And we’re back with the second installment of the Fall 2015 edition of “Don’t Touch That Dial.” Up this time is a show dragged from the grave in a failed attempt to make its struggling network some quick cash (Heroes Reborn), a show created to make an already rich studio enough money to swim around in like Scrooge McDuck (Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), and a show created by guys with so much money that no one tells them when something sucks (Scream Queens).
The Road So Far: Creator Tim Kring returns to the Heroes universe with a new show set a few years after the end of the fourth season. Some of the old cast is back, but many characters are new. Amnesiac Noah Bennett (Jack Coleman) teams up with conspiracy nut Quentin Frady (Henry Zebrowski) to uncover the truth about the violent attack at Odessa, Texas. Their investigation leads them to an evil corporation collecting evos for nefarious purposes. Down in Los Angeles, an evo dresses as a luchador and fights bad guys. In Tokyo, Miko (Kiki Sukezane) uses her powers to jump into video games because her dad is trapped in one, I think? Luke (an unpleasantly miscast Zachary Levi) and his wife Joanne (Judi Shekioni) trawl the country looking for evos to shoot until Luke discovers his own fiery powers. Teenage Tommy (Robbie Kay) and his mother are in hiding because of his evo powers, while in the North Pole two women do some weird shit with butterflies and the aurora borealis. And throughout all this some guy with magic mind-wiping pennies wanders around talking about a Chosen One prophecy. (NBC, Thu 8p)
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: I never watched Heroes, so I can’t comment on whether or not the new series is better, worse, or more of the same. However if this is the kind of uninspired product creator Tim Kring was putting out in 2006, no wonder the original failed so miserably. I figured I’d give the new show a try under the assumption that they’d lay down the background work to bring newbies up to speed. Boy was I wrong. Half the time I have no idea what’s going on, and the other half is so silly I pulled a muscle from rolling my eyes so much. The camera lingers on characters I don’t recognize but am clearly supposed to, and lines of dialogue are underlined to mean something crucial to long-time viewers but little to the rest of us. There is one bit of familiarity—pretty much everything is copy-pasted from the X-Men comics with the names changed and no yellow onesies.
Structurally, the show is mess. Intersecting stories are left in isolation for too long, and the connecting threads are too cryptic and vague to mean much of anything. There’s a lot going on here, and while it is exciting in principle, nothing gets enough attention to acquire any real depth or development. The characters are walking plot devices rather than people, which means all of the emotion and drama just sorta sits there. In an era with so many superhero shows on television, there has to be at least some effort at quality, but the CGI and action sequences look cheap. The premiere was intriguing enough to hook me, but we’re now halfway through the season without any uptick in quality. It’s got a long way to go if it wants to be more than a desperate move by NBC to boost their ratings.
TL;DR: The super-powered humans are now called “evos.” No, Kring. Just no.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The Road So Far: Last season, Terrigen was unleashed upon the world, turning ordinary humans with alien DNA into extraordinary Inhumans. At the start of the new season, Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) is brought back from an alien world after Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) nearly gets himself killed trying to rescue her. Daisy, Coulson, Bobbi, and Mack (Chloe Bennet, Clark Gregg, Adrianne Palicki, and Henry Simmons) use their human and superhuman abilities to track down other Inhumans before a sinister government agency headed up by Rosalind Price (Constance Zimmer). May and Hunter (Ming-Na Wen, Nick Blood), meanwhile, go deep undercover in Hydra to find Ward (Brett Dillon). (ABC, Tue 9p)
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Speaking of stealing whole hog from X-Men, let’s talk about SHIELD and its new Inhumans storyline. SHIELD was never a show I enjoyed very much in either of its previous seasons, mostly because it so utterly failed to deliver on its original premise of the little people picking up after the Avengers. (Side note: yay for Damage Control!) The show quickly became little more than filler between the movies, shafting genuinely interesting plots and character development to fit in the movie timeline, regardless of whether or not it made sense for the show.
This new Inhumans plot isn’t revolutionary or even particularly inventive, but it is interesting (outside the Case of the Week boring stuff). On one hand, it’s like Disney/Marvel is going to use its X-Men story with or without Fox’s permission, dammit. On the other, this story feels a little too close to the CW’s The Flash, a show handling the sudden creation of a vast number of super-humans with much more aplomb and vigor. The PTSD conflict going on between Fitz and Simmons is ripe with drama. Skye/Daisy and Mack make a fun pair of contrasting personalities. Hunter is annoying but only really because he sucks away valuable screentime that could be given over to May kicking ass all over Europe. And Coulson and Rosalind clashing over capturing the Inhumans before whoever that evil blue alien dude could provide a solid twist toward Coulson’s “good guy” image, and just in time for Civil War, too. Look, it’s still got a ton of issues—the dialogue feels forced, and the direction ranges from technically competent to stylish for network TV. Character development is improving, albeit to levels it should’ve been two seasons ago and with an over-reliance on quips rather than personality traits.
TL;DR: If you’d told me two years ago that I would be willingly watching SHIELD and largely enjoying the experience, I’d have laughed in your face. Yet here we are.
The Road So Far: In 1995, a Kappa Kappa Tau sorority girl dies after giving birth in a bathtub during a rager. Twenty years later KKT is headed up by Chanel (Emma Roberts), a vicious, short-tempered rich girl, and her Mean Girl flunkies (Abigail Bresln, Billie Lourd, Ariana Grande, and Lea Michele). When a person in a red devil suit starts killing coeds in grotesque ways, KKT legacy Grace (Skyler Samuels) and Zayday (Keke Palmer) launch an investigation against the advice of Dean Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis), Grace’s father (Oliver Hudson), rent-a-cop Denise (Niecy Nash), and former sorority girl Gigi (Nasim Pedrad). Not that you need to know any of that to watch the show. If their previous works don’t make you want to rip your eyes out of your head, you’ll probably find this one tolerable enough. (Fox, Tue 8p)
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: To be totally honest here, I think I actually hate this show. I hate the jokes. I hate the characters. I hate the plot. Every joke falls flat, the characters are little more than doodles on a Starbucks napkin, and trying to apply logic to this show is an insult to writers everywhere. There are notes of things from horror movies, but mostly it’s a bunch of pop culture markers. It’s barely a television show, little more than a parody of a parody. Creators Ryan Murphy, Brian Falchuk, and Ian Brennan do satire the same way Seth MacFarlane does, with an offensive joke that punches down and an “ain’t I a stinker” grin. Scream Queens certainly isn’t comedy and is nowhere close to horror. In the prison scene in “Pumpkin Patch,” the show mocks Laverne Cox by having her Orange is the New Black character played by a man in a blonde wig (Kenneth Kynt Bryan). That same episode Chanel brings her “Asian” she keeps on retainer to take tests for her. Being offensive and calling it funny doesn’t make the offense any less cruel, especially if the person spewing it is never called on it or punished for her behavior.
There’s a loose concept of plot—KKT internal politics, a couple of budding romances, decades-old revenge schemes—but what little narrative there is exists only so Murphy, Falchuk, and Brennan can make cracks about “homely” girls and have Lea Michele make innuendos about anal sex. The actors are great, especially Roberts, Nash, and Pedrad, who work miracles with the mess they’re given. Roberts takes Chanel to vile new cartoon villain lows, Pedrad plays Gigi as if she’s the guest star on SNL, and Nash turns in a performance that’s a giant fuck you to every casting director who ever told her to “act more ghetto.” In better hands Scream Queens could be biting genre satire. Instead it’s an easily marketable, wildly GIF-able, insipid, derogatory series with nothing to say and a megaphone with which to shout it.
TL;DR: I just can’t with this show anymore.
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.