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All posts for the month May, 2015

And so it’s come to this. But before we get to my superhero rankings, let’s see how some other geek shows would have done in my earlier categories.

Because it’s my blog and I do what I want.

Beyond the capes

There are a handful of geek-oriented TV shows I like that I disqualified for not being superhero shows. But they’re worth some kudos. So let’s do a speed run through the previous categories. Warning: this is even less comprehensive than my previous entries, because I don’t watch Once Upon a Time and am seriously behind on Sleepy Hollow (thought I’d catch up on Netflix, that still isn’t an option) and Supernatural.

Though Supernatural’s a little long in the tooth and probably wouldn’t have made it anyway.

Best Male Lead: Sherlock Holmes, Elementary

Or as you know him, the OTHER Sherlock.

Or as you might know him, the OTHER Sherlock.

Sherlock Holmes is a misanthrope. All recent adaptions can agree on that. Good with mysteries, bad with people, and generally fine with that, and Johnny Lee Miller’s Sherlock is no exception. But where BBC’s Sherlock is better at tackling the big, canonical mysteries and making events out of them (only having to write three episodes every two years helps), CBS’s Elementary has more time for character growth and development, and to my surprise, they’ve been making use of it.

Sherlock is still Sherlock, still blunt, still generally bad with people and uncaring about social niceties… but he’s become a genuine friend to Joan Watson, better able to open up. Their partnership has evolved from Detective/Assistant to Detective/Protege to essentially equals. He took on a new apprentice in Kitty Winter, demonstrating new depths of emotional investment in another human being beyond their use to him. Miller’s Sherlock has become a rich enough interpretation of the character, one I’ve become so invested in, that the threat of him having a relapse into heroin addiction was genuinely frightening. And that’s quite an accomplishment for a show that started as “Crime procedural but with Sherlock Holmes,” or as it seemed some network executive was picturing it, “House, but instead of fighting disease he solves crimes.”

Honourable mention: the 12th Doctor, Doctor Who. He may be less cheerful and cuddly than Ten or Eleven, but he’s still the Doctor, as seen in this speech.

Best Female Lead: Liv Moore, iZombie

LivLiv Moore (get it?) had it all: a promising medical career, a perfect fiance, friends and family… now she’s single, working in a morgue, and pushing away anyone close to her, because after a boat-party-turned-horror-movie, she’s a zombie. If she eats a steady supply of brains, she stays mostly normal (if pale), hence the morgue job, but the brains come with a consequence: she absorbs the owner’s memories, so she uses that to help Seattle police detective Clive Babineaux solve mysteries by pretending to be psychic. All part of adapting to life after death.

In addition to memories, Liv also absorbs some of the deceased’s personality. Thus far she’s been a passionate (in more ways than one) artist, a sociopath hit man, an extreme sports junkie, a would-be relationship guru, an agoraphobic gamer/hacker/troll, a military sniper, an alcoholic journalist, and more, all while still being Liv. And like I said last time, Rose McIver is nailing it each and every week. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the creator of Veronica Mars knows how to write a kickass detective heroine.

Honourable mention: Joan Watson, Elementary. Like Sherlock, Watson’s evolved over the last three seasons, from a doctor-turned-sober-companion to a skilled detective in her own right. Not a traditional Watson, but a damn fine one.

Best Supporting Character: Dr. Ravi Chakrabarti, iZombie

Ravi

Liv’s boss and sole confidant, Ravi figured out her secret pretty quickly (he noticed chunks of brain kept going missing from the bodies), but instead of being horrified, was simply fascinated. The only person Liv can be 100% honest with (or even 30%, really), Ravi’s become her (excuse the term) lifeline… and is convinced he can find a cure to her condition. Plus he’s got a charm to him, is pleasantly nerdy, and brings an enthusiasm to their casework that keeps things lively. All without any unnecessary romantic tension.

I mean, he cares about Liv, but he’s not an idiot. She is just SUPER contagious.

Honourable mention: Kitty Winter, Elementary. Survivor of a horrifying crime, she turned to investigating criminals. But her trauma made it hard to be taken seriously, as it made it hard for her to even make eye contact with strange men, let alone be convincing about her findings. But a chance encounter after a failed attempt to make a report to the London police got her noticed by Sherlock Holmes, who takes her under his wing, and trains her in his techniques. Sherlock’s tutelage never reduces her to a victim, even in his slightly ham-fisted attempts to be protecting, and in a flashback, we learn the full truth: Sherlock didn’t save Kitty. Mentoring Kitty saved Sherlock, right when he was at his lowest. She’s gone now, as her story (adapted from one of the classic novels) always had an endgame, and her farewell to Sherlock was a little heartbreaking. Here’s hoping she finds her way back to New York someday.

Best villain: Missy, Doctor Who

Missy

Spoilers for Doctor Who, Series Eight. Skip over this if you want to stay unspoiled.

Throughout Peter Capaldi’s debut season as the Doctor, we get glimpses of an eccentric woman named Missy, who seems to be collecting all of the people who die during the Doctor’s adventures. Villains, allies, bystanders, all find themselves in one of Missy’s offices. That’s all we’re told at first… her name is Missy, she has a particular interest in the Doctor, and she claims to run Heaven. It’s not until the two-part finale that we learn the truth… and it’s a hell of a thing. Who is Missy?

Big-time spoiler here.

Missy is classic Doctor Who nemesis The Master, regenerated from John Simm into Michelle Gomez, and she’s used the dead to build an army of Cybermen.

[collapse]

Michelle Gomez was so good in the role that I liked her as a villain even when she was doing things designed to be painful to watch. And it was her motivation that pushed Missy to the top of the list… she wasn’t trying to conquer all of time and space, she was giving the Doctor a dark and terrible gift. She wanted him to admit that he isn’t better than her, that they share the same darkness, because then they could be friends again. She’s a monster, yes, horrifying, to be sure… but this time around, she just wants her best friend back.

Honourable mention: Blaine DeBeers, iZombie. Turned into a zombie at or shortly prior to the same party as Liv, Blaine found an upside to zombie life… scratch a few one-percenters, and he’s living the high life, making tens of thousands of dollars a week keeping the rich and undead in fresh, haute cuisine brains. Evil? Sure, he’s monetized being a literal predator and doesn’t care who gets hurt. But he’s played by Alias/the Revenant’s David Anders, who’s never not fun to watch.

The Main Event

Okay, let’s wrap this puppy up. Who’s the best series? Instead of giving you the three best and one worst, here’s my full rankings of super hero TV.

#7

gotham

For every one thing that works about Gotham (Bullock, Cobblepot, the brewing mob war), there are three that don’t (Barbara, Nygma, seriously how old is Harvey Dent gonna be when he becomes Two-Face if he’s already a prosecutor, Barbara again, she’s that awful). The Wayne Enterprises conspiracy plot has no real momentum, and the series premise basically guarantees a great deal of wheel-spinning. There’s enough there that I’m gonna watch at least the start of season two, but if they don’t want to get their asses kicked by Supergirl, they’d better do some serious course-correction instead of doubling down on their flaws.

#6

con3

Constantine loses some ground in the standings for getting off to a weak start. The show had strong potential, especially in its lead character, but took a while to start seizing that potential. And they didn’t do the best job with canon characters Felix Faust or former Constantine nemesis The First of the Fallen. But they started to find their feet, it was still a fun watch, it was sad to see it go, and the tiny hope that Matt Ryan’s Constantine may yet find his way to Starling City is exciting.

#5

SHIELD

Certainly an improvement over their lacklustre first season, but as is their habit, they may have overcorrected a smidge. In season two, they burned through plots almost too quickly. Hydra only lasted half the season and their primary nemesis, paving the way for Dark SHIELD (amazed no one else ever called them that…), which skidded to a halt so that their last three hours could be devoted to something else entirely, war with the Inhumans. And right in the middle of that last, most awkward gear shift, a token movie tie-in that was almost as half-assed as The Well, their bait-and-switch Thor: the Dark World “tie-in” that remains the show’s worst episode.

But unlike a year ago, I’d have actually been sad if the show got cancelled. If there’s one thing Agents of SHIELD is good at, it’s reinvention and course correction, so let’s see what season three can do.

#4

arrow-2-09I love Arrow, always have, and I’m as surprised as anyone to see it not make the top three. But you can love something and admit it’s had problems. A less cohesive season arc than season two, flashbacks that felt less essential, a little too much weepy Felicity… I believe in the show, love the larger universe its responsible for, and look forward to season four, but I’ll admit this wasn’t their best year. Still good, not quite great.

#3

Carter

Perhaps Agent Carter’s short run-time did it favours. It’s amazing what freeing yourself of the filler episodes a 22-24 episode season requires can do for your narrative. But if a great lead, reliably entertaining banter between Carter and Edwin Jarvis, and a glimpse into the history of the people who trained Black Widow aren’t enough for you, Agent Carter was also about something. They used old-school spy action to lure you into a look at the difficulties of women in post-war America, as the returning men tried to push them back into the background, and how even “safe places” like the ladies’ apartment complex Carter moves to are places of control and puritan judgement. Agent Carter was smart, fun, and necessary.

#1&2… And we have a tie

flashdevilLook, I’ve given this more thought than anyone rationally should, and… I can’t. I just can’t. I cannot, in good conscience, tell you which of these shows is better.

You see, the thing about rating things from one to ten, is that there is no objective ten. Or at least that’s what I read once, and it made sense to me. The notion was, a ten is simply a nine that fills a personal niche. Daredevil and The Flash are, and it is not just me saying this, it’s all over the web, they are nines. They are both excellent television shows. As it happens, Flash hits more than one niche for me, having been a massive Flash fan starting in the 90s, a Firestorm fan in my formative years, and an Arrow fan recently.

So while it would be tempting to declare Flash the best superhero show on TV, I can’t ignore the fact that it is almost custom-tailored to my exact tastes (having Mark Hamill reprise his role as the Trickster from the 90s series? I’m not made out of stone).

Daredevil and Flash have the best supporting casts, the best leads, the best plotlines, but they each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Daredevil has the better production value. It plays less like a series and more like a 13 hour film. Every episode is tied to the central narrative (save two things), something a shorter runtime makes easier to do. It’s gripping, yes, but grim. And it doesn’t quite stick the landing in its finale. Also, it suffers the same issues as Age of Ultron, in that they occasionally break from their own story to set up other properties. Want to know what Matt’s mentor Stick was doing in New York, or who he’s reporting to? Sorry, you’ll have to wait for (I assume) The Defenders in 2017.

The Flash is more joyful. Brighter, more fun, and more, for good or ill, comic-booky. Daredevil tries as hard as it can to not be a superhero show, despite taking place in the same universe as the Avengers. Matt’s traditional costume, and the name “Daredevil,” don’t show up until the end of the last episode. I don’t think they ever use the word “Kingpin.”

Flash, on the other hand, is loud and proud about its comic book origins. Easter eggs are, simply put, cooler and more frequent. Where Daredevil tried to keep its villains as grounded as possible (except, okay, for the ninja and the mandated tie-in to Iron Fist’s mystical city of Kunlun), Flash caps off a steady stream of comic book supervillains by having Barry fight a telepathic gorilla. And it’s great. And it should be said… for all that the MCU’s selling point is that everything is connected, Flash and Arrow’s DCWverse is just better at being a shared universe.

On the other hand, The Flash had an Iris problem for most of the season. You wouldn’t catch Daredevil half-assing Karen Page because they didn’t know what to do with her.

They’re both great. They’re both better and worse than the other in different ways, and which you prefer will come down to personal taste.

And with that… we’re finally done. On to other topics. Such as the delayed-but-imminent season finale of Writers Circle. Is “Decisions and Deneuments” as good as Flash’s “Fast Enough?” Well… it’s not as heartbreaking. Some might say… it’s the reverse.

mic drop

 

So last time, I went over my favourite and least favourite characters from the year’s superhero shows: male leads, female leads, supporting cast, and the most controversial of them all, best villain.

I admit… maybe Wilson Fisk was overlooked. Perhaps Daredevil suffered in my rankings because I watched all of it over a month ago, while the finales of everything else (except Constantine) were fresh in my head. I’d totally forgotten about Fisk’s speech in which he realizes he’s been the villain this whole time.

And even beyond that, there’s Wilson Fisk’s international cartel, Captain Cold and the Rogues, Gotham of all things managing to make Victor Zsasz as fun to watch as he’s ever been, it’s been a great year for bad guys, somebody was going to get left out, I’m sure I’m sorry.

I think those were the only oversights, so… wait… no… iZombie is based on a comic book… we’re not calling it a superhero show, are we? Because if we are… well, Best Female Lead would have gone differently. Oh Rose McIver. You are nailing it.

No. No, we’ll assume it doesn’t count.

Anyhoo, round two!

Best fight!

Your average superhero show needs some action. Sadly, not every show gets this. Smallville spent its entire eighth season building up a battle between Clark Kent and Doomsday, and said battle lasted about fifteen seconds. Heroes gave rivals Sylar and Peter Petrelli dozens of powers to play with, then limited their big climactic fight to punching.

Thankfully, those days are gone. For two years, Arrow was the gold standard, but then Daredevil happened, and Agents of SHIELD let Mortal Kombat: Legacy’s Kevin Tancharoen go to work. As a result, onscreen action has kicked it up a notch this season.

Some honourable mentions: Melinda May vs. Melinda May’s doppelganger in Agents of SHIELD’s “Face My Enemy” for a double-dose of extra-cool Ming Na fighting; the Flash vs. the Arrow in The Flash’s “Flash vs. Arrow” (okay, maybe I didn’t need to specify the combatants… I said “Flash” a lot just then) for nailing a fight based around Oliver Queen’s skill and experience vs. Barry Allen’s sheer speed; Arrow vs. an unarmed Ra’s Al Ghul just for Ra’s’ opening line (“I will take your swords, when you’re done with them,”); and pretty much every fight from Daredevil. All of them, always. But here’s the winners.

Bronze medal: Reverse Flash vs. Err’body, “Rogue Air”

Mild spoilers for Flash’s first season.

After an episode filled with self-doubt, betrayal, and defeat, the Flash faces down the Reverse Flash, a man he’s never been able to beat one-on-one. At first, the other was simply faster: but even as Barry works to improve his speed, his opposite number has been fighting the Flash a lot longer than the Flash has been fighting him (wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey), and so at this point in Barry’s career, Reverse Flash is simply the better fighter. So… it ain’t looking promising.

And then, at the last moment, in swoop Firestorm and the Arrow. Me, I’m a sucker for all things Firestorm, as I’ve said, and having the Arrow go a few rounds with the Reverse Flash (with the help of Ray Palmer’s nano-tech) was a treat. Plus there was just something inherently pleasing about seeing everyone come together to take on the Reverse Flash.

Check it out if you like. Although there are potential spoilers for Flash’s first season and Arrow’s third.

Silver medal: Skye vs. Like Half a Hydra Facility, “The Dirty Half Dozen”

A year ago, Skye was just starting to learn how to be a SHIELD agent. She started the first season as a hacker with basically no combat skills. Now, in one single take, we see what nearly a year training under Melinda May can do.

No spoilers, no context really needed, so check it out. This is some John Wick-level stuff right here.

The only way that sequence could have been better is if Skye remembered she has super powers.

Gold medal: The Daredevil Hallway Fight, “Cut Man”

Come on. You’re on the internet. You knew where this was going. Daredevil had the best fight chroeo on anything that could be called television this season, and its crown jewel is the scene in which a bruised, bloodied, clearly exhausted Matt Murdock still punches and flip-kicks his way through at least nine Russian gangsters in one single take.

Let’s just watch it, shall we?

Worst: Flash vs. Clyde Mardon, “Pilot”

This was a tricky one. Like I said, the days of Smallville-style anticlimactic one-punch-and-it’s-done battles with Doomsday or Darkseid, or Heroes never delivering a proper fight between Peter and Sylar, are currently over. Currently. Heroes Reborn is coming, we’ll see what happens.

I considered throwing Constantine under the bus here, but Constantine isn’t based around physical combat. He magic and deceit, you can’t really blame them for not having big fight scenes. Might as well accuse Elementary of not having enough time travel.

But the fight between Flash and weather-powered Clyde Mardon (his more powerful brother Mark would actually be named Weather Wizard) basically came down to Flash running really fast in a circle. And it could have been shot better. But they’ve improved at making Flash’s speed-battles visually interesting as the series progressed.

Best emotional moment!

Nothing like a good old-fashioned feels-bomb. Some of the best Doctor Who episodes can also be the most heartbreaking. And like fight scenes, superhero TV’s attempts at these have also evolved since Smallville.

Potential mild spoilers.

Bronze medal: “I can’t take one more step.” Daredevil, The Ones We Leave Behind

Daredevil gets… kinda dark. Well, that’s not true. It starts dark and it stays dark. And that takes its toll on the central characters. In the back half, a wedge gets driven between Matt Murdock and his best friend Foggy Nelson, a wedge they both accidentally take out on their assistant Karen Page, who ends up alone in what used to be a group effort to bring down Wilson Fisk.

But by the end of the episode, Matt has learned an unpleasant truth about one of Fisk’s allies, and how they finance their operations. And after pushing his friends away (as his former mentor said he would), after suffering defeat after defeat against Fisk, this unpleasant truth is his breaking point. And when Karen, who is suffering from her own trauma, confronts him, he confesses… not that he’s the “Devil of Hell’s Kitchen,” as the media has called him, but that fighting this crusade alone has become too much to bear.

“I can’t take one more step on my own,” he says. And while Matt and Karen are still keeping huge secrets from each other, they reconcile, and Nelson and Murdock begins to come back together. It’s a nice moment.

Silver medal: “I don’t want to die down here.” Arrow, [episode redacted]

Team Arrow loses a valued friend and ally, a painful blow to the entire team. For the whole episode, however, Oliver doesn’t openly react. He doesn’t cry, he doesn’t mourn. He remains the big shoulders, because he knows that his team has no one else to turn to. No one else they can rely on. In his words… if he grieves, no one else can.

Until the end.

Oliver began the season feeling he needed to shed the last remnants of Oliver Queen to focus on being the Arrow, but in one moment, his grief, his fear, his sadness is too much to bear.

The killer hasn’t been found, but the initial shock has died down. The team makes their way out of the headquarters, until only Oliver and his first and closest ally, Diggle, remain.

“John?” Oliver says, his voice cracking. And honestly, it’s odd enough that he doesn’t call him “Dig.” Then, standing over the body of someone he’d been close to, who had been claimed in his crusade…

“I don’t want to die down here.”

Stephen Amell kind of nailed that moment. And yes, it got to me a little.

Gold medal: Basically the whole damn thing, Flash, “Fast Enough”

Flash’s season finale is an emotional roller coaster. Barry finally has the chance to do what he’d never thought possible: go back in time and stop the Reverse Flash from killing his mother. But there are consequences. Martin Stein warns that changing this moment could change everything in the lives of Barry, those around him, or any life the Flash has touched. Which is a lot of them by this point.

Barry seeks out advice from Iris and all of his dads. Joe says Barry has to do it, even though he’s afraid of what he himself would lose: the joys of having helped raise Barry into the man he’s become. Barry’s actual father, who would get his wife and fifteen years of his life back, begs Barry not to do it, and says his mother would agree. Henry Allen is proud of who Barry is, even beyond being the Flash, and is against Barry risking any of that by altering the chain of events that forged him. Iris says to listen to his heart, because why wouldn’t she. And Harrison Wells… has his own agenda.

Every big conversation leading up to Barry’s choice is not just a pull but a yank on the heartstrings, and they nail every one, and the episode is just getting warmed up. As far as heartbreak goes, saying goodbye to the man who’s been a second father, knowing they might lose everything they’d been to each other is the warmup act.

But I can’t elaborate. It’s the perfect end to a stellar season, but it will stab you right in the heart, over and over.

Worst: Barbara leaves Jim, Gotham, “The Mask”

After thinking “I bet if I ask Gotham’s reigning mob boss, like, super nicely, he won’t kill my fiance for trying to arrest him” was a great plan, Barbara Kean has herself a little breakdown, and decides to a) leave Jim Gordon, b) start using drugs again, and c) hook up with Rene Montoya again.

And I didn’t care about a single bit of it. Except by being annoyed that she and Montoya were back together again, because their whole thing was just the worst. Rene Montoya, shining star of Gotham Central, the former Question, should not be stuck in a plotline where she’s trying to prove Gotham’s last honest cop is corrupt because she wants to bang his girlfriend, then becoming an enabler.

God damn you, Barbara, and anyone who wrote for her.

Best storyline!

Stories are neat! Sorry, don’t really have a clever opening for this category. I’ll just… I’ll just start, shall I?

Honourable mention goes to Agents of SHIELD for their introduction of the Inhumans. The story worked well, gave new depth to Skye, and moved faster than any plot from season one. It would make the podium if I honestly believed that it was setting up anything in the movies, be it the source conflict in Civil War or even the actual Inhumans movie. But given that it never seems like the movie branch of the MCU cares even a little what the TV branch is doing, I just… I just don’t.

Bronze medal: Rise of the Atom, Arrow

Given all my various rantings about Ray Palmer on Arrow, I don’t think I need to say much here. Quality origin story for a quality character.

Silver medal: The Long Game of Harrison Wells, The Flash

The twists and turns of Harrison Wells’ schemes surrounding the Flash, his love/hate relationship with Barry, and the mega-emotional payoff were a masterclass in long-term storytelling. That’s really all I can say without spoiling stuff.

Gold medal: “I’m just trying to make my city a better place,” Daredevil

The thing that made Daredevil really excel, and had people demanding to know why I ranked anyone over Wilson Fisk for best villain, let alone Oswald Cobblepot, is that Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk have matching goals. Both are trying to save Hell’s Kitchen, both believe themselves righteous, but they’ve taken drastically different and equally self-destructive paths. Matt is (often physically) fighting the city’s criminals and corruption, while Fisk is using them in an attempt to burn down the city and rebuild it. Both lose allies along the way, though one of them loses allies a bit more deliberately and permanently. Both see themselves as saviours, while being painted as devils.

Having more time to breathe helps make the struggle between Murdock and Wilson much richer than the average movie hero/villain relationship, and it’s a treat to see.

Worst: Theta Protocol, Agents of SHIELD

I’d say something with Barbara on Gotham, but she never really had a “story,” per se. She’d just show up, be a mixture of boring and annoying, do something we didn’t like that felt unmotivated, then disappear for a few episodes and we’d all be happy. She couldn’t even do “be in a bad plotline” right.

Instead, I’d like to toss a few jeers at Agents of SHIELD’s super-forced attempt to connect to Age of Ultron. In the second half of the season, we learn that Coulson’s band of misfits aren’t the only people trying to rebuild SHIELD, and that the rival SHIELD doesn’t trust Coulson in charge. They begin to lure Coulson’s right hand, Melinda May, to their side by revealing the various things he hadn’t been telling his team, including something called the Theta Protocol. What is it? Why hasn’t he told anyone? Will this dark secret project tear apart Coulson’s allies?

No. He was just fixing up the old helicarrier for Nick Fury so that he could swoop in and save the day in Age of Ultron. That established in a thirty second cold open bit, everyone said “Sure, fine,” formed a single SHIELD basically immediately, and got back to dealing with the Inhumans.

They spent three episodes on the Theta Protocol, made finding out the truth a huge deal to May and Simmons, and then tossed it aside in a thirty-second cold open and forgot it ever happened, all so that they could try to give Agents of SHIELD some sort of connection to Age of Ultron. Which is kind of all for nothing, because there is still a goddamn Chinese wall between the movies and Agents of SHIELD.

According to Age of Ultron, the Avengers had been hitting Hydra base after Hydra base for months, probably ever since Winter Soldier. Hydra was the primary nemesis for the first half of SHIELD’s season. You’d think, if the Avengers were fighting Hydra at the same time, somebody on the show, either Coulson or one of the Hydra bigwigs, would have noticed it and thought it worth mentioning.

But they didn’t. And Age of Ultron made no reference or even vague allusion to Coulson or Theta Protocol. So the whole thing ends up feeling like a desperation play to be relevant, a Mary Sue fan fiction where Coulson is totally involved in stopping Ultron even if nobody notices. And then it’s back to our utterly non-Ultron-related plot.

Man these things get long on me… next time, the wrap-up, including my picks for best show.

We begin our segue into a post-Writers Circle Confidential world… at least while the brain trust figures out what between-season bonus material we’re doing.

So in the meantime, now that I’ve managed to get through all of the big comic series for the TV season… okay, except Walking Dead… let’s do a Year-in-review! No, I’m not going to dig up my blogs on what I wanted to see from geek TV this season, that’s no fun for you or me. Instead… let’s do us an award show! Best and worst in a variety of categories.

That’ll be fun for at least me.

(I considered calling it “Geek TV” instead of “Superhero TV” so that I could accuse Game of Thrones of not being “geek friendly,” because this season it isn’t friendly to any of its audience, it hates its audience and wants us to suffer, but… Walking Dead kind of screwed me out of that by existing and being a show I haven’t watched in over two years.)

This week, best and worst characters!

Best male lead!

Sadly, as far as comic book shows go, saying “Male lead” is virtually redundant. Hurry up, Supergirl.

This year, Oliver Queen failed to avenge a loved one and Phil Coulson lost his team’s trust plugging a plot hole from Age of Ultron… which did nothing at all for the plot of his own show… so three freshmen take the podium.

Bronze medal: Matt Murdock, Daredevil

daredevil

Matt Murdock spent the first season of Daredevil in a dark, dark place, fighting against insurmountable odds to make post-Chitauri Hell’s Kitchen a better place. Charlie Cox did a brilliant job portraying Matt’s exhaustion, growing isolation, and resolve to keep swinging no matter what.

Silver medal: John Constantine, Constantine

con3

To put it simply, Matt Ryan was note-perfect as John Constantine. He nailed the look, the darkness, the cynicism, the self-hatred, the way that Constantine has to be practically press-ganged into doing the right thing, but when he does, he’s unstoppable.

He’s the perfect magic-slinging con-artist wizard. Sadly, there seemed to be slightly less market for that than needed. If they can’t find a new home for the series, I’m hoping against hope that Constantine finds his way to Starling and Central Cities next year. Maybe do a magical consult for the Legends of Tomorrow.

Gold medal: Barry Allen, The Flash

THE-FLASH-Full-Suit-Image

It’s not just that relatively young Grant Gustin has been unexpectedly good as Flash’s Barry Allen. Which he has. I no longer flinch at hearing a cast member of something is a Glee veteran. It’s not just that he sold every heartbreaking moment in the finale, which oh gods he did, don’t get me started.

It’s that Barry Allen is, simply, the best hero. The inspiration, the light in the darkness, the one who struggles to be on the right side, even in his first year as a hero. The Flash had a stellar first season, and it couldn’t have done that without a stellar lead.

Worst: Jim Gordon, Gotham

Look. He tries as hard as he can. He doesn’t do a bad job as Jim Gordon. But the problem is, “Angry that the system is corrupt” and “So dedicated to doing the honourable thing that he gets himself in trouble” only takes you so far when the show doesn’t let you move forward. As such, Jim gets in a rut while his partner gets all the development.

Best female lead!

Gonna have to stretch the definition of “lead” here, but our gold medallist demanded the category exist.

Ohhhh this is hard. This shouldn’t be so hard. Why aren’t there more female leads. Why are the ones who exist so underwritten. I want to say Laurel from Arrow, but that whole “I’m-a lie to my father for a year until it explodes in my face” thing isn’t doing her any favours… Flash’s Caitlin Snow is not what you’d call a lead… the women on Gotham are almost unilaterally terrible… This isn’t why we can’t have nice things, nerd culture. Shit like this. Okay. Doing my best.

Bronze medal: Skye, aka Daisy, aka Quake, Agents of SHIELD

Skye

Skye takes the bronze just for being Agents of SHIELD’s most-improved character. A weak link of the first season (better than pre-Hydra Ward, not on par with Melinda May), she came into her own in season two both as a SHIELD agent and our perspective character into the world of the Inhumans. While I’m still hesitant to believe that this plotline will have much if any impact on the Marvel movies (even the actual Inhumans movie), it gave Agents of SHIELD something to do besides sit around and wait for a movie to react to, which after their first season they sorely needed.

Skye met her murderous father (a highlight of the season), discovered she’s an Inhuman (and that Inhuman is a thing you can be), gained seismic powers, and became enough of a badass that even without powers she managed a couple of John Wick-level one-take fight scenes that rival any action sequence this season.

Silver medal: Karen Page, Daredevil

Karen-Daredevil

Daredevil had a slight problem with throwing its female characters into peril for plot purposes, but I give Karen Page props for never fully becoming a damsel in distress. She saves herself about as often as Matt and Foggy do (Really? She needs Foggy to save her at one point? Goddamn), even if in one case she potentially does considerable damage to herself in the process. On top of that, she’s instrumental in the crusade to expose and convict Wilson Fisk, and when Matt can fight no longer, it’s Karen who picks him back up.

Matt saved her physically, and she saved him spiritually.

Plus Deborah Ann Woll was amazing in the role. That helps. It was the kind of performance that gets characters brought back from the dead in the comics. Assuming she survives season two, anyway… no guarantee there…

Gold medal: Peggy Carter, Agent Carter

Carter

Was there any doubt? Comic TV was hit and miss at best when it came to writing female characters, but with Peggy Carter they nailed it. Having female showrunners couldn’t have hurt. Haley Atwell made Agent Carter’s eight-episode run appointment viewing. And Haley herself is advocating increasing the diversity on their white-ass cast.

The best written and best developed female character in geek TV, and a certified badass to boot.

Worst: Iris West, the Flash

Ugh. Again, it’s not the actor’s fault. The Flash didn’t have many flaws in season one, but their treatment of Iris goes right to the top. Greg Berlanti and His Amazing Friends learn as they go… mostly… and one thing they’re learning is that “I must protect my identity from those closest to me” gets old FAST.

It certainly did with Iris.

The problem is, the wider the circle of characters who know the hero’s identity becomes, the weirder it gets when certain characters are left out of the loop. So it was with Iris. When nearly the entire cast knew Barry’s secret by the end of the pilot, “We can’t tell Iris to protect her” just… lacked credibility. It stuck her in a shallow and unflattering story for nearly the whole season.

Also… if you’re going to set up a romance plotline between two characters, you really need more than “Well, they got together in the comics” if you’re going to ask your audience to get invested in them. That’s all that Oliver and Laurel had on Arrow, and by the end of season one, the writers wisely moved on.

Best supporting character!

It’s generally understood that a comic book show needs an ensemble. Obviously team shows like Agents of SHIELD and Legends of Tomorrow need an ensemble, but even shows based around one guy like Arrow, Flash, and Daredevil still need a strong supporting cast, like the team from STAR Labs or Wilson Fisk’s cabal of international stereotypes. And man, by and large it’s working. The Daredevil cast helps build a surprisingly blood-soaked 13-part epic, the Arrow ensemble saves us from the godawful voice-over narration from the first episodes, and the crew from the SSR in Agent Carter are what sell the overall theme of “the difficulties facing women in post-war America.” Here’s some standouts.

Bronze medal: Harvey Bullock, Gotham

Bullock

Gotham’s supporting cast is one of highs and staggering lows, but Harvey Bullock is one of the highs. Gotham could jump from often okay to great if they fired most of the cast and just made it Bullock and Alfred solving crimes while Penguin conquers the underworld in the background.

Where Jim Gordon was stuck in a holding pattern of “Curse this city’s corruption that by the nature of the show can’t change in a hurry,” Harvey Bullock could grow and evolve. Harvey started out symptomatic of the GCPD’s corruption, but has been gradually changed by exposure to Jim Gordon’s honest ways. If the entire show could be a little more like Harvey Bullock, they might get somewhere.

He also gets basically all the best lines.

Silver medal: Ray Palmer

Arrow

As I said when I talked about Legends of Tomorrow, the best thing Arrow’s third season did was introduce Brandon Routh as Ray Palmer. Sure, they turned him into a nerdier, ad-hoc Iron Man, but damn it it’s working. Routh’s quirky charm made Ray Palmer a highlight of any episode he was in, and justified making a second spinoff, which means DC is now the CW equivalent of CSI at its peak.

Gold medal: Joe West, The Flash

West

 

His mother may have died when he was a kid, but Barry Allen has a wide variety of dads. His actual father, Henry Allen, who he hopes to one day see out of prison; Harrison Wells, his mentor, the man who’s teaching him to be the Flash; and Joe West, the cop who took him in after his father went to jail. And while nearly all of Barry’s scenes with his father are touching, and Harrison is there to teach him how to use his speed, there’s a real love between Joe and Barry. Joe was Barry’s lifeline, the first in line to help him through his tough times. By midseason, I was terrified that the bloodlust Greg Berlanti and the Funky Bunch demonstrated on Arrow would turn on Joe.

And to be honest… he might not have gotten the gold a week ago, but his scenes with Barry in the finale were incredibly touching. Barry wasn’t born Joe’s son, but damned if Joe hasn’t become the father he needs. A father willing to make a sacrifice beyond measure for the benefit of the man he raised.

He’s also the conscience of Team STAR Labs, Barry’s first and best ally in the quest to find the Reverse Flash, and has the best reactions to Barry’s powers.

Worst: Barbara Kean, Gotham

God damn. Barbara is just the worst. The absolute worst. Remember what I said about needing something other than “they get together in the comics” to make us invested in a character? At least the Flash writers tried. Barbara is… she’s nothing. She started useless and kind of whiny, became something to throw in danger to motivate Jim, and when it was clear that she was the worst character on a show that wasn’t exactly knocking their whole ensemble out of the park, instead of trying to course correct they doubled down. It was like they went out of their way to find new awful plot points for her.

She ruined Renee Montoya. Created for the animated series, hero of No Man’s Land, primary character of Gotham Central (one of the best Batman spinoffs ever), heir to the title of The Question, that Renee Montoya. In a better world, she’d be the lead character of a Gotham Central TV show. Instead, she’s the second worst character on Gotham, was barely in the back half of the season (did she or her partner even show up after the fall finale? I can’t remember, they were that unmemorable), because her story was tied to Barbara and Barbara was fucking toxic.

As of the season finale, she may be god damned irredeemable. This woman cannot possibly be Batgirl’s mother. I will not accept that.

Best Villain!

Now here we have an embarrassment of riches. If you’re a comic book fan, then this season brought you Ra’s Al Ghul and the League of Assassins, Amanda Waller and the Suicide Squad, Deathstroke, Absorbing Man, Hydra, the Kingpin, a 1940s Black Widow, Felix Faust, Eclipso, most of Flash’s rogues gallery, Mark Hamill reprising the Trickster, and even Gorilla Grodd.

Gorilla Grodd. On network television. What a time to be alive.

And those aren’t even the three who made the podium.

Bronze medal: Cal Zabo, Agents of SHIELD

Cal

 

The first season of Agents of SHIELD, like any Marvel movie but the first Thor, had a villain problem. None of them were interesting until after Winter Soldier. Season two fixed that with Hydra’s Daniel Whitehall, but more than that, Skye’s murderous father, Doctor Cal Zabo, known to comics fans as Mr. Hyde. They never said that on the show, though. Which would never happen on The Flash. Someone would have been calling him Mr. Hyde by the end of his first episode. Just sayin’.

Cal flipped from genial to rage filled at the drop of a hat. He was capable of sudden, brutal, even horrifying violence. But deep down, he was just a man trying to bring his family back together, after they were torn apart (metaphorically, and in one case disturbingly literally) by Hydra. All he really wanted was to find his daughter, and bring her home.

And thanks to Kyle MacLachlan, he was riveting.

Silver medal: Oswald Cobblepot, Gotham

Oswald

Is Oswald even really a villain? His main targets are Fish Mooney and Sal Maroni, far worse villains than he was at the start. But I guess he does kill a lot of people along the way… that flower delivery guy didn’t deserve what happened…

What he is, though, is the most fascinating character on the show. Jim’s crusade to clean up Gotham can’t really succeed, because if it did, why would the city need a Batman? But Penguin’s bloody climb to the top of Gotham’s underworld? That’s good television.

Although… he is weirdly selective about when he’s capable of violence. When Fish or Maroni confront him, he cowers. Any other time, he takes the knife train right to throat town. Which is enough to bump him down to second place.

Gold medal: The Reverse Flash, I think you can guess which show he’s on

Reverse Flash

“I’m not like The Flash at all. Some would say… I’m the reverse.”

Fifteen years after Barry’s mother was killed by a mysterious man in yellow, Barry came face-to-blurry-face with him in Flash’s fall finale. He uttered those words above, and we had our arch-villain. Those words, along with his other signature quote, “To me, you’ve been dead for centuries,” are still echoed across the internet wherever Flash fans find a chance to comment on something.

Reverse Flash’s long game provided The Flash’s central mystery, and its conclusion was the season’s best finale. That’s really all I can say. There’s some serious spoilers involved here.

Worst: Raina, Agents of SHIELD

God I hate Raina. She was insufferably smug when she thought she was on the right side. She moved from villain to villain, be it the go-nowhere Centipede plot of season one, Agent Garret, Cal, Hydra, or the Inhumans, so that every major plot had Raina smugging it up. She was obsessed with “What we become,” something that only made sense because corporate synergy kept the show on the air long enough to reach the Inhuman plot, and when she finally did “become,” she was instantly whiny about what she got, blaming everyone but her own hubris. Until she saw a way to use her newfound powers to be a big shot again, and then bam, right back to smug.

Thank god the actress playing her is on Preacher now. Season three should be Raina-free.

Next time… best stories, fights, and more!

Thursday I took us through a deep examination of the trailer for November’s Supergirl series. A deep, deep examination. And yet, still missed a couple of details. For one, it’s struck me that the Supergirl trailer has managed to anger both feminists and MRAs. Not sure if that’s an accomplishment or a red flag. Regardless, I chose to only address the feminist complaints, because I’ve yet to hear an MRA complaint about anything, ever, worth addressing.

Second, I forgot to mention that two of her supporting cast have names that suggest they turn evil eventually, becoming The Toyman and the Cyborg Superman. But since, as of this writing, Caitlin Snow has yet to become Killer Frost, let’s put a pin in that.

I also wondered why the show is set in “National City.” I mean, I get it, I know, DC has a long and storied history of using fictional cities, but if breaking that habit and using, say, Chicago is so hard, why not use any of the many, many fictional cities that already exist?

But then it hit me. They can’t use Metropolis, because Superman’s probably still lurking around there. Even if it made sense for Supergirl to live in Gotham, that’s being used by some other show whose name escapes me. And as for Central City, Star(ling) City, Opal City, Coast City, and Blüdhaven, they’re all being used by the people behind our next entry.

Ladies and gents, the unfortunately named but promising looking DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.

Let’s take a look.

0:06 “I started this alone.”

Our first 45 seconds are a montage that serves as both a brief history of, and victory lap for, the DCW-verse, as I’ve come to know it. As Oliver says… it began with just Arrow. They weren’t trying to build a three-show empire. They were just trying to tell a story about Green Arrow, and then piece by piece, decided to see who else they could work in. As evidenced by the shot of the Arrow leading Arsenal, the proto-Canary, Nyssa Al Ghul, and a horde from the League of Assassins into battle.

And thus came The Flash.

0:19 “And then things just got stranger.”

I could talk a lot about The Flash’s stellar first season, how it rose to become the best comic book show on TV… but I just want to flag the music.

The Flash’s primary theme is four notes at its longest. You can hear it right at 0:19. But for four notes, it can do a hell of lot.

The history concludes with a few team-up shots of Flash and Arrow, which, yes, were a highlight of each show’s season. Flash and Arrow manage team-ups and cross-continuity in a way not even the Marvel cinematic universe does. And then… we see the next level.

Okay I think I’m done sweet-talking Flash and Arrow. Let’s get into what we see here.

0:52 “Sometimes the world needs a team.”

Okay, one more quick handy to Greg Berlanti and company, masterminds of the DCW-verse. Upon being told that they would not tie into Man of Steel or be featured in the planned Justice League movie, they said “Fine. The DC Universe is full of cool characters. We’ll build our own team.”

Okay, maybe slightly less photogenic than Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck.

Okay, maybe slightly less photogenic than Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck.

At first glance, they might not look like much. But with one exception (she’s new), you’re looking at a collection of the best recurring characters the last two years of superhero shows have produced. Okay, let’s call them the best recurring characters from the DCW-verse, I’d really rather not get into a whole thing about Daredevil right now. Or Kyle MacLachlan’s work on Agents of SHIELD. For those unfamiliar, let me introduce you to some folks.

1:01 “A girl with wings and a past lives complex.”

The newbie.

The newbie.

Hawkgirl, frequent partner and occasional paramour of Hawkman, is one of three newcomers on the show. Hawkman is one of those characters who’s had a rough ride as far as continuity goes, and Hawkgirl was dragged along with him. In the 40s, They were Carter and Shiera Hall, an archaeologist and his girlfriend-turned-wife who believed themselves to be the reincarnation of Egyptian prince Khufu and his lover, Chay-Ara, who used wings made out of a substance called Nth-metal to fight crime. In the 70s and 80s, they were Katar and Shayera Hol, hawk-themed police officers visiting from Thanagar, the planet Nth metal comes from. In the 90s… I don’t have time to get into that. Let’s just say Hawkman got weird, and then ended up being retired for a while.

This Hawkgirl is the one that showed up after that, in the late 90s. Kendra Saunders is haunted by past lives, including Shiera Hall and Chay-Ara. Throughout the centuries, she’s been reincarnated as a series of adventurers and crime fighters, always falling in with the reincarnation of Khufu (aka the eventual Hawkman), her eternal lover.

As indicated, TV Hawkgirl is haunted by past lives (one of which popped up on a movie poster in an early Flash episode), but I wouldn’t expect to see Hawkman in a hurry. The Kendra Saunders Hawkgirl has preferred to work separately from Hawkman more often than not. Anyway, Hawkgirl can fly and whoop your ass with a mace. We mostly see the flying here. Since she hasn’t shown up yet, there’s not much more I can tell you.

1:07 “A deceased assassin.”

Okay. Some spoilers for Arrow here. Skip forward if you want to avoid them.

Still here? Okay then.

When Arrow viewers first met Sara Lance, she was the sister of Oliver Queen’s girlfriend, Laurel, who he’d chosen to invite along on the disastrous yacht trip that left Oliver stranded on an island and everyone else apparently dead. A year later, Sara turned up in Starling, now played by Caity Lotz, while we learned that she and Oliver had also met up on the island back when. Was the recast an attempt to obfuscate the newcomer’s identity? Maybe, but it was a smart move.

Sara was now on the run from the League of Assassins and fighting crime in a costume reminiscent of frequent Green Arrow paramour Black Canary. The thing is, we’d assumed that Laurel, full name Dinah Laurel Lance, was destined to be the Black Canary. Which implied a dark end for Sara.

As the Canary, Caity Lotz soon became a key and valued member of Oliver’s supporting cast, both in the present and his flashbacks to the island. She brought heart and a healthy degree of ass-kicking to the show’s second season. But since Sara Lance doesn’t exist in the comics, just her sister Dinah (or Laurel, to Arrow viewers), it seemed inevitable she’d meet an unpleasant fate. I won’t spoil when, but she wasn’t called a “deceased assassin” for no reason. Hence a great deal of confusion when she was announced as part of the cast. But one thing seems pretty clear from the trailer.

Well, okay, it's not super clear out of context...

Well, okay, it’s not super clear out of context…

For those who haven’t seen the back half of Arrow’s third season, that right there is Sara Lance emerging from a Lazarus Pit, magical waters capable of extending life and raising the dead. Somehow, Sara’s body must find its way to one of the pits. Not improbable, since Sara’s on-again, off-again lover Nyssa Al Ghul, daughter of Ra’s Al Ghul (yes, Sara’s bisexual), has access to the pit and motive to bring Sara back. But as Oliver was warned, the person who comes out of the pit isn’t always the same as whoever they were before. So the impact of her resurrection remains to be seen.

She still kicks ass, though.

That's her with the staff, surrounded by fallen foes.

That’s her with the staff, surrounded by fallen foes.

1:14 “A pair of criminals.”

Second most confusing in the cast announcements? Wentworth Miller as Captain Cold, followed by Dominic Purcell as Heat Wave. Captain Cold and Heat Wave are two key members of the Central City Rogues, a band of Flash villains who were returned to prominence as some of DC’s best supervillains by Geoff Johns, an executive producer on Flash and Arrow, and Chief Creative Officer of DC Entertainment, a job he landed by being DC’s best writer. Johns made it a mission to give all of Flash’s villains time in the spotlight, and took a particular interest in Leonard Snart, aka Captain Cold, striving to put him on the same level as, if not the Joker or Lex Luthor, certainly the Riddler or Brainiac.

As of this writing, Captain Cold has made four appearances on the Flash’s TV show (Heat Wave, only two), plus a brief cameo in the season finale, and each one has been a highlight. He’s one of the only villains able to outsmart the Flash more often than he doesn’t, and Wentworth Miller makes him a joy to watch. Which led to a dilemma… if he’s on the spinoff, then how can he ever lead the fully formed Rogues? But on the other hand… it would mean way more appearances by Captain Cold next year, and that can’t be a bad thing.

And from the trailer, he’s still having fun, even if circumstances have him on the opposite side as normal. Although what’s weird? The only shots of Heat Wave are from his first appearance on The Flash and the Superhero Fight Club short they released a couple of weeks back. Maybe he’s not in the pilot? And yet he’s referenced… huh. Time will tell, I guess.

1:20 “More tech than he clearly knows what to do with.”

The third season of Arrow had some flaws. The season’s arc was a little muddy, it’s been accused of catering to shippers too much, discarding a relationship that made sense in favour of one fans seemed to prefer (clearly not all of the fans, from the online complaints…), and having a conclusion that, while good, was less massively satisfying than their second season blowout battle royale against… well, just watch it.

But there’s one thing they did absolutely right, and that is Ray Palmer.

Yes, fine, hello Ray.

Ray Palmer in the comics is a scientist who used white dwarf star matter (don’t give me that look, it made sense in the 60s and now we’re stuck with it) to build a belt that let him shrink to sub-atomic size, becoming Justice Leaguer The Atom. Ray Palmer on Arrow’s third season is a much, much richer scientist who builds himself a flying, ray-shooting suit of armour that he intends to use to protect the people of Starling City (which he wants to rebrand Star City to distract people from the fact that terrorists try to wipe it off the map every May). Sure, he talked about miniaturization and nanotech a lot, and still calls himself the Atom, but he didn’t get around to shrinking this season.

So, yes, a little more Tony Stark than classic Ray Palmer, I’ll grant you. But damn it, he works.

Brandon Routh, known best for his last attempt at playing a DC superhero, brought a wit and charm to the character that Arrow had lacked since Oliver’s best friend Tommy learned his secret identity and got all broody about it. Ray is more than a little nerdy, super enthusiastic about his mission and tinkering with his suit, and despite his dark, admittedly women-in-refrigerator-y motivation, generally a beam of light on what was otherwise a fairly grim season. When rumours of a third DCW-verse show began swirling, I was torn between The Atom and our next entry for who I wanted to star.

Oh, and the final seconds of the trailer reveal that yes, The Atom will finally learn how to shrink. Here’s hoping Ant-Man doesn’t ruin that for him.

1:29 “Half a hero.”

The other character I wanted to see in a spinoff? Firestorm. The Flash took Firestorm back to his roots: a nuclear-powered, flame-headed hybrid of Ronnie Raymond (played by Robbie Amell, cousin to Arrow’s Stephen Amell, and upgraded from college student to structural engineer) and physics professor Martin Stein.

I started reading comics seriously back around 1985. Back then, Firestorm was at his prime. He/they had a major role in the mother of all “event books,” the universe-redefining Crisis on Infinite Earths, and was soon added to the latest iteration of the Saturday morning cartoon equivalent of the Justice League, the SuperFriends.

In short, I loves me some Firestorm. And the fact that Alias’ Victor Garber was playing Martin Stein was icing on the cake. So when it was announced that the new spinoff would feature both Brandon Routh’s Ray Palmer and Victor Garber’s Martin Stein? Move over, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, we have a new set of Science Bros on the way.

However.

Above “But she’s dead, isn’t she?” and “But they’re villains, aren’t they?” the biggest question being asked of Legends of Tomorrow is “But where’s Robbie Amell?” Firestorm is still, last we saw, a hybrid of Ronnie Raymond and Martin Stein, and when fused, still looks like Ronnie. So why isn’t he on the show? And it’s not because Stein doesn’t become Firestorm anymore. While a lot of the shots of Firestorm in the trailer come from Flash episodes, he’s right there in the “big action” section.

FWOOSH

FWOOSH

Well… Martin Stein, in his breakdown of the group, did refer to himself as “Half a hero.” And when he goes on to say “My other half is… combustible,” they cut to another shot when he says “combustible.” Which implies that that isn’t how he actually ends the sentence. Makes one suspect that he uses another word, like, say, “gone.” Maybe early next season, something happens to Ronnie.

Because there’s one more character who doesn’t appear and isn’t mentioned in this trailer: Franz Drumeh as Jay Jackson, a name that means nothing, absolutely nothing, to DC fans. So it’s possible that Martin now fuses with Jay Jackson to become Firestorm. Which would be an odd choice. Firestorm lore already has an alternative to Ronnie Raymond: Detroit teenager Jason Rusch, who has been at least half of Firestorm in the comics since 2004, has been introduced on The Flash, and would even add to cast diversity in the same way Jay Jackson does. But whatever, give me more of Victor Garber’s Martin Stein and I’ll make do.

Final thoughts

  • This was supposed to be shorter than the Supergirl entry. That did not happen.
  • Casting Doctor Who vet Arthur Darville as time traveller Rip Hunter is a genius bit of fan service. Proving again that Greg Berlanti and company live to please me specifically. And that swagger on “I’m from East London. Oh, and the future,” looks good on him.
  • Do I need to tell you anything about Vandal Savage that the trailer doesn’t? No, probably not.
  • They sure do like that giant battle scene at/in the dam. We spend almost half the trailer there. Looks okay so far. Arrow has always had good fight choreo, but they might need to step up their game to compete with Daredevil. Blending proper fight choreo with powers is a good start. Something Agents of SHIELD should start experimenting with.
  • I do not want to wait until January for this thing. I really very do not.
  • I can only hope that in a year or two, this fan-intro becomes more accurate:

Alright. Done now. No new Writers Circle this week, so on Friday we’ll talk about… something.

Hasn’t really sunk in yet that this is our penultimate episode. Gonna miss talking about this show with you every Friday. Well… here’s the episode…

Let’s get to it.

Where it all began

This is the first episode of Writers Circle that was ever written. It’s also the shortest, and those two things might go a little hand-in-hand.

People close to the show must be getting tired of me mentioning the train in Switzerland, but it’s not only where the series started, but where this episode was written.

It’s not a short train ride from Venice to Zurich. And while Switzerland is really pretty to look at, all mountains and lakes and waterfalls… god damn it somebody start paying me enough money that I can take off to Switzerland on a whim, ’cause I really want to right now… sorry, I’m back. Anyway, as I’ve said before, when I’m far from home with little to do but think (Ian was napping or journalling or a combination of the two), it tends to spark creativity. In this case, I thought of all the videos Ian and I had shot together, and wondered why we hadn’t started doing more stuff. Especially given all the times Keith had said “We should be shooting stuff for the internet.”

So I decided that the three of us should make a series out of Writers Circle. And, since we were still somewhere other than Zurich, I decided I may as well break out a notebook and do a proof-of-concept episode. I just needed something to write about. And what I came up with was giving Jeff a crazy on-again, off-again sex-buddy named Claire.

So before Ted, before Brent, before our fourth lead Zoe… there was Claire. Which is why it feels a little odd it’s taken this long for everyone to meet her.

That’s why Phil drags Becky along and not Zoe, by the by. Because Zoe didn’t exist when I wrote this.

The episode’s a little short, all told, and I’d like to blame that on the fact that I wrote it by hand on a train, and was trying to keep the premise as short and simple as I could because, well, internet. It did turn out shorter than I expected, though. It’s… kind of a simple bit.

I also could have done another pass on the episode to reflect the strained relationship of Phil and Jeff, or at least acknowledge that things were weird, but that Phil is still Jeff’s first phone call in a crisis. But honestly, I liked the simplicity.

Creating Claire

The “crazy girlfriend” is kind of sadly cliche. There needed to be something specific to why Claire was seen as “crazy.” So I picked a specific adjective to define Claire, and that adjective is “volatile.”

Claire likes to live on the edge, like a less self-destructive version of Danny Devito’s character from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. She’s into things that are crazy and dangerous. She likes a thrill. And simply calling Jeff and asking if he wants to hook up is way too boring, so she’ll spend untold weeks breaking into his apartment and screwing with his watch and clocks, until she’s ready for the endgame. The endgame involves boning.

But I also wrote that final conversation between her and Becky to show that as volatile as she is in her personal life, she’s actually very together and successful in her professional life. Crazy Claire isn’t some nigh-homeless bunny-boiler, she’s actually really good at her job, and simply likes to blow off steam with terrifying things and her dysfunctional relationship with Jeff.

We’ll see how well that’s going next episode.

Sex Ponchos

As soon as Keith wrote the words “sex poncho” into Stonebluff Road, it was clear what Jeff had to be wearing when Phil and Becky arrived. Well, mostly. The bow tie was our costumer’s idea. Aaron didn’t necessarily approve.

He fought the good fight, but was outvoted by basically everyone.

He fought the good fight, but was outvoted by basically everyone.

Aaron happens to own a bright purple poncho. This, we knew, was clearly the sex poncho we required. Sadly, there were only two of us gathering up all the equipment we needed to drag down to our friend Ben’s condo, and in the bustle of collecting the camera, tripods, spare batteries, lights, and sound equipment, the purple poncho was neglected. This we learned once we started getting the actors into costume. That is, at a moment when fixing the problem would have actively cost us shooting time, as the poncho was a half-hour round trip drive away.

This is the closest I came to losing it on set, which is something we try rather strenuously to avoid.

While I was stressing that there was no point in shooting without a poncho, Ben wandered up and said “Why don’t you just use mine?”

There was a brief pause.

“You… have a sex poncho?” I asked, confused that this idea might have existed somewhere other than Keith’s, let’s call it, “special” mind.

“Yes,” he replied. “Is that not why you wrote that?”

“It was not. But… thanks. That’ll help.”

He also attempted to provide some assistance when our sound equipment started overheating and shutting down when we tried to record, but that’s a whole other… thing I’d rather not go into. Instead, it’s time for…

Begrudgingly saying a few nice things about our sound guy

We didn’t have a method of creating convincing punch sounds on set that day, save for actually having Ryan wail on Aaron for three minutes, which Aaron was not super in favour of. So they simply created a placeholder sound by having Aaron smack his fist into his arm over and over.

Which our sound guy, Patrick “DJ Peens” Murray, had to replace with foley. Manually.

Over eighty times.

He made sure we knew that wasn’t a simple process, and that maybe in the future just don’t make noises and let him foley stuff in later.

He also puts a lot of thought into our ringtones. Each ringtone is a joke he’s thought up, found a song, and cribbed just enough of the music to make it recognizable if you paid attention, while still being A) subtle, and B) short enough to not get us nailed on copyright. He claims to care more about the first thing.

Listen closely, see if you can figure out what’s playing when Jeff calls Phil. Or, more amusingly, when Ted calls Becky.

Final facts

I filled Phil’s bedroom with geek stuff, only to have us shoot it so that only the comics and the plush Cthulu were visible. Well, what can you do.

Jeff in the bathtub is the only shot of Jeff’s apartment not filmed at or outside Ben’s place. He’s in my guest bathroom, wearing the pants from my pimp suit as pyjamas. Yes, I own a pimp suit. Do you not?

It is distressingly easy for me to find comics to festoon Phil’s shots with. Even on location.

Next week, blooper reel. In two weeks… the big finale.

And pop by here in the next couple of days if me talking about DC’s Legends of Tomorrow is of interest. Which I choose to assume it is.

Last September, I took a look at all the geek/comic TV heading to screens, including then-reigning champ Arrow’s third season and comeback kid Agents of SHIELD’s second.

Well, there’s some new kids on the block, and they both have trailers out, so let’s take a deep-dive into Supergirl and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.

…Still do not love that title.

Supergirl!

The first look at Supergirl has been a little controversial. Some like it, some find it too… for lack of a better word, “girly,” as though that’s a bad thing for a show about Supergirl that might be trying to attract a younger female audience. Some compare it to the satirical Saturday Night Live sketch in which Black Widow’s solo film is a romcom.

I do not agree, but we’ll get to that. Let’s take a good, close look at this trailer.

0:04: “My name is Kara Zor-El.”

Yup, it’s from the Arrow/Flash guy alright. Wouldn’t be a Greg Berlanti joint if the main character wasn’t telling us their name and a brief synopsis of their life at the start of each episode.

Well, one of them doesn't have it down yet...

Well, one of them doesn’t have it down yet…

Although, since we’ve paused… I found it odd they pronounce it “CAHR-ah.” I usually think of it pronounced “CAIR-ah,” and certainly Smallville backed me on that. But, you know, whatever.

0:09 “My cousin, Kal-El…”

Let’s go ahead and address the elephant in the trailer right now. I don’t know why, but they never once use the name “Superman.” It’s always “Him” or “Your/my cousin.” There cannot possibly be a legal reason why a show about Supergirl can’t say “Superman” out loud, I refuse to believe in something that pointlessly stupid. Spider-man used the word “Superman.” I can imagine a narrative reason why Kara and company wouldn’t say it, maybe she knows him as “Kal” or “Clark” and hearing him called “Superman” feels weird to her, but… this whole “Don’t say his actual name” thing is just off-putting right now, and it’s not just me who thinks that.

I SEE him. He's right there. He's not bloody Voldemort, say his name!

I SEE him. He’s right there. He’s not bloody Voldemort, say his name!

0:26 Montage!

Wow, we just skimmed over a lot… I mean, a lot. All of Kara’s teen years on Earth, and our only glimpse at her adoptive parents, played by former Supergirl Helen Slater and former Superman Dean Cain.

In case you blinked. Or had a seizure.

In case you blinked. Or had a seizure.

This is something that Flash, and before them Smallville, liked doing. What I call Legacy Guest Stars. Heck, both of these actors were on Smallville at least once, now that I think about it. As Clark Kent’s birth mother Lara and a guest villain who was almost but not quite Vandal Savage, who we’ll be talking about when I get into Legends of Tomorrow.

That we just fast-forwarded through that much exposition makes me wonder if this is gonna be a two-hour pilot. I mean, there’s a decent chunk of plot in this six minute trailer even without all that backstory.

0:48 “Fun. Dating’s… fun.”

Kara at work. Where we meet her friend and co-worker whose crush on Kara is either unnoticed, or she’s just trying to be gentle about how unrequited it is. Guys? If I may? Let’s add “friendzoned” to our list of forbidden words instead of “Superman,” okay? Please? Trust me, you’ll be better off.

0:53 Enter Cat Grant

Cat Grant is a decent character when done well. Will that be the case here? Only TIME… will tell. Now, I can see why some people would think, at this point, that the series feels a little more Devil Wears Prada than Agent Carter, but let’s press on.

1:11 James Olsen

Too good for "Jimmy" all of a sudden?

Too good for “Jimmy” all of a sudden?

And here enters Jimmy–sorry, James Olsen, Sup–“That guy’s” best pal. There’s been a lot of race flipping in comic properties lately. Man of Steel’s Perry White, Powers’ Deena Pilgrim, Daredevil’s Ben Urich, Preacher’s Tulip, Thor’s Heimdall, Flash’s Joe and Iris West, and that’s just off the top of my head. And I’m fine with that. It’s more than okay, it’s a good thing. As a white male Superman fan, I don’t feel I’m losing something by having Perry White or Jimmy Olsen be black, and if that causes a black viewer to gain something, then by all means, let’s make the superhero world a little less gleamingly white. The only real issue is that an article about Asian representation in Daredevil made me notice that with the exception of Polynesian Aquaman, the positive examples of race flipping (that is, the ones where a traditionally white character is cast POC and not the other way around… looking at you, Prince of Persia…) are all going to black actors. There are other ethnicities to choose from.

What I’m less okay with is tall, buff, pretty, confident James Olsen. I don’t care that Jimmy Olsen isn’t white. I care that he isn’t a nerd.

But, you know, I’m sure I’ll bounce back.

1:28 “Oh… gosh…”

You can tell me Kara going a little awkward fangirl over Jimmy–James, sorry, still feels weird– is a little romcom. But you can’t tell me it isn’t adorable.

IT'S CUTE, GOD DAMN YOU

IT’S CUTE, GOD DAMN YOU

1:46 “I feel like I’m not living up to my potential.”

So I feel like this is where the people bringing up Black Widow: Age of Me stopped watching. Up until this point, the trailer for our TV show about a superhero has involved Kara stressing about work, not noticing her friend’s crush, being tongue-tied because she met a boy, and needing her big sister to help her pick out an outfit for a date. Not exactly Peggy Carter, and bringing up comparisons to David E. Kelley’s failed and apparently awful Wonder Woman pilot, which tried to make the Princess of the Amazons and current God of War into a crime-fighting Ally McBeal. (The presence of Ally McBeal herself, Calista Flockheart, doesn’t necessarily help with this.)

But if you pay attention to this scene, she is saying that all of those things people seem to be complaining about shouldn’t be the things that define her. She wants to be more than that. Why don’t we all calm down and see if she gets there? Alright?

1:57 “I can fly! At least I think I can.”

I also think the haters missed some significance here. Kara is a woman who, for the last decade and change, has had to work every single day to keep a huge part of herself secret. She’s so committed to hiding her Kryptonian heritage that she’s never even tried to fly. Why wouldn’t someone like that be a little awkward around people? Especially if they’re trying to model themselves after their cousin’s (great, now I’m doing it) mild-mannered routine?

2:00
DC…Not “From the producer of Arrow and The Flash?”

Okay, so, there is a second, more action-oriented trailer that briefly leaked but has been pulled which does remind us that the guy behind this show, Greg Berlanti, also brought us Arrow, which as a reminder is great, and The Flash, which is amaze-balls. Seems they’re experimenting with ads targeted at different demos, and this main trailer isn’t aimed at the people who gravitate to the DCW-verse. Or maybe they wanted to downplay the connection since they won’t be crossing over anytime soon.

Or at least they really shouldn’t. Superman exists in Supergirl’s world (even if no one will say his name), and has for at least a decade. Over on the CW? Not so much.

Anyhoo, this is the part where Kara learns to fly in a panic so she can save an entire plane. Don’t remember any parallel to that in Age of Me.

2:51 Kara gets squeeful

She gets a little excited, yes.

She gets a little excited, yes.

Given that the primary complaint about DC properties is that they’re too grim (with the sole exception of The Flash), maybe we should all be okay with a Supergirl who gets a little excited seeing herself on the news after her first flight successfully saves an entire plane. I know I am.

3:18 “What do you think is so bad about… girl?”

This would be a nice little speech about reclaiming the word “girl” as a positive term, and how calling her “SuperGIRL” doesn’t diminish her as a person… if I didn’t kind of suspect it was written by someone named Greg.

Perhaps I’ll just move on. Except to say that I really, really don’t see why anyone thinks Botox is a good idea.

No reason. Just a random observation.

No reason. Just a random observation.

3:36 “I’m going to tell you something about me…”

Clue number two that the Flash/Arrow braintrust is behind this… she’s already telling her friend her secret identity.

Good.

If three seasons of Arrow and one of the Flash have taught us anything, it’s that “I must hide my identity from the people closest to me” gets old fast. And kind of illogical. Before long you’re thinking “Wait, the entire League of Assassins knows Oliver’s secret, but not his sister? That makes what kind of sense?”

Plus giving the hero confidants helps immeasurably from a narrative standpoint. Arrow didn’t really take off until Diggle became Oliver’s partner.

So yeah, tell Ducky or whatever his name is your secret. Especially if it allows this next montage.

I like that it takes some experimentation to figure out a) how to successfully fight crime (her steering’s a little off when flying after a car), and b) her outfit. Especially when they open with one that seems to make fun of all of Supergirl’s past questionable costume choices.

Nope. But thanks for trying, love-struck best friend dude.

Nope. But thanks for trying, love-struck best friend dude.

Also, does that guy die later? He’s not in the preview at all after this section.

4:58 “Welcome to the Department of Extranormal Operations.”

The DC Universe has its share of shadowy governmental or extra-governmental organizations. There’s international operatives Checkmate, about whom I could write an entire separate article; there’s ARGUS, who in the comics exist to monitor/liaison with superheroes (especially the Justice League), and do… other stuff, I guess, on Arrow and the Flash; there’s SHADE, who specialize in the freakily paranormal… and then there’s the DEO.

The DEO are dicks.

I say this because their most recent appearance, comics-wise, involved hunting down Batwoman, almost letting her cousin die to uncover her secret identity, and then using the information to blackmail her into being their operative and going after Batman.

Here, they deal with all things alien, which sometimes leads to a group you can trust (Doctor Who’s UNIT), and sometimes really quite does not (Doctor Who’s Torchwood, pre-Captain Jack).

So, in short, no, I’m not surprised that the guy in charge is kind of a dick to Supergirl here.

5:17 “Go back to getting someone’s coffee.”

Okay, so, yes, it super looks like the general or whatever from the DEO was mean to Kara and she went home to cry about it and consider giving up being Supergirl. The second, leaked trailer lends some important context: she also gets her ass whupped by the bald alien with the axe. So her first time out goes badly, and she wonders if this was a good idea. Before you complain that makes Kara too much of a girly-girl, an observation.

The same thing happened in the pilot of The Flash.

Barry tried to catch a villain, did it so badly a civilian died, and he needed Oliver Queen to convince him not to give up, and Harrison Wells to convince him to keep fighting when round two proved difficult. That’s a part of the Hero’s Journey monomyth, called the Ordeal. The Green Lantern movie took some flak for spending its entire second act here, but it’s still an important step. This time, it’s Kara’s adopted sister (who is played by Chyler Leigh, who is awesome, so shut your pie holes) who inspires her to keep going.

I wonder why they cut this trailer to skip that kind of important context. I wouldn’t have. It’s just so helpful to explaining things. Making it look like she quits because the DEO guy was a dick isn’t helping your pitch, guys.

End montage

This first-look trailer has one key thing in common with the Flash trailer from a year ago… both kind of sum up the entire pilot. But while Flash ended with a 25 words-or-less summary of the climatic battle between Barry and Clyde Mardon (not-quite-Weather Wizard), this ends with a montage of action beats and Kara flying… oh yes, and James Olsen knows who she is too. In fact, Superman may have sent him to check in on Kara, and certainly gave him a gift to pass along.

Which, like I said… sure. Fine. The secret identity thing gets old, like I said.

And there’s this, which… oh my yes.

Damn right.

Damn right.

As movie/game critic and unofficial Marvel pundit Moviebob said… it’s a light-hearted comedy/adventure show geared towards a female audience, which is exactly what a show about Supergirl should be.

Overall? Kara’s adorable (still pronouncing it CAIR-ah in my head…), the action looks well done, the humour works for me… yeah, I’ll give it a go when it starts up.

In six months. Dang it.

Well. No time left to talk Legends of Tomorrow. I guess we’ll get into that over the weekend, after tomorrow’s Writers Circle Confidential.

And so do we return to a long-forgotten topic: my days as a projectionist. Because I thought I’d take some time and cover an aspect of the movie that most people love but few think about: the trailers. The coming attractions. The twenty minutes of stuff that happens before the actual movie starts.

As a reminder, my experiences come from the before times, from the long-ago, when movies were printed onto physical film which was run through a projector. These days most theatres, certainly most first-run theatres, are digital, so I speak to you now of forgotten arts and witchcraft. The current arts and witchcraft are largely unknown to me.

The Work

One of the chief tasks mid-week for a projectionist was actually building up the prints of the movies about to open. Movies would come in two to three cans of reels, each reel being about twenty minutes’ worth of film. Because in the old days, I’m talking like the 20s here, your light source would last twenty minutes, so that’s how much movie you could show before you switch projectors.

For more on that just watch Fight Club already.

So a movie would be anywhere from five (any cartoon or kid-targeted movie) to nine (Lord of the Rings) reels, with some as short as four and others as long as ten. These reels had to be spliced together and spun onto the projection platters so they were ready to go for Friday.

Like so.

Like so.

It’s a fair amount of work. But it’s not the whole process, because in addition to all of that, we had to build the trailer package.

An average film in my first run days had five coming attractions (one or two of which came from the same studio, were attached to the first reel, and had to be cut off), as many as nine corporate ads, and of course the bits of film saying “Coming soon” and “Feature presentation,” and in some cases “Dolby Digital.” Yes, sure, they’re all shorter than a twenty-minute reel, but the thing of it is, the actual time spinning the film onto the larger reel (from which it would be spun onto the platter) is the least amount of work in the whole process. There’s still the splicing, and if it’s a fresh, unused trailer, you had to frame and cut both ends. And if it came from Alliance (like any Lord of the Rings, for instance), you could bet that there was a bad splice (joining of film) between the studio logo and the actual trailer that if left in peace was going to throw the whole movie out of frame.

In short, prepping the trailer package could take as much time as the rest of the movie. Well, no, I’m not sure that’s true. But it took a while, is my point. Especially when a fresh batch of corporate trailers came in.

The urge to be lazy

So what I’m saying is that I get it. I get the urge to be lazy that would hit my various brethren in the projectionist union. You’ve got four movies opening this week, you need to build trailer packages for all of them, the studio just shipped out a fresh trailer for the new Star Wars movie, but they’re all uncut, so of course you’re going to have an urge to just grab the old, already cut teaser off the shelf and throw that on instead.

I understand. But it doesn’t mean I, in any way, ever approved.

See, there can be real problems just grabbing the old trailer. Most notably, the case of the Rollerball remake of 2002. Rollerball, for those who forgot that it ever existed (and who, honestly, could blame you) was supposed to come out in summer of 2001, but at some point after the release of the trailer, it was pushed back (for largely the same reasons that you’ve forgotten it existed), over and over, until finally getting released in February of 2002.

The problem is… when they’d settled on a release date, they sent out a new trailer, but… some of you have probably guessed where this is going… lazy projectionists decided to just grab the old one and throw it on instead. The old one with the Summer 2001 release date. Given that it was already fall of 2001, that just looks bad.

But that’s a rare, isolated case. Most movies only release trailers when they’re sure of when they’re coming out. The real problem is that you’re still short-changing the viewers.

Back then I was at my most sympathetic to the plight of a projectionist. I know very well how much work is involved in making these three prints of Minority Report, plus whatever else you had to deal with, and how little time you were being given. But I paid money to see this movie, and I care about trailers. I know there’s a new, proper trailer for Ang Lee’s Hulk out, so I don’t want to be stuck with the old teaser that’s just 45 seconds of Eric Bana staring in a mirror.

…Wow. To think there was a time in my life when seeing any amount of Ang Lee’s Hulk seemed a good idea. Such an innocent time.

Still, when someone’s desire to save themselves five or ten minutes means I don’t get to see the proper trailer on a proper screen, it was annoying. A let down.

And what really baffles me, right, is that it’s still happening. On digital films. With, I have to assume, digital trailers. Which would imply that it isn’t more work to have the more recent trailer on the movie, as it’s all just electronic files. Could even be pre-loaded by the studio, for all I know. So why, exactly, did Age of Ultron still have the five month old teaser for Star Wars instead of the… well… newer teaser?

Annoying is what it is.

Meanwhile, at the Moviedome

At the Moviedome it was a little faster. Three trailers, three corporate ads at most (including the ever-present anti-piracy spot, the third of which ran until I left because nobody ever told us we could stop running it), and the trailers we had were almost always pre-used. We weren’t even given a list of what to put on the movie, like a first-run theatre would get. The only rule was that the trailers had to be for movies of the same rating or lower than the movie they were on.

A simple rule. Prevents us from putting Texas Chainsaw Massacre trailers on Finding Nemo. But, then, it also prevents us from putting Texas Chainsaw Massacre on Jeepers Creepers or any other horror movie with minimal gore and no nudity.

There aren’t a lot of movies rated 18A. Horror movies, sometimes. American Pie sequels. We’d get one 18A every few months. So if we got an 18A movie in (say, Empire, which you also don’t remember), I made sure to throw every 18A trailer I could on it, and not, say, Treasure Planet, like one of my coworkers wanted to.

This… did result in one leettle hiccup, though. Such was my determination to use whatever 18A trailers I could whenever an 18A feature came a-calling that I gave no thought to the film’s target audience.

We were weeks away from opening Kill Bill vol. 2, The Punisher, and Man on Fire, all 18A-rated revenge movies. Obviously, I’d be able to advertise the other two on whichever opened first. But until then, I only had one 18A feature to run them on…

The Passion of the Christ.

Because, really, why wouldn’t a horde of Christians who’ve come to pretend it was anything other than religious-themed torture porn want to open the feature with a trilogy of ads for violent revenge movies? You’d be crazy to assume they wouldn’t.

So, yeah, kind of regret that one a little.

Anyhoo… see you Friday to talk about the penultimate episode of Writers Circle’s first season.

Should really get around to filming more of those.

DA NA NA-NA NA

New episode!

DA NA NA-NA NA

Telling you stuff about it!

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First header!

Jeff Stuff

The arcs in season one mostly came about in the same way: Keith would write something (Phil and George, Becky and Ted), I would think “That’s neat,” and throw in additional references to it, leading to the finale where everything blows up.

Jeff, on the other hand, went a little differently.

This week, we meet Jeff’s on-again, off-again sex buddy Claire. Through flashbacks, primarily. And through Phil’s description. At the risk of joining spoiler culture (a call ahead reference to a blog I haven’t written yet), this is not the last we’re seeing of Claire. But the point is, the first Claire episode I wrote is yet to come.

I’ll tell the story of that episode soon enough. The relevance here is that it created a writing challenge for me. I wrote the payoff to Jeff’s arc for the year, then had to find a way to build the set-up into the rest of the season. The major part of which happens this week, as the name “Claire” is said for the first time and Victoria Souter makes her debut.

So when writing this episode, I was both following up on moments Keith and I had written from Night Moves and Favour For a Friend, while setting up things I’d written in episodes yet to come. Well, in one episode. I hadn’t written the finale yet.

More to come on Claire as it develops.

The Brain Trust Screws Up a Little

This episode has what might very well be my favourite shot of the whole season. This one, right here.

Look at all that fancy camerawork and whatnot.

Look at all that fancy camerawork and whatnot.

Like it? We really, really hope you do. Because along with “renting the space for the writers room,” it is one of the two biggest expenses for the whole damn season.

And not even for a good reason, like permits or fancy cameras or buying a proper boom mic instead of MacGyvering something together for me to hold while Ian and I ran a lap around Aaron. No, it was possibly our largest expense because we were a little dumb about getting the shot.

That’s the roof of our friend Ben’s building. Hence Ben being found in the “special thanks” portion of the end credits.

There he is.

There he is.

Everyone in this shoot had been on that roof multiple times. We used to watch fireworks from that roof. It never occurred to anyone, even Ben (who had let us shoot in his home despite not being present), that we weren’t technically supposed to be up there, given the lack of railings and whatnot.

We did a few takes, from a few angles, and once we were convinced we’d gotten the shot visually, gathered around to test whether the sound had recorded properly. A not-exactly-top-of-the-line microphone on a slightly windy roof, there could have been issues.

Let’s call that “Things we could have been smarter about #1.”

While we were packing up the equipment, someone emerged from the staircase, along with either a superintendent or a member of the condo board. Turns out that Keith yelling “action” and Aaron kicking the door open over and over drew a level of attention that fifteen intoxicated people watching fireworks never did. Whoever this basically-pyjama-clad authority figure was, she was super curious who we were and what we were doing up there. Not friendly curious, either. We tried to explain that we had a friend in the building, and he let us on the roof. Ian, ever helpful, even told her which unit.

“Things we could have been smarter about #2.”

I mean, she wasn’t a cop, she couldn’t legally detain us. We could have just left. Darted down the stairs for a few floors then doubled back to Ben’s place. All these things we thought of after Ian had sold out our host.

Turns out knowing a resident was insufficient, as for insurance reasons, he wasn’t allowed up there either. As a result, they changed the locks on the rooftop door. And sent Ben the bill. Which we paid, as we’re not sociopaths, and are capable of recognizing when we’re at fault.

If we’d done the sound check inside, or if we’d been even a little clever dealing with Angry Building Lady, maybe this could have been avoided.

The shot’s pretty as hell, though. Just pretty as hell.

Trash the set

The writers’ room has one episode left to air, but this is the episode where we wrapped it. Which obviously called for a celebratory photo.

That's a wrap for our largest location.

That’s a wrap for our most frequent location.

(I’m wearing a jacket because I’d been rehearsing Frost/Nixon next door while they’d been shooting)

There is a very simple reason that this episode included our final shot in the writers room. Bet you can guess what it is.

Yeah, man. You got it.

Hint: he flipped the bitch.

We deliberately scheduled the table flip to be the very last thing in this room. Because we suspected that when Jeff flipped the table, we were going to break the shit out of it. So before we let Aaron flip it we made sure that we weren’t going to need it again, save as a possible breakaway set piece in Cry Havoc 3 (that poster with Jeff’s head on it). It meant shooting that scene in two goes on two different days, but we were right. That table be broken.

Phil and Zoe

For Phil and Zoe’s relationship, we borrowed a trick from Dan Harmon, creator of Community. On that show, he decided he wanted to try something not normally seen on TV with Jeff and Britta: they’d bang once, to resolve some tension, but wouldn’t become boyfriend/girlfriend. They’d just continue having sex without romance, and that would be fine. But the only way that he could sell that on an American sitcom was to keep it a secret (save for some subtle hints along the way), then reveal that it had been happening the whole time.

So it went with Phil and Zoe. They have their moment back in Origin Stories, a moment that couldn’t help but be ridiculously cute as Ryan and Anna are, in the words of the age, “totes adorbs,” but then next episode George shows up and we forget all about it… until Becky starts to suspect in Favour For a Friend. The reason for this is exceptionally simple.

I will not do “will they/won’t they.” Ever.

Classic 90s sitcom Newsradio had my attention when they cast my favourite Kid in the Hall, Dave Foley, in the lead role. They had my respect when they skipped over “will they/won’t they” and had Dave and his rival Lisa hook up in episode two.

Because will they/won’t they is narrative death. Get two characters into a will they/won’t they situation, and you’re stuck with three equally doomed outcomes: 1) the characters get together but become boring, since the thrill was in the chase (Ross and Rachel from Friends, Sam and Diane from Cheers); 2) your audience gets so frustrated waiting for the characters to get together that they tune out (what actually happened to Moonlighting, no matter what you’ve read); 3) it turns out nobody gives a fuck if they get together, and all the teasing is barely more than dead air (Jeff and Britta).

Will they/won’t they is an invention of narrative devices like comics and four-camera sitcoms, which present at best the illusion of change since they thrive on stability and predictability. When your characters’ relationship is based around almost but never quite getting together, because either hooking up or losing interest in each other damages the status quo, there’s nowhere for it to go. It will go stagnant, because that is the only option. To paraphrase the Master from Doctor Who… that relationship was born out of death. All it can do is die.

So I will not write one. I hope to launch other series in the future, in addition to more seasons of Writers Circle… I hope to be telling stories ’til eternity claims me… but I will not succumb to will they/won’t they. I hate it and it’s awful.

So, yeah. Zoe and Phil banged. Wasn’t a big deal. They might do so again, and it still won’t be a big deal. Relationships have so many more shapes and faces to pursue than “These two are perfect for each other but just won’t see it (until the finale)!” That includes casual sex between friends, exes who get along despite ugly breakups, the bizarre debauchery of  Jeff and Claire, and… well we won’t get into what’s in store for Becky. Because that’s just more fun for everyone.

Random fun facts

I meant to write a scene for Jeff and Tina into this episode, because more Tina is always welcome (because we like the character, not because Kirstie’s a delight to have on set or anything), but the page count told me that I was running out of time and had to get to the punchline. Which, for the record, was Ian’s idea. He’s quite proud of that. As it turns out, I may have been wrong, because this one’s relatively short, but it is right in the sweet spot we’d been aiming for when we set out on this venture, so I stand by the choice overall.

Jeff’s therapist tells him not to do a Tree of Life thing because Tree of Life is terrible and shouldn’t even be considered a “film.” You probably knew that, but it’s been a while since I mentioned it.

I have started to type a fun fact about this episode no less than three times before realizing, each time, that the scene I’m thinking of is next week. Probably a sign that I’m done.

Next week… an interlude in the growing tensions, as Jeff drags Phil into what he’s described as a ghost problem.

I walk on Stonebluff Road, only road that I have ever known…

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that our sound designer, Patrick Murray, is incredibly proud of his choice of ring tones for Becky this week. So there that is.

Let’s talk!

Unexpected twists

This was one of the last episodes written. Partly because it’s one of Keith’s, and Keith took his time producing scripts. Of course, at the time we were writing scripts, Keith had a full-time job, a wife, and two children*, and I had… let me think back, that was 2013, so… nothing. I had nothing. Nothing but time. Time, some rehearsals, and replays of the Mass Effect trilogy. So of course I could crank out episodes five times faster. “Nothing to do” is my superpower. I mean, I’m still going to make fun of him for not matching my output, but it wasn’t without reason.

It was for the best that Keith insisted on taking this one himself, because he took in directions I hadn’t thought of.

The basic pitch for this episode was “Becky asks Jeff and Zoe for help critiquing her friend’s terrible movie.” Seemed like a fun interchange that would get Zoe involved. Since we started breaking the season (“breaking” being an industry term for “figuring out what the hell we’re going to write”) within an hour of creating Zoe, I had some concerns about how to fit her in. We had the “Phil” episode (Deconstructing Phil), we had big episodes for Becky and Jeff, and I knew how to bounce those three off each other. Writing Phil/Jeff banter is second nature to me at this point. But how to ensure we were giving Zoe her time in the sun?

Keith took this episode. He was actually pretty insistent about that. And so it came to be that the premise of the episode, Becky’s friend’s movie, only ends up taking about a third of the screen time. The back half returns to the brewing Becky/Zoe rivalry we glimpsed last week. Only this week, Becky starts to get sick of Zoe’s shit. It was a bit of a left turn from the premise we’d set out, but it gives the episode some meat, which is kind of important this late in the season.

Also, it gives us another glimpse at the complicated relationship between Becky and her victim boyfriend Ted, as well as introducing the fact that he has a sister. That’s gonna be important in a bit.

*Don’t worry, he still has all of those things. Keith does okay.

Echo Chambers

The initial thrust of the episode, that of the titular Stonebluff Road, is a subtle commentary on something that writers everywhere need to be wary of: the dangers of getting stuck in an echo chamber.

Everyone likes to hear that they’re special and talented and wonderful. Why wouldn’t we? It’s a kick. Well, it’s a kick until your lifetime of insecurities and anxieties kick in and you wonder why this person keeps saying nice things about you oh god is it a prank are you being pranked find an excuse to leave–

Sorry. That got away from me a little.

The point is, that being surrounded by people who do nothing but compliment you and your supposed brilliance is like eating nothing but Cadbury Mini-eggs and Twinkies. It’s delicious, and great while you’re doing it, and then you die of malnutrition. Because while you were gorging on what you want, you weren’t getting anything you need. And what you need are people willing to tell you when you’ve screwed something up. And this is something Becky’s friend sorely lacks.

Call it a cautionary tale. Create in an echo chamber, and someone out there is reacting the way Jeff does.

Dawn of Super Fun Happy Good Times Week

This was the second of only three episodes that were shot in one go. And the first that actually took. Deconstructing Phil was the first, but needed reshoots; last week’s Favour For a Friend was third, because finding two days to cram the four of us into that car would clearly have been insane. Stonebluff Road represents the opening of the first and longest day of Super Fun Happy Good Times Week. Our merry band spent something like 13 hours in that room, shooting this and the bookend sequences of Love is Blind. It was also the first day that all four leads were in the same room.

Which always leads to calmness and order, not shenanigans.

Which always leads to calmness and order, not shenanigans.

That did happen… slightly ahead of schedule. Not, like, wickedly ahead of schedule, but by a few hours. No, wait, the schedule was right, but we were… possessed of an unwarranted optimism as to how fast we’d get Stonebluff shot. As such, Ryan’s call time was unfortunately premature. We were still hip-deep in Stonebluff by the time Ryan arrived on set. So for about half of this episode… probably the Jeffless half… picture Phil somewhere in the corner, staying out of sight, staying quiet, just hoping nobody notices him and drags him into this.

Shit. Why did we not just film that. Why did we not end the episode by panning over and revealing Phil at the table. Right, yes, because “Nobody notices me” is Zoe’s bit, and… the other thing that will become clear next week.

Ryan was a trooper about it, though.

Next week… Phil returns, and his banter with Jeff gets real as we ramp up towards the finale in Jeff’s Head.