Well, let’s be honest: is it ever really a ‘wonderful time’ to blog? Sure, I manage to have an awful lot of fun doing what I do these days, but like so many out there in the wide, wide world of the Information Superhighway, I do heartily agree that print is pretty much dead. Alas, so few folks read any longer – an absolute crying shame but arguably the end result of shoving so much visual media down our collective throats for decades. Still, I persist – as do those others – and I strive to bring you only the best observations possible from my feeble ol’ brain.
In any event, this is the time of year when other blogs, magazines, and newspaper outlets are inundating you with their ‘best of’ lists – essential reflections back on what 2021 meant to the state of the art. As I’ve often said, I don’t do ‘lists’ of that sort because I’ve found them incredibly repetitive and offering so little value to a readership. Instead, I do support throwing up a list of what truly entertained me as a viewer … and if this inspiration continues there might be a few more of them forthcoming.
In the meantime, I thought I’d offer up the first ‘The Most Fun I Had In 2021’ observation, this one highlighting my more memorable experiences with television and streaming. These programs may or may not have been produced for consumption in 2021; but I found them in 2021, I enjoyed them in 2021, and that’s precisely why they’re falling on this list. Buyer beware.
As an active blogger, I’d read a reasonable amount exploring Dark, the German-language SciFi sensation so many folks worldwide had experienced on the streaming giant, Netflix; but as Netflix’s CEO is a rabid anti-American political blowhard I avoided the service for as long as I could. I broke down earlier this year, solely on the recommendation of so many to check this one out for posterity’s sake. I’m glad I did … though I’ll never be glad that I give Netflix any of my hard-earned cash.
It’s hard to describe the plot of Dark. Like ABC’s Lost (in its heyday), it has a relatively simple construct, but it quickly grows and changes the way any intriguing premise should. Basically, Dark’s core premise is that folks discover a subterranean doorway that allows them to access the future or the past, and they go about trying to unlock the sleeping little berg’s various secrets with an eye toward fixing what went wrong. They’re human – which means they’re flawed – and they end up messing things up even worse. Eventually, setting things back-on-track will require more incredible sacrifices, and bringing the show to closure truly demonstrated what’s bittersweet about remaining mortal beings in a world without end.
I waded through all three seasons this past year. While I found the first two exceptional, Season Three lost a bit of its edge in ways equally hard to define (in part, without spoiling the experience); a lot of threads had to be tied back together, and I found some of the subplots that developed in the final hours a bit unnecessary. Were I a gambling man, I’d suggest the writers wanted to tie it up more quickly and ended up padding it a wee bit? I’ll never know, but I still had a helluva lotta fun with the show, giving it the top spot for my TV year.
I’ve often stated unequivocally in this space that Science Fiction and Comedy are genres incredibly difficult to mix and ‘get it right.’ Generally speaking, Comedy alone is a difficult concept – each of us has our own sense of humor, which is why some jokes work and others don’t – and you could stick 100 SciFi junkies in a single room, ask them to define the genre, and get 100 different definitions. Blending such themes – and blending them seamlessly – is an immeasurably difficult proposition, but Resident Alien creator Chris Sheridan and his merry band of writers did a fabulous job in their inaugural season on Syfy.
As can happen, much of the show’s visual success gets tied directly to its performers. Funnyman Alan Tudyk’s genius as an actor may’ve finally found a home; he’s long been a fan favorite in programs like Firefly and the (all too) short-lived Powerless, and here he balances the requirements of cluelessness and malevolence with deft charm: he plays an alien crash-landed on the planet he was sent to destroy. Corey Reynolds plays the small-town sheriff with big-town, dime-novel attitude, and I think he had me laughing almost as much of Tudyk. The rest of the cast is a solid ensemble hitting their fair share of manic notes – Sara Tomko, Alice Wetterlund, and Elizabeth Bowen are standouts – and the show’s “fish-out-of-water-who-wants-to-destroy-our-planet” is pitch perfect for these end times we’re living in.
If anything, Resident Alien runs the risk of losing steam if it can’t evolve beyond the obvious joke of its premise. It is on Syfy, after all, and the network has an unfortunate track record of cancelling show well before their narrative expiration date. Still, I’ll be watching when this one returns to the airwaves and hoping against hope that the team can continue to deliver.
Wowzers. Here’s one that I honestly didn’t expect … but here goes any way.
I had the good fortune of watching Netflix’s reimagination of the SciFi/TV Classic – Irwin Allen’s Lost In Space – first season on DVD. I wasn’t all that impressed. Yes, the effects were all very good, and the showrunners stayed mostly true to the program’s original premise of exploring the adventures of a family truly lost in space … but they were the usual Hollywood tinkerings I tend to despise. For example, these Robinsons weren’t necessarily the wholesome do-gooders of the late 1960’s: this was a split family – Maureen birthed Judy from a relationship before her marriage to John Robinson – and there were a few other diversions I won’t belabor. The comically nefarious Dr. Smith was remade as a woman – one with decidedly pathological tendencies – and a whole host of supporting players were added to a cast of hundreds traveling to Alpha Centauri. Lastly, the show’s central robot wasn’t a member of their crew, instead re-envisioned as a member of a sentient alien race meant to serve as the series’ villain (not this particular robot, but his species).
There were just too many changes for this old dog, and I resigned myself to believing that Lost In Space had evolved so far that it left me behind … and I was okay with that. People change, times change, and audiences change; and if this one was to go on in a different direction, so be it. I tuned in for Season Two just to see what happened next, only to find out that I was surprisingly drawn back in now that the program truly resembled much more the classic formula: the Robinsons were on their own once more trying to eke out a way back to their original group. I hung with it, and I’m glad I did.
Season 3 turned in a fitting finale, one that brought this incarnation of the program to excellent closure, each member of the family finding his or her place in the universe. Even Dr. Smith found a bit of redemption for the choices she had made along the way. While I could quibble with some of the lesser points of the season, I think it ended on just the right note … with family being restored but a final recognition that we, as explorers, have a desire to keep going … and Will Robinson and his robot would do just that.
Hats off to a solid 2021 in TV Land. Here’s hoping for an even better one in 2022.
Honorable Mention: it isn’t SciFi or Fantasy, but Netflix’s Money Heist was truly a mesmerizing experience. This international caper series arguably is one for the record books.