This week, I look at the beginnings of three new(ish) shows, talking about them in order of best to worst.
Synopsis: A superhero take on Australian Aboriginal culture, the story follows two brothers as one of them takes on the mantle of the Cleverman. They must navigate society, including the turmoil between humans and hairies–a physically strong but oppressed people, confined to a containment zone. Between their personal issues and the country’s deep-seated prejudices, they have plenty of challenges ahead.
Series: Season 1’s six episodes are airing, and there will be a second season.
I’ve Watched: The pilot.
Verdict: I’m calling it. This is going to be the show to watch this year.
Before I get into the plot and characters, it’s important to mention that the show’s creator, Ryan Griffen, is both Australian Aboriginal himself and sought input from the community to tell this story in a respectful way. Furthermore, indigenous actors play indigenous characters in a story heavily influenced by Aboriginal culture. So I feel like I can assume this show is probably respectful.
The show itself is fantastic. It knows what it’s doing, and the pilot is immediately engaging.
The main protagonist, Koen, is estranged from his family, and trying to make a living. Sometimes that living comes at other people’s expense. He tries not to care, and mostly manages to succeed.
His half-brother Waruu stuck with his family. He works hard on behalf of his community, which consists of both humans and hairies, trapped in the poor conditions of the containment zone.
Then their uncle, the Cleverman, chooses a successor from among the brothers. And for some reason, it isn’t Waruu. It’s Koen. Koen, the black sheep who left his people while his brother stayed, fighting on behalf of the community.
While we as viewers aren’t told the reason for this decision yet, it sets up the potential for delicious conflict. The brothers are already at each other’s’ throats. But now, Koen has been given the responsibility to do something far more similar to what Waruu has been doing all these years, than what he’s been doing. How is Koen going to grow into that role? Is Waruu going to help him? And how bad will their personal problems get?
On top of that is, of course, the political atmosphere. Hairies are feared and shunned. If they leave the containment zone, they risk being separated from their families and imprisoned. Their treatment is brutal, with more of the brutality happening behind closed doors. I noted the differences in how the guards handled their prisoners when cameras were rolling from when they finally reached the prison.
Not only is there plenty for the story to do with this set-up, but the premise will also pull Koen into the middle of this conflict–which is interesting, because he starts out as a man who believes firmly that this is not his problem.
Overall, the first episode was amazing, and I expect the rest of the series to follow suit.
Synopsis: Jesse Custer is struggling to fit into the role of a rural preacher, after walking away from a very different kind of life. As his conviction waivers, a powerful force makes its way around the world…and a group of unusual people find their way to his door.
Series: First season currently airing (ten episodes)
I’ve Watched: The pilot.
Verdict: Compelling, but also disjointed.
The show knows how to craft some impressive scenes, but doesn’t put them together as well.
For instance, we meet the preacher, giving a less than stellar sermon to his congregation. He’s not in his element. He doesn’t have charisma, he doesn’t project authority, and he doesn’t command respect. This is all indicated in one scene, concisely, and it isn’t overdone.
Already, that’s a promising start. We get a measure of his character and who he’s trying to be, through a show of his flaws.
Then we get to see the flip side–the situations where he does project authority and command respect. And there, we’re introduced to an interesting duality–a man with a dark past and the skills to go along with it, trying to be a small-town preacher.
But then the show will flip around too much between various scenes with different characters, without tying them together. It’s hard to get a bead on what’s happening, initially (though easier for those familiar with the comics). And that makes the show feel disjointed, despite many individual scenes being quite good.
Beyond that, the show incorporates things I’m not entirely sure it knows what it’s doing with. For example, it creates a fictional situation that references the issue of having a sports mascot that’s racist against Native Americans, but then mostly uses at a background event. Why? Why bring up a socially relevant topic then refuse to do anything with it?
I will say that the landscape and atmosphere are a cut above the rest. Overall, it could be a great experience, and handles some aspects quite well. But there are a few shaky things.
The Man in the High Tower
Genre: Alternate history/Dystopia
Synopsis: In a world where the Allies lost WWII, and the United States was divided between German and Japanese control, subversive newsreels of how the Allies won the war is collected by the mysterious Man in the High Castle. When several of our protagonists come into contact with the newsreels, they embark on a journey to find out its secrets.
Series: First season is over, second season will air.
I’ve Watched: The first two episodes.
This show focuses so much on its setting and set-up that it neglects the character work. As a result, the characters don’t have much interesting about them. We don’t know anything that makes them unique as people. I’m also not fond of the “woman impulsively gets herself and others into danger and needs to be rescued by a random male stranger who thinks she’s cute” plotline.
The show is heavily praised, and I’m not sure what the people praising it see that I don’t. It has high production values, but the character work is just so generic. It’s hard to get into the show beyond the idea of it.
Obviously, a lot of people like it, but it doesn’t work for me. And Cleverman–with which it shares some overlap in theme, despite many differences–completely blows it out of the water.