Bravestarr

So another short and sidetracked post, rather than a Sojourners in Shadow one.

I’ve been watching Bravestarr on Youtube. Not seen it since I was a kid, so thought I’d give it a go.

You know what? It’s a lot better than I remembered. It was one of the many cartoons I watched back in the 80s when I was young, along with He-Man, Thundercats, MASK, etc. I often thought of it as the lesser among that group.  Bit hokey, fairly daft, with a cliched premise.

Okay, it has to be said, those things aren’t far off the mark. I often laugh when Bravestarr shouts “Strength of the Bear!” and then lifts a giant boulder or something. Same with speed of the puma. He runs faster than a puma on a motorbike, for crying out loud.

So for anyone who doesn’t know, Bravestarr was about a planet called New Texas, where outlaws sought to raid a precious ore, and a marshal repeatedly stopped them. He was, of course, Bravestarr, a Native American with special powers, able to summon the abilities of animals. His enemy was Tex Hex, who, to be honest, should be a much more dangerous opponent, seeing as he can summon creatures and change things at will. Think of him as someone with powers like Skeletor but more incompetent. Laughs more too.

For all the geek revival and nostalgia we see today, I don’t see this show referenced. Like I said, it is better than I remember, with some interesting stories, but you have the same scenes roll over as Bravestarr summons his skills or Tex Hex laughs manically. You can see why it didn’t leave a lasting impression, and yet I remembered it, and judging by comments on the videos I’m far from alone.

This isn’t a post to really go on about the show. It’s in the past, had its day, and while a remake or something could be fun, I can’t see it gaining ground. People would probably sneer at the native with the animal powers trope, for one thing.

There is something worth noting though. Something I quite enjoyed.

One character who always stood out was Thirty-Thirty. I didn’t recall the name until I watched it again and I have no idea why he’s called that. But the humanoid horse with the big gun was entertaining when I was a kid and remains so now. He’s that typical good guy sidekick character of the 80s – gun-toting, eager to scrap, ever loyal, brave to the edge of recklessness.

What’s interesting is that Bravestarr and Thirty-Thirty are friends as well as marshal and his deputy. But they are also very different as people. Bravestarr is open-minded, ready to trust and see the best in people. Thirty-Thirty tries to do some of that, but he is quick to judge and quick to speak his mind too.

There are a few examples but a very good one is when a kid says the dingoes are all thieves. Thirty-Thirty agrees with him, Bravestarr strongly disagrees. Thirty-Thirty gets the hump and walks off. The kid worries that he caused a problem but Bravestarr assures him that, while he and his deputy see things differently a lot of the time, they are still friends.

That’s the thing that struck me about the show. I think it is a lesson taught often back then and it sticks with me now. You don’t see this viewpoint a lot these days. I understand why, but still…

Basically this show makes the point a number of times. You can disagree with someone and still be friends. You can see the world and people differently and remain friends. You can be almost opposites and get along.

I wouldn’t go so far as to claim Thirty-Thirty would vote for Trump, but I bet he’d like his bulldozer style. Bravestarr, however, would clearly be an Obama man.

They might argue, get into heated arguments even, but the end result would be the same. They had each other’s backs and that’s what matters. You don’t cast aside a friendship because you disagree, even if it’s a lot.

This isn’t a political post or anything like that. I just enjoyed watching a show where one of the moral lessons is about trying to understand those different from you. In that very episode, the dingoes – usually two dimensional baddies – end up making peace with a farmer and helping out. So yeah, the show leans to Bravestarr’s view, but damn if you don’t enjoy Thirty-Thirty and his bullishness sometimes. Even if he loves his big gun, Sara Jane, just a little bit too much.

Advertisements

Samurai Jack!

I honestly cannot underplay how excited I am for this.

Samurai Jack is one of my all time favourite shows. As far as animated shows go, it is easily in a top ten, along with Batman: the Animated Series and Ulysses 31. But even among any type of show, it would be a contender for top ten. It has so much I love. At first I liked it a lot because it had an interesting premise and excellent action. But over time the world developed, the style improved even more and some of the episodes were just unique within its own world. You could watch one episode where it was comical, another where it was dark and serious. One could be styled as a western, another as a film noir.

I can’t list my favourite episodes. Watching Jack fight endless and unusual warriors under the command of Demongo was just an action packed thrill. Witnessing him take on the specifically designed robot fighters, who are clearly inspired by Japanese samurai films such as Lone Wolf with the Masters of Death characters, was intense. Then there’s the robot gunfighter who wants his dog back. The triple feature where the Scotsman saves a brain-washed Jack. The amazing scene of time passing as the bounty hunters took him on. The fight with the shinobi. So on and so on.

I think the one episode I’m not a fan of is the one with the weird monkey creatures who use their technology to enslave these bigger beasts, but that’s mostly as I saw that episode a lot and the monkey creatures have such annoying voices.

Samurai Jack went from episodes of Jack taking on eccentric killers and hunters where action was nearly the all, to presenting things from the view of other characters. Jack is a introspective and monosyllabic person so often his story is told by visuals. I love that, and yet it can be difficult having this type of main character all the time, so the changes were welcome breaks. Oh, reminds me of another favourite episode where the mouthy samurai keeps challenging Jack to a fight, only to witness how out of his league the true samurai is.

This show was a massive influence on me, but I think that’s because it was influenced by so many things that I already loved. Action films. Martial arts movies. Samurai films. Scifi and fantasy, and even horror. Spy thrillers. Gangster flicks. Westerns. A thief who is clearly styled on Lupin from the anime movies. Mechs, from the same source of inspiration. As I said, Lone Wolf and Cub has an influence, twice! The Defiant Ones comes into it when we first meet the Scotsman. Psirens and demons and fairies and more, oh my!

For me, it was like so many of the things I love coming together. Jack was a samurai but he had been around the world and learned many skills, and he continued to do so, such as learning to jump good. The show didn’t just improve in the look and art, which are amazing, but the depth of both world and character continued to bring us with it. The world Jack was now in felt so varied and vibrant that it could go on for ever.

Jack was on a journey with a goal and we went with him on that, and yet all the stops along the way never felt like padding or obstacles just for the sake of more plot, but ways to develop Jack as a person and to unfold the world for us. Jack meeting the Spartans and aiding them in their battle showed us this brilliant people and exciting action, and also showed us how Jack was ready to defend others and admired bravery by any.

The show made it clear Jack was a hero. Not infallible, but definitely a hero. Aku was a great villain too, as were many of his minions. Other characters would be fun, either as straight up comedy or just over the top individuals that you would remember long after the show was gone.

I loved this show so much. Strong characters. Great action. But the art and visuals were stunning in the later episodes. Watching a robot seem to sweat as it hunted Jack (he had cut a pipe and steam was cooling on its face) was such a superb touch.

Now the show is coming back. Absolutely cannot wait. Looks darker, looks more violent. Can’t say that doesn’t make me want to see it more. Not even sure if I can watch it in the UK, but I’ll damn well try.

Oh a final note, here’s some of Jack’s best bits:

Little Goody Two-Shoes

I grew up in the 80s and 90s. A lot of my early influences are from the 80s, especially in terms of tv I watched as a kid that left an impact I didn’t realise until much later. For instance, it wasn’t until my twenties that I understood I saw all evil henchmen as either a Starscream or a Soundwave – that they’re either smart but craven or stalwart and subservient.

I watched Transformers, He-Man, Thundercats, MASK and the A-team, as well as many others. Personally, I loved the bad guys a lot more. Megatron and Skeletor were far more entertaining and I admired their ambition. Mumm-Ra I was never much of a fan of. He always ended up skulking back to his crypt and claiming he’d win one day. He never did nor would he.

Back then, bad guys were designed to lose. The 80s – at least this is how I feel looking back – were much more black and white. Good guys were smart, brave, loyal, nice, etc. Bad guys were nasty, dumb, cowardly, treacherous even to their own (glaring at you. Starscream) and would always lose. So I wanted them to win. I got bored of the bad guys losing. I liked them a lot more, some were pretty cool characters, and Evil-Lyn was perhaps my first love in life. I wanted them to win, if just to shake things up a bit.

It’s not as if I didn’t like the good guys. Optimus Prime remains my shining example of what a good and strong leader can be. But the bad guys appealed more and, again, I just wanted a change. Just once, let the baddies get a win. Even a dream sequence! Actually that could have been dumb.

I suspect the baddies had their day occasionally and I just don’t remember it, but back then, I saw a lot of goody good guys beating bad baddies. I preferred the latter and still do. I proudly wear my t-shirt with the Decepticons badge on it.

Then anti-heroes came along and I loved them. At first I found many confusing. I remember watching Snake destroy the tape that could have brought about world peace at the end of the Escape from New York film. I was aghast and shocked. Why would anyone do such a thing?! Now I’m older, oh, I know why. But despite that, I loved his character and many more.

I’m a Batman fanboy. I also love Judge Dredd. Clint Eastwood’s characters in westerns inspired me. I found myself preferring darker heroes and champions. I enjoyed seeing someone be sarcastic, even selfish sometimes, and challenge the ways of the world while winning in the end. Which could piss off those they saved.

But you know what? I do love a good goodguy. I do. Maybe now we’re inundated with anti-heroes and we see bad guys more often get a one up on the hero, if not several, that the nice guys feel like the refreshing change. I liked the good guys back in the 80s, I admit. Even though I wanted to rebel and cheer on the baddies, I still admired the likes of He-Man and Lion-O. I saw the Christopher Reeves Superman films and loved them. Not as much as the later Batman films by Burton – although Superman 2 remains one of my favourites. Yes it is campy and daft, welcome to the 80s.

So speaking of Superman, I saw the latest incarnation on Supergirl. Well I loved the bloke. From the moment the music kicked in (yes, I’m sure that played a huge part in it) and he ran through the smoke (wherever that came from) and ripped open his shirt to reveal the S, I was into it. I almost cheered. It was great to see Superman back. Not just back, but how he should be. I really liked how they made him in this show. He isn’t worried about Supergirl getting in this way or taking his limelight, nor is he condescending to her, nor does he try to lecture her. Superman is Superman, so he knows he’s THE GUY and doesn’t need to prove anything, so he enjoys letting her get the glory, but also genuinely respects her and likes being around her. They captured the nobility of the man as well as the do-goodyness.

Superman is a goody two-shoes. One of the biggest. But that isn’t a weakness. It’s his strength. While I love the brooding Batman and his questionable ways, while I get a kick out of the fascist Dredd, while I want DECEPTICONS FOREVER! engraved on my tombstone, it is great to see a purely goody-goody running around again. Not as a parody or a sly injoke. No, he’s just being Superman. All American good boy, and I say that as an uppity Brit.

I love complicated characters and those who work in shades of grey, who question themselves and those they represent or serve. I love those the most and always will. But I do love me some nasty, despicable baddies, and I love me some goody two-shoes. There’s room for all, and when one lot is everywhere, it makes me appreciate what qualities the others bring to good storytelling. After all, a good story is what I want most of all.

Saving the Day as a Hard-Ass

I recently watched the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode (in two parts) the Chain of Command. It is one of my all time favourites. Now I’ve read up on it, I’m pleasantly surprised to see I’m in the majority on this. It is a great story, with a powerful performance by Patrick Stewart under torture, yet I mainly remember it for Captain Jellico.

Jellico is played by Ronny Cox, an actor known for being the bad guy in scifi, such as in Total Recall or in the Stargate tv show. In this, he could easily have played another bad guy, but in truth, he’s far from it.

“He was a bit of a hard-ass, but not a villain.”

That’s from Ronny Cox, so now you know where my title comes from. I utterly agree with it. Some really dislike his character, which is fair enough. He isn’t there to be liked. But what doesn’t happen is Jellico being shown up. That’s the thing I mainly remember about this episode. It stands out from most tv I have seen over my years.

You see, in most shows, anyone who argues or counters the main characters are wrong. Just wrong. No, don’t argue, don’t use logic or reason, they’re wrong. Not only that, but they will be proven to be utterly wrong in time. In fact, most likely, they will fail somehow before the episode ends, to prove just how wrong they are, or, even more condemning, it will be revealed that they are a traitor or spy or something.

You don’t argue with the characters. Too many shows are practically preaching the entire time, which means their characters have to be right and smart and right and correct and right and winners. So when a character is introduced to argue with the main characters, it is someone being sent it to fail. The arguments will only prove how great and right our heroes are.

For instance, while I loved the Stargate tv show, I remember the time Hammond was replaced for one episode. The new bloke fell apart under pressure and all was back to normal by the end. There are other instances of Stargate being better than that, sure, but that’s a good example. Many shows have such.

Star Trek was okay with showing up the main characters. A great example is in the original series, when Kirk and Spock are trapped on a planet when Klingons arrive to claim it. Kirk keeps encouraging the natives to rebel, while they keep assuring him not to worry about it. The more he acts, the harsher the Klingons get, the more the people suffer, the more he wants to help, and so on. By the end, the natives reveal themselves to have attained a higher level of living, so no one has suffered. Kirk and the Klingon commander exchange looks. They both feel a bit ridiculous.

In Chain of Command, Picard is relieved of command so he can be sent on an undercover mission. Jellico is placed in command of the Enterprise. He is strict, hands-on, demanding and authoritarian. What he wants done, he wants it done, no questions, no time wasted. This is very different to Picard. Jellico’s ways do not go well with the Enterprise crew. Again, in most shows this would mean he has to be shown up at some point. We need to know this man is just wrong. Wrong I say!

Yet he isn’t unsympathetic. Not only does he feel for others, sometimes openly, we see softer sides to him. He and Picard have some frank exchanges. He shows a badly drawn picture by his son to Troi. But when push comes to shove, he pushes hard. He understands the role of command – he calls the shots, he takes the responsibility, he gets things done.

When Troi comes to him to let him know the crew need time to get used to change taking place, he listens but in the end he pretty much says too bad. ‘This isn’t the Academy anymore’, or something like that. Essentially, he tells her they need to grow up. Honestly, I really agreed with him. It is at times like this that the Enterprise crew seem pandered to by Picard. He has listened to every whine and whinge. Surely the finest crew of the Federation, who boldy explore space, can handle some ship changes without going to pieces?

Riker bumps heads a lot with Jellico. La Forge complains a bunch too. It is almost funny when he protests against changes Jellico asks for yet Data instantly states these are definitely achievable. In fact, Data seems a perfect foil for Jellico. I would have enjoyed seeing an episode of Data being transferred or somehow working with him again.

Basically, we have someone come into the normal set up and go against the main characters. They complain. This usually leads to the one winner. Usually the show itself portrays the antagonist as the problem and the entire problem.

Star Trek gives Jellico humanity and character. We know more than the main characters too, so often we can see why he is aiming for certain things.

I’ll be honest though, Riker and La Forge don’t really rank as some of my favourite characters. Riker especially. I don’t hate them, far from it. But they aren’t ones I’d side with on instinct. So when they complain, they do really come across as whiney and unprofessional. Riker especially. Jellico is in charge and Riker acts like he is Captain Bligh or something. He pushes the crew but they are on the edge of what was only recently enemy territory. It makes sense that he wants everything he can get out of them.

I love Picard. He is one of my favourite captains from Star Trek. But he was always the liberal, touchy-feely, think first and act later captain. That’s a big part of what I loved about him, yet I also loved Kirk’s man of action, ‘I’m the captain’ Schtick. There were times he would really boss his crew. Picard came across as everyone’s favourite teacher sometimes. Mind you, Kirk and Picard were captains from different eras.

Jellico was a captain who knew the Cardassians – the enemy for this episode. He had negotiated with them, understood them more than any on Enterprise, and knew you had to be tough with them. In essence, Jellico was a war-time captain, and Picard was the peace-time adventurer. I loved Picard, but in truth, if war broke out, Jellico is the one I’d want to follow. You can even see it in some of the crew. Data and Worf go with his demands. Crusher, who I liked a lot, does raise valid concerns about his actions, yet also comes across as petulant. I loved Jellico’s way of handling her. When he tells her he wants sickbay ready, and she adds ‘yeah, for the wounded you’re about to give me’ he just nods and confirms. He isn’t a glory hunter. He isn’t seeking conflict. He has to do this. It needs doing. The others can like it or not, just be ready to ‘Get it done’.

So when this two parter concludes, after we have watched Picard suffer so much and the crew clash with their new captain, we could easily have something where Jellico loses out. He makes a bold call. He plays his hunch. If Picard had, the crew would back him without question. When the new bloke does it, they question and doubt. He goes through any way. This could easily have been a set up just to have him fail.

We do get a scene with him and Riker where they are frank and, while they never make up (which I really liked) they do act together to make this work. In a way, it is odd that Riker agrees. If he had been needed to pilot a rescue mission for Picard, sure, but this is just playing out Jellico’s hunch about a Cardassian ambush. Still, maybe it shows Riker isn’t as smarmy and full of himself as he sometimes comes across. His ‘You’re welcome’ doesn’t help though.

But this whole thing concludes with Jellico not just stopping the Cardassians and saving thousands of lives, but getting Picard back. Okay, I’m sure if Riker had been in charge they would have whizzed off and rescued him somehow, but that’s not how the show played it. They had the ‘hard-ass’ who pisses a lot of people off play out a plan that wins everything. Like him or not, the characters can like him or not, Jellico is someone who gets things done. Do as he asks, complain but don’t challenge him, and you’ll get along fine. You can’t argue with the result. Hell, I kind of suspect that if Picard had been in charge, things would have gone badly.

So kudos to Star Trek. They introduced an individual who rubbed many characters up the wrong way, and many fans too, but they never used this as a means to glorify how great and right the main characters are or to show up the new guy. Jellico is abrasive yet interesting. He is blunt but smart, experienced and rational. He cares about people and does what is best for most, while feeling bad for the one that might have to be sacrificed. When Picard is telling him of the mission, he sighs at how bad the intel is and offers every help he and the Enterprise can be. This is early on. Even then, we see signs that he isn’t just some one-off shithead come to mess up the status quo. They keep him that way.

By the end, he is the hero. The show doesn’t give him a huge fanfare – it ends on Picard telling Troi he believed he could see five lights (which is a powerful way to end) – but that felt fitting to Jellico. He seems the type to say no to any fuss. He was just doing his job.

I do love his little comment about maybe the Enterprise is a little better now.

What is really weird is I had it in my memory banks that Jellico and Riker have a conversation at the end where Jellico spells it out that, yeah, he isn’t Picard, but he is still a good captain. At this point, Riker realises maybe he was being the problem, rather than everything being Jellico’s fault. No such exchange takes place. Perhaps I got this from something else. It felt a lot like the end of that South Park episode where the Mormon kid tells Stan, sure I believe in some weird things, but they make me happy and I don’t hurt anybody, unlike you, so suck my balls.

But even if that bit never happened, I still feel the show’s voice was never on one side only. Riker had concerns, Jellico was certainly brusque in his manner, yet I felt the show was also showing Riker up a little. Others too. Jellico wasn’t bad, he was just different. Perhaps if he had had the time he would have eased changes in, but he knew he was being sent into a dangerous situation with a hell of a lot at stake. He kicked some arse because he had to. In order to save lives. Like a hero.

Anyway, to cap this love fest off, here is a link to an interview with Ronny Cox where he talks about playing Jellico, and some other features of his long and worthy career:

http://www.startrek.com/article/ronny-cox-looks-back-at-chain-of-command

Sneaky Zombies

So I’m a zombie fan. Well, the movies, not the creatures themselves. I have never gotten the fandom about them. They lack the personality of a vampire or the ferocity of a werewolf. A single zombie is pretty unimpressive. What works is the unstoppable sense of doom. That’s also why I prefer slow zombies to the newer, faster upgrades. When I see a character stuck somewhere and the zombies are slowly, slowly closing in, that is awful to watch. Death is inevitably coming, and taking its damn sweet time about it.

But what I really like about zombie movies is the breakdown of society. In that sense, zombies or mutants or cannibal humans – whatever it is that brings us down and sets us against each other – that’s what fascinates me.

Going back to zombies, however, I must declare a serious pet peeve of mine.

No one, no half decently aware human being, should be surprised by a zombie.

You see it all the time in films and shows, but it shouldn’t happen unless set in very specific circumstances. Zombies are not sneaky. They don’t see a human and start tiptoeing over. They grunt and groan on a regular basis. They stumble. They would also smell. I mean smell bad. They’re dead so that means an evacuation of the bowels has taken place, plus they are often rotting away. You should smell that bastard coming a mile off.

Okay, so there can be certain circumstances in which this would be overcome. For instance, if you were in a building which had a lot of dead lying about, the smell from them would blot out that of a single zombie. You could have a situation where there is a lot of noise to cancel out the stumbling stomping of the undead – such as the helicopter blades whirring in the Dawn of the Dead original. Trying to make your way through a world overrun by zombies, you would find yourself in moments of vulnerability to the usual warning signs.

Yet, if you were a survivor and fighter, tackling the every day dangers of a zombie-plagued world, you would soon learn to become more aware the more ways there could be for you to be attacked. If sound is blanked out by noise, keep an eye out. If the smell is overpowering, well, not sure how you could stand being near it but again, be alert. Essentially, if the senses that are your natural early warning system have any trouble, keep those peepers peeled. Even then, having sound and smell blotted out would be rare, and zombies are still stumbling buffoons. A human should not be sneaked up on unless they’re stuck in really bad circumstances or an idiot.

But the single zombie sneak up continues to be a thing. It bugs the hell out of me. I mean, I accept it. It is a cliched thing that is going to happen and keep on happening. It is a tiresome way of getting a quick scare. Just like the walking murderer somehow getting ahead of the running victim or the car that won’t start for no good reason. Even so, for some reason every time I see it my brain has to gripe. It just shouldn’t happen. It is a highly forced contrivance.

Oh, and so is the peripheral vision failure. That happens a lot in zombie movies too but also in other horror. A character looks one way, then another, then back and SURPRISE!! I mean, again, no way you don’t notice a zombie that close, but definitely you see it out the corner of one eye. Vampires can get away with it a bit, you might suspect there is something supernatural going on to make them stealthy, but it happens way too often.

Anyway, jump scares are annoying and it bugs me when they are forced on the audience in a dumb way. It isn’t anything to get worked up about beyond a random blog post, but if you do have a movie or tv show where a unlikely zombie sneak-up occurs, don’t expect me to feel for that character as they expire in your fictional post-apoc world. That character is either an idiot or you are lazy at your job. Perhaps both.

The Twilight Zone

So I’ve been binge watching the Twilight Zone this past week or so. I was always aware of the most famous tales from this show and had seen them parodied often (especially by the Simpsons). I had seen the movie too. I enjoyed it. But it wasn’t until I sat down and started watching these that I realised I had never really gotten into this show. Which is a crime for a writer, or a lover of scifi, or someone who loves the imagined, the weird and the fantastic. This really was a great show. It was amusing to watch the first episode where Rod Serling – the creator, main writer and that odd guy who always introduced and concluded each episode – mocks himself for daring to claim this TV series would go on to great things. He wasn’t wrong.

I guess we could call the Twilight Zone scifi, and many stories are straight up science fiction, with tales of aliens coming to Earth or humans ascending to space. Yet this show is far more about the fantastic. It reminded me of what scifi TV and films were like back then. There was a golden age of scifi during the 50s and 60s, at least for those of us who adore cerebral and challenging science fiction (I also love flashy nonsense like Flash Gordon and straight up action like Aliens). Movies like the Day the Earth Stood Still, Forbidden Planet, the Thing from Outer Space/Another World, etc were filled with social commentary and questioning the advancements of science. The atomic era especially. Also shows like Star Trek, Lost in Space, Land of the Giants and the Time Tunnel. It is amusing to see how old Star Trek differs from the newer stuff. The original series is full of episodes with weird things happening. More supernatural than science.

For me, the best scifi is often using science to tell us about humanity. In the Twilight Zone’s case, we have the classic episode ‘Time Enough at Last’. A nuclear holocaust leaves one man who loves to read alone with all the books he could possibly ever want. I won’t spoil the ending, even though it is well known, just in case, but the episode is about him, not about the science. In another, ‘People are Alike All Over’, we have a man land on another world, who fears what is out there, only to find that people – including alien people – are alike all over. Truly. Again, the science is a tool, not the main content.

But we have plenty of weird and wonderful episodes too. Some very dark ones. I was surprised to see Dennis Hopper in one episode, playing a Nazi, who becomes influenced by a shadowy figure and starts to win people over. There are a number of episodes laden with the aftermath of World War Two. An episode called ‘Deaths-Head Revisited’ has a former SS captain of a concentration camp going back to his place of torture, with old friends waiting for him. These can be pretty dark, but with meaningful messages.

The Twilight Zone is a celebration of the new frontier that was science fiction of American TV back then. We knew enough to use science to create new scenarios but not much more so that going out to space or developing new technologies had an almost magical feel to it. Admittedly, aliens tended to be a bunch of white people who spoke English, but this was not the time of diversity. We understand the cosmos much more too. But the episodes are still telling us about ourselves.

Other episodes are downright supernatural. I’ve seen the devil show up in two already. There has also been a ghost caller, a writer bringing characters to life, and a few individuals reliving a nightmare, even their death.

The Twilight Zone is entertaining as well as intelligent. I prefer the shorter episodes, they feel tightly written, whereas the ones closer to an hour sometimes feel a bit padded. Episodes often work on a nugget of realism with a character made to deal with it and then some weird wonderment thrown on top. So they can be very short and very effective.

I admit I love the way Rod Sterling presents them too. He seems so earnest. His presence as a visible narrator should be breaking the fourth wall. Perhaps it does in a way. Yet he also lures you in. He makes you feel as if you have front row seats to a television episode and also a notable event coming from the Twilight Zone itself. He never tries too hard. Never gives it the high hat. He states in that enunciated manner of his and you’re believing his words before you realise how absurd things sound.

I highly recommend watching the Twilight Zone if you haven’t. There are episodes all over Youtube. Not sure about availability on DVD and such, but for now my intent is simply sharing the love. Again, I liked the movie but the television show feels special. This was a ground breaking work from a brilliant writer. A lot of young actors are involved too who go on to great things. Stories that now feel overdone are freshly set for the first time.

Essentially, I’ve become a bit addicted. I guess this is what happens when you enter…. The Twilight Zone.

Do de do do, do de do do, do de do do, do de do do……..

Ultraviolet

So all the fan love for Idris Elba continues to amuse me. Late to the party, folks. I’ve been a fan of his since Ultraviolet, and I knew I had seen him in other things before then. In a trailer for one episode of this show, it looks like he is about to die. At the time, back in 1998, I remember thinking ‘poor bastard, he keeps getting killed off in shows’. I won’t pretend I knew his name back then, not until the Wire, but I knew the actor. He was cool, even in the 90s. That is a feat indeed!

I loved the show too. Ultraviolet is such a British tv show. While the US had Buffy – former cheerleader kicks vampires while struggling with the turmoil of High School – we in the UK had Ultraviolet. Our show was grim, sombre, macabre even. It feels more like a cold war thriller than a vampire show. In fact, it really isn’t a vampire show. It is more about those who hunt them. A priest, a scientist, an army sergeant, a police detective. Well, former ones. We see investigations, detection work, discussing what moves to make. Little action, restrained special effects. It is closer to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy than Buffy.

One of the main features of the show is the nature of vampires. This world isn’t good versus evil, although some characters insist it is. This world is grey. The fascinating thing about these vampires is that they care about the human race and the environment. Okay, so only in the same way we care about our livestock, but they do. The vampires are becoming more active, more aggressive because of humanity’s ability, and desire, to destroy itself has greatly arisen. They don’t want us dead. They want us controlled. This puts them at odds with us, of course, but not in the usual way. These aren’t demons. They’re not typical kill-all-things evil. Those individuals turned (this is said in a way that feels like turning a spy from one side to the other) talk about how they are still the same, just better. They don’t become monsters. They are who they are. They also claim no one gets turned who doesn’t want it. They accuse their enemies of bigotry. They have a point.

The main character, a cop who finds out his best friend has been turned, spends most of this series bitching at the people he now works for. He distrusts them, questioning their actions. I’m not sure if there was a bigger concept on how this character would be developed. Unfortunately, Ultraviolet only got the one series. I like to think they have him behave like this so he learns the hard way before becoming a dedicated hunter. Maybe not. But his incessant complaining does grate. Yes, he is new and brings fresh perspective. Yes, he doesn’t hate like they do, hasn’t lost to the same degree they have. But he really does get damn uppity. Wouldn’t have minded if Idris had slapped him at some point.

Oh yeah, so Idris Elba isn’t the main actor. He plays Vaughan Rice, former army sergeant who barely survived a vampire attack that slaughtered his squad. He hates them. Refers to them as leeches. He never questions, never hesitates. His relationship with Michael Colefield, the MC, is testy at best until later on. I’ll be honest, he was my favourite.

Another thing about this show is that the word vampire is never used. This was because they thought it would be tough to get a ‘vampire show’ made. The original title was Vampire Squad and this was dismissed. In their world, they call them Code 5s – 5 being V in Latin. That and Vaughan’s term leeches. They never have that moment so many tv shows suffer from when some character has to state the obvious. One character has the revelation made to her in a full frontal, no holds barred way. She sees one executed. In this show, vampires explode when killed. Up to then, she knows things are up, some weird things, but nothing more. She sees this. Person shot, person explodes. We get a reaction shot, then that was it. We know she knows. We don’t need her to gasp ‘vampire!’ or anything.

That is something I love about the show having watched it through on DVD. It is very subtle. A lot of character presentation is made via action, not dialogue. We see people process things rather than have them do it aloud. For example, the Code 5 is never explained, we just witness a character see V in a church and recall the term.

It is also quite fast paced, despite how slow it can feel while watching it. I get the feeling that everything in these six episodes would fit into a longer US season, just drawn out more. The priest developing a life threatening disease. The scientist dealing with the loss of her husband and daughter while being over protective of the one daughter she has left. The plots and schemes of both sides as Michael deals with his past trying to catch up to him. It surprises me how quickly we go from vampires being a new thing, to understanding the conflict, to getting to know these four central characters, with a few on the side, and then ramping matters up so we have a vampire prisoner trying to make peace. There is a lot left unsaid or merely brushed over to fit into the six episodes, so you often want more from it. I like that.

The female characters are notable too. The main one is the scientist, Angie Marsh, played by Susannah Harker (actual descendant of the Harker Bram Stoker knew to use the name) who has been in a number of shows. The best one I remember her from besides this is House of Cards. She is very good, and her character is one of the most ruthless, strong willed people in the organisation. But we find out her husband and daughter were turned, to be used against her, and she killed them. She isn’t cold, though. In an episode, she is confronted with a woman and her ‘late’ husband. She hesitates, a tear rolls down her face, but she shoots. She’s strong but not inhuman.

Oh yeah, quick mention. They have high-tech ways of dispatching the Code 5s. Carbon bullets and garlic gas grenades. Also they use small cameras on the side of their guns. Vampires cast no reflection, and in this world that means no machine can detect them. No voice recording, no image on camera. So if you point at someone and they’re not on the camera, they’re a leech.

Back to the women of this show, we have a strong central one, then two others. One is the fiancee of Michael’s best friend, who he himself has a crush on. This is the weakest part of the show by far. Not just his simpering manner with her, but the way she becomes relentless in finding out what he is now up to. When Michael leaves without a word and moves home, she hires a journalist to find him. Nevermind that, as a cop, he may have gone undercover or something. Needless to say, this does not end well, and she blames him. She is not to be liked.

The other female character isn’t in it much. We never get much explained (again) but she is an ex of Michael and has feelings for him still, and she works in intelligence or something. Essentially, she knows how to find things out. Michael goes to her when he needs serious help. She helps him due to past feelings, but more and more she questions him. In the final episode, he demands she just help him. He needs it, he can’t explain. “Help me!”

“No.” I nearly cheered. She straight up says no. Leave your key, go, don’t come back. This woman has her shit together and then some, and even her complicated relationship with Michael is never tiresome in the way Michael’s infatuation with the other woman is. She is smart, has her own life, asks questions but knows when to leave things alone. Even after this falling out, when she gets brought in by the other hunters because they suspect Michael is up to something, she won’t talk because he is her friend. I can only imagine she would have had a bigger role in a second series. Damnit.

So a major factor that creates the mood of this moody drama is the music. It is really, well, moody. Really effective. I remembered the dulcet tones of this show for some time after I first saw it.

I think it is only fair to mention the other major character. He is in charge, a priest or former one, I am never sure. He clearly has a religious background and links, but he doesn’t go around with a dog collar on or a Bible in hand. He even goes to confession later on. He is also adamant that the ‘other side’ are bad, that they want to control us as fodder, yet he isn’t as certain as he first seems. He develops a serious illness, then meets a vampire prisoner who clearly knows about him. He has doubts, hence the visit to the confessional. They want to turn him, for obvious reasons. He is even suspected by Vaughan. I won’t say more.

He sets the tone for this world, this war they’re in, with this great line in the first episode:

“Our free range days are over.”

He prophesies a future of battery farms. Slavery, essentially. Concentration camps. Like I said, this show asks a lot of questions about what is going on, challenging the characters morality and duty, yet it remains a struggle by humanity for its own survival. The real question, of course, is how we keep our humanity in this struggle.

Loved the show. Badly want a reboot. Especially with my man Idris involved.