We have hit an interesting time in television. There are so many sci-fi and fantasy shows on even the basic channels that my nights are full. I’ll use a few of the newer shows with some of my thoughts to illustrate some of the reasons it’s a good time to be a genre fan.
Audience – Television execs must be paying attention to how much money the conventions like San Diego Comic-Con bring in. So far this year, just focusing on the channels that you can get through a free HD antenna, there are several new sci-fi and fantasy shows that now join the stalwart few that made it past a first season. The plethora of shows indicates that the execs know their audience well – that we geeks and nerds like new franchises that are done well and will spend money on fan stuff.
But here are some general things that we the viewers have proven can make good sci-fi or fantasy:
- Vampires aren’t actually dead (as a trend) – The Originals, The Vampire Diaries, CW; Dracula, NBC
- Sexy British leading men make a show better – Sleepy Hollow, FOX; Dracula, NBC
- We like our fairy tales – Grimm, NBC; Once Upon A Time & In Wonderland, ABC
- We like our superheroes – Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., ABC; Tomorrow People, CW; Arrow, CW
- Robots may be the next trend – Almost Human, FOX
Interesting Characters – Some of the tropes may be close, but it’s the full story of a character including what’s happening now and their back stories that can make or break a show. We viewers usually give shows at least a few episodes to develop the characters in an interesting way. Too much “telling” and we’ll move on to one of the other choices.
Here are some of the typical lead character tropes that the shows then turn into something compelling:
- Man out of time – Dracula, NBC; Sleepy Hollow, FOX
- Tough rogue character who doesn’t follow rules – Dracula, NBC; Almost Human, FOX; Tomorrow People, CW; Arrow, CW
- Questionable past – Pretty much all the main characters of the new shows; waiting to see what they do with Coulson on S.H.I.E.L.D.
- In need of redemption – Again, almost all the main characters; Arrow leads the pack
Adaptations – It’s true these days that studios don’t want to invest money on untested material. So it’s no surprise that a lot of the genre shows rely on a knowledge of a prior body of work like with Once Upon A Time and its spin-off show needing our knowledge of the Disney versions of the myths and fairy tales in order to enjoy the visual representations of them in their story lines.
Right now, comic books seem to be all the rage. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been smart about tying directly into the movie franchises, but that can probably be chalked up to Marvel having its own studio. Although the show doesn’t focus on the superheroes from the films, there’s a clear connection. Marvel is also grabbing onto the future of watching shows by creating shows that will be available directly on Netflix. The successful WB show Arrow also connects to its comic book origins. Due to its popularity, there are rumors about DC getting more television show adaptations in motion.
Dracula is resurrected again, and this time it not only relies on a loose interpretation of Bram Stoker’s work but more on the Francis Ford Coppola film version. With tight fitting bodices and a good cast, it’s getting a steady audience with the lead in from Grimm on Friday’s. Ichabod Crane rides again with the headless horseman in Sleepy Hollow, only this time he has to adjust to being an 18th century man in a 21st century world.
But not every show is getting it 100% right. Here are some of my issues that I hope can be improved upon to make the shows even better to watch:
Better Effects – We’re in a time where people on their own computers are creating some wicked effects for youtube videos. Genre shows are expensive to make because of the added effects. But that’s no reason to not do them well. Once Upon A Time in Wonderland is suffering because it seems like the entire show is shot on green screen with effects from the late ’90′s. It’s progenitor, Once Upon A Time, uses green screen, but its base is in a town. Only part of the time were the characters strictly in a green screened world.
One of the better newcomers is Almost Human on FOX. Although it’s had only a couple of episodes out, the effects are by far the better ones. It has more of a film feel than a TV show. And although it has future tech much like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the effects feel more organic on Almost Human.
Wardrobe – Actually, my comment about wardrobe goes for one show in particular. Sleepy Hollow has done a good job not being entirely too trite with the “man out of time” concept. But, and I’m not the only one to comment on this, by now he should have access to clothing stores. I agree that Tom Mison, the show’s leading man, does need a period look, and no one should touch his hair. But for goodness sakes, take the man to any number of stores. Get him some new shirts, some skinny jeans so he can keep wearing his boots, and mend his military jacket or get him a similar styled jacket. If he wears the same clothes he was buried in 24/7, then they are never getting washed. We don’t buy that!
More Women, Please – If you look through the newer shows, they all include strong women in some capacity. But none of the women are the primary characters, except with Once Upon A Time, Wonderland and even Sleepy Hollow. It would be nice for everyone to see women who take the lead in genre shows. While I know shows like Bionic Woman and the failed Wonder Woman reboot didn’t work, that doesn’t mean they should stop trying.
Character Changes – Again, my comment is about one specific show. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has potential, but it’s not focusing on the two most interesting characters of Coulson and May played by veteran actors Clark Gregg and Ming-Na Wenn. With its 8pm slot, the assumption is that a younger crowd would be watching as fans of the Marvel film franchises like Avengers. But the show has given youth to four of its major characters, and that’s a little too much youth to believe they would all make the team. My recommendation would be to combine the tech guru and biology/med expert into one character. There’s a need there for an older “M”-type character or someone who went rogue but would be brought to the team by Coulson.
Pulling from the Marvel cadre would be a good idea, and actually they already have a good candidate. In the Marvel One-Shot Item 47 found in The Avengers extras, there’s the character of Bennie who tinkers and manages to make an alien gun work for him. Played by Jesse Bradford, he would make an interesting (and older) addition to the team. Another possibility if they wanted to stay with the awkward British person would be to use someone like Marc Warren or Burn Gorman, both who can play tough and awkward. And to take my own advice, you could make it Torchwood alums Eve Myles or Naoko Mori. A character change could make the show stronger, and it would be nice to have that role be someone who is smart both intellectually and through life experience who can also kick a little butt.