Oh, the things that I’ve seen (Pt. 2)

Some thoughts on the television I’ve been watching recently…

Torchwood: Children of Earth — It’s almost hard to believe Torchwood used to be a bad show. This miniseries was really just incredible: funny, scary, exciting and tragic — everything that redeemed the show for me in its surprisingly great second season but ramped up, with a tighter focus and even smarter, more effective writing. This was much more the Russell T. Davies of The Second Coming than, say, “Journey’s End,” although the miniseries was also reminiscent of Quatermass and the best of other old British sci-fi horror. It’s not absolutely perfect — the resolution of its fifth, final hour might be a little rushed — but even there it’s heartbreaking and well done. It’s powerful stuff and certainly some of the best television I’ve seen in awhile. However maybe rushed, Day Five left me genuinely shaken.

And then there’s Virtuality, which I didn’t include with yesterday’s movies, because, despite how Fox tried to sell it, this clearly wasn’t a movie. It was surprisingly entertaining pilot, though, despite the lack of resolution — and despite my fears that its VR-laden premise would seem hokey now that it’s not, you know, the 1990s any longer. (Remember VR.5, anyone?) But, that said, I think I can see why Fox has so far decided not to pick the show up. As Abigail Nussbaum writes:

The pilot feels several drafts short of completion–or, to be less charitable, it feels lazy, as though Moore and Taylor didn’t feel any obligation to hook their audience with a coherent story or a discernible direction for their show. Instead, they seem to have written the first chapter of a story, which makes gestures towards several different plotlines and takes it on faith that viewers will tune in next week to see which one of them the writers are actually interested in telling….Virtuality gets so bogged down in establishing each of these stories that it forgets to tell a story in its own right.

I think I’m more forgiving of the pilot’s faults than Nussbaum, if only because I didn’t feel as burned by Moore’s last project, Battlestar Galactica, as she did. (I still haven’t even finished watching BSG‘s final season.) But I think virtuality would have made for a much more compelling miniseries; the pilot leaves open a lot of questions, but I suspect there weren’t enough compelling answers to sustain anything longer-term.

And while I also enjoyed the pilot of Warehouse 13, the show might have difficulty keeping me interested week to week. It’s good companion programming to Syfy’s — yes, that’s their name, dumb as that is — Eureka, but I don’t think it has the same level of cleverness as that show, which is what keeps me coming back to Eureka despite its formulaic nature. (Eureka‘s fourth season premiere was a perfect case in point, perfectly entertaining even when not entirely what you’d call surprising.) I’ll watch at least another episode of Warehouse, but monster-of-the-week shows need to work extra hard to sustain my interest, and I don’t know yet if this one has it in it.

Beyond that, I watched the first two episodes of True Blood…and I think I’m finished with it. Lord knows Anna Paquin is attractive, but I’m not sure it’s worth enduring this show just to see her naked. (That’s not the only thing the show has going for it, but it’s damn close.) I finished watching the first season of The Mentalist, and while it continues to coast by on charm, and it finished well, I worry about its second season just being more of the same. Burn Notice, though, continues to be great fun, and I was really pleasantly surprised by Hung, thanks in large part to a likable performance by Thomas Jane. And while a lot of Top Chef fans have been put off by the lack of behind-the-scenes squabbles and drama in the Masters version, I’ve been finding it a lot of fun, watching chefs rise to the challenge rather than burn out under the pressure. It doesn’t hurt that the elimination challenges have thus far been really inventive and cool: cooking a gourmet meal in a dorm room, or for the writers of Lost, or for Neil Patrick Harris at the Magic Castle. It’s not always as exciting as Top Chef proper, but the next season of that is only as far away as August.

And I guess that just leaves Doctor Who. After finishing up the Peter Davison years (well, except for Snakedance), I tried and failed to really get into Colin Baker’s tenure as the Doctor. (I have it on pretty good authority that this isn’t at all uncommon.) So I doubled back and started watching some more Tom Baker episodes. I’d already seen and enjoyed Genesis of the Daleks, The Face of Evil and City of Death, which are often touted as some of Baker’s best, but I was still surprised by just how good The Ark in Space is. Some of the acting is a little over the top, and some of the effects are less than special, but much less so than for a lot of old-school Doctor Who. It’s quite solid science fiction.

Then for some reason, maybe because they’re available online via Netflix, I started watching the Key to Time story arc. The Ribos Operation and The Pirate Planet were both terrific. The Stones of Blood and The Androids of Tara…well, a little less so. I have two more episodes in the arc left, and then I’ll decide where to jump to next.

Doctor Who can be an acquired taste — it’s tough to look past the rubber suits and rock quarries — but it’s incredibly rewarding once you acquire it.

Wednesday various

  • There’s an interesting — albeit pretty spoiler-filled — post on gossip and character in the writing of Stephen King over at Fantasy Magazine‘s blog.
  • I can’t say I’m surprised the centerpiece of the George W. Bush Library will be a handgun
  • New Zealand has some weird ideas about advertising. First, there were New Zealand Air flight attendants and pilots in nothing but body paint, and now a bleeding billboard to promote traffic safety.
  • Toonlet seems like a neat idea, but I’m not so sure about the “you hereby grant to Toonlet a perpetual, non-exclusive, royalty free, worldwide license” clause in their terms of service. [via]
  • And finally — “It’s made of pure plotdevicinum.” I really enjoyed this Bad Transcript of Star Trek, more so than the actual film, I think. [via]

Getting out of science fiction

From a recent profile of China MiƩville:

But he feels that fantastic tales are a natural part of storytelling. When skeptics ask him, “How did you get into sci-fi and fantasy?” he has a response. “My answer is: How did you get out of it?” says Mr. MiĆ©ville. “Because if you look at a roomful of kids, huge numbers of them will love aliens and monsters and witches…and at a certain point, some of them will start to leave that behind and go on to what they think of — wrongly — as more serious stuff.”

Via SF Signal.