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The Arrow and The SHIELD
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Ah, January. Usually a month that I start off with a fit of optimism that usually turns to a deep shade of the winter blues by mid-month. But, in trying to keep the momentum of the optimism going, I keep reminding myself that the big summer blockbuster season is really just around the corner – and there’s the Sci-Fi Weekender with the Geek Squad to look forward to just about a month before the blockbusters begin to hit. (I may even succumb to dressing up this year if some of the Squad have their way).

One of the best things about January is the return of some of my favourite TV shows after the midseason hiatus. (The midseason hiatus being one of the worst things about December!) This past week, I’ve enjoyed the return of American Horror Story: Coven and The Big Bang Theory, both with strong episodes to kick off the remainder of the season seeing us through the remainder of winter, through to the warm embrace of spring.

American Horror Story: Coven Voodoo Queen poster

I’ve liked the concept of American Horror Story since I saw the first season, and loved the haunted house story. As that arc was completed in the season, it was kind of a mystery where they’d go from there. The concept of having more or less the same cast as an ensemble playing completely different characters in a different setting in a wholly unrelated story which comprised the second season was a stroke of genius. The ensuing American Horror Story: Asylum was a twisted masterpiece that I watched over one weekend, having recorded the whole season. Coven has included Kathy Bates, who seems underused at this point, as a bigoted coven leader. Jessica Lange though, is stealing the show on a weekly basis – as she has since the first episode of the first season, thus reinventing herself in my esteem from being the blonde who asked King Kong his birth sign in the lamentable 1977 remake. An added bonus in this week’s episode was the appearance of Stevie Nicks – my all- time favourite female vocalist, bar none.

The Big Bang Theory is a series that I didn’t latch on to until its fourth season, when it was recommended to me. Having been bitten hard by the UK’s The I.T.Crowd when I purchased the three season box set having heard really good things about it – and loathing the derivative, stereotypical “this is what we think geeks sound and act like” lazy writing and passed the discs on to a charity after trying hard to like three episodes, I was reluctant to try what I assumed was an American version of the British failure. The difference was a quantum one. Big Bang is a cool, well written, hysterically funny show that has more than one joke, endlessly repeated, unlike The I.T. Crowd. The characters are shrewdly developed and easily related to and often identified with. Come on, if you’re reading this, you must realise that there’s a bit of Leonard and Sheldon in all of us.

The legendary Sheldon Cooper - geek icon

The episode had Leonard discover a DVD that was seven years overdue being returned to the rental store. This would surely drive the OCD suffering Sheldon to distraction, and the resulting fallout would similarly drive Leonard nuts. Sheldon proposed that Leonard wore a jumper that he was allergic to, until the DVD issue had been resolved. Comedy chaos and another brilliant, bordering on genius episode ensued.

But let’s think about the concept for a second. The episode is far cleverer than it first seems.

In the episode, Sheldon explains that his compulsion with unresolved issues is like a constant itch in his brain that can’t be scratched – hence his suggestion that his room-mate wear the itch inducing jumper without taking it off until the situation is done with and the DVD is returned, so he knows from a physical sense of annoying, persistent, discomfort and distraction how OCD feels inside someone’s head. They have actually given the audience a valuable lesson with an amazingly accurate metaphor on what can be a very real mental problem, thus promoting awareness, understanding and tolerance. If that isn’t genius, then I feel that word needs a radical redefinition.

Of course, there are shows that we’re still looking forward to seeing them back on our screens, but I understand I have to wait until Feb 10 for my next Walking Dead fix. Now there’s a show that rewrote the book. If you’ve been following this site, or any of my writings for the late GoreZone or Starburst magazines, you’ll know I’m (among other things) a horror nut!

But having said that, I find as a genre, zombie movies can miss more often than they can hit. Even among the best of them, and I’m thinking of the George Romero classics here. Take Night of the Living Dead for example. An amazing movie, to be sure – but damn, it gets tedious at times. And that’s the problem. Zombies are, of themselves, not particularly interesting. They’re slow and they probably smell bad. You want to dodge a zombie? Walk briskly – that’ll do it. So, inevitably the whole zombie apocalypse genre of movies are more about the survivors – usually a dysfunctional bunch of stereotypes – than they are about the zombies, where they came from, why they’re here, etc. If you had told me a few years ago that there’d be a wildly successful zombie apocalypse TV series with nastier looking living impaired protagonists than we ever saw in Dawn of the Dead, I would’ve laughed long and hard. But it works. True, it IS more about the survivors and their inner battles and struggles, but even the core cast aren’t the focus of every episode. It’s a series that goes from strength to strength, which reminds me – I keep meaning to catch up with the graphic novels. The series has passed where I had read up to.

Arrow – this is another series that has rocked my particular world with its second season.

Arrow season 2 cast photo

I’ve never been a particular fan of the Green Arrow character as a DC comic book hero. He has a bow and arrow. Great. So does his Marvel opposite number, Hawkeye. And Hawkeye is clearly the cooler one of the two. My son Steve disagrees. He’s been a convert to the character for some time, but in my opinion, up until the early seventies when they teamed the Arrow up with Green Lantern for a successful run in the comic book written by Dennis O’Neil and drawn by Neal Adams, he was just a weak-ass Batman knock off, with his Arrowcar, Arrowcave, and so on and so forth. With the social conscience angle of the seventies comics, and stripped of the Batman cloning, he became an interesting character. I wasn’t really sold on him though until the Green Arrow started to appear on the Smallville TV series, played by Justin Hartley that I actually thought the up-to-now, pretty dull character was pretty cool after all.

When the Green Arrow became a series, I didn’t think it would last (I mean, come ON – you replace a series about Superman’s early years with one about the Green Arrow? You might as well substitute steak with Spam) Worse, they recast the charismatic Hartley with a pretty dour and drab Stephen Amell. The first season seemed disjoined, though on reflection the interminable breaks didn’t help this, and there were constant flashbacks to his origins as a stowaway on an island in the China Sea. So, we’d see an action sequence as the Arrow, cut to a life lesson on the island (which seemed pretty densely populated with mercenaries and cut throats for a desert island) and then back to the action. They also made the Arrow an out and out killer, ending the lives of those who had “failed this city”. By the end of the season, he had amassed a body count to rival Freddy Krueger.

Season 2 has addressed and resolved all my concerns. The Arrow now refrains from killing, having realised he can’t just go around with his bow and arrow killing anyone he deems unfit to live. The Black Canary has made an appearance and the last time we saw, we had the origin of Flash shown to us. The series had improved immeasurably by lightening up a bit, and embracing some of DC’s other canon of characters. The shift in the character of the Arrow himself has also validated that first series, in that you need to see that part of the character’s journey to appreciate what’s happening in the current season and looked at all together, it makes for an epic story that actually makes sense. I’m so glad I didn’t give up on this series when I was sorely tempted to. My patience is paying off. 

Speaking of patience, let’s look at Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. This hasn’t restarted on our shores yet, but I’m kind of feeling a twinge of the same impatience with it as I felt with Arrow at this point last year. It’s kind of a “let’s get this thing moving properly or quit” feeling. SHIELD should, in my opinion, be the bridging between the Marvel movies. They’re all in the same fictional universe. To reinforce this in audience minds, aside from Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson, we’ve seen Cobie Smulders reprise her role as Maria Hill in the series pilot, we’ve seen Samuel L. Jackson drop in as Nick Fury at the end of the second episode. We’ve seen plots involving Iron Man 3’s Extremis technology, we’ve seen Tesseract tech from the Avengers movie and Asgardian artifacts fall into the wrong hands, following the events of Thor: the Dark World. But somehow, it’s falling short of its potential. How? Why?

Instead of a superheroic series, what we’re seeing so far is a by-the-numbers rehash of the UK’s Torchwood series, but with straight people. I’m hoping that this midseason sagginess is temporary because SHIELD plays a major part in April’s Captain America: Winter Soldier, and I’m hoping very much that the series builds up to that. I’m also hoping that the casting of Bill Paxton in four upcoming episodes will revive the series focus and add something that I can’t quite put my finger in, but is definitely missing. (Of course, there has also been an announcement that the legendary Stan Lee will cameo in an upcoming episode, so they’re bringing out the big guns.)

The show has a solid premise and a wealth of characters to build in and consolidate it. It has a built in audience who’ve seen the Marvel movies. (I was stunned to read this past week that Iron Man 3 is reportedly the most successful film of 2013 and the sixth most successful movie of all time having taken, to date a mind numbing $1.2 billion. Yes, that’s not a typo – I said BILLION! To clarify, it’s not that IM3 is that successful that stunned me, it’s the figure of 1.2 billion dollars that I just can’t realise in my head).

Still, I understand that all things Marvel in the movie universe go through Joss Whedon, and after Buffy, Angel, Firefly and Avengers, in Joss we trust.

As ever, stay low, stay sharp, stay safe.

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