I’ve seen some pretty interesting and good genre television in the past couple of months. Here’s the list! As always, beware of potential spoilers.
The Expanse — Someone said recently that they were missing a good outer space show – something with hard vacuum, stars and planets, the big black. Something along the lines of Battlestar Galactica or Firefly. And I realized I felt the same. So I checked out this show (which I had already heard good things about) and found that it fed the hunger.
This is Game of Thrones-style storytelling, showing how very different people who are quite physically distant from one another are nevertheless connected by vast economic and political systems that benefit a select few, while leaving the rest to barely scrape by, suffer, and die. Over the course of the first season, characters on Earth; a station on Ceres; and the survivors of an attack on an ice mining space ship all investigate a central mystery from different angles, none knowing (until the end) what is happening with the others. In the process, we learn a lot about this future solar system, which seems to be divided roughly between Earth and Mars, with a rebel group of “belters” agitating for rights and political freedom. Info dumps are kept to a minimum, and the details feel organic to the story. Sometimes this leaves you wondering what’s going on (what is the deal with the med tech?? it seems able to cure practically anything! And who exactly *are* the OPA? What are they trying to do?), but that is all to the good when there are several more seasons to go.
As far as characters go, I found it to be kind of a bummer that there was such a focus on the white guys. The dude who plays Holden is OK, but doesn’t seem convincing as a leader. I would have preferred Naomi in that role. And failing that, it would have been good to see more development of her character. Instead, she seems to devolve over the course of the season, becoming more meek and indecisive. Miller: kind of a film noir stereotype, but still effective. Jared Harris as Dawes is great! Avasarala is pretty thinly written; generally, the political (as distinct from cultural or economic) elements of the show are the least convincing and nuanced.
Regardless of any weak spots, I am hooked. The end of the first season really turned up the intensity in a shocking way, and I am certainly on board for season 2. And I just bought the first book in the series, too.
Colony — Another alien invasion story? Do we really need this? The show quickly distinguishes itself by focusing not on the aliens (as of episode 6, we still haven’t seen any), but on the divisions between the humans who have been trapped inside the walled “bloc” of Los Angeles. The story centers on a couple, Will and Katie Bowman, whose son Charlie was separated from them in “the Arrival”, the alien incursion that occurred less than a year before the show’s beginning. At first, it seems as if the central conflict of the show will be their struggle against the oppressive police state (operated by other humans, for the most part) which refuses to reunite them with their son. But in short order, we find out that the larger division between resistance and collaborators is replicated within their own family, and a very tense story about Katie hiding her involvement with the Resistance from her husband – and actually pumping him for information that she then passes along to her cell mates – takes center stage. It’s hard to know who to root for in this scenario, as both the resistance and the proxy government have atrocities to account for, and both Will and Katie have reasons to act as they do. Katie’s willingness to bald-facedly lie to her husband (whom she seems to genuinely love) is more than a bit off-putting, but that is counterbalanced by the thrill of seeing her repeatedly manage this tricky act with skill and improvisatory daring. This sort of intimate thriller plot can only last so long before it becomes ridiculously implausible or exhausted, so it’s good that the show has left itself a lot of room to explore once that story element has run its course. What is up with those aliens, anyway? What do they even look like? And why is everything on the other side of the giant wall so eery and deserted? I’m invested and want to know!
Agent Carter, season 2 — I appreciated the first season’s focus on institutional sexism, but I found that it –- and the preoccupation with Peggy’s sense of loneliness — became wearing at a certain point. So it’s a relief that this second season focuses much more on our protagonist doing her job in an environment of (sometimes grudging) respect at the SSR. Everyone knows to take her seriously, even if they don’t like her and try to sideline her for various reasons. As a result of said sidelining, in the first episode she ends up in bright, sunny Los Angeles and is reunited with Jarvis and Agent Sousa (whose west coast branch of the SSR is humorously disguised as a Hollywood talent agency). Hijinks ensue.
A big draw near the beginning is the madcap humor (a scene of Jarvis practicing his martial arts and being roundly beaten by Peggy is especially hilarious), but eventually things become more serious, the season’s main villain is revealed, and surprise! She’s a woman. Not only is she a bitter, beautiful genius, but she’s found something called “zero matter” which bears a striking resemblance to the weird monolith liquid from Agents of SHIELD. *And* she’s been somehow infected with it. Creepy! And she wants more more more! Scary!
She’s not the only woman to be reckoned with this season, either. Soviet agent Dottie Underwood is back, and Jarvis’s wife Ana is introduced and turns out to be open-minded & funny – a true sport! In fact, I think it’s safe to say that the women are the ones who mostly move the story along this season, which is really quite refreshing.
In addition, there is an important person of color! The first season got a lot of flak for whitewashing in the name of bogus “period authenticity”, and they’ve corrected that a bit this season with the character of Wilkes, who is both a genius *and* a romantic interest! And the racism he has to deal with is not swept under the rug. It’s not given its due, exactly, but it is at least acknowledged on multiple occasions, which is progress.
Really interested to see what is revealed in next week’s season finale. Let’s hope the poor ratings don’t mean this is the last we’ll see of Peggy and friends.
The X-Files, season 10 — A bizarre mixed bag of episodes. Some dire (eps 1 & 6), some interesting and/or emotional, but flawed (eps. 2, 4 & 5), and one outright classic (ep. 3). The show was always willing to take risks and disgust or offend people, and this short series demonstrates the inconsistent results of that approach. But for me, just seeing Mulder and Scully together again was the main draw, and that’s been great.