January 18th, 2013
Three science fiction-related items for the price of one:
I saw Safety Not Guaranteed on Tuesday. I'd seen the trailer months ago and forgotten all about it, but when I noticed it was showing at my local arthouse cinema the intriguing plot hook – a journalist investigates a somewhat eccentric man who placed a small ad in a newspaper advertising for someone to accompany him on a trip back in time – had stuck in my mind so I gave it a look.
As we get to know our would-be time traveller the story goes off on all sorts of interesting tangents, balancing the journalist's quest to find out what he's up to and why he's doing it with reflections on how the various characters' pasts have shaped where they are now and where they're going. The whole thing could have collapsed into silliness at several points, but the performances of the cast – especially Mark Duplass as the man who wants a partner to travel back in time, Aubrey Plaza as the journalist who gets drawn into his scheme, and Jake Johnson as her boss who has his own reasons for making the trip to the small town where all this takes place – give real, sympathetic performances that draw you in and make you care about how this strange story is going to end.
(And no, I'm not going to say anything about whether there's a time machine and whether anyone travels back in time. Go and see the film if you want to find out.)
Word has it that the Syfy channel have cancelled Alphas after just two seasons, having left the story on one hell of a cliffhanger. For my money, Alphas is the show that Heroes should have been. Alphas may have had fewer splashy special effects sequences than the earlier show, but it had vastly superior characterisation and plotting and the potential to build on a pretty stellar first couple of seasons.
As a viewer in the UK I'm aware that science fiction fans in the States keep slagging off Syfy for not being interested in sustaining science fiction shows and filling their schedules with wrestling, cheap monster movies and reality TV but obviously from over here I have no first hand experience of the quality of their network and no detailed knowledge of how they do ratings-wise. I'll just note that a network that has cancelled shows of the quality of Farscape1, Stargate Universe2 and Alphas3 must have either a hell of a strong lineup or a death wish.
I posted about H+ The Digital Series back when it was a quarter of the way through the first, 48 episode season. Now that we've reached the end of the first season, I'd say that it turned out to be a stronger show than I'd expected. I'm still not wild about getting the story doled out in 3 to 4 minute chunks, but over time the plot did settle down into a number of complementary strands that depicted an interesting world and left me wanting more.
If you couldn't take the prospect of jumping from story to story in 3 minute chunks at weekly intervals, the series web site does have an interactive timeline that lets you follow the different plots in order so you might find that view of the storyline more palatable. Upon reflection, my main problem was more with the length of the individual episodes rather than the fact that there were several plots taking place at different times and places over the course of the first season. Three minutes or so per chunk of story felt stingy: I'd have sooner had 24 episodes of 6 to 7 minutes each, so that the story had room to breathe. Still, there was lots to admire about the showL the ambition, the production values, the cast.
The question is whether we'll see any more of the story. There's been no announcement yet, but when you look at the way the number of viewers watching each episode has fallen away since the start (even making allowance for the fact that more recent episodes have been up for much less time) I have to wonder if Warners and the producers have made enough money to make it worthwhile to come back for another 48 episodes. I'm pessimistic on that score, which is a real shame given that the show ended up being better than I'd thought early on when they were still laying the foundations for what was to follow. A quarter of the way in, I rated it a C+: I'd say what we got was a solid B with clear signs that it would be a B+ show in season 2.
[Alphas cancellation story via The Medium is Not Enough TV blog]