Mini reviews of Television seasons old and new. No fuss. No spoilers. Occasional bunnies.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Batman Beyond: Complete Series (1999-2001)

aka Batman of the Future

The team that created Batman Beyond achieved the near-impossible: they made a show that's the equal of Batman: The Animated Series (1992-95) and they did it without having Bruce Wayne as the lead! Holy Personnel Changes, Batman.

It's set in 2039, forty years after TAS' successor, The New Batman Adventures (1997-97), and continues the continuity set up by both it and TAS. The era of the original crusader has passed. The world has moved on. Gotham has evolved into Neo-Gotham, a towering, high-tech megalopolis wherein the crime and corruption is as rife in the shiny office buildings as it is on the late night docks. Bruce (Kevin Conroy) is still around, possibly because, like one of his contemporaries said, he's too stubborn to die. He is, however, a retired, cranky and cynical recluse that rarely leaves the Manor.

Enter Terry McGinnis (Will Friedle), a seventeen-year-old high school student with a criminal record. Terry has the kind of family upbringing that was denied Bruce, but they have something in common nonetheless: they share a similarly strong moral belief and a desire to see justice carried out. When Terry takes up the mantle he becomes both the symbol that teaches and the student. Bruce, through a two way communication device in the new bat suit, gives advice and support, but it's Terry that takes the weight (and the punches and kicks, etc).

The show references the past in many ways. One of which is the biker gang that terrorises the city and its citizens. They're like a cross between the typical garden variety thug and the Clowns from Akira (1988). They're the painted-faced Jokerz, styled after the original Joker that caused Bruce grief decades before.*

It'll occasionally go further and build an entire episode around something from the past, but never as a means to milk old glories or hide failings. Instead, it's a knowing nod to TAS fans, because BB stands firm on its own two (rocket) feet.

Alongside the criminal of the week it introduces a new roster of regular villains and madmen, some more memorable than others. My personal favourites are the tricky Spellbinder (Jon Cypher), the mysterious Inque (Shannon Kenny), and the clumsy but dangerous anarchist Mad Stan (Henry Rollins).

52 episodes, approx 22 minutes each, split over 3 seasons.

5 critical lifesaving clues out of 5

*There's a feature length entry titled Return of the Joker (2000) that's a must-see for fans of both BB and TAS. If possible seek out the uncut version.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger (2013-14)

Kyoryuger follows Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters as the 37th Super Sentai series and was brave enough to make some unprecedented decisions for the franchise. In the past, individual Kyoryugers opposed the invading Deboth Legion alongside their mechanical dinosaur partners, the Zyudenryu. Across time, Kenjin Torin has guided them but as this series starts he is finally poised to create an entire team of Kyoryugers to stop Deboth himself from reawakening and destroying the planet wholesale.

The historic decisions made for this series would be very mundane if they ended at having a Senshi associated with each mecha (for a total of ten), in a new rainbow of colors. Thankfully, they don’t. The original plan for the series seemed to include a core team of six with the other four simply coming in for several feature episodes, in which they’d turn over use of their Zyudenryu. This changed dramatically due to events surrounding the production of the show and those four roles were increased greatly. Because of the structure already established, and a changing of powers, one of them became the first, full, female Sixth.*

This didn't happen immediately and I was initially enraged, blinded by an agenda. In truth, however, it occurs step-by-step and what I originally considered the series’ damning failure blossomed into its biggest strength. Further, I consider all of the Senshi who were originally only going to be cameos to be the most compelling. Of course the core six show growth over time, but for a few it’s lacking, questionable, or outright stalls. This is partly because a large amount of time is first dedicated to spotlighting the other four and then to the main plot. In short, large casts have been balanced better in the past (e.g., in Engine Sentai Go-Onger).

Themes explored include: being true to oneself and to others, recognizing signs of healthy relationships, overcoming hate, the cost of caring, sources of strength and bravery, finding strength through weakness, change and redemption, and learning to stand on one’s own. The villains are mostly fun and two manage to out-develop their core team rivals. The overall execution is closer in spirit to Kamen Rider with individual efforts being clear to see but the heart of Sentai is maintained via clever cheats and a Deus ex machina.

Flawed, but worthwhile if the themes appeal and you’re willing to see it through to the end.

A 2018 Update can be found here.

48 episodes, approx. 24 minutes each.
Their supplemental materials are discussed below the cut.

3 Spirit Rangers to Rule Them All out of 5

*Jetras is not a stand-alone humanoid mecha, hence I consider Go-On Silver to be part of a ‘Sixth Team.’

Nutted by NEG.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The A-Team: The Complete Series (1983–87)

I was reminded recently that the question, "Why do you watch that crap?" makes me less inclined to validate the reasons for my own choices and instead more aware of the hidden agenda of the person asking it. It's not a genuine inquiry. It's a thinly disguised insult. With that in mind, I feel sorry for anyone who didn't have The A-Team in their front room as a kid. Not having Sergeant First Class 'B.A.' Baracus, Colonel John 'Hannibal' Smith, Lieutenant Templeton 'Face' Peck and Captain 'Howling Mad' Murdock to provide escapism and feed the imagination is like having an integral part of a happy childhood denied you. It's like having never played with LEGO. It's like having never tasted strawberry sherbets in summer.

Being a fan of The A-Team was a privilege; one that was available to every sighted person who owned a working TV, whether it was the rich kid with a silver spoon feeding both ends simultaneously, or the ostracised, abused kid with an alcoholic father whom everyone thought was destined to be the same.

The show taught us that with good friends and a little ingenuity we could stand up to the bullies. (It made me want friends that I could rely on as much as the team relied on each other. I don’t know if I ever had them. I like to think that I had.)
It taught us that money isn't important to happiness, which was the opposite of what most corporate 80s TV programs wanted us to think, and it repeatedly showed that a selfless good deed is its own reward.
It taught us that Hannibal loves it when a plan comes together.
It taught us that villains will always get up afterwards with nothing more serious than dizziness and a bruised ego. But that part was a lie. In so doing, whether intentional or not, that same lie taught us that real life wasn't always like TV.

In the past year I've thought more than a dozen times that whichever post I'm working on at the time is the last one I'm making on this particular site, but I keep coming back. It's now clear to me why: I want to give all the people who get asked "Why do you watch that crap?" an incentive to revisit the reasons why they did watch it and to remember what it was that they gained from doing so. If you love something, scream it from the rooftops.

(What you're reading isn't the kind of review I was expecting to write when I sat down. I'd planned some jokes about B.A.'s bad acting, Hannibal's bad disguises, Murdock's tee-shirts, Face's shameless sexism and how in a pinch the team could build a tank from an egg box, but you've heard all those jokes before. This way, when the time comes for me to ride off into the sunset, I'll be entirely satisfied.)

98 episodes (5 Seasons), approx 47 minutes each, split over 27 discs.

5 wheel cams out of 5