Thursday, November 03, 2011

Turning My Back on the Past - Well, TV Shows Set in the Ancient Past, Anyway

As the fall TV season continues to lurch into gear in fits and starts (Seriously, pilots and premiers firing at occasional intervals over 2 months? Really?), I've decided to waste no time this year in cutting the fat. Normally I'd give new shows the better part of a season before putting them on probation or cutting them off outright, but this year's different. This year I'm terminating the boring and the unintentionally stupid from my viewing schedule with extreme prejudice. And that means starting by making a couple of shows rooted in the past into nothing but soon-to-be-forgotten memories.

First on the chopping block is Camelot. I'd heard some good buzz about this show before it started airing on the CBC and was cautiously optimistic. Sadly, like the dream of Camelot itself, that optimism came crashing down in ruins. The show is boring.

That's not to say that I expected a non-stop carnival of gory, dark ages battle scenes, but the plot is pretty glacial. Sure, there are occasional fights, but they're quick and half-hearted. The sex scenes seem forced, as though the writers and producers are trying to prove something ("See: we've got an Arthurian show for adults! We can show people having sex! Ha-ha! Look at how gritty and raw our show is!") Don't get me wrong, I'm not opposed to sex scenes, not remotely, but it almost feels like the producers of Camelot are putting them in just to show that they can try to keep up with series on HBO, when really, that shouldn't be the point. What passes for court intrigue is flat. And the show is humourless - these people are unredeemably dull. I don't care how bad things were in the dark ages, people must have had a laugh over something every now and again. But not on Camelot.

Then there are the characters who bug me, chief among them: Arthur, wannabe king of the Britons. Not only is he written as whining and unbelievably feeble, actor Jamie Campbell Bower seems to think the best way to play the young king is to shuffle around bug-eyed and slack-jawed all the time. Seriously, how many scenes are there where this guy doesn't look as though he's quietly saying to himself: "Whoa! I have no idea what's going on. I'm totally in over my head, man!" His affair with Guinevere feels more like a couple of highschoolers cheating on their respective squeezes and paying half-hearted lip service to the notion that maybe this was something they were told they shouldn't be doing, rather than a more mature portrayal of two people struggling with real, deep emotions and conflicting loyalties that could have severe consequences. Eva Green is a disappointment as Morgan as well. I enjoyed her in Kingdom of Heaven, but in Camelot she seems convinced that simply squinting a lot and pouting her lips will convey a sense of dangerous ambition and the simmering potential for violence. Again, she seems more like a spoiled teen having a tantrum than a serious rival for power. And Claire Forlani as Igraine is just bony and weird and unbelievable in the role of a woman who kings and dukes would tear apart a country over - never mind the fact that anytime I see her I immediately flash back to her looking pipecleaner-emaciated doing the Julie Dwyer-has-drowned scene from Mallrats. Of all the cast and characters, Joseph Fiennes playing a somewhat unnerving Merlin of great but restrained power who's making the myth up as he goes along is watchable. But one good character can't carry the dead weight of this show, and besides, he reminds me too much of Christopher Lambert. I'm always half-expecting him to mumble in a ridiculous French-attempt-at-a-Scottish accent: "There can be only one!"

If you feel the need to watch a show about King Arthur's court, better to turn your attentions to Merlin, which, though deliberately targeted at a younger audience and not remotely concerned with historical accuracy, has characters (likable and revilable) who are worth watching and an overall plot that doesn't take itself too seriously.

Next to be cut is Terra Nova. I was more cautious going in with this one, recognizing right away from the early buzz that it was basically rehashing his old Earth 2 series with a Jurassic Park makeover and more than a little influence from JJ Abrams' Lost. I remember watching Earth 2 as a curiosity but having no real loyalty to it (Although Clancy Brown - oooh! a second Highlander reference! - did a capable job in a non-badguy role). The first Jurassic Park was fun and cool to look at but should have been left as a one-off. And regardless of all the hype that Lost got and all the attempts of friends to convert me into a fan, I just didn't give a shit. Combining the three together does not result in the formula to make me a fan. The premise of sending colonists millions of years back in time to the final age of the dinosaurs is just dumb. I don't know enough about the environmental conditions to say whether humans would actually be able to survive there (comparative atmosphere composition, anyone?), but as a science panel at the recent VCon mentioned, there certainly might be big problems with disease: either in the form of extinct diseases that modern humans would have had no contact with and thus possibly no resistance to, or human-born illnesses wreaking havoc on ancient flora and fauna a-la Homer Simpson's time toaster. Let's not even get into why it doesn't make any sense to send people to colonize and reproduce in a time where a big-ass asteroid is going to come hurtling out of space and cause some serious real estate issues for either the colonists, their kids, or their grandkids, or... well, you get it, sooner or later the whole damn enterprise will prove to be a wasted investment. Sure there are plenty of science fiction shows with settings of questionable livability, but this one is so dumb it's distracting.

Then there are the characters: Hollywood cookie-cutter stock one and all and, as such, pretty uninteresting. Because it's hard to care about the characters, their little factions and intrigues and secrets and mysteries are equally forced and boring.

The only positive note to the show, aside from the special effects, which don't garner too many kudos because, hey, it's a big-budget Spielberg event and so we expect quality monsters and sets, was the line of dialogue from the pilot paying tribute to James Cameron's Aliens:
Girl: "They mostly hunt at night."
Boy: "Mostly."

Not enough to save this turkey. Bring in the asteroid/comet/cosmic spitball early, bring this thing to an end and free-up the air for something more entertaining.

Meanwhile, there's still plenty to watch that's worthwhile in genre TV. The Big Bang Theory is jogging along nicely, Chuck and Todd & the Book of Pure Evil have started again, Canada's finally seeing the 2010 season of Futurama, Southpark is up to its usual profane hilarity, and Grimm (I say this very cautiously) looks like it might have some potential. And even if these start to wear thin, that's okay, the overflowing inbox on my bookshelf is always calling.

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