A Great Time to Be A Geek!
by Michael Hutchison
The 2001-2001 Television Season
Given the number of comic book and sci-fi television projects which have been utter failures, and the odds against their succeeding, it's no wonder that their devotees tend to rally around the flag and defend every gem that comes along.
If a dumb sitcom fails, it's not a great loss, even if you liked it. There will be more dumb sitcoms. When a cop show, lawyer show or medical show fails to get an audience, you can just watch one of the other ones that's on every night. Game shows, blooper shows, reality shows? Tons of 'em.
But a sci-fi or fantasy show? If one fails, especially if it's a spectacular failure, it sends the lemmings in the industry scurrying away and they may not support another one for several years. "The audience isn't going for TV shows about superheroes" they'll state...quite oblivious to the obvious problems that their particular show had in terms of costuming, writing or tone. The same thing happens in the movies, where Batman and Robin is declared a bomb because "the audience is getting tired of Batman movies" and not because of the mishmash of bad writing and rubber-nippled homoerotica that Schumacher turned out.
Fans of geek shows (an offensive term to some, but I'm going to use it to refer to all comic book/sci-fi/fantasy products because...well...it works) walk a razor's edge. Do you watch a lame show like "Star Trek: Voyager" in hopes that it will improve, or that its impressive audience numbers will be attractive to other producers who then launch other, perhaps better sci-fi shows? This runs the risk that Voyager's producers will think they're doing everything right and continue to focus entire episodes on the monotone borg chick with the great rack. Or do you not watch "Voyager" because it's mediocre, and run the risk that Hollywood decides that sci-fi television shows are a bad bet?
Sometimes, I choose the former. It doesn't mean I'll watch truly bad geek shows or that I'm obligated to support every geek show, but I try to do my part.
That brings us to this season. I was not looking forward to "Smallville" or "Enterprise". Smallville appeared to be a teen angst Dawson's Creek/Roswell clone, and Enterprise seemed like a hasty attempt to not let the Star Trek franchise die. I was greatly anticipating "The Tick" but have been disheartened by the delays in its premier date.
My fellow geeks, I must admit: I was totally wrong. It's three for three! I'm a proud geek and I must say I've not enjoyed a week of television this much since the days when I was madly taping Babylon 5, Mystery Science Theater 3000 and The Batman-Superman Adventures. Indeed, I haven't been this elated since "Batman: The Animated Series" premiered and I realized that someone out there actually could do Batman absolutely right.
Here's where I stand on the three shows. I'll try to be unprejudiced and review them fairly...even though I'm hoping they all succeed.
I'm 31. No hiding it: I'm not a teen. I'm not a kid. I don't even like kids today, with their piercings and their weird clothes, their gangsta rap and their Dawson's Creek. (Before you take this the wrong way, let me say: I didn't like kids even when I was one, what with their Fat Boys rap music and their Tom Cruise.) If Smallville had been set in the past...with Superman raised in the 80s (my era!) or some kind of timeless 50s era...well, I can't vouch for its saleability, but I'd respect it more. But Clark Kent growing up today? I don't want a Clark Kent who is obsessed with sex and using modern slang. Sounds horrible. And trying to appeal to today's teens, he'll probably be in half a dozen beds before the end of the season, right? I had a hard enough time when Barry Allen was played by sexy hunk John Wesley Shipp.
I was so down on Smallville that I wouldn't have even remembered to catch the pilot episode, except that someone mentioned it over at Dixonverse.com. So I watched it.
What a great show! The guy who plays Clark Kent is great. Everyone's great! There's not a bad actor in the cast. And Lex Luthor? Having him be a friend to Clark is not only an homage to the old friendship/rivalry that existed between the two pre-Crisis, but it works, mate!
The pilot episode also included some inside references to the DC Universe. When Mr. Luthor is in the helicopter, his newspaper reports that the head of Queen Industries has disappeared. (Say, falling off his yacht?) And in Clark's dream of playing football, the opposing team is the Sun Devils. (Sea Devils would have been funnier.)
Now: The Kryptonite. It's good and it's bad.
The good: I love the pre-Crisis idea of so much Kryptonite having been towed in the wake of Clark's warp ship to Earth. Smallville even improves on the idea by showing the logical result of that: the landing of the ship is accompanied by a colossal meteorite bombardment in the same area. This answers one of the nagging questions of the series: "How could a humdrum place like Smallville provide interesting plots on a weekly basis?" The Kryptonite radiation that remains in Smallville is affecting the residents.
The bad: I do wish someone could explain why the government and private researchers haven't thoroughly investigated the incident and carted away the radioactive space rocks, but it's probably the same reason Smallville isn't attracting global attention when local residents become pyrokinetics, coldbringers, shapechangers and bug-eyed bandits who commit weird murders on a weekly basis in a lightly populated part of Kansas. This is no minor quibble. How is this escaping scrutiny? In last night's episode, just as an example, a cheerleader is frozen and shattered, yet the news reports that she's been "murdered." It isn't worth mentioning that she was killed like a rose dipped in dry ice? And even though so far every one of Clark's opponents has ended up dead or incapacitated in such a way that he/she can't report Clark's amazing powers, Clark must be amassing a police file that notes his being on the scene of arrest after arrest.
What's really bad is the formula that this show has fallen into in less than six weeks: person gains powers from Kryptonite and goes on rampage, encounters Clark Kent and manages to hurt him with Kryptonite without knowing its effects, is finally stopped by Clark Kent and hauled away. It's not a bad plot, in and of itself, but it needs some variety. X-Files and Babylon 5, to mention just two successful genre shows, needed a good mix of stand-alone episodes and plotline episodes. X-Files wouldn't be as enjoyable if every week was only about the Search for Mulder's Sister, or about fighting the Black Oil, or chasing weirdos like Flukeman.
If Smallville can break out of the formula, it could be a terrific success. Clark should learn about Krypton sometime this season. There are many elements from the comics which could be incorporated into the series without crossing the line of pseudo-realism. It is about an alien kid who fights people with weird powers every week, so the audience must be willing to suspend disbelief. While costumed villains won't appear, other foes would be logical. Say, a 5th Dimensional imp who erases all memory of his visits when he leaves, or covert alien menaces like the Manhunters. I have high hopes that this series will last many years.
One question, though. Why is Metropolis now within a limo drive of Smallville, Kansas?
This show certainly isn't in any danger. It'll last seven years because that's what Star Trek shows do. But unlike Star Trek Voyager, this show deserves to last seven years!
I LOVE THIS SHOW! I LOVE THIS SHOW! I CANNOT BELIEVE HOW MUCH I AM FLAT-OUT GIDDY WATCHING THIS SHOW!!!
THIS is Star Trek, folks. Space is actually dangerous. The Enterprise is actually in serious trouble when another ship picks a fight with it. The technology isn't all-powerful and travel from ship to ship or ship to planet is an ordeal. There are no other ships that can come to the rescue, and space is barely mapped at all.
And the Vulcans are not great allies. They're snide, arrogant, untrustworthy, arrogant and unkind. We can see the frustrations of being on the other side of a prime directive which keeps technology and information from other races until they're "ready" for it. It's a little more understandable why McCoy would have such resentment for Vulcans 100+ years later.
The only quibble I have is that the Captain/Vulcan/Southerner relationship is the same as in the original Star Trek. Couldn't they have fiddled with it a bit more?
Finally! The Tick is on the air.
I'm surprised how much visual action there was. I mean, they actually included The Tick jumping from roof to roof with the masonry crumbling. Wow!
I do wish that the show had done a little better job of introducing The Tick as being nigh-invulnerable and such. Also, the show seemed LESS intelligent than the cartoon! It's as if when writing for kids you can expect them to understand the cliches that are being lampooned and thus do some witty parody, but if aiming at a teen/adult audience it's all sex and poop jokes.
Aside from The Tick calling the coffee machine his b_tch, which just bothered me because Tick doesn't seem like the type to understand the prison connotation of that word, the few bits of adult humor didn't bother me too much because they're well-placed in making a point.
The guy who plays Arthur captures the character quite well.
Patrick Warburton as Tick is unfortunately a bit blah. He doesn't express enough emotion, and his delivery is somewhat monotone. For instance, when he is trying to stop the elevator's descent with his head, he doesn't squint or grimace or look pained. A guy doing The Tick should have a more animated face.
Captain Liberty is obviously a bit, uh, easy, which is very funny in that stereotypical Wonder Woman-esque superheroines are usually raging feminists who don't shirk their duty and engage in trysts with lousy creeps.
Batmanuel is a great character, and an improvement on Die Fleidermaus. DF's schtick was that he was a scaredycat (un-Batman); Batmanuel is saucy, self-assured Eurotrash. I like it.
This episode seems similar to the pilot of the cartoon, what with Die Fledermaus/Batmanuel and American Maid/Captain Liberty meeting Tick on a rooftop in both. (BTW: It sucks that the much cooler "American Maid" character is owned by the cartoon producers.)
To all who think that this was low budget: Get real! Do you realize how much this half hour sitcom must have cost to produce? I mean, there are shows where people hang around on two sets cracking jokes for 30 minutes and THEY cost a lot to do. I'm sure the beancounters will sink this show because there are infinitely cheaper ways to make 30 minutes of TV that people will watch (especially when ANY kind of crap seems to get an audience).
Game shows and reality shows have been the hot thing for the last few years because they use up 60 minutes and MAYBE you pay somebody for all their hard work if they win.
I like "The Tick". This show is doubtless going to improve as the actors get comfortable with their roles.
But it may not have the room to grow. Rather than promote the show heavily and give it a primo time slot, "The Tick" has been dumped into the Thursday night 7:30 time slot. OUCH! Going up against Must See TV and Survivor?
It's not the most impossible time slot in the world. 7:30 means that "Friends" is over on NBC and now that channel's viewers are starved for comedy. NBC always puts an absolute stinker on at 7:30 in the hope that viewers are too lazy to change the channel while waiting for a better show to come on later. If Fox was smart, and lamentably this does not appear to be the case, they would really play up the fact that there's no competition if you're looking for something funny to watch after Friends is over. Unfortunately, Fox has never been that adept at smart scheduling and promotion. Between that and the budget for the show, I don't have a good feeling about the future of "The Tick".
Too bad. I love it, but I'm fearful that it won't last.
Please watch "The Tick." It's on Thursday nights at 7:30 Central, 8:30 Eastern on Fox.
Can you believe that, on top of all this, this is the year that "Justice League" gets made into a primetime animated series?
We are in the midst of a geek renaissance. Enjoy it while it lasts.
All characters are DC Comics
This piece is © 2001 by Michael Hutchison.
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