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A COUPLE MORE NEW FALL TV REVIEWS

MARVEL’S INHUMANS (ABC and CTV, 9:00PM Fridays)

The Inhumans are a race of superhumans that live on the moon, shielded from view within their secret city of Attilan. Yes, you read that correctly! I know! Sounds silly to me, too.

The show’s writers left out a whole lot of the Inhumans’ backstory, here, so the casual viewer may struggle to figure out exactly what is going on. A knowledge of the comic book source material would definitely help one understand and enjoy this new MCU television series.

Like the comics, the plot centers on the Inhuman Royal Family. Black Bolt is the King, whose hypersonic voice is so powerful that he could level a city with a mere whisper. Therefore, he never speaks. His Queen is Medusa, who can manipulate objects with her long, flowing red hair, which acts as a prehensile appendage, and in a fight, can pack quite a punch. Crystal is Medusa’s younger sister, who can control Earth, Wind, and Fire (the elements, not the band), and Lockjaw is her giant CGI bulldog, who can ferry folk from here to there instantaneously by means of teleportation.

Other Royals include Black Bolt’s cousin Triton, who is capable of living underwater, Gorgon, another of Black Bolt’s cousins and leader of Attilan’s Royal Guard, who can stomp his hooved feet and generate earthquake-like waves of force, and Karnak, still another cousin and the King’s most trusted advisor, who sees the fault in all things, and so is able to avoid making errors.

The villain of the story is Maximus, Black Bolt’s brother, who lucked out when they were handing out the super powers! Every Inhuman, in a coming-of-age ceremony, is exposed to Terrigen Mist, a natural mutagen that brings out the individual’s latent superhuman abilities. Maximus came away from his so-called Terrigenesis ceremony with nada, leaving him, essentially, an ordinary human. He and others like him face prejudice from those with powers and were he not the King’s brother, he would certainly have found himself relegated to toiling in the mines as a member of Attilan’s lowest caste. Aspiring to the crown himself, Maximus asserts that the humans on Earth will one day discover Attilan and seek to destroy the Inhuman race. He strongly advocates for Inhuman society relocating to Earth to claim its birthright (Inhumans originated on this planet eons ago), against the wishes of his brother and the other Royals, who maintain that such a migration would result in a war with humans. Maximus incites Attilan’s underclasses with promises of freedom, lebensruam on Earth (Attilan’s growing population is increasingly taxing the limited resources of the city), and a better life. He orchestrates a coup and ousts his brother from power. The Royal Family flees to Hawaii, where they must regroup and adapt to a surreptitious life on Earth.

I found the action plodding, the dialogue flat, and some of the story threads introduced quickly went nowhere, like that of the quirky scientist/lunar rover-driver at Callisto Aerospace in California. As luck would have it, she drives her vehicle smack into the invisible protective shield surrounding Attilan, catching a glimpse of Gorgon’s hoof on the rover’s remote camera feed as he steps in to remove the nosy little intruder. Presumably we’ll see her again in a future episode, and maybe she’ll play a pivotal role in the discovery of the Inhumans’ secret lunar city. Or something. At this point, however, her involvement seemed entirely unnecessary.

I feel the writers were trying to pack way too much into the first couple hours of this show, and the narrative suffered for it.

Meanwhile, Gorgon wasted most of his screen time hanging out on a Hawaiian beach with a group of surfers! WTF? And Crystal, the only Royal captured by Maximus during his coup, never really got her moment to shine. Her dog was a more valuable asset!

Medusa , soon to experience a bad hair day!

The most ridiculous moment, however, came when Medusa experienced a bad hair day. Cornered by Maximus and the traitorous Royal Guards, she defiantly refuses to join the revolt. So he pulls out an electric hair clipper and shaves off her super-powered locks! Really? An electric hair clipper! Edward Scissorhands wasn’t available? Come on, writers!

Despite a generally poor reception from fans, however, I’ll go out on a limb and say that Inhumans isn’t all bad. There is potential in this thing, but based on the early episodes, to realize that potential, the writers will need to up their game.

Consider:

Maximus is not a typical, black-and-white comic-book villain. He exhibits shades of gray. Yes, he may be a despicable creep—at one point, in a terribly inappropriate move, he hits on his brother’s wife!—but he has a depth that could be better exploited. Maximus had understandable reasons for betraying Black Bolt, self-serving reasons, perhaps, but arguably genuine. Attilan’s pitiless class system, which the Royals have enabled, after all, is hard to excuse, and Maximus has promised to free the city’s underclasses from the bigoted debasing and virtual enslavement they’ve endured for a long time. Can’t fault him for that! In other scenarios, he might be seen as heroic. The deposed King and his court suddenly don’t seem such a virtuous bunch, and it’s a little harder to sympathize with them, now, isn’t it? And yet, we’re asked to ignore all this and see the deposed Royals as the straight-up cardboard heroes of the piece, with Maximus standing in opposition as the patent one-dimensional villain.

If deftly stickhandled, though, the chance is there to make of these Inhumans engaging, wonderfully flawed characters, and to craft thoughtful, compelling drama. So step up, writers, and pen for us a series that will be something better than these opening hours imply.—Sue Denham 

THE GIFTED (Fox and CTV, 9:00PM Mondays) 

Marvel’s other new series is The Gifted, a perfectly serviceable drama whose teenaged leads will no doubt appeal to a youthful audience. Set in an alternate timeline in which the powerful X-Men and the Brotherhood have disappeared, it’s about a family, the children of which are mutants, who find themselves on the run from government authorities tasked with pursuing mutants and incarcerating them in correctional facilities.

Young mutants Andy and Lauren Strucker

When young Andy Strucker attends a high school dance and is set upon by bullies, his raw telekinetic abilities suddenly manifest and he inadvertently causes the school gym to begin imploding. Rescued by his older sister, Lauren, who employs her own controlled mutant powers to shield herself from falling debris, they escape and make their way home, where they tell their mother what happened and in so doing, reveal to her that they are both mutants. The twist in the tale is that their father is a district attorney whose job it is to prosecute mutants!

Desperate, now, to protect his children, Reed Strucker turns to the Mutant Underground for help. This is a group that helps mutants evade capture by the authorities and subsequently smuggles them safely out of the country. In his capacity as a D.A., Reed regards them as criminals. But in exchange for help in getting his family out of Dodge, he strikes a bargain with the Underground’s Marcos Diaz, a mutant known as Eclipse, offering information on the recently arrested and imprisoned Lorna Dane, or Polaris, Diaz’s girlfriend and, according to show-creator Matt Nix, Magneto’s daughter. Each wary of trusting the other, but urgently in need of what the other is offering, the two men arrange a meeting, which is shortly interrupted by the sudden arrival of the sinister Sentinel Services division, who deploy their mutant-hunting robots, setting a frantic chase in motion that ends with everyone but Reed only just evading capture.

The themes at play as this series launches tender a none too veiled critique of Trump’s America. It’s all put together quite well, and promises to explore not the fortunes of extraordinarily super-powered heroes like the X-Men, but the lot of average, everyday mutants, the little guys of the mutant constituency (and their human allies) struggling to survive, without the protection of a Charles Xavier or a Wolverine, in a political climate in which they are persecuted.

The cast is likable, the writing tight, and the action well-choreographed. The only thing that concerns me a little is that it all seems a bit familiar. I’ve seen variations of this idea in vignettes within some of the X-Men movies, and in the television series Heroes, so The Gifted might possibly, perhaps have some difficulty standing out on its own. Too early to tell yet, however, whether it’ll prove derivative or a captivating fresh take.—Carl Phillips

 

NEW FALL TV REVIEWS

THE ORVILLE (Fox and City, 9:00PM Thursdays)

Captain Ed Mercer, his ex-wife and new first officer, and some of the Orville’s crew

Set in a decidedly Star Trek-like future, Seth MacFarlane’s new television series is named for the fictional mid-level exploratory space ship he commands as Ed Mercer in this ostensibly sci-fi/comedy series airing on Fox Thursday evenings (City carries the show, too). MacFarlane is an unabashed Trekkie, and it shows! The Orville is essentially Star Trek: The Next Generation in all but name—the show’s Planetary Union, for example, thinly mimics the United Federation of Planets.

Mercer is a once-promising officer who walked in on his wife cheating on him with an alien one day, and whose subsequent, bitter divorce has set him on a downward spiral resulting in reprimands for lax performance of his duties and drunkenness on the job. Nevertheless, he is assigned the captaincy of the Orville, if only because the Union finds itself short of available personnel to man its sizeable fleet of vessels. And because, behind closed doors, his ex-wife prevailed upon the admiralty to give him command of his own ship, a plot point which, presumably, will see further development in an episode to come. In the pilot meanwhile, Mercer discovers, to his dismay, that the first officer assigned to him is none other than his ex-wife!

And so, hilarity ensues. Problem is, it doesn’t.

While there are moments, The Orville’s humour is only mildly impudent, and seems forced at times, nothing like the ribald, cutting mockery of societal values extant in MacFarlane’s animated hits Family Guy and American Dad. The Orville’s pre-premiere publicity led many, myself included, to believe that we could expect a rowdy spoof of Star Trek, a cheeky, MacFarlanesque Galaxy Quest, if you will. But lengthy stretches of the show’s first few episodes play out like a TNG story, with scarcely a funny exchange or one-liner to be heard, let alone any kind of droll send-up of Trek.

New father Bortus was hoping for a boy!

The third episode, in which Moclan crewmember Bortus hatches a child, then wishes the female baby surgically altered so as to become a male, as is the norm on his home planet, could easily be mistaken for a typical moralizing episode of Next Generation. His human crewmates oppose Bortus’ decision and the whole affair ends up in court, with Mercer arguing against Moclan cultural practises and pitching for a more enlightened, human approach to the situation. Very Next Gen!

The Orville, then, vacillates between TNG-like science fiction drama and Star Trek or sci-fi spoof, and as such, doesn’t satisfactorily deliver on either. It’s a little too tonally irreverent to work as drama, and not at all funny enough to be effective as parody. And yet, the ratings have been pretty good to date, so the show’s incongruous mix of styles may well be working for audiences, if not for me.—Keith Braithwaite 

 

STAR TREK: DISCOVERY (CBS All Access Streaming Service, 8:30PM Sundays and Space, 9:00PM Sundays)

Michael Burnham (center) initially serves aboard starship Shenzhou

Star Trek: Discovery finally premiered, after some delay, on September 24. In Canada, the show is available on Space.

This latest Star Trek iteration promises a return to the spirit of the original 1960s series. I do hope that it fulfills that promise, as the many Trek sequels over the years, in my view, so rarely have.

Kirk and his crew were on a mission to “explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before,” and for the most part, they did just that. Too many of the sequels failed to satisfyingly manage the same, relying instead on retreads of TOS scripts, repeatedly focusing on the familiar Klingons, Vulcans, Romulans, and other of the now well-known Star Trek alien races, or presenting viewers with a soap opera in space as writers dabbled in the mundane relationships of crewmembers and generally, life aboard ship. It seems to me the original series kept that kind of stuff to a minimum.

Admittedly, my childhood memories may well be contaminated by nostalgia for a thrilling sci-fi adventure show that weekly took me to strange alien worlds to discover novel, sometimes dangerous lifeforms and come to better understand them, frequently working out ways in which to co-exist with them. That, to me, is the spirit of the original series.

Discovery kicked off on Space with two episodes in a row, establishing the principal character of Michael Burnham, played by actress Sonequa Martin-Green, recently of The Walking Dead. We learn that the orphaned Burnham was raised on Vulcan by Spock’s parents, and had imparted to her by Sarek Vulcan philosophy. She is the first human to have graduated from the Vulcan Learning Center and later, the Vulcan Science Academy. We join her as first officer aboard the starship Shenzhou, commanded by Michelle Yeoh’s Captain Philippa Georgiou.

The action is set about a decade prior to the events of the original series, against the backdrop of a Federation that has had little contact with what it believes to be a collapsing Klingon Empire. While investigating a damaged satellite at the edge of Federation space, the Shenzhou encounters a band of outlier Klingons led by T’Kumva, who, in accordance with an ancient Klingon prophecy, intends to unite the 24 great Klingon houses as the revered Kahless once had, and rebuild the Empire. Burnham clashes with her captain as to an appropriate course of action, convinced the Klingons are unlikely to respond well to any overtures of peace from the Federation. Certain she is right, she defies Georgiou’s orders and attempts to act on her convictions, quickly finding herself relieved of duty and imprisoned in the ship’s brig as an interstellar war is sparked.

Discovery’s Captain Gabriel Lorca

She will ultimately come to be regarded, infamously, as Starfleet’s first convicted mutineer. Later, while in transit to a Federation penal colony, her stricken shuttle will be rescued by the U.S.S. Discovery and in short order, she’ll be recruited as a crew member by Jason Isaacs’ driven, rule-bending Captain Gabriel Lorca, who seems to have an agenda of his own. Lorca recognizes in Burnham the boldness he considers essential to winning this incipient war with the Klingons.

The series features plenty of action right from the get-go! Pacing is taut, the characters interesting and well written, and the acting solid. The show looks good, as well, Klingon redesign aside, although maybe a little too good for a series that’s supposed to be unfolding a decade prior to TOS. I suppose producers didn’t want their show to appear as if it was made on a limited budget in the mid-1960s! Fair enough. Still, you’d think they could come up with sets and costumes that look a bit less TNG and more classic Trek. The colour palette is what stands out to me, in particular, as wrong; too monochromatic when compared to the vivid aesthetic of TOS. Shouldn’t the motif of these two series be similar in that they take place in roughly the same era? It was fairly pointed out to me recently that Star Trek: Enterprise, also set prior to the original Star Trek, managed to better evoke the visual flavour of TOS while at the same time updating things for a modern television audience.

But set and costume design are mere quibbles on my part, which I’ll gladly set aside if the series proves an exciting ride!

Based on the first few episodes, then, Discovery shows a lot of promise. But I do have one big concern.

Earlier Treks have extensively mined the Klingon vein already—been there, done that, we all bought the T-shirt. I fear that Discovery’s developing story arc involving the Klingon-Federation war and related intrigues might come to dominate proceedings, perhaps at the expense of exploring strange new worlds every week. I want to see episodes akin to The Devil in the Dark, Obsession, Arena, The Immunity Syndrome, and The Corbomite Maneuver, not so much Affliction and Divergence, Sins of the Father, Reunion, the two-parter Redemption, and The Sword of Kahless. My sincere hope is for topnotch, clever SF stories centered on the ramifications of, and challenges faced by first contact with, and ensuing investigation of new life and new civilizations, in the promised spirit of the original series.—Keith Braithwaite

 

The double-length podcast episode of Futurama!

From Alexis, information regarding the double-length podcast episode of Futurama.

The Nerdist Podcast: The New FUTURAMA Episode (Feat. Chris Hardwick)

Woop woop! It’s finally here: the double-length podcast episode of Futurama! Created by Matt Groening, David X. Cohen, and the Futurama writers, the new episode features the original cast and our very own Chris Hardwick. If you’ve been playing along with Futurama: Worlds of Tomorrow, the mobile game from TinyCo (Jam City’s game studio), then you’ve already explored the exclusive episode content in-game, including a space mission to Junkleon 7, the deleted file planet! (If you haven’t played the game yet, you can download it and learn more about the new content right here.)

The new Futurama podcast episode finally reunites of the Planet Express crew, including Fry (Billy West), Bender (John DiMaggio), Leela (Katey Sagal), Professor Farnsworth (Billy West), Zoidberg (Billy West), Amy (Lauren Tom), and Hermes (Phil LaMarr)—plus Borax Kid, Calculon, and the return of the popular robot soap opera, “All My Circuits.” While on a routine mission to Junkleon 7, the crew encounters Klaxxon, a nefarious life form composed entirely of soundwaves from 21st-century podcasts. This sounds like a job for… The Nerdist Podcast!

MonSFFA meeting September 17th

Following his presentation on our World Con experiences in Finland, Sylvain will offer —

Raffle Prizes from Helsinki!

Sylvain says: 

I brought back a few goodies for the next club meeting:  three posters, three amusing objects and some weird Nordic candies.   It does not show well on the picture, but the duck is dressed as Darth Vader. 

The thing with the Tintin rocket on it is a document folder. 

Lakrisal is a salty liquorice (ammonium chloride) type of hard candy.
A note on the candy:  some of it is merely odd, but the Swedish Tyrkisk Peber (Turkish Pepper) is a foul spicy thing that would make Berny Reischl’s Satan’s Armpit Chili seem mild.  I think we should put a condition that anybody willing to get it as a prize must sign a waiver and eat a piece of it while we videotape the process…

Terry Pratchett’s unpublished works crushed by steamroller

“It’s surprisingly difficult to find somebody to run over a hard drive with a steamroller.”

It is thought up to 10 incomplete novels were flattened at the Great Dorset Steam Fair.

The six-and-a-half tonne Lord Jericho was used to roll over the hard drive several times before a concrete crusher finished off the remains.

Read the full text, with pictures here.

WARP 99 is on line!

CLICK HERE to download WARP 99 from our website!

As always, the Table of Contents is linked to the articles, and the little graphics at or near the ends of articles will take you back to the ToC. Mouse around–there are hidden links!

Look for the MonSFFA rocket hidden in these pages! (Did you find the one in WARP 98? It’s being worn by a Kazon!)