TV, Writing

TV Review: THE CROWN (Season 4)

The fourth season of The Crown revolves around three of the most powerful, beloved and divisive women in 20th century British history: Queen Elizabeth II, Margaret Thatcher and Diana, Princess of Wales.

That makes Season Four of Peter Morgan’s half-century-plus spanning political, dramatic opus perhaps the most anticipated year of the series to date. Filled with intrigue the post-WW2 years of Elizabeth’s coronation or the revolutionary state-led changes to British societal fabric of the 1960s might be, they struggle to hold a candle to the scandal-fuelled, politically thrilling 1980s as Her Majesty finds herself balanced between two very different wars. One between the newly-minted Thatcher and the people suffering thanks to her policies, with her one-woman quest to banish economic decline and revive moral-led, individualist British values in full flow. The other betwixt her son and heir, Charles, and his beautiful new wife, a woman who swiftly captured the heart of a nation.

Many viewers of this season of The Crown will have been there and recall this period of modern British history vividly.

Taking place between 1979 and 1990, I was a touch too young to remember key incidents play out here, born as I was in 1982, but having come into the world a mere three weeks before Prince William, I grew up acutely aware of Princess Diana as someone who meant a great deal to my mother. She encapsulated something the Royal Family had never encountered before and might never encounter again – a bridge between the huddled masses who still, at this stage, believed in the traditional pomp and ceremony of royalty, and the Royal line themselves. My mother had the Charles & Di wedding memorabilia. She bought into the marriage and was, like many, disappointed to see it begin to break apart.

The Crown brings to bear history that remains powerfully tethered to the world we now live in, to a greater extent than any season before. That adds to the expectation and, ultimately, doubles the disappointment when the end result isn’t quite as excoriating or far reaching as you want it to be.
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The X-Files, TV, Writing

Let’s give X-FILES: ALBUQUERQUE the benefit of the Truth

Fox threw fans of legendary 1990s pop-culture phenomenon The X-Files a curve ball last week by announcing the development of a brand new, spin-off series.
X-Files: Albuquerque, which is currently being worked up for the network (and by extension their overlords, Disney), is planned to be an animated comedy revolving around a collection of “misfit agents who investigate X-Files cases too wacky, ridiculous or downright dopey for Mulder and Scully to bother with.” as described by TV Line’s Michael Ausellio. The project has a ‘script and presentation commitment’ from Fox (translated: if they like the script, they’ll let them make it) and is being developed by Rocky Russo & Jeremy Sosenko, with X-Files creator Chris Carter and his former PA/Season 11 scribe Gabe Rotter overseeing as executive producers. The old and the new joining forces, essentially, for a new chapter in the history of the series.

I say series because The X-Files will, if this does come to fruition, take the first steps to becoming a franchise; not just one singular, iconic series any longer, but rather part of a broader tapestry that could expand beyond the adventures of Fox Mulder & Dana Scully, who with David Duchovny & Gillian Anderson in the roles investigated America’s paranormal secrets between 1993-2002, across two movies, and then between 2016-2018 for what will, almost certainly, be a swan song for the traditional era of that show. Fans don’t want to admit it (I run an X-Files podcast so, trust me, I know), but the original series of The X-Files is done. Anderson doesn’t want to revive Scully again. Season 11 wrote the show into a corner, effectively, and it’s hard to imagine just what else you could do with the middle aged Mulder & Scully now that hasn’t been done.
In other words, this might be the right time for Albuquerque, if you subscribe to the idea The X-Files should even become a franchise at all.
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Essays, Game of Thrones, TV

Attachment Theory: GAME OF THRONES, Characters and Expectations

We are going to look back on the final season of Game of Thrones as one, six-part series finale because, essentially, that’s precisely what it is, riven with concluding arcs and beats for its huge ensemble of characters.

If the third episode, The Long Night, was accused of skimping out on the savagery and brutality meted out to particularly the primary core of lead characters, the fifth episode The Bells proves they were just saving up most of the horror for the battle that, in this incarnation of Game of Thrones, really mattered: the fiery, brutal sack of King’s Landing by Daenerys, now the ‘Mad Queen’, Targaryen. Over a dozen characters of significance saw their journeys end in this terrifying penultimate episode, filled with fire and blood. The reaction has, inevitably, polarised opinion online. Not just at certain deaths at this stage of the show but the narrative direction of one character in particular, which has completely changed the game for the series finale.

This was always going to happen but it displays the significant level of attachment Game of Thrones fans have placed in characters and storylines they have followed for ten years. This is prevalent in many such fandoms today and, to an extent, always has been.

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Essays, TV

A Slayer Reborn: BUFFY and the Reboot Question

Every July weekend at San Diego Comic Con, the biggest geek showcase on the planet where all the major studios and productions roll up to drop exclusives and surprises, you always get one announcement which courts a level of controversy and/or deep analysis.

This year it wasn’t even the debut of a trailer for the Jodie Whittaker-fronted, Chris Chibnall-era new series of Doctor Who—which is going to almost certainly lead to a Star Wars-esque online tirade from grown man children at the idea of a woman playing the Doctor. 2018 had another major female figure from popular culture waiting in the wings get people talking: Buffy, she of the vampire slaying.

More specifically, the fact that Joss Whedon is overseeing, though likely not directly show running, a modern reboot of his legendary 20th Century Fox series which remains one of the bastions of 90’s pop culture, female empowerment, and genre storytelling. Note the word here that is crucial: reboot.

Not revival. Not continuation. A reboot.

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Essays, The X-Files, TV

Project Crossroads: Where does THE X-FILES go from here?

The X-Files, one of the most recognised and beloved television properties of the last three decades, lies once again at a fascinating impasse.

My Struggle IV was billed as a finale, but it soon became clear Chris Carter only intended Season 11 to serve as a season rather than series finale. Despite Gillian Anderson’s claim this was her last time playing FBI agent Dana Scully, Carter has steadfastly refused to write a true ending for Scully and her erstwhile partner Fox Mulder. What many considered could well be the final time we saw these iconic characters, fates were left unresolved, storylines nebulous, and our two heroes were left staring down at a crossroads of two different paths: domesticity with the chance of a new family, or continuing their work investigating the paranormal. Their choice depends on many factors which lie beyond any decisions made by the two intrepid FBI agents in the show.

For one thing – ratings. Unlike the cavalcade of TV shows and even movies now being produced for streaming services, The X-Files still operates out of the FOX network on broadcast television, and their fiscal choices of what to spend their money on depends on how many people tune in every week. While the first revival series, Season 10, was a mega hit for the network both domestically and internationally, lightning hasn’t struck twice; Season 11 has consistently underperformed week on week, with low viewer numbers.

Were people turned off by the lukewarm creativity of the six episodes in 2016? Did they watch back then because The X-Files returning was a novelty? It’s hard to say. Either way, the numbers haven’t looked good, and while it mattered less when everyone believed Season 11 was the final hurrah, it matters more if Carter hopes to continue the show in some form.

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Episode Reviews, The X-Files, TV

THE X-FILES 11×10 – ‘My Struggle IV’ (TV Review)

How do you end The X-Files? This is a question fans have been asking themselves for quarter of a century, ever since Chris Carter’s show premiered in 1993 on the FOX network and helped define popular culture across the entire decade. My Struggle IV proves, without any shadow of a doubt, that the truth is you don’t. The X-Files is a phenomenon that will never truly come to a close.

Season 11 of The X-Files has been overshadowed, to some degree, by Gillian Anderson’s announcement last October—with several months of shooting left to go—that this was her final go around playing FBI agent Dana Scully, the role she will be immortalised for, as much as David Duchovny will never truly escape her partner, FBI maverick Fox Mulder. Anderson stayed with the original series longer than Duchovny—who jumped ship as a forefront character at the end of the seventh season—so it’s difficult to truly blame her for deciding, after twenty-five years living the part even in the long period she didn’t play her, that Anderson wanted an end for Scully. The revival series, which arrived in 2016 on the trail of a nostalgic comeback tour for various TV shows which were iconic in the days before streaming and cable changed the paradigm of television, was one millions of fans hoped would provide some sense of closure.

The end of the original series, Season 9’s The Truth, came as a disappointment to many fans at the time. Contextualising a mythology many had (falsely) claimed made no sense, and reintroducing the long-absent Mulder, made what fans hoped was a climactic thrill ride for the alien mythology more like a clip show, with an ending that reflected the Pilot but left Mulder & Scully in nebulous waters; were they fugitives? Were they out of the FBI? Were the X-Files shut down? What about Agents Doggett & Reyes, who had taken over the department and failed conceptually to replace the dynamic duo we had followed for seven seasons together? Were the aliens still about to invade?

So many questions were left unanswered, far more indeed than My Struggle IV has left unanswered – and this latest attempt at a finale is, in all honesty, no real finale at all.

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Episode Reviews, The X-Files, TV

THE X-FILES 11×05 – ‘Ghouli’ (TV Review)

When plans for the latest season of The X-Files were announced, quite a number of fans were surprised to be informed by FOX head honcho Dana Walden that Season 11 would feature only two episodes concerning the ‘mytharc’, Chris Carter’s long-running, labyrinthian mythology which has coursed through the series over the last twenty-five years. Ghouli proves that statement was never entirely accurate, and continues what was already established in This – the mythology is being weaved in more with stealth than grandiosity.

Ostensibly, of course, Ghouli is a monster story – two teenage girls try and kill each other, each believing the other to be a tentacled beast from some kind of Lovecraftian nether realm. It recalls Season 5’s Folie a Deux, which memorably dealt with the literal idea of an unspeakable ‘thing’ hiding in plain sight, with a dash of Season 3’s cosmically apocalyptic black comedy Syzygy (just without the laughs). Before the episode, a neat level of viral marketing presented the fictional ghouli.net discovered by Agents Mulder & Scully in the episode as a real site fans could click on, reading the fictional urban legend recounting of people seeing or encountering the mysterious Ghouli. Everything about the episode, on the face of it, points to a classic monster of the week.

If not for a character named Jackson van de Kamp, who very swiftly establishes himself as the raison d’être for James Wong’s entire piece. Look away now—no seriously, don’t say I didn’t warn you—but Jackson is, of course, Mulder & Scully’s long-lost biological son William (or Scully’s for certain, at least). William was born at the end of Season 8 having been coveted by alien super-soldiers and later bonkers cultists for being some kind of supreme alien/human hybrid being, indeed prophecies exist about how he may either save humanity or lead the aliens to their complete destruction (in Season 9, so we try and forget about all that). Nevertheless, William is important with a capital I. He was crucial to the last two seasons of the original series. He played a key, off-screen role in Season 10.

And he is central to everything about Ghouli.

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Episode Reviews, The X-Files, TV

THE X-FILES 11×04 – ‘The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat’ (TV Review)

There have been several back and forth opinions regarding the latest season of The X-Files as to whether or not the show has too often tried to layer its fantastical stories with too much overt American political commentary. The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat will definitively put that argument to bed – not only is Season 11 now almost certainly going to be the final run of this iconic show, Darin Morgan’s comedic entry is a pointed response to the Trump, Fake News, Post-Truth era. It is also, as you may expect from the man, a minor work of brilliance.

Darin Morgan’s comedy episodes have become their own sub-genre within The X-Files since very early on in the second and third seasons, delivering gems such as Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose or Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’, episodes which took the essential concept of Chris Carter’s series–two FBI agents investigate the paranormal–and inverted it into a comedic romp filled with one-liners, flashback gags and histrionic, heightened levels of reality.

Some have argued The X-Files was so successful precisely because each writer brought a different canonical sensibility to the series – Carter’s arch grasp of symbolic theme, Glen Morgan & James Wong’s fusion of pulp and thriller stylistics, or Vince Gilligan’s blue-collar horror tales, but Darin Morgan’s stand out the most for being almost non-canonical, a pocket universe of wry, format-breaking, ‘meta’ stories which shine an alternative light on The X-Files and prove, without a shadow of a doubt, it has a remarkable elasticity of tone.

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The X-Files, TV, Writing

THE X-FILES 11×03 – ‘Plus One’ (TV Review)

Bread and butter indeed. There is a strong argument brewing that Plus One, the third episode of The X-Files eleventh season, is the purest example of a ‘classic’ X-File since the year 2000.

I’ve discussed previously how we need to start thinking of the first nine seasons of The X-Files the way we do 1960’s Star Trek, as the ‘classic’ series of the show. The revival seasons have proven The X-Files, in order to adapt to an evolving and changing television landscape, has found for better or worse (and fandom are strictly divided as to the answer) the need to reinvent itself, to some degree. Season 10 was filled with episodes which reconceived the series’ legendary ‘mytharc’, indulged in the nostalgia of the show’s comedy episodes, and fused both ‘monster of the week’ stories with character journeys for Mulder and Dana Scully, alongside a bizarre experimental piece from creator Chris Carter. Not one of those episodes, truly, felt like the ‘classic’ series.

Plus One is the first episode since the show returned to buck that trend. Season premiere My Struggle III bravely took the mythology to controversial new places and This, Glen Morgan’s follow up, pitched Mulder & Scully in the middle of a breakneck Hitchcockian conspiracy thriller with shades of that same mytharc. This had plenty of touches to please any ‘classic series’ fan but equally engaged in action stylistics and storytelling choices which kept it firmly in the realm of ‘revival series’. You can see why Carter would have wanted to write Plus One, because for the first time in years he has the space, breathing room and position to create a true ‘monster of the week’ tale, even if that term can sometimes be used too broadly. Plus One doesn’t have a Tooms or a Pusher or even a Rob Roberts.

Yet at the same time it’s the most standalone piece The X-Files has given us in a long time.

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Episode Reviews, TV

THE X-FILES 11×01: ‘My Struggle III’ (TV Review)

The X-Files enters the era of post-truth with a remarkable level of chutzpah. After the relaunch of Season 10 aka ‘the Event Series’ and it’s rampant success, Season 11 became almost assured once difficult contract negotiations (principally with Gillian Anderson) were figured out, but despite only a two year gap between both seasons, the cultural landscape on which they were playing has changed almost beyond recognition.

Chris Carter’s series became a pioneer of cultural & sociological allegory, probably the most powerful in terms of defining the 1990’s as Star Trek defined the 1960’s, so for The X-Files to truly feel needed and relevant again, ironically we perhaps needed the election of Donald Trump and the rise of anti-intellectual, fake news, nationalist propaganda. One of the reasons Season 10 didn’t quite work was because it sat in a strange space – the end of Obama’s divided but relatively stable era, and the beginning of the most anxietal period in American history for decades.

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The X-Files was a show built on the search for eternal, ephemeral, philosophical Truth with a capital T. My Struggle III, the season premiere of what could be the show’s final run, proves The X-Files could well end fighting back against post-Truth. The tag line says it all. I Want to Believe, one of the show’s maxims, turns into I Want to Lie.

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