SF Obscure: Alien Nation TV Movies

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I did a post long ago on ALIEN NATION. If you haven’t seen ALIEN NATION watch it before you read. 🙂 It focuses on a group of aliens, the Newcomers, whose slave ship crashes on Earth and they become part of the population of L.A. It’s a combination of SF and crime drama. The episodes follow two detectives, Matthew Sikes(human) and George Francisco(Newcomer) as they navigate the human and Newcomer (Tenctonese) worlds. The series only lasted one season, but there were a series of TV movies to continue the story.

DARK HORIZON begins where the series leaves off. George’s wife Susan and his daughter Emily are attacked with a engineered virus to exterminate Newcomers. All of the cast is back. Cathy, the Newcomer nurse, is a doctor now. (Newcomers adapt and learn quickly). Matt and George have to find a cure for the virus as well as deal with a Tenctonese agent, Ahpossno, sent by the Overseers, to reinslave them. It’s a good show. The two parallel plots are well paced and engaging-although the Overseer Agent plot takes over if only because the character of Ahpossno is engaging. I also liked the richer exploration of Tenctonese culture explaining its matriarchal origins and life before their enslavement.

BODY AND SOUL follows George and Matt as they investigate what appears to be a hybrid human-Tenctonese child. Because the Tenctonese are bred for adaptability, this may be the beginnings of a new race. This episode also explores the beginnings of Matt and Cathy’s sexual relationship and differing attitudes towards sexuality. It fairly heavy on the social commentary about sexuality and politics, but I think it does the job nicely while keeping and engaging plot.

MILLENNIUM follows George and Matt as they investigate a Tenctonese influenced cult that George’s son Buck falls in with. It’s entertaining, but lacks some of the strong social themes that gave the previous two its impact. Also, the characters of Buck and Emily, George’s kids, never seem to have a consistency to them. I am not sure if its the characters or the writing but their personalities seem to change with the plot, which makes their adventures less convincing. Still, it has its moments and the cult leader, Jennifer, really steals the spotlight.

THE ENEMY WITHIN focuses on a group of Tenctonese called the Eenos who are discriminated against and treated as untouchable. They were forced to do the worse jobs of waste extraction and sometimes survived on carcasses. As a result, other Tenctonese refuse to accept them. The movie begins with an escaped Eeno girl left to die as other Tenctonese refuse to help. Matt is shocked at George’s open bigotry; and George has to confront his discomfort with his slave past. As a subplot, George is asked help father a child. Among the Tenctonese, two males are needed to impregnate a female. George’s wife, Susan, deals with her own feelings of jealousy as human and Tenctonese value systems clash within her. This is a return to Alien Nation’s social themes and a stronger movie than the previous one.

THE UDARA LEGACY is the last of the TV movies. It focuses on a resistance movement of sleeper agents among the Tenctonese. It is the most action SF of all of the movies. There is more screen time given to Emily Francisco and a continuation of some to the relationship of Matt and Cathy. Like the third movie, it moves away from the social themes and as a result, is not as interesting. Alien Nation can get preachy, but it does that well and is most effective in that element. This is still not a bad TV movie, but not my favorite.

 

Well, it’s almost time for the holidays. I haven’t had time to do much TV watching, thought I did get to see BLADE RUNNER 2049 (twice) and THE LAST JEDI. And a few mysteries here and there. (ENDEAVOUR!!) I’m looking forward to BRIGHT- a Netflix series starring Will Smith with elves. I am a fan of anything with elves, pretty much. And the holidays are always the season for my Lord Of the Rings Marathon.

Happy Holidays!

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SF/PARANORMAL Obscure: BITTEN

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BITTEN ran for three seasons 2014-2016 and is fairly new. It is based on the OTHERWORLD series by Kelley Armstrong. The series uses a variety of narrators, and this one is based on Elena, the female werewolf. (The witches plot line picks up in Season Two). I am a fan of the series and Armstrong’s writing in general. I was not able to watch the series in its initial run, but now had a chance to watch it on Netflix. Like many book to TV adaptions there are some differences, but on the whole, I felt like BITTEN captured the spirit of the series and didn’t stray to far from the basics of Elena’s character.

In brief: BITTEN follows the story of Elena Michaels, the only female werewolf known to have survived the change. There are born werewolves and turned werewolves and the survival rate is low. Elena lives a ‘regular’ life after leaving her werewolf family/clan in Stonehaven. A series of murders in the local town means the pack alpha, Jeremy, asks Elena to return as she is the best tracker. It also means she returns to Clay, Jeremy’s son and Elena’s former lover. Like most urban fantasy there is a heavy dose of relationship talk, sexual tension, as well as mystery. We get familiar with some of the other werewolves in the pack as well as rogue werewolves and the politics of the hidden world. And, of course, Elena’s two worlds begin to collide.

I enjoyed BITTEN. It started out a bit slow, but I think the pacing evened out as the series progressed. It does have a lot of the standard love/sex plot lines of most urban fantasy and no real surprises on that end (the hottest people always get to be the couple; 99% of the woman in town are young super model looking) but it’s not overboard. I think what makes it stand out from many of the urban fantasy TV shows-it did an effective job on the dark paranormal elements. The bad guys are truly disturbing. I say this because often in urban fantasy, it seems as it the bad guys are less frightening and more  just complicated and brooding. BITTEN, though, has truly violent and dangerous criminals; as well as the conflict within the ‘good guy’ wolves. In the end, all werewolves are killers to some degree and this show doesn’t shy away from their inherently violent world.

I think it’s worth a watch. I found it to be better than expected. I can get defensive when a book I like has a TV or movie adaptation falls flat- this one didn’t for me. It has some episodes that don’t quite grab you-but the characters are well defined and grow deeper. I liked the actor’s portrayal of Jeremy, the Alpha. In many ways he dominates the show. But hey, he is pack Alpha.

 

SF Obscure: First Wave

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 First Wave was a Canadian action/Adventure SF series that ran from 1998-2001. It ran for three seasons on the Space Channel in Canada. Yay Canada!

The plot centers around Cade Foster who’s framed for his wife’s murder and is on the run to uncover a vast alien conspiracy. From what I gathered-it took a bit to put the pieces together-the aliens kidnapped him and made him part of an experiment to test emotions or responses or something. Anyway, Foster doesn’t become their pawn and goes on the run. He is helped along by Eddie, a guy who ran a paranormal magazine and does all the computer nerd stuff. They are later joined in their quest to stop the aliens by an alien assassin turned ally named Joshua.

The aliens are called the Gua, who eventually intend to take over Earth. The Gua come from a star system via wormhole travel by putting their souls into little silver orbs and inhabiting human husk bodies. (This saves on the make-up budget, I am sure.) Also, salt is a highly addictive drug to the Gua. (If the Gua are inhabiting human bodies why would salt have adverse affects? Nevermind.) Apparently, Nostrodamus was a Gua and his predictions of three waves leading to the destruction of mankind are part of the alien plot. Most of the episodes involve Cade and Eddie following strange, paranormal stories and then investigating them for the true alien link. Every once and a while, law enforcement tracks Cade or aliens try to kill him.

The lead actor Sebastian Spence was later on Battlestar Galactica. I didn’t recognize him from that, but I realized that I did recognize him from the infamous X-files episode Home. Roger Cross, who plays the alien Joshua is apparently in Dark Matter (which I haven’t seen) but was also in the very fine Canadian SF show Continuum. And Traci Lords who was quite famous/infamous in the 1980’s for her porn career and the whole debate about it; but later became mainstream actress.

 First Wave is a decent show. It’s formulaic and loses steam as the episodes go on. But it’s not a bad show and it was an interesting trip down nostalgia lane.

Current TV: Discovery

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Star Trek: Discovery
Spoiler Alert!
I’m late with my next entry, but the truth was I wanted to watch the new Trek, read some books, and give a go at KILLJOYS, LUKE CAGE, and STRANGER THINGS which are now available on Japan Netflix. ORVILLE sadly, is not. Nor is WESTWORLD. I have more obscures to cover and it’s about time for another BLAKE’S 7 rewatch. Maybe I’ll blog that.

Spoiler Alert!!! Spoiler Alert!!

Anyway, I’m a Trek fan so I looked forward to the series. Impression: I liked it overall. I wanted to watch all first three episodes to get more of a feel for it. I liked the lead character Micheal Burnam. Sonequa Martin Green is a powerful actress and does a great job. Michelle Yeoh was good as Captain Georgiou -and now she’s gone which kind of sucks. Saru was a nice surprise as a new alien.

DISCOVERY is very different in that it starts with a character accused of mutiny and the war with the Klingons. This is definitely darker than previous shows though not if you follow the expanded canon-books & comics-or even the original Pike pilot. I don’t care that much about canon; as long as the show works for what it is. So far, I feel like it does. ‘Context is for Kings’ got me hooked. The mysterious ship-Lorca, Landry, Tilly. I can’t wait to see more.

It isn’t perfect. It’s darker-as in lighting which was a challenge. It seems to be a trend in SF to have everything really dark or blind you with screen flares. I hope the future has comfortable room lighting. It’s also MA rated-there is language & it probably means it won’t be family friendly. I don’t mind that if it fits the show but I do still want an all ages SF on TV again. As for storyline- I like Michael but I’m still not sure casting her as a former first officer was a good choice. She seems a bit too green for that. More like a super smart officer working up to it but not quite as much gravitas as I’d expect. It’s early stages yet. TNG took a whole season for some of those characters to even put and make sense.

So that’s my two bits. I doubt I’ll have much to say until the full season run.

SF Obscure: The Visitor

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The Visitor was a 1997-1998 series starring John Corbett. If you don’t know the series, you probably know John Corbett from lots of dramas, particularly if you’re of a certain generation. (Northern Exposure, Sex in the City, My Big Fat Greek Wedding). The Visitor lasted one season for 13 episodes. ( I have seen it listed as two seasons-unsure of how it was broadcast.)

Anyway, John Corbett stars as Adam McAuthur, a WWI pilot who went missing in the Bermuda Triangle. It turns out he was abducted by aliens and returns 50 years later. Adam hasn’t ages and now possesses special powers. Anyhow, Adam has been returned to Earth as a part of a mission to save humanities future. It’s premise is similar to the 4400.

In the pilot, The Visitor is similar to 4400’s human drama themes. The Alien ship crashes and Adam is on the run. He’s helped by a single mom and her son whom become attached to him as he reintegrates to the modern world. Adam uses his special powers and tells us all about how aliens want humans to reach our full potential; love one another; we’re all connected etc etc.  (It reminded me of the 1982 series The Phoenix, with Judson Scott. Anyone else remember that?)

The next episodes become more focused on a larger mission for Adam to seek out special people who will influence history to some mysterious end. It’s still feel good, but with a wider focus. It morphs yet again as a parallel plot line of ramps up with Adam pursued by government agencies. This is full on X-Files copy with hidden conspiracies; nefarious secret groups meeting in hushed voices and casting long shadows in vaulted rooms; classified documents stumbled upon and dossiers tossed importantly across desks; and, of course, black helicopters.

I liked the individual episodes well enough but I did feel as if the series couldn’t decide what kind of show it wanted to be. Family drama SF light? Conspiracy action show? A bit of both? There was a really neat Halloween/ War of the Worlds episode. Even though I was reasonably entertained by the episodes, I understood why it was cancelled. I don’t think all series need a story arc- but I do feel, especially in SF, series need a distinctive style or focus. The Visitor didn’t quite get there for me.

SF Obscure: The Tripods

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The Tripods TV series is a 1984-1985 YA SF series based on a series of books The Tripods by John Christopher. It ran for two seasons on the BBC. There are many changes from the books to the tv series though the basic concept remains the same.

The show begins in the future 2089. We see a pre-industrial version of England. Horse drawn carriages, family farms, etc. A young man in a suit is being congratulated by his friends and family for his “capping “ceremony. He takes off his hat to reveal his shaven head. Out of the sky comes a giant metal tripod, that lands in the lake and  pulls the young man up inside.

Apparently, the tripods are controlled by the Masters, an alien race that controls humanity through capping. When you turn 16 (14 in the books) you get a metal implant in your head-cap-that keeps you from independent thought. It gets rid of violence and greed and what not, but also free will. It also seems to dumb down society-hence the pre-industrial world. Humanity has largely forgotten technological progress. We later find out that many countries are now isolated to the point that no one travels outside their own country, learns another language, or even has the same currency. The caps create a xenophobia which prevents mixing with any ‘outsiders’ and this helps the aliens maintain control.

The focus is on two young men, Will and his friend Henry, who are almost at the age to be capped. Will is apprehensive about capping and what it does to people. They meet up with some of the uncapped/ those for whom capping didn’t work- who live as vagrants. One vagrant, Ozymandias, convinces them that they do have something to fear from being capped and need to escape. On their journey, they begin to figure out their idyllic world is based on mind control and they begin to resist it. There are also agents of the tripods, which chase the boys as Will, Henry, and a new friend  try to convince other young adults to join in and resist the Masters.

The books are a bit different-a prequel book explains the beginnings of the invasion and how the world came to be. The TV series ended without completing the book series due to budget issues.

On the whole, I found the premise intriguing. It does look dated…the clothes and dialogue are supposed to be pre-industrial but even then the episodes and dialogue can be a little stilted and slow. I don’t think a young adult would sit through it now especially with a diet of  faster paced shows.  It is interesting to watch if you want to round out your viewing of the cult classics- and the books hold up fairly well.

SF OBSCURE: BeastMaster

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BeastMaster the TV series ran from 1999-2002 for three seasons. It’s listed as an American/Canadian/Australian series. It was broadcast on Canadian TV initially and filmed mainly in Australia. I’m not clear who owns it. It was loosely based on the 1982 movie The Beastmaster . (Which also has some low budget sequels)

The series centers around Dar (David Goddard) who can talk to animals and protects them as well as saving villagers from various threats. His has a friend Tao (Jackson Rain) a healer whom he travels with. They are later joined by Arina (Marjean Holden) a warrior. Marjean Holden later played the medical doctor on the Babylon 5 spin-off series Crusade.

This is a sword and sorcery world. There are many scattered tribes, lots of lost cities and ruins, and of course, magic. Some of the episodes are action/adventure-with Dar and Tao taking on evil tribal leaders and saving villagers. Others focus on the nature aspect and Dar’s ability to communicate with animals. Later on we learn more about Dar’s past, legacy, prophecy…that kind of thing. There are lots and lots of sorcerers. Most of them are women with perfect make-up and fabulous hair who control some sort of natural object (birds, fire, etc.).

As much as it’s easy to tease it’s not a bad show. There is nothing particularly innovative in the sword and sorcery genre, but it delivers what most people expect of that kind of show. Dar and Tao grow on you; Arina is a cool warrior woman; and it’s general family fare. I started to really enjoy watching it. I can’t say I’d binge watch all three seasons, but it’s a cute show. It reminds me of Xena, Hercules, even Legend of the Seeker. I haven’t seen many shows of that type recently. I tried to watch a few episodes of The Shannara Chronicles, but the young adult hipster elves relationship problems tend to grate at me. I’m just too old for it.

SF/Fantasy July Hodgepodge

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Mary and the Magic Flower

I went to see Mary and the Magic Flower which is put out by Studio Ponoc, directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi formerly of Ghibli. Studio Ghibli is world famous, and if it’s not on your radar it should be.

Spirited Away is probably one of the most famous Ghibli movies internationally and one of my favorites. It’s visually stunning, but I what I really like are the interesting characters and unique creature designs, providing something truly different. Another good one, especially for small children is My Neighbor Totoro. It revolves around two sisters and their father who move out into the country when their mother is ill and hospitalized. It’s a rather bleak premise, but those themes are handled well and they meet a creature known as the Totoro. Check it out.

So, anyway, Mary and the Magic Flower is based on the book The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart. Mary is a young girl who goes to stay with her grandmother. She meets a mysterious young man and his pet cats and stumbles upon a magic flower. Without giving too much away, the flower does give her magic abilities-with limits-and she discovers a magic school. Fear not, it doesn’t fall into the magic school trope and I won’t tell you the ending. It does not go in the direction you think it will, it’s actually all kind of weird, and that was too its benefit.

I felt it was a decent film. It didn’t blow me away, but it was entertaining family fare. It started a bit slow; younger viewers got fidgety in the first half hour, but it picks up speed. It definitely has the Ghibli influence and the animation is BEAUTIFUL. The problem is it is a bit too much like Ghibli so I found myself feeling like just watching Spirited Away or Princess Momonoke again. I felt like the new studio is going to have to work harder to really distinguish itself as different from Ghibli.

****In other news, apparently its the 30th anniversary of Star Cops. I did a post about Star Cops some time ago. A Chris Boucher project that focuses on a police unit (or starting one) set on the International Space Station. It didn’t last long or catch on with the audience, unfortunately, but it now somewhat of a cult classic. The expensive DVD set is available as well as a book by Boucher which covers the first few episodes as he conceived them.

A very good podcast Time Vault-The Podcast of British Cult Classics (https://thetimevault.wordpress.com/) covers it all very well.

****And speaking of crime in space, I recently read SIX WAKES by Mur Lafferty. A group of clones in space wake up to discover themselves murdered. Who? Why? Read it. I really enjoyed it. Amazon.

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****And Andy Weir, author of The Martian has a new book out in November, ARTEMIS, which is apparently about crime on Mars. Space crime is everywhere.

SF/Horror Obscure: Beasts

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This series is awesome. And its more horror than SF, but it’s speculative.

I needed to recover from TekWar, so I decided to watch Beasts. I’d seen one episode a while ago, and was meaning to sit down and watch all six so here was my chance.

Beasts is a short run anthology horror show by Nigel Kneale, the creator of Qatermass.

(If you don’t know Qatermass it was one of the first serious SF TV serials and inspired Doctor Who among other things.) Nigel Kneale has a long and distinguished career in SF and horror.

Beasts originally ran in 1976 on ITV, as six episodes (50min). They are connected by a loose them of strange creatures and horrific circumstances, but the real power lies in the often unsympathetic but completely compelling characters. There are many recognizable actors in the series including Martin Shaw (Inspector George Gently!!!) and Micheal Kitchen (Inspector Foyle!!). I’m a huge fan of British TV mysteries-I’ve watched more of Midsomer Murders than is healthy.

One of my favorite episodes, Special Offer, stars an awkward, plump shop assistant who may or may not be responsible for calling up a poltergeist in the form of the shop’s mascot. Cans fall from shelves, packages of food are torn open and eaten, and items are knocked over with increasing frequency and violence. The worst part, however, is the store manager. He’s a handsome ambitious young man who comes across as smiling and friendly to the customers. He changes completely around the plump shop assistant-berating her, making fun of her weight and her looks. He shows his true self bit by bit as we watch his underhanded schemes and casual cruelty. Yet, as hard as it is to watch, the actress, Pauline Quirke, plays her part of the put upon shop assistant so brilliantly that you can see every bit of her pain, her humiliation, yet her possible power. She’s fantastic.

What Big Eyes has the same effect-taking a run down pet shop, an animal cruelty inspector, a discredited scientist and his daughter. The daughter believes her father to be a genius and a great man, even as he tells the inspector that he thinks her slow and largely useless. Like the shop girl in the earlier skit, we see a compelling, powerful portrayal of a woman who is put upon and victimized, yet it does not turn out as you’d suspect.

Beasts is…creepy, disturbing, hard to watch, yet almost impossible not to. The sets are small and simple, very much like a stage play, and the acting is effective.

SF Obscure: TekWar

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Tek War is based on William Shatner’s TekWar books, ghostwritten by Ron Goulart. There are about nine books in the series. The show started as a series of two-hour TV movies and then a proper second season, from what I can figure out. Open to corrections.

It’s set in the year 2045. A cop, Jake Cardigan, is framed for drug dealing; he’s put in cryo sleep, and then released some years later. Jake goes to work for the private sector for a security firm called Cosmos run by Walter Bascom, ie. William Shatner who, well, is William Shatner no matter what you put him in. Anyhow, apparently the company had Jake released early- he plans to clear his name, reunite with his family, etc. etc. that kind of thing. There is all sort of futuristic crime stuff going on mainly involving sexy holograms and weird new drugs. There’s Jake’s cop buddy Sid, and an android woman.

I pride myself in trying to watch any SF series, regardless of quality, to find the fun point or the gem. I tried my best with TekWar but I could not make it through an entire episode. I tended to give up about 20 minutes in. For many reasons. Silly plots, bad acting, awkward dialogue. I can forgive the budget effects and music; but it just didn’t seem to offer anything new I hadn’t seen before on many B grade shows and movies.

I know there are people who love TekWar and it lasted two seasons, albeit in a much more forgiving television landscape. I don’t want to criticize it too much, but I just couldn’t quite get interested.