Monday, April 7, 2014

Ghostlights That Failed: More Imaginative TV Fiction

A sci fi premise in the first episode was quickly discarded to become a show about little people evading big people.

90s paranoia premise in which a man's identity is erased. His pursuit by a mysterious malevolant group makes a FUGITIVE of him which means that, apart from a sprinkling of conspiracy tidbits, he's really just going to place to place lending a hand. The finale was apparently intriguing but dismissive programming by the network and a lack of strong continuity left me uninvolved.

Another in the wake of Twin Peaks begat X-Files, Dark Skies might fare better now on the coat-tails of Mad Men as it was Johnson-era USA. The alien invasion thread was a lot stronger than its 60s progenitor The Invaders but the thing soon flubs down into encounters with the famous (one of the co-leads meets the Beatles) and soon to be famous (Jim Morrison, student filmmaker who screens a potentially damning reel of film and then, when it ticks off, says "this is the end"). The presence of the late great character actor JT Walsh could not save this from disappointing.

Not only in the wake of the X-Files but from the same team. Chris Carter wanted something even darker than the murk Scully and Mulder moved through. They cast beautifully, including Lance Hendriksen in the lead as Frank Black and Terry O'Quinn as his chief contact with the vigilante Millennium Group and the mood was a pleasant sombreness. But there were problems.

First season was serial killer of the week during the final wave of that genre on cinema screens and, while there was a gloomy apocalyptic thread sewn throughout it didn't really amount to much. Second season concentrated on the approaching apocalypse and saw Frank turn from the Group and get pursued by it. This mixed jarringly with the continued serial killer theme and felt as patchwork and messy as the conspiracy arc in the X-Files. The finale was astouding and daringly ... final ... but ... the third and last season saw Frank go back to the FBI and bounce between an attempt to explain away the apocalypse of the last season as a local incident and get on with the now routine weirdo killer of the week.

Despite perhaps over half of the episodes approaching real greatness the reason I seldom recommend it to folk looking for something from the coffers of a dark 'n' troubling nature is that the consistency is just too low to expect them to wade through the lot. I can watch this for the atmosphere alone but the middling really does outweigh the good.

Made to cash in on the success of The Twilight Zone, this series ran for three years in the early 60s. Apart from a few impressive episodes from writers like Harlan Ellison that influenced 80s sci fi cinema The Outer Limits' default position had to do with evil aliens who were thinly veiled communists. This might lend an archeological thrill to current viewing but the pre-school level of allegory and insistence on a very few variations on a theme give it an exhausting air of diminishing returns.Twilight Zone rand for five seasons and changed its own game several times. Outer Limits never managed to consistently rise above its sponsors LCD requirements despite some fine talent involved.

An attempt to render the Twin Peaks scenario more accessible by applying generic horror fiction templates to a soap opera. If that sounds dismissive it's only because of the temporal context. If you made it today, scene for scene in 16:9 you'd have a season of American Horror Story. Some enjoyable characters like the little boy and his sister's ghost as well as bad guy in chief Sherrif Buck. After Twin Peaks' intrigue and during the X-Files much fresher approach to things like supernature American Gothic didn't stand a chance. We're a lot more eager now to add irony to what we don't get or might otherwise ridicule. Some very fine moments, though.

Great idea! Put a suave James Bond type in a western setting based on a train filled with gadgets that pushed the envelope of nineteenth century technology and have him fight supervillains. This steampunk scenario was cast in the 60s so it has a certain grooviness to boot. The leads and villains are well cast and there are babes falling from the scenery. So whats wrong? Hard to say exactly but it's as though the premise seemed enough for the writers so that they never seemed to go beyond the wow factor: hey Belle Epqoue torpedos! Beyond that it's really only babes fatales swooning o'er Dan West and panto villains in frock coats. For contrast, google some of the cp graphic novels around and pay some heed to the roll call of steampunk animes from Japan. That's how to do it. This first go does get a lot started, though. Pity it ventures so timidly beyond.

Winning theme of cold war fed paranoia of alien invasion glued to a Fugitive kind of wandering capable hominid. 60s style all over the place. What's wrong? It's the Fugitive with aliens. The assimilation of the latter is borrowed from almost every episode of The Outer Limits and is diverting enough but just never peaks. See also Dark Skies which was little more than an update.

Through a mumbled science explanation two scientists move around in time and find that the future is easier to change than the past. Several Twilight Zone episodes posed deeper questions with shorter screen time and lesser effects budgets.

Great idea! Vampires are real but a minority that faces the bigotry of the majority. They drink synthetic blood at bars and have their own night clubs. Vampire blood is a highly hallucinogenic aphrodisiac declared illegal but in use as a very black market item. All good stuff until you get into tight corners and start adding other creatures with any powers you want to save the day until the idea of the magic that separates human from humanoid-beast fades away and it chows down to the same soap as anything else. I gave up after the 3rd season, having failed to get through the opening shots of the following one.

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