked it up and made a pilot. That pilot sucked, horribly, so the cast was ditched, except for Jason O'Mara, and the show was redone, set in New York City, given a good cast and started up. The result? A solid TV series that's mirrored the original (but it's starting to diverge a bit now), a wonderful soundtrack of classic rock and a story that's actually interesting. I can't wait for its return in 2009.

The Joker raises worldwide GDP. (The Dark Knight)

First, there was excitement when it was announced that the Joker was going to be the villain. Then Heath Ledger signed up for the role. Then he died earlier this year after filming was completed, leaving some people to wonder if the film would be released on schedule. Then Warner Brothers covered every surface they could find with Dark Knight ads. When the film was released, it went on to gross $996,680,514 in theaters. The film was a huge success, and a fantastic film at that. It was a comic book movie with true darkness, some real symbolism and good storytelling throughout. It's a pity that we won't see Heath Ledger reprise his role of The Joker, because he's done the best portrayal of a villain in recent film memory.

I am Iron Man (Iron Man)

Before The Dark Knight blew the doors off the box office, there was Iron Man. Iron Man has long been a favorite marvel superhero of mine, and everything fell into place for this film. Good story, well directed, fantastic casting (Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark was brilliant) and of course, the Mark II set of armor. Marvel proved that they could make a good superhero movie, one that was relevant and not stuck in the low-humor that characterized other comic book adaptations. Already, I can't wait for Iron Man 2. And Iron Man 3. And The Avengers.

Eeeeevvvvvaaaaaa (Wall-E)

Pixar has released what is possibly their best film to date. (Except maybe Toy Story and The Incredibles). Following a robot far from home, Andrew Stanton has presented a film with a cute, romantic science fiction story with some social commentary (said to be unintentional) woven into the CGI. Wall-E is easily the most appealing robot since R2-D2 hit the big screen in 1977, and his antics as he's pulled along for the ride (literally) are cute, heartbreaking and funny.And with very little real dialog.

Roar. Crunch. Repeat. (Cloverfield)

Monster movies meets social networking video and America gets its own monster. This film was brilliantly shot with an extremely fun concept. A monster comes and plays t-ball with the statue of liberty, and it's caught on camera by a bunch of twenty-somethings as they escape. The project was conceived of by LOST creator J.J. Abrams, and his fingerprints are all over it. From the lack of explanation of everything to the weird stuff, this is a very fun film to watch. Rumors are that there's a Cloverfield 2 being talked about.

With My Freeze Ray I Will Stop... The World (Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog)

This project was a huge success for Joss Whedon & Co. Conceived of during the Writer's strike, Whedon presents an aspiring supervillian, Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris), his buddies and his quest to finish his freeze ray, avoid Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion) and win over Penny (Felicia Day). We're treated to musical numbers, crazy plots and a fantastic venture to prove that the internet is a viable place to release content.Take a look here.

Up, up and away! (When We Left Earth/NASA)

This year was NASA's 50th year in operation, and the Discovery channel released a fantastic documentary entitled When We Left Earth that touted its major achievements and failures throughout the years, bringing viewers some of the most incredible footage of space that I've ever seen, and telling a fantastic story of how NASA has come to be, with interviews with astronauts and support personnel. I get chills when I watch it, and wonder when we'll return to the moon and beyond.

Hobbit's Labyrinth (The Hobbit)

After long rumors, production problems and drama with Peter Jackson (who directed Lord of the Rings), Guillermo del Toro signed on to direct the upcoming Hobbit film and prequel. (Or two Hobbit films?) This is extremely good news, because the people who can adequately fill Jackson's shoes after LOTR are few and far between. del Toro is the perfect director for this project, and has already proven that he can do fantasy brilliantly, with his masterpiece Pan's Labyrinth. Plus, he can play in other people's universes, as per his work with the Hellboy films. (Which weren't as good, but fun)

Watchman Trailer (Watchman)

What's called the greatest graphic novel ever is coming to the big screen, much to the annoyance of its creator, and to FOX, apparently. A trailer for Watchman aired with The Dark Knight, and it made fanboys everywhere sit up and take notice. There's still complaints about how it's unfilmable and that it'll be too short or too long, but from my eyes? This looks like it'll be THE comic book film to see next year. It looks like it captured the feel of the comic book pretty well, and it's embellished a bit to look badass. Plus, Rorschach looks dead on. Just like I thought he'd be like.

Large Hadron Collider (Science)

The Large Hadron Collider was turned on on September 10th, to many worries about the world ending. Contrary to popular opinion, the earth didn't vanish in a tiny black hole. It was set to uncover the mysteries of the universe, but then it broke down again nine days later and won't be up online until 2009. But, it's still cool!

Geeks in Politics (Obama [spiderman, conan, superman] Patrick Leahy [Batman Cameo])

There's been a lot of geekiness in politics this year. No lightsaber waving from McCain this time around, but President Elect Obama has claimed to be a big Spiderman and Conan fan, and did a superman pose in Metropolis, IL. In addition to him, VT senator Patrick Leahy, a huge batman fan, had a cameo in The Dark Knight. He's also the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Ironic.

Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy (Costumes)

The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art hosted an exhibit earlier this year (it's since closed) called Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy. It featured a number of costumes from a number of classic films, such as the original Superman and Wonder Woman films, but also things as recently released as The Dark Knight and Iron Man. The fashion section was a bit of a miss for me, but the exhibit as a whole was just outstanding. Plus, they had several original copies of Superman and Batman, Spiderman and Iron Man on display. Covered in a plastic shield of course...

Star Wars Encyclopedia (Star Wars)

Del Rey released a new and expanded Star Wars Encyclopedia this year, one that is not only complete, but still remarkably up to date. That's not likely to last as long, given how fast LFL churns out canon material, but it's a beautiful repository of information in the universe. I can spend hours just paging through reading things.

"Anathem" By Neal Stephenson

I actually have yet to read this book, but it's caught my eye, and it's made a splash when it comes to the sci-fi literary world. All I really know about it is that it takes place on an earth-like world, and doubles as a philosophical text for knowledge and religion. I'll have to pick it up, and only expand my to-read list further.

A Game of Thrones picked up by HBO (Song of Fire & Ice)

Another book that I have yet to read, but I actually own this one. HBO has picked up the book for a series. If there's one thing that HBO does well, it's TV shows, because they can pour money into them and get a good result. And, they have a good track record with adaptations, with things such as Band of Brothers and John Adams. I'll watch this when it's released.

We'ss Har Wars End (Karen Traviss)

Several years in the making, Karen Traviss has finally finished her Wess'Har Wars series with book 6, Judge. Starting back in 2003, she introduced readers to a fantastic story of first contacts filled with alien races, political commentary and expert storytelling. Judge didn't deliver quite as well as I'd have liked (It certainly wasn't the strongest of the series), it carried the momentum well, and proved to be a good read, one that finished up one of my favorite series satisfactorily. Hopefully, Karen will be back to writing hard scifi again, because she's incredible at it.

Trooping (501st)

This year I got back into trooping with the 501st Legion. All in all, I did a total of 30 or so events, ranging from small affairs here in VT to much larger ones. The most memorable ones were the Boston St. Patrick's Day Parade, Burlington Kid's Day, the Weird Al ConcertSt-Jean-sur-Richelieu Balloon Festival, Walk for Autisms, and the 2008 Woburn Halloween Parade. All my events are listed here.

With all the good things that have happened this year, there's the other side of the coin, and some letdowns, disappointments and pure flops.


Writer's Strike

Okay, this started in 2007, but it messed up television for the foreseeable future, by ending some shows and putting others on a long hiatus that has really hurt ratings. Pushing Daisies was one casualty, Terminator was almost one, LOST was put off for a year, as was 24, and already, we're on the eve of another major strike over pretty much the same issues - internet distribution. Hopefully, some lessons will be learned.

Surviving a Nuclear Detonation (Indiana Jones)

Indiana Jones came back, and he came back bland. Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull was an impossible undertaking to fill the hopes of fans for the past twenty years. While it's not a horrible film, it's nowhere near as high quality as Raiders or Crusade (although I did like it better than Doom). There was no passion, a crazy storyline and some annoying characters. It does have its moments, but they are few and far between.

Skyguy/Snips/Roger Roger (The Clone Wars)

Star Wars was another big LFL franchise that came back this year, and while The Clone Wars certainly had its moments, even high points, this film just extends the image of money grubbing that LFL is involved with, which is a shame. There's too much bad dialog, characters and situations to make this a good part of the Star Wars universe, but the TV show has been making some improvements. The animation is stunningly good, some of the stories are actually good, but every time the battle droids start talking, I want to throw something at my TV.

Michael Crichton Eaten by Cyborg T-Rex and Flesh eating Space Bacteria from the Past.

While my interest in Michael Crichton has waned over the years as he began to write crappy books (Such as Prey and State of Fear), there's no doubt that he's shaped my reading. I'm still a huge fan of Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain, Terminal Man and a number of his older novels. He's one of the most popular scifi authors (although he's resisted the genre title) out there with his works, most of which were made into films. It's a shame that he's passed - I was always hoping for another good story from him.

Gary Gygax failed his saving throw

Geek-God Gary Gygax likewise passed away this year, leaving behind a legacy that has shaped nerd-culture in the US forever. His creation, Dungeons and Dragons, along with co-creator Dave Arneson, was one of the defining features of geeks everywhere, something that I got into back in 2001. Along with giving geeks something to do in groups, it helped define a generation's activities, reading materials and conceptions of fantasy through to this day.

Arthur C Clarke becomes the Space Child

Arguably one of the greatest science fiction authors ever, Clarke's death hit the world hard. He helped to define the literary genre, and the actual science behind it, and was responsible for such classics as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Rama, Childhood's End, and numerous others, as well as the telecommunications satellite. He will be sorely missed, and is one of the last of the golden age of science fiction to be with us.(Today would have been his 91st birthday)

CNN Hologram technology

On election nigh, CNN touted their new thing in news casting, a hologram of Will.I.Am. Looked cool, and it looked like a hologram, but it was nothing more than a lot of cameras and empty space plus some CGI. Blah. Let's see some real technology in action please.

Close the Iris! (Stargate Atlantis)

I was a huge fan of Stargate SG-1, and same with Atlantis for the first couple of seasons. This season has just plain sucked. It's a shame, because there's a good concept there, amidst the horrible characters, stories and situations. Not long now, because Atlantis has been canceled, and will be replaced with Stargate Universe next year.

Even more Confusing and Confounding! (Heroes Season 3)

Heroes Season 1 was brilliant. It introduced a new spin on superheroes, only to fall to its own success and have a fairly slow and boring second season. (To be sure, the writer's strike had something to do with it, because it got better). Season 3 was promised to be bigger and better. And it was certainly bigger, with heroes coming back from the grave, more time travel and action, but none of it really made the same impression that season 1 did. I'm still behind episodes, but apparently it's been getting better. Now that Bryan Fuller's returning to the show, can we PLEASE start off really good and get better? Please?

Weird Science (Fringe)

I was really excited for Fringe, the latest show by JJ Abrams. It was a fun concept, and had a good couple episodes at first, but just became so dull that I stopped following it. I might pick it up again at some point, but only when I can marathon the entire thing at once.

Forrest J. Ackerman Dies

Forrest J. Ackerman, one of the first science fiction fans out there recently passed away. He was a key element of the spread of science fiction fandom, and he helped to found the LA Science Fantasy Society, among other numerous achivements, as well as influencing numerous authors over his long life.

Borders Downsizes SciFi Sections

I ranted about this earlier, as did a number of authors. Borders has been downsizing their sci-fi sections. While it's understandable that they have to sell items, and that they can't put everything on the shelf, you can't predict what the next big hit will be, and you can't know that until you actually start selling things.

That's it for this year. Next year, there's already quite a bit coming up. Should be a fun year.