Year-End // A Handful of Amazing Things I Discovered in 2015

It’s been a while since we lived in the year 2015 and most ‘best of’ lists have long since been and gone. Alas, given my recent blogging hiatus I hadn’t gotten around to putting together any thoughts on the year. Until now!

The following is a pretty random selection of media that I really enjoyed over the year; there were plenty of other films, comics, and movies that I enjoyed too, but these are the ones that had that little extra personal impact. It’s not ordered by preference, or category, or chronology, and some of it predates 2015 and I just happened to encounter it then. Simply put, all of this stuff left a real impression on me and gave me a lot of pleasure; it’s likely it’ll be with me for a long time.

// The DC Comics of Brendan Fletcher w/ Becky Cloonan, Cameron Stewart, Babs Tarr, Karl Kerschal and Annie Wu

It’s wrong to single out the work of writer Brendan Fletcher alone over his many highly talented collaborators, especially given that it’s impossible to know who contributes what, but the various works Fletcher has been involved in this year managed to do something that few other books have done in almost a decade: get me excited about DC comics again. Batgirl and Gotham Academy have delivered some great characters and moments over the year as have the more recent travails of Black Canary. These are superhero books that have found a way to be refreshing, often through stories that feel like wonderfully spontaneous adventures with a bunch of good friends. At their best these are some of the most fun reads on my pull list.

// The Art of Babs Tarr

Batgirl #37 Pixtagraph (Babs Tarr)

It seems like I’ve spent a lot of 2015 discovering incredible new talent, and the ‘list’ of my favourite artists is markedly different at the end of the year compared to what it was at the start. Chief amongst those changes is probably my quick and all encompassing infatuation with the art of Babs Tarr. Every issue of Batgirl has been an absolute joy to look at and the variant covers and prints that Tarr has produced have all been just as wonderful. Characters look fun, wear modern fashion, and live in a relatable world; these are people I want to be and hang out with, even when they’re fighting tigers or super-villains, or each other. There is a playful and inviting warmth and a contemporary feel to Tarr’s art that captures a welcome shift in the way superhero comics are written and drawn.

// Elementary

Elementary Still 1

Although I am a fan of Holmesian stories I took a pass on this show when I first heard about it due in no small part to my memories of Johnny Lee Miller as Crash Overide in Hackers. My surprise was significant then when I finally did watch the first episode and it was a top notch procedural with a tremendous interpretation of, and performance of, the great detective. The show leans heavily into the drug addiction elements of the Holmes cannon and finds a great deal of compelling pathos in it. The weekly cases can suffer some of the problems typical of procedural shows (the most famous guest actor usually did it, the plots tend to swerve at the same time each episode, etc.), but the ever engaging performances by Miller and Liu, and the character dynamics at the heart of the show keep it very enjoyable throughout. When I finally started watching this show I just couldn’t stop; I ended up watching 3 seasons in about 3 weeks. I even gave dvds of the show as more than one Christmas gift. Plus the New York brownstone set is a place I would love to live in!

// The Steve Jobs Script

'Steve Jobs' film - 2015

The direction was perfunctory and the performances were excellent, but it was the script for Steve Jobs that elevated the film to incredible status. I’ve long been a fan of Sorkin’s work, and for all his problems he can still write dialogue like few others ever have. The fact that the structure of the movie essentially creates 5 ongoing conversations that take turns for 90 minutes means that there is sparkling dialogue everywhere; it is non-stop brilliance, full of smart, funny, piercing, and endlessly quotable lines. There’s a fair argument that it is more of a play than a film,but for me that is absolutely what makes the experience so amazing.

// They’re Not Like Us

They're Not Like Us #3 Panel

I stumbled upon this comic mostly because the striking cover featured the intriguing opening panel of the story, and I am so grateful I picked it up. This book has been the most interesting, compelling, and thrilling ongoing I have read all year – building up from a simple troubled teens with powers origin to a broader, darker rumination on society’s response to a youth culture it does not understand. The slower pace has allowed characters to organically reveal themselves and the sense of paranoia and oppression to really take hold. All the while the tremendous art/colouring from Simon Gane  and Jordie Bellaire has helped to drive the story and provide memorable & innovative demonstrations of superpowers in use. I’ve been lamenting the lack of a good mutant outcast X-book for years, and then secretly this book answered my prayers.

// The Art of Mike Del Mundo

Elektra #11 Panel

Elektra was a book that ultimately felt more like a dramatic rendering of the main characters psyche than a straightforward narrative and that was thanks to the spectacular art by Mike Del Mundo. Del Mundo manages to somehow create art that is both dream like and grittily detailed, and his worlds are both epic and intimate. Every book I’ve read that he has drawn has undoubtedly been elevated by his incredible artwork. It’s also worth noting that the various covers that Del Mundo has worked on have been ingenious and marvelous without exception. I’ve spent endless hours staring deep into Del Mundo’s art; each panel offers a wealth of beauty and detail that reward your attention.

// All New X-Men #37

All-New X-Men #37 Panel

I’ve been quite vocal about my disappointment with the recently concluded X-Men run from Brian Micheal Bendis, but this issue was an exception that genuinely blew me away. Telling an incredibly simple story, Emma Frost takes young Jean Grey on a training mission to Madripoor, this book managed to deliver deeper character, world building, action, and drama than the entirety of the rest of Bendis’ run. Featuring cinematic art from Mike Del Mundo the book has it all: outstanding action, fun moments, funny lines, sharply observed characterisation, and a hidden but palpably warm heart in Emma’s secret devotion to keeping Jean safe. X-Men comics have been in a sorry state for years (and continue to be so), but this issue really shows what you can do when you combine those merry mutants with tremendous art and on point writing.

// Killjoys

Killjoys Team Still 1

This series marked the start of the Syfy channel’s return to making actual sci-fi, and what a return it was. Killjoys is pure fun, a breathless action adventure that follows three good-guy-bounty-hunters as they work on ostensibly unrelated warrants, but it all becomes entwined in both the personal histories of our heroes and the fate of this particular corner of the galaxy. The show puts together a rewarding blend of character- and plot-led drama, comedy, spectacle, and action, all along side some very effective world building. There are plenty of cliche breaking twists and some really smart done-in-one stories, and by the time the season finale rolled around I was entirely hooked by the questions at the heart of the show’s universe and charmed by its likable characters.

// The Age of Adaline

Film Review The Age of Adaline

I’m a bit of a soppy romantic at heart and also a fan of magical-realism-meets-star-crossed-lovers stories (a surprisingly common genre!) so this movie is pretty much made for me. The story and style of the film seem to take their lead from the underated Fincher classic The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, even down to the lighting and framing of many scenes, but the elegance of the execution here ensures that Adaline never comes off as being derivative. Much has been made of Harrison Ford’s return to actual acting with this film, and he is good, but the film’s real secret weapon is Ellen Burstyn how manages to convey a lifetime of love and regret in her scenes with her mother Blake Lively. It also has to be said that Lively herself does an excellent job holding the film, and her performance as the stoic Adaline is full of masterfully delivered small moments of introspection and aching. Although the script could probably have done with a little more oomph at times, this is a beautifully shot, wonderfully acte, modern fairy tale that left me positively aglow with all kinds of emotions by the end. Also the costume design was absolutely on point!

// Master of None

 

Master of None Still 1

Aziz Ansari’s Netflix sitcom took me completely by surprise, both in it suddenly existing at all and in how good it was. I like Ansari from PNR and his live shows, but he can sometimes lose me when he gets deep into a celebrity story or Randy performance. Fortunately Master of None is brilliantly funny and Ansari is an excellent lead. The real strength, though, lies in how it consistently offers a smart, incisive alternative view on ubiquitous sitcom material. The second episode takes time out of the comedy to tell a wonderfully touching story of immigrant family life without ever becoming saccharine, and the way the show positions modern dilemma’s like wanting to spend time with the family that you love but also wanting your own life in a sympathetic relatable way whilst still finding the funny aspects of the situation. Over the 10 episodes there are some touching moments, some profound moments, and many many funny moments.

Television // Idle Thoughts // Supergirl – Flying Out from HIS Shadow

Last week’s Supergirl pilot was a fun hour of quality super-heroic adventure. Taking a similar approach in both tone and visuals to The Flash (although looking like it has a slightly larger special effects budget) the show is bright and optimistic and anchored by a terrific central performance by Melisa Benoist who is by turns adorable, goofy, stoic, determined, righteous, and bullet-proof. The episode keeps up a pretty breathless pace but still manages to confidently introduce a number of key characters, deal with the origin story of a fully powered hero, and feature a couple of solid action scenes (including an excellent aircraft rescue). Picking up the colourful, fun mantle of the 80’s Supergirl movie and 90’s Lois & Clark show, rather than the moribund grey bleakness of Man of Steel, is the absolute right approach to take here and it is done so mostly with aplomb.

Perhaps most pleasing is that the show seems determined to embrace the idea that both Supergirl the character and Supergirl the show are important feminist icons that can be a positive influence on their respective worlds. It was pleasing to see the large number of complex female relationships on display with a broad range of female characters possessed of different backgrounds, political viewpoints, and intentions. This isn’t achieved through exclusion of male characters though and there is a healthy range of male viewpoints available too. Amongst the smart ways of bringing this choice to life are things like Supergirl going up against a misogynistic alien villain (even if there was some on the nose dialogue in these scenes, “Why? Because she’s only a GIRL!“), introducing the importance of Kara’s nuanced relationships to her sister and both her biological Kryptonian mother and Earth foster mother (even though both father’s are present neither speaks), and having apparent male big bad, the Commander, actually be revealed to be in the service of Kara’s aunt.

The show isn’t perfect though featuring as it does plenty of trite expositionary dialogue and way too much information for just one episode to process. None of that is a long term problem though, given that the show now has plenty of characters and plot threads to explore, plus a solid super-villain story engine in the abandoned space prison set up. No, the larger problem present in the pilot, that could yet be an issue for the show as a whole, is the in-universe existence of fellow Kryptonian Kal El. The writers of the show take the decision, whether to avoid confusion with the movies or to create a running joke, of having no character refer to Superman as Superman. Instead you get a barrage of him’s and his’s, plus a bonus order of ‘adjective-man’s, the big guy’s, and my cousin’s. By trying to avoid putting attention on Superman through not showing his face and not saying his name the show actually throws a massive amount of attention on him – the entire pilot is constructed in a way that kind of expects Superman to show up at the end and tell Supergirl he is proud of her (a service that ends up being offered by James ‘not Jimmy for no reason’ Olsen) which shouldn’t feel necessary at all. Kara is proud of herself, as are her closest friends and family, so establishing ‘big blue’ as an absent authority figure from whom one should seek approval kind of creates this strange and unhelpful God analogy.

It’s a difficult square to circle certainly, the show wants to acknowledge Superman’s existence, but doesn’t want focus pulled from Kara, or for there to be inevitable/constant questions of why Superman isn’t helping Supergirl out of bad situations. To that end there is a curious relationship established between Kara and Kal El where he is her cousin who knows she has powers, but doesn’t appear to have been in contact since he just deposited her at her new foster parents house (which seems pretty strange for a guy constantly searching for links to his homeworld). Yet there are countless other references to Superman, both obvious (Jimmy Olsen’s presence, the Kara as Clark Kent look, working for a media/news company, the shirt rip) and also obvious (both save a plane on their first outing, Jimmy references both saving a plane as if it wasn’t an obvious thing). These work to establish Supergirl as part of the ongoing Superman franchise, but they risk giving the impression that Supergirl is ‘just’ a female version of Superman rather than having her own identity and cool trademarks. Having some of this stuff in the pilot is fine, but if it becomes a regular thing throughout the season then the danger will be that Supergirl never becomes a character and show in her/its own right.

It seems like the writers have a foot in both camps; referring to Superman unusually often (by name or otherwise) to remind the audience that he is out there and could show up at any moment (see you in sweeps!), but also not using his actual name or giving him a direct contemporary relationship with Kara so that he stays at arms length and can be ignored if necessary. Maybe this is the right balancing act, one that gives the writers freedom to use the character if they want or never mention him again. Or maybe they will write an endlessly inventive list of ways to talk about Superman without saying his name. In either case my hope is that the show capitalises on the good work done in the pilot to establish a world without Superman, one that is built around the tremendous performance from Benoist and that has the potential to be both as compelling and as much fun as contemporary comic book shows like The Flash and iZombie.

Notes //

– I am a big fan of the way Supergirl lands from flight; it looks like there is a momentum to her landing and it gives the super-power a real physicality.

– I am not a big fan of super-powered shows/comics/movies having people apparently kill themselves when first revealing their powers to someone – surely just flying off the roof top is as effective as falling off it before flying, and it has the added benefit of not making someone you love think you just died (even if it’s only for a moment).

– I am constantly upset that superhero media very rarely shows superheroes saving people rather than fighting villains so it was nice to see the show open with an act of selfless heroism that wasn’t punching guys at a bank robbery; here’s hoping the show continues to include more of this.

Television // Thoughts on a Few New Shows

A quick look at a few of the new shows that have premiered over the last few weeks. Spoilers below!

Blindspot //

This is a great concept, a young woman with no memory and a body covered in unexplained tattoo’s is discovered in Times Square just in time for the tattoo’s to lead the authorities to a terrorist, with a lot of scope for interesting mysteries and compelling character development. Unfortunately, despite a great performance from Jaime Alexander as the Jane Doe in question the show is critically flawed due to the intensely generic leading man and case of the week structure. Sullivan Stapleton’s ‘I don’t work by the book but I get results’ Kurt Weller is so cardboard and boring it is a real problem, especially when Jane is necessarily a blank slate trying to rediscover her humanity. That means that there are basically two characters on screen all the time with barely half a personality between them, and whilst Jaime Alexander works wonders with the damaged Jane attempting to piece things back together, Stapleton just stomps around stoically solving impossible mysteries with no charisma.

Blindspot Poster

Limitless //

The endlessly rewarding network crime show pairing of kooky man with ‘gifts’ and hard-nosed-coating-sweet-in-the-centre cop ladies continues here (see also Minority Report), as the in no way every man Brian Finch (Jake McDormand) wins the trust of tough Special Agent Rebecca Harris (Jennifer Carpenter) presumably by virtue of his cheeky smile rather than convincing evidence. The curious decision to remold the Limitless movie into a TV series works well for the most part, and on paper it makes sense as the movie’s most interesting aspects (what could you do with a perfect mind) quickly fell by the wayside once it got into dubious drug/political drama. The show does manage some surprisingly effective work with it’s plotting, offering up a compelling and largely believable series of events that leads to Brian both regularly supplied with NZT and working with the FBI. It also delivers on the best visualisations of NZT in action from the mixed bag shown in the movie, with some inventive use of onscreen calculations and imagery giving an insight into how Brian thinks. It’s also fair to say that the show knows Bradley Cooper is its silver bullet and his brief presence does bring a little Hollywood sparkle to the show, especially given the way his character is employed – his general un-trustworthiness and air of menace makes for an effectively threatening background arc (maybe De Niro can step in as the season two villain).

Alas, Limitless has a couple of problems that make fully engaging with the characters and plot a little difficult. Brian as a character is a little inert, despite a good performance from McDormand. It mostly comes down to the way he is established, the show seems to want us to root for him, but he is shown having an endlessly supportive farther and privileged family background and the only problems he really has are related to not being signed for a record contract and being unwilling to take responsibility for his life. That second one is a real issue as the show very much rewards him for not making difficult choices in life, just look at his ‘best friend’ Eli (there is a picture of him on Brian’s parents mantelpiece but Brian doesn’t even know he has a job). Eli quits the band and gets a job on Wallstreet, as far as Brian in concerned this is him selling out (Brian is extremely dismissive of the fact Eli left the band first) and as such the show has him get killed as soon as it reveals he got a ‘real’ job (an easy to hate investment banking job no less). Brian meanwhile makes no real effort to improve his life out and gets gifted the drug that makes you the best at everything, and then on top of that Bradley Cooper takes away any downsides to the drug by eliminating side effects! And even on NZT Brian’s actions are questionable, yes he is generally a good guy but his condescending ‘you’re worth it girl’ speech to the office administrator is cringe worthy (are we supposed to think this or was it supposed to be a clever manipulation by Brian for no apparent reason?), whilst his big plan to unnecessarily scare a bank-full of innocent people with the prospect of imminent gun death is unforgivable.

Limitless (TV) Poster

Minority Report //

It seems harsh to pile on to the negative buzz surrounding this show (the season order has already been cut) as it’s not totally awful, but it’s just so blandly uninteresting that it’s hard to say anything positive. Megan Good does her best to give police-cop Lara Vega some dignity but with all the awkward dialogue and painfully hilarious full body VR crime scene recreations asked of her it doesn’t really work. The original movie was almost as interested in the technology of the future (surveillance spiders, invasive advertising, sick sticks) and the show does seem to be marginally interested in continuing that exploration on the side, but it is too wrapped up in its central weekly murder structure to get into anything that deeply. Stark Sands picks up the role of Dash (made famous by hiding in the background of the original movie) perfectly service-ably, offering a combination of earnest do-goodery and nervous brain energy. Unfortunately neither Dash nor the construction of the murder mysteries offer anything compelling here, it’s all somehow passe, even despite all the stupid robot builders, future visions, and ill-conceived horizontal rappeling into fight scenes.

Minority Report (TV) Poster

Quantico //

Basically Grey’s Anatomy wrapped up in post-9/11 surveillance paranoia packaging Quantico has all the key plots from an insane day time soap opera, but with the stakes raised from ‘will people come to the my pool party’ to ‘is everyone I know plotting to destroy America’. In it’s favour is the wonderfully diverse cast with numerous strong females and characters from a range of different ethnic and religious backgrounds. The ensemble is anchored by lead Priyanka Chopra who delivers a sterling performance as ace FBI trainee and potentially framed terror suspect Alex Parrish. The show moves at breathtaking speed with constant character revelations, plot twists, and montages, but to be fair to the writing team they have really managed to stuff the dialogue with solid character interactions and intriguing backstory. Whether that backstory is compelling enough will probably come down to viewer taste – literally no one at this academy, student or staff, can be trusted at all as each person has an obvious wealth of secrets that will no doubt be revealed in time. This does make for some infuriatingly obtuse conversations, particularly between the two FBI teachers who seem to make reference to deep personal scars, career ending failures, and future betrayals even when they’re just ordering coffee. It would also be fair to say that the show is so broad in it’s plotting (there are like 8 A plots an episode, and some B plots) that there’s not too much depth or ultimately sense to any of it; I literally could not understand what the training simulation in episode 2 was supposed to prove, nor do secret twins who only half want to stay secret make any sense at all.

Quantico Poster

Scream Queens //

This is an inherently ridiculous show, but it sort of works if you accept that nothing in it means anything besides the laughs or shocks it regularly elicits whilst you watch. Unlike the recent Scream show which took itself way too seriously and lacked any originality, Scream Queens is intent on offering consistently satirising both college life and the horror genre with over the top characters like the delightful Dean Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis on terrific form) and Denise Hemphill (Niecy Nash stealing every scene) poking fun at the establishment they are part of and the genre conventions they are limited by. There are genuinely brilliant, outrageous, and funny set pieces like the Backstreet Boys versus the Red Devil scene or the adventures of Coney the mascot, and some wonderfully funny writing at times. I suppose the warning to potential viewers would be about the tone of the show, it may feature some brutal murders and plenty of horror trappings, but the entire thing is simply too silly to operate with most traditional views of horror. The show veers wildly between different tones, one moment it’s 80’s camp comedy, then it’s sharp college satire, then it’s absurdist comedy, and then it’s a brutally violent gore fest. For the most part this is fine, but on occasion the show stumbles into straight drama and the writing seizes up whilst the score goes into extreme sentiment/foreboading overdrive. Speaking of the music, there are times when the soundtrack is perfect, like that Backstreet boys scene or the opening Waterfalls sequence, but there are times when it is just heavy handed or too loud for the dialogue.

The show is primarily focused on two central characters: whilst arguably a diverse ensemble the unlikable but quite interesting Chanel (Emma Roberts) and likable but totally uninteresting Grace (Skyler Samuels) take centre stage most of the time. This is especially disappointing as there are tremendously fun and effective performances from the likes of Niecy Nash, Keke Palmer, and Nasim Pedrad that often eclipsing the ‘leads’ when they share the screen. I’ve seen some negative reviews of Roberts’ performance, but I think she plays Chanel with an effective mixture of intense anxiety and arrogant terror. Some of the show works better than other parts, but there is an interesting, if bizarre, show here and despite more than one moment of overly offensive dialogue or dubious scene, it is funny and quite compelling. Much like Quantico it is clear that every character has a ridiculous secret, but here I am dead certain I want to know what dark nonsense they are keeping to themselves.

Scream Queens Poster

Television // Review // Killjoys / Season One

Concise //

Killjoys is the story of three bounty hunters operating in a dangerous corner of the galaxy whose lives become ever more entangled in local politics and their own dark secrets. Although the show isn’t perfect it is a heck of a lot of fun owning to a well crafted season long arc that has been put together with clear consideration and love. The show works wonders through, amongst other things, judicious use of a presumably tight budget, a genuine attempt to develop a unique visual palette and look, lively & characterful dialogue, and a surprisingly fresh approach to many traditional scifi tropes. The core cast bring their best to every scene, giving performances that are believable and charismatic (even when the dialogue occasionally gets clunky) and it is a testament to their talents that Dutch, John, and D’Avin often seem like they are having a tonne of fun living in this world. Another bonus is the strong bench of quality guest and recurring actors and the effort from the writing staff to imbue their characters with their own diverse stories is well worthwhile. The writing team deserve further credit for the inventive and satisfying storylines that they weave through this entire season; plenty of familiar science fiction plots are used, but more often than not there is a clever twist or an innovative climax that takes the viewer by surprise.

I decided to watch this show because I liked the (admittedly generic) premise, but I kept watching because there was an obvious dedication to making an original and inventive show; despite that, it wasn’t until a few episodes in that I discovered that this could be much smarter than I’d given it credit for and by the time I reached the final arc I was fully invested in the lives of these killjoys and the mythos of The Quad. This is fun space adventure done just right and I for one hope Syfy bring the show back for a second season.

Killjoys Team Still 1

Spoilerful //

Following the exploits of team leader Dutch (Hannah John-Kamen), tech wizard John (Aaron Ashmore), and former soldier D’Avin (Luke Macfarlane) Killjoys is a show that takes it’s budget, characters, plotting and traditional science fiction elements and does absolutely everything it can to make sure every ounce of value is on the screen. The killjoys are essentially bounty hunters and they spend their time having action adventure fun catching villains of every stripe, but as the politics of their home, The Quad, grow more complex and dark figures from their own pasts reemerge things might not stay fun forever. The shows setting is well realised through both production design and dialogue and the cast are given plenty of fun dialogue to banter back and forth as they go about moving through the various plots, but where some shows are content to deliver a weekly blast of procedural by the numbers thrills Killjoys has more ambitious plans. Initially I was unsure about the show; despite some slick ads and an interesting visual look the nature of the show seemed to be focused on the smugness of unbelievably good looking and capable bounty hunter types blowing stuff up (not necessarily a bad thing, but not essential viewing either). I was pleasantly surprised then when the characters quickly began demonstrating much more depth than I had anticipated and the show’s adventures took on increasingly sophisticated subject matter and complex structures. This show may not go on to be a timeless classic, but it was quickly apparent that it is one of the most enjoyable and compelling genre shows on right now.

The show is consistently surprising in a number of ways; firstly there is a conscious and well planned effort to develop the mythology of the Killjoys universe. Concepts like the RAC (Reclamation Apprehension Coalition), the political dynasty’s of Qresh, scar-back priests, and unkillable-space-assassins all could have been introduced and left pretty much how they were when they first showed up. In fact the show’s initial quartet of episodes would have you believe that that is exactly what will happen as the dynamics of the team are quickly established and then random space adventures ensue. Fortunately the show is more committed to it’s world than that and elements of those adventures go on to form the basis of a much grander story arc revolving around the economics and politics of The Quad, the nature of the RAC, the history of our leads, and the plight of the downtrodden. The second source of regular surprise is the smartness of the plotting throughout episodes and across the season as a whole. Characters and concepts that are introduced and serve a purpose in a given episode return organically in later episodes with new information to offer or obstacles to overcome, and the writers aren’t afraid to go against expectations in order to deliver surprises (take for instance D’Avin’s actions on Dr Yaeger’s orders or the deaths of supporting characters like Jenny, Turin, or Carleen). A stand out early episode is A Glitch in the System (episode 5) which deploys traditional science fiction and horror tropes (seen even as recently as the week before on the same network) to establish a tone and expectation for the episode that is suddenly proved entirely misleading at the midway point. Sure, the episode ultimately still features some familiar elements in it’s resolution, but the confidence in the writing and the conviction with which the cast (in particular D’Avin’s Luke Macfarlane and guest-star Richard Clarkin) play their parts raises the quality of the entire enterprise. The fact that red-herrings and maguffins from episodes such as this one also go on to play a role in the wider mythology of the show is an other reason that the arc of the series feels so satisfying – we are being given information all the time, but it is only when the missing clues are provided that it becomes clear what we have been seeing.

The show is not without its silly moments or oversights (security cells are not closely monitored, henchmen are all terrible at their jobs, highly secure facilities are easy to access, etc.), but the majority of these feel like concessions to plot efficiency or budgetary restrictions rather than genuine mistakes or an attempt to get one over on the audience. In fact the show seems to go out of its way to drop in smart one liners that justify earlier character choices and plot developments. A particular favourite of mine in this regard is the very reason that nefarious assassin Khlyen (Rob Stewart) has made a reappearance in Dutch’s life – usually these things are passed of as coincidence (take for instance Lex getting out of prison the same day Superman gets back from Krypton in Superman Returns, or, Peter Parker and Norman Osborne getting their powers in the same week in Spider-Man), but here the elegant explanation is that Khlyen has been waiting for Dutch to ‘graduate’ to a kill warrant as proof she is ready for further training, proof that comes when Johnny takes the kill warrant for his brother D’Avin in her name so that they can save him. This all rather neatly ties together the introduction of D’Avin, the reappearance of Khlyen, Dutch’s continuing unwillingness to take on kill warrants, and the subsequent change in the team make-up that signals a new chapter and our jumping on point in their story.

The show has clearly set out with a remit to create a visual palette akin to some of the most popular current science fiction. Fortunately, in trying to replicate the likes of the Guardians of the Galaxy production and Star Trek (2009) lighting design Killjoys actually comes off as a more interestingly filmed show than many of it’s televisual ancestors (or contemporaries). The most recent genre show with a similarly stylised approach to lighting, for example, was probably Battlestar Galactica, but outside of that it is hard to recall a science fiction TV show that wasn’t shot with just a ‘point all the lights at the centre of the room’ kind of feel. Much of the production has been designed to create the feel of a rich and detailed universe; the various core sets have a certain Firefly quality (itself a show angling for a Star Wars (by way of the wild west) flavour in its production design) and seem suitably well-lived in. Lucy, the Royale, and Old Town in general all have the feel of a well thumbed book, whilst some welcome visual variety is offered by the various bespoke locations in each episode (deserts, abandoned starships, bureaucratic space stations, religious training grounds, etc.). Alongside the costume design (mostly functional contemporary gear with the odd sarong or curiously cut jacket to scifi it all up a bit) the production does very well to overcome the budgetary limitations that plague most scifi shows and actually make this into a believable environment (as opposed to, say, Killjoys Syfy stable-mate Dark Matter which, perhaps due to a larger core cast, looks far less ‘realistic’ with larger empty sets that lack character and are occupied only by convenient obstacles to use in fights). It’s also worth noting that amongst the many action scenes in the show there are some well choreographed and well executed fights with those variously between John-Kamen, Macfarlane, and Stewart being particularly good.

Killjoys Team Still 2

Throughout the season the show performs admirably when it comes to creating interesting character dynamics, even with those of secondary and one off characters, with a healthy mixture of neatly resolved and ambiguously open arcs by the finale’s close. Dutch and Johnny have a strong friendship and platonic love that whilst complicated by D’Avin is mercifully free of jealously or unrequited love; it is refreshing to see a male and female relationship in a show like this that is built on mutual respect and admiration and doesn’t necessarily mutate into lust or love. The romances that do spring up (D’Avin/Pawter, D’Avin/Dutch) have some complexity beyond the simple off/on drama with questions like Pawter’s medical ethics, the emotional consequences of mind control, and the ability of adults to reconcile after a relationship ends for reasons out of their control all making things messier and more believable. Similarly the sibling bond between estranged brothers John and D’Avin yields some subtle drama (dealing with abandonment) and some not so subtle stuff (getting stabbed by a loved one who is being controlled like a robot) and there is plenty more in their chemistry that is left to explore. It is also very nice to see plenty of satisfying moments for background & supporting characters across the season. This is especially prevalent in the season finale, as Pree, Pawter, and even Hills get interesting and touching scenes to wrap up key parts of their personal stories, and what’s more the show delivers a few genuinely touching moments with characters introduced in that very last episode as the Rat King and his people are shown to be the only real kind hearted citizens of Westerley ultimately paying the price for the merciless politicking of their ‘betters’.

The show climaxed with a bold, but pleasantly surprising, decision to destroy the majority of the regular season one locations like the Royale bar in Old Town (that is assuming that Old Town was completely destroyed in the bombing). There is still plenty of visual continuity for season two with Lucy remaining intact (as well as Leith Bazaar and the RAC) so this presents a great opportunity for the writers to grow The Quad and take us to interesting and refreshing new locales. There are also plenty of story lines still in play following the events of the finale, each offering many interesting avenues for the characters to go down. Perhaps the one that stands out as most interesting for me is not D’Avin’s fate but rather his brother Johnny’s (we now D’Avin must ultimately rejoin the team after all). There has been some subtle work throughout the season to edge John closer to the scar-back cause and his blood-rite recantation in the finale just serves to evidence that he may have become more indoctrinated than even he thought. Add to that the potential guilt he might feel for Carleen’s death (if he hadn’t stolen that computer-water would she be dead?) and we could see him take solace in religion which may put him in direct conflict with the RAC.

The first season of Killjoys played a smart long game, taking the time to introduce characters and build its world, before leading the audience into a well orchestrated and highly serialised arc for the back half. This structure has really paid off with characters given plenty of time to shine and grow as engaging and sophisticated beings, whilst the various plot strands have been brought together in a way that is not overwhelming, but that does offer rewards to the keen-eyed viewer. Everything that takes place in the finale, and every character caught up in those events, has been well developed across the season ensuring that each arc ends with a satisfying and well deserved conclusion. I wouldn’t have believed it back when I first watched episode one, but Killjoys became appointment viewing for me over the course of the season and I am eager to know where these characters and their story goes next. Let’s just hope that the Syfy channel makes the right choice and commission a well deserved season two.

Killjoys Dutch Still 1

Notes //

–  I’m a big fan of the tightly edited previously at the start of each episode, I especially like the quick cut dialogue free sequence that precedes the plot stuff.

– Characters, particularly our fearless killjoys, often get hurt doing their jobs and boy does it look like it! Kudos to the actors and make-up crew for making the frequent fights seem like they have consequences.

– There are a few instances of cool future tech being a key plot element (notably the genetic bomb, but also things like the crawling-spider-bomb-necklace and the neat floating target ball from episode 7) so I’d love to see more of this kind of thing in season two.

– The weakest moment in the season finale was the fight with a level 6 killjoy – first off, level 6’s have always been a rumour and no evidence of their existence has ever been found, but as soon as Khlyen admit’s he is one they just start showing up on regular missions and admitting to anyone what they are?! Secondly, I have no idea at all why Johnny is the one to save the day here – the entire season has clearly established the roles of Dutch (close combat), Johnny (tech support), and D’Avin (strategy and gunplay) so why was there a sudden need for Dutch to become (albeit briefly) a damsel in distress? She has kicked ass all season so this felt a little forced to me.

– Season Two predictions: There is a great deal more to Alvis than it appears; taking out that guard was some merciless stuff and I’d be surprised if we don’t learn more about his dark past before he became a monk // Pree ought to set up a bar in Lucy’s hanger bay so he is on hand for wisdom and consolation 24hrs a day // Pawter and Johnny have to get together, right? And if they do how will Lucy take it?!

Killjoys Titlecard

Film // List // A Few Great Fictional White Hats

White hats, or ethical hackers, aren’t a new thing by any means, and they have been diversely represented in film, television, and comics over the years. Sometimes they work well and sometimes not so well. Below are a few of my favourite ethical hackers from (relatively) recent years.

Oracle (Barbara Gordon)

First Appearance – Suicide Squad #23

After the Joker violently assaulted Barbara Gordon in the (unfortunately lauded) Killing Joke story Babs recovered and became Oracle, using her incredible computer skills to create a world-wide communications and support network for superheroes. This all took place in the old DC universe of course and things have changed somewhat in the New 52 (where another character looks to be soon taking on the role). In both continuities Oracle is an important and much needed icon, what with her being a woman and disabled and a superhero all at the same time – a combination that is sadly all too rare in comics.

Oracle (DC) - Phil Noto

Eyes Only (Logan Cale)

First Appearance – Dark Angel #1.1

The James Cameron created science fiction action show Dark Angel isn’t fondly remembered as often as it ought to be. Although running for just two seasons (with the second season being a hit and mostly miss affair), the show was still able to build a very effective and immersive dystopian setting, develop a unique and fast paced dialogue style, and deliver excellent action on a TV budget. Even though the core narrative was focused on Jessica Alba’s Max and her genetically enhanced ‘siblings’, the show’s heart was often provided by hackavist Logan Cale. Operating as ‘Eyes Only’ Logan used his wealth and contacts to conduct cyber-vigilantism aiming to topple corrupt officials and shed light on the social ills of post-EPM America.

Kenji Koiso

First Appearance – Summer Wars

This incredible movie explores a terrorist AI running amok on a futuristic internet against the backdrop of a multigenerational Japanese family drama. It is funny and sweet and tense as well as incredibly touching and heartfelt. At the centre of the story is the nervous and self-conscious Kenji, tricked into pretending to be schoolmate Natsuki’s girlfriend for the summer (so she doesn’t get hassled by her family) and also embroiled in a computer-conspiracy against his will. When called upon to step up and use his prodigious maths skills to help fight the AI virus Kenji does everything he possibly can.