Geekomancer Under Glass — Spring 2014 Pilots

21 Apr

We’re solidly into the Spring 2014 TV season now in the US, so I’ve watched a few pilots, SF/F and other, to share my thoughts with you all, the Skiffy and Fanty readership. I’ve avoided all but the most basic spoilers, since all three of these shows employ the Fifth Act Twist.

The 100

The 100, adapted from the novel of the same name by author Kass Morgan, is another entry in the CW’s effort to become the new Sci-Fi channel. Just as there was a rush of YA SF/F literature, it only makes sense that there would be a corresponding wave of YA SF/F television, and here we are.

97 years after a devastating nuclear war, life support is running out on the Ark, a hodgepodge mega-space-station cobbled together when the surface world got all toasty. In an effort to buy more time for the grown-ups, and to see if the surface is habitable, 100 juvenile inmates are dropped back to the surface, despite the fact that as far as the people on the station know, the surface is supposed to still be lethally radioactive.

Well, our 100 kids don’t melt hours after entry, so we get to go on and have a story that justifies the title. The show splits its time between the 100 kids on the surface and the rest of humanity up on the station. What this means is that the surface story is like a co-educational Lord of the Flies and the space station story is like a one-ship-and-no-Cylons Battlestar Galactica.

The 100

In the pilot, most of the kids on the surface act one degree more stupid than I think is reasonable, at least after a day or so of excitement. But then again, teenagers.

Eliza Taylor puts in a solid performance as Clarke Griffin, daughter of prominent citizens on the ship — her father was jailed and killed for exposing just how low their supplies and life support have run. Clarke is a competent, if typical YA lead, following in the footsteps of Katniss Everdeen and Tris Pryor.

Paige Turco holds up the Ark portion of the story, counterpointed by Henry Ian Cusick’s Councilman Kane, in solid Iago-ish mode.

We do get a substantial twist by the end of the first episode, giving the storyline even momentum. The stakes set up mean that the show, if it’s competently run, will make some major plot movement fairly soon, depending on how compressed the timeline ends up being.

I’ve watched several episodes into this series now, and intend to continue. Not must-see TV, but check it out if you’re looking for more SF television in your world and don’t mind standard CW teen antics.

The After

The After

After LOST took off, it seems like every network tried to launch their LOST-alike. We had The Event, Flash Forward, The Nime, and so on. The After, created by Chris “X-Files” Carter for Amazon Studios, is in the same mold, but puts at least one big card on the table by the end of the first episode.

We start with Gigi, an actress auditioning for a role in Los Angeles. Shortly after her audition, the building she’s in loses power, and she gets stuck in the basement parking lot with a half-dozen other people from All Walks of Life, including a cop, a seemingly-perpetually-drunk Irishman (innovation!), a Latina cop, and several others, including an escaped convict played by Aldis Hodge, who I have loved since his appearance in “Supernatural.” The group has to work together while the convict and the cop are staring one another down and another convict lies bleeding out from a gutshot (it’s unwise to try to jump a cop who is already on the edge.)

The group escapes, then makes their way to a big fancy house, and gets a respite before more Plot happens. The ending of the episode makes a big statement about what kind of show this is going to be, and not one that I was expecting.

Hodge puts in a very strong performance, and Louise Monot does well as the lead actress.

The After was ordered to series in March, so we’ll see more later this year. If you were a X-Files or Millenium fan, definitely check this out. As of the date of this post, the pilot is free to view on Amazon.com.

Crisis

Crisis

This show isn’t SF/F, other than a bit of Spy-Fi technology, but it seems to also be in the LOST mode, so I decided to give it a shot.

We begin with a school trip for a class from an exclusive-and-expensive private school for ambassadors’ kids (and the president’s son), which then gets hijacked en-route. The action then splits up, with some FBI characters and associates trying to find the students, the students themselves, and some associated players. In true Crime Fiction fashion, there are twists and masterminding and reversals, enough that I got to the point where I was happy to just sit back and watch — this had the effect of lessening my emotional investment in some of the characters, but not all.

Gillian Anderson plays the heavy as Meg Fitch, CEO of a tech company and mother of one of the students in the class trip.

For me, the show has a bigger cast than the pilot has made use of. That means there’s room to expand into other POVs and continue onion-layer twists and reveals, LOST-style, where more and more characters reveal themselves to be more than they seemed and continue momentum through the show. LOST did that to great effect, but once you get a reveal or two out of every character, it’s hard to keep that momentum going. I’ve only seen the pilot, so I can’t speak to the rate of reveals.

The Crisis has a decently diverse cast — not as diverse as some, but better than others. Lance Gross puts in a good performance as a rookie Secret Service agent — his character was the one I most connected to in the pilot.

This pilot, too, pulls out a late-in-episode twist, but I wonder how long the element introduced there will be effective in a larger story. This seems like the kind of show that could be a really good limited series, but might strain if it goes on past 1 or two seasons.

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