Friday, 23 April 2010

What I've Been Watching: Television

A8C0C7D7-2C8C-4572-99DF-7DC5FFAAF7CE.jpgSarah Connor Chronicles: Season 2
The Mother of All Destiny

The Terminator franchise has had a somewhat turmultious history. Terminator and Terminator 2 are considered to be among the best sci-fi movies of all time, containing the performances Arnold Schwarzenegger will be remembered for. Terminator 3 was considered to be a fairly insignificant sequel, just about staying on the right side of average. Finally, Terminator: Salvation was generally considered the biggest disappointment of last year's blockbusters. Having few new ideas or stories to convince us the story Post-Judgment Day is worth telling.

Sarah Connor Chronicles sees the title character's battle to bring up and protect her teenage son, John. He has the unenviable task of leading the humans rebellion against their machine overlords in the future. They have the help of Cameron, a machine FutureJohn has reprogrammed to protect TeenageJohn. Confused? Try not to think about it too much...

Where as season one saw our happy family try to hide and destroy anything that could bring about the rise of the machines, season two sees them more accepting of humanity's fate.

The season is patchy in parts. At its worst, episodes are remakes of the original movies: with our heroes trying to escape a robot sent from the future. Also references to religion were completely misjudged and patronising. With one character being chosen to teach a machine morals purely because of his faith. The subsequent 'theological' conversations failing miserably to hit the depth I feel the writers should have been going for. Evidently, they hadn't seen The Two Cathedrals.

At its best, it compared the struggle to that of seasoned war veterans, who find it difficult to keep going with all the pain and suffering they've endured. Sarah's ongoing struggle to both protect her son, but allow him to become the man he needs to be providing an excellent undercurrent to all the series' events. The two extra protagonists they added, Riley and Jesse, proved to have the most interesting this season. Perhaps the reason they worked so well is that unlike the other characters, they don't have the baggage of the film's canon looming over them.

So a fairly uneven season, that did have some interesting things to say, although I feel the franchise it was based on actually proved to be a hindrance as oppose to a help. Sometimes I wasn't sure the type of show it wanted to be, and too often it would default back to slow motion shots of Terminators unceremoniously taking out an innocent bystander. This lack of forward momentum meant I found it difficult to engage with the storylines at points, and meant I wasn't as engrossed as I could have been.

Sarah Connor Chronicles: Seasons 1 & 2 are both available on DVD right now.

967896E7-F3B4-4899-A86B-7DE7951F5113.jpgMad Men: Season 3
Selling Your Soul

Mad Men has just finished its run on BBC4 and remains just as strong as ever. Set in the sixties it tells the story of an advertising agency in Manhattan.

In a story-telling form similar to The Wire, events take a while to get going, with little appearing to happen from episode to episode. However, since the show is based around on its characterisation, small events or comments can have huge significance later on.

Where the show succeeded most this season was in its amalgamation of its characters and real events from the sixties. In particular the way it handles (SPOILER for real life coming up) the assassination of JFK was a complete triumph. Masterfully combining both a realistic portrayal of how the news came out with possibly the most engaging character moments of the season.

In common with shows like Friday Night Lights and The West Wing (At least Seasons 1 to 4) it's difficult to separate this season's events from previous seasons. This isn't a show you can just pick up at some random point, but rather have to watch from the beginning. It has the philosophy that stories shouldn't explain everything to their audience, but should instead force them to lean in and engage beyond what is merely happening from scene to scene. As such fans of The Wire can rejoice, here's a show that at least comes close to matching its quality, patience and vision.

Mad Men Season 3 is released on DVD this Monday, 26th April in the UK/Ireland

6B7463B7-9BF2-43D5-A441-E033E1E6718E.jpgBeing Human: Season 2
Wanna Watch The Real Hustle?

Being Human has solidified its place among Great British Sci-Fi with its second season. Taking a leaf out of Buffy's book, it does a great job of allowing characters to grow and develop in response to the evil they're fighting.

Having survived a first season, it felt as though the writers had a very clear idea of where they wanted the characters to go this time around.

In particular, the way each episode opened with a flashblack to a character's past really did a great job of extending the world and mythology of the show beyond that of present day Bristol.

The villains for this season were religious fundamentalists. Being Human has dealt with religious themes before. In particular a quote from 1 Corinithians helping convince George to make a significant decision at the end of season one. However, despite some efforts to give a fair representation of religion, they failed: in the world of Being Human, religion is merely used to brainwash characters into unquestionably doing things they wouldn't do otherwise. Instead the villains of the piece were used to support a clear theme of Being Human: that the people we associate ourselves will end up defining us.

There was a great irony to this season, as the more our heroes were told they were less than human, the more they were pushed and attacked, the more monstrous they became. Violence and hatred breeding nothing but the same in return.

This led to a sense of brokenness and despair at the end of the season that had a uniquely British feel to it. Like Torchwood, the world created by the writers is one in which saving the day often comes at a price beyond that which the characters were willing to pay. I'll certainly be watching when the third season returns next year, this time with our characters relocated to Cardiff. Torchwood/Being Human crossover anyone?

Being Human seasons 1 and 2 are both available on DVD right now. (Region 2 only)

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