Don’t Touch That Dial: Midseason SFF

Caped crusaders not enough for you? Need an SFF fix? Well, you’re in luck. On our second misdseason installment of “Don’t Touch That Dial,” let’s take a gander at a time-traveller trying to prevent the end of the world (12 Monkeys), an exorcist with a chip on his shoulder trying to prevent the end of the world (Constantine), and a pair of holy witnesses trying to prevent the end of the world (Sleepy Hollow). I’m sensing a theme here…

12 Monkeys

The Road So Far: The world in 2043 is one destroyed by a global pandemic, one which killed 7 billion people in a matter of years. James Cole (Aaron Stanford) is special, so special that he’s The Chosen One, the only person from the future who can save the world. Good thing, then, that the last remaining scientists of a dying future have found a time travel device apparently built and subsequently forgotten about by people in the past. They send him back to the 2010s to find Dr. Cassandra Railly (Amanda Schull), a scientist from 2017 who called Cole special and named Leland Frost as the architect of the plague. Cole’s time-travelling interference ruins her relationship with her boyfriend Aaron Marker (Noah Bean) and her professional credibility, but she sides with Cole anyway. Using clues left by a dead enemy, Cole and Cassie must find and stop the Army of 12 Monkeys before they unleash hell on earth. Syfy, Fri 9p

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Inspired by Terry Gilliam’s 1995 movie Twelve Monkeys, which was in turn inspired by Chris Marker’s 1962 short film La Jetée, Syfy’s 12 Monkeys feels less like a new look at an old property and more a carbon copy of a carbon copy. Sometimes taking a film and turning it into a television series works—Friday Night Lights, Fargo, The Odd Couple, Stargate, etc.—but too often TV producers forget there’s a very real difference between expanding on a property and stretching it to the breaking point. Don’t get me wrong. 12 Monkeys isn’t terrible. It’s not even so-bad-it’s-good. It’s fine, and that’s about as much emotion as I can muster for it. It doesn’t lean too heavily on the movie, but it also doesn’t veer far enough away to be its own thing. The plotting is messy and half-baked, the hackneyed dialogue is the kind you only see in a B sci-fi movie, and the acting varies from decent to glorious scenery chewing—the always welcome Željko Ivanek—with most actors lingering near the former.

Ah, the shoehorned-in, totally unnecessary love triangle.The show feels totally unnecessary. There are no new statements being made, no new concepts to explore, nothing. It makes no case for why it should exist at all. There are a lot of issues 12 Monkeys could delve into that the movie two decades ago couldn’t, but the show is content to make a run-of-the-mill sci-fi show with some cool looking but ultimately pointless visuals. Cole fails to make use of the weaponized aspects of paradoxes, or really do much of anything with time travel except turn up at inopportune moments and harass perfectly respectable doctors. The show is just so…generic.

TL;DR: I don’t need 12 Monkeys to be better than Twelve Monkeys, but it still needs to be good. And it’s not there yet.

 

Constantine

The Road So Far: John Constantine (Matt Ryan), exorcist, demonologist, and master of the dark arts comes off the page and onto the small screen with lackluster results. After Liv ditches him with a map full of demonic hotspots in the pilot, Constantine and undead Chas (Charles Halford) team up with Zed (Angélica Celaya) a psychic with a mysterious past in a cult. The trio solve Monster of the Week cases and gather clues from stoic angel Manny (Harold Perrineau) about the Rising Darkness, aka Brujería, a force so powerful and evil not even Heaven can stop it. But apparently Constantine can, so. Eventually he finds himself in a death or even more painful death situation and lets a demon king possess him. He’s free and clear now, but Zed’s father and a hellish host of demons wait to take him down. NBC, Fri 8p

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Sometimes Constantine is great at visuals. The CGI is awesome, and the set and costume design work is evocative (even when they turn Mexico City from a city of nearly 9 million people into a tiny border village). However, the editing is clumsy and lazy, and too often the show opts for post-production sound and fury over better production values. When you have a shot where a car is supposed to be speeding away but instead it’s slowly rolling to its mark 10 feet away, it’s like peeking behind the curtain. All the magic is lost, and it makes it that much harder to suspend disbelief. But the worst mark against it is the storytelling. I like a lot of bad TV—j’adore the 2005 Keanu Reeves Constantine joint, and that movie is awful—but Pazuzu Almighty does Constantine the TV show suck at crafting a decent story. The plot only holds up as long as you don’t think about it; once you do the plotholes make the whole thing collapse. I haven’t seen narrative blunders this bad since late period True Blood. A show as crazy as Constantine doesn’t need to be logical, but it does need to have an internal logic. So far, the only one who adheres to any sort of structural rules is Constantine himself. Chas doesn’t do enough to mean anything, and Zed is there to act as a sexy foil to John or as a sexy plot device. The writers make unsupported leaps in narrative logic—they need to do Thing A, Constantine says they need Thing B do to it, Zed/Chas retrieves Thing B, Thing A is resolved—meaning none of the characters are given any room to be influenced by events. The paths the writers choose to take the story down always lead to the least impactful outcome.

Don't just stand there, do something!The last episode is by far better than the pilot, but at this point there was nowhere to go but up. A large part of what made “The Saint Of Last Resorts: Part 2” so effective was Ryan. Say what you will about the show, but Matt Ryan has Constantine the man down to a science. The producers put the kibosh on letting him smoke or being bisexual, but Ryan doesn’t care. He plays Constantine like the character from the comics, not like he’s on network television. He was downright frightening as a Pazuzu!Constantine. Frankly, I could’ve used a few episodes of demon possession and the after effects, but instead they hit the reset button. Too bad the rest of the cast aren’t much more than cardboard cutouts. The writers want us to care about Zed, Chas, and Anne Marie, but they’re so empty and rote that any attempts at adding personality through juicy bits of dialogue slide right off. Ryan is the only person who realizes the show is supposed to be a black comedy. Constantine doesn’t have to be Sleepy Hollow, Angel, or Supernatural seasons 1-5, but it couldn’t hurt to learn a little from each. From Sleepy Hollow it could learn reckless abandon and brazen storylines, from Angel a little heart and soul, and from early Supernatural how to build on a mythology without losing sight of monsters of the week. That is, if it lasts long enough to heed their lessons.

TL;DR: I still have hope in this show, but in the meantime I’m just gonna sit over here and watch Keanu Reeves smoke a million cigarettes.

 

Sleepy Hollow

The Road So Far: Our daring heroes, Det. Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) and Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) had just stopped Moloch from bringing Purgatory to earth, er, well, actually Ichabod and Katrina’s (Katia Winter) maybe-evil son Henry Parrish (John Noble) did by killing his former boss. Henry is MIA, as was undead Capt. Frank Irving (Orlando Jones) until recently. All their attention is now focused on, oddly enough, saving the Headless Horseman/Katrina’s petty ex Abraham Van Brunt (Neil Jackson) from, um, angels or something. Honestly, I don’t know what the hell’s going on anymore. Abbie and Ichabod are apparently done with being Witnesses and have saved the world from the oncoming apocalypse and are now going to do…something… Jenny Mills (Lyndie Greenwood) continues to be underused, Sheriff Reyes (Sakina Jaffrey) underused, and Nick Hawley (Matt Barr) used at all. Fox, Mon 9p

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Something has gone very wrong in Sleepy Hollow. No, not Moloch, Henry, or Headless. Something bigger, deeper, more…structural. The first season was a wild ride. It was crazy, stupid, and so much fun. But with the first half of season 2, the writers seem to have fundamentally misunderstood what got the audience to excited. At the Television Critics Association, Fox execs had plenty of mea culpas, promising a return to the less serialized Monster of the Week episodes and a much needed injection of fun. “Pittura Infamante,” the second episode since the midseason return, is a solid step in the right direction.

My feelings exactly, Abbie. I never imagined I’d be happy to have Ichabod and Katrina dominate an episode, but surprisingly the world’s least useful witch was finally given something to do that didn’t involve a 200 year old love triangle or a demon pregnancy. And, even more surprisingly, she managed to be helpful and insightful. Or Katrina could just be having an off day and slide right back into being The Worst. Who knows. Either way, they’ll still be another pointless white character sucking up valuable screen time away from Jenny and Abbie: Hawley. Good old Hawley. At this point he’s hardly more than a walking MacGuffin. Jenny and Abbie can both do better than that discount store Indiana Jones. So can the show, for that manner. Nothing against Barr, but Hawley is neither interesting nor indispensable. No one tunes into Sleepy Hollow thinking, “You know what this show needs? Another boring white person to further sideline Abbie and Jenny.”

Of course, despite all my whinging, I’ll keep tuning in every week. They’d do well to print a motivational poster that says “All Ichabbie all the time” and hang it in the writers room. I love it for the same reason I obsess over Teen Wolf: at its heart, Sleepy Hollow is a thrilling adventure hour full of terrific characters and batshit storylines. Given the most recent episode it’s clear that kernel of awesomeness is still there. If my options are to suffer through several more seasons of mediocrity with sparks of what the show once was or total cancellation, I’ll take mediocrity. Anything to keep Nicole Beharie, Lyndie Greenwood, and Tom Mison on my television screen every week.

TL;DR: Oh Sleepy Hollow, what happened?


Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.

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