Colony: “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” (S3, E7 review)

Life on the inside may not be all it’s cracked up to be for Will (image via SpoilerTV (c) USA Network)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND THE UNEASY SENSE A MONSTER IS LURKING BENEATH THE HAPPY FACADE OF THE 

Sometimes the darkest shadows lurk in the most well-lit of places.

Dazzled by the light, you don’t notice them at first but take a look around – the darkness creeps in on the edges, flirting with the tendrils of light, subduing them and mixing with them in murky pools of half-light.

Katie Bowman aka Laura Dalton (Sarah Wayne Callies) knows just how unsettling that feels by the end of a “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”, an episode which adds meat to the bone of the idea that if something is too good to be true, it often is.

Not that the now mother of two, mired in grief after the death of her son Charlie but channeling it into a fierce mother lion determination to make things as normal as possible – school for Gracie (Isabella Crovetti-Cramp) and a job and social life for Bram (Alex Neustaedter) – in a world where normal has long ceased to have any real meaning.

On one level, her work as an Advocate in the new model Colony of Seattle, where she takes a real interest in the people she’s helping – this is not Collaborator Katie at work but Got to Make Things Right Somehow Somewhere (even if it means effectively sleeping with the enemy) Katie – is going swimmingly well.

She’s helping families like the Winslows, who are about to depart the Colony in frustration after being stuck in Tier 2 hell for months (and figure it’s about better “out there” than in the limbo hell of a refugee camp), to get into the fabled glory that is the Seattle Colony, a place set apart from other Colonies by Everett Kynes (Wayne Brady), the man who came up, rather insidiously, with the algorithm used by the Global Authority to sort people into their respective roles.

Yes, to no one’s surprise, the robotic aliens decided that a cold, impersonal algorithm would be the perfect way to subjugate humanity (like the sorting hat in Harry Potter but with WAAAY less whimsy); Kynes doesn’t see it that way, possessed of a love for stats that is frightening in its calmly rabid devotion, a man committed to the idea that he can run the perfect Colony on maths alone.

 

Awww love sweet love in the alien apocalypse (image via SpoilerTV (c) USA Network)

 

Don’t mistake his apparent idealism for some kind of soft touch.

This is a man, so we see in a flashback, that took on the might of the Global Authority when Seattle was another rebellion-strewn, fiery Colony in trouble, and won, leveraging effective Kim Jong-Un type control of his own personal alien apocalypse fiefdom.

His Colony is a model for all the Colonies that are being renditioned and repopulated, largely because it is Stepford Wives-level peaceful, with everyone buying into the idea that they have lucked upon heaven here on earth.

Katie, largely driven by the need to believe this or her entire post-Charlie’s death veneer crumbles in an instant, buys into it wholesale, hosting obligatory neighbourhood parties where the latest Stasi-like additions to the local police force are warmly welcomed.

There’s a distinct feeling that behind all this bonhomie are a bunch of very scared people, who know things aren’t quite right, but can’t prove it and so keep buying into Kynes’ Occupational idyll.

But you know, you just know, that someone as arrogant and sure of himself as Kynes, who has staked a lot on Seattle working, isn’t going to settle for everything being left to chance, and the revelation by Will (Josh Holloway), who most definitely does not buy into the Seattle is paradise bullshit, that people keep disappearing (perhaps into pods?) would suggest that Seattle’s beneficent ruler has a lot more going on below the surface and behind the scenes than many people realise, and more to the point, want to admit.

That becomes more than a little obvious when Katie pushes to find out what happened to her clients the Winslows – her friendly supervisor and “friend” Michelle (Nicki Micheaux) seems to a tad reluctant to show her where they’ve ended up but eventually relents … sort of – and she goes to the housing block they now supposedly call own only to find it empty.

Worse still, as the camera pans back to reveal the entire front of an old 1960s apartment block, with Katie silhouetted, housewarming pot plant in hand, it becomes painfully and nightmarishly clear that all the people who are supposedly resident are nowhere to be found.

The look on Katie’s face says it all – she believed the lie because it suited her grief-stricken state but it no longer seems tenable to believe in the lies … unless of course you want to keep living, in Seattle or anywhere else for that matter.

Times the discomfort Michelle felt revealing where the Winslows were supposed to be, let alone where they actually are (nowhere good, I’m betting) and you get some idea of how well Kynes would react to someone like Katie poking around.

 

“Hello yes this is Existential Hell, my name is Katie … how may I direct your call of the damned? (image via SpoilerTV (c) USA Network)

 

Will, of course, has long been a disbeliever, a source of tension, mounting all the time between he and Katie who remain locked in the grief of months before, each papering over in their own way and failing to talk or find any common ground.

Trying his best to bring some justice to proceedings, and unable to see Katie is doing that in her own way, Will is acting as a private eye of sorts, trying to track down the missing husband of a recent intake family who may be one of the missing abductees.

That he isn’t is revealed as Will, ever the law enforcement officer, tracks him down and finds he’s abandoned his family; nothing evil  of an alien nature at least, but definitely evil in the douchebag vein which explains why Will, feeling he’s witnessing the falling apart of his own family, doesn’t handle this man’s subterfuge at all well.

The irony of Will and Katie being on seemingly different pages is that they are actually on the same one – lost in grief’s destructive aftermath, trying to craft order and meaning where there is none, and both aware, Will openly, Katie not so much, that something is desperately wrong in pretty, perfect Seattle.

There are telltale signs everywhere – Gracie is learning physics already, Bram is delivering groceries that are apportioned out as “allocations”, everyone is friendly at the neighbourhood parties but not really friendly at all – much as I imagined East Germans must have been when you didn’t know if your neighbour was Stasi or not and if one stray word could doom you – and there’s an overwhelming sense of being watched.

It’s so palpable that you can almost reach and touch it but while Will seems happy to, Katie is not, well not until the end when she realises there’s no playing pretend, and making nice and normal in a world that long ago sold its soul to the alien devil, taking all semblance of real humanity along with it.

  • Ahead in Colony in “Lazarus” … something bad is happening … you know it, I know it, and now the Bowmans, and yes Snyder, know it …

 

“And that’s why I always say, ‘Shumshumschilpiddydah!'” Deep dives into Rick and Morty

(image (c) Adult Swim)

 

Dan Harmon’s fantastically off-the-wall, clever animation creation, Rick and Morty, is a very clever beast indeed. (And on its way to be pleasingly prolific with another 70 episodes on their way … eventually.)

Possessed not only of beautifully-detailed characters, highly-imaginative plots and lush visuals that take worldbuilding to an endlessly-inventive level which continually surprises and delights, it is also highly-intelligent, full of all kinds of very clever elements.

Take the “meta-modernism” identified by the authors of the video below (Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker), which is essentially, according to Laughing Squid, an oscillation “between the sincere sentimentality of modernism and the cynical nihilism of post-modernism.” In other words, sometimes it’s deeply, heartfelt sincere and at other times, throws in the towel, saying all hope is lost.

Their articulation of this dynamic, which also found a place in Harmon’s other memorable creation, Community, is a delight, dissecting just how inspired this animation series is and how it goes beyond just being entertaining.

All the way to the other end of the galaxy in fact.

 

 

But wait, that’s not all!

In this brilliant video, Dan Harmon himself  while “dressed as Whistler’s Mother, [talks] about some of the most hilariously absurd storylines, fan theories and memes along with the unstoppable genius of Justin Roiland.” (Laughing Squid)

It’s great insight from the man himself and well worth your schwifty time …

 

Sword at the ready: The fantastical destiny of The Outpost

(image via YouTube (c) CW)

 

SNAPSHOT
“Years after her entire village is destroyed by a gang of brutal mercenaries, Talon travels to a lawless fortress on the edge of the civilised world, as she tracks the killers of her family. On her journey to this outpost, Talon discovers she possesses a mysterious supernatural power that she must learn to control in order to save herself and defend the world against a fanatical religious dictator.” (synopsis via Den of Geek)

As Den of Geek rather insightfully notes, the CW has had a multi-season, multi-show love affair with DC Comics superheroes with the Greg Berlanti-produced The Flash, Green Arrow, Supergirl and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow gobbling up timeslots faster than Barry Allen trying to save  a person falling off a skyscraper.

I’m not necessarily complaining – I watch all but one of those shows and enjoy the escapist fun (plus bouts of existential angst) that they provide.

But viewers cannot live on superhero fare alone – rabid fanboys and girls may disagree of course – and so the CW is throwing us some fantasy, in The Outpost, courtesy of Dean Devlin (The Librarians, Geostorm, Independence Day, Stargate) and Jonathan Glassner (Stargate SG-1, The Outer Limits, Freddy’s Nightmares) who you’ll note know a thing or two about fun, diversionary TV.

Aussie actress Jessica Green stars as Talon who, you guessed it, has all kinds of mysterious things going on.

Must admit the trailer does look a little under-produced and hokey but I’m in the mood for some new fantastical Chosen One adventures and The Outpost looks like it’ll fit the bill perfectly.

The Outpost premieres on The CW on 10 July.

 

Colony: “The Emerald City” (S3, E 6 review)

Bleakness thy name is Bram (image via SpoilerTV (c) USA Network)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND GRIEF AND GRUBBY SELF-PRESERVATION (GUESS WHO … GO ON, YOU’LL NEVER GUESS … OK, YES YOU WILL …

Grief is a perniciously unpredictable thing.

Much as we might like to think we have a neatly-categorised, five stages delineated grip on it, the reality is that it constantly subverts our ability to comprehend it, deal with it and find a messy way through it (if that is even possible).

Its maze-like impenetrability and near-suffocating envelopment was felt in all its enervating monstrousness by the Bowmans this week in the wake of Charlie’s (Jacob Buster) single-bullet death at the hands of the Greyhats of the alien-collaborative Global Authority as they raided, once singled by the ruthlessly self-preservationist Alan Snyder (Peter Jacobson), the Resistance camp near Seattle.

Escaping with little more than their lives, the reduced Bowmans, both in size and spirit, are on the run; or more accurately, on the walk, putting one listless foot in front of the other, the perfunctory nature of their journey in stark contrast to the frenetic nature of their fight against Earth’s occupiers up until this point.

These are people mired in the ceaseless loss and pain of grief, and rather than melodramatically making much of it, the show’s writers chose instead to simply show us how great a toll the loss of a child and sibling is to family members.

There was no need for hype of any kind – every last vestige of their grief is wrapped tightly around them, their faces gaunt, emotions one-notes paeans to loss, their sense of forward momentum stole off them save for the urgent need to seek medical care for injured daughter Grace whose prognosis rapidly deteriorates during the Bowmans slow-motion flight to safety.

The million-dollar question here – that being the rough budget of one dinner party hosted by the Global Authority in the rarefied luxury of their Swiss idyll – is whether any such thing as safety exists anymore.

 

Snyder – living high on the hog with blood on his hands (image via SpoilerTV (c) USA Network)

 

It’s a pertinent thing to ponder since it was once again confirmed, in a cosy (haha!) conversation between now Switzerland-resident Snyder and Governor Helena Goldwyn (Ally Walker), that the RAPs fleet-resident enemies are not years or a decade away but mere months or less from arriving on much-beleaguered plant earth to wage war with humanity the once-again unfortunate meat in the alien sandwich.

Not that this impending arrival was weighing on the Bowmans’ minds.

As they dragged themselves through beautiful countryside and scavenged for supplies once picture-perfect postcard towns, their only goal was to hideaway once more from a threat that there’s really no getting away from; if pressed, Will (Josh Holloway), the foremost proponent of the Log Cabin Gambit – yeah that didn’t work out so well last time but then you are now Snyder-deficient so it may yet work this time around – would have admitted you can’t hide from the end of the world but then grief does strange and awful things to the rational world, with usual logical imperatives no longer as starkly insistent as they once more.

Son Bram (Alex Neustaedter), as riven by the hollowing out effect of grief as anyone, nonetheless continued to dully insist on going to the model Colony of Seattle, the bright shining beacon of human civilisation, with extra-alien subservience, whose pamphlets lie everywhere and which appears, Emerald City-like (hence the Wizard of Oz-y title), on the horizon after the Bowmans steal another family’s car (they say “sorry” so it’s not all bad; OK it is but hey they said “sorry” so …) to get there, mainly to get help for Gracie but partly, you suspect, because he simply wants to feel normal again.

The great irony is that any semblance of normalcy is an illusion – not only are the aliens here and our galactic innocence gone with them, but life as we know it is gone with it and no manner of surrounding ourselves with its trappings is going to reverse that.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow and one that Bram, desperate, though this is never articulated (you can, however, see it all over his face) to feel anything other the dead hand of loss, seems unwilling to allow anywhere near his metaphorical mouth.

The thing is both he and his dad are on the exact same apocalyptic page, just grasping at different, equally futile solutions; by way of contrast, Katie (Sarah Wayne Callies) seem not to care either way, her only focus Grace and getting her the help she needs.

It’s awful to watch people so deeply overwhelmed by grief, so consumed by what’s been taken from them that the idea of acquiescing, even passively to a new world order they collectively loathe, doesn’t seem like it matters at all anymore; it does, of course, and no doubt will again, but right now, there’s nothing but the barely-dealt with mundanities of life and even that seems a bridge too far for the existentially-spent family who spend the entire episode in a haze of lostness.

(The Bowmans do make it to Seattle where everything seems too good to be true and they introduce themselves as the Daltons; that doesn’t last long though with a closing screenshot of a computer, which is crunching a profiling algorithm we see in an earlier flashback, revealing they know exactly who Will Bowman is, and he ain’t, you guessed it, a mechanic from Riverside).

 

The Bowmans – a family bereft and lost (image via SpoilerTV (c) USA Network)

 

One person who’s surprisingly not too troubled by life post-Resistance camp cleanout is Alan Snyder, now happily ensconced in a luxurious villa in Switzerland that comes complete with a zippy fast car, a butler named Julian and access, as the Global Authority’s golden boy who recovered the lost Host (again guys it’s our planet so you’re not hosting a damn thing thank you very much) to just about anything his heart desires.

Vowing to a mildly-exasperated Helena that he has no intention of diving back into the Machiavellian cesspool of the Global Authority, he nevertheless can’t resist invites to parties and languid nights at the local high-end bar – the stark contrast to the cattle-class conditions of the rest of humanity is scandalously horrific, another show-don’t-tell that speaks to the sophistication of Colony‘s writing – and finds himself slowly roped back into all kinds of duplicitous shenanigans (such as painting two Rendition-resistant Colony Proxies as Resistance sympathisers, a move so ballsy it even shocks hardened Helena.

The intriguing thing is that you’re never quite sure which side of the fence he’s really operating on.

In the midst of seeming to play his old game of world political chess, and playing it with his usual je ne sais quoi nonchalance, he asks for the file on the raid that saw Charlie die and the Bowmans spin into the swirling mist of grief, and clearly affected, he seems to make some sort of Road to Damascus decision.

It’s followed by self-preservationist business as usual, on the surface at least, but such is the layered complexity of Snyder’s character, all superficial indications to the contrary, and they are legion in “The Emerald City”, that you can’t help wondering if he’s finally decided it’s time to stop the rot from the inside.

Remember, he’s seen both sides of the alien-occupying coin and while it looks like it’s RAPs 154566 Humans 0, he knows how parlous things are for the Global Authority and their euphemistically-named masters, and is perhaps throwing his lot back in with humanity.

Still, if he is, it’s for his own ends as always, and in an episode which saw grief loom large for everyone, yes even Snyder though he hides it well, guessing the next moves for anyone is a fool’s errand since once the fog of mourning lifts, anything could happen, and most likely will.

  • Next on Colony in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” … the lure of normalcy, a dream soon revealed to be sheltering a nightmare …

 

That’s *NOT* all folks! New Looney Tunes shorts arriving in 2019

(image courtesy Looney Tunes wikia)

 

One of the great joys of my childhood, and yes my adulthood too, has been watching Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and the gang go through their madcap, often surreal, wittily clever and riotously funny paces.

The cartoon shorts in which they appear, known collectively as Looney Tunes, ran from 1930 to 1969, undergoing a revival from 2000 to present.

Part of the current revival of the adventures of the likes of Elmer Fudd, Yosemeite Sam and Porky Pig is the just-announced Looney Tunes Cartoons which Newsarama advises will feature “1,000 minutes of shorts, with distribution ranging from digital, mobile, and broadcast.”

That’s a lot of wisecracking, near-misses and slapstick hilarity with each one-to six-minute short reminding us, so promises Warner Bros. Animation President Sam Register, “of the time when they first fell in love with Bugs, Daffy, Porky and the rest of the gang.”

Bitty-bitty-bitty-bitty that’s all folks? Not a chance! Bring on 2019 and get your “Meep meep!” on!

 

Fear the Walking Dead: “No One’s Gone” (S4, E8 review)

Fear the Walking Dead the Band pose for the cover shot of their iconic album “Ain’t No One Living Here No How No Way” (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND A GREAT BIG RATINGS-GRABBING DEATH!

Saying goodbye to a character you come to know and love in a TV show in never an easy thing.

It makes sense – we spend huge amounts of time with them, come to love their outlook on life and the way they express themselves, enjoy their company much as we would that of our friends (and yes hokey as it may sound, it is a form of once-removed friendship) and can’t wait to see them again when once again they grace our screens of whatever shape they may be.

It’s even more acute when the character in question, in this case Fear the Walking Dead‘s Madison Clark (Kim Dickens), is the living, beating, heart and soul of a show, the one who keeps everyone else on the straight-and-narrow, or at least tries to, the protagonist through whom we come to understand and relate to the world in which the show exists.

In the heady, brutal cut-throat milieu of modern peak TV deaths have become almost commonplace, a ratings-grabber intended to keep us watching when so many other forms of entertainment, and so many other TV shows for that matter, are competing for our ever more-fractured attention.

Killing off a character is a sure-fire, or so writers would like to think, way to make viewers sit up, splutter popcorn onto the carpet and keep watching next week, or next bingeworthy episode because who the hell knows who’s going next?

Of course, it’s less effective than it used to with viewers almost inured to the fact that a character with whom they have shared their couch lo these many episodes; this could explain then why Madison, who has been MIA for season 4 bar flashbacks, was sent off to that undead shuffling ground in the sky in “No One’s Gone”.

After all, how to grab wandering attention spans which are likely already scanning Twitter or sending off a perfectly-composed Instagram pic? Why kill off the main calling card of the show, the person through whom all the great moral conundrums of a world plunged into a post-civilisational hell have been channelled, the one person who managed to (mostly) refrain from sinking into the abyss of self-interest and rampant self-preservation.

 

Never walk down dark tunnels guys in the zombie apocalypse – just don’t OK? (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

And so it came to pass last night that Madison, who has always loudly, perhaps a little too loudly at times – OK we get it, you love your kids; yup, got it, thanks, don’t you don’t need to say it again, no, really, I’m good – proclaimed that she does what she does for the sake of her kids, made the ultimate sacrifice, leading a mass of BBQ’d zombies, of whom she is now likely one, back into the stadium she and her community of cast-offs called home, and shutting the gates so daughter Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), Nick (Frank Dillane), Victor (Colman Domingo) and Luciana (Danay García) could make their getaway from a stadium carpark.

It was heroic, Pied Piper-like in its eeriness, poetic and very much in keeping with everything we knew and loved about Madison, a school guidance counsellor who ponied up again and again, sometimes far too pragmatically but always with the intention to save not just her kids, but anyone else she came across like Laura aka Naomi aka real name June (Jenna Elfman).

To be honest, anyone watching this season must have known that her death was all but inevitable; in another age and time, when protagonists were invincible and shows lived and died on their ability to conquer any situation, Madison would have emerged Phoenix-like from the zombiefied ashes and joined the four survivors of her nascent but failed community on their escape from an idealistic experiment gone horribly wrong.

But this is 21st century TV and there is no guarantee anymore, much like the long-dead idea that you have a job for life, that a lead character will get to hang around at all, for the long-term, let along emerge triumphant to falling balloons, parades and the love & appreciation of their fellow characters.

Madison’s death, though beautifully and poetically handled, and given extra emotional oomph by the videographic revelation that she had met Althea (Maggie Grace) pre-stadium days and had her story recorded for posterity, was pretty much a foregone conclusion, a ticking of the modern TV box that was all but inscribed in stone.

That doesn’t make it any easier to handle, either for her surviving child who was only thwarted on enacting revenge against the perceived agent of her mother’s death, June, by a zen-like, gun-blocking Morgan (Lennie James) or Victor or Lucians, all of whom told their story, lit by oddly-comforting campfire glow at the end of the episode when the full import of Madison’s sacrifice was finally told.

The thing is with these kinds of deaths, and they are never easy, is how they’re handled – if you’re going to lose a mainstay of your viewing, then they’d better be given the kind of deaths longed for by Vikings and Klingon warriors and told in hymns, plays and an arrestingly-immersive Twitter thread.

 

When good BBQs go wrong (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

Thankfully, as the episode bounced between past, present and future with the kind of chronological whiplash that would make Marty’s McFly’s DeLorean explode, Madison got the kind of sendoff that characters of her stature and emotional importance deserve.

As we witnessed her valiant search for her family, both blood and acquired, the establishment of the stadium, the gathering in of strangers and the heroic efforts of Laura aka Naomi aka June to save the life of John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) – it was close people but he lived! – and a thousand other moments big and small, Madison’s epitaph was written in words of kindness, inclusion, truth, idealism and a hope for a better future.

In this way Fear the Walking Dead has done a far better job that its parent show, The Walking Dead, in centering the future of everything good we consider noble and human into the very DNA of the show, not simply making it an occasional episodic thread but the very reason why the show exists at all.

At every point in last night’s gripping episode, Madison was lionised in a grounded, non-hagiographic way, presented as a woman at the mercy of her flaws as any of us but possessed of a willingness, in the new undead barbaric times where it was every person for themselves (or most people believe) to still give people a chance, to aim for the best even when the worst looked like the only viable option.

Her farewell lap of the apocalyptic track had everything you could ask for in that regard – it acknowledged what she had stood for, encouraged those remaining to sit with the better angels of their nature (that’s you Alicia! … and Victor and Luciana) and to follow the examples of John and Morgan and even Althea in believing that the mainstays of our humanity now could remain so long into a world seemingly shorn clear of them.

Even in her death, and it was as sad as it was empoweringly self-sacrificial, Madison was able to communicate the idea that survival is not enough, that it’s not just admirable but possible to aim for higher purposes and goals, that doing so isn’t a waste of effort and resources, and that it’s worth doing everything you can to make it happen.

Fear the Walking Dead won’t be the same without her and you could well question if it was wise pulling out such a pivotal character from the show’s long-arc narrative – time will, of course, tell if that was a wise and beneficial course of action – but at least, in our mourning, and yes that is a real thing, we can be consoled that Madison died as admirably as she lived and that if nothing else, her spirited example will serve as an inspiration to everyone else going forward.

  • That’s it for season 4 of the Fear the Walking Dead for the moment! Part 2 premieres 12 August this year …

 

Get on down Sesame Street: Elmo’s Food Rap Battle feat. Carrot vs. Sweet Potato (Daveed Diggs & Rafael Casal)

(image via YouTube (c) Sesame Workshop)

 

SNAPSHOT
Earth’s Best is proud to present Elmo’s Food Rap Battle! Elmo is hungry and has to choose a food to eat! DJ Lobster is in the kitchen to help Elmo pick what to eat with a Food Rap Battle! Crunchy Carrot (Daveed Diggs) goes head to head with sweet and savory Sweet Potato (Rafael Casal).

Elmo’s parents have told him he can choose a vegetable to have with dinner but which one?

To help him choose, DJ Lobster is in the kitchen and Crunchy Carrot and Sweet Potato rap their cases for being chosen as the vegetable of the night?

Who will win and end up on the dinner plate? (Kinda gross to think about and best you don’t dwell on it.) And just who is the healthiest?

C’mon! Like Sesame Street, who loves everyone, is going to play favourites.

I think the real issue here is whether DJ Lobster actually makes it out of the kitchen alive …

 

Fear the Walking Dead: “The Wrong Side of Where You Are Now” (S4, E7 review)

Ruminative stargazing – a popular pasttime until the threat of zombies coming up behind you took the chilled fun out of it (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … NEAR-DEATH, FALLING STADIUMS AND THE COSILY DELUSIONAL POWER OF SELF-BELIEF …

Optimism is a powerful motivator.

It propels people forward in a way that pays no heed to the facts on the ground and achieves great things when everything points to ignominious failure being the only possible outcome.

It’s not so much delusional, although as Madison (Kim Dickens), god bless her bright-side-of life addled heart, demonstrated beautifully in “The Wrong Side of Where You Are Now” it certainly has the expansive capacity to be, as disappointing when things don’t play out the way you want.

Of course, when you’re faced with unrelenting oblivion-laden pessimism, which is pretty all that’s showing in the zombie apocalypse, is holding onto a little blue bird of happiness, sunshine-saturated optimism such a bad thing?

Well it is if it’s going to get you killed.

Madison, who tells anyone who will listen that she built the stadium community to provide her kids with as close to a normal life as possible (the rest of you? Lucky you’re here at all and don’t you forget it!) – a lofty aim that is ridiculed by one of the Vultures’ Mel (Kevin Zegers) who dismissively tells Madison that people like her are all extinct; well clearly not all of them now right Mel? Empirical evidence is standing right in front of you – but her quest to build Pleasantville in the apocalypse is dying a slow and certain death as enemies without, with zombie hordes in tow, and doubters within (hello Naomi played by Jenna Elfman), besiege her from all sides.

Still, Madison isn’t giving up without a fight, and though you could agree with Naomi’s position that it’s best to cut and run than be on the wrong side of history (a place she’s been before and not particularly enjoyed; it explains why even though she’s basically a decent good person that she ends up with people like the Vultures), it’s a powerful thing to hang onto a vision and try to see it through.

 

xxxx (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

Still admirable though Madison’s position is, the reality is the stadium is doomed.

While we don’t actually see it fall in this episode, it’s all but inevitable despite the wall reinforcements, taken from Naomi’s hut and other wooden dwellings in the sports arena dismantled with ruthless concentration by Madison, and confirmed in a later sequence when Althea (Maggie Grace), safe in her armoured SWAT vehicle with Morgan (Lennie James), a gunshot-ailing John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt), Naomi (who’s after the stadium’s stash of medical goods) and Charlie (Alexa Nisenson) bashes through the walls of the stadium in which are imprisoned (though being rather undead, they are blissfully unaware of the fact) untold hundreds of charcoaled walkers.

So clearly no longer a bucolic idyll of tended crops, bleating lambs and “normal” life, as endorsed by Madison and disendorsed by Naomi and Mel (who ends up a zombified brickette after the gun battle between Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), Luciana (Danay García) and Victor (Colman Domingo) and the Vultures which thankfully doesn’t occupy the whole episode a la The Walking Dead) but then we knew that right?

For all the forewarning and advanced knowledge, it’s still a shocking scene, a terrifying testament to how even the most fervently-believed in and strongly-articulated dreams can come crashing down a fire of loss and brokenness, in this case, quite literally, leaving everyone all the poorer for it.

And dead too? Truth is, we are still left dangling when it comes to Madison’s state of being.

At episode’s end. she’s seen dashing outside into a ring of fire and an advancing zombie horde to rescue Nick (Frank Dillane), Alicia and Mel, who the two Clarks went out to rescue after Madison, angry at the injured Vulture’s corrosive effect on her community (he’d been rescued from a truck accident at Charlie’s urging) and temporarily shorn of her idealism, exiled him from the stadium in less than tip-top, perky good health.

Not exactly in keeping with her “everyone can be rehabilitated” ethos – there’s a Monty Python song in there somewhere, hopefully with well-choreographed dancing zombies – but then everyone has a breaking point and clearly Mel is hers.

Whatever the merits of sending Mel, injured and halfway to zombiedom into the great apocalyptic beyond, it has placed Nick, Alicia and now Madison in mortal peril and while we know Nick and Alicia make it out of the Tokyo rush hour zombie horde pressing in on their car, there’s no way, until the mid-season finale next week I’d wager, to know how Madison fared in the undead fires of hell and gasoline.

 

Put down the fun Alicia! Put down the freaking gun! Gah, she never listens (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

The fate of John Dorie, Madison and the stadium aside – and to recap that’s (a) not gone yet (b) who knows and (c) gone baby gone! – the great theme of “The Wrong Side of Where You Are Now” is of forgiveness and second chances.

It’s repeated with poetic resonance again and again as we see Naomi and John finding each other again in the most searing and life-threatening of circumstances, Charlie scooped up by Morgan who tells her that he saved her, even though she’s Nick’s killer, because the cycle has to end somewhere (amen brother!) and Madison forgiving a multitude of doubters and setbacks to hold tight to her dream.

Clearly Madison’s willingness to forgive and forget hasn’t done the stadium any favours but it did save Victor and Naomi and countless others, testament to the fact that tempting though it is to throw the humanity baby out with the apocalyptic bathwater, that it remains as vital as ever.

While Mel may have believed his Cynical Charlie attitude is bang-on right when it came to the new human normal, in the process bleakly consigning our innate humanity to the dustbin of history, the fact remains that without belief in love, forgiveness, rehabilitation, second chances and all the other good stuff that makes life worth living (and not just surviving), there’s not much point in staying alive.

The Walking Dead made some noise to that effect in its early seasons before it descended into an amoral bloodfest, but this belief in the vital necessity of basic humanity is woven into the very DNA of Fear the Walking Dead, a show that acknowledges that the old days are gone but does not accede for one minute that that means the better angels of our nature are gone with that.

Maybe it’s idealistic but it also matters deeply and greatly and even as we grapple with the imperfect execution of this ideal and its constant locking of horns with willful, deathly self-preservation, “The Wrong Side of Where You Are Now” reminds that hanging onto it, even in some small Charlie-shaped form is far better than giving up on it altogether.

  • Next up on Fear the Walking Dead in “No One’s Gone” … lives on the line, dreams falling into the furnace and the hope that things can yet be salvaged.

 

 

 

I Feel Bad … the show, not my existential crisis (which is also a thing)

(image courtesy NBC)

 

SNAPSHOT
I Feel Bad follows “Emet, the perfect mom, boss, wife, friend and daughter. OK, she’s not perfect. In fact, she’s just figuring it out like the rest of us. Sure, she feels bad when she has a sexy dream about someone other than her husband, or when she pretends not to know her kids when they misbehave in public, or when she uses her staff to help solve personal problems. But that’s OK, right? Nobody can have it all and do it perfectly.” (synopsis via Deadline Hollywood)

Who among us doesn’t wish we had a perfect life?

Or at least, something that mostly resembled a perfect life, with the bumpy imperfections and irritating flaws kept to a Facebook-curated mininum?

Alas, that doesn’t happen in the Amy Poehler-produced I Feel Bad, especially when you’re a wife and mum; if anyone knows that it’s Emet, who trying to juggle aspirational domestic bliss, career achievements and parents who both assist and hinder her quest for a life well-lived.

 

 

OK, at least one that doesn’t make her feel bad.

Because she most definitely feels bad, pretty much all the time.

But hey it’s a comedy so you can laugh — just don’t tell Emet because she’ll, you know, feel bad.

I Feel Bad premieres on NBC in the 2018/19 season.

Coming over all episodic: The 5 TV episodes that have left a lasting impression on me

 

I watch a lot of television. I mean, a LOT of television.

If you’ve glanced at this site for longer than five nano-seconds, that much will be obvious.

The downside to watching so much television is negligible really, but it can make remembering much of what you’ve seen, in detail anyway, or being emotionally-impacted a challenge.

Still, good episodes, I mean the really good ones, will always cut through and make an impression and so it was with these five episodes which made quite the impact on me, such that all these years (or weeks in the case of one) I can still recall them in vivid, heartstoppingly-lovely detail.

 

(1) TORCHWOOD: “Captain Jack Harkness”

 

(image courtesy BBC America)

 

This is the most romantic episode of any TV show I’ve ever seen. A bold claim perhaps given that depictions of love, even the queer kind, are reasonably thick on the ground in television-land. But when I saw “Captain Jack Harkness”, which aired in 2007, I was reasonably freshly out of the closet (after a lifetime in the church) and seeing two men finding themselves attracted to each other in that gorgeously impossible way that only new love can manage, was a joyous revelation. Both John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness and Matt Rippy as the Captain (he’s the man whose identity Barrowman’s character assumed after his death in 1941) brought real poignancy, passion and tenderness to their roles, heightened by the fact that the real Captain was fated to die the next day and Barrowman, and Torchwood colleague Tosh (Naoko Mori) had to return to the present through the Cardiff Rift. This is life in all its glory and dreadful melancholy in one beautiful, heartwarmingly bleak episode and it cuts right through to the heart every single damn time.

 

 

(2) FEAR THE WALKING DEAD: “Laura”

 

(image courtesy AMC)

 

Finding love at the best of times is a challenge. Even with the seeming boundless riches of the interwebs at our digitally-inclined fingertips, finding that one special person can feel like mission impossible. Consider then how much more of a challenge finding love in a zombie apocalypse would be; not, I’d wager, that it’s major priority next to, oh I don’t know, staying alive. Still, love has a found of breaking through in even the most dire of circumstances, a truism that “Laura”, from the fourth, and current, season of Fear the Walking Dead, which is fond of wearing its humanity on its sleeve, explores in all its unexpected agonisingly sweet beauty.

On the edge of a river, in a hut which zombies collect in front of driven by ceaseless currents, John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) finds a badly-injured person he christens Laura (Jenna Elfman) who he selflessly back to health and equips with survival tips in complete contravention of the usually dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest that governs most human interactions in this blighted age. Laura aka Naomi (her real name) has walls aplenty up but so unrelenting is John’s basic, heartwarming decency that they both end falling for each other. As for a fairytale ending? This is the apocalypse so don’t hold your breath; suffice to say though that their relationship, and it’s slow, realistic growth in contravention of all the odds, is a remarkable thing, a rare point in a world much more accustomed to the darker parts of the human condition.

 

 

(3) DHARMA AND GREG: Pilot episode

 

(image courtesy ABC/20th Century Fox)

 

I love quirky characters with substance. People who are emotionally in touch and intelligent but have an appealing theatrical whimsicality about them that doesn’t pay much heed to mainstream expectations. Dharma (Jenna Elfman, a suitable name if there was one for an actor playing such a free spirit), a flower power child born to hippy parents, was just such a character and I fell in love withing about two minutes of the start of the pilot episode of Dharma and Greg. She might have been fey and a little airy at times, but she was also passionate, intelligent, very much her own person and more than able to stand toe-to-toe with sudden husband Greg (Thomas Gibson) and was everything I was wish I could be, right down to telling the orthodoxy that threatened to swallow her up at each and every moment that she was having none of it.

As someone who’d grown up a tightly-regulated environment, specifically the Baptist church where my dad was a pastor, and who chafed at the endless limits placed upon me, the idea that you could be wild, riotous and free and yet grounded, emotionally-authentic and clever confirmed to me that who I was just fine, Christian conservatives be (figuratively) damned. Once again, a fictional character helped me to work through some decidedly non-fictional issues, namely that I was OK as I was and shouldn’t change simply because the naysayers around me, the conformity police if you will, wanted me to.

 

 

(4) THE GOODIES: “BUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. TEA ROOMS”

 

(image courtesy BBC)

 

I know that Monty Python are the face of madcap ’70s British comedy for most people, and lord knows they deserve all the accolades that come their way. But the bright comedic spot for me, the people who played a pivotal role in the growth and development of my sense of the silly and the absurd are Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden, and Bill Oddie, collectively known as The Goodies. Their episodes always contained an important message of some kind, some profound, others small and in passing, but mostly they just had riotously silly fun, taking us on adventures with giant kittens, plagues of Rolf Harrises (that episode, alas, has not stood the test of time although it magnificently captures his innate creepiness), South African jockeys, and in this seminal episode, Westerns where a murderous showdown erupts between those who pronounce a peculiarly British baked good as a “SKON” and those who pronounce it “SKONE”. It’s off the wall ridiculous but brilliantly clever and endlessly hilarious, the very epitome of everything I love and adore about these purveyors of British silliness.

 

 

(5) GRIMM: Pilot episode

 

(image courtesy NBC)

 

I have long had a love of postmodern mash-ups; in fact, I loved the idea of playing around with characters or ideas or ostensibly unrelated stories long before it was even labelled as postmodern. Grimm, for me, was the perfect distillation of this concept – mix a police procedural with richly-wrought, likable characters, and all the mythos from around the world you can muster and hey presto, you have a wholly unique show that had a lot of fun with the idea that “monsters” walk among us and that much of the folklore and urban myth that informs our view of the world is sourced directly from their habit of hiding in plain sight among us. I still mourn its inevitable end, by which time it had become far less episodic and more arc-driven to generally impressive effect, but watching this pilot episode, which did a devastatingly good job of worldbuilding and character set-up, it seemed like a whole universe of brilliantly-imaginative storytelling awaited me … and so it came to be.