Tag Archives: Television

The Best of 2016: Movies and Television

This has been a weird year for me when it came to television and movies. Writing it all down in preparation for this post, I found that I definitely watched more than I thought I did, but I feel like I haven’t watched pretty much anything. Partly, this is because I spent a ton of time traveling this spring and summer. Partly, I’ve been too depressed to write about what I did watch. And partly, I actually haven’t watched as much this year as I normally would because several shows that I have enjoyed and am looking forward to aren’t getting their next seasons til 2017. When it came to movies, there just wasn’t that much that I was really looking forward to this year, particularly since I’m not very interested in any of the Marvel and DC superhero flicks. All in all, it’s just been a light year of TV and movie watching for me, and I’m mostly okay with that. On the bright side, most of what I did watch was good stuff that I don’t feel like I wasted my time on, and there’s some comfort in feeling like I nailed “quality not quantity” for once.

Favorite Television

The Expanse – SyFy
Hands down, The Expanse is the best sci-fi show on television these days. Season one did suffer from some of the same problems as Leviathan Wakes, the first in the book series, but the early addition of the incomparable Shohreh Aghdashloo as Chrisjen Avasarala prevented the show from being quite so much of a complete sausage fest. Thomas Jane managed to make Miller tolerably complex, and Steven Strait was perfectly infuriating as colossal dipshit Holden. I do think the show could have cut some stuff to squeeze more of Leviathan Wakes‘ content into the first season, and there are times when the show’s pacing is just atrocious, but it’s beautifully shot, largely well-written, and pretty much perfectly cast. I mean, have I mentioned that they got Shohreh Aghdashloo? Season two will start airing with a double episode on February 1, 2017. In the meantime, you can stream the whole first season on Amazon Prime.
You can read my full coverage of season one here.

The Shannara Chronicles – MTV
My love for this show is likely an unpopular opinion, but I really did think that it was–overall–surprisingly decent. For one thing, it’s lovely to look at, with scene after scene of incredible scenery porn in the far-future ruins of the Pacific Northwest, and while some parts of it (particularly the look of the elf city) do owe a bit too much to Lord of the Rings, it’s not really quite like anything else out there. As someone who grew up watching Xena and Hercules and Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, I have a longstanding appreciation for somewhat campy fantasy, and as someone who loved Terry Brooks’ books as a teenager, I was happy to see the show geared more for teens than adults. And sure, The Shannara Chronicles rehashes a lot of plot points from The Fellowship of the Ring. And sure, the teen drama can be tiresome at times because I’m an adult woman. And sure, the show has some problematic tendencies, such as casually adding in some attempted rape or senselessly killing minor characters for drama. But it’s a fun show to watch, and it was even more fun to write about.
You can read my season one posts here.

Game of Thrones – HBO
Speaking of shows that are problematic as all get out and fun to write about, Game of Thrones is still a thing that is happening. Every season is worse than the one before, and there’s no reason at all to think that this is going to change anytime soon, but I just can’t quit this show, you guys.
I’ve written thousands and thousands of words about this show, and you can read them all here.
Or just read my season six stuff.

Lucifer – FOX
I’ve never read the comic book this show is (apparently very loosely) based upon, so I came to Lucifer with basically no expectations. It didn’t even look that great in the early trailers for it, and Fox pushed back its original airdate once or twice, which is never encouraging. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be a pretty decent show after all. Season one certainly stumbled a few times, but star Tom Ellis is handsome and charming enough in the titular role to make up for quite a few missteps in other areas. Season two started off a little rocky with some clunky changing of gears and the total abandonment of a season one plot that just never quite worked, but in the last few episodes it’s developed into a truly excellent show. The supporting cast has grown, everyone is getting a bit more to do, and all the characters feel a lot more lived-in this time around, and the easy chemistry between the members of the ensemble makes Lucifer a real joy to watch.
I’ve fallen behind on writing about Lucifer, but you can read my reviews of season one and part of season two here.

iZombie – The CW
Season 2 of iZombie wrapped up back in April, and so much has happened in my life since then that it feels like a lifetime ago. It’s also been very disappointing to not have any new episodes this fall; the Season 3 premiere isn’t until April 2017, which even now feels terribly far away. Season 2 was great, though, with some real progress made on understanding the show’s growing zombie epidemic, some really memorable cases of the week, and a finale that sets up a game change for the upcoming third season that I can’t wait to see.
Check out my iZombie coverage here.

Favorite Movies

The Lobster
This weird and wonderful little movie only got a limited release in the US back in the spring, and I didn’t actually get to see it in the theater. In it, Colin Farrell plays a man in a dystopian near-future society where all adults must be paired off and married or else they will be turned into an animal of their choice. It’s a beautiful, absurd, vaguely Vonnegut-esque and darkly hilarious story that lampoons our societal obsession with marriages and families that conform to specific bourgeois ideals. The deadpan humor and somewhat nihilistic ending may not be for everyone, but it’s exactly the kind of bold and clever risk-taking I like to see and that can really only be found in this kind of independent film.

Tale of Tales
I’ve always said that my favorite fairy tales are the weird ones, and I’ve lamented the fact that the really strange stuff tends to be passed over in favor of endless retellings and adaptations of princess stories. With Tale of Tales, based on a 17th century Italian fairy tale collection, a bunch of weird stuff has finally been brought to the big screen, and it’s glorious. I love every sumptuous detail of this movie from start to finish. Every frame of the film is stunning, with a gorgeous naturalistic quality that makes the fairy tale world seem real and lived in. The interconnected stories mirror and echo each other in strange and unexpected ways that provide plenty of material for dissection and analysis, but the film can also just be enjoyed simply as a viscerally affecting experience. This is the only film of 2016 that I can see myself watching over and over again for many years, as it’s the kind of production that I expect to see something new in on every viewing.

I wasn’t at all excited about this movie when saw the trailer for it, even though I love Kristen Stewart and like Nicholas Hoult just fine. When it got poor reviews, I just sort of wrote it off altogether, and I only came back to it late in the year when I stumbled across it on Amazon Prime. It turns out that Equals is actually a solidly decent movie. Stewart and Hoult turn in fine performances, and they have a good chemistry that sells their romance well. Everything in the movie is sleek and clean in a way that is rather charmingly retro, putting me in mind of classic sci-fi stories of this type. The movie isn’t breaking any new ground thematically, and much of the plot is regurgitated classic tropes, but everything is so lovingly crafted and generally well put together that I can forgive it for being derivative. Equals isn’t a great film, but it’s a perfectly nice and enjoyable example of its type of story, which made it a great comfort-watch in late December of this year from hell.

I feel like almost everyone hated this movie except me, and I’ll admit that it wasn’t completely accessible for folks who weren’t already fans of Warcraft going in. But, dammit, this movie was enjoyable, and it seemed so obviously made with love that I couldn’t help kind of adoring it.
You can read my full review here.

There was never any universe in which I wouldn’t have loved this movie, and my enjoyment of it was only enhanced by the knowledge that thousands of whiny entitled manbabies hated it. I hope they make a dozen sequels.
I wrote a full review of this one when I saw it.

Arrival is the movie that I expect to win all the genre awards this coming year, and it deserves them all. It’s a serious original story with some good ideas, a good cast (Amy Adams is superb.), and good production values. There’s not a whole lot to say about the plot that won’t spoil it, but I was extremely pleased at how the adaptation of Ted Chiang’s marvelous “Story of Your Life” turned out. It’s a challenging story to adapt, and it worked with only a handful of relatively minor changes to smooth the translation from page to screen. That said, if you haven’t read the story, be sure to whether you see the movie or not.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
I actually won’t be seeing this one until this Friday or Saturday, but let’s be real. It’s definitely going to be one of my favorite movies of the year, so I’m going to go ahead and slip it on at the end here.

Doctor Who: “The Zygon Inversion” is great, but only if you turn off your brain

“The Zygon Inversion” was not at all what I was expecting, but the more I think about it, the more I think that it’s probably exactly the sort of thematically confused, unsatisfying pablum I ought to expect from this show by now. Frankly, it was just a kind of bizarre episode made all the more frustrating for being technically very good.

We start with getting a different perspective of last week’s cliffhanger. It turns out that, while Clara’s being body-snatched she’s actually trapped in a sort of weird nightmare house where she is somewhat aware of what Zygon-Clara is up to and slightly capable of influencing Zygon-Clara’s actions. Nonetheless, she doesn’t have enough influence to prevent Zygon-Clara from destroying the plane carrying the Doctor and Osgood.

Straight from there, Zygon-Clara goes to destroy the life of, apparently, the first other Zygon she finds. Though he tries to escape, she succeeds in disabling the poor fellow’s ability to shapeshift, forcing him to reveal himself as an alien to a rather unimpressed-looking group of teenagers outside his apartment.

Meanwhile, real Clara is rewinding Zygon-Clara’s memories and sees that two people (Osgood and the Doctor, natch) managed to parachute out of the blown-up aircraft. Cut to Osgood and the Doctor, who have landed on a beach surrounded by wreckage that is curiously devoid of any other people. This sort of glossing over and trivializing of tragedy is both annoyingly characteristic of the show and rather at odds with the pacifist message of this episode in particular. The Doctor may profess all he likes that he doesn’t like this sort of thing, but his silence here is telling. He’s more concerned with Osgood’s broken glasses than with anyone else who might have been on the crashed plane.

Speaking of Osgood, I’ve never much liked her, but I found myself falling a bit in love with her this week, perhaps precisely because she’s such an unusual and slightly irritating character. I still can’t stand her silly costumes, but I love how much thought she’s clearly put into the idea of how she would go about trying to take over the world. It’s also worth noting that Osgood and her strict insistence on not revealing whether she is human or Zygon is possibly the single thing in this whole two-parter that makes proper sense. Goodness knows, the new mythology introduced here, with the Zygon pods and their needing a “live feed” to what’s in Clara’s brain (because apparently the Zygon’s aren’t just shapeshifters now) is more than a little silly.

Elsewhere, Zygon-Clara thinks she’s found the Osgood box, a device that will supposedly end the cease-fire, but instead she’s only got a laptop with a pretty mocking video telling her that she hasn’t got the box at all. She soon receives a call from the Doctor, during which he tips her off to Clara having the information that Bonne (Zygon-Clara’s real name, it turns out) wants.

This leads into another scene of weird and nonsensical lore-expansion as Bonnie goes to Clara’s pod to interrogate her. Bonnie is able to psychically link with Clara to chat, and we learn that even their heartbeats are linked, so they can’t lie to each other. Clara tells Bonnie about the Osgood box, although it’s pretty obvious that Clara is telling the truth very cleverly, and Bonnie sets off (with Clara’s pod in tow) to find the box for real.

In the meantime, Osgood and the Doctor go searching for the Zygon that Bonnie forcibly revealed after video of the incident has gone viral. They manage to find him, hiding a shop and completely devastated by his affliction. In a powerfully affecting scene, they confront the unmasked Zygon only to have him kill himself right before their eyes. Unfortunately, we’re not given much time to be affected by this turn of events because that’s when Zygon-Kate and a couple of Zygon-UNIT officers show up to take Osgood and the Doctor to the Zygon command center where Clara’s pod was stored. By the time they get there, Clara’s pod is gone and Bonnie has discovered the problem with the Osgood box—there’s two of it. In a tense scene, we learn that Zygon-Kate is actually real Kate, which is good (although it begs the question of how Bonnie didn’t know that Kate wasn’t a Zygon all this time), but also quickly compounds the problem. The Doctor, Osgood, and Kate rush off to where Bonnie is, where Kate immediately tries to figure out how to use the second box.

The last fifteen minutes of the episode are dominated by what is essentially one long, impassioned monologue by the Doctor as he talks us through this standoff. Peter Capaldi is absolutely at his best here, and the monologue itself is well-written, but it pretty much completely ignores the crux of the matter that was supposedly at hand last week—the desire of at least some of the Zygons to live openly among humans without having to hide their true selves, which led them to some regrettable and ill-advisedly radical and violent actions—in favor of addressing an altogether different issue. Namely, the general destructiveness of war and the ultimate futility and counterproductivity of violence as a way of resolving disagreements.

It’s a great speech, as far as it goes, and certainly Capaldi’s performance is superb, but it feels disconnected from and insensible of the underlying issues, and the return to the status quo at the end of the episode is profoundly unsatisfying as it solves nothing. The truth is, if you think about it much at all, the speech doesn’t go very far at all, and on rewatching it to write this, I was struck by the degree to which the Doctor entirely ignores the quite legitimate concerns and anger and fear of both Bonnie and Kate. Instead of actually engaging with the two women, the Doctor berates and shames them into compliance with his wishes by insulting and infantilizing them in turn.

Earlier in the episode, the Doctor quipped to Bonnie that he is old enough to be her messiah. This seemed like a weird thing to say (not least because he wouldn’t be Bonnie’s messiah, what with her not being human), and it becomes plain to see by the end of this scene that the Doctor has some very strange and inflated ideas of himself. I’m not quite ready yet to call it a messiah complex, but it’s decidedly odd and unfortunately grating, mostly because the Doctor seems absolutely incapable here of empathizing with or even granting basic respect to either Kate or Bonnie, although most of his ire seems to be reserved for the Zygon woman.

It’s downright uncomfortable to watch as he shouts Bonnie down, refuses to call her by her chosen name, and belittles her, only to then turn around and condescendingly offer her forgiveness for the things that she’s done. The spiritual connotations here are very clear, and unpleasant. They are also, so far, unexamined, and the overall tone of the episode is that the Doctor is the hero of this story.

In the midst of the Doctor’s rant, Bonnie accuses him of creating an untenable situation with his original peace agreement, which she insists is unfair to the Zygons—and it is unfair. In response, the Doctor denies any responsibility for the problems and blames Bonnie for the current impasse. The thing is, Bonnie is right. The terms of the peace agreement, like the terms of many agreements throughout history, may have been the best short term solution to an immediate problem, but they clearly are not perfect. While Bonnie’s argument that the Zygons have been treated “like cattle” doesn’t hold much water, and in fact seems to have been written to purposefully portray the character as unreasonable and even hysterical, the basic complaints introduced in “The Zygon Invasion” last week—in short, that the Zygons wanted to be free to be their authentic selves—were not unreasonable at all. It’s only by almost entirely refusing to engage with this reality that the Doctor is able to be seen as the voice of reason, and in the end Bonnie’s complaints are swept aside as she becomes a new Osgood dedicated to keeping the peace. The Doctor has succeeded in browbeating her into capitulation to the point where she gives up her own identity and adopts one that is shaped around creepy worship of the Doctor.

Needless to say, the messaging here is confused at best. Personally, I find it all a little creepily sinister. Most of all, though, I find it to be predictably reflective of Steven Moffat’s own uncritical fanboy views of the Doctor. Unfortunately, Steven Moffat’s dedication to Doctor Who doesn’t extend to preserving the things that have made the show such a long-running institution, and the biggest problem that I have with this episode, aside from the oddly religio-fascist messaging, is Moffat’s willingness to abandon canon and reshape it to suit his immediate needs with no thought to the long-term viability of the changes that he makes.

I think what annoys me the most about the type of expansions of Doctor Who lore that we’ve seen in these last two episodes is that they are so mystical in nature. This is another thing that is highly characteristic of the Moffat era, but I just don’t like it at all. The show has never shied away from dabbling in metaphysics, and there is no doubt that Doctor Who has always been more accurately categorized as fantasy than science fiction, but still.

Moffat era Who seems increasingly content to leave its own questions unanswered and is getting more and more concerned with what kind of stories and developments might be “cool” and less and less concerned with what actually makes sense within the Doctor Who universe. While I don’t have the history with or attachment to the Zygons that I did to, say, the Weeping Angels, the devolution of the Zygons into overly mystical absurdity is following a somewhat similar trajectory as the Angels’ decline.

Much of the show, even when it did deal with ghosts and monsters and mythological creatures, was about exploring more science fictional explanations for those various phenomena, with very few things ever being explained away by seemingly magical things. Here, we have magical-seeming explanations presented unquestioned and used for what seems to be pure storytelling convenience. Something that Steven Moffat seems to have never learned is that creativity is often about working within existing constraints (such as established lore in a shared universe, for example) in order to tell a great story. Instead, Moffat is far too quick to discard parts of canon that he finds inconvenient and change things however he likes in order to tell the stories that he wants to tell, regardless of basic sense-making and completely heedless of the history of the show or the work of people who came before him.

Unfortunately, this also ends up being disrespectful of the audience. It toys with audience expectations and discounts our intelligence in a way that highlights to me that Steven Moffat truly does view the rest of fandom (i.e. every fan who isn’t Steven Moffat) with complete and total disdain.

“The Zygon Inversion” might be a great episode, but only if you don’t think about it at all. I, for one, miss the days when this wasn’t the best I had to say about this show.