The Golden Path Age

I am someone that enjoys television, and in particular sci-fi and mindbending/fantasy programmes. It’s fair to say then that I do not watch much of the “traditional” broadcast networks, because reality TV and crime procedurals are generally not my thing (notable exception: Castle, because Nathan Fillion).

This has been the same for most of my life, the only difference is that now I have alternatives available to me that actually have shows I want to watch (Netflix, Amazon, basic cable, etc.). When people say that we’re in a golden age of television, this is pretty much on the nose. Television has become so nuanced and individual that almost no matter what your particular tastes and preferences, you’re going to be able to find something that satisfies you somewhere, even if it’s only a Youtube channel with ten subscribers.

As I said, fantasy and sci-fi is my thing. I maintain that Babylon 5 is the greatest TV show ever made, with Angel a close second. Both of those have been off the air for quite some time though. There have been shows that have come and gone, some good, some bad, but on the whole, right now is probably the best period of television for me personally, and I suspect probably for most people. As a child of the ’90s, I’ve seen almost everything that decade onwards had to offer. Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, Stargate Universe, Earth: Final Conflict, Andromeda, Dune and Children Of Dune, Codename: Eternity, Fringe, Defying Gravity, Threshold, The X-Files (it’s coming back!), all Star Treks (DS9 being the best), Red Dwarf, Haven, V, Sliders, Farscape, Roswell, Space: Above And Beyond, SeaQuest DSV, Quantum Leap, Odyssey 5, Jeremiah, Warehouse 13, Lexx, Highlander: The Series, Dark Skies, VR5, Charmed, War Of The Worlds: The Series, Poltergeist: The Legacy… yikes, that’s a lot, and that’s just the ones that come to mind.

Perhaps my favourite show right now, although the most recent season (3) was a little more uneven than I’d like, was Arrow. Arrow took a fairly middling DC hero and recreated him in the modern era, with a better grounding, and a charismatic actor that has really grown into the role over time. Stephen Amell had a few hiccups in the beginning, but is now quintessentially The Arrow (or whatever they’re going to call him this season).

Really, TheCW as a network very much appeal to me. They don’t have blockbuster budgets and in-your-face effects to dazzle you, but what they do know is how to work with what they have, how to find talented actors and writers to bring a story to life, and how make a universe in which their characters can believably survive. Supernatural is still a guilty pleasure of mine, and whilst it’s certainly had its ups and downs over the years, I would say that the show is in quite a substantial upswing recently, with the show’s eleventh season set to premiere this autumn (sorry Americans, “Fall” is what happens when you drop something). Eleven seasons is a rarity in broadcast television, and more so when it’s a niche network that doesn’t have millions of dollars to throw at things.

Another CW show, The Flash, really came out of nowhere to hit big this year. When I first read that TheCW were spinning off The Flash from Arrow, I was concerned that Arrow‘s grounded world would suffer from a guy with obvious superpowers running around just down the road. Instead what happened was The Flash became the goofy go-to show when you just wanted something to be fun, and didn’t need to think a whole bunch about it (although a lot more than you’d have to think about something like Dancing With The Stars, or anything with the word “Kardashian” in it). There were a few too many crossovers for my liking, but on the whole The Flash added to Arrow‘s universe, instead of taking away as I believed was going to happen. It certainly didn’t hurt that Grant Gustin made a terrific Flash, and Tom Cavanagh as Harrison Wells brought some steely gravitas to what is clearly intended to be a more lighthearted show.

When it comes to sci-fi the pickings are a bit more barebones, but they’re around. Defiance on Sci-Fi (sorry, I refuse to use their ridiculous new spelling that looks like a three year old came up with) is a solid, if sometimes uneven show, with its third season set to premiere in just a few weeks. There’s also the Canadian timey-wimey mindbending show Continuum, which is sadly ending this year with a truncated fourth season. TNT has Falling Skies, which is very much a B-show in the same way Independence Day is a B-movie, with the show having inconsistent writing and acting, as well as some very odd choices in characterisation and themes. Falling Skies is also ending this year, with a fifth and final season airing later this summer.

Another sci-fi show I dipped my toe into was Extant, Halle Berry’s much-vaunted introduction to the world of television. Again, the first season was a mixed bag, with some interesting ideas and concepts that took too long to pay off, and going in directions which were not altogether that interesting to begin with. Against all odds (and probably due to that sweet Amazon money to get the show to be a streaming exclusive) Extant was renewed for a second season, to begin this summer.

I’ve talked about DC’s television, but Marvel of course are the big boys when it comes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. basically marked time for the first half of its first season, and then really jump-started after the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, almost becoming a completely different show in the process – one that was actually interesting to watch. Peggy Carter, the female protagonist from Captain America: The First Avenger, received her own quasi-spinoff in Agent Carter, and I was glad to see that was picked up for a second season, too. The production values for the costumes and set design were extremely high (this is also true of Extant – regardless of its other issues), and Hayley Atwell has quite the presence, be that on the big screen or the silver screen.

The MCU further expanded this year with the launch of Daredevil on Netflix. I can’t say this was something I was particularly interested in going into it, but 13 episodes later I have to admit it made for very compelling viewing, dovetailing into the larger MCU nicely whilst still telling its own narrative on its own terms. It has since become the most popular streaming show available on Netflix, and unsurprisingly a second season was quickly ordered. Netflix has another Marvel show upcoming later this year or early next, A.K.A. Jessica Jones. Again I’m not overly familiar with the source material from the comics, but at this point Marvel have refined their process so much that I will most certainly watch it just to see what’s going on. It doesn’t hurt that David Tennant (the Tenth Doctor) and Carrie-Anne Moss (Trinity from The Matrix trilogy) are involved; that’s two actors with a significant amount of sci-fi pedigree.

As a Brit of course it’s legally mandated by Her Majesty The Queen that I have to watch Doctor Who, which is again in quite an upswing with Peter Capaldi as the most recent incarnation of The Doctor. The latest series begins in a couple of months on the BBC. It’s a reliable favourite, and one of my kids’ favourite shows; certainly it’s one we all enjoy watching together on a Saturday evening.

One of my favourite “mindbendy” shows is another BBC (America) production, Orphan Black. It’s difficult to categorise this, lest to say it touches on science, morality, shadowy cabals, and strong female protagonists. The third season is currently airing on BBC America, with it already having been picked up for a fourth.

I can’t not mention Game Of Thrones either. Based on the set of fantasy novels by George R. R. Martin, the HBO show is quite the juggernaut, rolling over popular culture like a tsunami; its ten episodes a year come and go far too quickly for my liking, which is probably a good thing for HBO. I feel a personal connection to this, as Martin’s books were one of the things I turned to in my hour of need five years following the death of my wife. I needed something – anything – to fall into, and I had heard his books be recommended more than once over the years. It took me the best part of a year to finish them all (or at least the four that had been published by that point), and they were exactly what I needed at the time. I’ll always be grateful that they exist, regardless of where the series goes from here. Since the show has caught up with, and even surpassed the source material of the novels in places, the series is beginning to diverge quite significantly from the written material now. Readers of the books no longer have that smug look of knowing what’s about to happen (the Red Wedding being the best example). That might be the most interesting part of this whole thing.

I think I’ve mentioned most of what I watch these days, but as always there are of course outliers. Penny Dreadful is a great example of a bonkers show doing smart things, with its second season currently airing on Showtime. Under The Dome is a great example of a bonkers show doing stupid things, and may well be the worst thing on television right now when it comes to nonsense plots, wooden acting, and characters’ lack of memory over what happened just a couple of days earlier. I still watch it, but I dislike myself 2.7% more for doing so.

I wanted to mention animated shows, briefly. Perhaps the best example on TV right now is Archer, a show that is ridiculously funny and in places just ridiculous, but still, it’s very much a favourite of mine. And then there’s perhaps the surprise of last year, that being Adult Swim’s Rick And Morty. The brainchild of Justin Roiland and Community‘s Dan Harmon, Rick And Morty is essentially what would happen if Doc Brown and Marty from Back To The Future went on ridiculously-R-rated adventures, and Doc Brown was also an alcoholic. Thank god the second season is just around the corner, with Adult Swim’s recent announcement that it will begin in July.

Returning to true sci-fi, the Sci-Fi channel does at least have two upcoming shows to premiere later this year that could be worth watching. They are The Expanse, and Killjoys. The Expanse seems to be set in a future where humanity has colonised the stars, and a law officer stumbles onto a larger conspiracy whilst investigating a missing girl. Killjoys on the other hand follows a group of bounty hunters on the edge of known space. I’ll certainly be checking both of them out, since as I said above, sci-fi is very much a limited commodity right now. It’s also worth noting that Sci-Fi’s yearly December miniseries this year is an adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, a book that I haven’t read but about which I’ve heard a lot of good things. Whilst not sci-fi, Dominion is another Sci-Fi show that launched last year and hit it out the park really early on. A continuation from the events of the film Legion, Dominion only had eight episodes but really made them count. Its second season also begins in just a few weeks.

I’ve probably left a few shows out, but I think that’s a good run-down of current programming that interests me. Some of it is certainly better than others, but at least we’re living in an age where content of this sort is being made. It might not be primetime television or attracting tens of millions of people, but it only takes a handful of individuals with a common interest to start to coalesce around a project, and thanks to the Internet there will be always be an audience for it, of one type or another.

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