Simmering

So I haven’t actually played the Sims 4 which probably makes this review moot. But it’s not that I don’t want to play the game, I would love to, but my poor laptop just can’t handle the system requirements. That’s not an indictment against the Sims , but rather it’s more telling of my laptop than anything. Back when my previous laptop decided to lie down and die I choose the option to get a new laptop as quick as possible. I could have saved for a better one but that would have meant taking a hiatus from the blog and writing in general really. I compromised in quality for you dear readers and thus the Sims 4 is just beyond my grasp.

However, I have spent extensive hours watching Let’s Play videos by Arumba, Quill18 and darknewt. By doing so I have gained a general sense of what the game looks and sounds like and while that’s no substitute for having actually played the game, consider this an outsider’s perspective. I’m the guy in the bushes outside your window and watching your television behind your back. We’re watching the same thing but the perspective is different if I’m getting rained on and you’re not. (Disclaimer: I am not actually peeping into your life. Don’t call the police.)

From what I have seen there seem to a a few overhauls to the Sims gameplay. First and foremost are the new interfaces for the Create-A-Sim and build modes. With every new incarnation of the Sims for the PC the Create-A-Sim mode has gone into more and more detail, allowing players control over every inch of the Sim’s body and personality. The Sims 4 is no different. Now changing a Sim’s body shape is as easy as clicking on the body part and dragging it into the preferred position. It’s certainly more intuitive than the slider systems from the Sims 3, which was tough to get precisely right.

The evolution of the popular Sims' character, Bella Goth, through the franchises mainstream PC games.

So real it’s like going outside.

The build mode has another quick fix. Rather than putting up the walls bit by bit, putting down your floor, wallpapering and fitting the room with the necessary appliances, furniture and decorations, build mode comes with pre-made rooms. These ready built and furnished rooms can be set directly on the lot, saving the player a lot of time if they just want to get to the main day-to-day living. On the other hand, if a room isn’t quite right, the player can easily resize it and replace the furniture if it isn’t the simmer’s taste. It seems designed with the casual player in mind, with its quick and easy place and go ability.

As nice as those changes are, it’s the small differences that have the biggest effect. Multitasking has always been something the Sims have been capable of in one form or another. In the original Maxis game, Sims would talk while eating or watching television. The Sims 4 takes the concept to a whole other level however, by making Sims capable of fulfilling multiple queued orders at once. Not satisfied with talking while eating dinner, these Sims can browse the web while listening to music, run on the treadmill and watch television simultaneously and even order a pizza on the toilet. Sims no longer sit in one spot to read a book either, instead choosing to move from one seat to another to be closer to a sim that they want to talk to.

If I sound excited it’s because I am. Getting stirred up over such a small thing seems silly but it does make a big change to how the sims interact with the world around them. The emotion system also goes aways to creating more dynamic sims. The moodlet concept of Sims 3 was good and it returns in Sims 4 but it has been built upon. Now moodlets will incur certain emotions such as an offensive conversation making a sim angry or unwashed dishes making them uncomfortable. This is more realistic because the sims are now no longer just aware of their surroundings but are changed by them.

The build mode in the fourth instalment of the popular simulation video game The Sims has been overhauled and made easier to use.

I hope you like your house because you’ll be looking at it a lot.

Despite being a cool addition, the emotion system still needs more work. For one, they change from one to another too easily. An example would be that an angry sim can easily become playful with a bubble bath. As a consequence, Sims seem flighty and scatterbrained. Secondly, many jobs and tasks work better if a sim is in a certain mood, such as being inspired while practicing an instrument. But this creates a style of gameplay where one is chasing requirements all the time. It’s an arbitrary method of making the game more difficult because learning to play the guitar isn’t more difficult, just more time consuming because the player has to make the sim take a thoughtful shower every time they practice guitar.

This change in focus gameplay away from writing a story to a more completionist system is intentional. Everything, from aspirations to jobs have levels and requirements for each levels. Yes, the dreaded ‘must have X number of friends’ returns. In this regard, I think Sims 3 was actually more realistic. Rather than having to befriend strangers in the Sims 3, it was more productive to socialise with one’s co-workers. That’s true to life. Making dinner for your boss is more likely to get you a promotion than dancing on the porch with your neighbour.

Gone too is the wider neighbourhood and making a comeback are loading screens. Sims can no longer free roam around town which I suspect may be to soothe the criticisms of controlling players who disliked that characters they weren’t controlling were having affairs, having children and dying off. It’s odd though. So much of the game appears to be tailored to the casual gamers but here EA changes the game to suit the simmer who loves to micromanage the whole world. No matter how distracting the new revolutionary concepts such as multitasking and emotions are, the omission of the open world and toddlers of all things (which I suspect will pop up in a Generations expansion pack) leaves the game feeling like a step backwards.

Mastery

From a season premiere review of Boardwalk Empire to a mid-season review of Masters of Sex this week. On the face of it, these two shows don’t have much in common but they actually share a common literary device: the time skip.  Writing last week, I mused that the time skip left the season premiere viewers of Boardwalk Empire feeling disorientated. This was exacerbated further by the use of flashbacks in the same episode. It’s worth noting that although the flashbacks returned in episode two, The Good Listener, it was a much more coherently structured episode. The same unfortunately cannot be said for Masters of Sex.

American readers of this blog are probably a little confused because by their schedule Masters of Sex’s second season is due to climax in two weeks on September 28th. No, I’m not late to the party, I’ve just been following the season’s progression on the British television channel, More4. As with most shows that are exported to Britain and aren’t shown on SKY, More4 are running behind by a few episodes. The specific episode that I’m talking about here is Asterion, episode 7 of 12 in the second season. All good? With that confusion cleared up, let’s move on to the next confusion.

Masters of Sex, to its credit, did not skip quite as many years as Boardwalk Empire. It wasn’t the quantity of time that was jumped but rather the frequency of the jumps that occurred. The episode covers three years worth of material, shoving it all into one episode and rather than leaping over all the years at once, the show jolts from one year to next periodically throughout. And, again, in fairness, the show came up with a very cinematic and unobtrusive way to depict the skip; Betty would walk through the lobby of their new office, pointing out changes to different clients. In the words of the infamous Dr. Gregory House “Walking gives the illusion of the story moving forward.”

Annaleigh Ashford as Betty DiMello leads Libby Masters, played Caitlin FizGerald, through the years.

Maybe their new offices are located in a TARDIS.

That being said, it was mildly disturbing to witness Bill Masters wife, Libby, stroll through the lobby with one child, get in an elevator and come out with two children. While Bill and Libby discuss having more children earlier in the episode it was still quite a shock to see it happen without warning. There is an on screen indication of the year but it doesn’t accompany the actual jump. Again, the show presents the year in a very self-aware fashion, having the resident videographer holding up a clapperboard with the date written on it. It’s a nice touch and I commend the writers for doing something different but it comes a little late in helping the audience adjust to the sudden shift.

Furthermore there is a lot of content being crammed into this 60 minute episode. Rather than spoiling it for those who plan to binge watch after the season is finished, I will say there is enough in this one episode to fill at least another half season. The aforementioned birth of a second child, which I only mentioned because it isn’t treated seriously at all, could easily have been the subject material for the rest of this second season. Instead it goes something like ‘I want a kid, bam, a kid is granted’ as though the characters in Masters of Sex managed to tap into some kind of god mode cheat code. Actually that would kind of make sense. The time skips are just the game glitching out.

Not all of the material in the episode is so lucky. While some could have been the basis for more episodes, some events in the episode got stretched rather thin to the point where it doesn’t make much sense. Bill is upset with Virginia and even though they work with each other for three years they somehow manage to not reconcile until 1960. That’s completely unprecedented. Bill and Virginia have had their fair share of arguments in the past season and a half but nothing so brutal that it took years for them to recover. Honestly, it didn’t feel like this argument was really that life changing that it couldn’t have been settled in a week or two as well.

Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan star as Dr. Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson on Showtime's Masters of Sex.

Get ready to reacquaint yourself with a whole new body of time.

It’s more disappointing than legitimately bad. If the show had to do a time skip, then sure, this was a novel way to present it but I’m not sure a time skip was necessary. By jumping ahead we missed out on possible answers to how Libby got pregnant for the second time and whether the kid was actually his. Seems unlikely given that Bill seemed to have trouble getting off when he wasn’t with Virginia. Maybe it will be addressed in a later episode but if you have to deal with the issue anyway then why bother jumping forward? And Virginia’s constant parade of partners, whose names she forgets, only serves to make Bill’s assessment of her as irresponsible to her children correct, an attribute for her character that comes out of nowhere due to the fast pace of the episode. Previously Virginia was shown to be sexually liberal but she always put her kids first. For the show to suddenly brand her as not caring enough for her children simply came across as cheap.

Season one of Masters of Sex was great. The story it told was intriguing, broaching a subject matter within a time period that it had never been examined before. And, aside from the history, Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan delivered some superb acting in their main roles, with good performances from the supporting cast too, especially Annaleigh Ashford. The second season hasn’t been quite as enthralling. The acting is still great and the scenes between Sheen and Caplan continue to be the best in the show but some really odd storylines for Libby Masters and the total abandonment of Barton Scully’s homosexuality plot has left the second season feeling more than a little scattered and unfocused.

Perhaps  Asterion was intended to be something of a reset button for the season. It certainly felt more like the first episode of a season rather than a typical mid-season episode. That’s no bad thing but while the intentions were good, it just didn’t come together quite how they wanted it. Hopefully the show can get back on track. With a third season already confirmed ( Asterion was actually the first episode to air after that announcement) Masters of Sex should consider directing their attention solely to creating powerful storylines with captivating characters. Or, at the very least, don’t toss all of your cinematography tricks into one episode.

Quiet

For an episode that was so concerned about detailing the beginnings and motivations of one Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson, the character was the least interesting part of Boardwalk Empire’s fifth season premiere. Displaying the impoverished upbringing and introduction into Atlantic City’s influential upper class was an odd move for a  show in its final season. This kind of character reflection is usually seen in fledgling series’ trying to create sympathy for a character in their first seasons. At this point in Boardwalk Empire, especially after the particularly dark character developments that Nucky underwent in seasons three and four, the attempt to make Nucky more relatable just seems desperate. One can almost hear the producers saying “people need to care if he’s going to die”.

Death is certainly where the season seems to be heading. The tag line for the season is ‘No One Goes Quietly’ which all but foreshadows that Nucky will go out with a bang. This isn’t much of a surprise. From a writing and industry standpoint, it is fairly commonplace to kill off main characters in their last foray in one final blaze of glory. Within the show, Nucky has come closer and closer each season by becoming involved in wars with other crime lords, such as Arnold Rothstein and Joe Masseria. Sooner or later one of those bullets was bound to catch its target. It’s difficult, however, to see how Nucky is going to go when he’s wining and dining politicians in Cuba and the meat of the action is happening on the mainland.

The promotional poster for the fifth season of HBO's Boardwalk Empire.

But there is a difference between meaningful noise and noise just for the sake of being loud.

The machete wielding assassin made a good attempt on Nucky’s life but the latest bodyguard proved his worth by killing the attacker and taking an ear for a reward. Disturbing, true, but the whole scenario felt detached from all the other storylines. Stephen Graham didn’t make an appearance as Al Capone in this episode but we did see Lucky Luciano cement his place as a gangster in New York and Chalky fight his way out of a chain gang. Maybe it is simply that there was more bloodshed in those scenes but overall those characters’ stories were more relevant to the gangster theme of the show.

I get that Nucky was trying to bring Bacardi Rum to Atlantic City but the story just wasn’t very interesting. Slow building writing is good but the slow build itself has to be entertaining. Perhaps it had something to do with the timeskip. The show has tried to keep as many of the same characters around as possible to keep the audience invested despite the chronological jump but there was still a disconnect between last season and this final one. I won’t say that seven years was too much to skip but there is a definite sense that something went missing. Maybe it was Atlantic City itself.

Outside of flashbacks, the happenings of Atlantic City aren’t shown at all. Maybe the place doesn’t have much going on without Nucky around but the show is called Boardwalk Empire. That title is a little pointless if they stop showing the boardwalk. It was probably an intentional decision. Creator Terence Winter has always been very bold in writing the show, such as killing off Jimmy Darmody, Owen Slater and Richard Harrow. But the loss of those charismatic, likable characters has left Atlantic City rather empty. It doesn’t help that other characters like Margaret have moved on to other cities as well. If Winter was trying depict Atlantic City as being gradually left behind in the criminal rat race then he has succeeded.  But this isn’t the show I fell in love with back in the first season.

Vincent Piazza depicts the criminal mastermind Charles 'Lucky' Luciano in HBO's Boardwalk Empire.

Betraying Joe Masseria is only the beginning of Lucky Luciano’s criminal ascension.

Boardwalk Empire is still a show that you should be watching. Nucky’s significance in the world has dropped but Steve Buscemi’s acting is still a joy to watch. The writing itself isn’t really bad either but as someone who has followed the show since the beginning it felt unfamiliar. The aforementioned time skip and setting change are mostly to blame but the uninitiated viewer might be more engaged by this episode than I was, which is strange to say of television programme’s fifth season premiere. As talented as the people behind the show are, it is disappointing to see Nucky become a footnote in his show. While that is historically accurate (at least of Enoch L. Johnson), this is not a documentary and there are plenty of original characters running around. Why not be really bold? Why not pull a Tarantino and blow up Hitler in a French theatre? At least do a Forrest Gump and just insert him into the sidelines of the interesting, historical parts.

Part of the problem is that Boardwalk Empire has always been centred around prohibition. The legal situation of alcohol has been as much as main character as Nucky is and this final season will see both meet their end. This explains the necessity of the time skip and refocus on other criminal entities whose empires weren’t based on bootlegging liquor. But it may be to its detriment. Prohibition has always informed the story and seasons have skirted along the edges of history but there’s also been a fair amount of artistic license. I never felt that the show owed it to its audience to chronicle the entire span of prohibition. It might have flowed better and engaged lovers of the first four seasons if Winter had chosen to end the show while the party was still going.

This is the era of the Great Depression though. Not that you would know by how these characters throw around money. But there’s a definite stench of desperation in the air; the sense that a lot of these characters are just keeping their heads above water for as long as they can. Maybe the hopelessness of the 30’s is the same hopelessness felt by the writers when HBO chose to cancel the show. I don’t think anyone can deny that Boardwalk Empire has run its course. While it might still be better acted and written than most programming on television, it just isn’t as compelling as it once was. And regardless of what medium you’re in, whether it be TV, movies or literature, when the audience stops caring that is the time to stop.

Gotham

Ah, yes, Gotham. How could I forget DC Comics and Warner Brothers big television adaptation of Commissioner James Gordon’s time in Gotham city prior to Batman’s arrival? It might be because I’m well and truly burnt out out from the squandering of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. potential last season. And I’ll be the first to admit that I was wrong in hyping up the show. But I still maintain that it could have been better and that’s really not a feeling I want to have again with Gotham.

That’s not to say that I’m not excited for Gotham because I am. I would label myself as quietly optimistic. Part of that optimism comes from the fact that the show will air on Fox. As I explained in my pre-Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. blog post, Disney owns the ABC network as Warner Bros. owns The CW. It makes sense that when Disney have a big TV project based off of a film series they would air it on ABC, which is one of the big four American networks along with NBC, CBS and Fox. The CW, where Warner Bros. airs The Flash and Arrow, doesn’t pull in the same options. It shows an incredible amount of faith in the product to go the hard way and present Gotham to another network, rather than taking the easy route and airing it on The CW.

Of course, Warner Bros. getting increased exposure in the deal. Not that they probably need to promote Gotham much. Batman has become such a badass icon to millions of internet users that they’d probably flock to television adaptation. But creator Bruno Heller should be commended for not relying on the name value alone. In fact, it seems that Batman will probably not feature in the show constantly but more as a recurring characters as the caped crusader is still a child at this point. It is an interesting concept to see Bruce Wayne become the Dark Knight through the eyes of James Gordon. Cop shows and nerd culture are the two big staples of modern television and Gotham manages to draw on both.

DC Comics, Fox and Warner Bros. come together to tell the origin stories of Commissioner Gordon, Bruce Wayne/Batman, The Penguin, The Riddler, Cat Woman, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, Hugo Strange and Mr. Freeze.

The many faces of Gotham’s heroes and villains.

The question then is how does Gotham avoid becoming like Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Actually, that’s pretty easy because Gotham has already evaded Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s biggest flaw: Joss Whedon. For the record, I like Joss Whedon. Buffy the Vampire Slayer defined a generation and formed a lot of the tropes that modern television series’ abuse. Angel  was great too because for as much as it borrowed from Buffy it also carved its own path. That those were two shows that weaved seamlessly through each other. But none of Whedon’s other projects like Dollhouse or Firefly have come close to replicating that success and that’s really part of the problem; it feels like Whedon is trying to replicate Buffy.

So Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s greatest burden was never going to be Gotham’s problem anyway. And not having a pre-existing legacy to live up to will allow Gotham to forge its own path. Heller’s previous works include co-creating Rome and his own solo creation, The Mentalist. His work on those shows reflects clear experience with unorthodox police procedural shows and programs with more highly sexualised and violent content. What really works in his favour though is that Heller is not a household name in the same way that Whedon is. Gotham could quite possibly put him on the map but few people are likely to compare Gotham to The Mentalist or Rome whereas everyone was comparing Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. with Buffy the Vampire Slayer before the first episode was over.

It is unfair to nail all of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s faults and failures on to Joss Whedon and it is equally unjust to analyse Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. based entirely on its similarities to Buffy. That said, however, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t stand well on its own merits either. The show forces it does our throat that Chloe Bennet’s computer hacker Skye is special when she was really just annoying and stealing screentime from far more interesting and charming characters. Trying to intertwine the series with the cinematic universe utterly failed too. Rather than feeling rooted and connected to a wider world it felt segregated. And when it did tie into the films it was arbitrary and irrelevant, like ‘oh, look, we’re standing where Thor was standing.’ The response was a resounding meh.

Benjamin McKenzie and David Mazouz play the young James Gordon and Bruce Wayne in Fox's upcoming superhero drama about the making of Batman, Gotham.

Hopefully Gordon gives Bruce better advice than Clark received from Pa Kent.

Again, these are problems that Gotham should avoid by just being Gotham. As far as we know, this series won’t tie into the upcoming Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice film, although who knows, maybe David Mazouz could grow up to be Ben Affleck. That could happen and it still wouldn’t affect the show’s ability to just be itself. And we know for a fact that James Gordon isn’t special so he won’t get the Skye treatment. He’ll rise to Commissioner but for Batman’s presence to be necessary in Gotham City, crime and corruption must continue to run rampant.

What might put people off Gotham is possibly the casting of Ben McKenzie in the lead role. Most people will remember McKenzie as troubled teen Ryan Atwood in The O.C. That probably isn’t the first image that comes to mind when you imagine Commissioner Gordon. However, he’s also had roles as a cop in NBC/TNT’s Southland and voiced Batman and Bruce Wayne in the animated film, Batman: Year One. It’s safe to say then that he has both experience and a familiarity with the source material.

At the end of the day though, it’ll come down to the episode to episode content and whether the writing and acting can draw the viewer into these character’s lives. This has all the makings of a great television show but I’ve said that before and been wrong. Still, it is hard not to be excited for this series and when September 22nd rolls around I will definitely be watching.

Line-Up

August is drawing to a close with September being literally only a day away so it’s just about time to set our attention on the 2014 fall television line-up. I did this last year as well, looking at shows such as Chicago P.D., Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Intelligence. Some I liked, some I didn’t like and some I thought would be hits and some I thought wouldn’t last. Read that article and decide for yourself how on target I was with my assessments but I think I was on the button for most of my analysis.

For some, like Betrayal, I was disappointed that my predictions came to pass, but that is just the nature of television. Heck, Us and Them didn’t even make it on air. On paper, there might be obvious flaws but in the watching the show takes on endearing qualities. But they don’t fix the faults, so ultimately the show runs it course. No doubt some of the shows on this list will meet that same fate.  Unfortunately, there is also not enough space here to cover all of the shows available, much like how The 100 was absent from last years list. If I miss any amazing shows, please let me know. I’m always on the look out for good television shows to watch.

Anyway, that’s enough of an introduction. Here’s what is coming up this fall:

A to Z

The premise sounds cringe worthy. An online dating company details the A to Z’s of romance. Sounds like a show with a gimmick which will quickly wear thin and awkwardly titled episodes as they try to shove the letters Q and Z in an arbitrary attempt at a full check-list.  What might save it is the cast, which includes Ben Feldman, incase you’re dying to see him again since he was carted off to the loony bin in Mad Men, and Cristin Milioti, the mother from How Your Mother Played Second Fiddle to Robin (regionally known as How I Met Your Mother). It’s also narrated by Katey Sagal. Might be worth a look for the cast but it probably won’t be sticking around.

Karen Gillan and John Cho star in ABC's new comedy, Selfie.

Who wore it better, Amy Pond or Nebula?

Selfie

The great thing about Selfie, aside from giving Karen Gillan a job between Doctor Who  and Guardians of the Galaxy, is that the first episode was already released on twitter. Audiences can already watch and make up their minds about the show before the season starts. Bold move. For me, it got a few laughs here and there but it’s not hilarious and I think the character would fall flat without Gillan behind the role, really throwing herself into the portrayal. It’s also good to see John Cho as well, but it already feels like know where this show is headed. Maybe it’ll prove me wrong and for the meantime, I’ll probably keep watching but I don’t see it being another breakout hit like Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

Black-ish

I like Anthony Anderson but he has not had a lot of luck with television since leaving Law & Order in 2010. Guys With Kids was charming but it didn’t last so I’m hoping, for Anthony’s sake, that this one sticks. With Lawrence Fishburne in a recurring role, it’s got that little bit of extra star power to bring in viewers but if it wants those viewers to stick around for more than one episode it’s got to be funny. Dealing with cultural identities within a modern black family has real potential to be poiyant as well as humorous. Whether it matches that potential remains to be seen.

Constantine

If you’re looking for something as dark and morally ambiguous as the comic book, you’d probably be best served to look elsewhere. This John Constantine, played by Matt Ryan, is much more likely to be a rogue with a heart of gold, probably having the abilities of a con-man but eventually using them for good. I don’t really trust David S. Goyer to write anything so complex given his scripts for Batman and Superman in the past. Daniel Cerone, having served as showrunner for Dexter, might be able to bring Constantine to life on the small screen but this is airing on NBC not Showtime. Adjust your expectations appropriately.

Anna Gunn joins David Tennant as he transfers over to America for the U.S. adaptation of British TV series, Broadchurch, on FOX this fall.

Gracepoint trades Sophie Chapman for Skyler White.

Gracepoint

Incase you didn’t know, this is the American remake of the British show, Broadchurch. That fact doesn’t make it any better or worse, and it doesn’t even mean that British fans will know what to expect because American remakes have a habit of changing things. What will set this apart from crappy remakes is that it’s written by Chris Chibnall who also wrote the original Broadchurch. If that’s not enough enough for you, the cast includes recent Emmy winner, Anna Gunn, and another import from the original series, David Tennant.

Marry Me

When I read the premise for this show I thought it was about the difficulties of an engaged couple, which sounded a little too simplistic and broad. After some research, it turns out that the show is about a couple trying to get engaged following some botched proposals. This feels like Betrayed or Mixology from last season. There’s an inevitable outcome to the show, the main couple are going to get married, and there’s really only so long that they hold out on that. If it’s your cup of tea, great, but beware the expiry date.

How to Get Away With Murder

In what appears to be the strangest idea for a television show, a law professor teaches her students how to get away with murder and then someone on campus is killed. So long as each episode isn’t punctuated with a lesson by their professor then this could be a gripping thriller. I’m already intrigued because I don’t know where they’re going with the premise but there is no point to a good hook if the writing that follows isn’t as equally strong.

Hayley Atwell as the title character in Agent Carter will join us in the mid-season of the 2014-15 US TV schedule.

Agent Carter could be the show to restore our faith in Marvel TV shows.

Agent Carter

This won’t air until the midseason, along with shows such as IZombie and Empire but it is worth mentioning because last year ABC had Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and that turned out to be far less entertaining than many, myself included, hoped. So why should we care about Peggy Carter? Well, firstly I think not having a direct tie to the main cinematic universe will actually allow the series to grow and flourish in its own way. Furthermore, although not directly involved, the creation of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the past will create a nice parallel to the rebuilding of S.H.I.E.L.D. as it happens in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. this season.

Alright, so I know I missed some other shows that are coming out this season such as The Flash, Stalker, Madam Secretary, Red Band Society, Scorpion, The Mysteries of Laura and Katherine Heigl’s return to television in State of Affairs. The above is far from a comprehensive list and mostly contains shows that stuck out to me as weird, wonderful or just plain bad. Still, I feel like I’m forgetting something again. I remembered Agent Carter. What could it be?

Gasping

It’s been eight months since the last dose of Doctor Who and last night BBC’s science fiction behemoth finally returned to our screens. The long wait has made fans anxious for new episodes but the opportunity to see Peter Capaldi in his first full length feature as The Doctor has even the most patient fans salivating. There really is nothing like Doctor Who. While there may be plenty of other sci-fi television shows available to watch, download or stream across the world, none of them feel quite as assured or adventurous as Doctor Who always is. Even the weakest episodes tend to be mad expeditions into the unknown.

If I’m being honest, this premiere felt like one of the weaker episodes from recent memory. It wasn’t awful. The story was fine, with just enough twists to keep it from becoming predictable, and the acting was good, though it’s unlikely to win any awards. The failing in this episode was the character writing. It’s hard to say that Capaldi’s Doctor was badly written because this is his first real appearance but Clara? If you told me that someone who had never watched an episode of Clara’s time with the Doctor had written this episode, I would completely and utterly believe you.

First of all, I take issue with the idea that Clara got what she wanted or that the Doctor gave her what she wanted because she was pretty. The Doctor chased after Clara back in ‘Asylum of the Daleks’ when she was just a voice in his head. He pursued her because her very existence was a mystery to him. And it’s not like the writers couldn’t have known this because they used the ‘impossible girl’ as part of a puzzle in the episode.  Sure, Jenna-Louise Coleman is easy on the eyes but Clara was more than that to the Doctor. I don’t think that the Doctor has ever selected a person to be a trophy companion. Not even Rose Tyler got that treatment. ‘Deep Breath’, however, attempts to rewrite the Eleventh Doctor’s entire motivations regarding Clara.

Jenna Louise Coleman returns as Clara Oswald in the series 8 premiere of Doctor Who, entitled 'Deep Breath'.

Yes, Clara, the portrayal of your character in this episode confuses us too.

Quite possibly the worst line in the entire episode is when the Twelfth Doctor states to Clara that ‘he is not her boyfriend’. Clara rightly assures him that she never thought he was but the Doctor says it wasn’t her mistake, again effectively retconning the Eleventh Doctor’s motivations and feelings in regards to Clara. Perhaps you could make an argument for Matt Smith’s Doctor playing boyfriend with Clara in the Christmas special, ‘The Time of the Doctor, but as I said in my review of that episode that implication felt out of place because there was no precedent for it. The Eleventh Doctor and Clara were friends. Perhaps they were a little flirty at times but Matt Smith’s Doctor would have flirted with a broomstick.

Furthermore, there is an insinuation that Clara doesn’t like or is in someway biased against the Doctor because he looks old now. Madam Vastra explains the Doctor’s century long lifespan to Clara despite the fact that Clara lived in. That’s what makes it especially hard to accept that Clara is somehow unimpressed with the Doctor because he’s changed and looks old; fragments of Clara have appeared throughout the Doctor’s timeline, aiding him and saving him when he’s needed it. The Doctor may have been unaware of her interventions but she saw him in every incarnation, older and younger, varying personalities and all. Given the character’s history, that she would be unable or unwilling to accept this incarnation of The Doctor as an extension of the previous eleven is absurd.

Clara herself is quite quick to put down Madam Vastra’s argument, but for all the wrong reasons. She gives examples of older celebrities whose posters she once pinned upon her wall as a little girl, rather than her own personal history with the Doctor. And all that really does is make Vastra become enamoured by Clara. The whole episode was centred about how pretty Clara was, which might been significant if it were worked into the body harvesting plot…but it wasn’t. In one scene, Vastra appears to be painting a portrait of her maid/wife but is actually documenting instances of supposed spontaneous combustion in the area at which point Clara enters and Vastra suggests she remove her clothes as well. It’s not funny and it drags down the plot.

Peter Capaldi makes his first appearance in a full length episode of Doctor Who in the series 8 premiere, Deep Breath.

“I’ve seen this face before”; Witty in-reference or a nod towards a bigger thematic issue?

The humour throughout is rather flat. Strax hits Clara in the face with a newspaper in an odd instance of slapstick humour that would be more at home in an American sitcom than a British science fiction drama. It is difficult to know whether some of the Twelfth Doctor’s incoherent madness in the earlier parts of the episode are meant to be categorized as humour or if it is simply a case of him adjusting to the regeneration because he does appear to mellow out by the end of the episode. And that’s why it’s hard to criticise the writing of his character because, like Clara, I’m still trying to figure out who he is.

I did like that we don’t really know whether the man with half a face jumped or was pushed and it’s obvious that they want the viewer to wonder about this Doctor’s morals and ethics. I could have done without the heavy-handed assertion of the question at the end and the Twelfth Doctor has a long way to go until he rivals Ten’s ability to be absolutely merciless and terrifying but as a theme for this new season, I can dig it.

On the whole, ‘Deep Breath’ was, in a word, boring. It should have been more interesting but instead it was drab. It was a run of the mill episode that deserved to come in the mid-season lull not as opener to this eighth series. That, coupled with the bad writing of Clara, made it an episode which made me angry rather than excited. Maybe the second episode will fix that. If anything in Doctor Who should bring the excitement it should definitely be the Daleks.

Barefoot Grannies lead efforts to promote reproductive health

The following is a statement from Michael Ahabwe Mugerwa, Founder and Executive Director of the ICOD Action Network.

 

BAREFOOT GRANNIES; GRANNIES LEAD EFFORTS TO END FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION AND PROMOTE REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH IN THEIR COMMUNITIES.

BAREFOOT GRANNIES; GRANNIES LEAD EFFORTS TO END FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION AND PROMOTE REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH IN THEIR COMMUNITIES.

In February 2014, our team started a journey to capture extraordinary stories about girls, women and communities whose lives had been broken down after being forced to undergo Female Genital Mutilation. Our journey took us to some of East Africa’s most remote communities where health and social services are totally broken. It’s been a journey that has helped bring unique stories about these communities out to the world. It’s been a journey that has inspired us to work harder to end Female Genital Mutilation and build safer communities for girls and women.

We recently launched another unique model called the Barefoot Grannies to create sustainable change in communities where we work through grassroots activism.  The Barefoot Grannies is a federation of 8 grassroots organizations comprised of 219 grannies in Northeastern Uganda’s Karamoja region working to end Female Genital Mutilation and promote women’s reproductive health and girl-child education. The grannies are leading efforts to change their communities’ perspective about women’s rights and ensure equal rights all women no matter where they live.

Through technical support, resource allocation, mentorship, leadership training, and network building, we are building them into exceptional grassroots leaders capable of moving their communities forward. We have worked with grassroots organizations for the past 5 years and achieved amazing results, we are glad to be working with the Barefoot Grannies to build safer communities for girls and women in Northeastern Uganda

On August 3, 2014, we launched a 30 days campaign on Indiegogo to raise funds to support the grannies work. All donations will directly go toward funding Barefoot Grannies projects. Join us in this wonderful cause; please donate to the Barefoot Grannies today through this linkhttp://www.indiegogo.com/projects/barefoot-grannies-cultivating-change/x/639146. The campaign has only 14 days left.

Written by:

Michael Ahabwe Mugerwa (ahamitch@gmail.com)

About ICOD Action Network

We are a Uganda based nonprofit founded in March 2008. ICOD Action Network’s work extends beyond material support and touches upon the need to empower communities so that they can be able to sustain themselves. We believe that local driven interventions and innovations are the foundation of sustainable community transformation.  Our core values at ICOD Action Network are deeply rooted in sustainability, human rights, justice, inclusiveness and participation, commitment, accountability and transparency. Resources and responsibilities for decision–making are used in ways that are mutually transparent and answerable to all stakeholders.

Network

The so called biggest party of the summer is upon us. The second of the big four PPV’s, bridging the period between Wrestlemania and Survivor Series, is here and with it comes Brock Lesnar. The rumours about John Cena defending the WWE World Heavyweight Championship against Brock Lesnar that I talked about back in July were true. The Beast Incarnate looks to pick up his first WWE Championship title in a decade and the only man standing his way is the Hulk Hogan of our era, John Cena. Lesnar Vs. Cena is but one match on the card, albeit possibly the most intriguing match. Other matches will see Dean Ambrose finally get his hands on Seth Rollins in a lumberjack match, Randy Orton will battle Roman Reigns and Brie Bella attempts to take Stephanie McMahon down a peg or two.

Before that though, let’s discuss the WWE Network. A lot of critics and fans have denounced the WWE Network as a failure simply because it didn’t bring in as many subscribers as Triple H and the McMahon family had hoped. Maybe they did overestimate the immediate appeal but I have no doubt that, over time, the WWE Network will prove to be a success. While the WWE may have given up a sizable amount of money by moving away from the pay-per-view system, the network is a much more contemporary and innovative model for delivering their product. The days of sitting down in front of a television and either pre-paying or purchasing a show from box office are bygone. Streaming and on-demand are now the premiere ways of watching and catching-up with your favourite shows and sports. Almost every television network and channel in the western world now offers some form of on-demand content.

The WWE Network front page.

The United States, Australasia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Mexico, Spain and the Nordics can all watch SummerSlam on the WWE Network.

The WWE Network may seem unproductive at the moment but it places the WWE a step ahead of other sports such as MMA and boxing which haven’t quite moved towards this modern concept of show distribution. And that’s not to say that MMA or boxing are lagging behind. They’re doing what works for them at the moment and at the moment MMA is probably still more popular than wrestling. But I think within the next decade we could definitely see MMA and boxing move in a similar direction and by that time WWE will have profitable and flourishing delivery system for their shows already in place.

It is just this modern culture of immediate gratification that says we should have seen notable results from the network by now. People forget that netflix didn’t become what it is today overnight either. It started by offering a good service and titles people wanted to see. Then it started offering something that people wanted but couldn’t easily find. Breaking Bad was one of the big shows that really promoted Netflix so much so that by the final season of Breaking Bad the episodes were going up on to the British site faster than they were going up on the American page because it was in hot demand. Once Netflix had established that fanbase, then they began creating their own shows such as House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. It was a step by step process and it’ll be the same for the WWE Network.

Given the WWE’s existing fan base it is understandable that they thought they could perhaps skip a few steps but their fans aren’t sheep. They aren’t going to fork over $9.99 on blind faith. WWE has to offer quality. Part of that is getting their own shows in order and producing consistently great episodes of RAW, Smackdown, Main Event and NXT. However, it would also behove the WWE to invest in a show that wrestling fans can’t easily get. Had New Japan Pro Wrestling not recently partnered with Jeff Jarrett’s upcoming Global Force Wrestling promotion I would have suggested that NJPW could have been their Breaking Bad. NJPW shows are available on stream but the WWE Network could offer them better exposure, better advertising and better quality streams all across America. Maybe there’s still an opportunity to do something with Pro Wrestling Noah or Consejo Mundail de Lucha Libre. Either way, working with other promotions in the same way that the WWE worked with ECW in the late 90’s could benefit the WWE Network by attracting unconventional viewers who might then be hooked on to WWE content. Then WWE could begin developing original shows such as Legends House and Tough Enough.

Brock Lesnar appears on WWE RAW with a new t-shirt to promote his WWE World Heavyweight Championship match against John Cena at the 2014 WWE SummerSlam event.

Is conquering John Cena best for business?

Maybe that’s just not possible. Netflix and the WWE Network are different so the same format might not work for both. Regardless of how WWE want to handle the network the one thing that will continue to be paramount is the wrestling. Great wrestling with provocative storylines will continue to engage fans and so far the build up to WWE Summerslam has been hit or miss. The Brock Lesnar Vs. John Cena storyline was at it’s strongest when the competitors weren’t on the show, oddly enough. The aftermath of the pay per view will be more of a reason to watch than the match itself.

Brie Bella vs. Stephanie McMahon has been second most heavily promoted match on the card, with Randy Orton and Roman Reigns hot on their heels. Orton will be Reigns first real test as a singles star, whereas Bella vs. McMahon is mostly just a grudge match. The build up for the latter feud has been a little over the top and cheesy at times but it’s mostly been saved by Stephanie McMahon’s presence, such as her adopting the Yes chant to rub Bella’s face in Bryan’s alleged affair with his therapist. If anyone had been told in 2000 that 14 years later Stephanie McMahon would be as entertaining as Vince McMahon they would have called shenanigans. But it’s true.

Ask fans and they’ll tell you that they’re looking forward to Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose and Chris Jericho vs. Bray Wyatt. Both promise to be classics for the modern era. Heck, even AJ Lee vs. Paige, Rusev vs. Jack Swagger and The Miz Vs. Dolph Ziggler have the potential to be great matches. A full prediction post will go up on my tumblr account later tonight. If you’ve been following along, I’m 22 for 31. Can I maintain my above average track record or will SummerSlam have some surprises in store? The only way to know for sure is to tune into SummerSlam tonight.

Double

Fox’s Gang Related is a show that I’ve had my eye on since September of last year. Terry O’Quinn’s presence drew my interest but the premise itself was intriguing. Ryan Lopez, played by Ramon Rodriguez is an undercover cop but not in the sense that cops are usually undercover. He’s undercover in the police force working for the Acosta family and their family, Los Angelicos. But he’s not just a part of any police department, he’s a member of O’Quinn’s special task force dedicated to taking down the gangs of Los Angeles.

Working simultaneously for and against Los Angelicos is a natural source of conflict and one that the show plays well. O’Quinn’s Samuel Chapel is a no-nonsense captain, hellbent on taking down Cliff Curtis as Javier Acosta, the head of Los Angelicos and the Acosta family. Javier and Chapel are really two sides of the same coin, however, and neither one is really a saint. Chapel’s tactics fall under the Jack Bauer school of thought rather than the by-the-book approach. At one point, there’s even a debate about whether or not he pushed a suspect out a window.

Javier, on the other hand, is a businessman. He makes deals with other gangs, supplies drugs and just generally manages to portray his work as a legit business. It is almost easy to forget that a lot of people are dying on his orders because we never see him get his hands dirty, at least not until later in the season. This is good writing and it is directed well because Ryan’s plight is much more sympathetic. Both men come across as father figures to the orphaned Ryan but Javier is the kindly, considerate parallel to Chapel’s tough, get the job done persona.

Terry O'Quinn stars as Gang Task Force leader Samuel Chapel in Fox's Gang-Related.

It was a sacrifice that the Island demanded.

It also helps that Javier is trying to go clean. He makes a deal with another gang, the Metas, to hand over their fish scale business along with all other aspects of their operations. In return, the Acosta family keep their non-gang affiliated businesses and are freed from the dangerous life they have led thus far. Javier’s  youngest son, Daniel Acosta, played by Jay Hernandez, is also Ryan’s best friend,  went to college and opens his own bank. Daniel represents all that Javier wants for his family and has nothing to do with the gang at all and yet, Chapel still goes after him, intending on using Daniel to get to Javier.

Ryan’s is conflicted and the audience can easily emphasise with him. Rodriguez is a likable actor but the portrayal of the situation around him helps immensely. Had Javier been a typical, blood thirsty criminal it would have been much harder to understand why Ryan stands by him at personal risk. The whole Acosta family appears to be good-hearted and making the best of their bad situation really with the exception of the older son, Carlos Acosta. Rey Gallegos acts in the role of Carlos, who appears to revel in the gang lifestyle, even going so far to kill Ryan’s partner. That is really the instigating moment. Up until that point, Ryan seems happy to live the double life. It is Carlos’ willingness to kill without caring for the consequences that makes Ryan rethink what he’s been doing for the Acosta family.

Complicating matters are the District Attorney’s office who begin investigating the police department for informants, especially Chapel’s daughter Jessica, played by One Tree Hill’s Shantel VanSanten. She begins a relationship with Ryan, who has to keep the affair hidden from both Chapel and the Acosta family; Chapel because if he is willing to push a low-level criminal out of a window what might he do to the guy sticking it to his daughter and the Acosta’s because having an Assistant District Attorney in his bed threatens to expose their entire operation. Ryan knows this but continues pursuing Jessica anyway. Their relationship seems like a reprieve for Ryan from the constant pulling from the opposite sides.

Ramon Rodriguez and Shantel VanSanten feature as the cop with a double life, Ryan Lopez, and ADA Jessica Mary Chapel in Fox's Gang-Related.

Dating the bosses daughter while working for the bad guys might not be the best idea.

None of the plans go as intended predictably and yet the show has enough surprises that it often that it feels fresh. This is not your typical cop show and is a welcome change from the many NCIS and CSI procedural shows that seem to fill the airwaves. It helps that the show airs for a thirteen episode in the summer months between the end of the 2013 schedule and the upcoming 2014 schedule so it avoids being pitted against or compared to many of the other cop procedural shows. Of course it has what viewers want most from a cop show; action. Each episode generally features the team of Rodriguez, RZA, Sung Kang and Inbar Lavi suiting up in their task force gear and making drug busts or saving hostages but the show is much more character driven than action orientated.

Even the supporting characters have their own development over the course of the first season. Lavi’s ICE agent, Veronika Dotsen, gets stuck with a needle during a mission and may be HIV positive. Kang, better known as Hans from The Fast and Furious franchise, plays FBI agent Tae Kim but it is implied that might not even be his real name. But it’s really Ryan’s story and his character development that moves the plot along. Rodriguez might not be the best actor but he is endearing in role which helps in seeing him juggle the demands of Los Angelicos and the GTF.

The dilemma is really the driving force of the show and keeps the story interesting. Do we, the viewer, want to see Ryan succeed if Chapel is worse than the man that he is chasing? Do we want to see him fail if it turns out that Javier is more devious and black-hearted than originally perceived? With only one episode left in the season, these are still questions that hang in the air. Unfortunately, the show has yet to be renewed for a second season so this might just be another show that, despite my best hopes, gets cancelled anyway.

Team

It’s nice to know that despite the success of The Avengers and the shared cinematic universe as a whole that Marvel are still interested in taking risks. In an age where most movie studios are content to rest on their laurels and produce only the slightest variations on previously successful titles, it is refreshing to see Marvel Studios make something different. And Guardians of the Galaxy is certainly different. Not in the way it was made or really how it feels, because it still at its essence feels like a Marvel movie, but different in the sense that this is only loosely tied to the overarching story that the Avengers has presented thus far.

In broad terms, the potential viewers of the Guardians of the Galaxy fall into two categories. Marvel fans, especially those who have read the comics, will readily accept and hotly anticipate the film. Casual fans on the other hand may be a bit weary simply because Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t have the name value that Iron Man or Captain America does. Those characters had Saturday morning cartoons and have been major characters in the comics so even casual viewers of Marvel films will have likely been exposed to them at some point in their lives. The closest a film in the series comes to being a risk is Thor but even that was for different reasons. People mainly questioned whether they could make the magical god-like being believable in a franchise that thus far had focused mostly on science and technology. The question facing the Guardians of the Galaxy is more accurately ‘who are these guys?’

First and foremost, these guys aren’t exactly superheros. They aren’t even really heroes for the most part. At least in The Avengers you could say Thor and Captain America were heroic. Most of the guardians are mercenaries or out for revenge. Gamora is an alien trained as an assassin by Thanos sent to steal a precious orb in Peter Quill’s possession. Quill is also wanted by a group that he betrayed, so Rocket Racoon and Groot are after his bounty. Drax the Destroyer’s family was killed by Ronan the Accuser for whom Gamora is currently working, which puts them at direct odds. These aren’t just reasons for dysfunction, however. The set up not only brings the group together but by the end actually makes them stronger.

 

Chris Pratt,  Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper star as "Space Lord" Peter Quill, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, Groot and Rocket Racoon in the Marvel's space opera team-up blockbuster, Guardians of the Galaxy.

Expect to see plenty cosplays of these characters at next years Comic-Con.

 

At first glance the guardians are discount versions of The Avengers. Peter Quill, played by Chris Pratt is mostly human but lacking powers, he instead utilises technology that allows him to breathe in space and fly for short bursts. He also sleeps around, makes snappy remarks and references a lot of pop culture. So he’s basically Tony Stark if you take away the money and most of the brains. But he’s also more likeable. There is a reason that Tony Stark is becoming Superior Iron Man in the comics. Quill, or Starlord as he likes to be called, is a scavenger for hire so while he isn’t the most honourable guy in the galaxy he generally does the right thing.

Comparisons could be made for the rest, such as Drax being an amalgamation of the Hulk and Thor (they even changed his skin colour to avoid similarities to Bruce Banner’s angry counterpart) but Guardians of the Galaxy is a much more complete film. The Avengers lost some of its allure if the audience had failed to keep up with the previous instalments of Iron Man, Thor, Captain American and The Hulk. Guardians of the Galaxy introduces the team, builds up the threat and remains entertaining while doing so proving that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a bonus, not a crutch.

All is not well, however. There has been a trend in some of the phase two films where the tension of the story is undercut by moments of inopportune humour. I criticised Iron Man 3 and Thor 2: The Dark World for being too silly at times and Guardians of the Galaxy falls into that same hole a few times. It’s mostly Quill who brings the comedy when it’s not needed. I can understand the reasoning of why the humour crops up but it ends up dragging the film into the realm of self-parody at times. Not as bad as those awful Disaster Movie type parodies but rather like Scary Movie; a light-hearted mocking of it’s own tropes while still being apart of the same genre.

 

Thanos in Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy, with voice work and motion capture provided by Josh Brolin.

Fans get their first good look at Avengers villain Thanos.

Those moments are few and for the most part the comedy is actually hilarious. Drax, played by Dave Bautista, is especially funny as an alien whose race has no concept of metaphor. It’s a character trait that could have fallen flat but Bautista makes it work and is a surprisingly good actor. Of all the wrestlers who might make good actors  he would not have been one I would have picked but I’m more than happy to be wrong. Furthermore, Vin Diesel has more character development as a tree than his character Dominic Toretto experienced in six Fast and Furious films.

Guardians of the Galaxy was always going to be a risk because it ostracised casual fans who have no idea who or what these characters are. A far ballsier move by Marvel is that this film bares only only a fleeting relation to the main franchise. Even the post-credit scene does nothing to build towards The Avengers: Age of Ultron.  And yet, the film is so funny and exciting that it easily draws in all viewers.

Despite some minor flaws, it is hard not to like this film because it  hits all the right spots that a summer blockbuster should. The story builds nicely, the characters are all well defined, distinctive and developed throughout and none of the conflict feels shoed-in or awkward. Most importantly it avoids being bogged down by the big picture and focuses on just being enjoyable. For a well structured, serious yet enjoyable superhero film take another look at Captain America: The Winter Soldier; for a fun, boisterous film that takes an easy going approach to the destruction of the universe, Guardians of the Galaxy is a must see.