TV Discussion: Gotham (“Pilot”)

Gotham_Cast_Banner

At this point, there’s probably not much more that I can add to the reviews of Gotham, the new television series on Fox. Created by Bruno Heller (formerly of Rome and The Mentalist) and starring Ben McKenzie as Jim Gordon, Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock, and young David Mazouz as Bruce Wayne, the pilot episode was seen by over 8 million people at last report, with at least that many different opinions being expressed through various social media.

For what it’s worth, I found it enjoyable, thanks to its emphasis on keeping a specific tone through both the visuals, plot, and acting. It’s effectively grungy and retro, while not necessarily literally “dark” per se in palette, as befitting a modern urban noir. You could, conceivably, take away the presence and story of Bruce Wayne and still have an effective storytelling world. At least, in the sense that there’s not really anything quite matching it in tone or setting on TV today. By adding the comicbook elements, it’s trying to further distinguish itself in tone and setting, but in fact I found that to the one aspect that was a bit unsatisfying. A comicbook setting should have some kind of “magical realism” twist to its world, and we don’t have that in Gotham, at least, not yet. (Perhaps all we have so far is the ability of young Selina Kyle to acrobatically traverse a cityscape so “magically.”) For example, how weirdly poetic it would have been to have the Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor), escaping his death at the end of the episode and swimming the length of the river, to kill the fisherman and gobble up the *fish* instead of the sandwich? Suddenly, he’s even more weirdly a monster, less than human, and metaphorically shows his conflict with Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith).

But anyway. More interesting is that this series debuts the same week that NPR’s podcast, This American Life, features a show dedicated the theme of “Origins.” (It’s not superhero origins, though. I know. I was disappointed, too.) As the host Ira Glass explains, “We love them so much.” And it’s true. Pretty much every iteration of Batman has to include his origin story. There’s even a supercut making the YouTube rounds that includes Bruce’s parents getting shot in every movie/cartoon Batman has appeared in.

It’s not enough to have a Batman or to have Batman stories. We have to know *why* there’s a Batman, and how that Batman came to be. And, essentially, it’s the *same* story every time, but we want to keep hearing it, over and over. Why?

Well, on one hand, I’ve argued before that origin stories are, for lack of a better term, economical. They already have a definite beginning, middle, and end, and the beginning usually starts from a place that’s “recognizable” or “the world next door,” so there’s less exposition needed to bring an audience up to speed. So I guess I use the word economical to mean both for budgetary reasons and in the literary sense. That last sense, if you remember from English class, means that the plot contains only the stuff that’s necessary for the story– there’s nothing extra in terms of characters, plot details, or tangents, derailments.

There’s could be other reasons why we like origins, too. I’m sure there’s something about the inherent curiosity of humankind, the psychological drive that leads us to create mythological connections between what we see, what we feel, what we imagine. Sorry for those who are more existentially zen then the rest of us– you might be content to see a weirdly shaped rock and accept it, maybe even marvel at it, as simply a weirdly shaped rock. The rest of us, we wonder WHY it’s there and so weirdly shaped.

I think it’s because we do that for ourselves. We’re in too weird of a shape to simply accept it as itself, let alone marvel at it. We have to ask why, to obsess over our past, to find new ways to repeat its story over and over.

Just like we do with Batman and his story. Because Batman is, frankly, so very awesome. But he’s also pretty deranged and damaged, too. He’s the best of us, better than us, but also the weirdest of us. So his story is keenly tragic. If someone like Batman can take a tragedy like that and become “better” than us, it gives us hope that no matter our tragedy, we can can be better, too. And even if we’re weird, we can still be better, too. Those two things are not mutually exclusive.

So in this modern mythology we’ve made for ourselves, Batman is the God of Dark Tragedy. He suffered his tragedy to overcome and show us how to beat it back for ourselves. He fights the insanity so we don’t have to, but if we need to, we can also call upon him to assume his power for ourselves (or at least, that’s how it worked for Dick Grayson, Barbara Gordon, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown, and etc. etc.)

Essentially, this is what Gotham will be about: finding out how we triumph over tragedy and darkness. The good news is that we already know it happens– there will someday be a Batman, after all. The point of the story is the process, not the result. Sit back and enjoy the ride.

“There will someday be a Batman, after all.” Quote of the week.

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Vera Maven versus Grimm

Meet Vera Maven

“Ms. Maven, do you ever think about television?”

I think about everything, I’m afraid.

“Maybe you can tell me about NBC’s Grimm?”

Oh, my dear! This is finishing it’s third season, and just a few weeks ago announced a fourth! This is positively ancient by nightly drama standards, isn’t it? Thankfully, TV drama tends to develop with age, and believe me, that is doubly, triply, quadruply thankful in the case of Grimm.

“So you weren’t a fan of the first season, I take it?”

I am a critic by nature, darling; I can never be a fan of anything. Such is my blessing and my curse. And even though this is the internet, let’s be honest, shall we? There were some serious problems with the first season.

The show dressed itself as a police procedural with a supernatural twist, one based on a mythology inspired from European fairy tales. As for the first part, the whole “procedural” outfit? There was nothing special, just basic formula. A cold open with a scary monster, a hero who discovered clues the audience already knew, and a fight scene to capture or kill the brutes. If the hero found a problem, oops! No worries! Just look in the Big Book That’s Never Wrong or ask his friend, Monroe, of whom I believe it will finally be revealed has the last name “Exposition.”

But, hey, even the trappings of a horrible outfit can look good on the runway with a brilliant model– it’s all about the people inside, n’est ce pas? Character counts? And, yes, I think we can all agree that our hero Nick, David Giuntoli, is a brilliant model of manhood. Did you know he was considered for Man of Steel? Indeed.

Grimm (2011-present) NBC Universal Television Created by Stephen Carpenter, David Greenwalt, Jim Kouf

Grimm (2011-present) NBC Universal Television
Created by Stephen Carpenter, David Greenwalt, Jim Kouf

But as good as poor, adorable Giuntoli is, it’s really Nick who I’m disappointed in. Can you honestly tell me why Nick is a hero? What’s his motivation? I can understand if, in the first season, he may be acting out his role as a “Grimm” simply because he has been flung into a brave new world by his dying Aunt, and he must find a way to survive. But what has happened instead is that Nick is merely fulfilling his role as Grimm at night the same way he fulfils his role as police officer by day– he’s basically punching a card and following the job description someone gave him. Having a sense of duty is nice, isn’t it? But WHY should someone have a sense of duty? It’s not all about duty, because he tries to balance it with a “normal” life with his family, by which I mean of course basically just one person, Juliette.

So it was a great decision to name the show Grimm, as it was really all the Great Nick Show in those first seasons, really. His job partner, his life partner, his were-partner, everyone really was there just so Nick could move through the plot. So here’s the “thankfully” part– the show runners have finally realised that it’s better for Nick to have all such partners be fully aware of his nature as a Grimm. There’s actually a supporting cast that can interact more freely! Hooray!

Especially for Juliette. In the beginning, she’s a perfect example of a problem character for characters with a secret identity. She’s someone who has to exist to support Her Man, but by definition she never can, because she can never know him fully. Passivity is so passé.

“Come on, Vera! At least she is over that season-long subplot of losing her memory…”

Shush! Shush! Shhhhhhh! There are some things we never speak of, my dear.

And look, she is still Ms. Problem! What can she really do, I mean, REALLY? She is a veterinarian, so that is somewhat, kind of, tangentially, if-you-squint related to the Wesen creatures Nick encounters? She is good at using Google? She can also read from the Big Book That Knows Everything?

If you are starting to think that this show is not necessarily meant for a female audience, I’m starting to think you are right. There really are no female leads, only support– Juliette and Rosalie– both defined only by their support of Nick. Oh? You will argue about Rosalie’s relationship with Monroe? Still defining by relationship and support of a man, dearie. Notice the other women who appear? All villains or creatures of the night who must be destroyed. And yes, I am raising my eyebrows in a knowing way right now.

“But Vera, the world they’ve created is much bigger than just Nick and the Monsters of Portland.”

I was going to subtitle it this way– Grimm: Nick and his Walking Talking Resources. But you are right to some extent. Must be those sharp, twinkling blue eyes of yours! There is a lot of world-building going on here. Too bad it’s so schizophrenic! The writers here seem to want to wrap a chiffon around the dungarees. But that’s just too separate to mesh well!

This has really been a problem in this recent season. Just look at the way they have A Plot and B Plot attempt to share space in the same episode, and yet have such separate tone, plot, and pacing that they might as well be different TV shows entirely. And when there is world-building in the Monster-of-the-Week of Portland world, it’s pretty much the same formula that we’ve been following from the beginning. “Oh, look! It’s dungarees again! But this time, they are made in Bangladesh, so it’s different.”

And that’s at best. At worst, they introduce a plot element simply to describe what we’ve been taking for granted for three years now. “Oh! So Wesen can recognise Grimms by their eyes. Good thing that took an episode to work through! Here’s some sunglasses.”

Yes, it’s a wonderful world of drawn-out B Plots and wedding plans.

But let’s leave with something good to say, yes? I’m such a positive person by nature, you know. Let’s see… Whoever Nick and Juliette hire to do their innumerable home repairs will certainly be able to afford a nice university for his children.

“Before Grimm leaves the runway, what’s your final assessment, Vera?”

 

It’s less on the “Must Watch” end of the scale and more on the “Watch If You Must.”

“Insightful as always, Ms. Maven.”

 

Charmed, my dear.

EXCLUSIVE! Marvel and ABC to produce a Wonder Man TV series!

WONDERMAN a new TV series from Marvel and ABC

WONDERMAN a new TV series from Marvel and ABC

from ABC press release dated 1 Apr. 2014:

EXCLUSIVE! Marvel and ABC to produce a Wonder Man TV Series!

Joss Whedon continues to bring an expanding Marvel Comics universe to television! By combining the unstoppable forces of the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron sequel with Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series, Whedon and James Padalecki team up for the television debut of one of Marvel’s fan-favorite characters, WONDERMAN!

Simon Williams (Padalecki) starts off as a man with seemingly nowhere to go– suspected of business fraud and forced to take the fall for his brother. But a daring plan by S.H.I.E.L.D. foe Ian Quinn (David Conrad) will turn Simon into Wonderman in a plan to take down nothing less than the Avengers themselves! Thankfully, Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and his team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents stand in the way, and help set Wonderman on a more heroic path– one that makes him a movie star in his own right! Will Wonderman have what it takes to be the hero that the world, or at least Hollywood, needs?

The success of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has proven that Marvel Entertainment rules television just as much as the movie arena. With its unique blend of action and humor, Marvel is poised to take over the entertainment industry, and Wonderman is a surprising entry that nevertheless fits seamlessly into its well-established canon of heroes.

“Marvel and ABC have proven a winning combination,” says Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, “We have hinted that there were big changes to Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. [series], and this is just a part of the tremendous changes you’ll see in the next few years. We hope to change the face of adventure on television itself!”

Executive Producers Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon and Jeph Loeb (Smallville, Lost, Heroes) reunite to bring Marvel and ABC’s next sure-fire hit live-action TV series, WONDERMAN.

Story Meeting– Ka-Zar and the Beast Brood


Ka-Zar and the Beast Brood

Brace yourself; here it is: “Mutants versus Dinosaurs with Hi-Tech Superhero Adventures in a Secret Jungle.” Brilliant! Am I right or am I right or am I right?

Yes, everyone wants an idea that’s going to diversify the product line and apply a brand identity and blah blah blah executive meeting buzzwords blah.  Forget all of that and ask yourself: is it COOL

Because, let’s face it, Marvel Comics’ Savage Land is pretty cool– a land that time may have forgot, but aliens and mutant masterminds have not! The only person who can unite its peoples to fight back against the forces of darkness is the lost Kevin Plunder, a.k.a. Ka-Zar, the Son of the Tiger. 

You got ACTION!

Together with Shanna the She-Devil, Ka-Zar must risk daily life among the dinosaurs, while saving the day from such threats as his brother Lord Plunder, Garrokk the Petrified Man, and Terminus– the Alien that Walks Like a Mountain! But all is not so bleak! The evil High Evolutionary’s terrible experiments may have created the Savage Land Mutates, but a heroic few have broken free to help fight the good fight as the Beast Brood! It’s like a mixture of He-Man & the Masters of the Universe, Thundarr the Barbarian, and Land of the Lost. (So, so 80s.)

You got PATHOS!

Ka-Zar, a feral boy raised by saber-toothed tigers, must grow in his realization of what the Savage Land is all about, making the “real world” seem like the one that is a mythological paradise. Shanna, herself not a native to the Savage Land, is always searching for an escape, despite all the while falling in love with Ka-Zar, who himself doesn’t understand the longing for this “real world.” Ka-Zar becomes a bit Peter Pan-like, with Shanna the Wendy character and the Beast Brood as the Lost Boys. The Brood are also a source of pathos (since they are, after all, mutates!) but also of comedy. Their personalities don’t have to be too complex, but it’s all about their interactions. Brainchild is the egotistical and nerdy one. Amphibius is the bouncy and enthusiastic one. Barbarus is the silent, slow but strong one. These three would be the central characters (animation does have a budget, you know!) although you could rotate any number of them in and out of focus depending on the episode. Make Lorelei the lazy Lotus-Eater one, Lupo the intense and ADHD one, and Worm the know-it-all, world-weary one (or is that too Caterpillar-Alice-in-Wonderland?)

and you got … TOYS!

Because, Zabu. The coolness really all comes from Zabu.

Available where all fine toys are sold

Available where all fine toys are sold

Some items sold separately.

The Asiancy: Rating the Representative Asian

What’s the “representasian” of Asian peoples in recent
U.S. television series?
Presented here in order of “best” to “worst” (and yes, please notice those “air-quotes.”)

Elementary

Elementary (CBS) starring Lucy Liu

Elementary (CBS) Created by Robert Doherty

Character: Joan Watson (Lucy Liu)
Represent-asian Stats: 2/5
a.k.a. “Careful! It’s almost like she’s not even Asian at all!”
– Role: Humorless sidekick
– Has disapproving mother

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Marvel's Agents of SHIELD (ABC) Created by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, and Maurissa Tancharoen

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD (ABC) Created by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, and
Maurissa Tancharoen

Character: Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen)
Represent-asian Stats: 3/5
a.k.a. “I’m pretty sure we’ll soon get a training montage involving catching flies with chopsticks”
– Role: Humorless sidekick
– Knows kung-fu
– Rumors of exotic, mysterious past

The Mentalist

The Mentalist (CBS) Created by Bruno Heller

The Mentalist (CBS) Created by Bruno Heller

Character: Kimball Cho (Tim Kang)
Represent-asian Stats: 3/5
a.k.a. “Shouldn’t he be trying a little kung-fu at some point?”
– Role: Humorless sidekick
– Former gangmember
– Expected to automatically connect with any Asian victim/client

The Tomorrow People

The Tomorrow People (The CW) Based onThe Tomorrow People by Roger Price; Developed by Greg Berlanti, Phil Klemmer, Julie Plec

The Tomorrow People (The CW) Based on The Tomorrow People by Roger Price; Developed by Greg Berlanti, Phil Klemmer, Julie Plec

Character: Russell Kwon (Aaron Yoo)
Represent-asian Stats: 4/5
a.k.a. “I mean, how could he NOT be Asian?”
– Role: Wisecracking sidekick
– Raised by “tiger parents”
– Prodigy at piano
– Knows kung-fu

Hawaii Five-0

Hawaii Five-0 (CBS) Developed by Peter M. Lenkov, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci

Hawaii Five-0 (CBS) Developed by Peter M. Lenkov, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci

Character: Dr. Max Bergman (Masi Oka)
Represent-asian Stats: 4/5
a.k.a. “Good thing we can finally balance out the non-stereotyped characters on the show!”
– Role: Bumbling sidekick
– Smart sciencey-guy
– Prodigy at piano
– Sci-fi oktaku

Grimm

Grimm (NBC) Created by Stephen Carpenter, David Greenwalt, Jim Kouf

Grimm (NBC) Created by Stephen Carpenter, David Greenwalt, Jim Kouf

Character: Sergeant Wu (Reggie Lee)
Represent-asian Stats: 5/5 a.k.a. “Wow! U so asian!”
– Role: Wisecracking sidekick
– Filipino despite Chinese surname
– No first name for two seasons
– Can do soduku puzzles extremely well
– Gets attacked by Asian monster

2 Broke Girls

2 Broke Girls (CBS) Created by Michael Patrick King, Whitney Cummings

2 Broke Girls (CBS) Created by Michael Patrick King, Whitney Cummings

Character: Han Lee (Matthew Moy)
Represent-asian Stats: Off the Charts!
a.k.a. “Thanks, showmakers, for aiming below the lowest common denominator!”
– Role: Buffoon/antagonist
– Korean ethnicity played by Chinese actor
– Ignorant of American customs
– Emasculated, possibly sexless
– Characterized by greed, pettiness, meddling
– Exaggerated caricature (height/accent)

and the “winner?”

2 Broke Girls. Remember, kids. Just because you make fun of all kinds of stereotypes doesn’t mean that any of it’s funny.