TV Science Fiction & Fantasy


COMING SOON – THE TV EDITION
by Michael Shonk


   Most TV junkies claim Fall premiere week as their favorite time of the year, but mine has always been the May upfronts. Upfronts are parties the networks throw for major advertisers, ad agencies and the media in attempt to get them drunk enough to believe next Fall’s TV series will be the best ever and hope they forget the lies the networks told about the quality of last season’s shows.

   In the past, May was the most dramatic month for the TV fanatic. TV viewers embraced hope of the new, relief when their favorites survived, and the devastation when they didn’t. But it is just not the same anymore.

   The broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, and CW) have joined cable networks in the effort to supply original programming all year round. New television series never stop coming. The Big Four and-a-Half networks just announced their fall lineup with huge fan fare ignoring that September is no longer the best month of TV.

   Pushing the limits of space here, let’s check out the highlights of what is coming this week, this Summer, this Fall, and in 2017.

   Just because the main season is over, it doesn’t mean the broadcast networks abandon original programming. WAYWARD PINES is back on FOX. CW has the final season of BEAUTY & THE BEAST. CBS has the return of ZOO and two new series starting in June that sound better than any of CBS new fall shows. AMERICAN GOTHIC tells the story of a family that has discovered one of them is a serial killer. From the creators of THE GOOD WIFE, BRAINDEAD is a comedy thriller about a young woman who discovers aliens are eating the brains of politicians and government workers. NBC has the Olympics this summer but also airs AQUARIUS.

      NBC medical drama NIGHT SHIFT returns for its third season:

   Cable networks offer original scripted programs in May and June including AMC’s new crime drama set in a restaurant, FEED THE BEAST, and the last season of HELL ON WHEELS, HBO’s GAME OF THRONES, TNT’s LAST SHIP, MAJOR CRIMES, MURDER IN THE FIRST, and RIZZOLI & ISLES (final season), TBS’s ANGIE TRIBECA, Cinemax’s OUTCAST, Netflix’s ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, ADULT SWIM’s DECKER: UNCLASSIFIED, and SYFY’s 12 MONKEYS.

   The heck with Marvel and DC, give me an IDW comic book like the fun horror/western WYNONNA EARP.

   Cable original scripted programs continue through the summer with returning series such as SYFY’s KILLJOYS and DARK MATTER, FX’s TYRANT and THE STRAIN, STARZ’s POWER, USA’s SUITS and last year’s hit MR. ROBOT.

   New series include Netflix’s STRANGER THINGS set in the 1980s, a supernatural series centered on a missing boy, SYFY’s post-apocalyptic drama AFTERMATH, and TNT’s GOOD BEHAVIOR based on the Letty Dobesh books by Blake Crouch.

      Based on Stephen Hunter’s book POINT OF IMPACT, USA network new series SHOOTER premieres in July.

   This fall live television, especially sports such as the NFL and World Series, will distract the viewing public. Cable lead by one of the most watched TV series in all television, AMC’s WALKING DEAD will hold its own. TNT reboots TALES FROM THE CRYPT, this time from M. Night Shyamalan.

         Netflix starts another series featuring a Marvel comic character – LUKE CAGE.

   Midseason 2017 promises to offer some entertaining new series on cable networks. USA’s FALLING WATER is a supernatural thriller about three strangers who find they can share dreams. SYFY’s horror anthology CHANNEL ZERO,

      Syfy’s THE EXPANSE, the best TV series I watched in 2015-16, will return for its second season in January 2017.

   Top network CBS will add three new dramas this Fall. BULL starring NCIS Michael Weatherly as Dr Phil back when he was a consultant specializing in manipulating… uh, I mean analyzing juries. Medicine meets technology in the new drama PURE GENUIS.

      The pilot of MACGYVER had many behind the scenes problems. Let’s hope Macgyver can find the right knick knack to save the show.

   Two new CBS series wait for their turn and midseason. DOUBT a lawyer show starring Katherine Heigl, and TRAINING DAY, based on the film. But more important are two series that CBS hopes to premiere in 2017 on CBS ALL ACCESS, its streaming service. First original new series will be the sequel to THE GOOD WIFE. The second is perhaps TV most famous franchise in history. It began on NBC, cancelled and resurfaces as a successful film series. It was used to establish Paramount in the syndicated market. It began UPN (now CW) and tried to save the network before the merger with WB. As Paramount continues to pump out theatrical films, CBS will use STAR TREK to jumpstart its streaming service.

         Without a title or any idea what it is about, the new STAR TREK series is the most anticiated television series of next season.

   Among the CBS series returning in the fall are BLUE BLOODS, CODE BLACK, CRIMINAL MINDS, ELEMENTARY, HAWAII FIVE-O, MADAM SECRETARY, NCIS, NCIS: LOS ANGELES, NCIS: NEW ORLEANS, and SCORPION. While CRIMINAL MINDS – BEYOND BORDERS will be back in 2017.

   SUPERGIRL reminded CBS what its TV audience likes, so the new shows look like the old shows and SUPERGIRL flew off to CBS little sister CW. The comic book superhero will feel comfortable with the rest of DC comic superheroes, ARROW, LEGENDS OF TOMORROW, and CW’s top show FLASH. CW continues to specialize in comic books, horror and the weird.

      New this fall to the mini-me of broadcast networks is FREQUENCY based on the film.

   Returning during midseason will be THE 100, iZOMBIE, THE ORIGINALS, SUPERNATURAL, and THE VAMPIRE DIARIES.

   Midseason, CW will add FOX reject RIVERDALE, based on the characters from Archie comics focused on a murder mystery. But this is not Scooby Doo or your old Archie (even the comic books are not your old Archie), this Archie deals with “adult issues” such as him sleeping with his teacher.

   While CBS remains the top network, NBC is close behind. Its two biggest hits are SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL and THE VOICE, each hogging up much of NBC’s fall schedule. This fall NBC adds five games of Thursday night football (CBS shows the first five, NBC has the last five). Without any major holes in its fall schedule, NBC saved its most promising new series for midseason, adding only three to the fall lineup.

      NBC’s only new drama this fall is TIMELESS, the most promising series of the many this season featuring time travel.

   Some of the series returning this fall are BLACKLIST, BLINDSPOT, CHICAGO FIRE, CHICAGO MED, CHICAGO PD, GRIMM, LAW AND ORDER SVU. SHADES OF BLUE will have to wait for SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL to end.

   Other new shows waiting for their turn include comedies POWERLESS (insurance office comedy set in the world of superheroes), TRAIL & ERROR (court comedy). New dramas are BLACKLIST – REDEMPTION (spinoff), EMERALD CITY (based on Baum’s Land of Oz books), MIDNIGHT, TEXAS (based on a series of books by Charlaine Harris (TRUE BLOOD)), TAKEN (prequel to film series) and what would any NBC list be without another Dick Wolf CHICAGO series, in this case CHICAGO JUSTICE.

   There is hope at FOX. This year they have the Super Bowl guaranteeing better numbers at the end of the season. Ratings are changing, and FOX is pushing the hardest to find a way to count those of us who no longer watch TV live or on a TV set.

   TV is about to enter an era of MONEYBALL. For those not familiar with baseball or the movie or the book, sabermetrics uses an endless amount of numbers to measure performance. Networks like FOX are all ready there, someday the media will catch up.

   Speaking of baseball, FOX will have the World Series this fall as well as new series PITCH (story of first woman to play in Major League Baseball). Other new series of interest coming this fall are THE EXORIST (based on William Blatty’s novel), and LETHAL WEAPON (based on the film).

      My pick for first fall show cancelled is FOX’s SON OF ZORN, an animated barbarian tries to cope in live action modern world.

   Shows returning in fall include BROOKLYN NINE-NINE, insane GOTHAM, LUCIFER, ROSEWOOD, SCREAM QUEENS, and QUINTCO. Series returning in midseason include SLEEPY HOLLOW and the final season of BONES.

   Among the new series waiting for 2017 are APB (rich man buys a police precinct), MAKING HISTORY (time travel comedy), SHOTS FIRED (racially charged shooting involving a cop), and PRISON BREAK (sequel to 2005 TV series).

      FOX is hoping 24 – LEGACY will be as successful as the original 24.

   ABC did not have a good year. Its president of programming was sacrificed to the Nielsen Ratings Gods in prayers for better numbers in the demo.There was not enough time to change the fall offerings, but it is expected ABC will copy CBS and NBC with less soap operas and more procedurals.

   ABC’s new fall dramas of interest to us begins with DESIGNATED SURVIVOR starring Kiefer Sutherland as Tom Kirkman, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development ends up President after a terrorist attack takes out most of the leaders of the American government. CONVICTION with Hayley Atwell (AGENT CARTER) as a spoiled former first daughter who is forced under threat of jail to lead a small group investigating cases where the convicted might be innocent.

      NOTORIOUS is about the seduction between law and the media.

   Returning this fall are HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER, MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D., and ONCE UPON A TIME. While these returning series have to wait until midseason their turn – AMERICAN CRIME, THE CATCH, SCANDAL and SECRETS & LIES.

      Among the new ABC shows waiting for midseason is TIME AFTER TIME, based on the movie and stars Freddie Stroma as H.G. Wells.

   Over one hundred TV series in the 2015-16 season were cancelled or ended. RIP.

THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER. “The Crowd.” HBO, season 1, episode 3 (2 July 1985). Nick Mancuso, R. H. Thomson, David Hughes. Hosted and based on the story by Ray Bradbury. Director: Ralph L. Thomas.

   This one’s a ghost story, and like most ghost stories, it doesn’t make a lick of sense. It’s slickly done, with high production values, and there are some appreciably spooky moments. But it didn’t work for me in any way, shape, or form, and I can’t tell you too much as to why without issuing a Spoiler Alert, so consider it done.

   The idea is that a survivor of a near deadly automobile incident can’t figure out how such a loud noisy crowd of people formed around the scene of the accident so quickly. (The tires hadn’t even stopped spinning.) Probing further, he discovers that the same crowd of individuals were seen (via videotape) at many other such accidents, most of them fatal. Against the advice of a good friend, he makes the mistake of trying to find out more.

   To me, with a logical mind, the question is not how these crowds of ghostly origin form so quickly, but why. I don’t remember how it’s replied to in the story, but this 27 minute cable TV episode answers with mirrors, atmosphere, glitz and special effects. It doesn’t go anywhere near a reason and relies instead on a knock-em-out finale that’s there for shock value only.

A FORGOTTEN TV SERIES REVIEW
by Michael Shonk


THE WANDERER. Fingertip Film Production for Yorkshire Television, ZDF, and Antena 3, UK, 1994. Thirteen 60m episodes. Cast: Bryan Brown as Adam/Zachary, Tony Haygarth as Godbold, Kim Thomson as Princess Beatrice, Otto Tausig as Mathias and Deborah Moore as Clare. Created by Roy Clarke from an idea by Tom Gabbay. Executive Producers: Keith Richardson and Tom Gabby.

   This obscure fantasy with supernatural elements clothed in a road drama format lasted thirteen episodes. It was a European production (Yorkshire TV – British, ZDF – German, and Antena 3 – French) that was offered in U.S. syndication at least twice (according to Broadcasting & Cable) in 1995, but it may never have sold.

   The series starred Bryan Brown as twin brothers – good Adam and evil Zachary. The two brothers lived in the 10th Century during the first Millennium where they were locked in a battle between good and evil. Adam won the battle and killed Zachary.

   As the second millennium approaches, the brothers are back for a rematch. Adam’s memory of his past life is incomplete while Zachary remembers everything and demands Adam takes him to his grave. Adam can’t remember where the grave is so he wanders around searching for it, stopping to help others and frustrating the impatient Zachary.

   Each brother has allies. Adam’s most important ally is former 10th century Monk turn modern-day plumber Godbold. Mathis is rich Adam’s personal assistant who has no connection to Adam’s past. Along the way Adam saves Claire who is really his true love from the 10th century. Fearing for her life Adam continues to push her away, ordering her to leave him and live her new life without him. A modern day woman, she refuses to listen.

   Zachary also has an ally the magically gifted Princess Beatrice who a thousand years later remains upset that Adam had rejected her. The cliché over-the-top medieval Princess/witch spends much of her time keeping Zachary focused on the plan to kill Adam and take over the World.

   The Wanderer is flawed but watchable in a fun stupid TV sort of way. The acting is not a plus. Brown plays Adam as dull and clueless and Zachary as if he was comedy relief. The writing was at times lazy (sudden visions often guided our travelers). Nor did anyone seem to take the story seriously (Zachary is distracted from taking over the World by his desire to write and star in a musical for the stage). Writer Roy Clarke is best know for his comedy writing in such British series as Open All Hours and Keeping Up Appearance.

   YouTube currently has all thirteen episodes except for episode 1 and 6. Below are two examples: Episode 2 “Mind Games” and the series last episode “Knight Time.”

“Mind Games.” Witten by Roy Clarke. Directed by Terry Marcel. GUEST CAST: Alexander Strobele, Ann Kathrin Kramer, and August Schmolzer. *** As Adam wanders searching for where he buried Zachary, he helps a young woman accused of murder.


“Knight Time.” Written by Roy Clarke. Directed by Alan Grint. GUEST CAST: Big Mick, Kenny Baker, and David J. Nicholls. *** The brothers fight at the site of Zachary’s grave. An incredibly annoying stupid ending that disappoints even those with the lowest expectations.


   The series has never been and unlikely ever to be released on DVD.

THE FLASH. “Pilot” (Season 1, Episode 1). The CW, 7 October 2014. Grant Gustin (Barry Allen / The Flash), Candice Patton (Iris West), Danielle Panabaker, Rick Cosnett, Carlos Valdes, Tom Cavanagh, Jesse L. Martin, John Wesley Shipp. Based on the character in DC Comics. Developed by Greg Berlanti & Andrew Kreisberg. David Nutter.

   One episode isn’t enough to say, but after watching this first one on DVD, I was more impressed than I expected to be. I enjoyed this one. It was done well, and I will be watching to see what comes next.

   If it devolves into a series of corny supervillains every week, that may end it for me, but at the moment, after stage one, there are a number of interesting plot threads this series has going for it already, and they were all crammed into one 45 minute episode. Amazing.

   To enumerate: The Flash, or rather Barry Allen, is the fastest man alive. As a young forensic crime scene assistant, he obtains this ability through an explosion of a particle accelerator at S.T.A.R. Labs, after awakening from a coma lasting nine months. (Any significance to that?)

   Some background: his father is in prison, having been convicted of killing his mother when he was a small boy. The father (John Wesley Shipp, the previous TV Flash) is innocent. Young Barry grew up with a police detective named Joe West and his daughter Iris. He may be in love with her now, but she now has a secret romance with her father’s partner on the police force.

   The head of S.T.A.R. Labs is in a wheelchair from the accident, but with two assistants he works with Barry, helping to gauge his powers, designing a suitable suit, and so on. Barry is determined to use his powers for good, which is a good thing, because other people affected by the accident have also become metahumans, and they have begun to use their powers in other ways, all bad.

   The special effects are terrific, and the acting on the part of the very young (mid-20s?) actors (or am I just old) is adequate, if not more. I admit the overall ambiance is comicky, but maybe that’s just me. There is a quick scene at the end which suggests that there are other secrets yet to be revealed. Tune in next week! I think I will. (The DVD set already paid for.)

“The Monster of Peladon.” A serial of six episodes from Dr Who, BBC, UK, 23 March to 27 April 1974. (Season 11, Episodes 15-20). Jon Pertwee (Doctor Who), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Donald Gee, Nina Thomas, Frank, Rex Robinson, Alan Bennion. Writer: Brian Hayles. Script editor: Terrance Dicks. Director: Lennie Mayne.

   This six-episode sequel to “The Curse of Peladon” (Season Nine, 1972) takes place 50 years later, with the Doctor and Sarah Jane discovering that the planet Peladon’s decision to join the Galactic Federation is not going so well.

   The trisilicate miners are demanding better working conditions, but keeping them under their rulers’ thumb is a phantom replica of Aggedor, the royal beast, who starts appearing in the mines and using a heat ray to disintegrate rebellious miners. The politics of the situation are not only local. There are also intergalactic considerations at play as well, and the Doctor and Sarah Jane land the Tardis right in the middle of them.

   Not one of the better serials, I’m afraid. All of the action takes place in a underground rooms connected by dark torch-lit passageways, with a lot of fur-haired miners running back and forth (and probably in circles) to mostly no avail.

   Episodes two and three cover mostly the same ground and could easily have been combined into one. It isn’t until episode four, when Commander Azaxyr and a force of Ice Warriors come to take over the planet in the name of the Federation, that anything other the same old, same old happens.

   There is a surprise twist or two in the final two episodes that almost (but not quite) makes this serial stand out above the mediocre. There is a brief attempt by Sarah Jane to convince the Queen of Peladon that she should stand up more herself, but not too long afterward, the latter is dragged along as a hostage just as damsels in distress always did, long before women’s lib came along.

   It should be noted that Commander Azaxyr’s full-face helmeted and caped garb, along with his heavy breathing while talking, is unmistakably an early prototype of Darth Vader, well before the latter showed up in a totally different setting.

CLEOPATRA 2525. Syndicated. Episode #1 “Quest for Firepower” and episode #2 “Creegan.” January 17 & 24, 2000. Jennifer Sky (Cleopatra), Gina Torres (Hel), Victoria Pratt (Sarge), Patrick Kake (Mauser), Elizabeth Hawthorne (The Voice), Joel Tobeck (Creegan). Executive Producer: Sam Raimi. Created by R. J. Stewart and Robert G. Tapert.

   I’ve watched only the first two episodes, so far, and I’ve surprised myself by how much I enjoyed it. I can’t imagine the budget was all that large, but the sets are colorful and flashy, the special effects so-so or better, and who knows where the story line is going, but so far, so good.

   Cleopatra 2525 appeared as the first part of the “Back2Back Action Hour,” followed by Jack of All Trades, starring Bruce Campbell. Thirty-minute live action TV series have been scarce for quite a while, but for some reason I don’t recall, they came into vogue again in the early 2000’s.

   In the year 2525 (based on the song, I assume), the human race has been driven underground in a series of caverns connected by huge shafts by monstrous machines called Baileys. Fighting these new overloads are Hel and Sarge, both female, joined by Cleopatra, an exotic dancer from our era who was put into suspended animation after breast augmentation surgery that went badly.

   Of course the women who star in this show wear skimpy clothing. There’s no denying that. That’s part of the appeal. But they are decent actors, and they look good flying through the shafts that connect one part of their underground living quarters to another. Cleopatra — very blonde — is a bit of a ditz, but that’s part of the design, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

   She’s still learning her way around in episode two, which also features Creegan, an evil scientist whom I assume will be the women’s main adversary through the rest of the series. Creegan may also be a mad scientist, since his clown makeup outdoes The Joker of Batman fame by a country mile.

   I probably won’t report back on future viewings, but so far the two 22 minute episodes I have seen (after the commercials have been deleted) have done their job and drawn me in very well.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


“The Daemons.” A serial of five episodes from the eighth season of Dr Who, BBC, UK, 22 May 1971 through 19 June 1971 (episodes 21 – 25). Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning, Roger Delgado, Damaris Hayman, Nicholas Courtney, Richard Franklin. Director: Christopher Barry.

   Sometimes it’s fun to go back and watch movies or television shows that you really enjoyed as a kid, things that really made an impression on you. I remember, for instance, watching the Doctor Who serial, “The Daemons,” on public television when I was maybe twelve or thirteen years old.

   Even decades later, I still remembered how this was the serial in which a gargoyle came to life. That idea fascinated me for years and so began a lifetime interest in those stone creatures. I even went so far as taking a series of photographs of cathedral gargoyles while vacationing in France.

   So it was a real pleasure to finally get the opportunity to watch “The Daemons” again, this time on DVD, after so many years. And I have to tell you: it didn’t disappoint.

   Originally aired on the BBC in spring 1971, “The Daemons” features Jon Pertwee as The (Third) Doctor and Katy Manning as his companion, Jo Grant. In this five-part series, The Doctor faces off against his longtime nemesis, The Master (Roger Delgado) as the scheming, bearded villain seeks to summon the seemingly occult power of an ancient alien force that has been using mankind as some sort of bizarre laboratory experiment.

   There’s also a giant horned beast named Azal and a gargoyle come to life named Bok. It’s a thrilling, occasionally tongue-in-cheek journey through the British occult with enough cliffhangers to keep you enthralled and watching. And the gargoyle with the power to make people disappear is pretty cool too. Even after all these years.

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