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Nerd Alert! Community Goes “Ready Player One”

18 May

To inherit the estate of a dead business tycoon, an underdog and his eccentric group of friends must work together to beat a fiendishly difficult video game rife with 80s pop culture references and all the while try to keep a step ahead of an evil corporate cheater.

SF fans might recognize this as the plot of Ernest Cline’s novel Ready Player One.  But substitute “80s pop culture references” with “the racist stereotypes of a moist towelette magnate” and “evil corporate cheater” with “evil corporate Gus from Breaking Bad” and you’ve got the plot of “Digital Estate Planning,” the third-to-last episode of our favorite, increasingly-nerdy comedy Community in this, its third and darkest season.

Carlos Esposito channeling the Sixers in his OASIS haptic rig–I mean, at Hawthorne Wipes.

I love Community.  I wrote a lukewarm review of its second-ever episode years ago for another blog, which I heartily repent.  Not that I was wrong about Britta being self-righteous and super annoying in the first season, because I totally wasn’t wrong.  Now that Annie seems to be established as the new female lead (as Jeff says to Britta in Course Listing Unavailable, “You seemed smarter to me when I met you”), I have no complaints.

How could I, when Dan Harmon and Co. delight in proving their nerd credentials every Thursdays?  Like the red and blue universes at Annie’s Model UN UN-off (Fringe), or the evil Glee club Christmas episode (I completely believe that Will Schuester could secretly be a serial killer.  Sweater vests really are weird).

NBC seems to have a thing for pop culture cross-pollination.  And I don’t just mean Abed talking about tv shows, because that’s just what he does.  (As an aside–I think I remember criticizing Community for being too “postmodern” with the whole Abed-being-constantly-self-referential thing, but maybe postmodern grows on you.)  Anyone else notice that, on 30 Rock last night, the POW Avery communicating on camera through finger-twitching code sub-plot was pulled straight out of Homeland?

Anyway, “Digital Estate Planning” continues that tradition by taking a page (literally) out of Ernest Cline’s book Ready Player One, which itself still strikes me as a gamer’s version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Of course, even for those of you who haven’t read Cline’s debut novel, released last summer to great fanfare from nerds everywhere, Community ep 3.20 is still as entertaining as ever, along with the two others that followed it last night.  Just thought someone should point this out, in the interest of introducing Cline’s fans to Community’s fans, and vice versa (though I imagine the respective fandoms have quite a bit of overlap).

Not much else to say, except, as always:


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More proof that William Cullen Bryant should have been a vampire:

27 Apr

I’m so going to embarrass myself right now.

You know how the other day I wrote a long rambling post about various historical figures who–if they weren’t–at least should have been vampires?  Top of my list was the 19th-century Romantic poet William Cullen Bryant.  I cited his obsession with death and creepy face, but I realize that I have even more damning (pun intended) evidence for his vampirism.

He’s totally the historical doppelganger for Klaus from The Vampire Diaries.  I’m not saying I watch the show, but–oh, what the hell.  I watch the show, and as I was watching it last night I suddenly remembered Bryant’s creepy (but handsome) face and matched it with creepy-but-handsome Klaus.  Clearly, this is who the character was modeled on.  Look, just look: a picture’s worth a thousand words.

General John Locke? (“Harsh Realm” tv series)

7 Mar

So, apparently, before he was telling people they can’t tell him what he can’t do, Terry O’Quinn had a starring role in the 1999 sci-fi series “Harsh Realm.”  I haven’t actually watched more than the youtube clip from the pilot below, but I was kind of put off by… well, you’ll see:

This was brought to my attention by a fellow Lostie.  I’ll have to wait until next time I see him to find out what he thinks of the series as a whole–I was too busy laughing at a mustachioed O’Quinn playing a character named “General Omar Santiago.”

Don’t get me wrong–he’s a brilliant actor (and got robbed at the Emmys after LOST’s final season).  And still… I don’t think I’ll ever stop laughing.

What the Heaven and Hell!? (V gets religious)

29 Jan

Or, how a show I used to really enjoy has suspended my suspension of disbelief.

I wanted to write this a week ago, but there is no wrath, after all, like an atheist socked in the face with preachy religious messages in the middle of a science fiction program that’s supposed to be about, well, science fiction, and I didn’t want to have a completely incoherent rant splashed all over search engines for the rest of time.  After two-ish years of science fiction blogging, I still have some dignity.  Maybe.

So here goes:

I’ve been reviewing ABC’s alien invasion drama V since it premiered last year.  I was thrilled with the show: Elizabeth Mitchell and Morena Baccarin are both fantastic actresses, and to see them face off in an intergalactic war seemed pretty exciting.  I’ll admit–part of me was trying to fill that LOST-shaped hole in my heart, and FlashForward just wasn’t doing it.  FF had the plot twists, but V had the characters worth caring about.

There’s the FBI agent turned terrorist, the omnicompetent mercenary who can kill soldier aliens with a shovel, the slick tv anchor with access to the mothership,  the turncoat reptiloid traitor, and the Catholic priest who lets them plot and plan their revolution against the Visitors in the basement of his church.  Meanwhile, they banter and make Thorn Birds references.  This season they added that son of Satan from Reaper as the smart-ass scientist, and at last the cast was complete.  It would sound like the premise for a really bizarre sitcom–if the fate of the universe weren’t at stake.

It’s not surprising that the priest, Father Jack Landry, grated on my nerves at first.  He was so dreadfully naive–letting vital information slip to all the wrong people, and biting his fingernails over violence (this is a revolution, buddy).  But he grew on me–mostly because he’s just such a terrible priest.  For God’s sake, there’s a mercenary weapons expert torturing a captive in the middle of the rectory!  Not to mention the whole Jack-Landry-breaks-the-Seal-of-the-Confessional-to-his-own-personal-confessor,-the-FBI-agent thing, which is kind of a bad sin, for a priest.

Simply put, I liked the show–and I defended it against Kate the Lostie, who was all the time pushing me toward Fringe and Minecraft videos.

But I stopped watching halfway through episode 2.2, “Serpent’s Tooth,” and haven’t started up again.  Here’s the thing:

Season One dealt very well with the differences between humans and Visitors.  At that time, it was all about emotion–namely, love (and even more namely, love of a mother for her children).  Reason’s great and all, but love was what worried V Queen Anna most of all.  And in a fantastic season finale twist, Anna herself experienced her first burst of human emotion (rage) when her own children (well, creepy soldier children reptile eggs) were… er… frozen to death by the Fifth Column.

This season, the emphasis has shifted.  In one of the most ridiculous television scenes I have ever had the misfortune of watching:

Apparently, what makes humans human isn’t emotion, empathy, love–it’s The Soul.

“I have human skin, I feel, but I need you to tell me something…” Ryan begs of Father J, “Do I have a soul!”

(Cut scene) “I will isolate it in the medical bay!” Anna exclaims.

(Cut again) “Every creature can feel the grace of God!” Jack tells Ryan.

(And again) “It’s too complex!” cries Diana.

*cue creepy piano music*

Oh, I’ll pick V up again when I can find it on Megavideo, I guess.  But I won’t be so naively happy about it myself, and I don’t know that I’ll ever get that immersion experience that a good story–print or film–can give you if it successfully suspends your disbelief.  If the show continues along this path, viewers have to accept that “humanity” in the world of Anna and Jack is defined in terms of religion.

No, the idea of a soul isn’t very controversial in the United States, but to base an entire science fiction series on it is… jarring (and a lot harder to deny in V than it ever was in the at-times-somewhat-spiritual LOST).  I’m an American Studies major–I’ll learn to look at V the way I do any other historical artifact: as a product of its time and culture.  But who really wants to be a scholar watching tv?

Mommy Issues (ABC’s V, ep 2.1: “Red Sky”)

5 Jan

There was a time in my life when everything I read, or watched, or thought reminded me of LOST.  I’m not saying that’s quite over, but Kate the Lostie is Kate the Fringe Fan these days, and more and more I’m seeing J. J. Abrams’s other show in everything I read, watch, and think.  I’ve been texting myself descriptions of my déjà vus just so I can learn about what Parallel Universe Isabela’s like.

So when we learned last night on the season two premiere of ABC’s V that Erica Evans, FBI agent and Fifth Column High Commander, may have been experimented on while pregnant with her son Tyler, my first thought was, quite naturally, “Cortexiphan!”  More like a phosphorous supplement, but still.  Erica and her son are the Chosen Ones.  No wonder Erica had that weird psychic dream about acidic red rain.  No wonder Tyler’s so effing annoying.

But let’s back up:

The Ensemble

Season one closed with “Red Sky”—remember?  The episode where Lisa the Lizard Princess gives Erica a Blue Energy alien bomb and Erica explodes Anna’s spawning soldier children, causing Anna to experience her first human emotions and, in a fit of vengeance, “initiate the sequence.”  All these months I’ve been wondering what that meant.  All we saw on the finale was that it made the sky turn red.

Well I admit, that’s pretty freaky.  The people of V thought so too, and all the adoration, appreciation, and adulation the masses had for the Visitors last season quickly turned to riots, wrath, and religion.  Tyler was stupid enough to wear his peace ambassador uniform on the street and got beaten up.  I was kind of pleased about it, but, admittedly, that’s probably a bad sign about the state of society.

And when the titular “Red Rain” starts to fall, it doesn’t become a YouTube musical sensation—it’s pure chaos.

Father Landry goes back to the church (figures), Kyle Hobbes starts stockpiling guns (figures), and Chad Decker has an emotional breakdown (finally).  Erica shouts at Anna for an explanation about the Red Sky.  No harm done—Anna’s pretty sure they’re besties now.

Things would seem good for the Fifth Column right about now.  A random New Yorker and fervent Tea Partier (okay, so that part’s speculation) sums up the public attitude:

“If Anna’s bringing Armageddon, I’m goin’ out fighting!”

Hell. Yes.

Anna and Marcus

There’s even dissention in the ranks of the V elite.  Marcus, ever the cold-blooded reptile, warns Anna that some of her ships’ captains are suspicious that she’s being infected by that perfidious human emotion.  Anna has to flense and impale one of them just to prove she’s still the reptile queen at heart.  I mean… er… well you know what I mean.

The killing continues in the nursery.  Out of the hundreds (thousands?) of soldier eggs she laid last season, only six survived the bomb.  In “Red Rain,” Anna and Marcus take a little trip to the intensive care unit, in which Anna takes her babies off life support in a symbolic act of destroying the thing that made her weak and emotional: her children.  Marcus approves, but then, he doesn’t see the pain on her face when she turns away and… sniffles?

Then there’s the problem of the rioting humans down on the ground, who are pretty convinced that she sky is bleeding and the End of Days is just around the corner.  The people are ripe for a revolution, but the people are fickle, and they easily accept Anna’s explanation that it’s a cleansing gift that’s going to clean up the ocean, stop global warming, and save the polar bears.

Still, Anna’s on shaky ground, and that’s a change for the Lizard Queen, who was calling all the shots last season.  This time around, she has something to prove—and notably, she needs to prove it to Marcus, her closest advisor and the epitome of V violence and dispassion.  If Anna wants to keep her power, she needs the approval of this guy.

Oh right, and her mother, who apparently lives in some jungle nest in the bowels of the ship.

Anna and Erica

Agent Evans is sitting pretty in “Red Sky.”  No matter that the FBI’s been infiltrated by the reptiloids and Erica’s leader of a terrorist cell—Anna has complete confidence that Erica, Fifth Column mastermind, is her most trusted ally on Earth.  Erica’s close enough to the seat of power that she can just fly on up to the mothership and talk to Anna pretty much whenever she wants.

The linchpin in this relationship is (gag) her son Tyler, Lisa’s paramour, who has decided once again that he wants to live up on the ship.  On the one hand, it keeps Erica in the inner circle.  On the other, Anna has some seriously nefarious plans for Tyler that definitely involve breeding.

Erica, we learn in “Red Rain,” had an unusually high level of phosphorous in the blood while she was pregnant with Tyler—after being experimented on by aliens.  And that’s what the red rain is: phosphorous.  Turns out Anna doesn’t care about climate change (gasp!) unless it’s about making the climate more suitable for raising reptile babies.  Fun times.

Lisa and Tyler and Joshua (oh my!)

There have always been a lot of mommy issues in this show.  Lisa’s mommy dearest, recall, had her legs broken as a public relations stunt against the Fifth Column.  That’s pretty harsh.

For her mother, the princess plays the dutiful daughter: meaning, she seduces Tyler once and for all, as Anna surveils them.  But Lisa’s character is growing increasingly complex: she’s not the tortured teenage V of last season.  She’s actively conspiring with Erica against Anna, actively conspiring with Erica against Marcus, actively conspiring with Anna against Tyler, actively conspiring with Joshua except that he seems to have lost his memory—and all the while I still can’t tell who she’s really in love with.  Still rooting for Josh; still guessing it’s Tyler.

Oh, dear dear Tyler Evans.  It’s no secret that I can’t stand your blank expressions and terrible acting.  As Kate the Lostie commented: “I tried to watch the first episode, but his smile was too annoying.”  Per usual, he didn’t do anything exciting last night except get hit on the head and have his face dissolve with terrible special effects in Erica’s psychic dream about Anna threatening to kill Erica’s child for payback.

Of course it won’t happen—not now that Tyler’s all phosphored up and going to be the Lizard King or whatever.

Ryan and… It

But let’s not forget Ryan and Val’s hybrid baby girl, currently unnamed.  With Val out of the way, and Ryan all Blissed up, Anna snatched the ugly little thing away and appointed herself both mother and captor.

“Every being in the world understands a mother’s pain when her child suffers,” Anna tells Erica, truthfully for once.  That pain made Anna weak last season, and in “Red Rain” it looks like Anna’s using that lesson to weaken Ryan.  Marcus is shocked when Anna decides to send Ryan back to Earth—he’ll join back up with the Fifth Column!  Of course, that’s exactly what she wants: a man on the inside she can manipulate.

Jack and Chad

Erica might be buying Ryan’s sincerity, but Jack (Jack!) is finally on the same page as the ever-paranoid Kyle Hobbes.  “What would you do to protect Tyler?” the priest asks, “At some pt, Ryan’s going to have to make a choice: his daughter or us.”

I’ve been ragging on Father Jack Landry as the most naïve member of the Fifth Column for a whole season now, and it seems that at last he might be learning the pilot episode “Don’t trust anyone” lesson.  But this season, for the first time: Jack’s actually in a position to do something.

This time last year, Chad Decker was wheedling information out of Father Jack, just like any good reporter can.  He was Anna’s mouthpiece, praising the Live Aboard Program (AKA, abduction and experimentation initiative) the high heavens and allowing V doctors to save him from a potentially-fatal aneurysm, all on live tv.  But Chad realized what I’ve been thinking all along, that the Vs gave him the aneurysm.  Now, after witnessing Anna’s experiments on humans firsthand in the season one finale, Chad’s feeling responsible.  And where do you go when you need absolution?  A priest.

Chad wants forgiveness, and practically begs Jack to let him into the Fifth Column clubhouse.  He wants to fight back—publish a report and broadcast interviews about and from the victims of Anna’s experimentation.  But just as Erica shrewdly keeps Tyler close to Anna, Chad has to preserve his relationship with the high queen as well.  If he can make Anna believe he’s still her town crier, he’ll be the Fifthers’ most valuable inside man.

Chin up, Chad, you’re a journalist—you’ll be a great actor.

Hobbes and the New Guy

The Fifth Column, after all, doesn’t need more soldiers yet—at least not when they have a badass like Kyle Hobbes.  Hobbes did have some shady dealings with Marcus last season, but it still seems like he’s committed to the Fifth Column.  And the writers still seem committed to giving him the best lines ever.  Him and the new guy, anyway.

The Fifth Column has a new recruit, and whoever’s in charge of casting did a great job.  So maybe Bret Harrison (of Grounded for Life and Reaper semi-fame) doesn’t look like a PhD.  But the Fifth Column lost Georgie last year, and some comic relief is definitely in order.

When the Visitors take out Ellis Watts, an environmental scientist beginning to suspect the true nature and purpose of the red rain, they overlook the true brains behind the operation: his young associate Sidney Miller, who’s squirreled away “Alpha,” the skeleton of a V he found in a mysterious mass grave in New Mexico, in his janitor closet-like office.

Needless to say—and especially after he sees Hobbes kill a V tracker on their trail—Sidney Miller isn’t going anywhere.  “I’m not a fighter!” he protests.  And Hobbes:

“We don’t need your fists, we need your brain.  And if you say no, we’ll kill you…  Ahh, relax.  I’m kidding.  Maybe.”

So the Fifth Column club gets themselves a scientist with comedic timing to rival Hobbes’s.

“Anna’s a lizard?” Miller asks.  “That sucks.  She’s so hot.”  (cue incredulity)  “Sorry… I joke when I’m nervous.”

When Miller calms down, he explains what’s been hinted at throughout the episode: the red rain is changing the planet and human physiology to make them capable of bearing little Visitors.  Cue horror, and Hobbes:

“So, first they want to invade us, then they want to shag us.”

Pretty much.

“Red Rain” is, essentially, about children.  Using them, manipulating them, breeding, killing, protecting them, and all that jazz.  And in my opinion at least, that’s a smart way to handle a galactic plot: make it about relationships.  Humans vs. Visitors boils down to Erica vs. Anna, a much more manageably-scaled sort of conflict.

V is for Vengeance (Recap: Season One, ABC’s V)

3 Jan

As we all celebrate the last year before the end of the world, ABC’s awesome alien invasion drama is coming back tomorrow night.  But let’s recap: V finished off season one with a surprisingly satisfying finale.  The last scene left us with a major question for next season, to be sure, but the major enjoyability factor was definitely the interesting twists the writers put into a number of characters’ fate lines.  So here’s a look at where our favorite terrorists and alien invaders started off, and ended up on the season one finale of V:

Here’s the recap/review for season one.

Now Listening: The Shadow in Eternity

24 Nov

I have never seen a full episode of Dr. Who.  But I figured that, if I want to have any sort of SF street cred, I need to learn a little about it.  I did go to Wikipedia first, which showed me some pictures of a TARDIS and a link to the Guinness World Records (Dr. Who, it appears, is the longest-running science fiction show in the history of the world.  Pretty intense).

But it’s my experience that the best way to learn about something new is from an absolutely rabid fan.  Wordpress seems so have such a person in Ben Young, who has been writing a weekly Dr. Who fanfiction podcast called “The Shadow in Eternity.”  Rather than commentary on past or current episodes, Young created an entirely new storyline: one in which The Doctor is a woman.

Since holiday music kind of gets on my nerves (especially since it’s been playing since Halloween), I’ll be plugged into “The Shadow in Eternity” next month: it’s available on Ben Young’s blog, as well as on iTunes.

If you remember, last semester I took a class called “Twilight Zone Culture.” The basic premise of the course was that The Twilight Zone–in terms of popularity and reputation as a “classic” of science fiction, I see it as the American answer to Dr. Who–was ignored by censors because it wasn’t “serious.”  Thus, fantasy and SF slipped under the radar in the McCarthy era–allowing Rod Serling to make serious social commentary in the 1960s.  Young’s podcast interested me because he said something very similar about Dr. Who:

Doctor Who is also a great example of science fiction being able to make social and political comment because institutional censors dismiss it as insignificant (the Daily Mail recently noticed this; though it may have been a publicity stunt for the new series). The 2005 anti-Iraq war episode, for example, broadcast to millions the week before the UK General Election, was amazing.

Oh – and the OTHER reason is that I wanted to try to save what I loved about Doctor Who from the terrible writers and managers behind the current show. Arg!

With a female Time Lord and a pacifist “renegade alien” hero, let’s see what Dr. Who‘s all about.

“The Shadow in Eternity” podcast can be listened to on its website, downloaded from there, or found on itunes.  All links are on the home page.

Follow the Leader (The Colony, 2.4)

27 Aug

When last we left off, low man on the totem pole Jim was showing his mettle in hand-to-hand combat with two Others lurking around the abandoned industrial zone the Colonists had decided to scavenge.  At the start of episode 2.4, “To Have and Have Not,” Jim’s actions still haven’t earned him much respect and, as Sally comments, now “the guys with cattle prods are a threat.”


Becka’s right that the survivors are just that—in “survival mode”—prepared to protect absolutely everything they have from outsiders.  But surviving the viral apocalypse is a two-way street.  While Jim’s jousting skills helped Sally and Becka get away with two entire shopping carts of scavenged parts, they left behind two (or probably more) really pissed off guys with a serious grudge.  Or as Reno so poetically calls them (with a sly grin): “Those three monsters Jim got his ass kicked by.”

Tagline of this season’s Colony?  “Thanks a lot, Jim.”  Maybe it’s symbolic that his bridge collapses on Day 15… and that he happily eats the maggoty fish the others throw away.

Meanwhile, back on the bayou, George looks pretty badass in his metalworker’s apron and Becka’s making everyone forget that she, in a past life, was a model.  Not only was Becka Sally’s chosen accomplice on the recent warehouse raid she’s also apprenticing for Reno on gate security detail.  But maybe that’s for another reason.  Hey, she was a model.

On the diplomatic front, too, Becka heads up the embassy to the still-semi-isolated Michael and Amber, after Sally canvasses the original seven on whether or not to bring the two newcomers into their house and hearts.  Hearts might be pushing it, but for the sake of security and under threat of electrocution by cattle prod, they vote the anatomy teacher and the logger in.  Current security consists of a wooden plank with the word LOCK sharpied on, and Amber, let’s admit it, has some pretty impressive forearms.

It’s interesting to note, though, that (privately) Michael and Amber reveal their real reason for moving in with the Colonists to be about society, not safety: “Moving into the main house, it brings us right into to where everything happens,” Michael admits to the camera, “We’re the New Colonists, they’re the Old Colonists… now we’re being TheColonists.”

So while Michael and Amber work out their social climbing schemes, Reno—characteristically—just gets down to work.  Sian the teacher, who stays out of these blog posts mainly because she stays out of the drama (while staying inthe house), is worried about dwindling food supplies.  But Reno’s worried about fuel.  Escaping from his entourage for the rare moment alone, he considers the his responsibilities.

“I feel like I need to come up with a plan,” he says darkly.

Hair and bandana blowing in the wind, inspiration strikes.

When Reno announces the Colony’s newest engineering project (and a series first), Becka’s eyes widen incredulously—but she’s part of the A-team now, and better not balk now if she wants to keep up with George and Sally, both of whom get singled out as project leaders for their respective metalworking and automotive skills.  But Becka gets the seal of approval too, in the form of a coveted high-five from our beloved leader.

Oh, right, I forgot—the project’s a windmill.

But plans get put way on hold when the Colonists wake up at dark o’clock in the morning on Day 15 to, in Jim’s immortal words, “a big-ass fire” set by (guess who?) the Cattle Prod Kids.

“It’s revenge motive,” Deville correctly suggests, just before Sian spots the arson running across the yard outside.  Her description may just be the understatement of the season—“It was definitely an unfriendly-looking person.”

Windmill supplies, including the welding mask, get nabbed and Becka solidifies her spot on the A-Team.  When (who’da thunk it) Jim wants to go out and fight in a blaze of glory (pardon the pun), she replies with the Colony’s weary motto: “Shut-up, Jim.”

They send Reno instead, alone.

By now the sun’s come up on an even more desolated site than usual, and Sally sits down the crew to discuss the chaos of the night before.  It’s Amber, Michael, and Jim in the hot seats for getting too “amped up.”  Amber feels “deflated” that she hasn’t been able to prove herself to the group, but Jim doesn’t have much to say, except to the camera: “Reno’s got everyone buffaloed.”

But he’s too busy to care.

“After the fire, I do what I have to do,” Reno says with a shrug.  “It’s just back to work, you know?”

Everyone knows soon enough, when Mother Nature sends a big-ass rainstorm to follow their big-ass fire.  After the initial excitement of running around in their underwear in the rain, the leaks and waterlogged house get old, fast.

“I’m so happy that the world is ending it’s pouring rain inside my fucking house,” Reno tells his crew.  “Grinning ear to ear, baby.”

They may be wet, exhausted, and literally starving, but they have a leader with a sense of humor. That’s got to be worth something, right?

Oh, and we have a downed aircraft, a parachute in the canopy, and mysterious Others kidnapping the pretty girl in the last thirty seconds of the episode.  Now who said Lost was off the air…

It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (The Colony, 2.3)

23 Aug

Or at least, for the first time since the Yellow Armband Gang struck—snatching their cache of government meds, laying a beat down with some seriously brutal metal pipe action, and misting our virus-wary heroes with pepper spray—the Colonists have neighbors.

Amber (a 31-year-old logger) and Michael (a 33-year-old anatomy instructor) appeared on the post-apocalyptic landscape with their hands raised and no CAUTION tape insignia in sight, in episode 2.3 “Trust.”  Nevertheless, after their rather chaotic first week the Colonists weren’t about to give up the Us versus Them mentality.  Or to put it in LOST terms—it’s another case of not knowing when to trust the Others.

Naturally, paranoia ensues.

Jim in particular wasn’t about to play Mr. Rogers.  The most vocal Christian among the volunteers, Jim hasn’t said much about Jesus since he last tried to be the good Samaritan—offering water and powered milk and water to a guy who turned out to be the yellow armband warlord and, literally, getting burned after.

When Michael and Amber start to scavenge on the Colony grounds without permission, breaking the 12-hour quarantine rule, Jim has to be restrained by Reno as he calls for his knife and shouts: “I’ll cut you up into a million pieces.”

As Reno says: “He doesn’t have the social skills to deal with situation like that, and it shows.”

As I say: Jim’s gone batshit crazy.

This might be the strangest thing about The Colony—the disconnect between what seems normal in our world and what seems normal in theirs.  When diplomacy transitions to suspicion, fear, and hostility, Reno’s less horrified than vaguely irked.  Jim’s actions are almost understandable in a situation where no one trusts each other.

“We have two more people fighting for the last beans, last berries, last… snake,” he explains.

And of course, there’s the ever-present threat of contracting Nuclear Flu.  Our survivors are not, after all, Will Smith in I Am Legend—they were quarantined in a government camp.  Part of the major conflict between newcomers Amber and Michael and the Colonists is whether or not the logger and the teacher actually went through the VOPA decontamination process like they claim.

Clever troublemakers that they are, Discovery Channel’s Colony producers didn’t put Amber and Michael through the same pre-taping process that the Colonists experienced (72-hours of quarantine, each in his or her own room).  These Others shared a tent, for less than 36 hours.  (What happens next?  Jim freaks out.)  But of course, they n00bs are wary too:

You could be the bad guys,” Amber says, when Jack and Kate—I’m sorry, Reno and Sally—try to calm things down after Jim’s meltdown.

Adding to the stressed atmosphere is the fact that resources are already strained.  The Colonists originally had six days’ worth of food.  After stretching it to last two weeks, they’re getting pretty hungry.  Maybe emaciated’s a better word.

In 11 days, mad inventor George lost 23 pounds.  Reno, who didn’t have any flab to spare to begin with, lost 13 (and gained a scruffy beard).  Sally’s down 10—and as we know from watching Biggest Loser, it’s harder for women to lose weight… unless it’s Armageddon, I guess.  Jim dropped 24 (half of those probably from screaming), and by day 11 Deville’s minus 14.  Unfortunately, the seven decades under his belt aren’t going to keep those pants from slipping.

Of course, despite the reality of the situation (ie: starvation), the gang’s favorite pastime seems to be daydreaming (or in Becka’s case—really dreaming) about the food they miss from the time before society collapsed.  Deville, in particular, grieves for “soft-whip” ice cream and smoothies.  Or as Becka says:

“I miss… my life the most.”

The hard-nosed, tough-minded Reno, of course, is the one to spoil the party, bringing everyone back to the realization that this is life now: “I think as a group we need to stop talking about all this crap and start thinking about things that we’ve done good here, and keep moving forward”

It’s a live together, die alone sort of thing.

Which brings us to this week’s Colony projects:

Optimistically assuming that they’ll be able to catch game out in the bayou (wild boars, anyone?), Reno works on a smokehouse.  Without refrigeration, there’s no way for cold storage—drying and smoking meat seems the best bet.

In a similarly practical vein, George takes up the mantle of mad scientist with the successful construction of a forge and bellows—essentially, a giant oven for melting metal.  Mmm, mmm, toasty.  “Right now,” he quips, “we’re basically in the Stone Age.  This will help us move into the very early Iron Age.”

But Deville’s the one who knows his constituents.  Still dreaming of smoothies, he designs and constructs a shower, less strictly survival-oriented than the other works in progress, but certainly geared to raising morale and keeping those psyches strong. “I do believe that cleanliness gives you a little hope for living,” he explains.

And it’s true—it makes you feel human.  Deville, notably, is the colonist most able to keep up that human necessity: humor.  Example?

“I thought those rotten pigs from the truck smelled bad.  But then—I smelled myself!”

All this construction and society-building may be technically interesting to a civil engineer, but for viewers like me at least, it’s a chance to peer into the social order of the neighborhood.  Take George, for example:

Low man on the totem pole for the first few days and first televised episode, the artist/inventor got a bad rap for napping during the day and riding a bike instead of walking.  Personally, I think it was a matter of self-esteem—George was the one who arrived on the first day looking desperately for a leader, a VOPA representative, or a government agent to tell him what to do.

At this point, on day 11, the social structure of the Colony has begun to take shape, and George is an able and willing lieutenant to Reno and Sally.  And George’s forge now places him definitively on the A-team.  If we’re looking at this 10-acre neighborhood in post-Katrina, post-Nuclear Flu Louisiana as something akin to early human civilization, the Toolmaker has instant status.  Quoth George:

“The Lord made some men big and some men small… but metal made ‘em all equal.”

Of course that’s not entirely true.  George, who makes the metal, definitely has some distinction over a guy like Jim, for example, who makes it onto Reno and Sally’s shit list when he nearly burns down the smokehouse.

And I mean that literally.  He’s the one emptying the port-a-potty (and to give a sense of how disgusting that work is, just think: Discovery actually censoredthe torrent of excrement).

Reno and Sally, as expected, share the alpha position fairly amiably.  Reno, for his part, seems to be everywhere—with a hand in every project, as a laborer, not just overseer.  What struck me was the fact that after Deville made his truly beautiful sanitation center, it was Reno who gave Becka permission to take the first shower.

As a team, Reno and Sally work well together.  They’re the two who handle Amber and Michael’s arrival, diplomatically.  They’re in perfect agreement about Jim being a complete loser.  And they organize the exchange when a traveling trader comes punting down the river.

And though Amber and Sally initially have about two-minutes’ worth of on-air power struggle, Amber seems to see how the social order’s established and waves the white flag for the sake of peace.  The white flag being a chocolate bar at dinner (not quite soft-serve ice cream, but it’ll do), and a big ol’ jug of vodka she and Michael had been saving but choose to sacrifice to the trader for the sake of getting Sally and Reno a much-coveted generator.

Booze brings people together.  After that, Sian says quite matter-of-factly: “I think we’re one group.”

Two weeks in, and there’s peace in the neighborhood.  How long will it last?  Until the credits start to roll and we get, for our preview of coming attractions, Jim in the abandoned industrial zone fighting off two guys in Dharma jumpsuits.

No more Mr. Nice Guy, I guess.  And definitely no Mr. Rogers.

Apocalypse 2.0 (Discovery Channel’s The Colony)

1 Aug

The virulent Nuclear Flu scourged the earth last week, when seven lucky Americans escaped uninfected to a 10-acre VOPA (Viral Outbreak Protection Agency) way station where, after 72 hours’ quarantine, they waved goodbye to the friendly government helicopter and settled in for 50 days of pure survival in the burnt-out carcass of a Gulf Coast neighborhood still smarting from Katrina, and harboring a mob of hostile Others.  The colonists’ motto?  “Survive—Rebuild—Thrive.”  Or as former construction foreman Reno quips, in the new world order: “It doesn’t matter what your credit score is.”  It’s survival of the fittest.

Read “Apocalypse 2.0” at The Best Shows You’re Not Watching.

It sounds like the plot of a Stephen King novel, or the shorthand notes of Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof plotting out seasons 4 and 5 of LOST (Deville actually comes pretty close when he says “Die together, live together”). In reality—reality tv to be exact—it’s Discovery Channel’sThe Colony, back for a second season of social experimentation and simulated apocalypse.  Of course, “simulated” might be too weak a word when the backstory involves a false government agency with a very convincing acronyms and the detailed pathology of an Avian Flu variant already mapped out.

“Reality” tv isn’t just the realm of Snooki, Ryan Seacrest, and Co this summer—the Discovery Channel has created in The Colony a frighteningly realistic portrayal of life after a major global catastrophe.

“The volunteers,” our ominous-sounding narrator tells us in the first few minutes, “have signed their lives away for 50 days.”  And if that doesn’t do the trick, next two lines prove without a doubt that thisisn’t the reality tv American audiences are used to:  “This is not a competition.  I will receive no cash prize.”

If you’re wondering who would sign up for this, you’re not alone.  Tuesdays at 10/9c on the Discovery Channel give us an hour of the really rather heroic survival efforts of VOPA’s motley crew:

Reno, 28, a construction foreman instantly welcomed as a leader by (most) the other bedraggled colonists

Robert Deville, 70 (!), a retired contractor whose advanced age and experience fuels a number of quite insightful suggestions.  My favorite—“Upstairs we can defend ourselves, kind of like you would do in the old time castle days when you could throw stuff down.”  I’d make a joke about whether he remembers ye olde dayes, but that wouldn’t be respecting my elders.

Jim, 42, a carpenter who from the first sitting speaks to the camera in the mindset of a relieved survivor (“they let me out of quarantine today…”)

George, 46, the artist/inventor who’s currently sitting secure on the omega rung of the social ladder

Sian, 39, a teacher who actually covers geologic disasters and resources in her courses

Sally, 28, an auto mechanic whose skill sets couldn’t possibly be more useful

And Becca, 22, not only the youngest of the bunch but a model no less—and yet, despite stereotypes, level-headed and efficient.

With no power from the grid, no running (or, often, even potable for that matter) water, no communication, and the constant threat not only of environmental dangers but hostile marauders from the outside, The Colony is Survivor the way it out to be—group politics aplenty, but a lot higher stakes and much more drama than finding a hidden immunity idol under a rock.

The incentive for the participants might be cloudy at this point—an adventure? An ill-placed bet? an outlet for socially-inappropriate machismo?—but for viewers this is entertainment that turns from fantasy to horror when we realize that the disasters we think of as science fiction could easily be science fact.  There’s no denying something raised goosebumps when I realized that all I could offer in a VOPA “safe zone” would be lessons on using microfilm readers.

So here’s a warning to potential viewers: Be prepared to stock up on flint and water when the episode’s over.  Oh, and possibly grenades.