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October 2015

TVGeek: Blindspot

There is only one reason to watch Blindspot, and it isn’t Sullivan Stapleton.

Look, I’m sure he’s a very nice guy and he’s certainly pleasing to the eye. But is it just me, or is he the dullest “hero” on television right now? Stapleton plays Kurt Weller, who is called after a bomb scare in Times Square reveals a naked woman with tattoos all over her body, including his name on her back. We are sure to get lots and lots of shots of the naked woman.

Jaimie Alexander plays the mysterious Jane Doe, an amnesiac apparently tattooed without her consent all over her body. She may or may not be the little girl who lived next door to Weller and disappeared many years ago, prompting a lifetime of searching, a career in law enforcement and plenty of stoic jaw-clenching.

No one else in the cast matters. 

Credulity is stretched when Jane Doe starts “helping” the FBI in their investigations of the tattoos, each of which seems to be a clue to the mystery of the week. Of course Jane discovers she is super-strong, trained as Special Forces or something, and due pretty much to her ability to kick the ass of any bad guy they meet, she gets a commission. Or something. She gets a gun and helps the team. Okay. That was pretty much the point where my disbelief could no longer get off the ground.

(Minor bonus points for Marianne Jean-Baptiste as a black female commanding officer, which is becoming more common this year, and she does a very good job with utterly crap material. Quietly, unheralded, diversity sneaks its way into television! Finally. Now write better.)

The only reason to watch this drivel is Jaimie Alexander, who never fails to portray Jane as capable and grounded despite her bizarre circumstances. No matter how flimsy the plot, dangerous the situation or wooden her partner, she remains watchable - even fun. It would be easy to let the “tattoos all over the hot girl” bit become needlessly lurid, but Alexander shows Jane’s horror and fury at the violation against her physical and mental self. Laser surgery aside, tattoos are forever, and Jane has been quite literally used in someone else’s game. 

A weaker woman would collapse and cry about it, but Jane is angry, and we are angry for her. That’s enough for me to keep watching. For now.

TVGeek: Quantico

Strangely, it’s the best new show of the year. And I didn’t expect that.

First, it gets diversity points - and so far mostly unheralded - for casting Indian actress Priyanka Chopra as the main character, Alex Parrish. Alex is terrific to watch. She’s smart and capable, throws a punch and thinks her way around a problem with the same ability, is unabashedly sexual and wholly feminine while beating the tar out of her male colleagues. And still not Superwoman, as she’s got some issues left over from unpleasant history.

So do all of them, as Quantico builds each present-day episode detailing a terrorist attack on New York City while flashing back to the training days of Alex and her cohorts, along with some truly screwed-up personal histories.

Quantico has a diverse and interesting cast without falling into tokenism. Commanding officer Miranda Shaw is a black woman dedicated to raising this miscreant crew, and willing to put her own ass on the line for them. Arab-American twins Niman and Raina are practicing being one person (for … reasons) going through the training without anyone suspecting there’s more than one of them. Jewish Simon Asher inexplicably spent part of his life in Gaza. Latina Natalie Vazquez serves as a good counterpart to Alex, good ole Southern belle Shelby Wyatt is Alex’s crack-shot roommate and everyone has a backstory with their own motivations. (Also, Caleb sucks and I want Alex to shoot him.) 

The structure of “hero framed for a crime s/he didn’t commit and is the target of a vast conspiracy” is older than Hitchcock and tiredly replayed in action-adventure movies, one after another. And yet Quantico manages to make it fresh, in part because Chopra is just that good. 

While the flashbacks have become a bit too “And Then There Were None” for my taste, it never fails to draw me in. A full season has been ordered, so with luck, we’ll watch the whole thing play out. My barometer for "good show" is when there's days' worth of episodes on my Apple TV, and this is the show I leap to watch first. For this fall's freshmen set, that's Quantico.

Supergirl: Fear of Flying

And here we go, now that the fall season has launched all its shows (or all the shows I care about, get your own column).

So I'll start with the most recent: Supergirl. It's the one that had me the most excited, and unfortunately, it is so far a mild disappointment. "A bit too rom-com" was what I heard from several people, though most critics just seem delighted that we have one superhero show that isn't about a white male hero. Sadly, that really is enough to get us excited - something different for once.

Unfortunately, there's not much that's different about Supergirl except the gender of the main character. It's fluffy and candy-colored, while her film counterpart is unremittingly grim and dull. Surely there's a middle ground, DC? You managed it before, without wedding Smallville to The Devil Wears Prada.


Spoilers ahoy! Ye were warned.

First: Melissa Benoist is doing just fine with the fluffy material she is given. She has an appealing charm that suits Kara, and the problems with the pilot don't lie with her. Best moment: as she's trying to save a crashing plane (We're going to do a callback to Superman Returns? Seriously?) and sees she's heading for a bridge. "Oh come on!" she grumps. Hee.

The backup cast - superhot "James" Olsen and the nerdy best friend are mere placeholders with eventual potential, and yes, we see the love triangle coming all the way from Krypton, so if we must do this thing, make it more Buffy and less Twilight, okay, guys?

But this one's really about the women. We have sister Alex, who has an inexplicable and totally invisible competition with Kara that gets completely resolved in ten minutes. She also works for SHIELD - I mean, um, whatever the secret anti-alien society is with another forgettable character who hates aliens in their role to ... protect us from truth, justice and the American Way? It's hard to tell. Or care.

Calista Flockhart is nicely cast as Prada McBeal - shut up, I can make up character names if I please - a female counterpart to J. Jonah Jameson with an awful proto-feminist "what, I'm a girl!" speech that makes me deliciously hate her. If there's a failing in her casting, it's that she's a better antagonist than the lame Aunt From Hell we get in the last five minutes. Then you add in the Ghost of Alura (Kara's mum) as the super-powerful matriarch looming over Kara (shades of Jor-El, natch) and it's like we're setting up for the battle of the matriarchs.

As EW pointed out, the biggest obstacles in Kara's quest to become a heroine is... other women.

That bugs me, because it shades of "women must fight women," just as we had to manufacture some totally artificial conflict between Kara and her foster sister because women can't work together in TV Land. I suppose it can go somewhere interesting, but right now it just shades of "this is what men think the world would look like if women ran it." With bonus nonsense that women and men can't fight each other, which went out of fashion after Lois Lane decked Ursa in Superman II just so Superman wouldn't be seen smacking a woman. Thank Zod Kara's final battle was with the Alien Meathead, or I'd really be annoyed.

I'd give them bonus points for fan-service stunt casting in Supergirl Helen Slater and Lois and Clark Dean Cain as foster parents Danvers, except they had exactly one line between them and disappeared. Here's hoping for more.

So here's the ticker:

Minus five points for stupid blubbering by Kara when she meets the super-hot "James" Olsen, because male writers always think that's the way women act when they meet a Hot Guy. Seriously, I have never observed a woman act this way in front of the hottest of hot guys, and yet in television and movies, the most intelligent and capable woman becomes a blithering idiot when faced with a guy who stepped out of GQ. Case in point: poor Natalie Portman is practically juggling cereal bowls when Thor stops by her trailer in the first movie, for no apparent reason dropping forty IQ points. Real women might temporarily stop speaking for ten seconds in shock, but they don't turn into total idiots. Not even when Smallville's Michael Rosenbaum inexplicably hits on them

Minus two points for massive infodump jamming the entire origin story in the prelude. I get that they didn't want the pilot to be her whole backstory, but I think a little more time with the Danverses and Kara's history, a little less time with "hilarious" blind dates from an online service would have done well. 

Minus five points and a slap with a copy of the SPJ Code of Ethics for Jimmy Olsen winning the Pulitzer for a POSED fake-candid of Superman. 

Plus ten points for the costume mockery. No, Supergirl does not wear hotpants.

Minus three points for sister competitiveness instead of working together because of course women can't work with other women, minus five points for Prada McBeal's "what, I'm a girl!" speech, as detailed before.

Plus three points for actual human emotion at Alura's hologram. It was probably the only moment that felt real to me, and reminded us that unlike Kal-El, Kara has actual memories of her deceased parents, and real pain at losing them. Which also underscores the weirdness that she and Kal-El apparently have no real relationship in this version, despite being the only relatives these two orphans have left.

Minus two points for lame sister-resolution. Have I stated yet that it was a stupid choice? Create totally artificial competitiveness that appears out of nowhere and then resolves itself! Go watch Smallville and get back to me on slow-growth competition.

Plus three points for "we're not calling ourselves (Superfriends)." Ha! (Though maybe keep your voice down about your Big Secret in a newsroom. Seriously, Hollywood people writing journalists - I'm available to consult.)

Which leaves them at a negative six to start. Argh. I'd agree with Kara's final conclusion: The world needs Supergirl, if only to balance out the hideous atrocity that was Man of Steel and that, I fear, will be compounded by Batman vs. Superman. But we can do better. Please, do better. Fly.