TV

Top 10 of 2021: TV SHOWS

Happy New Year’s Eve!

I’m finishing 2021 by looking back at my top 10 choices for the best TV of 2021, which has been a surprisingly difficult mission given the sheer volume of television that has raced at us following the ebb and flow of Covid restrictions.

It’s been a fascinating year and, as always, TV choices subjectively differ among many a reviewer. Here were the TV shows that both affected me the most, and seemed to contain the greatest artistic measure, from 10 through to number 1.

Would love to know your thoughts as to your top 10 choices…

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Alias, Episode Reviews, TV

ALIAS 3×16: ‘Taken’ (TV Review)

If there is one character who has been left behind the most in the structural changes to Season Three of Alias, it is Marcus Dixon.

Alias has always struggled with how to integrate Dixon in many ways. He began as Sydney’s loyal partner in Season One, a good friend and older brother proxy who provided counsel and advice; a good man unaware of how he was being duped by SD-6. That season at least flirted with him exposing Syd’s secret that provided solid drama but then the first half of Season Two barely even utilises him. Phase One arguably contains the finest material Carl Lumbly—a great actor for someone so underused, as he recently proved on Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier—to chew on, as Dixon’s world comes tumbling down. Season Two just then compounds the misery and trauma on Dixon to the point he almost breaks, and only just comes through the other side with his wife murdered and him on the verge of suicide.

Season Three has so much else going on, from a character and narrative perspective, that it again struggles to figure out how Dixon integrates into the post-Julia Thorne dynamic. Making him the new boss, the new Kendall/Jack replacement in the CIA Rotunda, in a sense works. It is logical from a development perspective – he has the experience. But it not only reduces Lumbly to largely an exposition role, delivering mission briefings, it also restrains him. Dixon feels, in the first half of Season Three, relatively inert. He is even essentially written out of the Prelude-arc, as Syd goes on the run, when logically he should have been there with Jack & Vaughn fighting to get Syd away from the NSC. Only in Full Disclosure does Dixon actively show a level of forward motion, of the kind of action-based autonomy we saw in the first two seasons, when he joins Syd to help destroy the Rambaldi baby making machine. “It’s personal for me too” he promises Syd, though it feels more like a reminder to the audience.

Taken is designed to rebalance the scales, to invest us once again in Dixon as a character and a father. The problem is that because he’s spent so long being inert, Taken’s attempt to tether him to the ongoing mythology comes off as frighteningly melodramatic.

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Comics, TV, Writing

First Impressions: WANDAVISION ‘Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience / Don’t Touch That Dial’

It was never meant to begin this way.

Marvel’s true first foray into expanding their immensely successful cinematic universe beyond the realms of the big screen was not originally designed to start with an MCU take on Pleasantville; a surreal dreamscape inversion of two relatively important but not marquee characters in the Marvel tapestry, yet WandaVision leading the charge thanks to the continued preponderance of Covid-19 could well turn out to be unintentionally inspired. There is a boldness to having audiences tune in to such an unusual and decidedly ambiguous concept as their first salvo of the much-hyped MCU ‘Phase Four’.

The project, from newcomer Jac Schaffer (also boasting a story credit on the upcoming Black Widow movie), directed by Matt Shakman, certainly in the first two episodes at least, is rooted in the kind of pop cultural reference points Marvel have built an entire screen universe around. There will scarcely be an era or artistic style the MCU hasn’t adopted when the day is done, and WandaVision very clearly takes a cue from the classic American sitcom of old – The Dick Van Dyke Show or Bewitched – which encapsulated safe, charisma driven family friendly comedy. In a way, this almost feels like Marvel in on their own joke, having strived to develop a storytelling universe that caters both to hardcore, decades-long comic lore nerds and the common or garden punter.

WandaVision plays up to those accessible reference points with a sense of playful glee, a joy available only to a well-established universe with adaptable rules, an easy going confidence, and an understanding of the tropes it has adopted.
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Film, Star Wars, TV, Writing

Milking the Franchise: STAR WARS, MARVEL & beyond

As Star Wars and Marvel announce their future plans, A. J. Black discusses the phenomenon of milking the biggest franchises in the world for all they’re worth…

Franchise cinema, let’s be honest, can be thrilling. It can transform movie experiences from solitary pursuits to collective endeavours.

In an age of deeply fractured politics and cultural conflicts happening across nation states, there is comfort in how Captain America taking on Thanos only for the entire MCU to ride in and support him galvanised everyone operating in that shared cinematic space to cheer in collective joy, no matter what your political or cultural persuasion. Many felt the same when Rey and Kylo Ren turned the Emperor’s fire back on him (though I’d argue this was a far diminished return than the Marvel example…). Denigrators of franchise filmmaking, of fandoms indulging in shared universes, miss this aspect – the collectivisation of a text which binds fans together.

It is often toxic, but it is equally as often magnetic and joyful.

There is, however, a limit to the reach and scope of such franchise endeavours for those, like me, who skirt the edges of fandom.

Marvel and Star Warsboth of whom Disney just announced a huge slate of projects for over the next few years—are not the worlds I personally am most invested in. My fandom interests lie elsewhere but even then, I am not a consumer who digests only Star Trek or only James Bond. Fandoms are frequently incredible communities filled with people who live and breathe the properties they love, and this is to be—sans the aforementioned toxicity—encouraged. Friendships are born. Partnerships are made. Respect can be mutual. I have seen these things happen. I have, in my own way, experienced them myself.

Yet it feels like we are sailing close to a perihelion of franchise dilution. A point where financial concern and milking a product for all its worth become not just the primary driver, but the only driving principle.
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