One Reason Why Fear The Walking Dead Failed

The bloom is off the rose for The Walking Dead as a franchise while ratings continue to slide. But the franchise is in even more dire straits when considering its spinoff, Fear the Walking Dead, which is a failure. The fourth season begins this weekend and the marketing is hyping up that it will feature a crossover with the addition of Morgan (Lennie James) from The Walking Dead. Ages ago, that would have created intense online activity among fans, but there is hardly any buzz going on about the show and its latest developments. The ratings are anemic, especially when compared to its sister series.

There are many reasons for why the spinoff has been poorly received and they are valid. They include unlikeable characters, uninteresting scripts and a failure to reproduce the tension and thrills of the classic seasons of The Walking Dead. Keeping that in mind, there is one main reason why Fear the Walking Dead does not work and it is because it fails as a proper prequel.

The justification for prequels is that they are supposed to help explain the story and characters of the main source. They go into the background of established characters and embellish them and their world.  Like them or not, the Star Wars prequels are excellent examples. Sure they’re derided but they accomplished the goal of delving into the history of Darth Vader and the fall of the Galactic Republic, which were events not shown in the original trilogy.

When it was first announced, it was accepted that Fear the Walking Dead would not examine the backgrounds of the famous characters in The Walking Dead. So Daryl Dixon’s mysterious backstory would remain obscure and any insights into the main characters would only exist as flashback sequences. Instead the prequel would focus on all-new characters in a different locale in a different time.

When Fear the Walking Dead first premiered, there was hope that an explanation would be given for why the dead were reanimating into mindless flesheaters. People wanted to see how civilization actually collapsed, which had already occurred by the time Rick Grimes woke up from his coma and met Morgan in the pilot of The Walking Dead.

But that did not happen with this prequel series. After some dull early episodes that did not give us any answers about the walkers, the show took a time jump to a point where society already disappeared. This left the show looking too much like The Walking Dead as it copied its premise: a bunch of survivors in a post-apocalyptic world full of the undead, only badly done.

Frankly, we get that already in The Walking Dead. Why bother watching Fear the Walking Dead if it only offers the same thing, but less compelling? The prequel is not different enough to justify its existence, which is why it has largely been abandoned by the dwindling fans. Thinking about it, the prequel’s existence can be thought of when the original show started its decline. It could have gone another route if creator Robert Kirkman allowed some kind of explanation for the walker outbreak. But that is not going to happen and despite Morgan’s addition to the castt, it is probably too late to salvage it and the showrunners should concentrate on the original show.

 

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The Golden Age of Sci-Fi TV

In the previous post, a review of Altered Carbon, it was stated that we are living through the Golden Age of Sci-Fi TV. That may be a bit of hyperbole to some, but with all the quality science fiction TV shows out now or coming soon, it cannot be denied.

Not too long ago, sci-fi TV shows were the laughing stock of television land. Of course, there were the few classic nuggets like Star Trek and The Twilight Zone, which showed the potential of high-quality science fiction tales in the TV medium. However, most sci-fi TV shows were at best pedestrian or at worst embarrassing. Galactica 1980, anyone? Most of these shows had zero budgets, which made them look cheap and amateurish. Having a high budget is critical for many sci-fi programs, but not vital. What crippled many of these shows were the lack of faith from networks and the showrunners themselves who treated their shows like children’s fare and did not take them seriously.

Whenever a science fiction TV show that showed promise debuted, TV networks living by the ratings dogma were too quick to cancel them. The television graveyard of stillborn TV shows is littered with diamonds-in-the-rough like the original Battlestar Galactica, Alien Nation, and Space: Above and Beyond. It was an anomaly to see a genuinely good sci-fi TV show thrive in the competitive television landscape.

alien nationEven with the Sci-Fi Channel (now known as Syfy), high-quality science fiction TV shows could barely be found. Think about that, a cable network supposedly dedicated to this genre had a spotty record for airing good, original sci-fi television. Yes, the channel did air re-runs of past classics, but when it came to original programming, Syfy usually failed. In short, the genre was not respected by studios and the general public.

Thankfully, all that has changed. It didn’t happen overnight and it was a series of baby steps, but now science fiction is a viable and respected genre in television. This turnaround came with the success of the Star Trek spinoffs. Then in the 1990s, The X-Files, the paranormal thriller about aliens and other ghoulies became a bonafide hit and a cultural phenomenon. Other shows in the 1990s and the 2000s made their impact like Babylon 5, Syfy’s Battlestar Galactica reboot, Farscape, Doctor Who (which came back after being cancelled in the 1980s), Fringe and Lost (which won an Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series).Battlestar-Galactica-2003-Cast-PictureToday, there are more and more science fiction TV shows competing for our attention and ratings. There are still the goofy TV shows and guilty pleasures but it has gotten to the point that we can pick and choose what to watch as the threshold for quality has increased tenfold. Just look at what is coming out next month: The Expanse (in its third season), the critically acclaimed Westworld, a new version of Lost in Space that looks stunning, and The Handmaid’s Tale. The latter show also won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series, and as much as we complain about science fiction films not ever winning an Oscar for Best Picture (though The Shape of Water can be arguably science fiction), it is refreshing to see the genre recognized for excellence. What has brought about this reverence has been the stellar quality of the scripts, production design, directing, FX and acting.Handmaid's TaleThe success and acclaim for Westworld and The Handmaid’s Tale, among others, shows how respected science fiction has become on TV. These TV shows like The Handmaid’s Tale are resonating with viewers who can relate to the themes and characters that shine through the fantastical trappings. This is why we fans are living through a Golden Age of Sci-Fi TV , let’s hope it lasts for a long time.

Lewis T. Grove

 

Altered Carbon: TV’s Newest Hard-Edged Sci-Fi Tale

Altered Carbon is the latest example that we are living during the Golden Age of sci-fi television shows. It premiered last month on Netflix. but was mostly dismissed by mainstream critics who probably only sample one or two episodes before rendering their verdicts. However, Altered Carbon, much like its characters, is much more than it seems.

Both Kovacs Altered Carbon

Based on Richard K. Morgan’s novel, Altered Carbon takes place hundreds of years in the future where humanity has essentially become immortal. This was accomplished with the introduction of alien technology that allowed human consciousness to be downloaded into “stacks”, devices that are implanted on the base of one’s neck. Everytime a body is near death, the stack transfers the consciousness into another body, called sleeves, with its own stack. This has a profound effect on humanity as people live hundreds of years and casually transfer onto new bodies as swiftly as we change our clothing. But this has not created a paradise. Constantly switching to new sleeves has a profound affect on the mind, soul and even society itself. This process has created a class of super-rich hedonists called meths who consider themselves to be above humankind and its morals.

The show focuses on Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnamen and Will Yun Lee), a revolutionary soldier who was captured and placed into a new sleeve hundreds of years later. This new sleeve was activated by Lauren Bancroft (James Purefoy), one of the wealthiest men in the known universe, to solve his own murder. That is the recent murder of one of Bancroft’s previous sleeves. Kovacs was activated because of his reputation as an Envoy, a rebellious group that wanted to end the use of stacks. Envoys are renowned for their tough mental resilience and discipline. which is what Bancroft needs to solve his murder.

 Kovacs grudgingly accepts Bancroft’s offer of indentured servitude in exchange for his freedom. During his investigations, Kovacs travels the seedy underworld of Bay City and the decadent and hedonistic lifestyles of the mega rich, while meeting an interesting cast of characters. There is Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda), a working-class police detective with an unusual interest in Kovacs, and Edgar Poe (Chris Conner), an AI manifested as a holographic hotel manager. The show also features extensive flashbacks of Takeshi Kovacs’ previous life with people important to him, such as his sister Reileen (Dichen Lachman) and Envoy leader Quellcrist Falconer (Renée Elise Goldsberry).

Due to the nature of his job, Kovacs runs into a lot of trouble, from criminal elements out to settle scores to sadistic hitmen to unsavory VR experiences. Luckily his honed skills as an Envoy allows Takeshi Kovacs to endure his ordeals. As he tries to solve the murder, Kovacs also has to grapple with his lost, previous life and finding his way in the new life.

altered carbon cityscape

Altered Carbon is entrancing, exciting and quite gripping at times thanks to its stylistic and noirish, cyberpunk elements that are similar to Blade Runner and intensely violent scenes that are reminiscent of John Wick or The Raid. Each shot is captivating with rich cinematography, not to mention special effects and production design that completely sell the notion this story takes place in the distant future.

Unlike other current TV shows, while Altered Carbon can be binged watched but is not dependent on this. Most episodes seem more self-contained while servicing the main plot of the Lauren Bancroft murder case. It is something of a relief since it allows the episodes to be enjoyed individually. However, its plots can be quite dense, though in a good way, with its usage of unusual words, exposition, and plot twists that may confuse casual viewers and calls for more focused viewing.

A word of caution is warranted, Altered Carbon is extremely violent and has graphic nudity. If this was a film it would be a hard R, so it is not for the more squeamish viewer.

Getting past its grimy nature and lurid violence, it is clear that the intense scenes underline the show’s theme: that humanity is not ready for immortality. By using stacks, most of humanity takes life and their bodies for granted as seen with the way many are too quick to jump into new sleeves after injuries or to take on new identities.  In essence, they have become desensitized to violence and by being so cavalier about the sanctity of the physical body these people are losing their humanity.

Altered Carbon is a stylistic, hard-edged sci-fi yarn that engrosses you with eye-popping visuals, intense fight scenes, and captivating and tortured characters. But more than that, Altered Carbon does what a a true sci-fi tale sets out to do: to extrapolate where humanity may go.

José Soto

 

 

Star Wars Rebels Has A Fitting Farewell

Star-Wars-Rebels-Season-4-Banner

Star Wars Rebels has now finished its run and has seemingly tied up the loose ends fans were wondering about when these new characters were introduced during the series’ beginning. Specifically Jedi Knight Kanan Jarrus, and his apprentice Ezra Bridger. In the case of Kanan, his story concluded in the episode “Jedi Night” where he sacrifices himself to save his friends and destroy an imperial installation. The antepenultimate episode “A World Between Worlds” truly embraced Star Wars’ mystical side with seemingly magical wolves on Lothal aiding our heroes. Plus, Ezra transported to a nexus in time and space by using a Jedi temple mural and rescued Ahsoka Tano from her supposed end while fighting Darth Vader in the season 2 finale “Twilight of the Apprentice”.

All of this sets up the final episode “Family Reunion and Farewell”, where the remaining heroes launch a final plan to free the planet Lothal from the clutches of the Galactic Empire. Ezra Bridger faces his fears and feelings for his lost parents and withstands a final temptation by Emperor Palpatine. Ezra is also able to help his friends free his homeworld, kidnap Grand Admiral Thrawn and disappear with him into parts unknown by using interstellar space whales that can travel in hyperspace. Yes, you read that right. The epilogue is very interesting in that it shows the other characters fans have come to know and love surviving the Galactic Civil War. General Hera Syndulla had Kanan’s child and took part in the Battle of Endor, as did Zeb Orellios, Rex and Sabine Wren. Sabine herself states in the episode’s final moments that Ezra is still alive and out there somewhere, and along with Ahsoka, they both set out to look for him.

Thus concludes Dave Filoni’s companion piece to his earlier show Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The fact that he was in charge of Star Wars Rebels helped to maintain a sense of continuity between the shows, with several characters from the first show appearing in  Star Wars Rebels, especially clone trooper Rex, the pirate Hondo,  and Anakin Skywalker’s Padawan Ashoka Tano. Similar to Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the quality of Star Wars Rebels increased as the series went on.

The very beginning had Ezra Bridger with a slingshot, which seemed silly and stoked fears that Rebels was just going to be just a dumbed down kids show about Star Wars, but he matured as the show went on and the relationships between the crew of the Ghost developed quite nicely, as well as their trials and tribulations as a small band of partisans trying to do good in the galaxy. “Family Reunion and Farewell” showed quite well how our heroes’ struggle against the Empire finally ended with freedom for their homeworld. Also, the Rebellion finally took a stand against the Empire, and the fight for freedom truly starting to take shape.

The show added quite a lot to the lore of Star Wars by showing the origins of such varied things like the B-Wing fighter, Mon Mothma and Senator Bail Organa organizing the beginnings of the Rebel Alliance, Princess Leia and Lando Calrissian in early adventures with the show’s characters, bringing fan favorite Grand Admiral Thrawn out of the Heir To The Empire books, and Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Maul having a final confrontation on Tatooine. It also gave something of a conclusion to Star Wars: The Clone Wars, (something the show was denied when it was canceled by Disney) by having Ahsoka’s fate revealed and with her confrontation with  her former master.

Star Wars rebels mural

 The two shows are linked in this way obviously due to the involvement of Filoni who oversaw both series and is now in charge of overseeing all of the Lucasfilm animation projects. This bodes well for the future of Star Wars shows, since he was able to maintain a high-quality storytelling throughout the run of both Star Wars Rebels and Star Wars: The Clone Wars and hopefully will be able to continue this when the next eventual animated show comes along. I have a feeling that this next series will take place between the original and sequel trilogies and bridge the gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. A clue indicating this is that Lucasfilm has trademarked the title Star Wars Resistance. I trust that Filoni will be able to bring new and interesting ideas to the new era of Star Wars; something that is needed. But regardless, the legacy of Star Wars Rebels has been set with its emphasis on a crew who became a family, struggling and fighting against seemingly impossible odds and finally overcoming everything and helping to defeat the imperial juggernaut. Not bad for a kids show on Disney XD.

C.S. Link

Star Trek: Discovery – A First Season Review

Ordinarily, when reviewing TV shows, I would watch 4 to 6 episodes to get a good feel for the program. With Star Trek: Discovery, I decided to wait until it concluded its first season before doing a review because I honestly could not decide how I felt about it. This latest Star Trek spinoff has been the most difficult to form an opinion about. It has many commendable features, yet there are so many aspects about it that misfires so badly, that we have to wonder if the creators behind this spinoff understand Star Trek at all. Major spoilers will follow.

Star Trek: Discovery takes place in the 2250s, which makes it a prequel to the original Star Trek. Then again it does not feel like a prequel but more like a remake. Naturally, it does not recreate the mood and production of the original because it would have been laughed off and this is part of the reason why it is so controversial with fans. Overall, this show has to be accepted as a remake rather than a reboot because there are many attempts to stick to canon and some elements established in the original Prime timeline, such as numerous Easter eggs, references and sound effects. On the other hand, they’re not always consistent with sticking to canon, which can be irritating. But once you put aside these feelings about this latest Star Trek spinoff, it becomes easier to watch.

Star Trek: Discovery is updated to today’s standards in terms of special effects, set design and writing. The entire show is beautifully executed and each episode feels more like a feature-length film than a TV show. While this is welcome, at times the creators went too far in reimagining Gene Roddenberry’s futuristic universe. A case in point is the unnecessary re-do of the Klingons, the show’s main enemy race. The poor actors portraying the Klingons seem to be drowning under all the heavy makeup and wardrobe and we have to wonder why the showrunners thought this was an improvement over the perfected Klingon look seen in the other spinoffs and films. Be that as it may, the subtle updating of other alien races like the Andorians and the Tellarites are executed well.

The Star Trek spinoff follows the story of Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), a former first officer who mutinied against her captain and was jailed. Her actions helped spark a war between the Klingons and the United Federation of Planets and most of the first season is devoted to this storyline and her redemption. Burnham is freed by the captain of the U.S.S. Discovery, Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs), and enlists her to his crew for some ulterior motive. He assigns her to aid the ship’s science officer Lt. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and find a way to utilize an experimental spore drive being tested on the Discovery to win the war against the Klingons. Eventually this results in Stamets using himself as a conduit for the spore drive, which allows the ship to instantaneously travel anywhere.Even though Burnham is the main protagonist, Lorca has emerged as the most fascinating character thanks in part to Isaacs’ exemplary acting and the way he is written. Lorca was introduced as a mysterious, and unusually brutal commander who was obsessed with winning the war. He was not above tossing aside ethics to get the job done, and pushing people beyond their limit, yet he was a capable commander. But in the second half of the season, the Discovery wound up in the Mirror Universe where humans are evil and it was revealed that Lorca himself came from this reality. This confirmed many suspicions that fans had but in the end, this development was a disservice to Lorca who became a moustache-twirling villain and unremarkable. Hopefully, some way can be found to return some version of Lorca in the second season.Therein lies the fault and strength of Star Trek: Discovery and this is typical of its conflicting nature. Some characters are compelling and well developed like First Officer Saru (Doug Jones), a lanky and fastidious alien, Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman), a bubbly young cadet, and Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif), a Starfleet officer who is actually a Klingon that was surgically altered into a human in order to infiltrate Starfleet. While others are interesting background bridge crewmembers  that  the show largely ignores. I’m not even sure what their names are, I just know them as the cyborg lady, or the woman with the metal implant on her skull. They barely have any dialogue and are begging to be examined more closely.

The stories themselves are also just as uneven. Some episodes are genuine classics and belong up there with the great Star Trek episodes. These include “The Wolf Inside”, “Despite Yourself” (two fantastic Mirror Universe tales), “Lethe”, “Choose Your Pain”, and “Into the Forest I Go”. As great as those were, Star Trek: Discovery is also weighed down with some downright clunkers that are poorly plotted and clumsily executed. One example is the first episode that aired for free on CBS, “The Vulcan Hello”, which needed to be great to entice people to subscribe to the CBS All Access app that streamed the rest of the episodes. Unfortunately, the season also ended on a less-than-thrilling note with a two-episode storyline that ended the war too quickly and unsatisfactory. However, the final shot of the last episode “Will You Take My Hand?” brought a thrill when a sparkling and graceful Enterprise appeared on the screen.Despite these faults, I have to admit that I genuinely enjoy Star Trek: Discovery. As far as first season Star Trek shows go, this is the best one since the original Star Trek. Unlike some other Star Trek spinoffs that first started out, this show is rarely dull and takes some genuine risks, even if they do not pay off. Of course, the criticism is valid that unlike its predecessors there isn’t any exploring done. This is something that is a vital essence of Star Trek, but it does push the envelope, chiefly with its characters and focus. The captain is not the main hero but a broken and disgraced former officer. Many of the characters are out to prove themselves and most of them do, which is why they are so easy to watch and root for.Another thing to note is that putting aside all the action and eye-popping visuals (seeing the Discovery spin its saucer while it goes into spore drive never gets dull), certain elemental truths about Star Trek are still there. We just have to recognize them: accepting diversity, seeking diplomatic solutions, and bettering yourself. As Alexander Courage’s iconic theme played during the end credits of the season finale, I found myself eagerly waiting to see more from Star Trek: Discovery, and for that reason the show is a success.

José Soto