Monthly Archives: September 2021

TV Round-Up: LaBrea, “Pilot”

NUP_193928_2191-H-2021Early in the first episode of NBC’s La Brea, a character turns to another and notes that it feels like they’re living an episode of Lost.

Which is all well and good, if you’re doing something that feels fresh and original like Lost did when it debuted all those years ago. Alas, too many shows since Lost have come and gone by attempting to capture lightning in a bottle again by doubling down on big mysteries that promise answers that will be as mind-boggling as those we got on Lost.

Part of what made Lost work was that it allowed us to invest in the characters on the island. Even in the pilot, there was enough time to at least give us something to grasp onto about each character beyond the superficial.

In its pilot episode, La Brea hasn’t yet given me anything concrete about these characters that makes me want to invest in them. We have the estranged husband and wife, Gavin and Eve, and their two teenage kids. They’re separated but Eve is still wearing her wedding and engagement ring on a necklace. Meanwhile, Gavin has headaches and sees visions of something that he can’t quite identify yet. Those visions drove him out of the Air Force where he did, um, something.

Eve carries a massive amount of guilt over not being their for her kids — especially the daughter who lost a limb in a car accident because Eve couldn’t or wouldn’t get away from work.

One morning, while taking the kids to school, a massive sinkhole opens up in downtown Los Angeles. Eve and the son, Josh, are sucked into the sinkhole while the daughter, Izzy, isn’t. Turns out there is some type of tear (think Doctor Who’s tear in space and time from Matt Smith’s first season) and somehow Josh and Eve end up in a prehistoric time, complete with no cell service and hostile animals.

La Brea - Season 1

Meanwhile, Gavin sees birds flying out of the sinkhole that match his visions and now he’s seeing his wife. Is he somehow connected to them and will the governmental agents, who are covering up the rip in the space time continuum at the bottom of the sink hold up, believe him?

The pilot throws a lot of characters at us, fast and furious. We have a doctor/survivalist and his daughter, a guy who wants to commit suicide, and the wacky comic relief guy who has downloaded music to his phone and has working air pods. The pilot builds in a lot of mysteries and threads but none of them particularly seized my imagination in quite the same way a polar bear on a seemingly tropical island.

La Brea also suffers from some effects that make your basic SyFy series great by comparison and some rather dull direction. Again, comparisons to Lost, which had its pilot directed by J.J Abrams (back before he started polarizing fan bases), don’t help.

After a single episode and an extended preview of what’s to come, I’m not sure I necessarily will be coming back for more. I’m already behind on so many other things I want to or feel like I should be watching (looking back, I should have watched the first episode of Foundation instead) that I’m not sure I can or want to give this show any more bandwidth.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, yes Eve does lose the wedding ring necklace and its dug up by her husband near the exact spot she lost it. So, there is apparently some wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey stuff going on here. Except, Doctor Who has already done it and done it better…

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who: Meglos by Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who: Meglos: 4th Doctor Novelisation“Meglos” features one of the shortest run times in all of classic Doctor Who. If you remove recaps and the credits, the entire run of this one barely runs just a shade over eighty minutes — well short of the standard run time for a four-part serial. And while many will agree with this is the weakest entry for season eighteen, I choose not to see that as a blight on the story, but rather a compliment to just how good season eighteen really is.

And if we’re being honest, I’d rather watch “Meglos” than “The Horns of Nimon” any day of the week.

So, the sheer fact that Terrance Dicks is able to get the novel up to its usual page count and to actually enhance the story a bit is a testament to just how good Dicks can be. Oh sure, he can’t really explain away a sentient, talking cactus as the main villain, but he can at least give us a bit of backstory and a name for the kidnapped human who serves as a host for the titular “Meglos.”

Dicks also fills in a few gaps in the history of both worlds and the conflict between them, adding a bit of depth to the story. And yes, this is a story of doppelgangers and huge coincidences, but I honestly didn’t mind them as much on listening to the audiobook of this one. This isn’t a classic serial, but if taken in the right way, it’s a good one. The commentary on the conflict between science and religion on the planet Tigella seems like it could or should be more interesting or substantial than it turns out to be.

The audiobook of this one is another solid entry in the line. John Culshaw has become one of the strongest readers as the range starts to wind down — and not just because he imitates Tom Baker spot-on. Of course, having John Leeson on hand to read K-9’s lines is an added bonus.

Look, this isn’t a great story but it’s a damn fun one –and the audiobook reflects that. I don’t regret a moment I spent with this one.

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A Few YA Reviews

Every once in a while, you hit a string of books that you really enjoyed reading.  And then, you hit a string of books you really didn’t like or just didn’t connect with you.   The latter is the case with a couple of recent reads that I really didn’t enjoy.

There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins

There's Someone Inside Your HouseExiled to Nebraska, senior Mikani Young is enduring life with her strict grandmother and at a new high school. The only ray of hope is her summer hook-ups with fellow local outcast Ollie and her two friends.

But when a series of brutal murders begin taking place around town, Mikani realizes she can’t escape her troubled past. And worst of all — her friends suspect that mysterious Ollie may be the prime candidate behind the murders.

Stephanie Perkins’ There’s Someone Inside Your House suffers from an identity crisis, never quite able to decide if it’s a slasher/thriller or a young-adult romance. The transitions from one focus to the other are jarring and took me completely out of this novel. Add to it that I kept wanting to shake Mikani and tell her it was time to grow up and stop acting like a spoiled brat and it all adds up to one of the least enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time.

The serial killer aspect of things becomes tedious quickly and the final reveal of who it was had me going, “Come on, really?!?” I know all books aren’t for me, so I’ll just chalk this one up as another young adult books that just didn’t quite connect and move on.

Panic by Lauren Oliver

Panic

Could we please let the young adult trope that all the teenagers are smarter and more together than adults go the way of the dodo?

That thought kept hitting me as I listened to Lauren Oliver’s Panic. And it’s probably why I decided to give up on it about halfway through.

Add in that the novel feels derivative of multiple other (better) young adult-targeted novels (especially The Hunger Games) and this was just another in a string of recent novels that didn’t connect with me.

I had picked this one up with thoughts of trying out the Amazon series based on it. But given the sheer volume of other streaming shows I haven’t started or finished yet, I may not be sampling this one any time soon.

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Review: The Stowaway by James S. Murray and Darren Wearmouth

The Stowaway

Two years ago, Maria Fontana served on the jury of the suspected serial killer, Wyatt Butler. Ending in a mistrial that set Butler free, Maria’s life has been a whirlwind ever since that time as the world won’t stop hounding the jury, demanding to know who the dissenting vote was. When Maria outs herself as the lone juror who voted not guilty, things only intensify.

After a tell-all book by a possibly unscrupulous writer and being put on sabbatical due to her increasing instability, Maria is ready to get her life back on track with her fiancee and her two children. So, she books a cruise and looks forward to a week away and then entering the real world again. Alas, the two-year nightmare isn’t about to end for Maria. Instead, it’s about to get much, much worse.

A series of mysterious deaths on the ship, all connected to Maria and the trial take place. Could Wyatt Butler be on board and is his final target, Maria?

I’ve read and enjoyed the first couple of offerings from Impratical Joker James S. Murray and Darren Warmouth. Those novels weren’t exactly great literature, but they were still entertaining rides into horror. The Stowaway moves away from the horror genre and into the suspense area — and the result is a book that I couldn’t quite become as invested in. The characters are paper-thin and it feels like the suspense strung out a bit too long for my liking. We spend a long time wondering if Wyatt is on the ship, and, if so, where can he be hiding in plain sight. There are some pretty gruesome deaths in here as well — if you’re triggered by young victims in peril, this one might not be for you.

By the time we get to the final revelations and the twists, I’d pretty much guessed a good share of all of them.

This isn’t necessarily a terrible book. It’s just one that disappointed me.

It’s the literary equivalent of a bag of potato chips.

I received a digital ARC of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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The Robert Holmes Doctor Who Re-Watch: “The Ark in Space”

ark1Cited by modern Doctor Who showrunners, Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat as the best story of the classic era, “The Ark in Space” is also a great entry point for fans who want to see what all the fuss classic Who is about.

Robert Holmes had just taken on the reigns as script-editor when he had to do a full page-one rewrite of a script by John Lucarotti. Holmes kept the setting of a space station because the sets were already under construction (a cost-cutting measure for the first fourth Doctor season had the sets used here and later in “Revenge of the Cybermen.”) In place of the original story, Holmes gave us a four-part serial with an utterly chilling monster and a high stakes as the Doctor and a group of humans fight for the survival of humanity.

In many ways, this is Holmes taking the base-under-siege stories of the Patrick Troughton era and upping the stakes dramatically. Yes, we’re concerned with the fate of the group of newly revived humans as they battle the Wirrin. But also at stake is the future of humanity and whether or not humanity will survive or become Wirrin food. Continue reading

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who: Dalek by Rob Shearman

51rkR2wzh0LOn television, “Dalek” is a masterpiece and possibly the best hour of the revived Doctor Who has yet produced. I’ve loved it since it first enthralled me upon first airing and it’s probably the new Who episode I’ve revisited the most.

So, when news broke that Rob Shearman was adapting the story for the second set of new Who Target novels, I was very excited. And a bit nervous, fearing the novel might not live up to my lofty expectations. Expectations only grew when the four new Target novels were pushed back a year in the early days of the pandemic and lockdown.*

* On a positive note, this gave me a chance to explore some of Shearman’s other writings, including his collection of non-Who short stories. This, as it turns out, was a very good thing.

And so it was, at last, that the four new Target novels hit my download queue and I could finally take a listen to “Dalek.” And I’m happy to report that Shearman has hit out of the park with this one. He’s taken one of the quintessential episodes of Doctor Who and turned it into a quintessential Target adaptation. I’m not sure I could have enjoyed this one more. Continue reading

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Summer Repeats: Re-Visiting Some Old Friends

Growing up, summers were the time when my favorite TV shows aired repeats of the previous season, allowing you to catch-up a bit , visit again with old friends, or discover a new favorite. Today with streaming, repeats have become a thing of the past and it’s all about new, new, new content.

This summer, I’ve been visiting a few old friends on the printed page — both through re-reading of physical copies and audiobooks. It’s been an interesting journey and I’ve been struck by a few things.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game (Ender's Saga, #1)It’s probably been twenty-plus years since I read Ender’s Game, so I figured it was time to visit this one again. I did wonder how knowing the twist at the end of the story might change my reaction to certain scenes and characters.

While knowing where it’s all leading certainly lends a different light to certain portions of the story, it still didn’t take away from the overall enjoyment of the novel this time around. Continue reading

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Review: Billy Summers by Stephen King

Billy Summers

Billy Summers is one of the best in his business. However, that business is killer for hire, where Billy puts his military sharpshooter training to good use. Billy justifies his chosen profession by telling himself he only takes jobs where he’s eliminating “bad guys.”

Realizing that he’s only got a certain number of “bad guys” he can take out, Billy decides to take one last, extremely lucrative job and retire.

But what he didn’t count on was that while getting in place for the kill, that he’d start to immerse himself in the community around him, connecting with his neighbors under his assumed identity, and even starting an itch to put down some roots or establish a few human connections. Of course, Billy then has to complete the job, leaving those who met him, knew him, and grew to love him, scratching their heads at how this nice guy who played Monopoly with the kids could be a cold-blooded killer.

One thing you can say about Stephen King is he never writes the same book twice. He may revisit some of the same themes in his work — especially when it comes to exploring the process and the implications of writing — but he doesn’t repeat himself when it comes to characters and situations. And while he’s primarily classified as a horror writer, I’d argue that in the last decade or so, he’s moved away from just writing about the supernatural. Continue reading

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