Wednesday 7 January 2015

2014 Telefantasy review-y rambles

Sleepy Hollow

This series shouldn't work. Washington Irving's classics "Rip van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" are mashed up into what's basically Adam Adamant Lives redone for a modern audience. Yet it works, because it finds the balance between the ludicrousness of the premise and the drama of the approach. It takes itself just seriously enough, and it certainly helps that the writing on the show is top notch. So Orci and Kurtzman can make some good stuff when they work on it. Sleepy Hollow manages to be genuinely funny and properly scary at times. It also doesn't hurt that Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie, as Ichabod Crane and his new ally Abby Mills, as well as being fine actors with some excellent chemistry, are both utterly gorgeous. You've also got Orlando Jones Captain Irving (nice touch there), and he's always a class act (personally, I could see him as the Doctor, but I'm always on the lookout). Then there's John Cho - John moviestar Cho - making guest appearances as a monster, along with John Noble, with his Vincent Price tones, as a semiregular and later regular cast member.

The recurring fish-out-of-water jokes regarding Crane adjusting to the modern world should become boring quickly, but they genuinely work, partly due to some actual originality on the approach and mostly due to some subtle comic skills from Mison. I wonder about the decision to have Crane portrayed as a Briton who switched sides during the American Revolutionary War. In fact, Crane is very little like the original version in the short story, who was a superstitious and selfish character as opposed to Mison's upright and, at first, skeptical hero. But this is a very loose adaptation of those original works, using the basic idea mixed in with Christian apocalyptic mythology and Goetic demonology to great effect. Plus some cracking monsters and a healthy dose of TV-friendly gore, of course. Looking forward to when I can stream season two without paying a premium.

Marvel's Agents of SHIELD

A huge improvement on the first season, picking up on the climactic events of those final crucial weeks and carrying on without dropping the pace. I still think Skye is a boring character, so basing the bulk of the ongoing story around her doesn't quite work for me; thankfully, the wider mystery has been enough to keep my interest, particularly with Clark Gregg and Kyle MacLachlan
giving such strong performances as her two father figures. The broader team has also improved, with May becoming a more relatable character without losing her edge, both Fitz and Simmons given some very strong material that has expanded their characters and Ward becoming a sinister background figure. The new team members were slow to come together, but the whole team feels really cohesive now, with Hunter and Mockingbird having genuinely good chemistry. Plus Fitz and Mac's bromance (or maybe romance) is just the sweetest thing. Only Trip has been badly served, and it's no surprise to lose him at the end.

There's far more integration of the comics material this year, but not to the degree that it's impenetrable for casual fans or non-comics readers. I'm pretty steeped in Marvel, so I can smile when I recognise the identity of Skye and her father, but they're obscure characters and the vital dialogue is pretty easy to miss. For anyone who doesn't know who Calvin Zabo and Daisy Johnson are - ie, the majority of the audience - it really doesn't matter. Seeding the Inhumans into the series is a good move on Marvel's part, I feel. They're a weird concept, so drip-feeding information years ahead of the planned movie not only gives viewers plenty of time to come up to speed, it's a good testing ground for concepts that might not work in the film. It also ties the show to the movies in such a way that they don't have to lag behind, as they did with Thor: The Dark World and The Winter Soldier.


After a shaky start, this has really built up to be something special. For a while it was very much a case of baddie-of-the-week, who's-that-villain, but it's important to remember that it's a rare series that hits its stride immediately. The generic material was in the foreground while more important elements were being set up in the background, and with episode seven "The Penguin's Umbrella" the series suddenly became a must-watch. Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald remains the best thing in this by a country mile, but all the cast have come into their own as their characters have been refined. Well, except Jada Pinkett Smith's eye-rollingly tiresome Fish Mooney, who is due for a killing off. The ongoing cold war between the Falcone and Maroni organisations is genuinely gripping viewing now, and the series is standing on its own feet more than we'd expected from the early episodes' reliance on recognisable character cameos. Being less into DC than Marvel, I do sometimes wonder if I'm missing important references, but for the most part, I'm recognising characters than are genuinely important. Anthony Carrigna as Victor Zsazs was really rather excellent. Even the initially underwhelming Bruce/Alfred relationship has become a high point. This is becoming something quite interesting. I'm also loving the race, gender and sexuality mix here, which is notable for being almost unmentioned in the series itself.


I'm even less knowledgeable about Hellblazer, mostly knowing Constantine from his appearances in other titles such as Sandman. My flatmate, however, is a huge fan, and this has won her over. Again, the pilot was highly flawed, but this is working really well now it's found its feet. To clear something up, this hasn't been cancelled, it just hasn't been renewed, and I think it's unlikely they'll let the intitial thirteen episodes run without renewing it for at least a full season. Matt Ryan is pretty good as Constantine, even if he's a bit too clean and his accent wanders all over the shop, but he's got a good side of bastardly to him. Angelica Celaya is phenomenally watchable as Zed, sharing great chemistry with Ryan. Some people have unfavourably compared this with Supernatural, and while that's fair enough, calling it a rip-off is wrong; Supernatural took its cues from Hellblazer. The mythology is already building up to something very interesting here, and the series is a lot gorier than I expected it to be. Not too much, just enough to give it an edge of genuine threat. Another series which has become something to really look forward to.

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