New SyFy Channel Offerings Join Crowded Zombie Apocalypse Genre

SyFy Channel is trying way too hard to cash in on the zombie apocalypse craze with two new series “Van Helsing” and “Aftermath“. Given the massive success of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” and its spinoff series “Fear the Walking Dead” we can understand why people want to try to replicate that success.

FX network has succeeded with “The Strain” currently in its third season. It describes its creatures as “strigoi” rather than zombies and they drink blood sort of like a vampire rather than eat your brains like a zombie. But let’s face it they are still zombielike creatures who convert you into one of them with a bite and they are bent on overtaking the world. It has an excellent mix of compelling stories, interesting characters, lots of gore, and state-of-the-art special effects.

SyFy Channel has already had some success with “Z Nation” currently in the third season. It has more traditional brain-eating zombies but plays everything as a comedy. Also CW network takes the comedy approach with “iZombie” which will start its third season in the midseason sometime in 2017. In this show the zombies are fully functional people living “normal” lives except for the fact that they have to eat brains to live. Their main character works in city morgue where she has a good supply of brains for food so she doesn’t have to kill. The innovation in this one is that when she eats someone’s brains, she begins to take on the personality of the dead person and has flashes of their memories. She uses that capability to solve the murders of the people whose brains she consumes.

But really we’re here to talk about the two new series on SyFy Channel. First “Van Helsing” which starts deep into a vampire apocalypse. The main character is Vanessa Van Helsing who is a descendent of the famous vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing. She is played by Kelly Overton whom you may recognize from True Blood or Legends. She wakes up in the hospital to discover the world has been taken over by zombielike vampires. It’s a wonder that Robert Kirkman creator of The Walking Dead doesn’t sue because it’s exactly how his story opens with the protagonist waking up in a hospital to discover a zombie apocalypse.

Technically the creatures in the show are described as vampires but as I alluded to earlier these are bloodsucking zombies as opposed to brain eating zombies. They are not your sexy vampires like True Blood or Twilight. Most of them are mindless creatures spreading a plague that has destroyed civilization. However there are some of the vampires in this series who are sentient beings that retain control of themselves.

The back story is that the vampires have been living among us in secret for centuries but there is a major volcanic eruption in the Western United States that rains down ash everywhere. With the sky permanently darkened by the volcanic clouds, the vampires see an opportunity to come out of hiding and take over the world. When they bite you, you almost instantly turn into a mindless vampire. The other gimmick in this version is that Van Helsing has the ability to heal herself magically along the lines of Wolverine from X-Men. She is not only immune to the disease of the vampires who bite her, her blood can also turn them back into normal human beings. Of course there are limits to her healing ability. Otherwise she could just go out and walk the streets to let the vampires bite all they want and she would convert them back into humans.

As I mentioned before, the show starts with her in a coma in a hospital. She has been there for three years while the apocalypse has ensued. When she awakens in the hospital she is being guarded by a couple of Marines who had been told to guard her as she lies there in a coma. They have only been told that she is special and needs to be guarded at all costs. Her only desire is to go out into the world and find her daughter despite the fact that they have tried to tell her that the daughter is likely dead along with most of the rest of civilization.

There are numerous flashbacks to the pre-apocalypse. In fact the entire second episode is almost entirely flashback to the events that put her where she is when the show opened. You won’t find the gore like shows like The Walking Dead. There’s lots of machine-gun fire to kill zombies. Most of it takes place in extremely dark settings which of course saves on special effects and detailed makeups because much of the time you can’t really see what’s going on anyway. The story is not especially compelling or dramatic.

Although I have watched three episodes I’m not sure that it’s going to stay on my menu of shows to watch. In a crowded genre there isn’t much to stand out in this particular show.

The other offering from SyFy Channel that is new this season is Aftermath. Similar to Feel the Walking Dead, it follows the adventures of one particular family in the early days of the apocalypse so it is unoriginal in that respect. The biggest problem is it cannot decide what kind of a show it is. Early in the opening episode you think it’s going to be a more scientific end-of-the-world type of show. There are unusual numbers of earthquakes and mega storms scouring the earth. There are meteor showers and solar flares which are hinted to be the possible cause of all the strange occurrences. The show is set in the Pacific Northwest and begins with a mega storm. The storm brings about strange occurrences such as tons of fish, snakes, and other bizarre debris falling from the sky resembling a biblical plague. It is explained as being debris picked up by the storm.

If the show it continued in that vein, it might’ve been pretty interesting. But for some reason they decided to mix this traditional hard science apocalypse by also introducing some sort of contagious plague that causes people to act in bizarre and violent ways. Again if they had only added this one additional element to the story it might’ve been a good show. But they had to take it one step further.

The show also introduces a supernatural element. Some sort of ghostlike creatures are possessing people and causing them to do supernatural things. For example the daughter of the family gets dragged out of the house by a person who then flies up into the air and drags her off into the sky. The family goes chasing after her expecting to find her alive beyond all reason. In the next scene she is lying unconscious on the ground along with the man who flew off with her. The spirit which had possessed him and given him the supernatural ability had left his body and he was as clueless as she was asked to what actually had occurred. There is speculation that these supernatural creatures are manifestations of an ancient Native American legend called Skin-Walkers who rise from the underworld to possess the living.

In spite of all of these flaws and mixed messages, the show looks like it has potential. It would definitely be a much better show if it could make up its mind what kind of show it was. Is it a physical science end-of-the-world scenario with solar flares, meteors, earthquakes and storms? Is it a plague driven semi zombie apocalypse? Is it a show about supernatural possession? It tries to be all three and it is a distraction to the rest of the story telling. I’m hopeful that as the show progresses, the schizophrenic genre approach becomes less of a distraction and we can begin to appreciate the basic storytelling and characters. I have more hope that this will eventually be a watchable program than is Van Helsing.

Ultimately though we have to wonder that in a crowded field of zombies, vampires, and other apocalyptic stories if there is any room at all for either of the shows. For now I’m reading both of these as “could be watchable” with Van Helsing at the lower end of that scale and Aftermath at the upper end.

Michael Weatherly’s New Series Is A Lot of Bull

After spending 14 seasons on NCIS I understand why Michael Weatherly would want to do something different. When he left the show at the end of last season I presumed he would take a year or two off. Perhaps he would do a couple of movie roles or even try going to New York and doing a stageplay. I did not expect that he would jump right back into another TV series. He was already on the highest rated drama on television. I would’ve thought if he wanted to continue to do TV he wasn’t going to do much better than where he was. I’ve not seen any interviews about why he left or what was so attractive about this new TV series for CBS but he made the move anyway.

In his new series “Bull” he plays Dr. Jason Bull who is a psychologist that is an expert jury consultant. He works with lawyers to analyze juries and help them fine-tune their presentations to have the most impact. Supposedly this story is inspired by the early career of Dr. Phil who before he had his own TV show worked for a very successful similar consulting firm. They do not claim nor is there any evidence that the character himself is based on Dr. Phil.

Bull is self-assured to the point of arrogance. He’s one of those people who is always the smartest person in the room. If you have any doubts, just ask him. He basically takes over the case and dictates to the lawyers how to manage it. This in the face of lawyers who are normally self-assured and arrogant themselves. The lawyer in the opening episode is a former US Attorney General but Bull treats him like a community college dropout. Tony DiZozzo on NCIS was self-assured but rarely arrogant and was substantially more likable then the new guy. So if he was looking for a new character to play he’s definitely found someone different.

Once a jury is seated, his firm recruits their own panel of jurors who are a psychological match for the actual jury. Then they hold multiple mock trials to see which strategies will or will not work. During the actual case, Bull sits in the courtroom and we look inside his head where he envisions the jurors talking to him and telling him what they’re thinking. Supposedly he is so adept at reading their body language that he knows what they’re thinking and whether or not they are buying what the lawyer is selling them.

This ability to magically read people’s thoughts by analyzing facial micro-expressions and body language is not an original idea for a TV series. The 2009 series “Lie to Me” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1235099/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_24 starring Tim Roth had a similar premise. While I’m a poker player and believe that it is occasionally possible to detect a person’s “tells” by reading their expressions, the extremes to which these TV experts take this phenomena is literally incredible (meaning without credibility) in my opinion. Such shows almost cross the boundary into science fiction. I think I would find them more interesting if they just said he had real psychic ability. At least the TV show “Psych” played it for laughs. It was about an ultra-observant private detective who claimed he had psychic ability because people would rather believe that he was psychic than believe that he could look at a situation and figure it out faster than Sherlock Holmes. I feel the same way about Bull.

The idea of duplicating a courtroom and holding mock trials is also not new to television. In 2006 we had “Shark” starring James Woods. He was a defense attorney who built an exact duplicate of the courtroom in his basement and would hold mock trials and rehearsals of his arguments.

Of course there is also nothing original about his old series NCIS. It’s pretty much an ordinary procedural crime drama in a military setting with an occasional touch of international intrigue. At times the military connections are pretty weak. For example their season premiere investigated the murder of a naval officer but it turns out he was not the target of the attack. He was just a guy who got caught in the crossfire however NCIS continue to investigate the entire crime whether it was their jurisdiction to do so or not. It remains the number one drama on television despite its lack of originality. Its success comes not from the plot lines but from the characters themselves. I watch it because I like the characters and the same is true for NCIS: New Orleans. For whatever reason I don’t like the characters in NCIS: Los Angeles so I skip it. I also Lie to Me, Shark, and Psych not because of their premise or plots but because I liked the characters.

Pardon the cliché but the jury is still out when it comes to Weatherly’s new show. I will miss Tony DiNozzo but I’m not yet fallen in love with his new character. Near the end of the first episode there was a hint that beneath this outer bravado is a troubled soul that he’s hiding. Depending on how that plot line goes it might make the character more interesting. If I believed more in his abilities it might be easier to like him. But for now I think the whole thing is a lot of Bull—-. I’m giving this on a high end of “could be watchable”.

“Quarry” Sends Mixed Messages about Vietnam Vets

You would think that a drama about a Vietnam veteran returning home and having difficulty reintegrating into society would be a big hit with Vietnam era veterans. However I’m concerned that “Quarry“, a new series from Cinemax, might be sending mixed messages that will upset some vets.

Set in the 1970s, this dark brooding drama follows the story of Mac Conway returns from his second tour of duty with his friend Arthur. They are met at the airport by protesters shouting things like “monsters” and “baby killers” because his unit was accused of massacring instant women and children in the Vietnamese village. He discovers that the protesters are not the only ones were not happy to see him back. He can’t get a job as a swim coach in the local high school because it would be controversial to hire someone possibly involved in such violence. Even members of his own family seem leery of him.

He is approached by a strange man calling himself “The Broker” who offers him thousands of dollars for his services as a gun for hire. Basically a hitman. As he’s trying to regain his identity as a “normal person” he summarily rejects the offer. Unfortunately his friend Arthur decided to take the money and do the job. Mac tries to talk him out of it saying to him “If we do this then we really are the monsters they claim we are.” Arthur is not persuaded so Mac file is him as backup on his first assignment. When that assignment goes horribly wrong Mac is drawn into the business reluctantly.

So for the first 40 minutes or so of the opening episode we see an insightful look into the life of the Vietnam veteran who struggles with being connected to an unpopular war. But it’s pretty obvious that most of the series is going to be about him becoming a hitman and working for this mysterious character. And as he told his own friend, this proves we really are the monsters they claim that we are. So what is the message? Are we supposed to feel sorry for him lady has no choice but to kill people for money? It looks to me like the entire show is going to reinforce the negative stereotypes of Vietnam-era soldiers.

The stars are know when you’ve ever heard of. The acting is adequate. The title of the show comes from the fact that Mac meets up with the Broker in a quarry and the broker decides that “Quarry” should be his nickname. Because this is Cinemax you’re going to see graphic violence and R-rated nudity and sexual situations. It doesn’t appear that this is typical Cinemax softcore. It’s just that they don’t hold back in showing you everything where there is sex or violence.

I’m probably going to give it one or two more episodes to see where it goes in to see if it ever makes up its mind as to whether we should be sympathetic towards Mac or fear him or both. For now I’m rating it on the low end of “could be watchable”.

Review: Scream Queens for fans only.

The term “Scream Queen” I believe was invented to describe Jamie Lee Curtis for her roles in the Halloween horror movies. It refers to the female protagonists in any teen slasher movie whether it was Jason, Freddie, or even the Scream masked killer from the Scream movies. One of the problems with the teen slasher genre is that the various spoofs and parodies are nearly identical to the films that supposedly take themselves seriously. They’ve all become self parodies. However for the new Fox TV series named “Scream Queens” this one is definitely in over-the-top comedy spoof of the genre. And if you’re going to call the show “Scream Queens” why not get the queen queen of them all Jamie Lee Curtis herself. Being a little bit too old to play a teen protagonist, she is now cast as the Dean Cathy Munch of the University where the story takes place. Munch of course is a reference to Norwegian artist Edvard Munch who created the painting “The Scream” upon which was based the scream mask from the scream movies.

The Scream Queen teen protagonist this time is Chanel Oberlin played by Emma Roberts daughter of actor Eric Roberts. Her credits include a couple of seasons on American Horror Story and a role in Scream 4. Her character is actually queen bitch character who is the head of an uppity sorority. Other familiar faces in this ensemble cast include Lea Michele fresh off her role on Glee. Also Abigail Breslin all grown up from her singing and dancing days in Little Miss Sunshine. You might also recognize Nasim Pedrad from SNL and from her recent role in the sitcom Mulaney. Finally we have former Jonas Brother Nick Jonas (he still their brother, just not in the band).

The serial killer is someone dressed in a red devil’s suit and of course the killings are bizarre and grotesque. A girl gets a spray tan with hydrochloric acid substituted for tanning liquid. A woman gets her face burned off in a deep fryer. Another girl gets her head cut off by a riding lawnmower. And that’s just in the first two hours. According to Roberts on a recent talkshow parents we will get another killing each week.

The humor is over the top as I said before. Chanel terms every kind of racist, homophobic, non-politically correct rant at everyone she encounters. Some of her barbs are so cleverly written you can’t help but appreciate the effort that went into crafting them no matter how offensive they are.

My guess is that this will be a must see for fans of the genre and I enjoyed the 90 minutes worth of the two-hour premiere that I managed to sit through. However I’m just not that big of a fan. One thing that was particularly disappointing to me was the IMDb “trivia” entry which says that the director is filming multiple versions of scenes with people in the devil costume so that the actors themselves don’t really know who the killer really is. That tells me one of several possible bad things. For one the writers themselves may have not yet decided who the killer is. Or they don’t trust the actors to keep their mouths shut. Or they don’t trust the actors to portray the killer in a way that doesn’t give away the identity. I don’t mind that they want to make it a spoof that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it would be nice if there really was an actual ministry at the core of the story that the viewer could spend time trying to figure out. I’m not sure you can do that if the actual actor playing the killer doesn’t even know that they are the one.

I’m giving this one a “could be watchable” rating if you are a fan of the genre but I’m probably going to pass on it.

By the way just for the record I think Jamie Lee Curtis is the killer.

Review: The Carmichael Show

When a TV network premieres a new show a couple of weeks early in the new fall TV season and then shows two episodes each week, it raises a few red flags for me. I tend to think it means they are trying too hard to promote it. That’s not a good sign.

Such is the case with a new sitcom “Jerrod Carmichael whom I never heard of prior to the show. Trying to be another black-ish”. I gave the show mixed reviews last year but decided to stick with it and I do enjoy it. Although I have no objection to the black theme, I do think it works better as an ordinary family sitcom that doesn’t focus so much on its ethnicity. But even the black themed episodes are pretty funny.

Not being African-American, I have to wonder how that particular audience will receive The Carmichael Show. I think it could go either way. It could be criticized for perpetuating too many stereotypes of a black family. Or they could say “Holy shit that character is just like my mom or that one is like my Uncle Joe or whatever.”

My own thoughts are that it tends towards the stereotypes but that doesn’t stop me from watching a show. For example “Two Broke Girls” unapologetically builds its comedy on mostly unflattering stereotypes. But I watch it because it meets my only criteria for liking a sitcom: Did it make me laugh? For at least two episodes of The Carmichael Show it did make me laugh but the third of the four which have aired so far fell a little flat for me.

Jerrod Carmichael himself hasn’t revealed himself as particularly funny on his own. Unlike Seinfeld, Mulaney, we don’t get excerpts of his standup routines. Most of the comedy comes from the crazy characters around him. His girlfriend is starting to be a psychiatrist so she is occasionally going to psychoanalyze situations. She is played by Greek.

The opening episode is about the decision to reveal to his parents that his girlfriend is moving in with him. His religious Christian mother undoubtedly will not approve so he engages his parents in a political argument to deflect the topic from her move in.

His father is played by comedy veteran Loretta Devine. She is been seen most recently on Posted in Could Be Watchable | Leave a reply

Review: Constantine

John Constantine’s business card describes him as “exorcist, demonologist, and master of the dark arts” although he’s thinking about changing the last one to “dabbler rather than master”. That pretty much sums up NBC’s new supernatural drama Constantine. It’s loosely based on the movie Constantine starring Keanu Reeves and the DC comic Hellblazer. Constantine is played by British actor Matt Ryan you probably not seen before. The characters are basic pentagram drawing, salt sprinkling, holy water splashing, Latin spouting demon hunter. His sidekick Chas is a cab driver who apparently can come back from the dead. We don’t know the full back story on that one yet. Chas is played by Charles Halford who has recently appeared in my roles in Agents of SHIELD and True Detective.

In the opening episode, Constantine has checked himself into a mental hospital so he can get electroshock therapy to try to convince himself that demons don’t exist. But when a demon leaves him a message that the daughter of a former friend of his is being targeted, he checks out to go rescue the princess so to speak.

There is nothing that sets this above any other demon hunting character or show you’ve ever seen. At least not after watching one episode. I suppose if you are an undying (no pun intended) fan of the genre you want to check this out. So far I would rank it slightly better than SyFy Channel’s Dominion but not as good as CW network’s Supernatural which is currently in its 10th season. Supernatural has great humor, drama, and characters that over 10 seasons you really come to appreciate not to mention the awesome 70s rock soundtrack. So if you want to demons, go with Sam and Dean Winchester on Supernatural and only check this out if you can’t get enough demon hunting.

The show will probably find an audience because it airs right after Grimm and I will watch a few more episodes to see if it comes up with anything interesting but for now I’m giving it a weak “could be watchable” rating.

Review: Marry Me

NBC produced a half hour preview of its new fall season that was hosted by the stars of their new sitcom “Marry Me“. During that preview they introduce themselves as the stars of “NBC’s new hit comedy ‘Marry Me'”. That’s a pet peeve of mine. People who don’t understand the meaning of the word “hit”. It makes me want to hit them (different meaning of the word “hit”). How can the shell be a hit if it hasn’t even aired yet? So the show already had one strike against it going into it. Having already fallen in love with the new couple comedy “A to Z” I went into this one with a huge chip on my shoulder.

The entire first episode was essentially a single joke, the consequences of which plays out over the entire episode. It’s one of the most clichéd gimmicks in all of sitcomiry (okay so I made up that word). In the opening scene Annie and Jake have just come back from a romantic vacation in Mexico and she goes off on a rant complaining that Jake did not propose to her during this romantic getaway. In the rent she reveals that they been dating for six years, she’s 32 years old and her eggs are dying, and he needs to get off his ass and propose to her. As she is ranting and running around the apartment she has her back turned to him and doesn’t see that he’s down on one knee with a ring in his hand trying to tell her to turn around and look at him. She continues to ignore him and then goes on to ranting about family and friends who make fun of them because they’re not yet engaged. Along the way she says all sorts of nasty things about those family and friends. After she FINALLY turns around to see him ready to propose then all of those family and friends who she has just trashed (including his mother) pop out from behind their hiding places to say “surprise”. They’ve heard everything. So it’s all of the extremely clichéd situations of every situation comedy you ever seen all rolled into one scene. As silly as it was I have to give them credit for pulling off the biggest one of those I’ve ever seen.

After everyone leaves, they decide that that was not their official proposal because he didn’t want to have to tell that horrible story of how the proposal went for the rest of his life. He promises to re-propose in a few days and then that will be the official one. She then decides that the only way to “fix this” is for her to propose to him. So she goes to his place of employment to propose to him in front of all his colleagues and along the way reveals that they had just spent a week in Mexico. However he had told his boss he needed off work because his father was sick. This gets him fired from his job so now she’s real and another proposal story.

We then get to see some flashbacks of how they met and various events along the way. The flashback gimmick works pretty well and is not a distraction. In fact in this case it makes a little more interesting. By the end of the episode they do get officially engaged. It remains to be seen how much of the story is told “present-day” and how much in flashback.

There’s reasonably good chemistry between costars Casey Wilson and Ken Marino. She is also currently a very of the film Gone Girl but is better known for her role in the recently canceled ABC sitcom Happy Endings. He is relatively unknown but has appeared in the adult swim series Children’s Hospital. Some sitcoms rely more on the supporting cast then the main characters in order to succeed. This one includes Tim Meadows from SNL and Dan Bucatinsky from Web Therapy as Annie’s gay parents. JoBeth Williams plays Jake’s mother. They might add something interesting to the mix.

Compared to the other new romantic comedies this season “A to Z” and “Manhattan Love Story” this one is stronger on the comedy than the romance. As always the real test is “Did I laugh?” and be in place and I did. Given that I really like A to Z and that Manhattan Love Story is growing on me, this one might not make the cut on what I’m watching regularly. But it does show a little promise so I’m going to give it a rating of “Could Be Watchable”.

>/div>

Review: Manhattan Love Story

Update: This show was canceled by the network after just four episodes.

I suppose every new TV show these days has to have some sort of a gimmick. For the new ABC romantic comedy Manhattan Love Story the gimmick is we get to hear internal thoughts of the major characters.

Analeigh Tiption plays a girl named Dana who just moved to New York from Atlanta for a new job as a editor at a publishing house. Her former college roommate sets her up on a blind date with Peter played by Jake McDormand. Don’t be surprised if you don’t recognize either of them. Tipton has appeared in the films Warm Bodies and Crazy, Stupid, Love but not much else. McDormand played Evan Chambers in the TV series Greek which I never watched. He also did 10 episodes of Shameless and was in a single season sitcom Are You There, Chelsea?

As might be expected the first blind date was pretty much a disaster but there was some real chemistry between the characters. There’s not really much else to say until we get a couple of episodes into the show. If you can get past that gimmick of the voiceover internal thoughts there might be enough chemistry to make it a reasonably watchable little romantic story. In some ways it’s reminiscent of one of my favorite sitcoms “Mad About You” but so far is not nearly up to that standard. For now will give it a rating of “Could Be Watchable”

Review: How to Get Away with Murder

Producer Shonda Rhimes now owns a monopoly on Thursday night ABC. Her hit series Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal are now followed by a new show “How to Get Away with Murder“. Although she did not create or write this series but only is executive producer, it fits right in with her other types of shows. Namely strong women (two out of three black) who are in powerful positions and who live in worlds where plot twists are everyday occurrences. However I’m not sure this one is going to live up to the standards of the previous two. It is written and created by Peter Norwalk whose only leather credits include co-executive producer and writer for other Shondaland productions.

Viola Davis plays Annalise Keating is a criminal defense attorney and a law professor. Davis is best known for her Oscar nominated performances in the films The Help and Doubt. In the opening episode her character recruits five of her top students to work in her law firm on real cases. The open classroom scene is such a ripoff of The Paper Chase that I can’t believe they actually did it. It’s the tough law professor who ambushes a student on the first day when he didn’t realize that they had already been given homework before the class even started. Either that happens in every law classroom so it is an ordinary occurrence or they just ripped it off. But the comparisons stop right there. Keating is no Professor Kingsfield. She also isn’t the sort of idealistic good guy lawyer that we are used to seeing on TV. Before the episode is over we see her get stolen illegally obtained evidence admitted in court. And after she calls to the witness stand a police officer with whom she is having an affair and ambushes him into saying that he has seen police corruption that could exonerate her client, you’re left wondering whether she simply used her pillow talk knowledge of his day-to-day work to her advantage or if she actually coerced him into committing perjury. I guess time will tell in future episodes.

The show also uses the gimmick of telling the story in two different timelines. It starts out with five college students trying to decide what to do with a dead body and a murder weapon. Then it flashes back three months to their first day in her class and that’s when we discover that they are her new interns. The story flips back and forth between the two timelines throughout the opening episode and the way things are going we can expect to see that same manner of disjointed storytelling. It was innovative when they did it in the Glenn Close lawyer show Damages but it made the plot more confusing. It does keep you guessing what’s going to happen next and how you’re going to get from here to there but after a while he gets to be really annoying in my opinion and I’m not looking forward to it in this series. There are times when flashbacks, flashforwards and parallel timelines make for interesting storytelling but I’m not convinced this is going to be one.

For that time being I’m going to give it a couple more episodes so I guess technically my rating is “Could Be Watchable”. But there are better lawyer shows on the air such as The Good Wife, Suits, and if you can classify it as such Scandal. Although I’m not reviewing existing shows, I will say here that the season premiere of Scandal really hit the ground running and continued at the phenomenal quality it has had in previous years. If you like political intrigue and have not seen this show, by all means check out Scandal. And if you got some spare space on the DVR in time to watch it then try this murder show and see if it is to your taste. Just don’t expect the usual Shonda Rhimes quality.

Review: Scorpion

Many years ago I coined the phrase “plot-driven technology”. It describes that point in a sci-fi story or even a non-sci-fi story that involves some sort of high tech equipment wherein you ask the question “Why don’t they just___(fill in the blank)__?” and the answer is “Because the plot of the story required it to work that way.” You’ve seen it hundreds of times. “Why can’t a Klingon warbird fire its weapons while cloaked?” And then later movie “Why can the Klingons now fire while cloaked?” The answer to both questions is “Because the plot required it.” While all technology has its natural limitations, way too often a lazy author invents a reason for the technology to fail just at the right moment to move the plot in the direction that he wants it to move. This is especially true in sci-fi where the technology is made up in the author’s mind anyway so he feels free to impose whatever limits he wants to.

Well written sci-fi or technology-based drama can say “What if we had a particular technology that doesn’t really exist? What might happen under those circumstances?” And at that point you have a technology driven plot. Not plot driven technology.

I really, really wanted to like the new CBS series “Scorpion” and you can probably see why if you know me at all. It’s about a group of four young geniuses who are hired by the government to solve the problems that mere mortals cannot solve. They are all socially awkward introverted super geeks with a combined IQ of 700. “Scorpion” is the hacker name of this band of misfits. In the first episode they pair up with a diner waitress who has a young son who is withdrawn, noncommunicative with anyone except his mother, and as it turns out perhaps even a bigger genius than the heroes of our story. The basic plot is that they are going to help her understand what it means to have a genius for a son. And she is going to help them to get along in the world that they don’t understand because they are stuck in their heads.

The previews for the show promote it to be an action-packed thriller and indeed that’s what we got in the first episode. Our gang of heroes has 45 minutes to keep 50 passenger jets from “falling out of the sky”. Along the way they have to hack into numerous databases, physically break into a cloud storage facility, steel hard drive, steel of Ferrari, drive it down the runway as a jet airplane flies overhead and dropped a computer cable down to their laptop so that they can fix the software bug while driving hundred 50 miles an hour towards a crash barrier.

I love the premise of the show and the characters look reasonably interesting. But my problem with the show is that it is just totally unbelievable because it has wall-to-wall plot-driven-technology. The basic problem there trying to solve is that a bug was found in newly uploaded air traffic control software. It crashed their entire airport systems and simultaneously cut off all and I mean ALL ability to communicate with the aircraft. I’m just not buying it. Are you really telling me that there is no analog radio or backup communication system available at all between the ground and jet airplanes? So the whole crisis upon which the entire episode is based is totally unbelievable. Then the repeated statement “the planes will fall out of the sky if we don’t do something!” Doesn’t make any sense. The skies were clear. You can land the plane using visual flight rules if you had to rather than just deliberately run out of fuel and crash. Then of course is the whole James-Bond-like solution of sealing a really fast car, driving down the runway at high speed with an airplane flying 10 feet off the ground. The copilot climbs down into the wheel well to feed a network cable down to our heroes were carrying a laptop. Then they can download a fresh copy of the software from the airplanes, install it in the ATC towers and solve the problem. Oh I forgot to mention that the original software was backed up in a cloud storage facility but that backup gets overwritten every few hours. Any cloud worth its money keeps multiple revisions intact just so that this kind of thing doesn’t happen. It was just all too much manufactured crisis for me.

In any sci-fi or high-tech show, you naturally ask the audience to engage in a mild suspension of disbelief. Sci-fi is all about the question “What if?”. This show asks us “What if you had a bunch of 20-something-year-old geniuses can solve problems using mental powers way beyond those of mortal men?” So we suspend our disbelief and give them that premise. But the rest of the show needs to be smart enough to play that what if game with some credibility. In recent advertising for the show they’ve added the tagline “inspired by actual events”. My guess is that they realized that the show stretched credibility way too far and there trying to convince you this kind of stuff could really happen. I can believe in a bunch of geeky geniuses solving problems using brainpower and technology and that you can have a good action show based on the premise. But this one just doesn’t work very well.

I will probably continue to watch it for a few episodes because the human interaction between the characters does show some promise. It does seem to have a lot of heart at times as the geniuses try to counsel the mother to a deeper understanding of her young son. And as ridiculous as they were, the action sequences were a lot of fun with well done special-effects. So it’s not really a bad show. It’s just not nearly as great of a show as it could have been and it left me sorely disappointed. I’m giving it a tentative “Could Be Watchable” rating.