We last saw Oliver dead at the hands of our svelte, Tv-verse, Liam Neeson-Lite Ra’s al Ghul. To the surprise of precisely nobody, he’s back in one piece, thanks to some characters last seen in the Island flashbacks (but not actually from the Island, near the Island, I think they’re near to the Island. Whatever, from the flashbacks). Who to be honest, I’ve not been paying much attention to. They’re very forgettable, they don’t have costumes, and they reek of the writers making it up as they’re going along. Or ‘pulling a Lindelof’ as we call it in the biz.
Whilst Ollie’s been away, Starling City has become saturated with superheroes. Absolutely dripping in them. At last count we’ve got two Speedy’s (okay, one Speedy and one Arsenal – even the show is stopping to have characters ask if they’re pulling names out of a hat at this point), two Black Canary’s, even if one’s dead (or ‘dead’… remains to be seen), a resurrected Malcolm Merlyn, The Atom, a new villain in the guise of Vinnie Jones’ ‘Brick’ (so I guess we’ve kind of got Juggernaut and Superman in there too), Wildcat (spoilers, until half way through the latest episode, now also dead. Or ‘dead’.) and Sin is back, and showing some hero potential (though still no charisma, sadly). And Emily Bett Rickards is still a horrible actress, but at least she doesn’t have a costume. Bonkers. I shall keep watching.
Onwards, to the new season of Face Off on Syfy (pronounced ‘siffy’). Ve’s back on the judging panel after a seasons absence working on the Hunger Games (part kazillion, or three, or four, I don’t know, I’m not a teenage girl), which means we’ve sadly had to say goodbye to Lois (Burwell, of Princess Bride and Roger Rabbit fame; I am in awe), who was a fine stand-in. This season also sees the return of some old faces from the other side of the judging panel as part of a retool of the format. Another retool of the format actually, they can’t seem to stop fiddling with it. The basic X-Factor-with-movie-makeup premise remains intact though, and that ensures this is still the ultimate guilty pleasure for any genre nerd. The format is a proven winner – honed over numerous other televised talent shows aimed at a full spectrum of audiences – but with the welcome addition of a production team far more sensitive to craft and skill, carefully (for the most part) avoiding anything that might detract from the core character and concept design elements. There’s nary an interpersonal drama, sob story or bitching session to be seen. They do ramp up the fake suspense like it’s going out of fashion, but I’ll give them that one, it just adds to the fun. It takes a few weeks to get your head around a new crop of contestants, but there’s already some talent emerging, and the ‘whiney and annoying one’ crown has already been claimed (by Regina – she’s the one who sounds like Nick Kroll in drag). I’ll be delving into some specific episodes in the coming weeks, and be trying hard to avoid poking fun at Mackenzie Westmore’s inappropriate wardrobe choices. Oops.
Speaking of makeup and costume, HBO recently aired A Day in the Life, a behind-the-scenes Game of Thrones special. It’s 7.15am in Dubrovnik (That’s Croatia for the geographically challenged. Or ‘Americans’ as we call them over here), and filming is just beginning on the new season of the superlative Game of Thrones. Glamorous, it is not. A lack of access to the old town sees the crew physically carrying, pushing, pulling, rolling and dragging every last piece of equipment they need up the hill to the location, and the actors trouping up in full costume. It’s exhausting just watching. On the same day, at almost exactly the same time, they’re shooting scenes with Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons, in the even less glamorous locale of Belfast. This is a fascinating, albeit unnecessary, look behind the scenes of what is inarguably the best fantasy TV show ever made. It’s really quite mind blowing to see just how much detail, attention, care and time is spent on maintaining the level of quality we’ve seen over the last four seasons. We see continuity of make-up and costume tracked and maintained across three different countries (they’re also filming scenes concurrently in Spain), we see crew building an actual fishing village by a reservoir in Northern Ireland, we see how piece-meal the episodes are created – the actors could film dialogue from sequential scenes weeks, and indeed miles apart. How (or whether) they know what is happening to their characters (never mind what order said events might be happening in) from one day to the next, is baffling. When we’re not being shown around meticulously constructed sets and locations, we’re having some mind boggling numbers dropped on us; 86,000 applicants to be a background extra. 17 days to film a single scene… no wonder other TV shows struggle to keep up, this is story telling on a different scale altogether. Roll on season five.
Ah yes, the The Walking Dead. Season five, episode nine? Already? Time flies when you’re having, well, not fun, but some other kind of emotion, something somewhere between Stockholm syndrome and sympathy. AMC can’t seem to decide what sort of show they want this to be. Horror? Action? Soap Opera? Psychological Drama? Following a pretty strong, or at the very least, intriguing start, we’ve seen The Walking Dead struggle to define itself as anything recognisable as entertainment. It’s main appeal seems to be a sort of ‘can’t look away’ rubber-necking quality, like if you miss an episode, something cataclysmic or pivotal might happen, and you’ll not know about it. And everyone else will, and you’ll have nothing to talk about at work over coffee, and all your coworkers will laugh at you, and they won’t care that you’ve read the comics, all of them, because they don’t know that it was a comic, or care that it was a comic, or even know what comics are. Then you’ll have to quit your job, or kill yourself. So instead, you sit through hour after hour of this confused, boring mess.
And rarely do we see quite such a confused, and quite such a boring mess as this episode. It’s taken up largely by an extended hallucination scene that borders on being a parody of french expressionism. Tyreese is bitten, and separated from the rest of the group, spends most of the episode dying slowly on his own. This should be vicious, exhilarating, traumatic, visceral… Instead it’s the horror version of watching paint dry. He hallucinates most of the dead cast as he dies, which should be a great opportunity for the show to play with its core themes of change-or-die, or everybody-dies, or life-is-short-and-brutal, or whatever they think their core theme is this week. Instead, it plays like the fever dream it actually is – the hallucinated they all say a lot, but the writing fails to remind us of who any of them are, or why what they’re saying might matter. Especially as they’re saying to a guy who’ll be as dead as them in 5 minutes. Wretched.
This all stems from the problems at the core of The Walking Dead – It’s slow, it’s deliberate, it’s ponderous, all of which would be fine if they used that time to investigate the personalities of the cast. They don’t. I feel like we still don’t know anything about these people after four seasons, beyond the fact that they’re all horribly broken. Realistic, maybe, but not exactly compelling. Surely we should be following the one group of people in this grim world who *are* managing to see a bright side, who *are* managing to make a life from the wreckage, who *do* see a reason to struggle on against all the odds, rather than these whiney sad sacks?
‘I’m not giving up’ screams a dying Tyreese. You may not be my friend, but I’m beginning to think I might.