Arrow: Uprising — review

Screenplay by Beth Schwartz and Brian Ford Sullivan.

If this episode did anything for Arrow, it was to add to the overnumerous take-offs of The Dark Knight Trilogy. Ever since those features revolutionised how the public view comic book adaptations, everything’s been at least somewhat inspired by it. Some too much, some not enough. Arrow‘s strange case is that it isn’t really inspired at all, yet it wants to resemble it as much as possible.

Here’s the thing: Green Arrow is a copy of Batman. The original character was inspired by him, and therefore it seems that every adaptation of him requires some sort of Batman inspiration. And since The Dark Knight Trilogy is the latest form, the dark grit is almost a given.

The problem with this is that The Dark Knight Trilogy is dark and realistic because it is. It wasn’t trying to be, it’s just the way everything tied-together based on the central idea and concept. What every great story needs is its world to be consistent in style, and Syncopy did so. Every aspect of filmmaking in those instances came together from the same place, and that’s why everything naturally click together. Arrow is problematic in this division, as it uses dark realism but not for anything. It’s just there. It’s gratuitous. It’s being done because of what looks like a lack of confidence by creators resorting to mimicking what’s worked before.

And it’s not just the style and tone. A lot of story elements have been lifted straight from Batman, too. It’s called Uprising, as in The Dark Knight Rises? There’s even a scene where the heroes confront Brick and his gang very much in the same manner as the crowd vs cops scene before the Bat intervened. They then rush at each other in the same way also.

What Arrow doesn’t seem to realise is that it’s not cinema. It doesn’t have to function like an ongoing serial. It’s television, and that’s such a useful medium, because that allows for variation. Episodes can change, and be different from each other. Rather than making each episode enjoyable on its own, Arrow is asking us to settle for mediocrity on the basis that generally the show’s probably quite good-ish. But that’s not how it works. Filler is the Bane of narrative. It has no place. Instead, I propose that Arrow decide to use art rather than just be art. Because right now, it’s showing no range.

Arrow: Uprising — tonal stereotype that achieves nothing 1/10.

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Sherlock: the Blind Banker — review

The Blind Banker is in the middle act of a season, and comes therefore with a problem you’ll find with many mid-season episodes – it’s the weakest. Not only that, but it’s the middle of the first season, which means the weakness isn’t from doing anything particularly badly, just from the show not really being developed.

Screenplay by Steve Thompson.

The Blind Banker is in the middle act of a season, and comes therefore with a problem you’ll find with many mid-season episodes – it’s the weakest. Not only that, but it’s the middle of the first season, which means the weakness isn’t from doing anything particularly badly, just from the show not really being developed.

But I didn’t dislike The Blind Banker. It’s not an un-entertaining episode. But it’s an example of what you get when the elements of filmmaking come together perfectly, other than the screenplay. Which is a problem, because that’s the weakness that shows through. Euros Lyn’s directing is as you’d expect it to be, and Cumberbatch and Freeman continue to be a workable pair. Everything else that makes Sherlock unique is on regular form, but when these things are brining to life a script that’s only passable, that’s a problem.

Sherlock is a crime drama, but it’s also a drama. The reason the show’s become so popular is because it focuses more on the dramatic aspects than the criminal investigation process. The CSI franchise is successful, but what makes it successful is the highly-analytic nature of it – Sherlock isn’t like that; it’s about the characters, and how their adventures bring them closer together, or sometimes take them further apart. But The Blind Banker is an episode focusing on the crime. Which isn’t in itself a bad thing in anyway. Having an episode of a crime drama be about solving a crime is hardly the wrong decision. But what made A Study in Pink work so well was the way that case was designed so that Holmes and Watson would develop a relationship – this episode sets-out on the assumption that it’s already developed, and in no way attempts to change anything. Again, that’s not a wrong decision, but given the way the show was established, The Blind Banker‘s method was the inferior of two choices.

It’s passable, and likeable, but only in the minimal sense. It accomplishes want it wanted to do, but ultimately, that was to fill space until the next episode.

Sherlock: the Blind Banker — minimally likeable series of events 6/10.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine: USPIS

A previous episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine developed the rivalry between the City of New York Police Department and other services – at the time, it was Fire Department, City of New York. While that instance was featured as a peripheral narrative element, USPIS brought it to the forefront, with investigation into Giggle Pig requiring cooperation from the United States Postal Investigation Service.

Screenplay by Brian Reich.

A previous episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine developed the rivalry between the City of New York Police Department and other services – at the time, it was Fire Department, City of New York. While that instance was featured as a peripheral narrative element, USPIS brought it to the forefront, with investigation into Giggle Pig requiring cooperation from the United States Postal Investigation Service.

There seems to be a comedic tradition of this show’s universe, that public service bosses are the most boring employees – Precinct 99 has Cap. Raymond Holt, while USPIS has Jack Danger, pronounced “Donger”. It’s not a problem, though. The symmetry of that is part of the comedy – the two services consider themselves rivals, even though they’re actually just the same. In fact, it’s a shame that Danger and Holt never meet.

And the comedy of that symmetry comes across from a scene in-which Danger describes the history of USPIS to Peralta and Boyle in the most monotonous fashion, despite claiming to have a passionate interest in the service. The thing is, you know he really does, because Holt also has a passionate interest in the NYPD, even though he’s exactly the same.

So the comedic aspect of this episode was in the unironic hypocrisy expressed by each party to each other, while the narrative wasn’t distracted by it. The cooperation was necessary due to communication involving Giggle Pig through the postal service, and that’s USPIS’ jurisdiction. The whole thing worked like a crossover resembling an alternate universe where the characters worked for the mail instead. Although we never saw it, there were probably versions of Precinct 99’s workers, ala the scene in Shaun of the Dead where they meet another group of survivors who are just like them. At least that’s what it reminded me of. In this ever-changing television landscape, where shared universes are a big thing, perhaps FOX should give USPIS a spin-off, along with FDNY. They could have big crossover events every season. That could work. Plus, the style of comedy would be the same for each, so the writers could be re-used.

The comedy worked, because it was internally unironic but externally self-aware, while the narrative also worked, because it advanced the story-arc without letting the comedy distract itself. The pairing of Precinct 99 with USPIS was like a buddy cop comedy, but without agencies, not people. There’s a romcom in there somewhere. A man from the police meets a woman from the mail – can their love thrive in an environment of rivalry? A Romeo and Juliet for government divisions.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine: USPIS — comedy and narrative capably blended 7/10.

The Flash: Crazy for You — review

There’s an episode of Doctor Who called Death in Heaven. What I thought of the episode doesn’t really matter, but one scene has a character watching events on screen and thrust his arms in the air to shout “Permission to squee!”.

Screenplay by Aaron Helbing and Todd Helbing.

There’s an episode of Doctor Who called Death in Heaven. What I thought of the episode doesn’t really matter, but one scene has a character watching events on screen and thrusting his arms in the air to shout “Permission to squee!”.

Do you see the problem with that? That line, Hell – that entire setup, was created to elicit an emotional response from the audiences. Of course, all storytelling exists for this reason. If we don’t feel anything from a story, what’s the point? But there’s a certain way of doing it. If you want your audience to feel something, you give them a situation that will hopefully do that. If you want them to feel excited, show them something exciting. You know, it’s not hard.

Now with The Flash: Crazy for You, the scene that really sums-up why this episode really is written tremendously well takes place in a karaoke bar.

So, context…

In a television series, sometimes story-arcs are pushed to the back burner in favour of highlighting certain aspects of character. People who aren’t overly fond of story arcs consider this a good idea, as it allows things to be more self-contained, while those that invest for the long run like to see character development. What I think is something I bring-up a lot, particularly with this show: I don’t care what approach a writer takes if it makes me feel something strongly in a positive way (not necessarily a positive emotion, but to appreciate the way I’m being made to feel, rather than being bored to death). For this episode, there are a few story arc moments, like Gorilla Grodd’s ending cameo, but most of it is a nice little piece for The Flash* and Caitlin Snow.

And so as part of that sees these two characters’ development together, they find themselves deciding “to Hell with it!”, and embracing their twenties-ness by going on dates and getting as much from the world as possible. Snow gets a little too drunk, and persuades The Flash* to go on stage and duet Summer Nights with her.

Some people might find it strange that this is the moment I want to talk about, especially as there was much more happening in the overall run of the season around it, but I choose to talk about this moment, because it makes a point. Yes, there was comic book action with F.I.R.E.S.T.O.R.M., and Pied Piper had a minor role, as well as the aforementioned Grodd, but for me, it was that scene that was the most memorable because it was the most characteristic.

Which is surprising, since karaoke bars are a baneful cliche to writers, used mostly as last-resort gags in sitcoms. But that doesn’t mean people don’t use them in reality. Plus, there’s only about a minute of it. See, I know in my head that this might have only been included to showcase Grant Gustin’s singing, but then, in my heart, I love that scene because it showcases Grant Gustin’s singing, which I’d never heard until that point due to not watching Glee. But that’s a whole different article.

And Gustin’s sexy, buttery voice was not only arousing to listen to, but also contrasted with the intentionally bad singing from Snow. And yet, that’s the point of the scene. He can sing, she can’t, but they don’t care, because this is part of their intention to seize every moment, even if it means not quite being sure whether they’re doing it as friends or something else. But life’s like that. It’s ambiguous, unsure and complex, but works for the moment.

Which is why I love that scene so damn much: as a character piece, it demonstrated more depth to these people, and told us more about them than anything else in the episode, which was also very strong anyway – Pied Piper’s acting, the miniaturised relationship model used across the episode, and the consistent quality this show’s almost unknowingly upholding.

But for me, I don’t watch this show for its genre, at least not anymore. I’m in it for the characters, the actors and where they’re going, so it’s scenes like these that keep me watching, because it accomplishes so much with so little. Even if that’s not what The CW might want me to watch for. But I do, and they can’t argue with that. Yes, I think I’m now watching it for my own fan-girlish satisfaction, but I admit that, and I can justify it. My other episode reviews prove that I can still appreciate the other things when that’s all there is, and that counts for a lot.

Snow: # Summer lovin’ had me a blast, summer lovin’ happened so fast

The Flash*: # I met a girl crazy for me

The Flash: Crazy for Me — small but evocative character development 9/10.

*Yes, I said "The Flash" to refer to the character, big whoop, wanna fight about it?

The Flash: the Sound and the Fury — review

Screenplay by Alison Schapker and Brooke Eikmeier.

Straight-off the bat, Schapker and Eikmeier demonstrate how to write characters well. A big problem with storytelling is that you’re required to show the audience your character deck, without telling them what cards you hold. To do that would be to give the game away, and then there’s just no point in playing. The biggest example of this over the course of The Flash is Harrison Wells. We’ve learnt that he’s not actually disabled, that he has a connection with Reverse-Flash, and then that he is Reverse-Flash. But on the side of the Flash himself, there are other things that have been revealed through their natural course of events rather than being forced to be dramatic, as with recent Arrow episodes.

For this particular episode, the way it’s demonstrated is with the villain Pied Piper. He causes a disturbance, the Flash captures him and takes him down to S.T.A.R. Labs. All quite standard. But whereas Revenge of the Rogues had distinctly comedic characters, with Captain Cold consistently making jokes, Pied Piper progresses to be a psychological gamer, who can unnerve the Flash and make him doubt his own abilities. No other villain’s done that so far. Until this point it was one power beating another, but with Pied Piper’s addition, the level’s been raised on what villains could be. Now that it’s been proven, he’s something of a watergate for quality in antagonists.

Especially as details about his personal life are also only released when it’s necessary. That’s what I like about The Flash – it might be light-hearted and at times cartoonish, but it’s tolerable because it doesn’t take the audience’s intelligence for granted. It knows that tension is created when we realise we don’t know something, not when we learn something new. So it insists on keeping things from us because it knows that’s best. In this relationship, The Flash is a bit of a kinkster, and we’re the gimp. But I love it. I never want to stop being beaten by it.

The Pied Piper even says that being dominated by a man dressed in leather is a long-time fantasy of his. See? Character. Yes, we find out he’s gay, but only from our deductions. He’s not saying that to draw attention to his sexuality, but because he’s playing a mind-game, and is using sex as one side of it. In this instance, that’s the kind of sex he understands. And we, as the audience, are treated intelligently enough to work out the context.

(Plus, he’s not wrong. Being handcuffed by a leather-bound Grant Gustin is a pretty enthralling idea. I mean, Pied Piper isn’t unattractive, but once you’ve discovered Gustin, everything else just leave you slightly less impressed. Not that I wouldn’t go with Pied Piper, cause I would, it’s just that I’d be thinking of the Flash.)

It sounds like I’m patronising the writers by doubting their capability, but it’s because – frankly – I’m fed up with being patronised by everything I see, so when I see something that’s actually good, my reaction to it could be construed as insulting.

But anyway, those are my thoughts on The Flash: the Sound and the Fury. It’s not so much a review as a compliment on this episode’s status as an example of how to write characters really well. Which isn’t to say that other things I watch don’t have well-written characters, it’s just that this is almost a demonstration in how to do it. Not that I have a problem with that.

The Flash: the Sound and the Fury: uncompromising tutorial in writing characters 8/10.

Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.: Homecoming — review

Sometimes, I find myself having mostly not liked something, despite it having some decent elements. Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.: Homecoming is one of those.

Screenplay by Marty Isenberg.

Sometimes, I find myself having mostly not liked something, despite it having some decent elements. Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.: Homecoming is one of those.

The episode’s place in the story arc is one of necessity, and it pays-off because of it. The Hulks have, after their last adventure, returned home. So it’s good to see the writers not being scared to move things forward. Development is good, because if the writers are capable, it leads to equal character development. I won’t say there wasn’t any character development here, because this is probably setting-up for the next episodes down the line, but the immediate effect is invisible.

For such an important episode, the execution was very half-hearted. The Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. had finally returned to Earth, only for there to be none of the emotional connections to these characters the show’s demonstrated in the past. It might be mostly a comedy, but the characters nevertheless have a decent emotional spectrum, and the writers have shown that they’ve no problem with exploring it. So when these characters finally achieve the goal they’ve been aiming toward for the best part of two years, they treat it very casually. Instead, it turns into a slugfest between them and the Abomination that reminds all too much of Hulk.

And another thing: Stan Lee’s gratuitous cameo. I quite like Lee’s cameos in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, especially when they’re subtle as per Marvel’s the Avengers, but his presence here was nothing but forced. He’s mayor of the town! He’s even called Mayor Stan Lee. What? It’s like in Family Guy where Adam West is Mayor of Quahog, but he didn’t create those characters. Stan Lee being the Mayor of a town inhabited by characters he made isn’t “bad”, it’s just… weird. There are just some lines that shouldn’t intersect, and this is one of them.

Mostly, this show is enjoyable and entertaining. No, it’s not top class entertainment, but that’s not what to expect on Disney XD. However, I shall stick with this show because the episodes I haven’t liked are few in number.

Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.: Homecoming – emotionally discontinuous while stretching belief 4/10.

12 Monkeys: Splinter — review

By Terry Matalas and Travis Fickett.

Something you’ll find with science fiction is that it works better serialised. The most successful self-contained sci-fis are those that take place in the real world, but feature an element of the strange. With a television series, there’s more room for development of the genre. To begin 12 Monkeys, Terry Matalas and Travis Fickett use the first episode, Splinter, not so much to begin a plot or series of events, but to show us how this world works. But that itself turns into a plot, with how far the time-travel model can be pushed.

First, we see how that time travel happens – a special kind of chair is used, which transmits the occupant to a preset destination, with great pain neccessary. Then, they splinter back to that point to report on their findings, while a team of historians track changes made in that room. That’s an ingenious concept for science fiction, with a time travel system that works simply, but effectively.

Once that’s been established, there needs to be a demonstration of how time can be affected. This is demonstrated perfectly with a watch, which when scratched visibly changes the state of a future version of it. This makes it perfectly clear: this is a universe in-which the future can be changed by actions of people with foreknowledge of it. What this gives us is an investable mechanic for James Cole, who’s attempting to alter his own future-present. Because we know time works in that way for that universe, we know there’s a change he can succeed.

Which is also what makes the ending work. This is an episode which assumes it’s a self-contained story, as with other sci-fi, but the ending leads to it becoming a much longer process. In that way, this pilot is a microcosm for the series’ synopsis: the other Monkeys have to be located and eliminated. Had this simply been episode one of a commissioned series, there might have been less self-containedness, but at the time, this stood alone and needed to work as a proof of concept.

It certainly did.

12 Monkeys: Splinter — effective establishment of time-travel rules 7/10.