Shows Worth Watching: Vikings

Image from history.com

Television today is littered with reality shows.  A finite number of those reality shows are good, and the rest are either mindless, guilty pleasures or utter crap.  One channel that is awash with the latter is the History channel.  A quick glance at their “shows” page lists at least fifteen reality shows. Fifteen.  For a channel named the History channel, this is baffling to say the least.  Thankfully someone at History got a clue and decided to give a shot on a scripted show based on historical people. And it’s actually good.  That show is Vikings.

Image from history.com Lagertha, Ragnar, and Rollo

Vikings is inspired on a mythological Norse hero named Ragnar Lothbrok and the show portrays his journey from farmer to leader via successful raids on English soil, as well as Ragnar’s seemingly complicated family dynamics.  One thing that makes this show work so well is the casting.  The actors selected to play the characters seems to be spot on. Ragnar is played by the insanely good-looking Travis Fimmel, Lagertha, Ragnar’s first wife, is played by the stunning Katheryn Winnick,  Ragnar’s brother Rollo is played by the massive Clive Standen, Ragnar’s close friend and genius shipbuilder is played by the amazing Gustaf Skarsgard, and Athelstan is played by the subdued George Blagden.  The other members of the cast are very good as well, and the aforementioned are ones that stand out to me due to their strong presence whenever they are on the screen as well as the chemistry between the actors themselves.

Another item that makes this show successful is that is does a lot without saying a lot.  Many scenes have limited dialogue, leaving thoughts or feelings left unsaid.  Thoughts or feelings are instead played out by looks conveyed by the actors or glances shared between cast members.  Sometimes the unspoken word is best portrayed by silence and Vikings has found a way to say so much by saying so little.  The production value of the show seems to be fairly good as well.  It’s no Game of Thrones, but for the History channel, its superior to many of its other shows.  One scene from I believe, the second season (I watched the first two seasons in a two-week span so I get a little mixed up on things), was shot so beautifully: Ragnar and his crew were leaving the village for another raid.  The residents of the village were all up on the hilltop watching the ships leave.  No dialogue, just music, images of the villages, Ragnar and his crew sailing away, and even images of grass blowing in the wind.  It was extremely moving and done so well.

An epic scene from season two titled “Blood Eagle” is another example of the excellent production value of this show. Blood eagle is a gruesome way of executing someone.  Essentially, cutting someone’s lungs out and placing them on their back so it looks like blood-stained wings.  When the show has this execution performed it was done in a way to make it seem respectful and beautiful at the same time.  A nighttime shoot, lit with torches and a cast member dressed in white with the villagers watching.  Rather than hear the tortured cries, the show relied on tone, color, and music to convey the scene.  The fact that I find an execution scene beautiful says a lot about the end result.

image from history.com Ragnar and Athelstan

Ragnar’s family dynamics plays a big part in this show as well. Rollo’s constant struggle to be seen as more than Rangar’s brother, Lagertha’s desire to be seen as more than a shield maiden and Ragnar’s wife, and Ragnar’s relationship with his children are all on-going stories throughout the first two seasons.  When Ragnar takes Athelstan the monk back to the village as his prisoner, it sets up a relationship between these two men that allows both to grow and learn from one another.  The interaction between these two is one of value.  They are able to see things in a different light and understand a different system of beliefs that are very foreign to their own.

I’m not an expert on the facts from the time-frame this show takes place in but from what I’ve read, History does a decent job of keeping things accurate.  Given it’s a scripted show, some things will need to be embellished, changed, or even not be as strong of a focus as it may have actually been, but I’m Okay with that since everything else is done with such high quality.  Ragnar’s ambition to do more and be more drives the show. The casting has been chosen well and the characters are allowed to grow and most are well-developed. Season three of Vikings premieres February 19th and previous episodes are available online.  If you haven’t watched it you should give it a try.  If you have watched it, what do you like best about this show? Are you looking forward to season three and where it will take Ragnar and his crew?

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Shows Worth Watching: The X-Files

Welcome to a new monthly feature that I’ll be doing: Shows Worth Watching. Once a month I’ll write about a t.v. show that I think is worth the time it takes for viewing.  Shows will be a mix of old ones (i.e., no longer broadcasting), and current ones.  Hope you enjoy it (and if you can think of a better feature name than Shows Worth Watching, I’m open to suggestions 🙂 )

Picture from Wikipedia page

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Fox Mulder: image from Wikipedia

The first t.v. show I’d like to discuss is The X-Files.  A ground breaking show that aired on Fox from 1993 to 2002 and came from the mind of Chris Carter.  Why am I starting with a show that is over 20 years old? Well, if you have to ask, you clearly have never seen The X-Files. All jesting aside, The X-Files is the first because, 1) I love it, 2) it was an excellent show that achieved cult status fairly quickly and then became really popular, and 3) it combined a lot of topics that were interesting, compelling, controversial, and thought-provoking.

FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) are teamed up to investigate unsolved cases that appear to be paranormal in nature – know as The X-Files.  Mulder is a skilled profiler and has an unyielding belief in the existence of extraterrestrial life.  Part of this belief is steeped in the mystery surrounding the disappearance of his sister, Samantha, whom he believes was abducted by aliens when he was 12-years-old.  Scully is a doctor and a skeptic to events of the paranormal and alien life.  The FBI teams these two up as a balance to one another, and as a way to possibly debunk any of Mulder’s proof of paranormal or alien existence.  This teaming works well – the chemistry between the two actors was evident and the characters respect each other as well as their ideas, enabling both to see the others viewpoint.

Scully.jpg

Dana Scully: Image from Wikipedia

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The Lone Gunmen: Image from Wikipedia

Their boss, Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), FBI assistant director, works well in his role too.  At first he seems not have too much interest in any of Mulder and Scully’s cases.  As episodes progress, Skinner starts to side with the agents and becomes more than a boss, often helping them when he can and sometimes even covering for them.  The Smoking Man (William B. Davis) is the main nemesis of Mulder and Scully throughout the series.  He seems to be one who is hiding a lot of information and gets in Mulder and Sully’s way whenever they seem to be on the verge of discovering something.  It is eventually revealed that The Smoking Man is part of the Syndicate, a group of men who appear to orchestrate many lies and cover-ups, providing the basis of a government conspiracy to cover-up the existence of alien life that will be featured frequently throughout the life of series.  Another group of characters that needs to be mentioned, who showed up periodically, and became fan favorites is The Lone Gunmen.  Known mainly by their last names: Langly, Frohike, and Byers.  They were conspiracy theorists and often assisted and provided information to and for Mulder and Scully.  The Lone Gunmen became allies and friends of the agents and were always delight to see when they appeared in an episode.  The Lone Gunmen had a brief stint in a series of their own, but it didn’t last long (and truthfully, I don’t even remember it).

A major plot line that ran throughout The X-Files was Mulder’s search for his sister.  Mulder’s sister was seemingly taken by aliens when he was 12. This incident stayed with Mulder and is part of the reason why he is so adamant about the existence of alien life. Several episodes focus on clues about her disappearance and a growing suspicion that the FBI and the government know a lot more than they are willing to admit.  This really becomes the overall mythology of The X-Files and carries from season to season, culminating in the series finale.

When not focusing on the mythology of aliens, The X-Files featured episodes about the paranormal, unbelievable, and unexplained.  A few of my favorite non-mythology episodes were: Miracle Man, Duane Barry, Dod Kalm, and Home.  These episodes ranged from the spiritual, to the grotesque, to the legend and lore, and everything in between. The tag line of The X-Files was “I Want to Believe”. Something that Mulder was desperate to stay true to and something that fans of the show took to heart.  As a viewer, the show made you want to believe.  The conviction of Mulder’s beliefs combined with Scully’s level head-opinions and the government conspiracy threaded throughout the series made believing seem realistic.

The last two seasons of the series were a little less likable.  David Duchovny has mostly departed the show and Robert Patrick stepped in to play Agent John Doggett. Patrick is a fine actor but the departure of Duchovny and the lack of focus on the mythology of the series was disappointing.  Duchovny did come back for a few episodes and the series ended in the 9th season to a somewhat satisfying conclusion. The show also spawned two Movies: The X-Files (Fight the Future) and The X-Files: I Want to Believe.  The first film was the much better of the two with the focus being on the mythology, but any fan of The X-Files was content with even a mediocre second film.

So, if you are looking for a series to watch that is in the sci-fi realm, The X-Files is for you.  Like most series, the first few episodes are a little rough in terms of look and production value with improvements evident as the series progresses.  The acting is good throughtout the run and some excellent appearances by well known and loved actors (Bryan Cranston, Tony Shalhou, Lucy Lawless, and CCH Pounder to name a few) are well worth the viewing.  I’m obviously a fan and of the show and hope that you will become one too (if you aren’t one already!).

Fall T.V. Premiere time – A T.V. Junkie’s Bliss!

Tonight the fall T.V. shows either premiere  or start back up again.  In the eyes of a T.V. junkie, as I am, I couldn’t be happier.  After a few months of lackluster T.V. (other than my 1 month World Cup coma) it will be nice to see some good shows again.

The first show I’m looking forward to is Gotham, which is on FOX.  Gotham is about Commissioner Gordon and his rise from detective to the Commissioner.  We’ll get to see a young Bruce Wayne as well as some of Gotham’s villains.  Previews have looked compelling and buzz is this could be one the best new T.V. shows this season.  Here’s to hoping it’s worth the hype.

Show two is the return of Sleepy Hollow, another FOX series.  Last season left Ichabod and Abbie in questionable peril, but previews have shown that doesn’t last long.  This was one of my favorite shows from last year.  The premise seemed ridiculous – Ichabod Crane comes back to life due to a curse and teams up with a local detective to fight the evil forces that are invading Sleepy Hollow and hopefully stop their fated future.  But Tom Mision and Nicole Beharie have excellent chemistry, the writers gave a fast and fun plot line, and they put a humorous spin on Ichabod’s acclimatization to the modern world.  We’ll see if season two can hold up to the fun and enjoyment of the first one.

Constantine from NBC, which will be on Friday nights is another show that I’m hoping will be good.  This show is based on the comic book Hellblazer, which, I haven’t read.  Constantine has a vast knowledge of dark arts and has a sharp wit where he fights to protect the innocent.  I haven’t seen any previews of this show but I like the concept and am looking forward to checking out the premiere.

One show I’m totally on the fence about is Gracepoint from FOX.  This is the American version of the excellent Broadchurch that originally aired on BBC America.  Why it needed an American remake is beyond me and to have David Tennant in this version as well is an odd idea.  Part of what made the BBCA version so good was the Brits know how to do a drama.  The previews I’ve seen don’t seem to capture that compelling drama of the original. Then again, it could just be my jaded opinion on a remake of this show.  I’ll check it out just to see how the show is.

Marvel’s Agents of Shield is back for a second season and I’m hoping the action that happened in the second half of the series continues in the second season.  Grimm is another show that is back again this year.  This is just a fun show to watch and not one to take too seriously.  Yes there are some issues with it but it fits its Friday night-time slot well and it’s a fun show on a Friday night.  And of course there’s the next season of The Walking Dead on AMC.  Season five is much hyped (like all other seasons have been) and the Grimes gang has to find a way out of Terminus.

There are other shows I’m looking forward to, but these are some of the main ones.  How about you – what shows are you looking forward to?

FX’s The Strain

Last night The Strain premiered on FX and it did not disappoint.  The Strain is adapted from the book series written by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan.  I have not read any of the books nor did I come into this show with much knowledge about it.  I knew it was about vampires and that’s about it.

The show starts out with a plane getting ready to land.  When the airport tower tries to contact the plane during landing the controller doesn’t get a response.  He then sees that the plane is sitting on the runway with nothing running.  After initial investigation by the control tower, many government officials and agencies converge on the scene with the CDC taking ultimate control.  Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, a/k/a Eph, and a team member, outfitted in haz-mat suits, board the plane to check things out.  They find all the passengers are dead.  Further investigation under black lights show all kinds of fluids on the planes interior as well as passengers.  Eph’s team member, Nora, checks out the front of the plane while he heads for the back.  While Nora is looking around the cockpit door opens (never a good sign).  Nora goes in to take a look and suddenly the pilot opens his eyes.  Ends up that four passengers survived while all others are dead.  The CDC moves all the bodies to a refrigerated area so they can continue their investigation.

We get glimpses into the Master and the people who, I’m assuming, are his caretakers.  The best part was during the medical examiner scene.  Gross and creepy highlighted by a musical choice of Sweet Caroline with a beating heart.

I think the biggest complaint about this show will be that it has some typical clichés – the crazy guy who knows what’s going on, the main character whose life is falling apart and that story is easily forgotten,  etc.  I’m fine with all of that.  The Strain brings back the creepy, scary vampire stories I liked to watch when I was a kid. It also gives a different take on vampirism being a virus rather than a blood sucking origin.  Vampires being a threat is the focus here, not how sexy and good-looking they can be.

I do think the show teters on the edge of being good vs being campy.  If someone other than Del Toro was involved,  it would most likely fall on the campy side. Luckily that’s not the case.  I’m intrigued by the virus plot and like having the CDC involved.   I’m also looking forward to finding out more about the Master and what he/it is all about.  I have the first book but will hold off on reading it until the season ends.  Not knowing what’s going to happen makes me look forward to future episodes and I’m hoping things only get better.  Anyone else watch this show?  What are your thoughts?

FX’s Tyrant

Last night FX premiered their show Tyrant.  My reaction – wow, this show is bad.  Tyrant is about Bassam “Barry” Al-Fayeed” and how he returns to the fictional Middle Eastern country of Abbudin for his young nephews wedding. Barry’s father is the ruthless dictator of this fictional country, which Barry fled when he was 16.

Where to begin with what is bad?  Well, first off, the guy who plays Barry, Adam Rayner isn’t even Middle Eastern – he’s British and American.  Usually I don’t take issue with someone’s nationality in a role.  However, in a show where the main plot is a man from a Middle Eastern whose family is of the same and the main guy isn’t of that same ilk, makes no sense.  Then there’s Barry’s kids – the stereo-typical self-centered American kids.  The 16-year-old son is self-absorbed and snotty, while his 17-year-old sister looks upon the country she’s visiting with contempt.  The son, when arriving in Abbudin, is clearly taken with his relatives wealth and power.  Never a good sign for a kid who’s had an easy life so far.

Barry’s wife is not a developed character.  She spends most of this episode staring at her husband, trying to get him to share his thoughts and feelings.  It’s obvious that Barry is a man who is not one to pour his heart out each and every time something bad happens.  Towards the end of the first episode, when Barry is trying to fly back home after some stressful scenes, his wife again tries to get him to talk.  When Barry keeps saying “not now” his wife starts to cry and states she doesn’t know how much longer she can deal with this, threatening a possible divorce.  Really?  You have one bad incident with your husband and you are ready to call it quits?  Just made me dislike her so.

When Barry and his family arrive in Abbudin, his brother meets him at the airport, right after the brother raped a married woman in a room where her husband and children could hear what was going on.  His brother is clearly a scumbag.  His further scenes back this notion up.  Barry’s father appears to be very happy with Barry’s return but we get glimpses of the type of man his father is.  It’s not a good man.

The episode ends with the future of Barry and his family up in the air.  Are they trapped in this country, will they be able to leave of their own accord, is Barry really the Tyrant of this show?  Previews of upcoming episodes don’t look promising.  His wife seems like she becomes more annoying and the portrayal of the people in Abbudin doesn’t seem to flatter them.

I don’t know if I’ll watch future episodes of this show.  I was not impressed with what I’ve seen so far.  FX seems to have wasted an opportunity to have a show about a different culture and life.  Instead they give viewers a bunch of drivel, poorly developed characters and a bad story line.  The future of this show is definitely up in the air.

In The Flesh – Season Two

You ask “another zombie themed show, why watch it?”  I say it’s an engrossing show that is more about the person than the zombie.  It’s about the struggle we all go through for acceptance and that of loneliness,  the desire for the former and the need to not be the latter.  BBC America aired the second season of In the Flesh this past weekend and, as I’ve come to expect from BBCA, this program does not disappoint (spoilers from season one are included below)

In the Flesh aired last year as a three episode mini series.  It was an excellent series and I was surprised and happy when I heard a follow-up season would air.  In the Flesh is about Kieren Walker who suffers from PDS – partially deceased syndrome (clever name for a zombie) who is living his life as a zombie living with his parents and his younger sister in a place named Roarton.  Season one was all about Kieren coming back home, adjusting to the realization of his new life, the struggle for acceptance of who he is (in more than just the physical sense), and the struggle to combat loneliness.

One thing I love about BBC America dramas is their ability to project so much emotion with so little.  Dramas on BBCA do a spectacular job of making you feel what the character is feeling.  It’s so easy to connect with the person and relate to them on every level.  They do this in simple ways, sometimes by just showing a person’s look combined with the right music, sometimes by only showing a solitary image of a seemingly unrelated object.  It provides the right mood and allows you to think like the character.  And this was just with a three episode series from last year!

Kieren’s struggle as a human were still there now that he’s a PDS suffer (or “rotter” as the humans refer to them).  Kieren became a zombie by killing himself after his best mate was killed in Afghanistan.  Kieren had wanted to be cremated but his parents couldn’t go through with it and buried him instead, another thing that Kieren has to struggle to deal with.  Once Kieren has gone through all the required acclimatization’s, he is released to live with his family, which isn’t too easy since his sister Jem is part of the  Human Volunteer Force (HVF) whose goal is to protect humans from the rotters, at whatever cost.

Other main topics from the first season was the reveal of Kieren and his best friend being gay and the fact they hid that from everyone they knew.  Something they continued to hide even after rising from the dead.  Kieren’s relationship with his family was another issue.  His sister saw him and his zombie friend Amy, almost shooting him, chowing down on some brains before they were given the drugs to make them seem human again.  Kieren’s relationship with his parents evolved by his dad opening up and telling his son he cared about him regardless of who he loved or what he was (a zombie).

The second season continues with the themes of acceptance and loneliness.   The Undead Liberation Army is not helping things by killing humans as a form of terrorism, while the humans are gaining government power through the Pro-Living Party via Victus.  Kieren wants nothing more than to escape to Paris, where the reanimated are more accepted as a part of society.   Kieren is a good guy and I hope things don’t go badly for him.  In the Flesh is another stellar program from BBC America.  If you’re up for a slightly different take on the zombie theme, give this show a try.  You won’t be disappointed.

BBC America’s Orphan Black

Warning: this post will contain spoilers from season 1 and the first two episodes of season 2 of Orphan Black.  Read at your own risk.

Season two of BBC America’s Orphan Black started back up last week and the first two episodes have not disappointed.

Where to Watch Orphan Black

Image taken from BBC America website

Orphan Black is about Sarah Manning who, after watching a woman who looks just like her jump into the path of a train (from season one), comes to find out she is a clone, and there are several people out there who look like her.  Sarah, forges an at first tenuous relationship with fellow clones Alison, the happy homemaker with a mild drinking problem, and Cosima, the brainy scientist whose been researching all the clones.  Then there’s Helena – the Ukrainian clone who is sadistic, a fundamentalist, seemingly crazy, and murderous.

Season one focused on the reveal of all the clones and the back stories of the characters.  Felix, also known as Fe is Sarah’s “brother” (I believe foster kids together), played a large part in helping Sarah and the clones become real friends. There was a lot of comments online about how Fe was a stereo-typical gay guy, but I’d have to disagree.  He’s very edgy and a bit on the kinky side, I think Modern Family has the much more stereo-typical gay guys (but I do enjoy that show as well).  There were two or three big reveals that played out in season one: Sarah is the only clone who is able to have children (Alison’s are adopted); Helena and Sarah are actually twin sisters (I guess that makes them clone twins? seems a bit redundant, ha!); and the Dyad Institute is actively tracking the clones and wants them all to sign an agreement to participate in the studies. And, oh yeah, Helena was shot and assumed dead.

Season two starts up right at the end of season one – Kira, Sarah’s daughter has been kidnapped and Sarah is desparate to find her.  Cosmia is getting sicker and still does not know why, and Helena makes a surprising comeback.  Although I wasn’t that shocked, she played such an integral part I can’t imagine how the show could continue without her.

The first season of this show was really good – so many revals of the clones and it kept you wondering how many more there were.  Sarah started out as a really unlikable person, but after getting to know her fellow clones, she became much more tolerable.  Her relationship with her daughter also helped to sway viewers on Sarah’s likability.

Tatiana Maslany just KILLS IT in this series.  Her portrayal of each clone is distinct and different.  This is most evident when she plays one clone pretending to be another – Sarah as Cosmia, Alison as Sarah, etc.  The supporting cast does a great job as well, especially when a clone is pretending to be a clone.  It almost makes me wonder if I’m hypnotized by Tatinan’a work and can’t really tell if there is a good story with this show.   Doesn’t really matter because I’m going to keep watching this show.  It’s enjoyable, full of good acting, and has a good pace.   This is why I love BBC America programming, they provide something different and they tend to do a good job at casting.

What are your thoughts on Orphan Black?