A Seattle-based podcast about games, comics, superheroes, zombies, robots, wizards, dinosaurs, and other things relevant to your interests. We're SJW FTW, and we’ve been nerding out about nerd stuff since way before everybody was a nerd.
Season 2 of Preacher kicked off last night, with a quick-turn episode 2 airing tonight on AMC. I discussed season 1 at length last year, and Paul and I chatted about it just as the show kicked off, so check out the archives to get the backstory on the (problematic) comics and the many interesting choices Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg made to adapt them to the New Golden Age of Television ™.
The new episode doubles down on the narrative distance between the comics and the series, seemingly setting up the Saint of Killers as the big bad (though I’d be surprised if they don’t either divert him or have him switch sides entirely before much longer) and introducing Jesse’s uncle on his father’s side, which produced a profound WTF moment in me–did I forget this? The Custers didn’t get much narrative space in the comics except for traumatic flashbacks to Jesse’s poor dad. Glenn Morshower added heft to what could have been a dark trifle, as he often does.
Reinvention can be tricky, but the showrunners brought on series creators Garth Ennis and (recently deceased) Steve Dillon to ensure that things didn’t stray too far. The best changes clean up the problematic stuff, and the rest let the story open up to what could end up being a long-running series. Lord knows the comics give them plenty of fodder, and they seem willing to take it all and run with it until the end of the world.
We’re just popping our heads up from our long hiatus to tell you what nerdy stuff we’re watching on tv! Here is a super-quick round-up of what’s been draining our eyeballs*, in no particular order.
The Flash Mary: Still great and still fun! AND I CAN’T WAIT FOR THE ARROWVERSE MUSICAL CROSSOVER EPISODES NEXT WEEK!!! Rob: I hate to say it, but I may be peeling off from the Arrowverse. (Do I really hate to say it? Do I?) The good stuff is good–gotta love Jesse Quick–but the dialogue is insultingly bad across all four shows. At least one of them (see below) sometimes flips into camp, but Barry and the gang never quite get there. That musical could make it all right again, though.
Arrow Mary: SO morose, and SO hit-or-miss, but I’m still watching. Rob: If it weren’t for Mr. Terrific, I wouldn’t be watching. (Looking forward to Echo Kellum’s next role.) I do kinda like Ragman too, but he’s out until they need him to go bad or remind Oliver he’s a dick or whatever. Mary: Agreed about Mr. Terrific. That dude is great.
Supergirl Mary: I’m glad this show exists, but I’m only watching the crossover episodes now. Rob: IGTSE also. That said…meh? Bits and pieces are kinda neat, and there will forever be a Buffy-sized hole that needs filling, but inertia and my sick drive to complete sets is all that’s keeping me watching.
Legends of Tomorrow Mary: I mostly forget about this show except for watching the crossover episode with the Arrowverse. Rob: This is the one show out of the four in the Arrowverse that seems to enjoy being what it is–stupid, campy time-travel adventures. Some of the corn is just unbearable–when Dr. Stein started singing the Banana Boat Song in the control room of Apollo 13, to name a recent example. But it commits to the bit every week and it’s at its best when it’s diving headfirst into idiocy.
Supernatural Mary: Season 12 is the best in a long time, it’s really fucking good. I could do a whole post on this, and I might just do that.
Legion Mary: Holy shit this show is AMAZING and I’m obsessed. I love the styling, the music, the acting, the actors… I’ve described it as a dark Wes Anderson superhero show. And it just got picked up for a second season! Rob: I could not be happier that this show made it to air and is showing off what’s possible both in genre TV and in TV generally. Few shows step up to this level of extreme psychedelic weirdness. More than anything, I want tv to treat me like an intelligent adult, and Legion delivers. There is just so much to recommend this show, but I suppose the less you know about it the better. Check it out.
Lucifer Mary: There’s not a new episode until like May or something, but it’s still charming and I’m still on board mostly because of Tom Ellis. Rob: Ditto, though I’m a little concerned about the recent move toward Lucifer’s serious side. That could ruin the show for me. (if a show is going to be dumb, it has to know it and revel in it–see Legends of Tomorrow above.)
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Mary: I gave up. I’ll probably catch up someday. It just got to be homework and my tv schedule is already pretty full. Rob: They’re doing something interesting with long story arcs wrapping up in midseason finales, and of course they’ve got overarching plotlines and occasional movie tie-ins. But is it any good? Short answer: I guess? Clark Gregg is a gem, and the other main characters are all good fun, but like most other modern genre shows, everyone’s gotta have a dark side, yawn. The most recent arc touched very lightly on some Westworld-adjacent themes and delivered a few genuine surprises, so I’m staying in.
The Magicians Mary: I can’t explain why I like this show, and I’m not recommending it but I find myself compulsively watching every episode. Rob: I love this show, but they forgot to make Eliot the main character.
Colony: Mary: I haven’t been watching the second season in real time, but I really liked the first season on Netflix and will probably binge the second. It’s especially scary in light of current events.
Grimm Mary: I gave up but a friend of mine says I should get back in so I will probably catch up.
Sleepy Hollow Mary: I honestly didn’t know this was still on. I fizzled out midway through season 3, and really didn’t know they’d gotten a 4th. That being said, I’ve heard it’s delightful still and I might jump back in. Rob: Wow, I didn’t realize that season 4 had already started. The finale of season 3 seemed pretty…final, but I’ll give it a shot for old time’s sake.
Gotham Rob: This one is also taking a quick break, but I’m looking forward to its return next month. The triple-head-fake on the Joker has been marvelous to watch unfold, and Robin Lord Taylor is killing it as the Penguin. But as I’ve said before, Bruce Wayne is the Jar Jar Binks of Gotham.
The Expanse Mary: I watched a good chunk of the first season and then fell off, but I want to get back in. There’s a lot to love. Rob: Now that they’ve more or less unified the storylines, I’m loving season 2 without reservation. Solid dialogue, surprising plotting, amazing effects, and generally high-quality acting make this essential viewing. Of course, if hard sci-fi with deep roots in the Campbell tradition isn’t your thing, you’re excused.
Iron Fist Mary: I’m really not looking forward to this. It sounds boring and Finn Jones needs someone to come pick him up because he is drunk and not helping his cause. I’ve taken to referring to Iron Fist as Kickpuncher because it sounds about as good. Rob: The initial reviews are scaring me off a little, but I know I’ll watch. Beyond the troubling cultural issues (I don’t think the showrunners could have made it work regardless of their casting, but we’ll never know), IF has the misfortune of having to tie together three very different, very well done shows and set the stage for the big crossover series The Defenders. That’s a big ask under any circumstances.
Orphan Black Mary: Coming back soon, yes? The third and fourth seasons were definitely not as strong as the first and second, but there’s no way I’d miss the final season. Rob: It’s coming out in June, and while it has meandered a fair amount latey, I’d watch Tatiana Maslany shop for USB cables for an hour a week if that was all I could get.
iZombie Mary: I had forgotten all about it and then I saw a promo on the CW and I’m probably going to watch the next season.
Preacher Rob: I had mixed but mostly positive feelings about the first season, and I’ll be watching when it drops again in June. The actors are so charming–especailly Ruth Negga as Tulip–that it should be good fun to watch even if it goes off the rails. American Gods Mary: My anticipation for this show is almost too much to bear. I honestly get chills thinking about it. The first trailer looks and feels perfect (the second is even better) and the casting is brilliantly on-point, I will be shocked if it doesn’t live up to expectations. Rob: See above.
* Look for Drained Eyeballs: The Story of Nerdhole, coming one day to herald the final true death of the publishing industry.
I started re-watching Supernatural from the beginning this past Wednesday… it’s familiar, it’s comforting, it’s straightforward and uncomplicated, and it’s been helping me cope with the exceedingly complicated world beyond the TV screen. I’m not going to dwell on that in this post, though. This post is also not about the problematic parts of the show, though I’ll certainly talk about that at some point. What I do want to talk about is that I forgot how charming Supernatural is right from the beginning. I’m fairly certain this isn’t just my affection and familiarity talking… in fact I’m certain this is exactly how that affection began.
I talked about Supernatural at length on an episode of the podcast, but I’ll give you the rundown here as well: it’s about the Winchester brothers, Sam and Dean, who hunt supernatural creatures, live on the road in cheap motels, and make money by gambling and committing credit-card fraud. It’s largely of the monster-of-the-week variety with a big bad that ties each season together. But from the very first episode it’s so much more than that: the thing that makes the show such an obsession with fans is that the relationships between the main characters feel real, consistent, and fully realized throughout the series.
The series begins by showing us Sam’s apparently normal life… he’s just graduated college, he’s about to attend law school, he’s got a girlfriend he loves. Then his older brother Dean shows up and tries to convince Sam to come search for their father, John, who Dean meaningfully says is on a “hunting trip” and hasn’t been heard from in three days. It’s immediately clear that Sam’s relationship with his father and brother is strained, and as the show progresses it explores the messy nature of familial love, and later the love found in platonic friendships. (Romantic love exists occasionally throughout the show, but it’s rare, fleeting, and largely unimportant.) The lead characters—who are all male—have conversations about their feelings every episode, and just as often there are scenes where the actors subtly express all the complexities with only facial expressions or tears. Throughout the first season Sam struggles with feeling torn between leaving a normal life behind and the loyalty he feels towards his family. Dean suppresses jealousy that Sam ever had a chance at a normal life, hides the weight of responsibility he feels under jokey bravado, and desperately tries to maintain peace between Sam and their father John, the only two people he has in his life. John can be brusque, unhinged, and hyper-focused on the job, but it’s also clear he thinks he’s doing the right thing to keep his boys safe from all the horror he knows is in the world. And in between they kill monsters.
I suspect that this is one of the main reasons that the fan-base is largely female… the focus on feelings and interpersonal communication is far more interesting to us than the “will they or won’t they” romantic plot of so many shows. This may seem counter-intuitive when you’re scrolling through Tumblrs full of fan-fic and art devoted to placing the male leads in sexy situations with each other, but I think the truth is that most fans (including the fan creators) want those fanciful ‘ships to remain separate and sacred from the show’s canon.
So the show began with the right ingredients to create its current fan-base, but then that fan-base began to influence and cultivate the show into something even better. The show’s creators and cast are very connected with the fan community through conventions and social media. But they also respond within the show with easter eggs and entire meta-episodes, the best example of the latter being the 200th episode, “Fan Fiction,” which can only be described as a love letter to the fans. That relationship between the creators and fans feels unique and collaborative, like friends snickering together over inside jokes. And it’s yet another relationship that forms the backbone of the show—though to be clear it’s not exclusionary… the fan community is warm and you’ll quickly be welcomed into that click.
I’m afraid I’ve made it sound too soapy… is the series still a fun horror/fantasy escapist show? Absolutely, but that’s not what makes it special. I think after 12 seasons I have sometimes lost sight of that… I still heartily recommend it to people, but I’ve occasionally felt like it’s inertia that’s drawn me back season after season. Re-watching from the beginning has reminded me why I fell in love with the show and why it’s not even a guilty pleasure… it’s just a pleasure.
“I have a theory about the Joker,” said the most pretentious nerd ever.
Okay, now that I’ve acknowledged my extreme worthlessness, let’s get on with it. I think it’s impossible for the Joker to have a satisfying origin story. I don’t mean that there’s no writer good enough or idea captivating enough to work. I mean that any satisfying origin story cannot work for the Joker by definition.
There are many, many explanations for The Joker peppering the literature. Some of the most interesting takes on his background (like The Killing Joke, which does contain some remarkable writing despite its vile and demeaning treatment of Barbara Gordon) acknowledge that they are on shaky ground at best, or even outright lies spun by the least reliable narrator. Some of the best interpretations of the character (The Dark Knight, duh) don’t bother explaining him at all, and this gets at the heart of my argument.
While he was occasionally little more than a clown- or playing-card-themed villain (see the Silver Age Batman comics for examples), he has largely been an agent of pure chaos*. When he lapses into logic, it’s invariably to show Batman how puny and unreliable reason is when confronted with reality–using logic to refute itself. The best Joker stories revolve around his provoking Batman to question or abandon his ideals, and he invariably wins by losing. He personifies the second law of thermodynamics, and that’s why he’s so compelling and terrifying: he reminds us that death is inevitable and the universe is uncaring.
He’s not a person so much as he’s an abstraction. That’s true for many comic book characters (e.g. The Hulk is rage), but in his case it limits his personhood much more sharply. Rage and other heroic/villainous qualities are human, but chaos transcends humanity–heck, it transcends what we think of as reality. If you are chaos, then you aren’t a person with a history, much less an origin story.
The Joker can either be a terrific iconic villain, or he can have an interesting backstory. But maybe what we need is more contradiction. I’m all in favor of adding more and more canonical origin stories to the mix until eventually we realize that they’re all wrong and misguided and unimportant. Tell us all the lies and one day we’ll see the truth.
And so it goes. Gotham has been nodding and winking about The Joker’s origin even as it’s been ducking and weaving in an effort to avoid the inevitable. If we’re all lucky (especially the showrunners), it’ll be cancelled before the big, unsatisfying reveal. Or maybe they know what they’re doing and can find a way to just call down the Joker without explanation. I’d watch the hell out of that.
* When I use the word “chaos,” I don’t mean random or ever-changing. I mean a state that reflects complexities our minds aren’t complex enough to understand. It’s the natural order of the universe that can’t be compressed into the artificial order we create with our minds. I swear to god I am not high.
We’re all over Stranger Things, Netflix’s homage to all of the 1980s. They may have poached Mary’s memoir title, but we can’t hold that against them because the show is just that perfect. When we recorded, Mary had binged the hell out of it while Rob had just dabbed a pinky toe in, but our enthusiasm is loud and clear (and correct).
You guys. I just watched the finale of AMC’s Preacher adaptation–the one we talked about a few weeks back–and I’ve got some thoughts. If you’ve never read the comics and don’t intend to, skip down to the heading “OK, THEN, LET’S GET ON WITH IT.”
First, I need to revise what I said about the comics. I’ve reread the series since that episode, and the icky stuff is ickier than I had remembered. The comics’ attitudes toward women, people of color, and especially LGBTQ people are conflicted at best. Writer Garth Ennis consistently calls out and makes fun of bigotry–yay! At the same time, he uses gay male sexuality as a punch line so often that it feels like self-parody. As for the theme of modern American men coming to terms with women’s equality, yeah, it’s in there–but I don’t think Ennis went deep enough to pull it off. He could have taken one more step and created a fascinating take on women’s deaths as plot devices (“fridging”), but he never quite gets there, sticking instead with a fairly standard romance. Sigh.
But it’s silly to talk about what someone else’s work could or should have been. It is what it is, and what it is is problematic. The best of the series is still fantastic, but the worst of it is puerile.
What about the AMC series? It diverges so massively, in so many ways, from the comics that it’s like hearing that Avatar was based on The Smurfs. If you’re a fan of the comics, expect major differences in plot, characters, and relationships. Many of these changes were necessary to adapt the format to multiseason drama, but some are just inexplicable:
Jesse and Tulip knew each other as children instead of meeting by chance in a lurv-at-first-sight moment.
Arseface’s father is a tough, confused, but loving dad instead of a monstrously hateful bigot.
The pathetic second-string angels Fiore and Deblanc are elevated to big-bad status, sort of.
Jesse’s congregation survives his first taste of Genesis.
If Ennis and artist Steve Dillon weren’t involved in the production, I’d blame show creators Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg for letting their self-indulgence run wild. But it could be they’ve just decided to tell a very different story, and it seems as if they’ve shed much of the most problematic material from the books.
OK, THEN, LET’S GET ON WITH IT
The show is lovely. It alternates densely-packed action with long, dawdling moments of conversation against a backdrop of Texas wasteland. The basic narrative of the show takes its time to develop, but here’s the elevator pitch: A troubled preacher with a past accidentally becomes the host for a power that rivals God’s.
The acting is terrific across the board. Dominic Cooper works surprisingly well as the lead, despite shifting the character away from the strong silent type toward someone more comfortable using his mind-control power. Ruth Negga is brilliant as Tulip, stepping up her game from Agents of SHIELD while baiting the racists and delivering one of the best character introductions in modern memory. Joseph Gilgun (Misfits) is perfect as Cassidy the vampire, full stop. And oh god Jackie Earle Haley kills it as bad guy Odin Quincannon.
The dialogue is good fun, and the exposition is never insulting, even though there is quite a lot of it. The show looks and feels unsettling and hyperreal, as if something terrible is just about to happen. (It usually is.) My one faint critique is that the first season felt like it was all just a setup for the next. It was a fun ride, but we didn’t get very far.
So! It’s definitely worth watching, unless your tolerance for violence is low-to-middling. It’s somewhere between Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, so it’s not for everyone. If you can handle blood spatters, lovingly rendered shotgun blasts, and cries of “He shot my dick off,” you’re all set.
As always San Diego Comic Con was filled with trailers: some made me feel better about things I wasn’t sure about, some just whipped my excitement into a frenzy, and still others that… well… Anyway here’s a quick round-up of some of the trailers I watched:
Trailers That Made Me Go SQUEE These trailers legitimately gave me goosebumps when I watched them.
I CAN’T WAIT FOR THIS. Of all the trailers this is the one that I lost my mind over, the one I keep watching over and over. The casting is spot-on, with every new announcement building my glee. The trailer looks like how the book feels which is exactly what you hope for in an adaptation. Look for an upcoming episode of Nerdhole where we’ll turn you onto the novel by Neil Gaiman so you can read it (or re-read it) before this show finally drops in 2017.
HOLY CRAP. Based on what we’ve seen of Cage in Jessica Jones and what this trailer has to show, it’s going to be fantastic. And Mike Coulter… SWOON.
I’m way behind on Unbeatable Squirrel Girl thanks to Marvel Unlimited’s digital delay (and my cheapness), but it’s pretty much the funnest thing out there. Make a point to check it out–it’s not like all the other comix. Each issue starts with a recap brilliantly told through her Twitter feed, and the character’s relationship with the rest of the Marvel universe is as wonderfully weird as ever. ENDORSED.
We’re glitching out a little, so we decided to repost last fall’s look ahead at nerdy TV. Heroes Reborndashed our hopes, and Rob’s inability to recall Harvey Bullock’s name is especially galling, given how interesting that character turned out to be on this season of Gotham. Overall, though, we think the last years TV season did okay by us nerds.
Please note that many of these shows are changing up their streaming arrangements in the near future, notably those in CW’s Arrowverse (which now includes Supergirl). The short version is that they likely will only be available on streaming after the end of the season, but pretty quickly thereafter. This is why we can’t have nice things. These links work for now.
Arrow (on Hulu) (on Netflix)
Rob: This season felt pretty scattered and ended with a big dud of a twist. Wait, was it even a twist? As always, solid action and pretty faces kept us watching.
Fear the Walking Dead (on Hulu)
Rob: I watched about 2/3 of the season and then stalled out. I will likely finish it up, but not even Ruben Blades’ intensity can fire me up.
The Flash (on Hulu) (on Netflix)
Rob: This show may be the funnest thing on the air, even though they keep punishing their characters to maintain the minimum required grim-n-gritty for a modern superhero show. But the ending…well, we’ll see how Season 3 treats the “Flashpoint” time-travel business the writers stirred up.
Gotham (on Hulu) (on Netflix)
Rob: It felt like Gotham had lost its way for a while, but this season was full of good fun and creepy action. Terrific casting, like BD Wong as Hugo Strange and Paul Reubens as Penguin’s dad, helped a lot, as did the last-minute reintroduction of the terrific Fish Mooney. The more they lay off of Bruce Wayne, the better.
With Mary on assignment, Paul and Rob discussed Preacher–both the new AMC TV series starring Dominic Cooper and the old-ish Vertigo comics series by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. While the title has some legendary problems for those of us with a SJW bent, there’s some worthwhile storytelling and some complicated feminism, so we’re at least partly on board. And the series has made some interesting choices, including race-bending one of the primary characters, so we’re hopeful that it will leave the uglier stuff out entirely.
For some reason (let’s blame the booze), we didn’t get around to discussing the extremely problematic character Arseface. Here’s hoping the AMC series treats disability better than the comics did.