Sunday, January 19, 2014

The "Bernels" for 2013's Small Screen

Last year, I started my very own movie awards – the “Bernels” (LOL).  It was nothing fancy and technical.  Just plain fun, informal ad-libs of categories for predetermined winners.  I’m going to do more of that soon (around the Oscars season), but for now, I’ve decided that I’m going to apply the Bernels’ treatment on 2013 TV shows.   (So now, the Bernel’s will have two editions: for TV and then for movies.  Sort of an Emmys Bernels and an Oscars Bernels. LOL).  Again, there is only one criterion for categories and winners: my preference.    

BEST TV SERIES: Elementary
When House M.D. was still around, it was my undisputed most favorite TV series.  But now, among the pool of TV series I follow, I can’t easily pick one.  I really don’t have a most favorite – what show I enjoy the most above all.  But if I’m compelled to pick one, I think I’ll go with – hmmmm – maybe, Elementary.  Or Castle.  Hmmmm.  Ok, Elementary then.  I, think, among all the TV series I follow, these two are the ones I am most excited about to watch a new episode of.  Either of the two will do for me as “Best TV Series.” But I’ll go with Elementary, since it features a Sherlock Holmes (my most favorite character of all time) and Johnny Lee Miller’s take on him might not be the best reinvention of the character I’ve ever seen, but he still did fantastic in playing an eccentric, brilliant, and charismatic Sherlock Holmes.                

Plus, there was no Sherlock in 2013.  Therefore, since that superior Sherlock Holmes TV series was unavailable, Elementary has no rival in my interest and affection.  Sherlock does it better (by a distant margin), but Elementary can’t be compared to the absent Sherlock in 2013.   (Next year, however, is another matter.  Sherlock Series 3, which came out this 2014, has just recently finished.  And it was awesome!  It will be in contention in next year’s Bernels.  Elementary has no chance of touching it by then.)     

If given some thought, Elementary’s premise seems to imply lack of originality and creativity.  It seems to be a gimmicky attempt to capitalize on the popularity of both Sherlock Holmes as a pop culture icon and Sherlock.  It tried to be “original” by minimizing the amount of allusion to the original literature, and outside of these minimal references, everything is new and different.  But, then again, if a lot of things are going to be new and different anyway, why not make the rest of the elements new and different?  Let the characters and stories and every other element of the show stand on their own, and not anchor it on the popularity of the Sherlock Holmes mythos.  (What makes Sherlock awesome is its perfect depiction of how the Sherlock Holmes mythos will fare if it’s in a modern setting.  There is rapport and balance between the novelty of a new narrative and the referencing of elements – quotes, names, features, plot devices, plot details, etc. – from the original literature.  Then, there is cleverness in manipulating and reinventing these allusions to fit into an original overall storyline.)
One of these significant attempts to be different by Elementary is making Watson a female.  And it ruins the special dynamic and charm of Holmes and Watsons’ relationship.  Moreover, with Watson as a female, there is a chance that a love angle between Watson and Holmes will develop.  Ugh.  (Again, Sherlock did perfectly well in translating the friendship between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson into a modern setting.  Another example is House M.D.’s House and Wilson, which were based on Holmes and Watson)   The only way I can learn to accept this detail is that Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson will never become a couple throughout this show.  Nonetheless, I don’t hate the character.  I learned to tolerate her and treat her as a mere character and necessary aspect of the show. 

Setting these (minor) nitpickings aside, Elementary is fascinating and entertaining.   It’s a smart mystery series.  Again, Johnny Lee Miller’s Sherlock Holmes is entertainingly compelling.  The supporting characters, especially Gregson, have been given ample personalities to make you interested.  The show’s “mystery of the week” suits me.  And the twist of the major arc of Season 1 – Holmes’ run-on with Moriarty – blew me away (more of this later).    

Runner-up: Castle

If Elementary’s reinvention of the Sherlock Holmes mythos is absurd and utterly different from its source, then Sleepy Hollow’s approach is full-blown, batshit insanity.  Out of the main character, Ichabod Crane; the presence of the Headless Horseman; and “Sleepy Hollow” as the setting, the show has no resemblance with Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” 

It’s about Ichabod Crane, who was brought to the present time by his (witch) wife, as he partners with police officer, Abbie Mills, and together, in each episode, with the aid of some allies, they take on supernatural threats and historical mysteries as part of their fated crusade to stop the agents of evil, like the Horseman of Apocalypse, from heralding the apocalypse. 

There is no denying that everything about this show is ridiculous and dumb.  But it also does produce captivating entertainment. 

The show mixes up biblical, historical, horror, and fantasy elements in its mythos, making it very interesting.  Tom Mison’s Ichabod Crane has strong screen charisma; he is such a fascinating character that even when the show’s craziness and ludicrousness go too much, he will carry the show and keep your interest intact.  Moreover, Ichabod Crane’s encounters with modern technology and practices bring obvious funny moments to the show.  It also helps that the rest of the ensemble of characters of this show is as likable as Crane as well.  

Runner-up:  Almost Human

The show was compelling enough to make me write about it during its first season’s run last year.  There are four main reasons why I got hooked with it: 1.) Stahma Tarr; 2.) Datak Tarr; 3.) its fresh and appealing sci-fi premise (despite of borrowing several tropes from past sci-fi shows); and 4.) the presence of a potential to become as awesome as Firefly.  Among these four, the main reason I’m still in for the ride, despite of the show’s disappointingly underwhelming season finale, is the fourth one.  As I’ve said before (in my initial analysis of the show), “…as long as I feel that the potential is still there, I will be following the show.   In fact, I think that even if the show fail to achieve that level of awesomeness I’m hoping it would become, as long as that feeling of potential – just this – remains present, I’ll actually take it.  I’m willing to continue watching it for that.”

Runner-up: Almost Human
Despite of having three movies already, I want more of Toy Story.  I believe it’s still good enough for two or three more movies.  There are no plans of doing another one yet.  For now, I’m thankful that this 20-minute TV special during last year’s Halloween was made.  Such a delightful treat to see the beloved Toy Story characters again.   

I don’t watch much anime as much as I do when I was younger.  So my pool for “Best Anime” does not have many choices in it.  But I believe Kuroko No Basuke deserves to win this.      

2013 was the year that I first encountered Kuroko No Basuke.  And I easily got hooked with the over-the-top and thrilling basketball drama that its new chapters and new episodes are what I was excitedly looking forward to the most among all the manga and anime I was into in 2013.  

Here’s another TV show that crazily deviated from its literary source material in its attempt to reinvent it.  Just like Elementary and Sleepy Hollow, this ludicrous reinvention of Dracula successfully worked.  Dracula’s similarity to the original literature is limited to character names and to their characteristics (to an extent).  It’s so absurdly different from traditional Dracula stories.  Dracula takes the guise of an American, Alexander Grayson.  Dracula and Vah Helsing are collaborators (what?!).  The villain of the story is not Dracula, but the Order of the Dragon, a powerful secret society that manipulated the political conditions of the world for centuries for their own greedy purposes.    And there’s the porn star-like Lady Jaye, who is supposed to be a brilliant vampire hunter, but can’t tell that Grayson is a vampire since she got the hots on him.  And a lot of other insanity.       

I was so excited for this to come.  Heck, it has fan-favorite Phil Coulson in it.  But then, when it finally aired, it felt flat, bland, and dreadfully lacking.  There were many times I felt that watching an episode was a chore.  The plot and narrative are hardly as epic as I expect it was going to be.  Outside of Phil Coulson and Melinda May, the characters are uninteresting, unlikable, and generic, but can be tolerable in the long run, with the exception of Skye, which the consensus of viewers found annoying. 

Still, I’m still not going to give up on this.  This series, after all, is still connected to the epic Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Improvement is not at all an impossibility, and is actually likely.  I’ll give it time to gel.  Besides that, Phil Coulson and Melinda May, which are both cool and charismatic characters, are keeping me a willing watcher of this show. 

Let me insert this insight of mine: I strongly believe that it would have been a hundred times better if they named the show Coulson instead of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.    Let Phil Coulson to completely be the star of it.  It doesn’t mean that the other characters will be forgotten and have the disadvantage of not getting a chance to shine.  Actually look at shows like Castle and House.   Though Richard Castle and Gregory House are the main stars, their supporting characters proved to be interesting and developed well during the series.   Castle and House headlined and carried the show – and rightfully so, since they are the most interesting characters in their respective shows – but, still, the other characters were not completely overshadowed.  Hence, since Phil Coulson is the most interesting character in the show anyway, they should have let him headline and carry the show.  The audience will have to focus mainly on him at the start, since they would be watching his show – a show about Phil Coulson and not a show about Phil, Melinda May, and a bunch of boring characters – hence, the show will have the advantage of having the other characters develop quietly while the viewers focus on Coulson. 

Castle doesn’t qualify for this.  Though it’s already in its Season 6, I only started watching it back in 2012.  So it doesn’t count.  Thus, it goes to Psych, which is the oldest on-going TV series that I’ve been following.  I am still loving the clever use of humor and “pop culture/nerd culture theme of the week” approach (Castle also does this often) of this show.  For me, the good quality of the writing of this series is still sustained.  Would still love to see more of Shawn Spencer in the future. 

BEST TV HERO: Ichabod Crane (Sleepy Hollow)
Once again, a big reason why Sleepy Hollow is awesome is because of Ichabod Crane.  The character is captivating and fresh, despite being another genius-type protagonist – a thing which TV is already crowded of.  Aside from his intellect, he is also a badass, for he takes on the supernatural head on despite having no supernatural abilities at all.  Moreover, being a man from the past, he is constantly baffled by the modern world, much to the amusement of us the viewers, adding another layer of charm to the character. 

Runner-Ups: Sherlock Holmes (Elementary), Richard Castle (Castle

BEST TV HEROINE: Kate Beckett (Castle)
Castle is Richard Castle’s show.  But Beckett is as much important to the show as the titular Castle.  In their partnership, they are in equal standing.  While Castle does enable the “thinking out of the box” thought process with his initial outlandish assessments, it is Beckett who keeps the investigation in sensible precision (hence, together, they make an awesome crime-solving team).   And between the two of them, Becket is actually the consistent badass, not Castle.   

BEST TV VILLAIN: Datak Tarr (Defiance)
BEST TV VILLAINESS: Stahma Tarr (Defiance)
They aren’t really the outright villains, but they are nonetheless the most malicious among the regular characters of the show.  As I’ve mentioned earlier, this compelling husband-and-wife tandem is one of the things that keeps me watching Defiance.  They are, clearly, the best characters in the series.  

Datak obsesses in increasing his status, and Stahma is pleased whenever she aids her husband achieve his goals.  They are intensely driven by ambition and will do whatever it takes to get what they want.  Both are natural schemers, but Datak is more impulsive while Stahma is more calculating.  These put great depth and personality to the characters, making them mightily interesting.      

BEST ANIMATED TV SERIES CHARACTER: Tetsuya Kuroko (Kuroko No Basuke)
Since Kuroko No Basuke is my favorite animated series in 2013, it is only right to pick Tetsuya Kuroko as 2013’s best animated character in TV.  His remarkable basketball skills make him a truly fascinating character.  (I even found his qualities as a perfect analogy for what makes a great worship leader.)   

BEST TV DUO: John Kennex & Dorian (Almost Human)
If you really attempt to think out Almost Human, you will find stupidity, inconsistency, and plot holes in it.  And for a sci-fi show, the amount of sci-fi in it is just passable.  Hence, you won’t love and follow this show for its intellect nor for its sci-fi.   You would love and follow this show because of John Kennex and Dorian.  Their chemistry is so fantastic that it’s enough to make you overlook the show’s flaws. 

Almost Human borrows a lot of tropes from established sci-fi properties.  And this is the true on the case of John Kennex and Dorian.  They are obvious copies of Elijah Bailey and R. Daneel Olivaw from Isaac Asimov’s Robot novels.  Now, Elijah Bailey and R. Daneel Olivaw’s partnership was very engaging and enjoyable, hence, what had drawn me to watch Almost Human and what kept me watching is how John Kennex and Dorian perfectly remind me of Elijah Bailey and R. Daneel Olivaw. 

Runner-Ups: Richard Castle & Kate Becket (Castle), Shawn Spencer & Burton “Gus” Guster (Psych)

Veronica Mars had already ended way back in 2007.  I was never aware of its existence during its run.   But then it became relevant again in 2013 after creator Rob Thomas launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a Veronica Mars movie.  The goal was $2 million dollars.  That goal was met in mere ten hours after the start of the campaign – a record-breaking achievement.  Because of the buzz it caused, I became curious what this Veronica Mars is all about – if the show is really that good as implied by the positive Kickstarter response for a film.  I checked it out – all three seasons of it... and I easily became a fan.  It was an impressive and well-written show; it was obviously another case of a great show being undeservingly and prematurely cancelled.  Furthermore, Veronica Mars is a compelling character – a Nancy Drew with an attitude – and one of the best female characters I’ve ever encountered in fiction.  And, yes, I’m “Team Logan” (Piz is boring and uninteresting, one of the few bad things about the show).        

Breaking Bad ended in 2013.  Its finale was praised as one of the greatest in TV history.  Breaking Bad could be one of the finest TV shows ever and I’ve never even watched a single episode.  It made me think that I had missed out from something special.   It made me wish I should have bothered checking it out while it was still on air.     

BEST TWIST: Irene Adler = Moriarty!!!
It blew my mind.  In Elementary’s own reinvention of the Sherlock Holmes mythos, Irene Adler – the woman Sherlock Holmes esteemed the most in all the retellings and reincarnations – was the real identity of Moriarty (Holmes’ arch-nemesis).  “Moriarty” was merely Irene Adler’s alias (or was it vice versa?) all along.  She is the real “Napoleon of Crime.”   And Moriarty’s male voice that Sherlock converses with on the phone was courtesy of a minion of hers – being given instruction on what he should say by Irene.  This development is pretty original and has never been done before in any other Sherlock Holmes reinventions – brilliant!      

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